Tips for building an online portfolio/profile/brand

Jumper: Gap (5 years old). Trousers: Mango (4 years old). Trainers: £67, (available in different colours via Asos). Photograph: Christopher O’Donnell.

One of the questions I get asked the most is how we got to where we are now (actually, I mainly get asked how I achieved so many Instagram followers but I like to group all my channels together as the amount of Instagram followers is definitely not, in my opinion, the be all and end all of a brand and should not be measured as such).

We’re so lucky to be doing what we love from creating something out of, essentially, nothing (privilege and experience aside, my blog cost nothing to set up in 2011). I thought I’d write down some thoughts on how we went from side hustle to fully fledged business, especially in terms of blogging, and I’ve asked a few of my favourite online voices too.

Be consistent (within reason) – I have to admit, as consistent as I am with posting blogposts, newsletters etc, I think it’s also really important to set yourself realistic goals. Last week, there wasn’t a blogpost on my channel, but I did post a new IGTV and work on some extra newsletter content so something was going out. It doesn’t have to be daily, it might not even be weekly but people do have to reminded that you’re still there, working hard at creating content – and once people appreciate that and realise what they’re missing when you do take a little break, that’s when you know you’ve got something good.

Have a niche and stick to it – you can’t be everything to everyone. By addressing your niche, whether it’s selling sustainable, hand-knitted baby clothes or adressing social change, it’s your USP and can be such a useful tool for your demographic, too.

Decide what purpose each platform has – I have decided YouTube isn’t for me. And that’s okay. There was a time when everyone was telling me I ‘must’ have a YouTube channel but it never felt natural to me and the content felt forced, and now I don’t regret that decision – the time not spent on YouTube has been dedicated to growing my own site and it has paid off.

Grow your own channels – of all the amazing opportunities that Instagram has offered me, I will never remain ‘IG only’. At the end of the day, it is an app which can claim ownership of all you put out there. It might change hands, charge us to use, only push up ‘paid for’ content, dare I say – close? I love the Instagram community but building your own platform is always preferable. I’ve been working on a newsletter with new blogposts and extra content and really enjoying bringing the community back to my site again. And it has also helped my focus, too.

Instagram numbers are not what it’s all about: your voice, experience, expertise count for something, don’t forget that. I speak to so many people that have a viable, flourishing business with under 5k followers, and others that have over 100k and haven’t worked a paid job all year. Luckily, I think brands are understanding that not everyone uses Instagram in the same way, and most can offer so much more than a space on their grid – real ‘Influence’ goes much deeper, and I am more inspired by people’s words and opinions far more than by a pretty picture.

The fact that the social media world is dominated by women is always something that I never undervalue, which is why I asked three people I respect, follow and learn from within this social media sphere for their take on the matter. And I’m not too proud to say that their tips are far superior to mine!

Candice, writer at Candice Brathwaite, podcaster of Pillow Talk and founder of the Make Motherhood Diverse initiative

When it comes to building a brand or business online, I believe that longevity is based on authenticity. This isn’t to say that you need to post screenshots of your account or period tracker but it does mean that you should stay in your lane and own your space. This may mean that your account, blog or business (or all three combined) aren’t growing at the rate you would like but it does mean that because you’ve been clear about what you do or don’t stand for your 5,000 readers or followers could be more supportive and less fickle than those with 500,000 followers. 

Speaking of followings it’s really important to not get wrapped up in the numbers. Speaking from experience it’s not the thing you should focus on if you’re creating something you think will be of value. If you want to grow your account go for it but remember that not all big accounts are rooted in sustainable information eg, the egg account which was purely created to get more likes than a Kylie Jenner image. Remember that? Exactly. 

If you do use social media to help build your brand or business it’s very important to have the back end covered. Whilst it seems cumbersome at first, read up on taxes, find a good accountant, trademark your sh*t because there is so much more to it than just content schedules and Google ads. 

Lastly, mind your business! It’s one thing to create one but are you actually minding it and tending to it or are you getting caught up in comparison? it can be really easy to think that A, B or C are having a much better time of it than you and you can waste two good hours trying to be something you’re not. Face your front and invest in your unique talents. 

Alyson, the woman behind That’s Not My Age

  • Find your voice: My site began in 2008 because I felt there was a gap online for women of my age and beyond (I was in my 40s then but I’m in my 50s now). I worked for years as a fashion editor on women’s magazines – where I’d been writing all those prescriptive style rules, and I just I wanted to talk to people the way I talk to my friends about clothes and stuff, to share experience and practical advice in a down-to-earth way. I’ve been told that That’s Not My Age is empowering, relatable and honest, and that’s what people connect with. Over time this has become my point of difference. 
  • Engage with your readers and other bloggers: One of the best things about developing That’s Not My Age over the years has been the creation of a network of fantastic, like-minded women. I am always impressed by the thoughtful comments following a post, and the discussion that ensues. It’s important to engage with your readers and fellow bloggers and keep the conversation going. Blogging is very much a community and it’s important to help each other out when you can. Plus, call me an old hippy but I do believe in karma. The cycle of getting back what you give. 
  • Accept sponsorship without selling out: To keep the site going, pay my bills and eat, I have to use affiliate links and accept sponsored posts from time to time. But I am very discerning when it comes to sponsorship (and in general about what I feature on That’s Not My Age) and only accept about 10% of the stuff that comes my way. Some of it is weird rubbish or not relevant or not a product/service I would endorse. You have to remember that your readers are discerning too, and they trust you – that’s why they follow you. Consider paid opportunities carefully so that you don’t lose credibility. Don’t be afraid to contact brands or stores directly, make a list of people that you’d love to work with.
  • Create high-quality content: Having come from a background in women’s magazines, I have always treated my site professionally. As a journalist, I take time researching, writing and editing features, so why would I treat my blog any differently? Work hard on writing stories that empower and inspire your readers. Keep things interesting with different formats, Q&A’s, personal pieces, reviews, outfit posts etc. Posting regularly is also important.
  • Know your value: Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If brands offer you clothing you want for free that’s great, but you can quickly get stuck into a rut of accepting gifts and owing brands ‘favours.’ Don’t be afraid to ask for payment instead. When you buy a print magazine or newspaper, it’s the advertising that pays. Not only for the paper and the printing process but also for the salaries of journalists, as well as other staff and contributors such as photographers, independent experts and so on. When I run a sponsored post on That’s Not My Age, the same business model applies. The fee allows me to pay for the desk space I rent, add extra security to my site so that (whisper it) I’m protected from another sodding malware attack, buy a new laptop, travel to interview women for features, pay photographers and hire studios for photoshoots. As with my writing, I take the images I use on That’s Not My Age seriously, too.

Diversify: Blogging has changing massively since I started, I don’t think the term ‘influencer’ was even around then! But setting up That’s Not My Age allowed me to go on to write two books (Style Forever and Know Your Style) and I’m just about to launch a podcast.

Medina, from upcycling interiors blog Grillo Designs.

I think the key to growing a successful online business is ensuring that you are creating high quality content (or even providing a service) that is valuable and on brand. It’s all about engaging your audience and giving them the information that they need.

Integrating social media into your brand also helps to establish meaningful connections with your audience but it’s important to remember to only focus on the social media that works best for your business. For example, I am a DIY and interiors blogger so a lot of what I share is quite creative and focused around styling visually inspiring images. For that reason, I invest a lot of time on Pinterest (which is a visual search engine) because I know that is where most of my audience, new and old, will be. I use tools like Tailwind and Canva to design and schedule pins across that platform. Of course, these tools have costs, but I am a firm believer in the idea that in order to make money, you have to invest money.

11 Comments

  1. sad to hear you are not a fan of youtube! i have loved all your house/room tour videos. perhaps more igtv ? love Eva

  2. hey alex, could you please tell me where your marble coffee table is from in the first couple of pictures? i have been looking for something exactly like that for my living room for ages!
    thanks so much x

  3. Firstly, I want to say that it’s so refreshing to come across a blog from an authentic writer!
    You can tell you care about the content you put out into the world and it shows.
    To be honest, you inspired my quality of writing for my blog – thank you!

    THIS IS A GREAT HONEST POST from wonderful women.
    I definitely appreciate the efforts you put in.

    I’m currently binging on years of posts I have yet to discover!
    Can’t wait to see more.

    With love from Canada.

  4. This has been a great post Alex. I’m currently looking at my blog and planning what I want for it and this has give me such motivation and inspiration. Thank you.

    Stephanie – The Fashion Hideaway

  5. Thank you for writing this post. My blog is only 6 months old and with my 50th only a few months away I have been asking myself if anyone really wants to listen to what I have to say. My confidence was having a wobble but you’ve inspired me to keep going. Thank you.

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