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Tomorrow in my Wish I Knew Wednesday email I’ll be sharing something I do most often with consulting clients: bring more of the owner’s individuality to their business and brand. It is often the key to standing out, being special, and serving customers better. Trust me, the breakthroughs by working on this aspect of business alone can take a business from blah to awesome.

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(If you have signed up for the BWI newsletter, you will automatically get this series.)

 

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the blogging pyramid decoded

July 31st, 2012   |   Business AdviceLife

 

Today I’d like to return back to The Blogging Pyramid and discuss each level in more detail. After reading all of your amazing thoughts on being truly successful in blogging, I urge everyone to go back and read the thoughts presented in the comment section. They are outstanding.

I especially want to mention Jill’s point: whether we are trying to get a large following or a small, dedicated one, the principals are still the same. So it’s not just about trying to gain more exposure as much as the pyramid demonstrates what blogging well requires overall.

Now I’d like to go through each level in more detail. I hope to do so in a way that will help new bloggers trying to get started, and also connect with those who have been blogging for years.

And before I really get into it, I will say there are dozens (if not hundreds) of great blogs out there that actively defy the levels I will outline. Awesome blogs are first and foremost built upon that tip-top level of soul and uniqueness. If that is executed well, the other levels below may not impact their blog success.

For example, Penelope Trunk does a fantastic job at writing and uniqueness, while she doesn’t publish on a regular schedule or use many images. Meanwhile Seth Godin doesn’t have the prettiest blog design or images, but he posts multiple times a day on fascinating topics. And then there is The Pioneer Woman. She does it all – though I have no idea how with four kids and a ranch to run.

So when you think about a great blog that defies one of these levels, consider what other excellent qualities it has. You don’t have to have a perfectly balanced blog to be successful, just one that has excellence in some (or most) of these areas.

Consistent Posting

At the base level, you have consistency. Bloggers don’t have to post on a perfect rhythm all the time, but readers need to trust that a blog they follow will continue to provide content on a regular basis.

Patricia described this as the Halloween Effect in our NYC Workshop. If you are a kid going trick-or-treating and head up to a house every year for a great King Size Butterfinger and one year find that the house is empty, it’s disappointing. Just like visiting to a blog that stops posting consistently. If you aren’t sure if there will be new content, it makes you less invested in the site as a whole.

So this is the first level of trust that is created between bloggers and readers. It’s not important if it’s daily or weekly. But it does need to be consistent enough for readers to trust that there will be new content frequently enough for them to come back. It’s often suggested that new bloggers should post frequent, high-quality content as much as possible to establish themselves.

I also like that this is the base of the pyramid because I think for new bloggers, it’s easy to underestimate the time it takes to develop great original content on a regular basis. I often consult with business owners who like the “idea” of blogging to increase business, but massively underestimate the time it will take to develop a loyal following on top of their other business priorities. When done right, it can be one of the biggest marketing tools out there. When done inconsistently, it can easily get little response and become a skeleton (aka: an abandoned site that still traces back to the business).

Great Blog Design

After consistency is created, an appealing blog design goes a long way in establishing a blog. If the site looks good at first glance, readers are more confident that the content within the posts will be worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that the site needs to look one specific way – it can be rustic, pretty, professional, beautiful, funny, or modern. But it does need to execute that feeling well.

For blogs focused on writing and ideas, a clean site is great to let the words themselves stand out. A great example of this is Danielle LaPorte. And for a lifestyle or style-focused blog, the design should compliment and extend the brand, but not compete with the content. A great example of this is Design Love Fest.

In 2009 the blog design was usually an afterthought for new bloggers. However in 2012, I believe that if it is done for business or for the intention of making revenue, a blog design should be considered at the start of the site (or as soon as finances allow).

With the boat-load of beautiful blogs out there now, a great design will help gain credibility – but cannot carry the site to huge success all on it’s own.

Engaging Writing and Images

In the lifestyle and photo-heavy blogging world, I sense more and more that one of the main differentiators between sites is original content. Pinterest has been a wonderful attribute, but to truly excel, I think the value of Pinterest should be found in the fact that your own photos can get pinned and shared, rather than just pulling images from the site to use in posts. Camille Styles, for example, does a great line using and creating Pinterest content.

To really have what Caitlin calls “Pin-worthy” photos, DSLR cameras and photo-editing is now becoming the rule rather than the exception. I hate that this is the case, but I do really think it’s true. The more photos there are online, the more high and low quality images there are to choose from. And given the choice, readers will generally seek out the best. iPhone images (like I use here on MML frequently) are also great, but DSLR really does take the cake in lifestyle blogging.

But even if digital cameras and Photoshop are out of your price-point, I don’t think that’s a reason to not have a lifestyle blog. In fact, starting the blog before purchasing the equipment and making that (big) financial investment is a good idea. With so much time, effort, and passion required to have a blog, it’s a good to try it out before spending the cash.

Further, I think the next frontier in lifestyle blogging is great writing. For a while amazing images were king, but as those are becoming commonplace, writing is really the new way to differentiate. Which is great, especially for those who don’t yet own photo equipment.

In the non-lifestyle blogosphere where images aren’t the main attraction, writing is essential (obviously). We need to clearly communicate an idea and sound ourselves at the same time. Finding our voice is a challenge. So far I’ve found that though I don’t personally notice my “voice” in my writing, I’ve been told it’s there.

And think that’s a good thing.

When I started writing on the blog I used to try to “be a good writer and have a good voice.” But really all that did was cause me to mimic the voices of other writers I admired. Oh how I deeply wanted to write like Elizabeth Gilbert! 

But alas, my work will not be portrayed by Julia Roberts. And that’s okay.

The idea that we should write as simply as we can to get an idea across is something I’ve used to help me break the mimicking habit I had years ago. (I think I got the idea from a Hemingway quote.) By doing this, I’ve naturally given up the idea of “trying” to be myself and my voice just naturally emerges within my words.

Though I’m not an expert on writing voice, try to: Say things simply and write often. 

Plus to go an extra step, I think good photography in the writing realm of blogs also can help a blogger separate as well. I went for a long time using very few photos and relied on graphics to depict my topics, but I’ve since switched to using images for the headers most of the time to help keep my writing and content even more unique and personal.

Value, Soul, and Uniqueness

The top two levels of the Blogging Pyramid are discussed in more detail in this post. So I suggest reading that piece for more detail on these two key concepts.

And remember, if blogging is a pursuit for personal reasons, there simply are no rules.

But if there is the goal of readership and a dedicated following of any size, in order to lead, we must first serve.

 

what’s really important

July 30th, 2012   |   Business AdviceLife

 

This weekend Mr. Lively and I stayed with my Grandpa in Kettering, Ohio. Mr. Lively had not yet met this Grandpa or my mom’s side of the family yet. So though Mr. Lively has spoken over the phone a few times with Grandpa, it was time to have a live introduction.

And while the trip was peaceful and fun, I did not expect it to have such a deep impact on me personally.

After spending just a few days with my Grandpa I got a priority realignment, if you will.

While my life and career in Chicago are exciting and meaningful, my priorities have become a bit too muddied.

Working for myself and growing my companies is a huge challenge. Nothing is promised day to day, budgeting is more of an art than a science, and new opportunities (and road blocks) pop up around each new corner.

As things grow, I’m constantly directing a ship that is bigger than I’ve ever sailed before. I learn as I go, without a guarantee of success.

With this much on my plate, even my work/life boundaries cannot completely stem my focus on my businesses.

However, these past few days have helped me snap out of a mixed up priority system.

Over the past year or so I’ve allowed myself to place my career above everything except spirituality and my relationship with Mr. Lively.

Though I admittedly have done a really good job keeping spirituality and my relationship at the top of my list, I have let design and career have higher precedence over family and friends.

Since Mr. Lively and I have family spanning every section of the country, it has been hard for us to see them on a regular basis. Now that we have a car we have more mobility, but still remains a challenge to keep up with everyone.

And even here in Chicago, I find my work commitments can keep me away from friend engagements. Also, to be even more honest, the stress of the businesses leaves me feeling drained. Seeing friends can feel like work.

So I’ve holed up. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on Mr. Lively and my businesses to the expense of family and friends.

But as Grandpa has shown me, as you move on in life it is your family and friends that matter the most. There is no guarantee that Mr. Lively will be alive with me my entire life and my career will evolve and pass.

And if I only put stock into those two parts of my life, I may be lonely in years to come.

So though I think what I do is great and my love for Mr. Lively is wonderful, I gotta make sure I don’t let my career cast a shadow that blocks out those people who are also very important to me.

 

this week i’m thankful for

July 27th, 2012   |   Life

This week I’m thankful for being a part of my dear friend, Catherine’s wedding. It was a whirlwind weekend in Michigan and now Mr. Lively and I are off to Ohio to spend time with my Grandpa and extended family whom Mr. Lively has not met yet.

The past week has also been full of decorating adventures for the new apartment. Though we won’t be moving until October it seems, I’m still starting to get a vision for the space in my head. We’ve even scored a few items for the new place in the images above. The awesome brass trunk (which is cedar lined) came from the White Elephant thrift store for just $35. I know. We got insanely lucky.

We also snagged a little basket (which almost cost as much as the trunk) for our future puppy’s toys. And we did a little scouting at West Elm and picked our future couch as well (we’ll be selling our big sectional closer to October).

I hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead too. Have a great time and thank you for reading MML!

the blogging pyramid

July 26th, 2012   |   Business AdviceLifeThink About It

For the past few weeks I’ve been pondering Victoria’s thoughts on blogging trends. Though she spoke mostly to the homogenization of fashion and the impact fashion blogs have had, it got me pondering some bigger thoughts about blogging in 2012.

When blogging began (about a decade ago?) there were few people doing it seriously. Since then the progress in content, images, and general sophistication of the blogging community has exploded. Even since 2009 when I began MML, I sense a remarkable difference between the blogging prowess now and then.

With the advances in social media (Twitter, Pinterest, and even Facebook), digital photography, and web design, getting an extremely professional looking blog is easier than ever before (though definitely not always cheap).

And the boom of bloggers have been swiftly upgrading and improving their skills in all of these areas – which has led to a larger volume of high quality blogs.

However, readers still have busy lives and only have a limited amount of time to devote to blog reading each week, thus making them more selective in what they read.

There is an increasing number of great blogs, but still a limited amount of time for a reader to consume them.

So when people are now looking to find and select the blogs they want to follow, they have become more selective out of necessity. They don’t have all day for blogs, so they have to pick the ones they want to read the most. They have become better editors of their own content consumption.

And what blog readers are looking for, I believe, lies in the pyramid I created above. Though there are exceptions to all of these levels, I think that they majority of successful blogs have these elements in spades.

Though I will return to the bottom three levels later, today I’d like to focus on what I believe now truly separates the biggest blogs out there from the pack. And ultimately, these are the things that I’m focusing on personally to continue to grow myself.

To me, value and uniqueness are what really now define blogs with significant followings.

When a blog reader visits a site they are doing so with a purpose: to get value. The value can be anything; beauty, humor, inspiration, ideas, advice, and information are all forms of valuable content. To cultivate a large, dedicated readership there must be great value in the content.

And when the value of the content is lacking, readers may find themselves disinterested.

Which also leads to the tippy top of the pyramid, the thing that I think differentiates us all as people: uniqueness.

When a blogger is able to tap into their own authenticity and be completely themselves, magic happens.

This of course is most easily shown through original content. An inventive DIY project, touching personal story, reaction to a current event, funny thoughts on motherhood, or stunning images are all unique and can have far-reaching effects.

The homogenization of blogging, if that is indeed happening, perhaps lies in a lack of trust in our own authentic value. We are perhaps a bit too focused on looking at the person next to us rather than within.

Good Morning, world! Caitlin here, back with another Design Your Life interview. When I started helping Jess with this series, I knew right away that I’d want to interview Lauren of Stylized Existence, one of my favorite style blogs. I’m always inspired by Lauren’s commitment to Crossfit, eating well, maintaining her relationship and a full time job, managing her wardrobe consulting business, and looking stunning while doing it all. I’m delighted that she agreed to share her intentions today. Just reading over them gave me a little extra pep in my step this morning. Enjoy!

DESIGN YOUR LIFE: lauren of stylized existence

My boyfriend and I have been together for five years now.  Our relationship has not been perfect, but he has loved me unconditionally from day 1.  I can be difficult, moody, a bad communicator, the list goes on; but all the while, he has treated me with love and respect.  I want to marry this man, and the best thing I can do to prepare myself for an eventual marriage is to respect him through communicating well and as fully as possible, laughing with him, supporting him, and loving him unconditionally.

I am really hard on myself and hold others to similar standards.  I correct people, I judge people, and I expect perfection.  I am aware that these are the worst of my personality traits, so I am actively working on them.  Over the last year I have made the intention to be kinder to myself and others.  Judge less, listen more, critique less, accept more.  The earth would be such a horrible place if everyone did everything how I thought it should be done.  People are unique, and that is what makes this world a lovely place.

Two years ago I discovered CrossFit and Clean-Eating, and my life has never been the same.  On Saturday, I embarked on a 30 day journey (the Whole30) to restore my body.  Though my eating habits are already pretty clean, we’ve had pizza and soft-serve a few too many times lately, and it was time to hit the RESET button.  I intend to treat my body as a temple, including doing Bikram Yoga and other self-healing things on my off days from CrossFit, while fueling my body as cleanly as possible.  I am a more balanced, relaxed, and happy person when I treat my body well.

I have a pretty darn good life.  A great boyfriend, a beautiful home, good friends and family, a good job, and growing side-business, the list goes on.  Yet, too often, I tend to focus on the things I don’t have (an engagement ring, Louboutin heels,  10k blog followers).  This is silly and ridiculous.  I know I have a full life, I just have to remind myself of it more often.

I want my wardrobe consulting business to continue to grow, so I want to continue to focus on creative marketing strategies, unique service offerings, and great results for my customers.  I know I have it in me to grow this business, I  just need to push myself more.  I’ll admit that I get a little lazy – with a full-time job, the gym, and lots of cooking – I am tired by the time I sit down in the evening.  But that’s the wrong attitude – that should be “party time” – time to kick it into full gear and work my butt off.

Check out past DESIGN YOUR LIFE interviews.

Tomorrow on Wish I Knew Wednesday I’m wrapping up my Q&A July by answering 20 questions that I haven’t had a chance to answer this month during What You Wish You Knew.

In order to cover so much ground I’m also making it an interesting challenge. My goal is to answer each question in two sentences or less, getting right to the point for each.

If you’d like to get the email, simply sign up by clicking on the image below. This email list is also where I announce upcoming Workshops and other BWI updates.

(If you have signed up for the BWI newsletter, you will automatically get this series.)

 

the easy road

July 24th, 2012   |   Life

 

here’s to you mr. covey

July 23rd, 2012   |   LifeThink About It

 

Last week while I was busy working and standing up in one of my dearest friend’s wedding, Mr. Stephen Covey passed away.

Though I did not have time to share my feelings at the time, I’d like to do so now. And I also thank those who tweeted and emailed me about the news.

The truth is that without Mr. Covey, and his work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,* I may never have started MML, discovered my purpose so quickly, or be the person I am today.

I know that may sound a bit extreme. But those who have been reading MML for years know that I have referenced this book and Mr. Covey 48 times over the past three and a half years.

And this isn’t because I’m unique, it’s because he and his book can have a deep, lasting effect on people. His principals are wise and worth mentioning over, and over, and over.

At first, The Seven Habits came into my life in high school* and at the time was a worthwhile read, but one that didn’t seep in too deeply below the surface.

However, years later during an incredibly difficult phase of college, I went through a personality melt-down and found myself without any foundational beliefs or compass to guide me. I questioned all that I believed in and I didn’t know how to begin to craft a life paradigm as an adult.

On a whim during Christmas break I returned home that year and picked up my dusty copy of the teen version* again.

All at once things began to click.

I tore through that copy and that day found a new-found sense of self and direction.

Later, I read the original version of The Seven Habits and was thrilled to see the themes I loved so dearly applied to adult situations as well.

Unlike any other book I’ve read beyond The Bible or A Course in Miracles, this text is so dense it’s worth reading one page or short section at a time. Each habit itself could become a year’s worth of study. And for me, I’ve dwelt within the first three habits for the past seven years.

I deeply believe if I can master these habits to the best of my ability, my life will be transformed. And my experience has proven this to be true.

Though I’m slowly beginning to branch out to work on the last four habits, I still strive daily to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first.

When I look back on these last five years out of college running my company day by day, preparing for marriage, and growing as an individual, I cannot help but thank Mr. Covey for all of his guidance. His words and philosophies have helped me navigate difficult challenges in every area of my life. It’s like he’s been with me along the way, pointing me toward the right course of action.

For many years I had a small hope that I would one day meet Mr. Covey. I wasn’t sure what I would say to him, exactly. But I knew that I needed to thank him for his profoundly positive effect on my life.

Now that this dream is no longer a reality, I just want to share here how much he meant to me.

Here’s to you, Mr. Covey. May you find peace and know the everlasting effect you’ve had on myself and many others.

 

*Along with his son, Sean Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens which I’ve also read several times over the years.

this week i’m thankful for

July 20th, 2012   |   Life

This week I’m thankful for… all the wonderful support we’ve had.

I will fully admit that I bit off more than I could chew this week. I worked from Sunday afternoon straight until Wednesday evening stopping only for food, sleep, and a serendipitous engagement photo shoot (more on that later). Other than those three things you could find me working at my computer, selling at our Pop Up Shop downtown, or consulting.

Though every fiber of my being would love to complain about it, it was my doing. I decided to launch Jackson the same day as the Pop Up Shop and that meant doing an incredible amount of work all at once. So as my beloved Mr. Covey would say, I chose it and cannot whine.

But regardless of my drained body, mind, and purple eye bags, there is much to celebrate. The launch was a huge success and we are filling orders as fast as we can. And the Pop Up Shop had an unprecedented number of MML readers stop by to say hello. It was amazing to see the tweets, blog posts, and social media blasts customers shared about our little shop.

And perhaps more than all, I appreciate Mr. Lively’s unprompted phone call Thursday morning letting me know that I did a great job this week. All along a little part of my ego has been clamoring for sympathy and kudos for attempting so much this week. But I’ve been cramming that thought deep inside, not letting it escape my lips.

Yet his sweet comments and appreciation brought me to tears. I so needed to hear that and I’m glad I didn’t have a pity party to get it.

And of course, I am so thankful for you. Thank you for reading MML and have a great weekend!

sponsor rate change begins august 10th

July 19th, 2012   |   Life

 

Though I haven’t mentioned anything yet… there are some exciting changes coming to MML this fall. Though my lips are sealed as to the specifics, I can say that big things lie ahead.

In the meantime, I want to give a heads up on ad rates. On August 10th sponsor rates will increase (the last increase was June, 2011).

If you’d like to snag a spot at the current rate, please email me at jess(at)jesslc.com before August 10th to receive the current, lower rate.

 

need, use, and love: for my face

July 19th, 2012   |   Life

 

When it comes to makeup I’m definitely not an expert. I’m more of a shopper cautiously trying out new products every so often.

But despite my lack of prowess in the beauty department, after years of purchasing a variety of tinted moisturizers, I’ve definitely found a favorite.

Tarte’s Smooth Operator tinted moisturizer consistently leaves my skin the healthiest and clearest compared to all others that I’ve tried (Bobby Brown, Laura Mercier, Neutrogena, etc). Due to the power of birth control to counteract my PCOS, I’ve gone from really bad acne to incredibly clear. However, if I miss washing my face a night or two or if I am out sweating in my makeup, I can break out every so often.

But I’ve discovered that when I use Tarte’s Smooth Operator, my skin is at it’s absolute best. Plus, I like that it does a good job evening out my skin tone without masking too much and has SPF built in. I have a face full of freckles and trying to cover them up with a foundation just ends up looking a bit too drastic. Which leaves Tarte at the top of my list when it comes to keeping my natural look a bit more polished.

So while I’ll continue to wander aimlessly down the aisles for other beauty products for years to come, I’ve got my tinted moisturizer locked down.

 

PS – I’ve just taken Liz’s advice and purchased my first NARS blush in Orgasm. I’m already hooked!


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