A collaborative blog.
Hey all, its Claire, Co-founder and writer for firstinitialsea. I’ve been super busy of late with end of term bits and pieces, family life and having conversations with a fellow, well established and experienced blogger – Travel Blogger Jamie. We came to the decision that the conversations could actually prove to be somewhat insightful. With that in mind we thought of turning the closed discussions into a blog and very much hope that they are helpful, useful and inspiring for our readers. Before you read on, grab yourself a drink of choice and get comfy.
Hi everyone – Travel Blogger Jamie here. It is with great pleasure that I get to introduce a truly organic blog that has gone back and forth between the fabulously supportive, bubbly and informative Claire of firstinitialsea.com about the highs and lows of being a blogger. Join us as we share with you our insights and opinions, some of which might strike a chord, some of which may seem controversial. It’s a genuine and sincere conversation that we decided to record and turn into a blog and we hope you enjoy! Signing off now, with Claire taking the reigns later to conclude.
Jamie: Hey Claire, how are things? You mentioned earlier that you are quite new to blogging. Why did you start blogging and what have you enjoyed most about being a blogger so far?
Claire: Hey Jamie. I’m good thank you and can see you are too from all of your recent activity on social media. I must take this opportunity to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed reading your most recent blog post, the collaborative piece you created with the lovely Kerrie from This is Cruising. It’s refreshing to see like minded bloggers working together. I strongly feel that this is the way forward but do not necessarily believe it is the thought of every blogger out there.
I started blogging 12 weeks ago, the decision to blog was not taken lightly. I had thought of writing for many years. Despite my desire to write and share my thoughts with the world web, I did not believe it was something I could do well enough for it to be received positively. After all there are thousands of well established bloggers out there, some with the same niche and some entirely different. I had pondered with the same repetitive thoughts and questions: Who would be interested in reading what Claire from Hampshire has to say? Why would I stand out? What difference could I make? Moreover, I wondered if I had the time to blog. Something that I was extremely naive to in the beginning! I work full time in Education of which I know you’re all too familiar with Jamie. I’m a mother to two girls ages 12 and 10 and a Step-mother to an 18 year old young lady. Life has a way of teaching you that time is perhaps the most precious gift of all. Taking all of this into consideration I was still constantly niggled by my hopes and dreams of writing a blog. I’m a firm believer in chasing your dreams and goals, I cannot possibly teach children this daily and not believe it myself. Hypocrisy is not my thing and something I desperately try to avoid. Although we are probably all guilty of it at times, especially in the seemingly competitive world of blogging. Nevertheless I have gratefully come across a fantastic group of bloggers since the beginning who have been incredibly helpful. Not everyone wants to share their leads and help out, this was a harsh lesson at the start. I had received many offers of help; some unfortunately were closed gestures.
Ok, so I’m going off the point here, something I do a lot and another reason why I blog. I do not stop talking! This is probably why I enjoy getting to know new people. My whole family are the same. I experienced my first holiday abroad when I was 9 years old, a package holiday to Alcudia in Spain. Thereafter, every year we holidayed somewhere different in Europe. I hold magical memories of those trips. Talking of memories, as a family our motto, our ethos if you like, is to collect as many memories as we can together. Time is precious remember! When I was 20 I decided on a whim to fly out to Australia and join my then and now closest friend. This was to change me. I became infected with the incurable travel bug. In 2013 my parents attempted to convince us that cruising was the way forward, that we’d love it. I was not convinced at all, so much so I was adamant I would never cruise! My parents actually went behind my back and took the risk of booking a 2 week cruise around the Mediterranean for me and my family. I stood at Southampton docks terrified, tears rolling down my face. Five years on, I couldn’t be more grateful to my parents. We have become a family of cruising and travel addicts. I am passionate about travel, cruising and memory collecting so why keep the memories to myself?
After further deliberation, I was finally convinced by a well established lifestyle blogger to give it a go; I did. At first my blogs were a way of re-living the memories, attempting to escape the holiday or cruise blues; now I have a fully fledged website and little free time. Blogging for me so far has had many highs and lows and is far more time consuming than I ever expected. Equally, blogging is exceptionally rewarding and I’m dedicated to giving it my all. Most of my enjoyment comes from getting to know like-minded bloggers, I have received some wonderful messages of support from people who have read my posts and informed me that they have loved reading them, or that I have answered a question that needed answering, they like my writing style or feel that my post has been informative. This for me is what keeps me going in the blogging industry and is why I predominantly share my work. My Husband and children have also told me how proud they are of me and as my motivators they remind me to keep going when the lows of the blogging world come knocking. Right then, I’ve whittled on for long enough.
You’ve been blogging for a while now Jamie. What have been your highs and lows to date? Is there anything you’re particularly against in the blogging industry or particularly for?
Jamie: Claire I wrote and posted my first blog on 15 February 2015, my first and last for a whole 2 years in fact! I had a good story to tell about my experiences of being at sea for Christmas, but I had no audience to share it with – I knew I needed to grow organically, which would take time and hard work. But then my Masters in linguistics really kicked in alongside my full time job as a Deputy Headteacher in a large secondary school and suddenly blogging was behind me. I completely underestimated how much time was needed to not just write quality blogs, but to reach an audience. That was lesson 1!
Fast forward a couple of years and successfully completing my Masters, but burnt out on a scale I’d never experienced, I replaced study and work with as much relaxation and holidaying as I possibly could. I started to make more videos of my travels and in February 2017 decided to relight the blogging fire! It was only then that I started using Twitter more regularly, You Tube, and tried linking these ideas in to a whole. In September I started a cruise forum on Facebook and this has proven popular, engaging with a completely new and interactive audience. Lastly, I joined Instagram, and have more recently started posting regularly. With a seemingly loyal audience growing naturally, I found out few months ago that I had been nominated as “best blogger” in the British Cruise Awards 2018 alongside people with much larger audiences than me. I think this is testament to the fact that if you have quality content (I absolutely believe in my content – there, I’ve said it), a loyal following will support you through thick and thin, and suddenly “numbers” seem irrelevant. So, lesson 2, link your platforms, have common themes, and only blog your best. I’m a writer at heart, and my posts are too long for some, but it’s a craft for me and I love being creative. Receiving positive feedback on my writing is wonderful and knowing people book holidays / hotels / flights on my recommendation is overwhelming. Claire, I think you feel the same excitement and rewards? I am not just here to churn out click bait posts to just gain numbers – I am here to inform, inspire and help others explore. What could be better?
But lesson 3 stings a little. Starting out requires patience, resilience and an eye for integrity. I found out quite quickly that some bloggers were buying their audience, quite literally. This horrified me. Some are more worried about where their next freebie is coming from rather than writing from the heart. Others were quick to be critical. Ageism was and continues to be rife (I’m 43 which for some is considered past it, believe it or not, and they were happy to tell me this). I’d see (still do actually) countless #ff / Follow Fridays with my name missing. Recently there was a congratulatory post about the best blogger shortlist, but my name was also missing – very pointed indeed!
In addition, I won’t follow a blogger if I do not buy into their product, which has clearly not gone down well with some, but it is not personal. I feel like a lone voice sometimes, but lesson 3 taught me to focus on my writing, my filming, what is important to me, and to not be influenced by others or to follow suit even when you can see the crowd do just this. Integrity is everything and means much more than statistics. Lesson 3 – follow your own path – be nice to others, support them, but be confident to not engage when it challenges your core beliefs. Be the lone voice when necessary. Be brave.
I wonder how many other bloggers have experienced something similar, Claire? You say you are quite new to blogging – have you faced any particular challenges in the blogging world? What advice do you having for new bloggers?
Claire: You’re full of surprises, I didn’t know that you had originally started your blogging journey in 2015 and I have not yet had the chance to look and see if your very first post in regards to being at sea for Christmas is still on your site? I do hope so, my inference tells me it would make for an interesting read. Additionally, we – The Harris family have been pondering over a Christmas cruise for some time; I wonder if your blog might help us with our decision?
You were certainly ridiculously busy in the two years that followed and it must be acknowledged in that time you achieved greatly! I do hope that although your blogging took a back seat at the time, in order for you to complete your Masters and become a Deputy Head that you took the time to realise how much you actually achieved. Not many 43 year olds can put claim on what you have! You will notice I just made an ageist remark. Yes, it was indeed for the purpose of my response because someone will perhaps read this and think well I’ve done this and I’ve achieved that and I’m only 39, 28, 60, 80, 15! Of course you have and genuinely- well done to all of you. Age, what is it? What does it mean? Why does it have a label? You may have gathered that upon reading the response you received in relation to you being nominated as Best Blogger 2018 at the seemingly old age of 43 has appalled me. Credit where credit is due, you’ve been nominated because your content is fantastic, informative and helpful. Your readers relate to and enjoy your work. As a new blogger I’m clearly doomed if not a minority, for I am indeed 40 years of age and my blogging journey has only just begun.
Reading your response has been bitter sweet, I’m excited about my blogging journey and terrified at the same time. You’ve experienced some major low times and underhand tactics and you’ve experienced some extraordinary times through your blogging journey, which of course makes it all worth it. I don’t see you or I as quitters, it’s just not an option and the good most definitely outweighs the bad.
You have asked me what challenges I have faced so far:
- Bitter comments from so called friends who had no idea of my plans to blog.
- Underhand tactics from some other bloggers, not necessarily with the same niche. We are all in this together peeps!
- Time! Oh how I wish I could add another 6 hours or so on the days I am writing for my blog . I have a full time job, which most of us do, therefore blogging is a choice for us, a passion, an art. I have to admit, I thought blogging would be far less time consuming than it actually is.
- Attempting to grow my social media sites. I mean who else can relate to 10 new followers on Instagram and then 12 unfollows the very same day? At first, it can feel demoralising and is incredibly frustrating but it soon becomes clear that this isn’t what is important. You’ve said it Jamie, it’s the blog content. The following should come organically and naturally thereafter.
Perhaps the most shocking struggle so far which is still raw and was not actually a personal struggle for me has to be an occurrence on Social Media very recently. A new account had been created and had cooked up a serious storm involving many innocent bloggers from a specific niche. The outcome really did send shockwaves through the niches community. Moments and occurrences like that can potentially cause damage to bloggers whose business is solely blogging. Furthermore it can cause distrust throughout a tight community. These events saddened me for sure. I know that you are also aware of what happened. As a far more experienced blogger What did you make of it all Jamie and do things like that happen often in the industry?
Moving on to your second question: What advice would I give to new bloggers? Firstly I would say go for it. If you believe it, you can achieve. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise. Make sure you have a niche and know it impeccably well. You can always start with that and expand later. Make sure you have time. I blog in the evenings after my children are in bed, which does mean that I don’t have a lot of free time. Be kind, if like-minded people take their time to engage with you, take your time to engage back. Time is precious! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the industry. You will soon get a feel for who is willing to help and who is not.
The positives of blogging are overwhelming. I have met some amazing people and have received wonderful feedback that my posts are informative. Just tonight I received a DM from a family who are about to embark on their first cruise. They have asked me for hints and tips with regard to a specific ship that they know I’m fond of. Blogging is well worth the hard work you will inevitably have to put in. Hard work pays off.
In true bloggers style it is past my bedtime! Before I go I wanted to know your thoughts on a few things? You mentioned Facebook. I don’t have Facebook, I have been told that this is likely to have a positive impact on my website. I was hoping that I wouldn’t need another social media platform. What are your thoughts on this? How much impact do you feel having an organic following on social media has with PR and media contacts?
Jamie: Yes my first blog is still there! And you can tell it was my first as well! I think it’s important to leave there as it shows how I have learned and my work has evolved over the last couple of years! And I can whole-heartedly recommend a Christmas cruise. We have done 4 so far, and a New Year’s cruise, and they exceed our expectations every time – such special memories.
You’ve posted some great tips for new bloggers, Claire and yes, blogging is mostly a very positive experience. Like you, however, I was saddened when a “rogue” account was recently set up on Twitter to name and shame people who had bought some of their followers. I 100% believe in integrity and growing a name organically without duping your audience. I’ve written blogs about this too. However, when someone puts all their efforts into dismantling someone’s name, and duping people into following such an account, how does this make them any better? It’s abhorrent behaviour and against Twitter terms and safeguarding protocol. Fortunately I have only seen something like this the once. Focus on your own work, not other’s. It smacks of resentment, jealousy, and some very unpleasant and disturbing traits.
With regards to Facebook (and any other platform), it’s all about your limits. You don’t have to post on every platform available to reach an audience. For me, each platform offers something unique and in addition I don’t just blog, I vlog / create videos, so it makes sense to use a variety of platforms which can help to grow an audience. I have a cruise specific Facebook page run with @holidaysatsea (P&O Cruises – UK Fan Page – a shameless plug right here) which has 3200 members. It’s for asking questions about cruises, sharing information (blogs / vlogs etc) and creating a community feel. I love how vibrant and positive our group has become. It was set up primarily for this reason but, no doubt about it, some members enjoy reading my blogs and watching my holiday channel on You Tube. However, mine is not just an advertising tool. Other bloggers use Facebook as an extension of their work, or indeed the primary source. I think it can be a powerful tool but time is everything as there’s a greater time commitment needed to interact with members in comparison to other platforms, in my opinion, and members expect this interaction or they disappear.
And to answer your last question, for bloggers who are looking for media attention, I think you need to go out there and sell your product. There’s little to be gained from waiting around hoping someone will discover you. As of 2017 there were more than 440 million blogs on the internet so the chances of discovery are quite slim! Join blogger groups, collaborate, tag / hashtag the companies you want to see your work and message your media pack to the marketing teams. My advice is to not be consumed by this, however, but to focus on great quality content. Your audience will know if you are genuine or if you are looking for a quick win and a freebie here or there.
My very last question for you Claire. Do you have any long-term goals as a blogger?
Claire: Thank you for your advice, opinions on Facebook and its uses as a blogger. I think you have swayed me towards joining at a later date however, I’m still so new to the blogosphere I don’t quite feel ready for another platform just yet. I’m still trying to finish a blog post that I started two weeks ago! I will continue to take your, as always, invaluable and most welcoming advice. Therefore, I will focus mainly on my content.
As a new blogger, 13 weeks and counting, I would have to say that my main goal is to inspire, expel myths and advise people on cruising: Both new cruisers and experienced. I personally feel that the cruising niche has plenty of room for bloggers. In addition, each of us bring forward our own unique perspective on cruising therefore the readers are getting a wealth of information and insight into the wonderful world of cruising. My website http://firstinitialsea.com features posts about how I felt the first time because of myths that had passed my ears. Cruising remains our family favourite way to explore the world and although we also enjoy flying, I can’t see that changing any time soon.
As well as predominantly blogging about cruises, I aim to blog more on travel in general. Sometimes we actually fly to reach our destination! I would like to bring my experiences home, metaphorically pop them into my lap top for readers to hopefully enjoy and at least get one tip or piece of advice from it.
Moreover, I would like to continue to feel and be part of the community of cruise and travel bloggers out there. The majority of this community are extraordinary people who have been supportive and welcoming and most willing to help out. You feel a real sense of belonging, almost another family of which I feel honoured to be part of.
The first three goals I have mentioned will always remain the first three goals and an absolute must for me as a blogger. I feel it is imperative to always put your content and your loyal audience first, to be humble and make sure it stays this way throughout my journey as a blogger.
Of course, naturally there are further goals that I have in mind and would like to achieve over the next two years.
My next goal actually became a reality yesterday, I had very much hoped to be a nominee for a bloggers award. I found out yesterday that I am actually on the list for Cruise Blogger 2019 with World of Cruising magazine – Wave Awards 2019. Something tells me that having Facebook now would perhaps prove to be a great benefit. Although just to be a nominee in this category means the world.
Another goal I have in mind is to be published. This would be amazing in order to reach a further audience and hopefully inspire them. I have been fortunate enough to be a regular online feature for Porthole Cruise Magazine who approached me, they’ve been a magnificent support for which I am incredibly grateful. One day, I hope to write a piece that is published in one of the glossy magazines.
I’m sure over the next few months or years my goals may differ, that is all except the first 3. All the while I’m inspiring, offering advice and helping others I will continue to create content and carry on with my blogging journey. I have always been a dreamer Jamie, since I was a young child and both my girls are the same. Although being a dreamer is damned by some, I believe that If you work hard enough, you can achieve many things, including the those dreams…
Jamie, thank you for taking the time turning our conversations into a blog post. I have really enjoyed answering all of your questions and hope our readers will enjoy reading our raw thoughts.
For now, I’m going to use this time to head over to your website and read that very first post.