***Disclaimer – If you are a blogger who uses affiliate sites like RewardStyle/ LiketoKNOW.it and ShopStyle as the main source of monetizing your blog and growing your income, I strongly encourage you to read this with an open mind and open heart. My experience and opinions of affiliate sites are that of my own, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the business model affiliates set out to accomplish, and the jobs they create.
Three years ago, I decided to start a website that would unknowingly change the course and purpose of my career.
What I didn’t anticipate three years ago is that the website I started would, unwittingly, become a case study that would change the trajectory of the way I looked at my brand and the business of blogging.
I had no idea that my relationship with blogging would start as a desire to connect with like minded mothers - then shift into a horribly addicted rat race of affiliate marketing - and evolve into something I am so proud of – something meaningful and truly serves the needs of my readers.
In the fall 2013, I was living in Los Angeles and was a brand new first-time mom. I was the most stressed I had probably ever been in my life.
I was measly earning $1,500-$2,000/month in PR, due to my maternity leave, all while doing the important and terrifying work of figuring out who the heck I was as a new mom and wife.
At the encouragement of my husband and my friend, I started a lifestyle blog with a motherhood focus called Julie Solomon.net – A Publicist’s Spin on Motherhood - in hopes of connecting with other moms that were going through the same chapter of life. My goal was to bridge the gap between information and parenting in a way that made it more efficient and easy for any mom to understand, as well as building a community to share motherhood advice and experiences.
The more I wrote, the more of a community I started to grow online and in my new city.
I started doing work I was proud of, contributing to sites like Modern Mom and Mom.me, became a Popsugar Select Mom Blogger and was attending blogger events and meeting fantastic women along the way. It was great to connect with these mothers, but as the months went on and the fear of not “making money” on my blog set in.
About 6-9 months into blogging, I found out about the affiliate site RewardStyle through some blogger friends. All of my other “fashion blogger” friends were racking in thousands a month off of affiliate links and perfectly curated #OOTD photos on Instagram. I thought to myself “Well, I know I set out to share tips and tricks on Motherhood – but if I can start monetizing this way – I’ll give it a shot!”
I immediately applied to their “invite only” list and anxiously waited another 3 months for acceptance (while consciously not realizing what the “need” of being accepted into this exclusive affiliate group was doing to my blogger psyche and causing a major blow to my confidence). Is my blog good enough? Do I have enough followers? Will they like my content? – These were all questions going through my head as the months went on waiting for the approval.
I finally got accepted and started changing my content to focus more on style and outfits - doing the same thing every other blogger that I followed on social media was doing.
I immediately jumped on the LiketoKNOW.it bandwagon (an email service that RewardStyle owns, that enables publishers/bloggers to earn money off of Instagram posts) that set forth a tidal wave of affiliate dependence.
I would spend countless hours a week ordering clothes from Nordstrom, prepping hair and make up, hiring photographers, returning clothes to Nordstrom, researching blog ideas, updating my instagram, comparing myself to other bloggers, stalking the LiketoKNOW.it instagram feed in hopes they would repost that “perfect gram worthy” photo I had spent hours producing, all while posting other products in hopes a major brand would regram me (as that was what I was told would grow my engagement).
I remember going out shopping with friends and checking my LiketoKNOW.it app to see if the cute shirt I wanted to purchase at the boutique was part f their affiliate program. If not, well then of course I couldn’t buy it.
Week in and week out, this vicious cycle became my new life as a blogger.
I was spending 60+ hours a week constantly curating new content and posting LiketoKNOW.it photos on my Instagram at least 3 times a day. The affiliate checks started rolling in, little by little, which made me believe that I had found the answer to monetizing my blog! I thought I had FINALLLY nailed my branding, nailed my purpose, was being true to whom I was as a blogger and what I was set out to serve. I could finally justify all of the hours spent on my blog because I was finally making money from my blog!
Or was I?
Now mind you, at the time I was still working full time as a publicist, and making a solid living doing so. I am college educated, have a wealth of experience and knowledge under my belt, and typically follow my intuition, which typically leads me to profitable business advice.
But, unbeknownst to me --- I had drank a MASSIVE glass of the RewardStyle / LiketoKNOW.it Kool-Aid, and started down one of the most destructive business paths of my entire career. Not to mention, it was one of the most unconfident periods of my life.
During this destructive year, I may have started making money via affiliate links, but the authenticity of my blog and my voice disappeared. The focus became LiketoKNOW.it, and my instagram consisted of a few short sentences that went a little something like this:
"this is what I wore, affiliate link, this is where I bought it from, affiliate link, this is on sale, affiliate link, isn’t my kid cute, affiliate link, OMG I woke up like this, affiliate link, did you see VSCO came out with an update, affiliate link, I went out to dinner with girlfriends, affiliate link - if I can link to said girlfriends clothes or jewelry, then I’ll see you with another affiliate link-laden post tomorrow!"
There were no (real) authentic explanations about why I loved the pieces I bought/received gifted/ordered off Nordstrom with every intention to return, no real takeaways, solutions to issues that mattered, real connection with this beautiful community that was right at my fingertips to learn and grow from…it just all got so manufactured and boring.
My audience became super narrowed and bored as well.
They only wanted to see me in clothes and it was the only way I got any sort of engagement on social media.
My newsletter subscription started declining, I was constantly promoting affiliate links more then my own blog links, and most importantly, the traffic on my blog became almost non-existent!
I was, unknowingly, training my audience to LOVE LiketoKnow.it, not the content I was curating. My new brand made them believe that they only needed to follow and like my photos ONLY if there was a LiketoKNOW.it hyperlink attached to the post. I became so unconscious to the lack of connecting that was taking place between my readers and myself.
Why would ANYONE want to go to my blog when they could just Like the photo to Know everything about my content?
I spent all of my time promoting LiketoKNOW.it that I had no time left to properly brand my own blog, passions and creativity.
In 2014, my newsletter went completely stagnant the last 3 months of the year. I was consistently making anywhere from $500-$2,000 a month from LiketoKnow.it, and another $2-$4000 on brand deals I was negotiating for myself. LiketoKNOW.it ended their 2014 year with $10 million in sales and 75 million emails in their database.
I point this out because it was here that I started to notice how much bloggers like myself were doing FOR the growth of these affiliate companies, and how little (in the grand scheme of things) we were gaining in return. We serve so much of the needs and growth of these affiliate companies, but how much these companies serving ours? Of course you have your outliers in the world of affiliate influencing, but I was not one of them - the damage to my brand was being done and I had to make a change.
I want to preface the next bit by saying this – I am not blaming RewardStyle / LiketoKNOW.it or any affiliate company for my lack of growth during that time. When it comes to those companies, I did and STILL DO work with them for time to time, so I am not biting the hand that feeds here.
But, what I realized in my own blog process is that we bloggers have the divine right to work with affiliates in a way that is fair and healthy, and doesn’t enable them as our sole source of income, inspiration and growth.
There has to be a strategy in place in your want to truly sustain a business and brand overtime –
We have to use affiliate links just as much, or as little, as they use us..
All of this realization into 2015 led me to rebranding in 2016. I needed to get back to what my true passions were, and why I originally sought out to blog in the first place – to connect, consciously.
Their came a time when I knew I needed to stop hiding if I really wanted to grow a connected community of people online. Community isn’t built on hiding that we are or living in the shadow of someone else’s brand/business . It’s about revealing ourselves together, knowing that people will be there to cheer you on, even after you’ve shared your most vulnerable parts. And if I wanted to preach that, I needed to practice it, too.
I decided to turn to a part of my brand that had always allowed for healthy growth in experience and consistent income - Publicity, Consultingand Digital Marketing.
My career as a publicist has always been about helping and inspiring people to find that creative magic within, that inspires courage and determination to truly let their brand and business shine. I am a New York Times Best-Selling publicist and have managed and worked with dozens of best-selling author’s who have collectively sold over 100 million books worldwide. I have also worked with bloggers and entrepreneurs, landing them hundreds of thousands in brand deals.
I started thinking that perhaps bloggers rely so much on affiliates because they may not have the proper connections, tools or know-how to monetize their blog themselves. I saw that I was consistently making more money off of the brand deals I was negotiating for myself instead of the affiliate links I was using. I knew this is where I could help those bloggers out there that were just like me.
My blog is now about how I can best serve – through publicity, blogger brand management and digital marketing.
I changed my blog name to Julie Solomon.net – A Publicist’s Spin on Blogging in 2016, and it is now the destination for creative millennial’s and bloggers to create their brand & grow their business and income.
From this re-brand, I also created a new YouTube series called be Connected. Each week I share actionable wisdom, solution based how to's and in depth interviews with some of today's top millennial influencers to help viewers create, perform and share connectively.
One month into my re-brand, I had doubled my newsletter subscription and grown my website traffic by 52%.
What followers I used to gain in a month on Instagram I was now gaining in a week. During that month, I also I made $10,000 in consulting other bloggers how to rebrand themselves, and made one blogger very happy when I negotiated a $365,000 brand deal for her! I also made $317.00 off of affiliate links that month, lol. (don’t quick my day job…I know!) I lay out these numbers because I want you to see that growing an income from blogging cam be done without the need of affiliate marketing. If I can do it, so can you!
Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing – as going through that led me to what my true blogging purpose is now – to change the business of blogging by giving bloggers the tools and techniques to truly think and feel for themselves and their brand, so they never have to use an affiliate site to monetize their blog ever again!
I do this through a program I run mentioned above, which is a one-on-one brand strategy consulting course for bloggers to help them connect their brand to their ideal audience through networking, pitching and social media, so they can authentically grow their business and income. I also offer a ton of free tips through this blog ‘s newsletter, and these media lists and pitching tools, which has been so much fun and super fulfilling. (email me if you want more info on that!)
As bloggers, WE are the creators, WE are curators, WE are the creatives, WE are the influencers.
The business of blogging should be about true connection, real growth -- about bloggers accepting affiliates into our world if and when it makes sense – not the other way around.
As I look back on what became this case study of rebranding – I think about what got me so off course… was it the “vulnerability hangover” each time I shared something about myself on my blog? Did I just put too much stress on my creativity to be this massive income source? Was I not ready to be seen and truly serve?
As the amazing author Lysa TerKeurst says,
“You can be true to yourself, but which version are you really being true too?”
It was much easier to create images for LiketoKnow.it and hide behind their brand while getting some short-term financial fix, instead of really allowing for my own brand to shine and grow overtime. I know we bloggers have to put food on the table – but I hope that my story cans how that affiliates aren’t the only way to make a living blogging.
My sincere hope is that in me deciding to stop hiding behind something else…a small part of you will feel encouraged enough to stop hiding, too.
I have since made a pact with myself and blogging moving forward and that is this:
I will never ask you to support me financially ever again. I will support the both of us. I now know that having a relationship with you is not contingent on monetization.
I will no longer murder my creativity or blogging by insisting I am not not truly creative or truly a blogger unless my blogging pays the bills and my photos and content are deemed worthy by an affiliate company. My blogging “paying the bills” will ebb and flow, it might or might not.... but I will no longer go into bitterness, depression, comparison, rejection, shame and resentment when it comes to blogging. I will be childlike in the pursuit of blogging, but I will not be childish.
So – there you have it! My beautifully broken story of blogging and why I had to rebrand to get back to the real truth – to serve in my own uniquely creative way.
No matter where you are right now — whether you’re the anxious newbie who doesn’t believe in his or her gifts, or the confident creator I strive to be now — I see you. And I’m genuinely glad you’re here.
If you are a blogger who may be feeling the same way and would like recourses on how to get out of the blogger rut or affiliate cycle so you can take back your brand, I encourage you to shoot me an email, as well as check out these resources from my newsletter, where you’ll get instant access to strategic tools and refreshing ideas that will help you connect and grow you brand, and you’ll get exclusive content, and personal updates from me that I ONLY share through email.
Stay focused, brand with intention and remember to always show up create perform and share connectively. Let your brand and business shine through that creative magic that only you can share!
BRANDING TIPS: How to Become a Social Influencer / Must Do's Before Hiring A Publicist / Defining Your True Brand Sweet Spot / How to Sell Yourself on Social Media / 3 Social Media Tools That Expand Engagement / Why I Rebranded My Blog and Then Tripled My Engagement
BUSINESS TIPS (from the YouTube series be Connected): The Power of Following Your Fear (video) / 5 PR tips to Grow Your Brand (video) / How To Stay Organized and Grow Your Income (Video) / 3 Money Tips to Train Your Brain for Monetization / How to Make Money on Instagram