Why I Rebranded My Blog (then Tripled My Engagement)
***Disclaimer – If you are a blogger who uses affiliate sites 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 an addicted rat race of affiliate marketing - and evolve into something I am so proud of – something meaningful and genuinely serves the needs of my readers.
In 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 necessary 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 Angela Lanter, 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 comfortable for any mom to understand, as well as to build 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 three 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 significant 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 makeup, 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 re-post that “perfect gram worthy” photo I had spent hours producing, all while posting other products in hopes a major brand would re-gram 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 continually curating new content and posting LiketoKNOW.it photos on my Instagram at least three 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 FINALLY 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 substantial living doing so. I am college educated, have a wealth of experience and knowledge under my belt, and typically follow my intuition, which usually leads me to valuable business advice.
But, unbeknownst to me --- I had drunk 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 honest 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 bored as well.
They only wanted to see me in clothes, and it was the only way I got any engagement on social media.
My newsletter subscription started declining, I was continually promoting affiliate links more than my 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 brand my blog, passions, and creativity properly.
In 2014, my newsletter went utterly stagnant the last three 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 are 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 unfolding, 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 from time to time, so I am not biting the hand that feeds here.
But, what I realized in my 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 indeed sustain a business and brand over time.
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 rebrand in 2016. I needed to get back to what my real passions were, and why I initially sought out to blog in the first place – to connect, consciously.
There came a time when I knew I needed to stop hiding if I wanted to grow a connected community of people online. A 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 - Connection and education through my skills in publicity and influencer marketing.
My career as a publicist and marketer has always been about helping and inspiring people to find that creative magic within, that inspires courage and determination to 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 of 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 and podcast 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 - The Online Resource for Bloggers and Influencers in 2016 and created The Influencer Podcast in 2017, which are now destinations for creative influencers and bloggers to find their purpose, establish their brand and grow their business and income.
From this re-brand, Pitch It Perfect Pitch It Perfect is the only online course that teaches influencer and bloggers how to move from one-off, paid to post content and redundant affiliate links to long-term, big bucks brand collaborations - all in just one week! I created Pitch It Perfect becasue I never want another blogger or influencer to ever feel the way that I felt for all of those years. I never want them to spend another day thinking they are not enough. I want to EMPOWER them to, finally, think, feel and own their brand...and make a proper living doing it!
Pitch It Perfect has helped hundreds of bloggers get out of the affiliate rat race, learn how to pitch themselves for brand collaborations, and teach them how to negotiate higher rates. Most of the bloggers who have taken the course have seen a 40% increase in their annual income! They are FINALLY turning their side hustle dream into a long-term business. I could not be any more proud of these incredible bloggers! (if you want to learn more about Pitch It Perfect, CLICK HERE)
HEADS UP!!!! I created a free webinar to help influencers and bloggers who may be feeling this way GET OUT of this cycle, and into a new cycle that promotes purpose, long-term growth, and strategy.
One month into my re-brand, I had doubled my newsletter subscription and grown my website traffic by 57%.
What followers I used to gain in a month on Instagram I was now increasing in a week. During that month, I made $10,000 in brand partnerships from the pitching techniques I created in Pitch It Perfect (Thank goodness I started practicing what I had been preaching, funny how we don't listen to ourselves sometimes, isn't it?)
I also made one blogger very happy when I negotiated a $365,000 (!!!) brand deal for her. I then added all of my pitch templates and my exact process of how I pitched and negotiated the $365K deal for this blogger in Pitch It Perfect, so everyone who takes the course can learn how to do it, too!
Oh, I also made $317.00 off of affiliate links that month, lol. I lay out these numbers because I want you to see that growing an income from blogging can be done without the need for affiliate marketing. If I can do it, so can you!
Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing. Going through that led me to what my real blogging purpose, to improve 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 also offer a ton of free tips through this blog ‘s newsletter which has been so much fun and super fulfilling.
As bloggers, WE are the creators, WE are curators, WE are the creatives, WE are the influencers.
The business of blogging should be about real 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 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 allowing for my brand to shine and grow over time. 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 truly creative or genuinely 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 truth – to serve in my own uniquely creative way.
Have you ever felt this way? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below!
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.