Today my blog turns 2 years old!
That means 2 years ago I made my blog public and since then the blog has spiraled beyond what I ever could’ve imagined.
When I first started blogging, it was just 2-3 family members reading my blog. And I was 100% fine with that. My blog was a way for me to channel my passion of writing while preparing to move & teach abroad. I started it for me and I wasn’t too worried about who read it. At the most I thought that maybe some other aspiring South African teachers may want to read about how I got into the field and maybe feel inspired. I have to say that reading over my earlier posts makes me want to cringe because they’re rather boring even if they were informative.
But over time I started writing more informally and sharing more details about my life. And slowly people started finding me. Through search engines, through other blogs, through Instagram (which I wasn’t a big user of before but suddenly I started to enjoy it), they crept through my blog door, standing around hesitantly at first and later, voicing their opinions to me loud and proud!
I never feel bad that my blog is and has always been my hobby. If you’re a blogger you must see the ads for ‘blogging courses’ extolling the virtues of SEO optimisation and web development. However, I’ve never felt pressure to take my blog beyond my hobby; I feel that the moment I take it too seriously, it goes from being a relaxing pastime to WORK. And I work hard enough in my day job as a teacher. Unlike the millennials quitting their well-paid jobs to become digital nomads and travel the world, I have no intention of squandering my hard earned university education to live in a shack on a beach begging for sponsorships from slimming tea, hair gummy or watch companies!!
My blog may not be extremely popular and I don’t believe that I influence anyone to do anything important BUT I am exceptionally happy with where my simple hobby has progressed to today. And why is that? Simply because I didn’t listen to some of the worst advice I received about blogging such as:
Find your niche and stick with it
When I started the blog, I thought it was imperative to follow this advice so I thought, “I will only write about my experiences living and teaching in the Middle East”. And yes I admit, this is still the biggest draw card that attracts new visitors to my blog. But what makes them follow my blog or send me messages? It’s the personal posts that allowed people to really get to know me. People read my blog and they think I must be so open and happy to share my experiences but they would be surprised if they met me in real life; my personal life isn’t something I share with ease. However, through my Instagram and this blog, I have opened up about my divorce, job loss, my ethnicity and the struggles of traveling with a passport from a third world country. It still continuously surprises me how kind and supportive people can be when you open yourself up and also, its helped me feel less alone knowing there are other people out there with these problems too. I am SO glad I expanded beyond one simple niche.
Keep it all about you
Although I see great blogs about bloggers and their lives and families, I sometimes eschew this advice and give my blog over to others so that my readers can get a break from me once in a while. My guest series is called Panda’s Penpals. I have had 7 guest writers to date ranging from my ex-husband who wrote this popular post about what its like to be married to a blogger to a university friend of mine who shared her experiences of being a foreigner in my home country of South Africa. This year I collaborated with 5 other bloggers in the Gulf region to dispel myths about what life is like for women who live in the Middle East. I personally love the opportunity to collaborate with others so I find out more about their lives and introduce my readers to them too. As long as their topics are relevant and they have something I think my readers would be interested in, I don’t see why my blog should only be about me. I’m really not that exciting!
On a side note: I almost never turn down the opportunity to write for others too! This is a way to reach a wider, more diverse audience. Some of the pieces I have enjoyed contributing to included this controversial one about the truth behind teaching abroad, how to incorporate travel while you have a full-time job, and this interview about how I got into teaching abroad.
Pay attention to the numbers!
Every article I read made mention of how I should monitor my stats and levels of engagement with my posts. I even read articles of people who had a schedule on when they would publish posts on Instagram! But truthfully my numbers don’t mean much. I post when I’ve been inspired to write and have had time to put a post together. Sometimes that’s immediately after a trip and sometimes that is after a long sabbatical. I post on Instagram when I have something worthwhile to say or want to share pics of my travels and life. At the end of the day I have made lifelong friends through this blog and have enjoying chatting with people through Instagram… what different does it make whether I have 100 followers or 1000? My stats mystify me rather than inform my decisions!
I know it might sound somewhat clichéd but in a way the blog has helped me get through the most challenging year of my life. When I posted about my divorce, people reached out to me and made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through this (and I felt so isolated because I had no one else around me who had gone through a divorce); I love when I connect with other African travelers and our discussions are based on “where can we go where we don’t need a long visa application?”; and I love the overwhelming support of women empowering women that I see on my platform whenever I post about a challenge I am experiencing.
While the blog has definitely helped me through the most difficult year of my life, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows. I’ve also been verbally abused, emotionally harassed and victimised because of things I’ve written. I will never forget when my ex mother in law left me 16 beautiful comments telling me exactly what was wrong with everything I did from how I looked to how I lived my life. I considered getting a restraining order but at the end decided blocking people off social media was easier than filling out paperwork. Truthfully though, its these experiences that have made me become strong and uncaring of unimportant opinions. And every time someone sends me an email saying how I’ve inspired them to move abroad or thanked me for helping them plan a trip, it’s all worth it… absolutely worth it for that warm feeling!
If I had to give anyone blogging advice it would be:
You do you boo!
Share as much as you want to, post as often or as seldom as you’d like; don’t feel the need to use the same washed out filters that everyone uses on their photos or pose in the same way that other people do; just let your personality shine through on your platforms and your blog will grow- maybe not dramatically but if you have 20 genuine people who read and comment son your posts, its far better than 2000 spam bots who don’t even know you exist. Genuine people will love your authenticity if you let your personality shine through! If you are an aspiring blogger, just remember:
If you’re someone who wants to start a blog, what is holding you back? And if you are a blogger, what is the worst blogging advice you’ve ever received? Let me know in the comments below!