003 Holly Becker: Blog to online business empire
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Paige: Welcome to the Online Business Besties podcast where we're dedicated to helping you build a successful online business that enables complete lifestyle, location, and financial freedom. If you're a go-getter who's dreaming of building an online business and living your best life, then you, girl, are in the right place. Each week we'll bring you tested strategies along with stories from our guest expert besties to show you just how possible this life is and exactly how it's done. And now here's your host, online business educator, Paige Brunton.
Paige: Welcome ladies. You're listening to episode number three with Holly Becker. Now, before we get into the interview today, I want you to know what an absolutely amazing online business owner you are listening to. Here is what you need to know about Holly. Holly turned a love for design into a business empire. She runs one of the best-known design blogs and businesses in the world called Decor8. She reaches approximately one million readers across her platforms every single day. She's worked with brands such as Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Martha Stewart, West Elm, Jonathan Adler, West Wing, Etsy, Canon, Mooto, Minted.com, Liberty Lending, Pinterest, and Squarespace among many others.
Paige: Holly's first book, Decorate, was a global best-seller and she wrote three more books which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. She now has her own magazine, Living At Home + Holly, with issue number two releasing in September. In addition to being a blogger and an author, Holly is a journalist and interior stylist. She designs interior products for brands along with trade show stands and she regularly lectures at Europe's most prominent interior design fairs. She's also a mother to a five year old boy and does all of this from her home office.
Paige: So ladies listening, know that Holly's been at this since 2006 and she seriously knows her stuff. We are truly so lucky to have Holly on the show sharing her years of knowledge with us, so listen up because there are some seriously life-changing online business knowledge bombs in this one. So today Holly and I are talking all about how her massive business empire started in the early days, how she turned her blog into a massively successful online business, how blog income generation changed over time and the mistakes she watched others fall into over the years.
Paige: Now before we get into the interview there's something I want you to hear. So, you know you want to run an online business, which allows you a lifestyle of complete freedom, but you're stuck figuring out which online business idea would actually work for you. Not to worry. My online business matchmaker training is just for you. Think of the training like a cocktail. We're going to mix together the passions and talents that you already have, your dreamy ideal customer, and successfully proven online business revenue models. Get immediate access to the totally free 30 minute video training and accompanied workbook at PaigeBrunton.com/matchmaker. Again, that's PaigeBrunton.com/matchmaker.
Paige: So, Holly, I am so excited to have you. Welcome to the show.
Holly: Hi, it's so nice to be here Paige. Thanks for having me.
Paige: Absolutely. Okay, so Holly can you walk us down memory lane and explain a little bit about why you decided to get started and what your life looked like in the early days of your blog/business.
Holly: Oh yeah. This is such a good story to tell because I think a lot of people listening are interested in it because I'm a self-made woman. Basically the definition of that is I've cried a lot, I've failed a lot, I've gotten up a lot, but like that expression you fall down seven times, you get up eight, and that's what I believe in. And that's really the whole thing about being self-employed and being an entrepreneur is you just have to learn to deal with that.
Holly: Yeah, so my background, where I started all of this, what happened was I was working at a job as project manager in Boston and I really liked it. It was good, it was interesting, but I didn't feel very passionate about it because I just thought I really want to be doing my own thing and I'm a bit of a boss or a leader type of person, so I always felt kind of pushed down because of the hierarchy in corporations. Before you could get anything done, you'd have to pass it through 25 teams and 30 bosses. Even though I was in a managerial role, I still didn't have freedom to really do a lot of things. I felt constantly just under someone else's watch and care. I'm just my own person and I didn't want to wait. I'm too impatient. I don't want to wait six weeks for something. I want to do it now.
Holly: And you know this because I watched you work and my god, you're fierce. You want to do something, the next day it's done. Like when you wanted to start this podcast, I remember you told me, "I'm going to start a podcast," and like a week later it was up and running. You understand this. Yeah, so, I was working as a project manager and I just wanted to get out and try something new and I was working with architects and space planners and designers all day so I was very familiar with the interior design world and the world of floor planning and such. I've always loved it. It was something that I loved to do as a child. I was always decorating the house as a child and going to stores with my mom, she's a floral designer, so it was just a part of my life.
+ full transcript
Holly: What happened was I decided one day that I wasn't going to stay in this job anymore. I wasn't going to suffer anymore. And I didn't know what I would do, but I would get out. I planned to go back to school and I went back to school for interior design and I decided you know what, let me go back in the certificate program, see what I can pick up and learn, and see if this is something I could maybe turn into a business. I already had been working in space planning for several years and I knew what I was doing, so let's see, let me see if I can do this. So I jumped out and while I was working I also went to interior design school, so I gave myself a one year plan, a one year exit strategy, and I said in one year I'm not going to be here, I'm going to be doing something else, and that's exactly what I did.
Holly: A year from the day I said that, I quit my job. I resigned and I just said, I don't want to use the f-word, but that's what I said. I said f it, I'm going to try something new. And at that time blogs were brand new, very few people had them. I was one of actually the first, I think, a handful of bloggers in the United States that was writing about the topic of design, and I decided at that time to start writing about design. I had been in school now and I was doing really well and I started to take clients so I could learn more about what I was doing at school in the real world. And my clients were always saying, "Holly, why don't you have a way for me to access you 24 hours a day?" And I thought oh god, actually I don't want that. They were calling me at all hours of the day and night and so I started a blog because that was a place that I thought could provide some information for my clients and give them all the latest in what I was finding in the design world and stuff, but also allowed me to start writing because in order to make money I couldn't just rely on my clients that I had at that time, I had to also write for magazines on the topic of design in order to have money coming in.
Holly: And I needed to build something sustainable. So yeah, that's how it all started. So January of 2006, I started to decorate my design blog and I just started writing every day and 13 years plus later here I am.
Paige: Amazing. So good.
Holly: Thank you.
Paige: Okay, so it sounds like you were over the corporate world, you decided to go back to school at the same time, and then you also started the blog. All those three things happened at once?
Holly: Yes. Pretty much. Yeah, I'm definitely not an underachiever. I like to go big or go home, as they say. So cliché, but it's so true. I think anything in life you just have to dive in and go for it. You can't just sit around and talk about it. You really have to just take the first steps.
Paige: Yeah, amazing. So, what was happening on the blog? The very first year that you were starting it you were still working. What was happening on the blog at that point? What were you creating, what were you producing on there?
Holly: I guess I was one of the early hustlers because at that time we didn't have social media. It wasn't even a word. Facebook was still within Harvard, so it wasn't public yet and Instagram didn't exist. All of these platforms really weren't there yet, so it was a time when I started blogging where in order to get someone to read it, you had to verbally tell people. You had to go out on the street and tell all your friends and your mom, please read my blog. And you also had to work through other channels online that did exist, so I was using Flickr and I was telling people on Flickr under my photos that I had a blog and I was also commenting on other blogs and just really trying to network within that very small ... Yeah, it was such a small group of people that were blogging at that time and I just hustled as well as I could with what little I had.
Holly: And then I wanted to start writing for magazines and I pitched to them and they were pretty much like yeah, beat it, I'm not interested in you because you don't have a writing background. Get some experience and come back to us kind of thing. So, I thought well ha, I'm going to get experience. I'm just going to keep writing on my blog and then I'm going to have something to actually send to people so they can get an idea of my writing style and my personality through my words and et cetera.
Holly: So that's what I did and within six months I landed a job, a real job working for Domino magazine, which at that time was like the number one design magazine in the country, and I started writing for their website not as a blogger, but as a web content columnist. And I started with them and that was paid, so that helped me to supplement my income at that time as a blogger.
Paige: Okay, yeah. That's what I was wondering.
Holly: Yeah, and then I had ads. I started an ad business as well, which is another thing I have to tell you about in a minute because it's hilarious.
Paige: Yeah? Okay. All right, well go into that now. I want to hear it.
Holly: Okay, this is hilarious. I am so embarrassed, but I'm going to say it anyway because you know what? People listening need to hear the stupid things we do, not just all the great things we do, right?
Holly: There's plenty of stupid things. This is really stupid. I was sitting at my desk one day and I thought, yeah, I need to make more money, I need to figure out how to make some cash here because I wasn't making anywhere near what I made in a corporate project management job. So what I did was this man had written to me that was interested in advertising on my blog and he was from a company in the states called 2Modern. I think they're still out there, actually. And he wrote to me and he said, "Hey Holly, I'm a fan of your blog and I really like it. Do you accept ads on your blog?" And I remember when he asked me that question in email I had to go on mine and Google that, ads on blogs, how does that work? I had no clue because this was brand new.
Holly: So I Googled it and it was like maybe five pages about it. There was nothing. I mean you have to understand, Paige, this was a world where we didn't have Instagram and podcasts and e-courses. This didn't exist back then, so in order to learn anything about anything, you had to go to Barnes & Noble bookstore or ask people. And at that time, there really wasn't even a lot of information about ads on blogs because it was brand new as well. So I basically feel like I was in in this movement of pioneers starting this whole thing and we had to just wing it. We had to figure out how this was going to work. Holly: So, what happened, this is the funny part that I wanted to get to is he emailed me about advertising on my blog, I Googled it, I kind of figured out what it was, figured out how to do it, and then I emailed him back and this is, to everyone listening, never do this. Okay? Never. I emailed him back and I said, "Yes, I'm interested in having you as an advertiser on my blog. So how much do you think you want to pay me?" That is bright green. That is so, so green and so naïve, but you know what? He wrote me back and he said, "I'll pay you $100 a month." And I said, okay that's fine because at the time I had maybe 8000 readers and I was cool with that. I thought okay, $100 bucks a month, that's $1200 bucks a year, that's like what I'd get paid professionally with a magazine article or something, so that's cool, I'll do it.
Holly: So I said yes and then of course within a year other people, they saw this ad and they started contacting me. For the first four or five years or six years of my blog I never did any outreach when it comes to advertising, zero outreach. And I had 40 to 60 advertisers at a time on my blog and was making quite a lot of money and this just came from being an idiot and being an idiot to the right person and having him not take advantage of me and being fair and negotiating something. And then within a years time he started me paying me market rate, what I was worth, and then he was an advertiser on my site for years and years and that brought in tons of other ads and that's how I built my ad business thing.
Paige: So was this sponsored content or was this just like sidebar ads?
Holly: Just sidebar ads.
Holly: Yeah, yeah. Click through, that's it. Sponsored content didn't exist back then. We didn't have such a thing. No one knew how to do it, so that came much later.
Paige: So amazing. What this shows me is how lucky we are with all the information that we have now. I mean you didn't know how much do you charge for an ad? What is blog sidebar ads? We just have this information at our fingertips now and that was not something that you had access to, so I mean you clearly had to push a lot harder than we do now.
Holly: Oh yeah, you had to push 100 times harder because and a lot of it you also had to be very experimental and risk that you possibly could fail really hard. You also had to kind of figure out things that maybe other people ... You had to figure out things that were sometimes very uncomfortable and especially when it comes to money, because you don't ... Even now it's hard to know what to charge, right?
Holly: Back then, I mean you can imagine, it was just like no clue. Paige: No idea. No basis for that.
Holly: No base. No nothing.
Paige: Okay, good. So can you explain to us what were those first few years like as you were getting the blog going? What did your day look like actually running the blog?
Holly: Oh, god. What did my day look like? It's more like what did my day, night, weekends, what did all of it look like? I was so obsessed with building something. I didn't even know what I was building. It's kind of like a kid with a box of Legos. You just sit on the floor and you just start and you don't know what you're going to come out with, you just build. And then as you build, it grows, and then before you know it you have a castle and a gate and a little ... and you have this whole thing. And that's what it was with me was building all of this up, I didn't know what I was doing. Sometimes I still don't. I think that's kind of what an entrepreneur really is and that's what our life is. That's what we love about it because it just gives us the opportunity to always springboard into something else and try something new.
Holly: In those early days I worked constantly, but I didn't have a child then, I had the lifestyle for it, so I could stay up on the weekends and binge blog until 3 AM. It didn't matter.
Paige: Yup. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Paige: So a whole lot of hustle, basically.
Holly: Oh yeah.
Paige: Okay, good. And then at what point did the blog become your full-time business?
Holly: Yeah, well along with writing for magazines, I wrote for Real Simple for three years. I wrote for Domino for three years. A magazine back then called Cookie Magazine, it was a parenting magazine, it was also for a few years. I had a one page column in the Boston Globe newspaper. Bi-weekly, I think it was, in the style and arts section. And that was also part of my income. That was going really strong and doing really well and that was paying the bills, so to speak. But what really helped was I got to a point to where the blog ads were really sustaining me and the business and I wasn't going to sleep at night anymore stressed out wondering how I was going to pay for my house. So at that time I would say it was probably around the eight month mark after I started blogging that I really started to feel comfortable with my income.
Holly: Yeah. Paige: And back in those days did you have any idea what this could eventually become?
Holly: No, no, no. Absolutely not. I mean I think that was the fun of it though and I think that's the fun of anything is when you leap into something and you don't know what to expect. A lot of people say oh god, that's the scary part. That's horrible. And I say no, no, no, that's the best thing because when you jump out and you just experience that feeling of being your own person, doing your own thing, standing up for what you believe in, feeling every moment, bad and good, that is so liberating, especially as a woman building a small business into something large. It makes you feel so good about yourself. Over all the years I've been doing this though, for 13 years, the challenges, the good times, all of that has built character in me and built a lot of self-esteem in me and now it's like I feel pretty remarkable and things that happen to me now that are good, I take them such a different way than I did in the early years when I was so much more insecure about my business.
Paige: Entrepreneurship is the best.
Holly: It really is.
Paige: For self development.
Holly: Yeah, yeah. It is.
Paige: True. Okay, good. So back in the day you were doing these blog ads, it was your major form of revenue in your business, but how, and of course now it's very different, we'll talk about that in a minute, but over the years what change in blog revenue generation? What was some trends that are completely not a thing anymore?
Holly: Oh, yeah. It's interesting, Paige, because back then when we started blogs and blogging and especially I'm going to focus more on design blogs, okay? Because that's my niche. I don't really know how the fashion blogs evolved or how the other blogs evolved, but I know about my market. And with interior design blogs we started with advertising and lots of people, as their blogs became more popular, started maybe writing for magazines or they started to supplement their incomes by maybe doing consultation for their clients, maybe doing floor plans for blog readers who read and asked them, "Hey, could you do a floor plan for my house? I'll pay you this amount." They started to really do more creative consultancy work and then from there it kind of evolved and people got into e-courses. That was much later. Getting into book-writing. All of this just evolved from there.
Holly: So, it was basically when brands and companies took notice of us that other opportunities came in because until brands and companies took us serious, it was really hard to get any kind of work because no one took you serious when you said you were a blogger. Most people said, "What's that?", you know? "What's a blogger?" But once bloggers became an authority, then people, and people meaning companies and brands, started to take us seriously and then they started to offer us different work opportunities and opportunities in general that were attractive at times, so some bloggers segued into those types of things. So everyone kind of took a different path, but if you think about it about five percent of all bloggers ever make a full-time income from it. So, it's such a small percentage when you look at there's over 200 million blogs out there.
Holly: So, when you think about it, not everyone that gets into blogging becomes a success. You have to think about your blog as one part of you business, especially today. It's not the only business. You have to have a lot of different revenue streams coming in.
Paige: That's a really great point and I completely agree. Not all blogs are making bank or making their owner a full-time job, but what is the difference between all of those blogs that the 95% which are not really turned into a business and the ones that have turned into a business? What do you think is different between them?
Holly: Oh I think the difference is the person behind them taking themselves seriously. There's so many people out there that are so gifted and talented but where they lack is they lack confidence, they lack the character to stick to things and stay on it, and that consistency is it. When you are confident and consistent and you're also talented at what you do, and you don't have to be talented when you start. When you start you can kind of be the world's greatest idiot, but if you spark and then as you go you grow and you learn and you sharpen and become better and better and better, your audience watches this progress, this actually draws readers closer to you, builds your credibility, and over time you become an expert in a subject. And at that point you have so many opportunities open themselves up to you.
Holly: I always tell people, when you're starting something don't go in it for money, go in it because you really love it and you see it as something you could do for a while because you're going to need a while to build it. There's no such thing as overnight Instagram star or influencer anymore. It takes time and consistency, but as you can see from your career, from my career, and the careers of many other women and men, it works. You just have to be consistent and you have confidence.
Paige: Yup, I agree with that.
Holly: Staying power.
Paige: Yup. People ask me how to do business. How did you become this successful Squarespace website designer? And my answer is always I was consistent with showing up with content and that made a huge, huge difference.
Holly: Yeah, that's right.
Paige: It's a harder thing to do, but it makes the biggest difference.
Holly: Great. I agree 100 percent. You have to be consistent. There's just no way around it and there's no magic pill or nothing. I just wish that more people would give themselves a chance because there's so many people out there that exist that are just so ... They get frustrated if they start an Instagram account and they don't have 20000 followers in a week. They just get so frustrated and then they just say oh, to hell with it, I'm not going to bother, and then they give up and then they run around complaining that the internet stinks, it's a horrible place. It's not, it's just it comes down to you. You have to stick with it.
Paige: Yup, I 100 % agree.
Paige: That's a good message to share. All right, so now let's talk about how are your income sources different these days and obviously it started with the ads and everything, but it's completely different, it's 13 years later, what is happening? What are the income sources of your business these days?
Holly: Yeah, so actually today it's very different than it was in the beginning because in the beginning there was just a few different revenue streams, but from that experience I knew right away that I really, really needed to diversify. I couldn't just rely on one or two revenue streams, but I really wanted like 10. I was thinking that I don't want just one client or one ad or one business, like an ad business, I wanted to diversify on that. I wanted to have more so that if one fell through or one got weak at some point because that's the nature of the internet, then I would have something else to support me financially, but also to just support me, support the business, keep it going, keep it credible, keep it popular. So I thought well let me try other things.
Holly: So what happened was in 2009 one day I was talking to a friend of mine and I was thinking about doing something because so many readers are writing into me saying, "Holly, how do I become you? How do I become this blog person that's making all this money? How do I do this? How do I become the next big thing?" And I thought, oh god, how do you answer these questions? And they were coming in by the hundreds. My husband used to say to me, "Holly, you're staying up until two, three in the morning answering all of these emails and 90 percent of the people don't even write you back. You're just sending out all this information. What are you getting back from this?" And I said, "Oh, I just want to help," and he says, "Okay, that needs to end."
Holly: A good business person does both, they help themselves and they help others. It's not just one or the other, it's both. And I thought yeah, okay, so how am I going to do this? I thought about it and one day it came to my mind because I saw a woman, she had a photography e-course, and I thought, photography e-course? That's interesting. And I took the e-course and I thought, oh, that was nice, but there's so many things that I would've changed and do and then I was sitting there and I thought well are there any other e-courses out there? I was Googling and there was nothing about blogging or building a business online. And I thought, okay, maybe this is how I'm going to reach people. Maybe I need to start an e-course and talk about blogging and how to do this, and that's what I did. I started a month later, my e-course, which was on blogger, Blogspot.com, and I made that into a blog e-course portal.
Holly: And now I think about it it's so funny and again, it was one of those things you do, you just don't know what you're doing and you do it. But when I opened up the e-course I had 700 people sign up for it and I thought-
Holly: ... oh my god, there was 700 people out there that want to learn how to blog like me. And of course, that was the beginning. Since 2009 I've had many courses, normally about two to three a year, and the enrollment fluctuates between 300 and 700, it really depends on the course topic. But that has sustained me since 2009 as well, so that's been an additional revenue stream.
Paige: Mm-hmm. Amazing.
Holly: So just always going out there and sniffing around and seeing what can I do. And now on my site I have a couple of downloads that you can download in my decorate shop online so you can go there and download a few things, like I have an e-course you can download and I have all about how to use Pinterest that you can download as a pdf file and you pay for it of course, so I'm getting the support I need financially, you're getting the support that you need for your business, and everyone's happy. It's win, win. So there's all these different little ways, and of course I work for trade shows and I do lectures and I travel for brands and I design for companies, so I mean it's just never-ending now and I've definitely reached my goal of having at least 10 income streams.
Paige: Yeah. Amazing.
Holly: Yeah, thank you.
Paige: It's so exciting too. It just shows what's possible. What a fabulous job that you have every single day that you get to teach these e-courses and then go work with these brands and travel around. I mean, it's just really, really exciting.
Holly: Yeah and you're reminding me that I need to set a date and do my next e-course because I've been a little lame on that lately. I've been busy with my magazine. But yeah, I really want to do the e-courses again.
Holly: They're knocking on the door, so it's time to answer.
Paige: Do you know what the next one's going to being about?
Holly: Oh god, yeah. Probably all about just basically this, just how to ... But this in 2019, 2020, because this is much different now than it was in 2009 as you know, I mean everything is just changing and a lot of people want to know right now, are blogs still relevant and should I put all my eggs in one basket? Should I really invest in Instagram and really build that as my primary way to reach people? And people have so many questions about this and maybe the e-course will be good for answering all of those questions. We'll see, I don't know, maybe you can be part of it somehow.
Holly: With all your wisdom.
Paige: Yeah. I think that's so good. I want to chat more about that actually in the future, later on in this. But yeah, so when it comes to sales in your business, what is the marketing channel which is driving the most to them? Is it social media itself, is it email marketing, ads, or maybe the blog that is sort of selling, like the pdf's in your shop or the e-courses?
Holly: Oh, yeah. I think definitely when it comes to selling something, I notice a real response from my newsletter. I notice very little response from Instagram, Instagram stores. I mean, I'm still kind of trying to figure out how brands are really generating revenue directly from Instagram and how that's turning into profit, how those clicks are turning into sales, because I haven't really had a lot of success with that. I have lots of people, thousands of people that view my Instagram stories every day, but that doesn't really translate into sales when I post here's my new magazine or here's my new book or here's my new class. It's really that email newsletter and also, of course, when I post on Decor8 in my blog. It's just unbelievable to me because both of those things are sort of considered quite antiquated and a bit old-fashioned by now. You know, blogging, if anything online is over 10 years it's no longer cool.
Holly: Or like an email newsletter? Come on. That's like a forum, right? That's boring. Only old people use that. But no actually, the most successful brands and business are using email newsletters, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't think about it and even value it until you do it. And then when you do it you start to see that you do get sales from that. So, I definitely, number one, email newsletter, number two, the blog, and the rest is just through all the different channels kind of combined.
Paige: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you said that because I found that to be so true in my own business as well. And I feel like I'm just lecturing at the world like, you need a newsletter, you need an email list. So important. I remember we talked about that and I was like, I need to make sure that she says this because it's important for people to-
Holly: Oh really? Oh, so the email newsletter is your primary source of driving- ?
Holly: Oh, I knew you had one, but I didn't know it was the primary.
Holly: That's incredible.
Paige: Absolutely. The idea that I make sales in my business and social media has never really been a huge focus for me. I think that there's things which I could do which would increase sales if I was more efficiently using social media, but for the most part I have been able to build a very successful business just mostly through blogging and an email list.
Holly: Oh, fantastic. That's so good. Why do think that is? I was wondering that the other day.
Paige: Why? Holly: Yeah, I think it's very niche, right? But why do you need an email newsletter works?
Paige: I think an email newsletter works because when it comes to, say, you can have long-form messages. I mean when I write in an email newsletter, they are long, and people have said oh, I don't know, is it good to have such a long email or whatever? And I've heard from other business owners, they said like not everyone's reading to the end, but the people who are reading to the end, they are the ones who are buying and that's who you're writing for.
Holly: Oh, good point.
Paige: And so I think you can't communicate that much information through like a quick Instagram post or a couple stories or whatever. And so you can really, when it comes to me launching a course, I have a whole set of like almost 15 emails which I send over the course of like two or three weeks and so I'm sort of telling a story and they really all tie in together whereas with social media we miss so many things, and so I feel like that's the real value with the emails when it comes to selling things myself.
Holly: Yeah, that's a great point. I think too with the email it's like when you're reading your emails and you get a newsletter in your inbox it's almost like it feels more special and more custom for you and I think that's probably also part of it because when we're online we're just always swiping and scanning and scrolling, but when you're at your desk and you're reading your email, you tend to take a little bit more time as email does take time, you need to read it.
Paige: Yeah. And I think it can be more specific because, I mean as you said it feels more special and more specific and that's so true because I mean when it comes to my email marketing, I'm tagging people based off the things that they're interested in and I can't do that with my Instagram followers or anything. So I know if they click on this thing they're interested in, I don't know, some sort of topic, and then I can send them more emails related to that topic. Whereas with Instagram I'm just shouting one message out into sort of like the world.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah, like a vacuum. Yeah, I totally get it.
Paige: Yeah. Okay, good. So when you look at just growing your business, growing the blog itself, what was really moving the needle over all the years in terms of things you did to help grow the blog and the business?
Holly: Yeah, consistency, just always showing up, writing, even weeks I didn't want to write. Being honest, as honest as I could, and talking about things that were happening to me in my life. I just wrote a post about this yesterday on Decor8 about intimacy and Imposter Syndrome and all these feelings that a lot of people feel when they're generating, they start their business online and they become quite popular from it. And I wrote about that and I've already seen a response from it being so warm and kind and people really coming back to the blog again because sometimes people, they shift their focus and they end up lost and then you have to kind of lure them back in. And wrote this topic not as a lure, I wrote it because I just felt like I needed to talk to my people. I needed to talk to my people. So I started writing and yeah, the people came and it's nice because it shows me that blogs are still very relevant, it just has to do with what you say and how you say it and for me that's been ... The reason why I've had success is just showing up and being on a blog and being consistent, not giving up.
Paige: So good.
Paige: And now day to day, I'm sure every single day is different, but what roughly does your life look like these days? What are you working on yourself?
Holly: Oh, yeah. Right now it's all about the next issue of the magazine. It will come out in September. So I've been up in Hamburg and I share an office up there and working with the editorial team for Living At Home + Holly. We're working on the second issue which will be out in September. It's going to be a little bit different from the first issue, but also a lot of the same. It'll just be all new content of course and we're just working so hard on planning that right now and also putting together all the stories and doing the shoots and it's just so much fun. So, there's a lot going on with the magazine and also there's other things that we're planning at this time as well, working on behind the scenes, which is really cool and takes up a lot of my time for me. I say nice time because it's time that I actually enjoy dedicating to the project. It's a phenomenal project that I'm working on with them and it's awesome, it's really good.
Holly: And of course I'm doing other work. I'm doing things for my blog, I'm doing posts on the site, and also just other things, like behind the scenes, and I'm doing consultancy and I'm helping this brand, a brand I can't talk about right now that I've been working with here in Hanover. Just little things that I kind of do on the side that never gets posted on the blog that I can't post, that no one ever knows about. That also helps me to keep myself going, keep my head above water, so it's all good.
Paige: Having your own magazine, that is just-
Holly: Right? Crazy. I know.
Paige: What did that feel like when you realized, like, I'm going to have my own magazine?
Holly: It was great. I've been wanting one since, yeah like in 2014, I've been really hot on it. I learned everything about self-publishing a magazine, everything. You could come to me and ask me any question about self-publishing, I'm going to know it because I studied it so rough and hard and I was going on it. I says, you know what? I'm going to start my own magazine. Then I realized it's going to cost about 70000 dollars to start my own magazine and I need to hire a team and I need to realize that that 70000 dollars may actually yield me zero revenue. So, I may lose it all. That to me wasn't that interesting at the time. Aiden was born and I thought, you know what? I'm not going to take this kind of risk with a baby, so I just kept doing my classes and kept dreaming about this idea of a magazine.
Holly: And then a few years later Aiden was about three and I talked to a team in the US and we were going to start a magazine, I was going to work it with them, and we were going to do it, it was ready, and we're doing the layouts, and then I just pulled the cord because again, it was [inaudible 00:36:55] dollar investment and I thought, yeah, I just feel like still I shouldn't have to put out all of this money. I actually think that at my level of what I'm doing professionally that I should be backed to it, I should have some help here. I shouldn't just be my own thing. But then of course what you dreams and what's reality are two different things, so I didn't really know what to do at that point. I didn't know kind of how to get this dream up and running.
Holly: And then I thought one day, well you know what, I'm going to do something called just put it out there and I'm just going to drop seeds. Instead of being aggressive or riding the idea until it's dead and just stressing myself out, I'm just going to plant seeds, I'm just going to sort of talk about it because that's what I did on my blog. I just sort of started talking about that I wanted to do a book and then one day an editor in London contacted me and we worked together and we did a book and it became a best-seller. That's what I like. I like just dropping the seeds and I feel like if it's meant to be it will and some things I'll go after very consciously and other things I'm just like yeah, I'm just going to drop a seed and see if it's meant to be.
Holly: And that's what I did and I was writing for a magazine called Flow in Germany here and I was in the office of the editor in chief and she was telling me, "Oh Holly, your column at Flow is starting soon and I'm really happy to have you on board," and we were discussing the ideas and options for me with the magazine and then she looked at me and she says, "Gosh, Holly, you have so many creative ideas, it's amazing." She said, "You should have your own magazine." And I looked at her and I said, "Yeah, I should. I should have my own magazine. You're right and we should talk about that." And I just confidently said that and after I said it I just thought to myself, damn girl, that was a risk to just ... Yeah, I should. And I told her I actually have a whole concept for years now, I know what I want, I know how it should look and feel and content and all that, and she was like, "Really? Okay. Well maybe we should talk."
Holly: And that "Maybe we should talk" stuck in my head and yeah, we talked. We talked many times after that and then it turned into a contract and a magazine, so it's pretty unreal, but for anybody listening, I really believe that there's some things that you really chase because you need it and there's other things that maybe you don't need that you want that may be a financial risk for you and maybe you don't need to chase those things, you just need to drop a lot of seeds and start pinging people and see what kind of comes back because there's a whole world of people out there that are interested in similar projects that you're interested in and it could be a really good opportunity for you to collaborate. It takes that financial pressure off, but also gives you a team or a person to work with to help you see your dream.
Paige: Yup. Amazing.
Holly: It's was really surreal though when I went to the newsstand and I saw it and of course I'm on the cover.
Paige: Oh, my god.
Holly: It was just yeah, I actually did, and I felt really weird, like it was really strange. My first though was what the hell? This is crazy. It was so, so fun and now the second issue will come out in September and I'm equally excited about it and hoping people will read it and find inspiration from it and if anything I just want to put out the different perception of ... Perspective, sorry, about how I see design and what I'm involved in and what I'm doing and also share and shine the spotlight on other people and lots of people that maybe go unnoticed otherwise.
Paige: So you mentioned that, and I read your blog post just yesterday, you mentioned that you published something on the blog, but now how much content is being published on Decor8 and are you doing it yourself or do you have guest posters or collaborators or other people who work with you to help you produce that content?
Holly: Yeah, I did have a team of people for a few years that were helping me produce content. I had about six or seven writers and last year I decided to make a cut and just go back to the roots of when I started and I was a one-woman show. And so now I'm running the site basically on my own. I have one columnist who pops in every few months and does a really beautiful tabletop column. But yeah I'm solo on the project because I feel like that's what the audience wants and that's also how I feel right now. For a blog, I feel like it really needs to be more personal and in order for me to make it more personal I need to be showing up . Holly: So now I have my assistant who I've had for seven years now and she's helping me do all the editorial planning. So right now things have really changed on Decor8 as you'll notice in the weeks to come. Every single day, five days a week, there will be content on the blog. It was really very sporadic for a while because of all the other projects I was working on, but I realize now that I really, no matter what else I'm doing, I still need to pay attention to the blog. The blog is still my foundation and I can't forget that. And so now I'm really dedicated back to Decor8 and to putting content on the blog every day if I can.
Paige: And how important do you think it is to be having, like you were doing sporadically and now you're going to be doing five days a week, what would your advice be around like frequency or amount of content? Have you seen traffic dip when you weren't posting as frequently? How does that look like?
Holly: Yeah, traffic definitely dips. I mean it can really dip and you can look at your numbers and say, oh god, that's a pretty significant dip. People only come to your blog now if you've published something. It used to be I remember sitting around and looking at my favorite blogs back in 2006 in the early days and I remember sitting at my desk and like I knew the blogger was going to post something because it was Monday and I was really waiting to see what he posted and I would just keep clicking reload, reload, to see if his post was up yet. And then it was up and I would read it and I was so excited. And I think that early excitement of reading blogs and all of that, you know, I don't think it'll ever really come back because it's probably not meant to. Everything evolves and that's good. Everything needs to evolve because that's where innovation comes and new things come and that's fantastic.
Holly: But with my blog I really see that even though people aren't reading them all the time like they used to, people definitely come back. And I like what you said earlier about your newsletter and how you said a lot of people complain about long-form content in a newsletter email and how you heard somewhere that it was said that if a person sticks to it and reads all the way to the end that they're going to buy something. For me, that's how I feel. If people come to the site then that is great. That means that they're there for a reason. Whereas before they were just maybe there because they found me blah, blah, blah, somewhere they linked around and they ended up there. Now, the people that really read Decor8 are diehard loyal followers and those are the people that I want because I don't want to waste my time. I don't want to go online and produce all this content for free and just put myself out there every single day and have people come up on the blog that basically aren't really interested in it.
Holly: You've seen this. I'm sure you've seen people come to your blog and they write the strangest comments and they try to market themselves and it's just really strange. I don't want those types of people on the site. I want my friends on the site. I want readers who are my friends to be there and to come and join me in this journey.
Paige: Yup. Sounds good. Now when it comes to advice for other people who are blogging right now, wanting to get into an online business-
Holly: Do it, do it, do it, yeah.
Paige: Yes. If someone has a passion on a topic and they want to get started turning the blog into a business, what would your advice be? What do you suggest they focus on at the beginning?
Holly: Oh, god. The first thing you have to focus on is thinking about your topic. What are you going to write about? What do you have to say? What can you see yourself still talking about in a few years? A lot of this kind of goes out to this idea that I once told my students in class about how important it is to do this mind mapping because this is something that I've always done and it really helps. You can use apps for this or you can just open up PowerPoint and do it yourself or even just on a piece of paper, but mind mapping is really good because you start to figure out yourself and what you love and what you want to focus on and it starts with just like a bubble and you start writing and okay, this is what I want to do, I want to write about fashion. And then you think okay, fashion, ooh passion, all right, what is it about fashion that I really want to talk about though? Because fashion is a big world. Okay, so fashion, I want to talk about accessories. That's my thing. I'm really into accessories. Okay, well, draw another bubble. Accessories.
Holly: And then, okay, what do I have to say about that? How am I expert at that or do I want to be an expert at that and how? And you just keep kind of drawing these lines and bubbles and you just take an idea and you keep whittling it down like a big piece of wood and a knife, you just keep whittling it down until you have a product and that's the same thing with a mind map. You just keep whittling down your thoughts until you have a clear view on what you think you want to write about and the direction. Of course, once you start writing you're always going to not completely change, but you'll add or you'll subtract or you'll add new topics or whatever. But just kind of have like five core topics that you think you're going to write about within your niche and just make that your focus because nowadays when you go online there's just so much flying at you all the time that it's easy to think oh god, this is so involved and there's so much to do and I never have time for all of this.
Holly: No, you won't have time for it all if you keep looking at everything else and what everyone else is doing. Think about what you can deliver and just whittle it down to like five core topics under a theme and just stick to that and publish maybe twice a week and just see where that goes. And if you're on an Instagram, try to publish one a day and just see where that goes. And over time you'll start to see, you'll look at your numbers and you'll start to see traffic and when's the best time to post and the worst time to post and you'll start to figure it out as you go. Just take the first step and just figure out what you're going to write about and get started.
Paige: Good. Amazing. Yup. That's the most important thing, get started.
Holly: Yeah, just one step at a time, one day at a time. Don't look at it as such a big, huge project. Just take it every day. Every day is your chance to figure it out.
Paige: That is amazing advice.
Paige: So good. All right so now you mentioned that the foundation of your business, you feel like, is Decor8 the blog. What are your thoughts on people who build their platform on Instagram? Is Instagram the new blogging or do blogs still have a place?
Holly: Well Instagram is a micro-blog. It's a micro-blogging platform just like Facebook and everything else, but it's just in a different environment, it's a different interaction with people. It's very different from blogging even though it's micro-blog. So, you have to think, do I really want to put my time and energy into one platform that you don't own, that you can't control, that they can just decide to delete you, your account, any day they want because maybe they thought you did something wrong or maybe you did do something against the guidelines and all of a sudden you wake up and your account is gone. That's happened to people that I know before and you don't really know, you don't have full control. And I'm a control freak when it comes to my business. I need to know what's going on. I can't sit around and wonder if I'm going to wake up the next day and I'm going to be able to use my platform or not.
Holly: So, I think it's important, not to say that these platforms aren't credible, because they are, but still they're being run by large corporations that have an interest all of their own and you're just one of millions of people using it. So what I suggest is when you look at your strategy for your business, invest in the things that you sort of own, that become your own thing. Your blog is something that you can sort of own in a way because you own the content, you can back it up on your hard drive, you have a server, you have a site that's hosting you, you have something like Squarespace that you use to put that content out there, that's all your own thing. You're not going to wake up tomorrow and it's going to be wiped out. And if it is because of some virus or whatever happened or some hacker, you still have it, it's still out there, it's still backed up.
Holly: So, that's what I love about a blog is no one can manipulate that. It's also, on Instagram we always hear this word algorithm and everyone hates the algorithms and I do too. And it's the same along that train of thought. When you're using a platform that has these algorithms that are telling you and your audience what to look at, you don't have control. So that's why I think an email newsletter list, again you own it, you control it, and your own blog, are the perfect platforms.
Paige: Amazing. So good.
Holly: Perfect foundation.
Paige: And what are some of the mistakes that a lot of Instagram influencers are making these days?
Holly: Oh yeah, gosh, I think there are many things they are doing right and there are some things they are doing very, very wrong. And the things that they're doing wrong sometimes is they're selling themselves too short in the sense of they're just grabbing at anything that they can take to make money and they're working with brands that really have nothing to do with their business, but they're turning it in a way that makes it feel like it's part of their world, but it's really not and it's obvious. So there's a lot of things like that where people just they want to make money so bad that they're kind of losing not their credibility, but from someone like me that's been doing this for over 13 years and I'm looking in on it, I think wow, I mean, gosh, how is that sustainable? They're really not working with brands that they love. They're not doing things that they're really that passionate about and can they still model swimwear in 10 years after they've had five kids?
Holly: How is what they're doing sustainable? Like think, think, think, think. Think about not just today, but think about is this something that I can see myself doing in five years? And if so, how should I branch out this tree of mine? The trunk may be the core is what you're doing right now. You're on Instagram, you're trying to hustle yourself or whatever you're doing. But then you have to think about the branches off of that tree. You have to think okay, I need branches here, what can that be? Maybe I need to start looking into designing things because if brands are coming to me to hustle their products, maybe I should have a product with my name on it. So look into those ideas, look into getting management so someone can manage you and help you to take the right jobs. Definitely get a savings account and save that money because those 15000 dollar per post Instagrams won't last forever or even those 1000 Euro per post Instagrams won't last forever. This will change dramatically in five years.
Holly: So, take all the money you earn and put it into a savings account. Save up for a rainy day, so to speak, because the rainy days always come. And that's what I would suggest. What I see kind of going wrong right now is I talk to a lot of people who are using these platforms and they're just in a bubble and they just forget that this can all change so quickly. So those are things that I think they need to be doing. Build a real skill. Build a skill is more than just showing yourself in a pretty dress. Build a skill behind that that you can sell and then start to build a business out of that. Like I said, design products or whatever it is that you need to do and save your money.
Paige: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good.
Holly: Save it. Don't you think? I mean, don't you? Because I looked at what you're pulling in.
Holly: You're not schlepping it over there. You're doing amazing, but you better have a good savings account.
Paige: I save more than half of what I make.
Holly: Perfect. So see, that's what you have to do.
Paige: Yeah. You mentioned that there's a lot of things that Instagram influencers are doing right on the platforms and good things that they're doing. What are some of those things that they're doing really well?
Holly: Yeah, I think what they're doing well is they're showing us things that, you know, we may see in the store or online that we would just keep walking past, like we don't care about, who cares about white sneakers? But then when you see white sneakers like thousands of times on Instagram from all your favorite people that you follow and you see you could wear white sneakers with dresses, you can wear white sneakers with yoga pants, you can wear them this outfit, that outfit, this, this, this, you start to see things in a new way and then you get interested in it. So it sounds really materialistic, but in a sense a lot of us need help with certain things, like a lot of us need help with decorating, a lot of need help with fashion.
Holly: And so you have all of these people every day that are just feeding you huge amounts of inspiration on how you can use something that you would normally walk past in a really creative and inspirational way and will make you or your life look more interesting to you. Like I'm involved, of course, in design, so when I post a beautiful shot of my living room or of another room or of a home tour that I've had on my site or whatever, people see that and they think wow, that's so cool, I never thought to put my sofa with that or my chair over there. So that inspiration that they bring, to me, is the number one, it's the inspiration.
Holly: The second part is this whole girl power movement. I find this just absolutely mesmerizing to sit down every day and just see on Instagram all of these women speaking out about hard topics. They're talking about money. Wow, imagine that 10 years ago. No one talked about money. You never told your girlfriend what you earn. Nowadays people are talking about money, they're talking about sexuality, they're talking about emotional things like stress topics, things relating to mental illness, things relating to body image. I mean, stuff that women just kept in a can very closed for so long. So I see this as being a very liberating time when we're able to voice our messages and get them out there. So, I'm all for it. It's fantastic.
Holly: Yeah. Paige: Good.
Holly: I'm sure you see that too though, huh?
Paige: Yeah. I mean I think you have the benefit of you've seen this over a longer period of time. Sometimes when I, I don't know, I got older and I was like okay wait, has gin always been a thing or is that just a trend right now? Because I didn't know was this a thing 10 years ago? Because I wasn't drinking then.
Holly: Oh, yeah. You're what, 28?
Paige: 28, yeah.
Holly: 28, so I mean yeah, so for you a lot of these things you only know. You only know a world where people are communicating by phone all the time and we didn't have a phone plugged into the wall, you know? You only know this kind of world where blogs always existed and that's your world. And so for me, I'm a bit older than you and I look at all this and I see this timeline and I'm making all these connections and I'm thinking wow, this is a really interesting time in history, actually.
Paige: Absolutely. I think what's so interesting just about this conversation is I can see so many things have changed over time when it came to blogging and business and income and what was a thing or what was a trend or whatever. I mean we just assume this is just the way it is and we never really question it, but clearly we can see from you that this wasn't always the way it is and you really need to be keeping up with trends in order to keep your business afloat.
Holly: Yeah, yeah. Well it's been so nice chatting with you. This is so good. It's really fun.
Holly: Fun for me too.
Paige: Well before we finish up can you let us know, so you were first to market on a lot of things. Can you tell us how are you noticing these new emerging themes or trends and how have you sort of always been first to market on a lot of these new things that have been coming up?
Holly: Pure intuition. It's just really making sure that you don't get so stuck in this cyclone, in this tornado of the online world that you stop thinking for yourself or stop feeling yourself and you have to keep really in touch with your intuition and that only comes from just stepping away, putting your phone down, taking an hour walk in the forest, just thinking. And also it has to do with travel. You know, I travel and I go around to different cities, different fairs, and I've talked a lot on this podcast and most of my friends tell me I never shut up, but when I'm in a business environment I listen a lot. I listen, listen, listen, listen because taking all of that in, it helps me to form an idea or it starts to help me to see what's coming. And I look a lot, I take a lot of photos. Taking a lot of photos is really helpful because visually you start to see trends as well. In my world, it's essential.
Holly: So yeah, through photography and through just that intuition, really you have to use that. You can't ever think that the intuition lacks value or that someone else has a stronger one than yours. We all have a very strong intuition, it's just about whether or not we trust it and whether or not we use it.
Paige: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Whether or not you take the time to listen to it.
Holly: Oh yeah.
Paige: Good, that's amazing. That's really interesting. All right, so for a lot of the ladies listening, they're just getting started and they maybe don't have family or friends who really get what they're doing and they really aren't super supportive. Can you offer a few words of encouragement? What would you tell the Holly who started this whole thing back in 2006?
Holly: Oh, wow. That's a great question. What I would just say is just get started. Don't even tell anybody what you're doing. I mean, I think that's the first thing women kind of screw up at is we get an idea and we just tell everybody, like that's us, right? I mean, you want to lose weight or you want to start the gym or you want to be, whatever it is that you want to do, you want to have a child, you just start talking. You just tell everybody, oh, I'm going to have a child, I want to get fit, I want to go to the gym, and we talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and before you know it everyone has an opinion and they're just spitting at you, no, don't go vegan. You should eat this. No, you don't want to try that diet. And before you know it you finish before you start, you quite before you begin because of all the negative feedback because everybody has an opinion.
Holly: So what I learned is don't tell anybody. Don't talk about it. Get it going, be your own spy, get your blog set up, get your Instagram going. No one has to know. Just get started. Get going. Get going. Every day post, post, post, Get it going. And then after you start to see a little bit of feedback, then you start telling your husband or your boyfriend or your friends and then you can reveal this is what I've been doing for the past four months and no one knew about it and I have my own thing going here. So that's what I think that really works the best is just shut them all down very easily by just not telling them.
Paige: Yup, absolutely. So good.
Paige: All right, perfect. And now if listeners would like to learn more about your business or support you or follow along with you, where can they find you online?
Holly: Oh, this is the time where I do my own marketing, huh? Paige: Yeah.
Holly: Just go to Decor8 with the number eight, Decor8blog.com. That's where I am. You can go to the about page and there's links there. Also you can go to Instagram, I'm also Decor8 on Instagram. And on Pinterest I'm Decor8 and on Facebook I'm Decor8 Blog. On Twitter I'm Decor8, so everywhere you go I'm Decor8. So if you just Google Decor8 or Holly Becker you'll find all over the place. It's hard not to find me. Or you can go to Barnes and Noble or bookshops in the United States, find my books, or go to Amazon in any country that you live in and just in Amazon type in Holly Becker and all of my books will come up in all the different languages, so if you want to buy a book you can do that. Yeah, that's how you find me. And you can also buy my magazine in September when it comes out. I'll definitely be talking about it a lot.
Paige: It's in Germany, right? Yeah.
Holly: Yeah, it's in German. It's printed in German, but we have a digital edition in English and if you want it you can just go to my Instagram and there's a link in my Instagram bio that goes right to the digital download that you can download for like four or five euros and you can get it right away, you can see the magazine right now.
Paige: So exciting. Holly: Yeah.
Paige: Amazing. We will link all of that in the show notes so everyone can check it out and we'll hang out with you soon. Thank you so much.
Holly: It's so nice, so nice to be here with you Paige and congratulations on your amazing show and all that you're doing. I'm really happy to be part of it. Thank you.
Paige: Thanks so much for hanging out with us for this episode of the Online Business Besties podcast. If you love the show, be sure to leave a rating and review wherever you listen to podcasts. And of course, check out the show notes for this episode and all past episodes at PaigeBrunton.com.
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