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How exactly did Emily Schuman, the blogger behind Cupcakes and Cashmere, create the mother of all lifestyle blogs? The formula goes something like this: start with a background in advertising; add crisp photography, good taste in clothing and home décor, serious makeup and hair skills, and pinnable, picture-perfect recipes; and disclose just enough of your personal life to make readers feel close to you without any weird oversharing.
Schuman left a job in advertising at AOL in 2008 to pursue blogging full-time but never imagined just how far it would go: Cupcakes and Cashmere enjoys some six million page visitors a month and has landed impressive deals with Juicy Couture, Coach, Estée Lauder, and hitting stores tomorrow, clothing she designed for Club Monaco. Schuman is also currently working on her second book about home décor, following her first book on style which came out in 2012.
Racked recently caught up by phone with the busy blogger, who below shares her tips on the business side of blogging, why it's important to unplug when you're constantly sharing snapshots of your life, and how she deals with negative comments.
At what point did you realize you could make a career out of blogging?
"I had a true advantage in the blogging space, simply because of my background, which is in advertising. At an early point, I understood the metrics necessary to generate income. It took about a million page views a month for the advertising to start sustaining the blog. When I first started the blog, it was a year and a half in before I took the leap from my 9-5, managing accounts at AOL, to blogging full-time."
What early strategies proved successful?
"Having consistent content and having a schedule is really important. The blog was first started as a creative outlet because I was bored at work. So I decided to post once a day, every day of the week. That means fresh content so people can learn to depend on coming to your site—it builds anticipation. The site needs to have a really good experience. That's everything from a header to the way the page is laid out, a white, clean and sparse background. Also, I always put a big emphasis on photography of the upmost quality, even before I bought a fancy camera. I made posts short and sweet; that was the formula that works for me. Not everything is going to work for everyone, but the most important thing is to have your own voice."
Is it hard to work from home? How do you stay focused?
"Yes! It is hard. I remember when I first started working from home. I left my job the last day in 2009, so the first official day was in 2010, and the first two weeks I stayed in my pajamas and worked from my couch. It became obvious really quickly that I wasn't getting any work done. My husband, who worked at an ad agency, would come home at night and I wouldn't have a post done and he's say, 'what have you been doing all day long?' I realized there are necessities to getting anything done, such as getting dressed in the morning. That doesn't mean heels and pencil skirts, but clothes and makeup make me feel like I'm going to the office. Also, an organized schedule. I keep a to-do list, that's really important otherwise I get caught up in the kitchen or with the TV. There are benefits to working from home but there needs to be structure."
Emily's ad for her Club Monaco collab.
How do you decide who/what to collaborate with?
"I'm so flattered to be approached by brands but true collaborations should be really authentic to your brand. I know Cupcakes and Cashmere really well so it makes it really easy to make decisions. If it's a good [idea], I'll explore the options to see if it's a mutually beneficial experience but some things feel like a stretch. I turn down 95 percent of opportunities because I see my brand having longevity. It's not about a quick paycheck or having tons of collaborations under my belt, but rather adhering to the model of my brand."
How do you decide what content to post on the blog? Were there any topics that didn't work?
"There weren't any massive disasters, that comes down to finding an authentic voice. I first chose topics that I thought were mutually exclusive, food and fashion, and I wanted to capture both. I'm not the type of girl who breathes fashion and recaps shows, you can get that on other sites. The most important lesson I learned was just to trust your own voice and create content you'd want to read. If you create content for other people you'll lose your voice. I write what I find inspiring."
Do you respond to comments?
"I do. I think the comments section is part of why there's such a wonderful community on the blog. It's not just about putting content out there, but a back-and-forth discussion. I don't spend all day responding, but if there are comments that raise questions or good criticism, I'm interactive. With social media too, it's about building a strong community so that when I have a book signing or a launch party, I can rely on a group of wonderful girls to show up."
How do you react to mean or negative comments?
"Certain comments don't get approved, like if someone is there to get me angry and post a mean comment, but if they have something legitimate to say, I'm open to hear constructive criticism. It's part of the game; I know that I can't please everyone. It's only natural people will have issues with certain things. I get mean comments but it's not the end of the world. It can get me down sometimes. At the beginning, it really affected me. But I know it would be more of a problem if the readers weren't talking. It's a much larger issue if people aren't engaged."
An informational post about makeup.
Have you ever deleted a post?
"Never! There are posts on my blog that are horrendous or embarrassing, like some outfits, but they are all important to see. I did one post in which I distressed a chambray shirt I had received as a gift from J.Crew and people were up in arms about [ripping an expensive shirt]. And I said, 'you know what, you have a good point', I should have bought one for $2. But at the same time, I'm not going to erase that, it's a part of my history, and you learn as you go. It's important to see your progress."
Is it hard to decide what parts of your life you want to share with your audience? Do you ever feel too exposed?
"I would consider myself a private person. People [from my blog] think they understand a good portion of me but that's only part of my personalty. People assume I'm outgoing and crazy but I'm actually quite shy and reserved and would much rather prefer a night home with my husband than a big evening out. But it's been relatively easy to find the right balance."
How do you unplug?
"With social media, it's become harder because it's part of branding, so I can't just go dark. I try to be in the moment but it's important to draw lines when we are and aren't working. If we are doing something pretty or photo worthy, but I'll snap the photo at the beginning so that I won't be on my phone the entire time if I'm out to dinner with my husband. I'll take a photo and then put my phone away so that I won't feel like I'm missing out."
Are you ever worried you convey an unrealistic picture of a perfect life?
"Sure. I put out content that is as authentic as it can be but it's only a glimpse into my life. I never claim Cupcakes is an exact replica of my entire existence. I try to put out content that inspires others. Certain people draw conclusions that I have a perfect life but that's only a glimpse. I've certainly opened up over the years about anxieties that plague me or if I'm having a bad day. People who have been reading my site for a while know I'm a real person. The blog is a place to be inspired."
Were there any lessons you had to learn the hard way from your blog?
"The hardest lesson for me was learning that I didn't have to do everything by myself. For years, I was a team of one, trying to learn the back-end coding. I spent three days trying to figure out how to make my header clickable, I spent time on stuff I had zero comprehension over, instead of just asking for help or hiring someone to do it. It did teach me the ins and outs of my business but it's important to ask for help."
Do you think it's harder to start a successful style blog now than it was years ago, with the space so crowded?
"It's definitely not harder now: everyone has the same accessibility and there are even more resources out there now. My advice would be to not create content that is already out there a dozen times. People see successful blogs and try to emulate that. There's always room for great content but you have to find your own voice. You also need to do something that you find enjoyable. What does successful mean to you? When I first started, it was simply a creative outlet and so the fact that I was maintaining a blog made me feel successful."
What challenges do you face now?
"There are always challenges. Coming up with unique content twice a day is challenging. I'm also writing a second book so there's a challenge of getting it all done. I'm constantly pushing myself to try out a new series, trying to improve my writing and photography and show my vulnerability."
Do you have advice for bloggers on how to create successful businesses?
"Advertising is a huge part of it and also looking into affiliate links because if you're recommending products you love, you might as well try to get commission on that. But don't recommend things because you have an affiliate relationship with them, only because you truly love them. In terms of advertising, you need to be really careful about how you do it because you don't want ads all over your site, so I'd have minimal advertising. A big part of the business is understanding the space. Do research, have sheets on traffic and stats that you can analyze like an actual business. Understand SEO, page views and sponsorship so when you approach people for advertising or affiliate relationships, you can sell yourself. You can't sell yourself if you don't understand yourself. There are tons of resources out there, so you don't even need a background."