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wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

WordPress for Beginners (Part 1)- The Dashboard

Welcome to this new series – WordPress for Beginners. The idea for it came when I realised that I personally knew several people who are struggling to get to grips with WordPress. Some are fellow bloggers who wish to switch from another platform (such as Blogger), others are business owners who have outgrown the free sites offered by Weebly and Wix. All of them are finding the steep learning curve that comes when you first start with WordPress challenging, and so I decided to create a series for them.

wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide

I remember my own feeling of overwhelm when I first started using this platform, even though I’d been blogging for around 8 years by that point. It isn’t that WordPress is overly complicated – once you know how it works, it’s really very simple to use. No, the problem is that there is just so much to it. WordPress is such a powerful platform – there really are no limits to what you can achieve with it. But first, you have to find your way around.

Which is why I’ve decided to create this series with annotated screenshots and step-by-step instructions to help you get to grips with WordPress as quickly as possible. I hope to take the frustration away and replace it with a sense of satisfaction as you begin to discover the joys of using WordPress.

A series of 10 tutorials

As there is so much to learn when you first start using WordPress, I have broken it down into 10 easy to follow tutorials. This is the first, and the others will follow shortly.

  1. The Dashboard – Finding Your Way Around WordPress
  2. Themes – How to Choose and Customise A Theme
  3. The Page & Post Editor – Creating Your Content
  4. Plugins – How to Choose and Install Plugins
  5. Back-Ups and Updates – Keep Your Site Secure
  6. SEO and Yoast – Optimise Your Site with Help
  7. Widgets & Menus – Create Your Sidebar and Footer
  8. Settings – Fine Tune Your WordPress Experience
  9. Jetpack – Advantages of this WordPress Plugin
  10. Troubleshooting – Finding Support When You Need It

So, are you ready to get started with WordPress?

Wordpress for Beginners: a step-by-step guide - don't drown in confusion, follow my step-by-step guide (complete with annotated screenshots) which show you everything you need to get to grips with WordPress fast! Perfect for new bloggers, business owners, and those wanting to share their work online.

first things first…

This post relates to using the self-hosted wordpress.org rather than the free wordpress.com platform. It also assumes that you have already sorted out hosting and installed WordPress. If you haven’t already done this, you might like to try Salt and Light Solutions for your web hosting. They helped me to switch to WordPress back in 2014 and I have been very happy with their service ever since.

why start with the dashboard?

When I started to plan this series I realised that many of the WordPress for Beginner posts available on the web assume that you already know your way around WordPress. But unless you are familiar with the layout of the dashboard, telling you to “create a new post” will leave you wasting valuable time trying to find the right place. So I decided to start right at the beginning.

how to access the dashboard

To access the dashboard (which is the name given to the back end of your website), you need to log in first. To do this you need to visit yourURL/wp-admin or yourURL/login. You will see the following screen.

Wordpress for Beginners Series Part 1 WordPress.org login screen

You will have chosen (or been sent) your username and password when WordPress was first installed on your web host. It is likely that this will have been emailed to you, however if not you can access it by logging into your web host, or contacting them for help finding it. Once you have it, I suggest using a system such as LastPass to securely save and remember your username and password, avoiding the need to re-enter it each time.

the three parts of the dashboard

Once you have logged in, you will see the dashboard. It is split into three distinct parts – the main screen, the sidebar, and the notification bar at the top of the screen. These are highlighted below.

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: The Main Screen; The Sidebar; The Notification Bar

The simplest way to describe this is that the main screen is where most of your work happens, whilst the sidebar acts like a menu allowing you to choose what shows in the main screen. The notification bar is pretty much what it says – a bar where you get notified of updates and comments that may need your attention. Let’s look at all three sections in turn.

the main screen

When you log in to WordPress for the very first time, you will most likely be welcomed by a section on the main screen helping you to create your first pieces of content and start setting your preferences, as shown below.

Wordpress for Beginners - Welcome Message on Main Screen of Dashboard

You could, simply work your way through those links and create the beginnings of your website. However, I’ve always preferred to understand where everything is right from the start (which probably explains why the welcome message is still showing on my screen years after I started using WordPress – I’ve ignored it so much that I’ve never thought to remove it!)

If you’re like me and want to find everything on the dashboard itself, rather than following the quick links offered on this front page, then keep reading. I’ll cover each section shortly.

But before we move completely from this main screen, I want to point out a few helpful shortcuts that you can find on this first page when you log in…

at a glance

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Overview of Posts and Comments

This section highlighted here shows you a snapshot of your website as it currently stands. It’s a helpful little “at a glance” view of how many posts, pages, and comments you currently have published, as well as how many comments are currently waiting in moderation.

Quick Draft

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Quick Draft

Another helpful little section is this one, which allows you to quickly type in a post title and ideas for a post and save it as a draft. I’ve never actually used this, as I tend to go straight to the post editor, but if you’ve logged in just to make some quick notes for future posts then this could be quite useful.

updates and messages

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Updates and Messages

Finally, as you begin adding more content and plugins to your site, you will begin to see updates and messages on the main screen when you first log in. These are often from plugin creators asking for access to something, feedback from you as a user, or even offering you the chance to sign up to their newsletter.

Most of them I simply dismiss, but it’s always worth reading them properly before dismissing, as sometimes they are really important – such as when WordPress rolls out an update (more on this in part 5 of this series).

the sidebar

You may have noticed that in the image above there is a little blue box around the bottom part of the sidebar. This is because, as I was mentioning plugins in that image, I wanted to show you where access to most of the plugins you install will show up.

But what else is in the sidebar?

access to pages, posts, comments, and feedback

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: The Sidebar Content

Near the top of the sidebar is a section which provides access to the main content on your site. This is how you access the page and post editors, which allow you to create new content or edit content already published or in drafts. You can also access the comments left by your audience and, if you have a contact form installed, you can access submissions using the “feedback” link.

You’ll notice that my sidebar has lots of orange circles with numbers in them – this is how WordPress lets you know that there is something which needs your attention. When I took this screenshot I had 4 comments which needed moderating and a submission to my contact form.

access to site settings and tools

Wordpress for Beginners - The Dashboard: Settings and Tools

Slightly further down the sidebar is a section with links to you site’s appearance, plugins, users, tools, and settings. Appearance is where you change theme and customise your chosen theme. Plugins are additional bits of software which enhance your experience of WordPress (more on this in part 4 of this series). And users is where you can add people as authors and editors to the site, if you want others to be able to access your site and upload content.

Tools and settings are both really important in helping you to get your site to run exactly as you want it to. We’ll cover these more in part 7 of this series. For now, just have a look – a lot of it is self-explanatory.

The notification bar

Finally we have the notification bar at the top of the screen. It is a really helpful overview of the key things within WordPress.

Wordpress for Beginners: The Dashboard - The Notification Bar

From left to right you have:

The W sign – click on this to access WordPress support
Your Site Name – click on this to view your site
Arrows + Number – this is the number of updates you need to do, click on it to access them
Comment + Number – this is the number of comments awaiting moderation, click to access them
+ New – this is a shortcut to create a new page or post

(When you are in the page or post editor, you will also see a “view post” option, which you can click to see a preview of the post. Certain plugins, such as Yoast, will also show notifications on this bar).

Front End View

If you click to view your site, you’ll notice that the notification bar will still be visible, as shown below.

Wordpress for Beginners: The Dashboard - NOtification Bar Front End View

Click on your website name again to go back to the dashboard. Or click on the paintbrush and “customise” link to go directly to the theme customiser (more on this in part 2 of this series).

Finally, on the right hand side of the notification bar you’ll see your name and another comment box. Clicking on your name enables you to edit your profile or log out. The comment box let’s you know when someone has replied to a comment you have left on their site, if you have done so using your WordPress login (usually via having a WordPress.com account and linking it to your WordPress.org account via Jetpack – more on this in part 9 of this series).

To be perfectly honest with you, I tend to ignore the right hand side of the notification bar, so don’t worry too much about this.

and that’s it…

Congratulations – you now know your way around the WordPress dashboard. I hope that this has been a helpful introduction, and that you’ve had chance to click on different sections to explore them a bit. I’ll cover each of the main sections in more detail in the rest of the WordPress for Beginners series. If you’d like to be notified when a new post is published, you can subscribe to the blog via email using the link in my sidebar (to the right) or by adding my URL to your blog reader.

And if you’ve found this post helpful, please do help others to find it by sharing using the buttons below,. I’m always particularly grateful for shares on Pinterest. Thanks.

Create – My Word of The Year for 2018

Every year, around this time, I think about what I want to focus on over the next 12 months and choose a “Word of The Year” that encompasses what it is I am hoping for. This practise has served me so well over the past few years: in 2015 my word was “Surrender”, which came in handy when I lost my job and relocated; in 2016 it was “Healing”, which was hard to remember when I spent most the year battling with increasing health issues – but it was still an important reminder than even the smallest step can have a healing effect; and in 2017 my word was “Courage“.

Word of the year 2017 – how did I do?

Well, first it’s important to explain how these past 12 months have been some of the hardest, most challenging, and often soul destroying ones I have ever faced. I couldn’t have picked a better word of the year, as courage was something I needed in absolute abundance. And, do you know what? I found it, I truly did.

Despite an awful year, which saw both myself and my husband unable to continue in regular employment (due to health issues), and in which my Nan died, my Grandma ended up in ICU, and 4 other members of my extended family were diagnosed with cancer, we’ve somehow survived. The stress for us in our own personal circumstances (health and financial insecurity) has been met with anxiety and concern for those around us who have been fighting their own unimaginable battles. I feel like the most highly strung person ever right now.

And yet, despite all of this, I’ve managed to go completely freelance (and work with 6 different clients this year), which I could never have imagined this time last year. So successful has this been, I have decided to focus on bringing that same entrepreneurial spirit to my blog by setting specific goals for the coming year (more on this later).

I also stepped out of my comfort zone and created a whole video series for Advent, which was incredibly daunting for someone with as little money and energy as I have. But more than anything, I feel like I have finally found the courage to be myself, to share my work with the world, and to know my worth. I’m choosing things which set my heart alight with passion, rather than trying to “fit in” with what I think the world expects of me. And in doing so, I have rediscovered the power of creating for the sheer joy of it.

Which leads me beautifully to my chosen word of the year for 2018 – Create!

Create – my word of the year for 2018 – what does that mean?

When I first chose this word for 2018, I initially thought it would simply relate to my writing. Back in October, when I first decided to close down Spirit Kid Network (another courageous decision!) and bring everything here to The Family Patch, I wasn’t quite sure how to package everything under one roof (so to speak). It wasn’t until Tim suggested the tagline, “Feeding the Creative Spirit” that it truly clicked for me. That’s what I am – I am a creator.

I use the word creator (as opposed to creative) for a specific reason. When I think of a creative, it brings to my mind writers, artists, crafters, people who create works of art in their own field. And that is something I do – I can create whole worlds with my words, and I love it. But I also create a world around me by the choices I make and the things that I do – in essence, I create the life that I live and experience. We all do.

This year has taught me that more than anything else – when we’re hit with challenges in life, we all experience them in different ways based on who we are and what we do in response to such challenges. We even create different experiences for ourselves based on the unique circumstances we face – for instance, my health is really poor right now because I can’t do the things that I used to do to protect myself from burn out (e.g. getting plenty of sleep, taking time off at the weekends etc). Those simply aren’t options for me at the moment, and until I learn to create new ways of protecting my health, it will suffer. But I have hope that by creating new experiences, I can begin to heal. I’ll never be “cured” of my health issues, but I know I can live well with them, because I’ve done it before. And that’s why I want to focus on creating this year.

18 Ways to CREATE more Health, Happiness, and Better Income in 2018

18 ways i want to create a new experience for myself in 2018

Because it can be very easy to fall into the trap of keeping things very vague with a word of the year, I decided to write out a list of 18 ways I can create a new experience for myself in 2018. I’ve split them into 2 categories – blog/business (work) and lifestyle (home), because we all need a bit of work/life balance!

blog/business

1. Write 50 Blog Posts

I know that this sounds like a lot – but actually it’s just short of one post per week, which is nothing compared to what many bloggers create. I know I can do this, as The Family Patch is will have been going for 8 years in April and I’ve got 369 posts on here (that’s an average of just over 46 posts per year). So why set it as a goal, then? Well, in the past year 26 of the 45 posts published were added as part of my Advent series – so that means I wrote fewer than 20 posts during the first 11 months of the year! So regular content is a big goal for me this year!

2. Focus on Seasonal Content

Not only do I want to write more posts, I want to make sure that they are more seasonally appropriate. I have loved creating an Advent series, and I want to make sure that throughout 2018 I look ahead to holidays and awareness days and take part in them by both creating my own content and helping to share the content of others.

3. Produce 12 Videos for YouTube

Again, I loved creating videos for my Advent series (as exhausting as it was to do a series of 26 videos!) and so I would love to create some more video content through the year. 12 videos works out as one per month, and will work beautifully with my desire to create more seasonal content.

4. Publish 10 Chapters for The Brethren

I already have original drafts of more than 10 chapters of my Young Adult novel, but to be honest they all need a lot of reworking. I really want to make some headway with this during 2018 and would love to write far more than 10 chapters. But I’m also very aware that goals need to be both specific and achievable, and 10 chapters feels like it is both of those things.

5. Launch 1 Saleable Item

As my hope for this year is to begin turning my blog into a business, I need to start thinking of how I can make that work. One way would be producing an eBook that I could sell via the blog. At present I have a couple of ideas, and shall explore both of them over the coming weeks to work out which is more achievable, and will work on that. Not only will I be creating content with this goal, I’ll also be starting to create more income. So this is a 2-for-1 type goal!

6. Work with 5 Brands

So this is the big one for me – I would love to be able to create some income by working with brands here at The Family Patch. I’ve done the odd review in return for products in the past, but have never made any money through my blog itself (that has always been achieved via freelance copywriting or VA work elsewhere). The idea has always terrified me somewhat, but having worked with clients this past year I suddenly realised I was underselling myself and what I can offer here at The Family Patch too. So I’m going to try and build up working relationships with PRs and Brands this year, in the hope of working on 5 campaigns through the year.

7. Improve My SEO

I am aware that the best way to increase my chances of working with PRs and Brands is to have a decent sized, well-engaged audience. I have the engaged part pretty well sorted out – my audience may be small, but it is a wonderful one. However it is very small compared to a lot of other bloggers, and some of that could be rectified by sorting out the SEO on my site, to help others who are interested in what I share here at The Family Patch find us via search engines.

The Family Patch has been going since 2010 – that’s a lot of posts with very little SEO (which I knew nothing about until recent years). Even my latest posts need a bit of a tune up. So that is a big goal for me this year.

8. Develop a Pinterest Strategy

Another way to increase interested traffic is to use Pinterest, which works like a search engine. I have known this for many years, and yet my Pinterest account still looks like a personal pin board. So another very practical aim for this year is to create and implement a proper strategy for Pinterest.

9. Leave More Blog Comments

Finally, as I am wanting to get back to the heart of blogging by producing more content, I want to make sure I am reading lots of content too. I have found that in recent years I have lost so much time to social media and, in turn, missed out on some amazing posts by some brilliant bloggers. One of the things I want to focus on this year is the blog content, rather than the social media updates. So I shall be adding lots of blogs to my Feedly and reading and commenting on as many posts as I can throughout the year.

Lifestyle

10. Read 10 Books

There are some people who do an amazing 52 Books in a Year Challenge, which I am in awe of. Honestly, even at the height of my reading days (when I was a teenager) I don’t think I read quite that many books in a year! But just because I can’t read 52 books, doesn’t mean I don’t want to challenge myself to read more than I have this year… and this year has been shocking! So I’ve set myself the goal of reading at least 10 books this year. I received almost that many from my parents for Christmas, so I have a good stash to work through….

11. Work Through The New Testament Together

Another thing I want to make time for, is reading the Bible regularly. I go through phases of reading some each day followed by phases of not reading it at all. I have a Daily Bible* which I tried to use to get through the Old Testament this year, but honestly I got lost in the middle of it and kinda gave up! This year, Tim and I would really like to work our way through the New Testament together, not just so that we can finally read the bits we’ve always seemed to skip over, but also so that we can discuss how we feel about it and how it relates to our lives now in a way that makes faith feel more a part of our everyday lives again.

12. Practise Yoga 3 Times Per Week

Both Tim and I would love to be more active, but our health makes things so difficult at times. However doing some yoga 3 times per week feels manageable. There are some amazing yoga videos on YouTube, some aimed specifically at people like ourselves with limited energy and flexibility. So we’re going to work through some gentle, regular practise in the hope that it really begins to make a difference.

13. Make Time For The Cosmic Kids Yoga Course

Following on nicely from this is the Cosmic Kids Yoga course I signed up for earlier this year. I am so excited about this, as Little Man loves the Cosmic Kids adventures and I want to be able to understand more about why they work and how I can integrate that into our yoga practice at home. Little Man often asks if he can join in with my yoga practice, but he finds the videos I watch too boring. I, on the other hand, find the Cosmic Kids ones too energetic to join in with some days. So I’m hoping to learn enough to merge the two together somehow, so Little Man can join in our weekly practice too.

14. Go Swimming Once Per Month

Swimming is another activity that Tim and I both know would be good for us. And yet, we haven’t managed to make it swimming yet, despite saying we’d do so for at least 3 months now! So starting in January we want to make sure we go at least once per month.

15. Use Duolingo Daily

Over the past few weeks I have really fallen in love with the DuoLingo app for language practise. I am a linguist at heart (my degree is in German and Russian) and I am amazed at just how many amazing apps there are these days to help you learn and master languages in a far more immersive way than flashcards and grammar books! Already I feel my confident growing and I feel like daily practise throughout 2018 will help me explore worlds I have long forgotten, worlds which inspire and encourage me. Words are my friends, remember, so languages are as much a part of my creative spirit as anything else!

16. Spend More Time With Family and Friends

This is something we have really struggled with over the past year or so, as health issues have taken a real toll. I cannot count the number of times we have had to cancel plans (or even avoid making them in the first place) due to being too poorly to do things. This year I want to try and change that, by inviting family round for dinner, visiting friends who we don’t get to see on a regular basis, or even simply writing to or calling those we cannot see in person.

17. Have a Major Declutter

This one is all about creating space and order within our home. I am so fed up of clutter that I simply don’t know what to do with. A dear friend recently helped me sort out my kitchen cupboards, and it was so cathartic. I also spent a few days before Christmas tidying our bedrooms, and it made me realise that the only way to truly create space and order in our lives is to have a major declutter. I am reminded of how my Lent practise of giving away an item of clothing each day helped to really focus my mind on what I actually needed and what was surplus to my needs. As challenging as it was to give away 40 items of clothing (which made up almost half my wardrobe) it was actually truly uplifting to simplify my wardrobe. So I want to do the same thing throughout our house.

We’re actually hoping to move into a smaller place this year as well, so this has a very practical goal too – we cannot possibly take all of the clutter we have with us to another home. So instead of rushing to have a clear out when we move, I want to slowly do it over a few weeks or months.

18. Attend Young Spirits

My friend set up this wonderful pre-church group, which allows children and those new to the faith to explore that week’s readings in a fun and informative way before the service begins. We have yet to make a single session, as health issues have kept us at home, but I really want to try and make it to some of the sessions during 2018. It will be a wonderful way of exploring our faith from a slightly different perspective, creating new experiences for us to share together.

Phew – that’s quite a list, isn’t it? And yet, I feel like it is all perfect for me as I head into 2018. you may have read through that list and wonder how it all relates to my word of the year… but every single one of them is helping me to create a better life for myself. Some, like those in the blog/business section are more self-explanatory than others. But even swimming and yoga help me to create better health, and spending time with family and friends helps me to create more community and happiness. After several years of feeling like my life was spiralling out of control, I am so excited to have so many ways in which I can create little bits of change that will hopefully have a big impact on my life.

I’d love to know whether you choose a word for the year or set goals for yourself. If you do, please feel free to share them in the comments 🙂


*Please Note: the link to the NRSV Daily Bible is an affiliate link. If you use that link and then purchase an item from Amazon, I will receive a small referral fee. This helps me to keep running The Family Patch. For more information on how I use affiliate links, please read my disclosure policy.


I have joined in with both the #ShareYourYear and My Blogging Goals linkies with this post, to find out how other bloggers are reflecting on 2017 and preparing for 2018. Do go and check them out if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration!

Scrapbook Blog
Real Mum Reviews

Advent at The North Pole Characters

Welcome to the New Look Family Patch!

Well, hello there! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have the new look Family Patch back up and running. Once I had made the decision to rebrand the site and integrate all the stuff from Spirit Kid Network into this single blog, I felt the creative flow suddenly burst open and I couldn’t wait to get writing again. But of course I had to do all the behind the scenes preparation first, and as I’m not in the best of health right now it has taken me near on two weeks to sort out the new look.

But it’s finally done and I am so happy to welcome you back to my little corner of the internet. What do you think to the new look? Do you like the logo? What about the choice of fonts and colours? And the layout? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it… I personally love it, but does it work for you? I love the clean design, the clear sections, and the fact it is all set up ready to let the content I create shine. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? I’m a writer and a creator and I want that to be the main focus here, not some fancy design that takes me forever to create and distracts me from what I love the most.

So what’s new?

Well, Tim and I are about to start recording the daily poems for my Advent at The North Pole series. This is something I created way back in 2009, but the videos I created then were terrible. They were recorded on my laptop webcam, so you can imagine the quality! I’ve wanted to redo them for years, and now I finally am. We’ve got the gorgeous characters below, a Christmassy backdrop, some festive music, and a better camera. The plan is to post a new video every day during Advent over on YouTube and we’d love to see you there.

Advent at The North Pole Daily Poem Video The Family Patchwhat else is new?

I’ve also got a free Activity Advent Calendar the whole family can enjoy. This is something I created last year for Spirit Kid Network, and we loved doing the activities within it. There are 24 colourful activity cards to print out and each one has a whole A4 page of supporting material to help you make the most of them. There are even blog posts and Pinterest boards to give you even more ideas for some of them. Oh, I am so excited about Christmas this year.

Free Activity Advent Calendar

You can download the Advent Activity Calendar over on my new and improved Freebies page. There you’ll find 5 different freebies that you can download directly from the website. There’s no need to sign up to any mailing list in order to download your copy – just click and enjoy!

it’s all about the love of blogging

All of these changes reflect the fact that I am finally rediscovering my love of blogging. I first discovered blogging way back in 2006, long before it became the big business it can be today. Back then it was all about sharing your heart, and nobody worried about social media strategies and marketing. Over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to feel like I wasn’t doing a very good job as a blogger because I wasn’t investing the same time on those things as other bloggers do.

And all of it has done nothing more than make me feel like a failure. It stifled my creativity, made me think that I had to separate my content into different sites, and even made me consider giving it all up. So to find myself back at this place where I am simply enjoying blogging for the sheer love of it is so amazing. I can feel the passion for it running through my veins as I type this, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

But for now I’m going to end this post so I can get cracking with the videos. Have a wonderful week, everyone!


I’m linking up with my Share The Joy Co-Host Christina this week, as this post has certainly brought me a lot of joy! Do check out the #sharethejoylinky for your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration.

#sharethejoylinky LadybugHome.com

Releasing The Old, Embracing The New

Releasing The Old, Embracing The New

You’ve probably noticed it’s been rather quiet here at The Patch lately, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve been really struggling health-wise, and in an attempt to keep going through everything that has been going on, I decided to focus on other areas such as Shortman Media and Spirit Kid Network. However I really, really missed writing here and so I am finally making the time and space to come back to this wonderful little blog of mine.

Last week we headed down to Glastonbury (my favourite place on earth) for an impromptu holiday, and for the first time in so very long, I knew what I needed to let go of in order to begin creating the life I want. The things I want have changed so much over the past few years, and it all started when I went from wanting to have a big family to trying to force my grief over my pregnancy (and loss of more children) into something positive. I poured all I had out into campaigning for others and trying to make the most of a situation I found so incredibly challenging, and in doing so I failed to recognise what I needed most – to embrace all the parts of who I am.

Years ago I wrote constantly. I’d scribble things on napkins in cafes as inspiration hit, I’d spend hours reading and writing about the things I found most exciting or intriguing, and my whole life revolved around communicating (I was a language student, after all). And for a while there I completely lost that side of myself. I got caught up in trying to “be a good blogger”, following advice from others rather than simply writing from the heart. And I did this because I felt I had lost who I was, and so I couldn’t identify myself without turning to other people’s interpretations of what it meant to write a blog.

And in my life as a whole the same thing happened, as I tried to figure out what it meant to be a mother, a successful employee (and then freelancer), a wife, a friend… I didn’t allow myself to be sick, even when I was sick, because I didn’t think that was what I was meant to be. I tried to keep up with people far healthier than I am, hoping to somehow redeem myself and my worth through being something other than who I am. And I never allowed myself to feel the grief and the pain and the anger over where I found myself, because I didn’t want to accept them as a part of who I am.

And all of that led to an intense loss of self, a situation where I forgot that as humans we are beautiful, multi-faceted beings, who sometimes fall so very low and need to stay in that darkness for a while before climbing back out into the light. By trying to lighten my situation constantly, I ignored a whole part of my soul, and ended up splitting myself in so many different directions I had no idea where my centre lay anymore. And the more I did this, the harder I fought to keep up the charade.

My time in Glastonbury changed that, however. I had some wonderful Soul Healing at the Goddess House, where a wonderful lady called Mandi Thorne explained how she could feel my resistance to let go. I have been clinging on to a false sense of control for so long that I am terrified of letting go and allowing all the emotions to bubble up to the surface. They scare me. And that needs to change.

So I’m taking tiny steps towards embracing the whole of who I am, rather than trying to be who I think I should be. And a large part of this involves closing down my other site (Spirit Kid Network) and bringing the spiritual resources I was trying to create over there to The Family Patch. When I set up SKN I did so because I didn’t think the resources fit here. And that was a mistake, because they are a huge part of who I am.

You only have to look at my posts over the past year to see I have written far more about my faith here at The Family Patch than I ever did over on my spiritual site. And that is because I pigeon-holed that site too, making myself believe that if it was about me and not a resource for kids it didn’t really belong there. I ended up losing my voice completely by splitting the parts of who I am so strictly.

So over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be rebranding The Family Patch to reflect this new integration of all that I am. No longer will I worry about whether it’s a craft blog or a health blog or a spiritual blog or whatever else I think it should be in order to fit in. It is a beautiful, complex, and disorganised place where I can share my heart as I journey towards better health and healing through honouring all that I am. And I am so delighted to be moving in this direction.

Instagram Tips from the Instagram Queen (1)

Instagram Tips from the Instagram Queen (Toby and Roo @ #BlogOnmsi)

I chose the name “Instagram Queen” for the amazing Harriet from Toby and Roo, because it just fits her perfectly. With over 80 thousand followers on instagram, it is clear that she really is the bees knees. Her hilarious accounts of what it’s like to be a parent of young kids (the “I just wanted a bath” video being a classic example of this) have captured the hearts of so many. But as Harriet herself said, “if content is queen, then engagement is her king”.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Harriet for several years now, having first met her at another conference way back in 2014 (that’s a long time in the blogosphere, don’t you know!) And it has been a joy to watch her passion and skills lead to great success in her online work. So it was absolutely no surprise to me that her session at the Blog On Conference this past weekend was packed to brimming

Instagram Tips from the Instagram Queen Harriet from Toby and Roo
There was so much information given out during the short 45 minute session – it’s been a long time since I have needed to write as fast as I did to get it all down (I really must learn shorthand one day!) I kid you not, I have 4 pages worth of notes to share with you, and even with all of that Harriet was still gutted that she couldn’t fit more in. That’s why she’s the Instagram Queen, and that’s why I’m sharing my notes from her session with you all – because they are awesome.

THE BASICS

Instagram is keyword searchable – make sure that both your profile and your images take this into account.

600 Million people use instagram every month. It is estimated that 68% of those are female, and 90% of them are under 35.

Analytics will tell you when most of your followers are online – use them to help you connect with others more efficiently. You can access analytics if you have a business account. If you don’t have a business account, you can try third party apps like Squarelovin.

Post consistently – if you have under 10k followers, post 2-3 times per day; if you have more than 10k followers aim for 1-3 times per day.

If you post more frequently than this, your engagement will drop. Instagram no longer works like a timeline – it shows your posts to those you are most engaged with you, so if they see multiple posts from you it will come across as spammy and they will stop engaging.

Equally, if you don’t post consistently, you won’t give your followers a chance to engage with your content and they will become less likely to see it in future.

YOUR PROFILE

Put your niche before your name in your profile (e.g. Harriet’s says, “Parent Blogger. Harriet” not “Harriet. Parent Blogger”). This means that when people search for parent bloggers to follow, you will come up in a search easier than if your name was first.

Add an email address to your profile – make it easy for people to contact you.

Also make sure your website is in your profile – it is the only place on instagram where you can add a clickable link, so use it!

Your profile image should be on brand – that means either a photo of you or of your logo. People want to see who you are.

your style/niche

Have 3 things that you are known for and stick with them (Harriet used the example of two of hers, which are always using emojis, and swearing!)

Don’t try to copy others or worry about how successful they are – build your own style and success.

It is possible to be too niche – don’t worry about doing something slightly different from time to time, as long as you can make them relatable to your core niche. Brands will look at your feed, and it is if too narrow, it may result in you losing potential opportunities.

Harriet used the example of how she worked with a Nails Inc and created an image of how she found time to pamper herself as a busy mum, as that would speak more to her audience than a photo of her painted nails alone – see below.

 

Today is hella stressful people. Toby has been up half the night with a terrible cough and as a result he couldn’t go to his last EVER day at preschool this morning on top of that, Edith isn’t well and is being very demanding while I have alllllll the deadlines. You will never feel like a lesser mother than when you shout at poorly one and three year olds because “Mummy has to work” and they won’t leave you be. That in mind, now is the time to take 5 and step away for a mama pamper – the only one I ever get time for is painting my nails , but guess what, that’s JUST enough to make me feel a bit better☺️. This amazing set from @nailsinc is available on @qvcuk today for £28.98 down from £108.00 . The spray nail polish is officially the most INGENIOUS creation known to man. #sparklelikeyoumeanit #mamapickmeup #ad

A post shared by Parenting Blogger Harriet (@tobyandroo) on

HOW TO GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM Account

This is where Harriet’s brilliant phrase, “If content is queen, then engagement is her king” comes in…

Follow other Instagrammers within your niche.

Comment on other photos within your niche.

However much you comment, comment more! People will see these comments and come to your profile to find out about you – this can (and does) lead to new followers.

Like things, a lot. However, don’t do it all at once as you may get blocked by instagram. You will usually get a warning from instagram, followed by a “soft block”, which can last anywhere between 12 hours and a week. Finally, if you keep doing it, you could have your account deleted.

If you see the hashtag #ad, comment to support your fellow bloggers and instagrammers.

But remember that your niche is not other bloggers (support them, but remember your niche is not “blogger”).

Unfollow people if you’re not engaging with them – you aren’t helping them by being an unengaged follower.

 THE BIG NO-NOS

Never buy followers or likes – it is obvious when you have done so.

Avoid follow for follow opportunities – they’re aren’t supportive. Instagram is ratio sensitive and so they will know. You are actually capped at following a maximum of 7,500 accounts, and some brands will ask that you follow less than 2,000.

Don’t play the follow/unfollow game with your fellow bloggers – this is popular in the US and a lot of businesses do it on instagram, but whilst it works it really annoys a lot of bloggers.

Don’t use automated systems for commenting and liking – instagram is slowly shutting them down and they don’t help with engagement anyway (plus they annoy people and are often really obvious).

hashtags and keywords

People won’t find you unless you market yourself, so hashtags and keywords are vital.

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags on a post, so use them all! Think of them like flyers – you wouldn’t print out a load of flyers and only hand out a third of them, so why only use a third of the hashtags you’re allowed to use.

Always place hashtags in the first comment rather than the caption – this avoids making people scroll down incessantly.

Research relevant hashtags and keywords using the instagram search function, and aim to get into the top 9 results (i.e. those that show first on the search results screen).

The number below a hashtag or keyword on the results page shows you how many people are using it. You will have far more luck getting into the top 9 results if you use a less popular hashtag, rather than one which has 100k+ people using it.

The top placements in the search results are worked out based on the speed of engagement in ratio to the followers someone has, rather than the total number of likes per post. This means that smaller accounts have a better chance of showing up in results.

Have presaved lists of various hashtags and keywords you can use for different types of posts. This makes it much quicker and easier to use them when posting.

Be aware that instagram is moving away from using hashtags to keywords, so make sure you use carefully selected keywords in your caption to compensate for this.

This change in the use of keywords instead of relying on hashtags alone has led to various speculation over “shadow banning”. Shadow banning is not a thing – The Social Media Posse have done some research which shows this change towards using keywords for SEO functions, rather than hashtags.

HOW TO BOOST ENGAGEMENT

Instagram’s algorithm is based on speed – it’s all about how many people engage with your content within a certain time frame.

Reply to comments left, to keep engagement going.

Join a comment pod.

Join an Instagram Instant group on Facebook, such as Instagram Bloggers UK, Instagram Fabulous, and UK Instagram Support.

Engage on followers’ posts.

Join in with like for like threads (i.e. those where instagrammers share an image they would like engagement on in return for engagement on one of your own posts).

Use hashtags and then comment and/or like the top 9 results for each hashtag used straight after you post your image. They are likely to return the favour.

INSTAGRAM STORIES

You should be making use of this feature.

Aim for between 5 and 30 stories per day.

Do one just after you post, so followers know you are on the app.

They are ideal for supporting other things you have done, to direct people to a blog post or specific instagram share etc.

If they are sponsored, they must include the #ad hashtag.

MAKING MONEY FROM INSTAGRAM

Instagram is second only to YouTube in terms of monetary value.

The standard rate is 1-10% of the number of instagram followers, if you engagement is good (e.g. 10k followers = £100 per post).

Engagement rates for standard users is around 1% – to work with brands you want yours to be between 2-5%.  If it is higher than this, make sure you say so when talking with brands. However it’s important to note that some niches will always have a higher engagement rate than others.

Your overall theme is what matters – numbers aren’t enough if your feed isn’t well curated.

When pitching to a brand, show them examples of previous posts that had a good engagement, and make them relevant to your idea for the work you want to do with the brand. This helps them to see your vision and know that it will lead to good engagement.

PITCHING TO BRANDS

Brands will often contact you with information regarding current campaigns – if you want to be involved with a brand try contacting them and asking if they have a campaign you could collaborate with them on.

Look at what other bloggers are working on – which brands are actively seeking collaborations with bloggers and instagrammers.

Check the hashtags #ad, #spon#  #sponsored, #advert, and #collaborative to find current campaigns.

Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find the name of the person you should contact at the brand you wish to work with. Sending an email to the right person will make a big difference.

Utilise contacts from previous campaigns you’ve worked on.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

Check with your apps can do – some apps have access to your account and can like things for you. Not all of them do this, but some do, so it’s important to monitor your account.

 

Phew… can you believe Harriet managed to fit all that into 45 minutes? It has taken me longer than that to type it all up! I do hope that it has helped you feel more confident with growing your own instagram account – I know I have got a lot of action points to follow myself.

All that’s left for me to say is a massive thank you to Harriet, for being so awesome, and to invite you to connect with me on instagram if we aren’t already insta-buddies.

Instagram Tips from the Instagram Queen

 

How And Why I Decided To Go Freelance

I’m going to begin this post with a little disclaimer; I have been registered as self-employed since Spring 2010 and have, during the years since, done the odd bit of freelance work here and there. I’ll be even more honest with you, when I first registered as self-employed in 2010 I had every desire to go 100% freelance as soon as possible. However, back then I was far more naive about what it would take to succeed as a freelancer, and I had all but given up on the idea of earning more than an extra bit on the side by the time 2011 rolled around.

So when my sister-in-law approached me about redesigning her company’s website last year, I must admit I was slightly dubious about the idea of turning my side hustle into an actual business. After all, when your self-employed earnings are simply an added bonus on the side, it doesn’t really matter if it succeeds or not, you’ve still got your employed earnings to fall back on. And, being the “responsible” adult I always try to be, it seemed rather too risky to put all my eggs into one basket and simply go for it when I actually had a job which paid the rent and which I utlimately enjoyed.

However, following my sister-in-law’s advice and encouragement, I set up Shortman Media as a way of bringing all my online media and communications experience under one roof. It meant that I could invoice her for the work I did more professionally, and I had the basis from which to expand my services as and when I wanted to. At that point the idea was still to run the business as a side hustle, rather than my main income provider, taking on work as and when I had the time. But it seems that life had different plans for me after all…

How and Why I Decided to Go Freelance

What followed were several months of increasingly challenging health issues. At my worst, I could barely get out of bed, and I spent the vast majority of 2016 being tested for one thing after another. I was signed off work in July 2016 and never made it back, because my symptoms were simply too complicated and erratic to enable even a phased return to work. And throughout it all I began to see everything slip away – my health, my financial freedom, and my ability to do work which gave me a sense of both satisfaction and accomplishment.

Which brought me to the very end of last year, when I gained a certain amount of clarity regarding my future. Instead of seeing freelance work as the riskier option, I needed to look at it as the more flexible option, which would enable me to return to work far sooner. You see, the work I do is mostly based on the computer – I can do that in my office on good days or from my sick bed on bad days. Being freelance also means I can work at 7 o’clock in the evening if that is when I feel at my best, rather than being tied down to standard office hours.

And let’s not forget that freelance work pays me at least double, if not more than the hourly wage I had been bringing in through employed roles. Even taking on board the need to save up for NICs, tax, quiet periods with little work, and unpaid holidays, this difference in pay means I wouldn’t have to work as many hours to still make ends meet. That’s got to be a bonus for anybody, but especially somebody who is chronically ill.

Now I don’t want to paint a perfect picture here – the decision to go 100% freelance was not an easy one. I am well aware that most businesses fail within the first 5 years (often sooner), and that there is a huge risk in trying to start up at the best of times. I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy and I’m not going to worry about where the work is going to come from.

But the fact remains that going freelance is still my best option right now – the alternative would be relying on my employer to keep my position open beyond the 6 months they already have (which I am incredibly grateful for!) and hoping to qualify for ESA as my SSP entitlement runs out. Out of those two options, I’d much prefer to take things into my own hands and try to make this freelance thing work, wouldn’t you?

So, it was with a heavy heart that I approached my employer about ending my contract due to ill health and made the leap of going 100% freelance last month. I shall remain connected with my employer on a voluntary basis, because I really did love the work itself, but the time had come when it was in all our best interests for me to leave. And as shocking as it may sound, I am actually starting my freelance journey with not one but three clients on my books.

If you’d told me this is how I would start 2017 I wouldn’t have believed you. But the truth is that when you put your mind to it you can make this happen, even when you’re feeling beaten to the core (I have spent the vast majority of December and January very sick and yet I’ve still managed to get this sorted). All it takes is courage to face the unknown, reach out for support, do your research, and then just go for it.

But what’s different now to where I was in 2010 when I first tried to go freelance? Why did it fail to kick off then but is doing so well now? Well, age and experience have a lot to do with it.

In 2010 I’d been blogging for 4 years, but blogging was still relatively unknown and social media still hadn’t taken off in the way it has done in recent years, so the idea of making money from online media as an unqualified (but experienced) blogger just didn’t seem doable to me back then. In the almost 7 years since, I have developed this blog, launched a second one, assisted employers with their social media, taken part in charity campaigns, co-authored a book, attended multiple conferences, spoken at a blogging conference, and become active in blogging groups. All of that combined is a huge amount of experience that I simply didn’t have in 2010.

I’ve also had the wonderful experience of being supported through one-to-one coaching sessions both personally with Pippa at Story of Mum and professionally with Michelle of Michelle Reeves Coaching. Between the sessions with these two wonderfully inspiring women, I came to realise the potential of what I had to offer and that I can do this, even when I am struggling healthwise. In fact, my health issues even make me more aware of my strengths and abilities, because I have had to learn to adapt and grow at every stage.

I’ve learnt about the importance of developing multiple income streams, so that the work I do with clients via Shortman Media isn’t my only source of income. Those quiet moments between clients need some kind of passive or alternative income stream, and so working on both this blog and Spirit Kid Network enables me to focus on ways to boost my income when needed. But because I have chosen to work with clients as my main income, I feel less stressed about making my blogs as profitable as possible, which is something that I know would cause me more stress than necessary.

And that’s the biggest lesson I have learned throughout my freelance journey so far – you have to do what you love, otherwise you simply won’t get up and do it. Because let’s be fair – it’s hard enough to motivate yourself to go to work when you’re being paid a salary, so forcing yourself to do something you really dislike to secure that next contract, really isn’t going to work, is it?

So that’s where I’m at – after years of being self-employed with the odd bit of work on the side, I have finally taken the biggest leap of my life and decided to go 100% freelance. I know it won’t be easy at times, and I know that what I do will change over time (already my services on my website don’t truly reflect the work I’ve ended up doing), but I have confidence that this time it really will work. Because it has to. And, because I know I have the support I need to make it work this time.


I’m going to be updating my freelance journey on here, if there is interest in hearing about it, so please do leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear from you if you do any freelance work – how did you choose to go down that path, and is it what you expected?

 

Let's Have Coffee

We’ve Had A Makeover!

Well hello there – welcome to our new look! What do you think? Do you like it? I certainly do. I’ve been wanting to redesign this blog for quite some time, but I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then suddenly this week I just decided to go for it. And oh how glad I am.

It feels great to have a crisp, clean look to the blog, and it is really inspiring me to get back on here and write, write, write. There wasn’t really anything wrong with the old look, it just didn’t inspire me anymore. It felt outdated, like it reflected who I was two years ago when I first migrated my blog over from Typepad to WordPress, and I’m just not the same person I was back then.

I felt trapped by the old design, and constrained by the themes that I had written about so heavily since having Little Man. It’s been a tough few years and whilst I have appreciated having a place to share all of that and raise awareness of certain things, I felt the need to step away from my past and focus on where I am right now – moving forward with hope and positivity. Life is still hard, believe me, but my mindset has changed completely over the past few months and I want to share more of that with you.

I thought long and hard about how to structure the new design, what categories to include, and even whether I should rename the blog itself! But in the end I realised that this blog will always be a place to talk about life, and that includes life as a family. I still felt it needed a better theme though, something that expressed what I hope to gain from continuing to blog here, and so I came up with the “like coffee with a good friend” tagline.

Let's Have Coffee

I’ve benefitted so much lately from chats with friends (either in person or over the internet) and love the support and encouragement that comes from being able to talk about everything from the big, life changing stuff right down to the most mundane of moments. And that’s what I want from this space, a chance to connect with you all and talk openly and honestly about everything, both big and small.

I also want this space to retain its friendly and encouraging style, sharing with you all the things that are helping me and my family get through some of the toughest times in our life with grace and gratitude. So you’ll see that I’ve added a new page to the site – Resources We Love – where I will be sharing some of my favourite people, places, and organisations that have had a positive impact on my life. I have more links to add, however I am awaiting permission to use logos for some of them, so please bear with me on this one!

I think that’s everything I need to share with you right now – I’m looking forward to connecting with you more over the coming days, weeks, and months. Let’s try and really embrace the “like coffee with a good friend” feel to The Family Patch and get to know each other some more. I’d love it if you could pop a comment below and let me know who you are (or if you’re a long time reader, let me know what you think to the new look!) and what you’d like to see here at The Patch so that I can be sure what I write really does encourage and support you.

And if you want to chat some more, you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram if you’d like to connect off the blog – I’m just getting to grips with Facebook Live videos and absolutely love the community over on Instagram. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

I Had to Miss #BML16 – My Greatest Motivation to Heal

Today hundreds of bloggers are meeting together in London for the annual conference run by BritMums, rebranded this year as #BML16 for their 5th year. I have been to BritMums Live (as it was previously named) every year since 2012 and, as always, I initially purchased my ticket as soon as they became available last year.

I had every intention of attending this year too, even writing a post about it for the BritMums blog, because the thought of not being there never even crossed my mind. Walking into The Brewery each year feels like returning home. Meeting up with old friends and making new ones is such a wonderful experience when you spend the vast majority of your time connecting online (if I ever doubted I was a people person then BritMums Live certainly confirmed it for me!) and I never, ever wanted to miss it.

But then I got sick. Or rather, the underlying illness and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing for years now took a massive turn for the worse, and despite ending 2015 with hopes that we were getting on track with my treatment, 2016 has brought more questions than ever. I’ve spent the vast majority of the year desperately hoping to feel better, but a couple of months ago I realised that I simply had to accept the fact I could not guarantee I’d be well enough to attend #BML16.

So I sold my ticket. And it turned out to be a really sound decision, as I have spent the past week pretty much confined to my bed with flu-like symptoms, yet again. Unlike the trip we have to London next week, which will be an easy day trip and possible to manage even if feeling under the weather, I knew that the full schedule of #BML16 would be impossible to manage if I weren’t 100%. Being so sick this week has reassured me that I made the right choice.

And yet, my heart is breaking. I’m seeing all these updates on Twitter and Instagram from people I know at an event that has been an integral part of my calendar for the past 4 years, and I’m not there. It is yet another blow to my already fragile heart, making it clear just how sick I am. And as much as I already know this, for some reason today it feels harder than ever.

I guess it’s because this is where my passion lies – blogging, networking, communicating, socialising, it’s what I do best. This past year has been a little bit crazy, with setting up a new blog and a new business (admittedly both of these have been very slow to grow because of my current health, but growing they are) and I actually took several months away from The Family Patch, my online home of more than 5 years.

But coming back to it has been an absolute delight, a homecoming of sorts, and quite a revelation as well that I have an awful lot of evergreen content on here that has kept my stats steady despite no updates or promotion for well over 3 months of the year! It’s another reminder that this is what I do, this is what I am good at, and this is what I love the most. So to miss out on #BML16 because of my health is like a punch in the gut.

I know that I can follow it all online, and I know that the conversation continues long after the event itself. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s posts and sharing in their joy… but I wish I had been able to be there too. And that is where the greatest motivation lies for this healing journey I am on, to regain my health so that this time next year I’m right back there with everyone, enjoying every single moment.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other motivations to get well, because there truly are. I want to be well because, quite frankly, being this sick sucks. Big time. I don’t think I’ve ever been this ill in my entire life, and that’s saying something! I want to be well for myself, and for TJ and Little Man. I want to be well so that I can work without exhausting myself entirely. And I want to be well so that I can finally step onto this path of writing and networking that has always been my destiny but which I have shied away from making my career for such a long time.

Which is why being well enough to attend #BML17 is my greatest motivation yet – if I can find myself heading to London this time next year, with a smile on my face and the courage to say “this is who I am, this is what I want my life to be, and this is how I’m doing it”, then I shall know that I have made an incredible, life-affirming change in my life.

So thanks #BML16 for showing me all that I am missing this year – it’s the heartache of missing you that makes me so determined to change my life so I can see you again!

She Believed She Could So She Did Notebook

Long Time No See!

Well, hello there! It seems like such a long time since we spoke, and I have missed you on so many occasions. How have you been?

I kind of disappeared all of a sudden, without very much warning, didn’t I? I hadn’t realised just quite how confusing that would be until several of you mentioned wondering where I had disappeared too. The truth is that I had an epiphany moment one day when I realised I needed to step away for the sake of my own well-being and I wasn’t even sure I’d come back.

Have you ever had a moment like that, when out of nowhere you just know you need to step away for a while in order to find your feet once more? Looking back I can see that I had known deep in my heart I needed to do it for such a long time but, as is so often the case, I resisted it for far too long. So when that moment of clarity arrived I acted upon it swiftly and surely and I didn’t look back.

Word of the Year 2016 Healing

I cannot tell you how good it has been for my soul to put that distance between myself and what I had been doing here at The Patch. The past 5 years have been such a massive challenge for my little family in so many ways and by blogging so openly and honestly about it I found that every time I came online I was reminded of each battle, each wound, each pain. I wasn’t able to give my heart, soul, mind, or body chance to heal and that was what I so desperately needed to do.

So you can imagine how amazing it felt to get away, put some distance between myself and the past, and allow myself the chance to begin finding out who I am now and what I want from life. It’s an ongoing process but I finally feel like I have reached a place where I am able to see the scars healing where there were only open wounds a few months ago. I think the best way to sum this up is in a thought that came to me just the other day…

If you want to add value to the lives of others, you have to first add value to your own

It’s akin to the old saying “Healer, Heal Thyself” really isn’t it? For too long now I have been trying to help inspire, encourage, and support others when I desperately needed to do that for myself first. Over the past few weeks I have started taking great strides in that direction and I have to say it is really making things flow in such a different way than they were before.

She Believed She Could So She Did Notebook

Words are suddenly pouring out of my heart and onto the page where once the fear within me kept them locked up. And opportunities to make life-long dreams come true are starting to appear, making me wonder how on earth I ever missed the connection that seems so obvious now (more on this later, it is a whole new direction for me which I’m currently working on behind the scenes).

She Who Knows Magazine Gift

Even more amazing, for me, is that now that I have started to value my own well-being enough to ask for help I am finding that support is coming from so many different directions I can hardly believe it . Just this past week an unexpected package arrived in the post which came at exactly the moment I was beginning to question things that only a gift like that could answer. And suddenly I find that I have the overwhelming urge to reopen The Family Patch and start reconnecting with you all with a lighter heart and a happier mind.

I’ve given it all a bit of a freshen up, to mark the occasion as I come back to blogging here, but don’t be surprised if it continues to change over the coming weeks. For the first time in far too long I actually feel like it doesn’t matter what I write or how I write it here at The Patch – this space is my own and it is a place for me to do what matters to me. That freedom is something that has been lacking for far too long here and I am so happy to change it.

So, all I have left to say is that I am so very glad to welcome you back here to my little online home. I do so love having you here and I cannot wait to catch up with you all.


I’m sharing this post with the #sharethejoy linky over at The Joy Chaser as being back here at The Family Patch really does bring me a lot of joy!

 Share the Joy linky at TheJoyChaser.com

Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

New Beginnings at The Autumn Equinox

Today is Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox, a time in the year when the day and night are of equal length. The long summer days are behind us now and we’re heading into the dark of winter. It’s a time for celebrating your successes (it falls in the middle of the harvest) and bringing things to a close. If there’s one lesson that I think this day brings, it’s that all things must end, but life still brings beauty with it – after all, Autumn may mark the end of Summer but its rich colours are a new kind of beauty to enjoy!

Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

It’s a slower time of year, a time when we begin to draw within ourselves a bit more and snuggle up close to the ones we love. But just because things slow down, it doesn’t mean that they stop altogether. For me, September has always been a time of new beginnings. I imagine this is partly because the new school year always starts this month. But it isn’t only that, I think Autumn brings a sense of inner reflection, a time for seeing where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be and it is the perfect time to start laying down roots for the coming year.

Which is why it feels perfectly timed that this Autumn I am heading into a whole new project which has been gradually growing in my heart for many, many years and has finally reached the point of realisation. I am starting a new blog…

Now, before I go any further I want to say that this new blog is not a replacement for The Family Patch. I love this little space of mine and I will continue to use it for personal updates and sharing all my craft and home based posts. However there is an aspect of my life that has never really fitted well here, an area that is far too expansive to be just a part of this blog. And that’s what the new blog is for.

I don’t want to share too much with you right now, as I am still putting it all together. But today seems like the perfect time to share this new beginning with you. I’d also like to invite you to join me in this new venture, because this new blog is going to be different. It’s not going to be so personal, but rather a gathering of ideas and (I hope) a community of people interested in “raising spiritual kids in a modern world”. It is far bigger than anything I have done before, and I sometimes wonder whether I am getting in over my head, but I just know that I need to try this.

It all began when a name popped into my head during one of my morning Kundalini Yoga sessions. I don’t know where the name came from, but it just felt right. I’ve enjoyed letting the idea blossom and despite often questioning the name and how it will work, nothing else seems to fit. So, I’m trusting in it and going with it and will see where it leads.

It is an absolute joy to be working on and it fills me with so much excitement for the future. But I need your help. I’ve reached a point where no amount of self-reflection or research is going to complete the plans. This new blog is about community, and for that to work I need to know what others want and how they may like to be involved. So, if you have an interest in spirituality, particularly if you have children (of any age), and are happy to help me with this next stage of development please do fill in the form below so that I can get in touch with you.

 

Doorway

When One Door Closes…

…stop banging on it!

The past couple of weeks, I have been dealing with some really huge emotions. I’ve gone from being positive and excited about our new life (new home, new jobs etc) to utterly miserable about the things that we simply cannot do.

It started with sickness stopping us doing something as simple as a day trip to the beach (reminding me of how often our health keeps us from doing “normal” things) and continued with a really bad month with my Endometriosis (just in time for the ten year anniversary of my diagnosis) that made it even more obvious how much my health issues have prevented me from doing.

And then it was just a slippery slope (made worse by hormones, of course) into remembering how much I had looked forward to having and raising kids, only to have to stop after “just the one“. I cannot tell you just how much my heart and soul yearned for things to be different, for another baby to be in our future, for our “baby days” not to be over. So when the Endometriosis kicked off and made me realise that not only could I not have another child, I was also struggling to do all the things I desperately wanted to do with the family we already have, it all just got a bit too much.

Of course, it all became immeasurably easier once the hormones started to settle down (!) but there was still a sadness underneath it all that wouldn’t go away. Until yesterday…

I was busy looking up quotations to send in a little book to a friend who is going through a tough time of her own right now, and I came across this:

When One Door Closes... Reflections on Life

I can only describe my reaction to this as a kick in the gut. Within those two short sentences I found so much truth that it hit me right to my core. I realised that I had been desperately banging on closed doors, like a woman possessed, for far too long. And it was time to walk away…

When I look back on my life, particularly the past few years, I can see many moments in which I chose to keep fighting a losing battle. I chose to invest far too much of my precious (and limited) energy on trying to make something happen that I knew, deep in my heart, wasn’t right. I’m not saying that what I wanted was wrong, just that it wasn’t my journey to take. And whilst saying goodbye to our dreams is very often the hardest thing we can imagine, sometimes it is the best thing we can do.

I’ve known this, at some level, for a long time. I know that I have touched upon it, more and more over the years, each time coming closer to accepting it as one of life’s great lessons. I know this, because I can look back on my blog and see what I was thinking 3 months ago, a year ago, even five years ago. This is one of my favourite things about blogging – it gives you a tangible record of where you were at each point in your life, how you were feeling, and what you were thinking at those times.

When I look back over old posts, I can see recurring themes that crop up time and again. I see acceptance – accepting my limits, accepting the realities of life, and accepting myself. I see understanding – understanding the journey I’m on, the lessons I am learning, and how this impacts on how I live my life. And I see purpose – what I feel like I’m here to do, and how I achieve that.

However, I also see myself making the same mistakes, over and over again. I realise that this time last year I understood that it’s okay when life doesn’t turn out as planned, yet I still continue to try and make everything fit into an old ideal for my life. I see that at the beginning of this year I fully embraced living a life of “surrender” in which I allowed life to unfold as it did, without desperately trying to “fix” it, and yet I find myself forgetting how to do this. And I see that, yet again, I have been trying to ignore my body’s signals that something isn’t right and I need to make a change…

I have an appointment with my GP next Tuesday to discuss moving forward with dealing with the Endometriosis. It may well involve seeing a consultant to fight for something I have been thinking about for several years now but so terrified of pushing for. It certainly means walking away from a closed door. And in many ways, that scares the hell out of me, because once I walk away, there’s no turning back.

But the reality is that this door has been closed to me for a very long time. I’ve been banging on a closed door, holding myself in limbo, waiting for someone to find a way to unlock it and let me through. Even though that will never happen.

So today, I wanted to share with you the message that is carefully working its way into my heart and helping me to move forward… When one door closes, stop banging on it! Trust that whatever is behind it is not meant for you. 

Winning Ideas for Pinterest Lessons from #britmumslive

Pinning Ideas – (Pinterest) Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As a blogger, I am very aware of the importance that Pinterest can play in connecting people and driving traffic to your blog. I have seen the connections that other bloggers have made, and regularly use Pinterest for finding inspiration and ideas. More often than not, the links connected to the pins lead you straight to a blog rather than a website run by a large company. It’s easy to see how helpful that can be for a blogger, right?

But just because you can see the importance of using Pinterest, doesn’t mean you know how to use it effectively, does it? I use Pinterest almost daily, yet I rarely pin my own blog posts. And I rarely use the few collaborative boards I am actually a member of. So imagine my relief when I discovered BritMums Live had arranged a sesson with some of the UK’s top pinners from within the parent blogger niche.

Jen from Love Chic Living, Jennifer from Jennifer’s Little World, and Helen from Kiddy Charts all happily shared their thoughts and experiences with a room jam-packed with interested bloggers. The session was incredibly interactive, with lots of questions being fired out from the audience throughout, and so I hope I managed to capture all the key points in my notes.

Winning Ideas for Pinterest Lessons from #britmumslive

Pinterest basics

  • Pinterest now uses smart feed, which means that when you log in you’ll see pins of “related content” that are based on things you have previously pinned
  • Pins can either be pinned from their source or repinned from within Pinterest itself
  • It’s important to check the pin links directly to the post you want and not the homepage
  • Always check and edit the description so that it includes key words (e.g. ingredients used in a recipe)
  • Do not use hashtags – these are not used on Pinterest and are seen as spam

Making the most of your account

  • Set up a business account – this is important if you plan to make money via your blog. It also gives you access to analytics within Pinterest. It is easy to switch from a personal account to a business one (NB: I did it yesterday and it really was very simple!)
  • Once you’ve changed to a business account, you’ll be able to verify your account.
  • Apply for rich pins – these are pins which have a bold title and provide space for a lot more information than standard pins. Using these will give your pins more weight in searches and they also stand out more in a feed. Pinterest are also adding “call to action” buttons to rich pins.
  • When people first see your profile, they will only see the first 8 boards, so make these count. You can change the order regularly, so consider making these seasonal.
  • Remember that we are naturally drawn to the top left of the screen, so make your first board the one you want to be seen first. This is a good place to create a blog board to pin your own blog posts to.
  • You can pin to your blog board first, and then repin your own content within Pinterest to other more specific boards or collaborative boards. Just make sure that you don’t do this too much in quick succession, otherwise you will be seen as spamming.
  • Make use of secret boards for pinning ideas and projects you are planning for a future date. You can then publish them when you are ready to go live.
  • Use sensible keywords for board names and include them in your profile as well.
  • Make sure your boards are all in the right category, to make sure they are easy to search for.
  • Pin regularly, but keep it natural by making sure that the pins are relevant to you. Mix things up and pin other people’s content, this is how Pinterest works!

Understanding Pinterest and how it equates to blog traffic

  • Pinterest works like a search engine and discovery tool rather than a social media platform. You don’t need a lot of followers to be successful, and the number of followers does not always equate to traffic.
  • Pins are evergreen – don’t delete pins, they will continue to grow organically over time. Seasonal posts, in particular, will be more popular at certain times of year.
  • Talking of seasonal posts, remember to pin them in a timely manner. For instance, Christmas-themed posts will start to gain interest in October when peple start searching for inspiration. If you pin something in December, it may not gather much interest this year, but could be much more successful the following year.

What makes a good pin?

  • Always use portrait images with a ratio of 2:3, and never post a landscape image.
  • Make sure the image is engaging, beautiful, and high quality.
  • Give it a searchable title
  • Make sure that the description includes keywords, but that it is also written naturally. The longer the description, the better.
  • Add teaser text over the image if you think that it adds to it, but remember this won’t always work and some images will be better without it.

Collaborative Boards

  • Collaborative boards are good for extra exposure and offer more pinning opportunities
  • PinGroupie is a great way to find collaborative boards and get involved
  • Make sure you always follow the group rules

Jen’s collaborative board, Love Home Bloggers, is a great example of how these work. 

Pinterest Rules

  • Do not run “Pin It to Win It” competitions, Pinterest hate these.
  • You cannot be paid for pinning to one of your boards, but you can pin sponsored content.
  • You can, however, be paid for pinning to a collaborate board run by a brand.
  • You can run creative competitions (i.e. entrants have to create a board based on a theme) so long as the sponsor does not require entrants to pin content of their own products.
  • You can be paid for offering Pinterest consultancy.

Top Tips

  • Link to Pinterest in a blog post whenever you can and embed relevant boards.
  • Make pins searchable
  • Link to Pinterest boards from your other social media channels
  • Have a Pinterest board for your blog and remember to use categories

Resources

  • Stock photo sites, such as Pixabay and the Creative Commons area on Flickr can help you find relevant images for your pins. The image I used in this post came from Canva
  • If you use WordPress, there are various plugins you can use to make everything easier. Try SumoMe for starters.
  • There are many resources you can use to help organise your content and sharing. These include Buffer, Ahalogy, Curalate, Expion, Newscred, Percolate, Shoutlet, Spreadfast, Sprinklr and Tailwind. Some focus specifically on Pinterest, some are more general social media schedulers. Some are free, some charge a small fee. Find one which works for you.

I do hope that these notes are helpful – they have certainly given me a lot to think about and a long list of things that I need to change.

This post is part of a series entitled Lessons from #britmumslive 2015. You can find the other posts in this series below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Social Media Optimisation
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As part of my BritMums Live journey this year, I have been writing up the notes that I took throughout the conference, a series I have called Lessons from #britmumslive. I feel like I took so much away from the various sessions I attended, that I wanted to share my notes with others so that they could benefit from them too. I spoke to several bloggers over the weekend about how there is sometimes a culture of “non-sharing” within blogging and social media circles, as if keeping our best tips to ourselves will somehow ensure we get “the edge” and remain one step ahead of the rest. But the whole beauty of events like BritMums Live is that we break down those barriers and share, share, share…

One of my favourite sessions throughout the entire weekend was the one held by Kate Hardcastle called Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion. Kate personifies the very nature of sharing success with others, as shown by just how much she gives back through her work. However she also doesn’t mince her words, and was more than happy to lay it on the line and make sure we knew exactly what it takes to make our dreams a reality.

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

 

Starting Out

  • Only get involved with something if you can make a difference
  • If you’re setting up a business, pitch it to the person most unlikely to accept your idea. If they show interest, then you know it has a chance. Don’t accept responses from friends and family, as they will always support your ideas.
  • Face your fear factor at the start, plan your journey and discover what you are most scared of. Don’t put it off, as this could become the mountain you cannot climb further down the line. Face it now, and you know you can face anything.
  • Know your destination – running a business may be like a journey, but you need to know the end result so that you know what you are aiming for (e.g. in 5 years time I’d like to be…)

Finding balance in business

  • Most businesses that are struggling are focusing too much on one area rather than having a balanced approach (e.g. too much focus on budget and not enough on consumer relations). Kate described this as being like one of those toy mazes you get in Christmas crackers, or on the top of bottles of bubbles, where you need to get the ball bearing into the centre. To do so, you need to hold the maze flat, otherwise you have no chance of getting it into the middle.
  • There is a target image on Insight with Passion which you may find useful when looking at finding balance in business

Key skills to help you succeed

  • Passion – you need this to make sure you keep going even through the hardest days
  • Persuasion – it isn’t about how good you are at promoting yourself, but rather how good you are at understanding what someone wants/needs and how you can provide this
  • Persistence – this will help you stick it out and have patience along the way
  • Politeness – the more your brand is out there, the more people will talk about you. The impression you give is really important, so always be polite.

Beyond the basics

  • Business can, and should, be attainable for everyone. However it is often clouded in language we are unfamiliar with.
  • Add the word “respect” to all your literature. It is key word that is universally understood and gives a great feeling of trust. Independent businesses are doing so well because of this.
  • Listening provides you with all the answersAs Kate mentions, you have two ears and only one mouth, so you should remember this and use them in that ratio.
  • If you don’t like the word “sell”, change the language. Selling yourself (or your product) simply means you are “serving” a solution to a problem.
  • Think outside in, not inside out. Do your research and know that business is selfish – you need to tell people about themselves and how you will serve them, not about who you are and what you have done.
  • Have heart – consumers want real people to deal with. This is especially crucial in today’s climate.

Know your limitations

  • You’ll always have to make sacrifices, so you need to know what is most important to you.
  • Say no when you need to, so that when you say yes you mean it (and it means something to you)
  • Be very honest with your friends and family – it is so easy to feel bound to them and guilty when you can’t meet up all the time. Make the time you can spend with them count.
  • Make sure that whatever you do, you are there 100% – this makes all the difference!
  • Accept help when you need it and know your own faults and limitations
  • Use technology to help you organise yourself.

There is always help available

  • Access for All is a free business helping hand provided by Insight with Passion. There is a waiting list for this, but it is worth trying if you have a burning business idea.
  • Customer at the Heart awards celebrate independent businesses throughout the UK who put their customers first. Often award nominations can be challenging as you have to write about yourself, but with these awards the customers can nominate you themselves.
  • Charity Dreamgirls support smaller, lesser known charities and help them spread their message further.

I’m sure there is plenty more help available, however these are the points that Kate brought up in her session. I do hope that these notes help, they sure have inspired me. I had a lovely chat with Kate following the session and she reminded me to be realistic, knowing when I can change something and when I can’t, and looking for new ways of working when necessary.

This post is part of my series Lessons from #britmumslive. You can find my other session notes below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Social Media Optimisation
Pinning Ideas

Social Media Optimisation Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

“Social Media Optimisation” – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As I mentioned in my first Lessons from #britmumslive post, I went to BritMums Live this year hoping to gain as much insight and inspiration for taking my blog to the next level as possible. This included learning how to use social media in a much more efficient way, and so I was very excited when the session “Social Media Optimisation – Doing It All, Yes You Must” appeared on the agenda.

Social Media Optimisation Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

The session was led by the amazing Maggy Woodley from Red Ted Art and Ali Clifford from Kids Chaos. Both are seasoned bloggers, with huge followings across various social media platforms, and it was really interesting to hear about their favourite places, how this has changed throughout the years, and how it differed from other bloggers in the audience.

Here’s what they had to say…

Why do you need to do it all?

  • Social media is owned by third parties, who are always changing their algorithms. This can massively affect your traffic, so you cannot afford to rely on one platform alone.
  • If you want to work with brands, you need to be present on all the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as these are the big traffic drivers
  • However, each brand will have individual platforms which they prefer, so it is important to be visible across them all otherwise you could easily miss out on opportunities that focus on one or the other.
  • It looks odd if you have a massive following on one platform and hardly any followers on another. It can make people wonder how authentic you are and whether you have “bought” all those likes.

What does social media “optimisation” mean?

  • Prioritising one or two accounts whilst still being visible across other platforms
  • Having a consistent name and profile across all platforms
  • Grabbing your name on all social media platforms (even if you do not intend to use some of them much, you can still passively grow an audience and it also stops people from using your name for their own accounts).
  • Connecting all of your accounts for easy posting, but be wary of simply posting everything across all platforms when it may not be relevant to your audience in some places.

Defining Your Social Media Style

  • Work our what your focus is and go with it – even if people don’t like it, remember that you need to be happy with it
  • Watermark your images if you can so that they are still recognisable as yours even if they are shared elsewhere
  • Act like a brand and try to have a consistent image across all platforms
  • However, remember that your style may vary slightly across the different platforms – for example you may prefer to use a profile photo on instagram and your logo on Facebook.

Understanding the different platforms

  • Join and use blogging groups to keep up with changes in social media
  • Pinterest is used more like a search engine than social media platform, with pinners saving links they will come back to at a later time. Be aware that things often get mis-pinned, so it is important to check details when you repin an item.
  • Twitter is all about chatting with others. Remember you will need to tweet links to your posts multiple times as they will get lost very quickly on Twitter. However it is important to change the wording rather than simply tweeting the same thing over and over.
  • Facebook is much slower, and so you will annoy people if you simply post the same thing multiple times. Try resharing updates from bloggers with a large following.
  • Instagram is about connecting with people on a more personal level, and may not lead to visits to your blog. Make sure you interact with people and have conversations on there, rather than simply posting images.

Points to Remember

  • People like it when you post other people’s content as well as your own.
  • Scheduling via Hootsuite, Buffer etc can help you keep on top of your social media streams, however it is important to check for interaction rather than simply scheduling posts.
  • Social Media can take up a lot of time – Maggy shared how she spends more time on social media than she does on her blog!!
  • It’s not the number of followers you have that brands look for, but rather the engagement you have with your readers.
  • Work out, in a table, which platforms you focus on, which you passively use, and which you simply need to park your name on, and then use this as a guide.

I hope that these notes do the session justice and help those of you who couldn’t make this session.

Remember, I am writing up all the notes I took at BritMums Live this year, and you can find them all below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion
Pinning Ideas

Turning Pitches into Profit Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

“Turning Pitches Into Profits” – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

This year, I attended BritMums Live with the intention of learning as much as I could about taking the next step on my blogging journey. I have been blogging since 2006, but apart from a couple of years freelance writing, I have never really focused on using the skills I have gained professionally. All this changed following my redundancy at the beginning of this year, so I was excited to learn that one of my favourite bloggers – Emily Leary from A Mummy Too – was leading a session called Turning Pitches into Profit.

Turning Pitches into Profit Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

Emily’s session was really insightful (as well as incredibly enjoyable, she really has a great presenting style!) and I thought it would be helpful to type up the notes I made for anyone who couldn’t make the session at BritMums Live last weekend.

As per Emily’s suggestion at the start of her session, try to keep in mind a brand that you’d like to work with whilst you read these notes. Consider whether they fit in with what you write about, and therefore what your audience will want to read!

The Basics of Pitching

  • Pitching is not blagging – it is about proposing a mutually beneficial working relationship.
  • A good pitch outline will include: who you are; your ideas; what you can bring to the brand; and your rates.
  • Who are you? – Your blog strapline (if you have one) may well give you an idea for this. Keep it simple, 1-2 sentences to describe your blog. Remember this may change depending on who you’re pitching to.
  • Who is it for? – Who is your imagined reader? PRs want to know about your demographics (use your stats, such as google analytics, for this). If there is a key statistic in there, use it, but don’t just rely on stats alone. You will stand out above others by knowing who your readers are. (At this point I was reminded of By Regina’s Ideal Reader Profile that I used when first developing a blog plan at the beginning of this year – you may find this useful too).
  • What type of content does best? – Look at your most popular posts – what kind of post are they and why do you think these are so popular? Brands and PRs will often split their target audience into several subgroups, e.g. those who love to read and those who love “how-to” posts, so knowing which kind of content does best on your blog may help you here.

At this point in the session, Emily suggested we choose three pieces of our content which shows our best work. I realised the posts I am most proud of are not necessarily ones which are most relevant to brands, so it certainly made me think about this in a whole new light!

Finding Your Best Content

  • You could start a Pinterest board that is dedicated to your blog and allows you to showcase what you can do. Alternatively you could create a simple list of links showing your best posts. This will then become something you can send to PRs and brands to show what you can do far more efficiently that sharing your entire blog (where you may have a lot of information that is irrelevant to that particular brand).
  • If you’re written something specific (in my case, this would be posts on Endometriosis and HG) they may no longer be relevant to you and what you’re writing about now. But they will always continue to be relevant to others who are facing those things in their lives right now, and so they can still be some of your best content.

Know Your “Hero Stats”

  • If you have received details from other brands, look at what language they use and what they are looking for. This can help you determine the best language and focus to use when pitching. You can also use social media and blogging groups to learn more about the brands you hope to pitch to.
  • What is your reach? – Don’t just include your blog stats, include your social media following, number of subscribers, and any other stat which might create the right impact.
  • Choose your “hero stats” and give the brands/PRs what they want to hear (think about how infographics and press releases only give you the key information you need to know).
  • Keep all your stats in a folder on your computer for easy access – this cuts down on time without having to go to each place every time you need them (and update this regularly).

Working Out Your Fees

  • There is no “magic number” of what to charge – someone with a smaller reach than you may still be worth more to a brand within their niche.
  • It can be helpful to talk to other bloggers now and again to find out what the “going rate” is. (Blogging groups can be good for this, and if anyone is mean to you, leave the group… there are lots of supportive groups out there, you don’t need to stay in one where people aren’t friendly!)
  • Fees will be determined by a number of factors, including: research and relevance; quality (this will vary); work involved (factor in travel, materials etc); and licensing (will it be used elsewhere).
  • Top Tier bloggers (i.e. those who are top of the various blogging charts) earn, on average, £250-£500 per piece of content, with £250 being a very simple piece and £500 for very specific work.
  • If you are relatively new to blogging, you may not get this kind of money, but remember that you are worth the time you put in and if you are working for less than the minimum wage, you need to question whether it is really worth it.

Know The Brand

  • Research the brand you want to pitch to thoroughly – use publications such as PR Week and Marketing Week and find out all about their latest work as well as previous campaigns. This will tell you why the brand has hired a PR company, what their advertising does, and what their key message is.
  • A brand’s advertising department will have their own targets that they have to meet, so you need to be aware of this. Make it easy for them to go to their bosses and explain why you would be a good choice!

Communication is Crucial

  • Cold pitching is like cold calling – get in touch with the brand and start a conversation. Explain why you want to work with them and this will hopefully lead to a “warm pitch”.
  • If you receive a press release, try pitching you idea in response (if it is relevant). For instance, you could explain that you don’t normally publish press releases, but at this time you have an idea and would like to work with the brand.
  • Remember that you won’t win every pitch, but take every opportunity. There aren’t many PRs who will be annoyed by a conversation, as it is their job to engage. Even if you don’t win this time, you could still have made a good impression meaning they may contact you next time an opportunity arises.  Slowly, but surely, the number of contacts you create will increase.

Be Professional

  • Figure out your Terms and Conditions and make them accessible (e.g. they could be on a blog page that isn’t easily searchable but you can still link to when needed).
  • Know the law and regulations
  • Always disclose any sponsored work and be clear about this

Final Thoughts

  • Remember that in all creative industries, some people will steal your ideas. It happens, unfortunately, so try to trust the brand before contacting them.
  • Be super positive when talking to PRs
  • Always be polite
  • And always be enthusiastic

I really hope that I have done Emily’s amazing session justice in these notes and that they make as much sense to everyone else as they do to me.

I’ve written my notes from other sessions on the blog as well, as part of a new series entitled “Lessons from #britmumslive”. You can find the other posts below:

Social Media Optimisation
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion
Pinning Ideas

Why I'm to be part of a Blogging Community #britmumslive

Why I’m Proud to be Part of a Blogging Community (#britmumslive)

This past weekend, I trotted off down to London for the fourth year running, to attend the UK’s biggest social media and blogging conference. BritMums Live has become as much a part of my year as my birthday and Christmas, and is something I look forward to greatly. Stepping into The Brewery feels like coming home, and seeing old friends again is like having a family reunion… we are, as a community, one great big family that I am so proud and honoured to be a part of.

Why I'm to be part of a Blogging Community #britmumslive

But, as with all families, it isn’t always perfect. As Tim from Slouching Towards Thatcham so wisely wrote today, the men in our community are incredibly under-represented at these events. Dad bloggers may naturally be outnumbered by mum bloggers at the moment, but the disparity between mum and dad bloggers is even more pronounced when it comes to gatherings such as these. Are we doing enough to make dad bloggers feel as comfortable attending these events as the mums are?

And then, of course, we mustn’t forget that many bloggers are introverts, feeling much more comfortable expressing their hearts on the internet than they do in a room full of their peers. Let’s face it, hundreds of people meeting in one place can be pretty overwhelming for anyone, but especially so for those feeling unsure of themselves or star-struck by some of their favourite bloggers.

But here’s where we come to the thing I love most about this blogging community I’m so proud of – we are all working to make things better, for ourselves and for others. Over the years I have seen bloggers reach out to those they barely know to offer a hug and support when it all gets a bit too much. I’ve watched as those who have had a difficult time at the conference receive comment after comment from others saying “if only we had known…” and “next year, we’ll make it better”. And I’ve been stunned by the absolute generosity and grace of the biggest bloggers in our community, reaching out a hand of encouragement to others, sharing their own fears and concerns, and showing that they are just like the rest of us.

We all have our moments when we feel like small fish in a very large pond. It is so easy to see this year’s key bloggers, the ones who are up for awards or speaking at the conference, and convince ourselves that we will never be as good as they are. But you know what? Ours is a community of sharing, a family of support, and when you take that chance and step out there, you find that you do belong, you are worthy, and you’re just as important as anyone else. Your voice is valid, your voice is strong, your voice is heard.

A couple of years ago I came close to giving up blogging altogether. I couldn’t see where I fit in and I didn’t know what I was doing any more. And then I went to BritMums Live. I was surprised when somebody recognised me, told me how much they loved my writing, for I thought nobody was listening. And I was honoured when a blogger I admired so much asked me not to give up, because that meant she had read my post and cared enough to reach out and encourage me to continue. I left that year with a sense of belonging which I’d never felt before, and it is that feeling which now defines the reason behind my blog. I am part of a community, and what an amazing community it is too.

This year I stood on stage to read out a poem as part of the Bloggers’ Keynote, something I could never have imagined doing until very recently. This little fish in that very large pond finally found her voice. But as proud as I was of this opportunity, nothing could surpass how humbled I was by the entire thing. As I looked out upon the room full of bloggers, I knew each and every one had a story to tell that was just as important as mine, just as worthy of being on that stage. And I realised that, far from being little fish in a big pond, we are a formidable force when we all come together.

It is my greatest hope that every single person who attended BritMums Live this year, as well as all those who were unable to come, recognises just how strong and powerful the words and images they share are. The tagline on the back of my business cards this year was “together we can achieve great things” and this is exactly what I took away from the weekend. Every single time we post something to our blog or social media, we add to a growing collective of voices that are slowly changing the world, making it a better place for ourselves and our families. The post we write or the image we share is as equal and valid whether it touches 1 person or 10,000. We each touch the lives of others, and that is what makes this community so great.

So thank you, all of you, for everything you do. Never underestimate your worth, never forget your strength, and never feel like you don’t belong.

#britmumslive welcome

#BritMumsLive – My Top Tips for a Great Weekend

I can hardly believe that BritMums Live is just a few short days away. It feels like an absolute age since we last met at The Brewery, and I am so excited to get back there and meet up with friends old and new. This will be my fourth year and I know exactly what I want to get out of the weekend. However I remember the feeling of uncertainty in my first year, having no idea what to expect, and I have seen so many bloggers write of similar feelings in the #britmumslive meme lately. So I thought I would bring all my thoughts together and create a “Top Tips” style post to help ease those nerves and enjoy the best weekend you can.

My Top Tips for #britmumslive blogging conference

1. Set Some Goals

Whilst we’re all going to BritMums Live because we’re all bloggers, everyone is going to have a slightly different set of reasons for going. Some want to go to meet other bloggers, some to network with brands, and some will be going specifically for the sessions. In fact, I imagine most of us go for a combination of these reasons (and more). And with such a varied programme, it is easy to get whatever you want from the weekend. It’s also incredibly easy not to do so too, if you get swept away by the enormity of it all.

Last year I felt like I missed out on the opportunity to meet more people. I had a fantastic time with some amazing friends, but I just didn’t balance out the in-depth chats with the opportunity to network and meet as many people as possible. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy spending the weekend with a few good friends, because I really did, it’s just that I had met so many people in previous years that it felt a bit odd not swapping business cards with more people and finding more new blogs to read. So this year one of my goals is to get out there and just say “hi” to more people.

Your goals may be completely different to mine – you may want to spend your time with a few good friends, or network with as many brands as you can, or even attend very specific sessions because of where you feel your blog is heading. Whatever your goals are, just keep them in mind throughout the conference to try and keep yourself on track and ensure you make the most of a weekend that is packed full and passes far too quickly!

2. Make a “Must-Meet” List

Whether one of your goals is to meet certain bloggers (or brands) or not, I think we all have someone we desperately want to meet. However actually finding them amongst the crowds can be more challenging than you’d realise. It can be so easy to go through the weekend thinking you’ll bump into one of your favourite bloggers, only to come away having barely spotted a glimpse of them. I have done exactly this with a couple of bloggers, people I have failed to meet even after 3 years!

So, if there is someone you really want to meet, make a list and then make an effort to find them at some point during the conference. You may find twitter helpful for this – if you can’t find them, send out a tweet and tag them in it. Ask them where they are and what sessions they are planning to attend. Make sure you find them, otherwise you’ll come home kicking yourself, with another year to wait before your next chance to meet them.

3. Pack Wisely

Do not underestimate the sheer amount of free stuff you will amass throughout the weekend. If you visit any of the brands, you’ll likely come away with samples (and looking through the Sponsors list this year, it looks like this will include some books again too). Talking of books, you may find yourself buying some if your favourite author happens to be signing copies at the conference. And then, of course, there is the big bag of goodies you will be given as you leave The Brewery at the end of it all. I cannot stress enough how much space this will take up – last year I actually took an empty suitcase so that I wasn’t trying to juggle multiple bags on the train home.

Leaving plenty of space for all this free stuff also means you need to pack wisely for your journey down. You will not need half the things you think you will (like your laptop), and probably find you’ve forgotten something you wish you’d taken (like plasters). I wrote about my Essentials List last year, which is pretty much everything I plan on taking this year too.

4. Plan Ahead

Similar to my first two points, you’ll want to look at the Agenda and plan which sessions you really do not want to miss and which ones you’re happy to skip. I always find this part the hardest, as there is usually a clash between two or three sessions at least once during the two days. This is when planning ahead can really come in handy. Know what you want to get from the conference and use it to help you decide which sessions are an absolute must.

For me, this includes opting for sessions which will help me with work rather than sessions I would like to do just for fun. Whilst I would have enjoyed some of the sessions because of the speakers, I am opting for those which will help me build and develop key skills which will help me professionally over the next 12 months. I have not done this since my very first year at BritMums Live and it feels a bit odd, but I know that if I don’t do it I will come home feeling like I wasted a fantastic opportunity to learn as much as I could.

I’m also planning on skipping a session or two so that I can wander around The Hub and meet the brands or take part in activities that I usually miss because I am so busy attending every single session possible! I have been meaning to do this for at least the past 2 years, but I just never seem to do it. But that also means that I end up coming home and seeing photos of all the things other bloggers have done with the brands that I didn’t even know were there, and I want to try and change that this year. The Hub gets very busy during the breaks, so it is easy to miss things or have a very hasty chat with a brand, rather than a more meaningful one.

5. Be Flexible

This is a big one. All my other points focus on planning ahead and making sure you get everything you want out of the conference. But you can be too specific and miss out on some fantastic opportunities by simply going with the flow. If you’ve met someone new who is going to a session you hadn’t planned on attending but are happy to change your plans, then do it. If you planned on going back to your hotel room straight after the BiBs but are then invited out to dinner with a group of bloggers and don’t really need that early night, then go out and have fun (even if it means a hangover the next morning). Whatever happens, just go with it and enjoy yourself.

I do hope this helps some of you, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the weekend!

 

Blogging

When Blogging isn’t an Option…

I’ve got to be honest with you. A lot of things that happen in my life never make it onto the blog. I may be an “oversharer” in many ways, but there are just some things which are too personal to put out there. I remember sitting in a session at BritMums Live last year and hearing Her Melness Speaks, Rachael Lucas, and Cherry Menlove all agree that some things are just too sacred to share, despite being incredibly “blogworthy”, and I couldn’t agree more. My blog has always been a place where my heart is revealed over and over again, but sometimes the things in my heart never make it onto the screen.

When Blogging Isn't An Option

But sometimes, this holding back, makes blogging hard. I’ve written before about how, for me, blogging is all about community and I have made some incredible friends through my journey so far. Many of those friendships have been built through mutual experiences, times when it has been so amazing to hear someone else say “me too” when you feel utterly alone. And so when facing challenging times becomes something you simply cannot write about it can feel like you’ve lost one of your biggest sources of support, encouragement and inspiration. Times when people in your close circle of friends in real life simply won’t understand what you’re going through, but you know someone online will.

This year has been one of those times. I’ve been refinding my voice over the past few months and had a really wonderful moment last week when I realised how much my blog has grown in such a short period of time. And yet one of the biggest and scariest things I have ever had to face has been shut behind a closed door. I thought I was okay with that, I knew the reason (or reasons) for keeping it that way, but suddenly it just feels like too much. I feel like I’m losing the battle and the one place I usually come to seek refuge is not an option any more.

But it’s not my story to tell. I am a part of it, but that is a long way from it being my story. One day I might share it, one day when the storm has passed. But not now, not today. All I can say is that someone I love it hurting, terribly, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The depth of their pain, the all-encompassing nature of it, is more terrifying than anything I have ever faced before. And for the first time in my life I feel truly hopeless.

Blogging isn’t going to change that. The hopeless feeling will still be there. But still, right now I wish it could. I wish someone could say, “I’ve been there too” and share their story with me. I wish there was a guidebook for this, a message of hope that all will be well. Because right now, I feel lost, and alone, and that’s the last thing any of us needs!

I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

I’m going to BritMums Live 2015

It’s that time of year again… June is almost upon us and I am beginning to get excited about travelling to London to meet with as many bloggers as is humanly possible in two days! No, seriously, BritMums Live is all about meeting up with old friends and new for me. So it’s about time I wrote my annual “I’m going to BritMums Live” post and started working my way through the linky and catching up with people on social media!

I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

The I’m Going to BritMums Live 2015 Meme

Name – Amanda

Blog – The Family Patch (this one!)

Twitter ID@thefamilypatch

Height – 5’4″ (I think… I may be an inch or two off!)

Hair – brown (with a reddish tint if it has been sunny). It should be in a bob, but with the recent relocation and starting two new jobs I am overdue a trim.

Eyes – dark brown

Is this your first blogging conference? – no, this is my fourth time at BritMums Live. Rocking up to The Brewery feels like coming home these days. I’ve lost the nerves I had in my first couple of years and now sink down into the seats with a sigh of relief, knowing that the entire weekend is going to be filled with plenty of chatter, lots of useful information, and a huge amount of inspiration.

Are you attending both days? – you betcha! I was a little concerned when I was first made redundant that I would have to sell my ticket or attend on one day only to reduce costs, but thankfully it has all worked out okay. One of the first things I did when I started my new job was ensure that I had these two days off!

What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2015? – I always hate this question – how do you choose just one thing you’re most looking forward to? As I’ve mentioned above, I love the opportunity to meet up with people, so that always comes high on my list. There are some old friends I am hoping to bump into, but also bloggers I have only started to interact with online during the past few months and I do hope to say “hi” to them this year.

Then, of course, there are the sessions. I really struggled last year to work out the best ones to attend. I was up to my neck in book edits and charity work and I just had no time for blogging. This year though I have a renewed passion for blogging, more so than I have since my first conference in 2012 in fact, so I’m super excited about the sessions this year.

And finally, I found out on Friday that one of my blog posts has been chosen for the Bloggers’ Keynote on the Saturday, so I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to that. The Bloggers’ Keynote is always such an emotional and inspiring moment in the weekend, when you are reminded just how special the blogging community is. I always leave on a high after listening to others read their posts, and so I feel incredibly honoured to be a part of it this year.

What are you wearing? – I have no idea. None. Last year I ended up wearing dresses, which was fun as it was a hot summery weekend. But the year before I wore jeans and a tee and that was really relaxed and comfortable. So I’m not sure which way I’ll go this year. Maybe another photo shoot is in order?

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2015? – New friendships and connections. Last year I spent the vast majority of the weekend with a small group of friends, and it was really fun to share it all with them. But I found that when I came home I felt a sense of “loss” in some way at the fact I had not met with more people. In my first year I had gone with one friend and we only met up a few times throughout the weekend and the rest of the time was spent just meeting new people. Then in my second year I went completely on my own and, once my initial nerves were overcome, I made loads of new connections. I’m hoping that this year I can strike a balance between the two, making time for a good long catch up with old friends but still wandering off on my own at times so that I reach out and say “hi” to people I’ve not met before.

I’m also hoping to learn lots from the sessions. Since my redundancy I have been working on a new way of supporting my family and striking a better work/life balance. This means that I am hoping to be inspired by those who are embracing all that life has to offer, whilst also learning more about promoting myself and my work. I haven’t done any freelance work in years, so I’m hoping to find out how others are doing it.

Do you have any tips to pass on to others who may not have been before? – oh yes, lots…

  • remember we all get nervous, whether it’s our first time or our fourth, so don’t feel like you’re the only one!
  • if you’re nervous about meeting people, take a deep breath and just go for it – you’ll feel so proud of yourself for doing it and that’s a much better feeling than going home disappointed that you missed out
  • if you really don’t feel confident approaching people, visit the BritMums Butterflies. They are a lovely bunch of people who will give you a warm welcome and help you meet up with others
  • Twitter will be your best friend! Use the #britmumslive hashtag to find out where people are, join in opportunities with brands, and chat with others about the talks and sessions you have attended
  • have a vague plan for the sessions you want to attend, but be aware that this is likely to change throughout the weekend! Sometimes a session is busier than you expected it to be, or you find you’re having a great chat with a new friend who is planning to attend a different session which suddenly sounds much more interesting than your original plan. Just go with the flow – have your “must-do” list and then be flexible the rest of the time, it is much more fun that way
  • pack lightly – you will come home with a huge amount of goodies, so you don’t want to be weighed down from the start! If you’re not sure what to pack, check out my BritMums Live Essentials post from last year

I can’t wait to see you there!!

Are you going to BritMums Live this year? If so, have you joined in the linky? You can do so here…

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

Finding Our Voices and Helping Each Other (Reactions to the General Election 2015)

Like many others, I have spent a lot of time over the weekend reading commentaries and conversations about the General Election, the plans of our new government, and British politics in general.

My initial reaction to the results still stands – I am saddened that we are facing another 5 years of further cuts that will damage our NHS and make life immeasurably harder for those already struggling so much to simply make ends meet. However, as I have digested the words of others and seen conversations taking place on various social media platforms, my focus has changed somewhat.

I have been absolutely astounded by the attitude of some which suggests that because the Conservative Party received a majority of seats, those of us who didn’t vote for them should simply accept this and shut up. I’m not sure how to express my concern that there is this idea in our society that we all get a chance to vote once every five years and other than that we leave the politics to the politicians. It doesn’t end once the votes have been counted and the winners announced, in fact it’s only just beginning…

There has been a lot of outrage expressed about the fact that the Tories won a majority in this election, and it is all too easy for those who voted for this outcome to believe this is just a case of “sour grapes”. And, of course, there is a part of the response which is simply sheer disappointment that “the other party” won. But let’s not be under any pretences that this very same response would not have occurred had Labour won the majority.

However, the bigger issue that a lot of people are trying to speak out about is the fact that we no longer live in a society with two main Parties battling for their chance at leading the country. Our system of First Past The Post (FPTP) is seriously outdated and no longer representative of actual votes cast. The Conservatives may have won a small majority, but that same percentage of votes would have massively lost them the election in previous years. And this is because votes are being cast for smaller Parties, like the Green Party and UKIP, who under Proportional Representation would have gained far more seats than they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I am personally very glad that UKIP didn’t get more seats. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they should have done, that millions of votes have gone unheard under the current system. It’s no wonder people feel like there is no point in voting!

But instead of getting disheartened, instead of giving up, instead of doing what people expect us to do and simply accept our fate, we are starting to realise that we do have a voice, we just have to find it.

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

For me, as a writer, this means using my voice through the written word. I have never really blogged about politicial things before, but you can be sure that I’m going to from now on. And I shall be watching out for others who are using their voices online, and sharing their thoughts with you too. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, finding common ground and supporting each other so that we can achieve greater things than we ever could alone. If you don’t already follow me on Facebook or Twitter, please do considering joining me over there as I’ll be able to share things via social media much more frequently than I can here on the blog.

I’ll also be looking for ways of supporting those in my local community, building up connections so that we can enact change right here on our doorstep. This is the time when our communities (whether online or off) are of utmost importance, because with so many cuts in our future, so much uncertainty facing us, it will be the people around us who hold us up and remind us what “we’re all in this together” really means.

I’ve started a new page with links to articles, comments, and organisations which may interest you. This will be the easiest way to keep on top of anything I link to in any of my blog posts on this topic, and you can find it here.

It's All About Community - Celebrating the Heart and Soul of Blogging

It’s All About Community – Celebrating the Heart and Soul of the Online World

Every so often, I find myself coming back to the question, “why do you blog?” and regardless of how the finer details change, there is one thing that remains constant – community.

I was reminded of this again last night thanks to a blog post by Aby from You Baby Me Mummy and a chat on Twitter with Joy from Pink Oddy. These two bloggers are lovely ladies who I have not had the pleasure of really speaking to before, and yet they both reminded me of just how important the community aspect of blogging is.

Aby has a most beautiful and balanced view of what it means to be part of the community. Her recent post called “Finding Your Tribe and Why You Need One” is an excellent example of this, however it was another blog post in which she explained that she spends most of her blogging time reading other blogs and commenting on them, which really got me thinking.

When I first started blogging, way back in 2006, I had been reading blogs for several months. In that time I had come to know some of the bloggers really quite well, through reading about their lives and commenting on their posts. In fact it was the thought that this was a rather “one-way” relationship which made me start a blog in the first place – I thought that it might be nice for the bloggers I knew so much about to know a little bit about this person who was commenting on their blogs too! In essence, I wanted to be a fully-fledged member of this exciting new community.

Fast forward several years and social media has taken a lot of the conversation off the blog and even sometimes impinges on the time available for reading and writing itself. Indeed, I was having a great conversation with Joy (Pink Oddy) last night about my love/hate relationship with social media (on Twitter, I might add, so that would be a moment I loved social media!) We lamented the death of the online forums we used to frequent whilst at the same time finding amusement in that fact that Joy and Aly from Bug Bird and Bee had lost several hours in conversation following the end of their #Fridayat11 Google Hangout, which is a fantastic way of getting to know the people behind the blogs!

So last night, after a really lovely evening chatting with other bloggers, I  felt inspired to celebrate and lift up the community aspect that is so important to bloggers and social media fans alike. I spend an awful lot of time reading posts via Feedly and looking through updates on Twitter and Instagram, and I thought it might be a nice idea to choose two or three things that have really embodied the spirit of community and bring them all together in a post that reminds me of just why I love blogging so much.

Welcome to “It’s All About Community”

It's All About Community - Celebrating the Heart and Soul of Blogging

Not the snazziest of titles, I know, but it is what it is!

I’ve already highlighted You Baby Me Mummy’s post, so I’m going to head straight on to a couple of other things that have really inspired me this week.

First up, it’s the #birthjusthappened hashtag that I stumbled across on Twitter yesterday. It is a hugely inspiring and emotional collection of images, which show that birth doesn’t have to be something we dread and fear. There are so many blog posts and articles about how this went viral and what it stands for, but I wanted to draw your attention to the images themselves. I posted my own because, despite having an induced labour and feeling completely let down in many ways during my actual labour, I still cherish the moment I gave birth as the most surreal and yet magical moment ever. I know that this isn’t true for many women, and birth can be hugely traumatic, but this collection of images shows that a positive birth experience can come in so many different shapes and forms and I love it for bringing women together to share as much and empower each other.

Then there is the incredible post over on The Adoption Social by Sarah from The Puffin Diaries entitled “How Twitter Changed My Life“. I read this post when it popped up on my Feedly app and I felt myself nodding along to everything Sarah wrote about how Twitter can be a real force for good when it brings together people with a common experience or common goal. I think the same can be said about any social media platform, and especially blogging, and Sarah’s explanation of all the amazing ways her life has truly been changed through connecting with a community online is well worth a read. So often we only hear of the negatives around social media, and yet just look at how many positives it has brought to those who simply need to find a community of people they would never have had the opportunity to meet were they limited by their geographical location.

And finally (so as not to make this this longest blog post in history!) I couldn’t miss the opportunity to highlight that the BiBs – that’s the Brilliance in Blogging awards run by BritMums – have opened for nominations this week. I’m not even sure where to begin with choosing my nominations because there are just so many blogs I enjoy reading. But what better way to celebrate the community that we are a part of than by nominating those that inspire you time and time again. It’s like giving people a great big pat on the back and saying “thanks for being a part of my world”.

So that’s it from me… tell me, how do you feel about the online community and who has inspired you this week?

************

Linking up this week with Bod For Tea’s Share the Joy Linky – why not join me?

Share the Joy linky at bodfortea.co.uk

Finding My Voice

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One of the most recurrent themes at BritMums Live this year was the need for bloggers to "find their voice".

This is something I have been thinking about ever since I started blogging way back when (2006 I think it was, I lose track!) It was mummy blogs that introduced me to the blogosphere even though I was a long way from being a mummy myself at that point, and so I struggled to find a voice for my blog.

I then started to find home and craft blogs and so, as I set up home with TJ in 2008 and then left full-time work in 2010, it seemed natural for me to start blogging about those things.

But you know what? I'm a terrible housewife (well, compared to all those with homemaking blogs anyway!) and although I love crafts, I have so many other passions as well.

I switched from one blog to another, changing my voice each time (and sometimes even within one blog) and eventually started "Amanda's Patch" (which later became "The Family Patch")  so I could write about anything and everything.

This coincided with my leaving work due to ill health caused by my Endo, so I naturally started writing about that. We were also planning a wedding, so I wrote about that. And then we started thinking about trying to conceive. So I wrote about that too. 

I even started a series on iVillage.co.uk about it.

And then I had the worst pregnancy I could ever have imagined. And I hardly ever blogged. Instead of writing all the "what I'm craving this week" and "look at my bump now" posts I had planned, those few posts I did write were very often focussed on just getting through the pregnancy and surviving HG.

And then, of course, Little Man came along and I barely had time to think let alone blog. But I had so much I could have written about. Like my difficulties breastfeeding. I covered this briefly but not really as much as I'd have liked. And although I have touched upon HG and the book I am writing about it, I haven't had huge amounts of time to write about the other things that are important to me.

And I always put it down to time… or rather lack of it.

But BritMums Live made me realise that this was just an excuse. It wasn't time that kept me away from blogging all the things I was thinking about (although that is a factor, I must admit!) Nope, it wasn't time but lack of direction.

One of the things that people have consistently commented on when reading my blog is the candour and honesty that I write with. And I do indeed find it incredibly easy to pour out my heart when it comes to things like Endo and HG. But these are major issues in my life. And like all those other bloggers who write about the more challenging and traumatic events in their lives, sometimes it is therapeutic to get those things out and onto paper (or screen as the case may be).

And yet, sometimes I don't write about the "day to day" difficulties. I forget that these can be just as important as the big issues I tackle. It's like I've been censoring my posts and only writing those that I felt were "worthy", or rather "meaty", enough to warrant attention.

And that isn't the point. BritMums Live introduced me once again to the reason I first started blogging: to write. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every single comment and wish that I could generate as much conversation as some blogs do. Not just for myself but also to prove the popularity and therefore need for books like the HG one so that I have a chance of at least interesting an agent and/or publisher. But too often I can get hung up on stats and comments rather than just writing from the heart.

Which brings me back to the idea of finding my voice and where I want my blog to go.

Well, that's a hard question. Even though I can recognise that I need to forget about stats and comments and just write from the heart, it is hard to actually put that into practise. I am an open and honest blogger. People in my real life see my blog as well as those in the blogosphere. I like it that way, but it does mean sometimes I find myself holding back. 

What if I write something that someone in real life didn't realise about me and it puts them off? What if I write something and one of my new blogging friends does the same? It's scary stuff…

But it also needs to be faced. I've known this for a long time and BritMums gave me the kick up the bum that I needed. My life is diverse, so my blog should reflect that. I needn't worry that blogging about one area will detract from another. Sure, writing about my spirituality on here may not really coincide with the "public" impression I'm trying to give in terms of the HG book, but this is my personal blog. When it comes to marketing myself for the book I can always set up a separate page for that, if needs be.

My voice is honesty. It's saying what I feel, rather than what I think needs to be heard. It's sharing how deep and dark certain health issues and life choices are. And it's sharing the faith that gets me through that.

By holding all this back I am denying a part of who I am and weakening my voice. The very act of worrying about what others will think is stopping me from being who I am. And what's the point of having a blog if you can't be who you are on it?

So, with that in mind, here are 10 things I want to address over the coming months, in order to find my voice and let it sing:

  1. HG (of course). This is a biggie, so it's natural to want to write about it.
  2. Endo (see above)
  3. Depression, anxiety and CBT. These are major things in our lives right now, so why not talk about them?
  4. Housework (bleugh). I am so bad at housework you would not believe. I have times when I want my house to be perfect and times when I just don't care. It's time to talk about that.
  5. Faith and Spirituality. I have skirted around this so often you'd think I didn't really know what I believed. But I do. Kinda. It's high time I let go and discussed it properly.
  6. Lifestyle choices. Tim and I have some pretty strong views about certain things, and each one has a reason. They affect how we raise Little Man, so again it's time to write about them.
  7. Frugal living (I hate the word frugal, it sounds so frumpy!) We live on a low budget. It's tough. But we get by and I think I should write about that sometimes.
  8. Dreams (we all have them). Our dreams are what keep us going. They can be happy, aspiring, even painful! I'm a big dreamer, it's time to admit that.
  9. Insecurities and fears (we all have these too). I'm fed up of pretending not to have these… let's be honest about them. I do this in CBT sessions and it is so therapeutic.
  10. Parenting (the highs and lows). Parenting is the most wonderful thing ever, and yet the most draining, challenging and downright brutal task you'll ever undertake. I want to write about it all, not just the "fluffy" stuff. 

I'm sure there are many more things I want to write about, but most probably fall under one of these ten categories. 

So, tell me, how are you finding your voice?

What I learned this week

This past week I have been busy.

And I have learned a lot.

In fact, I've learned so much I think I'm going to have to split this into three parts.

Here goes…

What I learned at the Pregnancy Sickness Support Annual Conference

  • It is an incredible feeling to be in a room full of people who have experienced the hell of severe NVP and HG during pregnancy. Knowing that whatever you say will be answered with a "YES! That's so true!" or "I know exactly what you mean!" rather than the "Have you tried ginger?" and "I was sick too, but I just had to get on with it" (as if simply surviving every new day wasn't "getting on with it" enough) was ever so slightly mind-blowing.
  • The need for local support groups as well as online support groups is crucial. If a single day in the company of people who truly understand made me feel that great, just imagine how much of a difference we could make to so many women suffering during pregnancy!
  • I'm not the only one who was never hospitalised, and that I should stop saying, "I never vomited, I only ever brought up bile and suffered from awful nausea" because that is still extreme and traumatic and devalues what we went through. Thanks Mother Eartha for that one!!
  • The experience of severe NVP and HG can have as much, if not more, of a traumatic effect on the partners, parents and friends of sufferers as it does on the sufferers themselves. Often it was the mum or husband who struggled to talk about their experience. This needs to be highlighted and makes me glad I have planned a section in the book to cover it.
  • There are some experienced and talented volunteers who have so much they can do to help raise the profile of the charity and build up funds. It makes me so proud to know that people come from all walks of life to try and make a difference to others following their own experiences.
  • I want to do so much more to help the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support and I need to work out how I can use the skills I have to help them the most.

What I learned from BritMums Live

  • There are so many ways that I can use my blog to raise awareness of the things I am most passionate about. 
  • I do not want to work with brands and look at monetizing my blog. Reviews, sponsored posts and advertising are extra work that I'd rather not do right now and though I've dabbled in these on here for the past few months I don't think they really fit. I enjoyed blogging without any responsibility to anyone but myself and my reader and bringing in brands just complicates things. If I review anything from now on, it will simply be because I have bought/used something and truly loved it and think everyone should try it.
  • It's going to be hard to turn down offers from brands. It is so alluring. But I need to stay true to what I want from my blog.
  • Finding my voice is esential. I have known this for a long time but I just didn't know what it really was. Everything and everyone seem to suggest finding a niche, but I don't have one. I forget who said this, but someone said 'our lives are diverse so why shouldn't our blogs be diverse too?' I still need to find my voice, but I'm guessing it centres around passion, support and honesty!
  • Engaging with your audience involves writing things that they can relate to. Finding the words to touch someone's heart (whether that be in a way that makes them feel passionate about a cause too or which makes them laugh and think "that's just what my life is like too") will give my blog a really good energy.
  • I don't post enough photos on my blog, and by utilising light I could take some really amazing photos even with my phone. I want to practise this as soon as Tim is free and willing to be a test subject!
  • I should write about what feels good to me, rather than trying to write what I think will sound good to my audience. It is so easy to get drawn into stats and popularity and I know I have fallen for this so many times. But remembering why I started blogging reminds me that I just wanted to write, and so I should just write and enjoy it.
  • You'll always find bullies and trolls online, but I need to remember that they are everywhere. If someone attacks my work I need to remember it isn't an attack on me personally. And if I see someone attacking someone else, I can always step in and counter-comment. We need to all stick together to get rid of cyber-bullies.
  • eBooks are a great way of getting your work out there. I have so many things, not just the HG book, that I could ultimately turn into eBooks (or PDF downloads if they are heavily formatted and might not translate to eReaders very well). This may be a much better way of earning a bit of extra cash than selling out to advertising and brands which I feel won't sit right on my blog. Advertising and reviews work for some blogs, but they don't work on mine. I need to find my own product, and eBooks may be the way to go.
  • Google+ may not be as bad as I thought it would be. I didn't want "yet another thing" to look into, but it may be worth having a look before deciding one way or the other. I don't want another "twitter" where I avoided it for years only to find I actually loved it once I finally joined.
  • Some blogs are big hits, but there are just as many bloggers out there who are still "small fish in a big sea" and enjoy blogging for the fun of it.  I'm much more like them and should be proud of that in my own way. 
  • Having the confidence to speak up and share your experience or ask a question can lead to some amazing connections and conversations. 
  • So many people have been through such heart-breaking things and the community and support offered by blogging is immense. Grief is grief, no matter what caused it or what form it comes in. By standing together we can find common ground and support each other through things.
  • Sometimes changing our voice is hard. If we've been writing about something emotionally charged and then switch to something lighter and/or more positive we may lose some readers who liked the drama of it all. But we'll always gain new readers. 
  • Dad bloggers are lovely and I want to spend more time reading their blogs and getting to know them. There shouldn't be this distinction between "mummy" bloggers and "daddy" bloggers… we're all parents!

What I learned this week as a whole

  • I like going to conferences and could get used to travelling, staying in a hotel (especially in London) and meeting up with people, discussing things I am passionate about, and learning new things
  • I want to use my voice to help change things. I am a strong writer and I am also discovering that I am quite a strong networker (and, possibly in the future, speaker too). I should be using these abilities to make change, especially as I enjoy doing it!
  • I need to learn to let go once in a while. I don't have to have control over everything in my life all the time.
  • Seeing pregnant women and babies no longer hurts me quite the way it did before. I must be finding peace and healing in some way. That just blows my mind.

I am sure there are so many more things I learned this week. But these are the major ones.

Tell me, what have you learned this week?