What I’ve Learned From 4 Years of Blogging, And What’s Next

Jess Ann Kirby in Newport Rhode Island shares the past four years as a blogger
I probably sound like a broken record but there’s basically not a day that goes by where I don’t think about how crazy it is where my career has taken me, and how much has changed in four years. The thing is, I was always a by-the-book kind of gal when it came to work. When I graduated from college ALL I WANTED was a 9-5 with health insurance and good benefits, seriously. And I got that. I worked my butt off in that job and got a series of promotions and job opportunities that I thought would make me happy, and then they didn’t. In the last year of my job I got a really big promotion and pay raise to match. It was a huge opportunity, one I felt I couldn’t and shouldn’t turn down (more about that here). In the beginning I was sort of excited because I thought, maybe this will be different. But it wasn’t. It was still me, doing the daily grind, working for someone else  and it wasn’t fulfilling. I was burnt out and frustrated. A late night conversation with my Great Aunt prompted me to start a blog. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. I wasn’t quite sure, but I knew I wanted to do something in fashion, so a blog made sense because I thought I could use it as a foray into the fashion world, how naive I was at the time. Starting a blog did nothing to help me get a job in the fashion industry, but it lit a fire within me and ignited a sense of purpose I had never felt before. I was addicted. It was so much fun. I was bursting with ideas and excitement. And while I didn’t know it at the time, I had set out on an entirely new career path that would eventually become my own business. I’ve learned a lot along the way so I wanted to share some of those lessons and experiences, and a bit of what you can expect from us in the future. Here we go…
Jess Ann Kirby in converse sneakers and Paige denim in Newport Rhode Island shares the past four years as a blogger

Take Risks (and Make Mistakes)

The biggest risk for me was (probably obviously) quitting my job. It was a good job with a great salary and benefits. I had (have) a lot of student loans to pay off. But it didn’t matter because I was miserable. I couldn’t bear to work another day at a place that was slowly eating away at my soul. That probably sounds dramatic but it’s how I felt at the time. Quitting my job was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It was honestly a little reckless, but after juggling my job and blog for about a year I knew it was a necessary next step. A year after I quit, Craig decided to come on full time. It was a huge risk for both of us as it meant the blog would be our main (and only) source of income. The beginning was especially challenging. We were just barely getting by. There were some really hard days when we questioned if it was the right decision and if we could make this work but ultimately we kept at it because we loved it, and for both of us that was something we hadn’t experienced before in our careers. A lot of what we know now is because of trial and error. We’ve done a lot of experimenting with everything from the equipment we use to the types of collaborations we do, and we’ve had just as many failures as successes. It’s how you respond and move forward from the failures that shape your success.

You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone

Blogging has become a world of copycats and “Keeping up with the Joneses”. I know that’s a generalization and there are a lot of really phenomenal blogs that I enjoy reading and follow regularly, but the industry has also been flooded with a lot of the same stuff. I can see why. It’s easy to create a blog, look at what someone else is doing and just do the same thing. You might even see some success from it, but it’s not a good long term strategy and it’s not sustainable. I fully admit I find myself sometimes getting caught up in trends, that if it weren’t for seeing a bunch of other people posting about that thing, I’d never think twice about it. For example, last year I bought a Chloe bag. Let me just say I love the bag, but if I’m being honest, it’s not something I would normally ever spend money on. If you’ve been following me for a while you probably know I don’t buy (or wear) almost anything designer. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not me. So buying a bag that was over $1000 was pretty impulsive, and something I can’t see myself doing again. My point is, being different is ok. I’m not saying I’m some trend-setting game changer, just that I don’t have to buy the Gucci loafers or a Chanel bag. That’s not me. That’s not why people are following me. And that’s ok. Social media has a funny way of making us feel like we’re doing something wrong if we don’t have “the IT bag” or “the IT shoes.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t want those things or buy them if you do love them, I’m just saying, ask yourself why you do first.

Jess Ann Kirby in the luisa viaroma STAND faux fur teddy coat and madewell crossbody bag for a fall look
The same philosophy goes for the type of content we create. We were in Palm Springs on a work trip and I told Craig I wanted to take a picture in front of “the pink door.” He had no idea what I was talking about so I explained to him what it was. “Why,” he asked? I honestly couldn’t come up with a good reason other than everyone else was doing it. “Why do you want to take a photo that everyone else has already taken,” he said. That was an aha moment for me. It’s the same reason you won’t see me at fashion week anymore. Just because everyone else is there doesn’t mean I need to be. There’s plenty of girls going to fashion week, creating content, and doing a damn good job. It’s not what I do best, and honestly it’s not what I’m passionate about. Doing what everyone else is doing might work for a little while, but eventually people get sick of seeing the same thing. Challenge yourself to do something different.
Jess Ann Kirby explores Tulum Mexico in cut-off shorts and a bright one piece bathing suit

You Define and Determine Your Success

I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was when I stopped asking myself “Can I do this?” and started saying “I can and I will,” that everything changed. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. There will always be naysayers and doubters and haters, but you have to be able to rise above that and trust in your ability to succeed. That’s not to say I don’t have moments of self-doubt (something I really struggled with earlier this year), who doesn’t? Ultimately it was when we realized that we are the only ones who determine our success that we changed our entire mindset and approach to running this business.

It’s ok to not be satisfied. I don’t know that I ever will be. It’s important to celebrate achievements, but it’s also ok not to settle. You have to find a balance between chasing success and pausing for a moment to recognize your accomplishments.

Recently getting to 100k followers on Instagram was an achievement for me. Something I worked hard for, and my first reaction was to say “100k isn’t a big deal anymore.” That’s not true. Especially when you don’t take shortcuts to get there. But even more important than the number, is how many people I engage with on a regular basis. It’s that rapport I’ve built with my readers and followers that makes me proud. I can go into a brand meeting or collaboration with confidence that I know my audience, and they know me. You can’t allow yourself and your success to be defined by a number (whether it’s your following on social media or the number of likes on a photo). Particularly now that platforms like Instagram have been flooded with people using bots to fake their following or engagement. It’s no longer a level playing field when people are cheating the system. It just means you have to be better. Focus more on creating content you’re proud of and strengthening the relationship with your followers than what will “get the most likes.”
Jess Ann Kirby and Craig MacKay's beach picnic in Camden Maine

What’s Next

We’ve got big plans. Last week, for the first time, Craig and I sat down and talked strategy. We brainstormed what type of content we want to create, our goals for the future and ultimately what we think you will enjoy and expect from us. Probably sounds a little crazy that it’s the first time we’ve done that, but quite honestly it has been go-go-go since we both decided to go all in and give this a shot. We’re also more aware of our strengths and our weaknesses which has helped us decide how to strategically move forward. As we flesh out our plans for 2018 and beyond here’s a few exciting things you can expect from us in the future:

  • More home content. We recognize how many of you enjoy this type of content and are planning to go deeper into this topic. We’re also launching a new Instagram (you can follow @thecozyranch) where we will be sharing detailed behind the scenes of our house projects including how-tos and products we use.
  • Consistent video content. I’m excited to make this a regular part of our content schedule in the New Year. We’ll be sharing at least one video per week on my Youtube channel. Everything from home improvement, to clothing hauls and style videos.
  • Career advice and behind the scenes. We get tons of questions about everything from photography to editing to being a small business owner and plan to share a lot more of this content moving forward.
  • Local favorites and suggestions. As native Newporters we’re excited to share more of our local favorites, not just on the island but also surrounding areas. Stay tuned for our comprehensive Guide to Newport launching in 2018!
  • Lifestyle and wellness. Based on your comments and suggestions we’ll be sharing content on everything from relationships to productivity to pets.
  • An Open Dialogue. One of the most rewarding things that has come out of this past year (and out of Instagram stories) is the ability to connect with all of you regularly. I hope to continue to make this a space where we can have an open dialogue and most importantly a place that spreads positive energy and good vibes. Please always feel free to send your suggestions and ideas for content.
  • And a whole lot more that I’m not quite ready to share yet but hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

A huge and heartfelt thank you to all of your for your support and engagement. Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or just found us, none of this is possible without you. I always brag that I have the best followers because you are all such a positive, supportive and encouraging group of people, and I hope to keep those good vibes going. You are the best. Truly.

xx Jess (and Craig, Nora, Fuji and Hunter)

18 Comments

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  1. Lynn says:

    Well done! We appreciate you too, so much ! Enjoy your beautiful table and have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving with the ones you love???

  2. Fantastic post! Very excited about the Newport Guide! We are most likely having my bachelorette party there (I’m from Long Island) and are thrilled to see what is best there!

  3. Ashley says:

    You are such a big role model for me with blogging.I love how original your content is, even when everyone is doing other things. I ask myself if this is something I would actually do, and if it isn’t, I don’t. Thank you for writing this, it’s so important!

  4. Melissa says:

    So happy to be along for the ride! XO

  5. Kristen says:

    Jess thank you so much for staying true to who you are and for reminding all of us that you don’t have to have the newest designer pieces to feel fashionable. Your style and brand is so completely effortless which is something of an achievement in itself and is definitely something that you should be proud of! I have started a food blog to share all of the recipes that I love with friends and family and it is so hard to balance a full time job with a blog so I can imagine what you went through to get to where you are today. But whatever you are doing keep it up. Thank you!

  6. Lilly says:

    I love this post Jess! Well said!

  7. Taylor O'Connor says:

    ?? I love following your journey and content!! Honestly, you guys are super inspiring! Happy Thanksgiving.. xo

  8. Meg says:

    SUCH a wonderful post! Thank you so much for this. I’m not a blogger, but this is filled with so much great insight that’s useful for life in general or any vocation. It’s so true that trying to be like others can get you so far for so long, but those who excel seem to do so by being authentically themselves.

    I love that your blog/Instagram/company is a unique product and voice. There are so many lovely blogs out there that come among and are clearly copies of (or just deeply inspired by…I don’t think it’s always intentional intellectual plagiarism of) others, and it ends up feeling slightly sad following them, as beautiful as the content may be. I just feel like it’s gotta be lonely being trapped in someone else’s persona. I stick with the blogs that seem true to their own vision/voice, as hokey as that may sound.

    I also love the New England feel of your online space. I’m a semi-recent transplant to the area (Coastal Connecticter here) and LOVE it out here. So much of others’ content is focused on NYC or the Bay Area (nothing wrong with either – great places!), that it’s great to see something with a different vibe, showcasing a part of the country that I really think deserves some more love. New England is badass. Even if I will never get used to nor’easters. 🙂

    Thanks for doing what you do, and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words Meg. Agree New England is such a special place, I love sharing a little bit of it with my readers. Also coastal Connecticut is beautiful I can see why you love it! xx

  9. Emily says:

    This is so refreshing. Thank you for sharing and being honest. I love how you are such an inspiration and always staying true to yourself.
    Xo,
    Em
    http://www.organicallyemily.com

  10. Stephanie says:

    Love this post! It’s so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing and some days I get insane about it. LOL I enjoy following your adventures and can’t wait for your guide to Newport. I just moved to Newport about 2 weeks and have already been looking through all posts finding fun places to go, delicious places to eat, and finding boots I can wear to keep my Florida blood warm in this weather. 🙂 -Stephanie | http://www.theborrowedbabes.com

  11. Lauren says:

    Really been enjoying these candid posts where you share behind-the-scenes content + practical advice about blogging as a career (so refreshing to hear what the entrepreneur lifestyle truly looks + feels like). Can’t wait to see more next year – hope you have a lovely + relaxing Thanksgiving!

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you so much Lauren. I’ve been enjoying writing these posts and it’s so rewarding to hear that people like reading them. Really excited for everything the new year will bring. Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Anne says:

    I loved reading this! I’m a beginning blogger and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with what’s working for everyone else. I feel like sometimes I focus too much on things that don’t matter and your post helped me to shift my focus. Thank you!!

  13. Will says:

    You guys are amazing. Keep up the great work. It’s always a pleasure to show your blog to my coworkers. They are always impressed by your blog.

  14. You have been and always will be one of my favorite bloggers, thanks for always keeping it real and never being anything but yourself. I am excited to see where your blog goes from here. 🙂

    I am reading this while I feel like I am in a creative rut, but what you wrote gives me so much motivation.

    Thanks 🙂