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We sat down with Akansha Agrawal, a San Francisco-based lifestyle blogger, POP Pilates instructor and former full-time data analyst at LinkedIn. We talked quite frankly about the challenges she’s faced getting her blog off the ground in today’s crowded digital world. Our conclusion: Today, you have to think outside the blog. We live in a multi-platform digital world where creators must build their audience across multiple touch points – blogging is just one component of what it takes to build a thriving digital content business.

Akansha started her blog Citrus & Gold in 2016 and admittedly had no idea what she was doing. She knew she wanted to create a conversation about health & wellness from a South Asian perspective, but had absolutely no strategy to get there. A year later, she’s undergone a site redesign, built an active Facebook community, and established a consistent posting strategy across all platforms. She’s the first to suggest she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to work with brands at the level she’d like, but she’s learned a lot along the way about what’s most important.

Collectively’s recent Influencer Insights Survey revealed that the content business is booming, with creators experiencing high growth–in revenue and partnerships, audience, and engagement. In fact, 83% of our community told us their content business grew in the last year, and 32% of those creators experienced 10-25% growth.

Creators are stepping onto the digital scene daily, and carving niche spaces for themselves. So what’s the trick to success for those who want to start a blog today? Akansha shared what she’s learned that has helped her evolve from aspiring blogger to a digital community builder and emerging content creator. We chimed in with some Collectively tips, too!

Set yourself apart.
These days it’s not enough to post your outfit of the day or your latest acai smoothie bowl. What will you provide that separates you from the other thousands of bloggers out there?

Collectively tip: Ask yourself, “What makes me unique?” What’s my story and how can I use it to differentiate myself?”

Define your mission and stick to it.
To build a successful blog you need a clear focus for two reasons. Number one: to stay accountable and focused. Number two: to give your readers a purpose. As a blogger, it’s so easy to get distracted by the next shiny trend, platform or brand, and lose track of your original intent. Consistency and clarity will also help your readers understand what they will receive from you (hopefully something that they don’t get from other bloggers).

Collectively tip: Let your mission guide you in your approach to each platform outside of your blog, while adapting your strategy to account for platform variances and trends.

Create a community.
I’ve created a successful community by creating a Facebook group for women (with a focus on South Asian women) interested in health and wellness. A Facebook group is more valuable than a Facebook page because your readers can participate in valuable, genuine dialogue. Fostering a community in this way also allows you to research your potential audience, by finding out what the community cares about through their conversations and questions.

Collectively tip: Think outside the blog: Facebook, LinkedIn, or even communities like Medium can serve as environments to engage with and attract new audiences and readership to your blog.

Approach local brands proactively.
Working with local businesses and brands can be very fruitful because you can lead with a warm approach by chatting in person. For example, if you are a fashion blogger, try hitting up your favorite retail store/boutique and discuss potential collaborations. It can be scary to take your blog from behind the screen to in-person but the human touch can do wonders.

Collectively tip: Connect with other creators who are willing to share their experience with pitching brands directly. Instagram is a great place to follow and engage with other like-minded creators and start to build a network. Collaborating with other influencers is another option for forging partnerships and building your audience.

Spend more time as a creator and less time as consumer.
I want you to do me a favor. Grab your phone, go to your settings, then battery life and check how much time you’ve spent on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Those hours could have been used instead to create valuable content! There have been multiple weeks when I’ve felt exhausted, mentally drained from “blogging.” The reality was I had not published a new post in a couple of weeks and I was completely caught up in the noise of social media. Set boundaries on your consumption habits and set aside time to create each week.

Collectively tip: Mastering productivity in the digital age is a challenge for everyone. Cultivate inspiration to help you find the right balance. Here’s some places we find inspo: Jess Lively, Career Contessa, The Better Man Project.

Stay in your own lane.
I believe the biggest obstacle that can hold bloggers back is the mind. It’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed if you begin comparing yourself to those who have been in the game for years. Sure, the quality of your content is important–but you don’t need all the fancy production elements a professional blogger may have when you’re getting started. Your reader wants to see you grow authentically so don’t be afraid to take them along your journey.

Collectively tip: Creating a content business is a long-game that requires patience, consistency, and dedication. There are no shortcuts to building an audience, and the industry is paying close attention to fraudulent audience acquisition and engagement trends. Stay focused on reaching real people, even if that means slower growth.

Want more advice for starting a content business? We've got you.