In the course of my series on blogging, I’ve written a lot about the things I think you should consider doing if you want to turn your blog into a career. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it takes to make a blog successful, though, so here are some of the things I DON’T think you have to do: even although they might seem like the “right” thing to do at the time…

5 things you don't have to do to make your blog successful

You don’t have to write about everything you’re asked to write about

When I had my beauty blog, I used to get sent a lot of product samples, the vast majority of which I hadn’t been contacted about beforehand – they’d just turn up at the door one day. Now, this sounds like an absolute dream, and don’t get me wrong, I was very appreciative of the fact that brands were sending me things to try. The problem was that I felt I had to write about every single thing I was sent, whether I’d agreed to it or not, so I ended up with a drawer full of samples, many of which were totally unsuitable for my skin type/colouring, or which I just wasn’t particularly interested in. And I thought I had to blog about them ALL. I remember once, someone sent me a pack of something like 10 false eyelashes, and I wrote ten separate blog posts about them, because, well, they’d sent me them for FREE. It would be SO RUDE to not mention them – or even to lump them all into one post: I mean, wouldn’t that be rude?!

Looking back, this just seems ridiculous to me now, because for each of those posts I had to apply the lashes, photograph them, and write the post – it probably amounted to at least a full day’s work, possibly more – and all I got in return for it was a bunch of false eyelashes, which I’d worn purely for the purpose of taking blog photos. As much as I don’t want to sound ungrateful, or like I’m complaining about being sent free things (Because, bitch, please…), I ended up getting fairly stressed about it all, because I was having to spend a large amount of time writing about products I wasn’t interested in, and hadn’t wanted in the first place.

Remember: it’s not “free” if you have to work for it, and it’s not worth working for it if it’s something you don’t want or need. You’re under no obligation whatsoever to provide coverage of products you didn’t request, or to write about someone’s new business/website/Kickstarter, just because they asked you.

You don’t have to help everyone who contacts you

When I started blogging, I tried my best to help everyone who contacted me. I’d get tons of emails from people asking me to help them find a particular pair of shoes, or to suggest outfits for an event they were going to, and I’d dutifully spend hours of my time trawling the internet for them, and putting together lists of suggestions – only to never hear from them again (Not even a “these didn’t work for me, but thanks anyway!”), or to get an “Oh, I love that dress, but I can’t wear blue – can you find a similar one in red?” so I’d have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again.

As with the review samples, I kept doing this because I thought it would be rude not to, and, to be totally honest, because I didn’t want the people to hate me for refusing to help them.  The fact is, though, you can’t help everyone. Right now, I’m getting multiple requests for dissertation help every week, most of them from people who haven’t even bothered to find out my name, but who nevertheless expect me to sit and answer a set of in-depth questions about the impact of blogging on the fashion industry. It’s nice to help people, and I think it’s good karma to make time for it when you can, but if you’re getting 15 people per day expecting you to help them with their dissertation, I think you have to decide where you’re going to draw the line…

You don’t have to tolerate abuse

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion! You can’t censor people!” You hear this kind of thing a lot as blogger, and while it’s certainly true that everyone is entitled to their opinion, it’s NOT true to say that they’re entitled to voice that opinion on your blog. Freedom of speech is incredibly important, and I’ll defend anyone’s right to express themselves freely. I also, however, won’t hesitate to delete comments that are racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive to me, or which have been posted purely to attack me or someone else.

By doing that, I’m not preventing anyone from exercising their right to free speech – I’m just preventing them from using my blog to do it. Those people are totally free to go and say whatever they like on their own blog, on social media – hell, they can take out an advert in the newspaper if they like – I really don’t care. I DO care about what’s posted on my webspace, though, because that’s my property, and just as I have the right to decide what kind of behaviour I’ll tolerate in my home, I also have the right to decide what I will and won’t tolerate on my website.

It’s up to you to decide what kind of commentary you’ll allow people to post: just don’t let anyone tell you you’re obliged to allow people to abuse you or anyone else in the name of “free speech”.

 You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you

A lot of people think that if they’ve followed you on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/whatever, then you have to follow them back, or you’ll have broken some golden rule of blogger etiquette. So they follow you purely to get you to follow back (Sometimes they’ll even comment asking you to “follow for follow”) and then un-follow when you don’t. The reason this technique works is because so many people have bought into the idea that they’re obliged to follow everyone back, that they always return the favour – even when they have no intention of actually interacting with you, or reading your blog.

This type of “follow-for-follow” (or “comment-for-comment”, in the case of people who believe they must comment on the blogs of everyone who comments on theirs…) might seem like the polite thing to do, but it ultimately makes the act of following someone completely meaningless, because everyone ends up following each other, with no benefit to anyone. I’d much rather have one follower who actually reads my blog than 10 who are following just to get me to follow them back; follow people because you want to follow them, and comment on posts because you enjoyed them and have something to say about them – not because you feel obligated to do it.

You don’t have to write about the same things everyone else is writing about

As a new blogger, it’s really easy to get caught up in blog trends, or convince yourself that, hey, everyone ELSE is doing a Valentine’s Day Gift Guide, so YOU should probably do one too! Actually, though, I think the fact that everyone else is doing something should be a clue that you don’t have to – unless you have something completely different to bring to it. When everyone writes about the same things at the same time, blogs get boring really fast – and why compete with every other blogger on the planet when you could be the first to do something totally different instead?

Actually, I think a lot of the hype around certain events or products is mostly PR-led: it’s a result of brands contacting people to say, “Hey, as you know, this week is Toenail Appreciation Week, so we thought you might like to interview our toenail expert!” and bloggers thinking, “OMG, this must be a big deal – I better make sure I’m all over it, even although I didn’t know it was Toenail Appreciation Week, have never interviewed anyone in my life, and normally blog about tropical fish!”

Don’t get caught up in the hype, or feel like you have to write about the same things as everyone else – your blog will be much better for it!

  1. This is actually something I have wondered about for some time: you don’t moderate comments, do you? As in, the read-before-publish kind of moderation. At least when I post them I don’t get any warning that it will only be published after approval.
    So how do you keep track of everything? You can’t possibly be reading every comment on every post you’ve ever written for all your blogs. I’m really really curious about how you manage this!

  2. I love how much of this series also applies to the social media side of my small business. The follow for follow thing seems to be an unspoken rule in almost every small business.

    I follow a lot of networking groups on Facebook; they’re great because you end up sharing your new products, discovering things you would never have spent that £10 that really was intended for lunch but now buys pretty things, and you meet other likeminded businesses who you may or may not be able to work with in future.

    What drives me up the wall though, is when people follow my business/like my business and *tell* me to follow back. Call me an Anne of Green Gables stereotype, but I won’t do it if you tell me to. Even if I really did like your business.

    Similarly ‘liking trains’ are set up with the express purpose of gathering new likes for your page. For what purpose?? Why would I want 2,000 other jewellery sellers liking my page when clearly they’re not going to buy anything from me? I’d rather have 20 people who really like my work and will talk about it to their friends and buy what I’m selling.


    1. Yeah, a few weeks ago I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for bloggers… I was actually looking for places to just chat about the kinds of issues bloggers encounter that people in “real life” just don’t get (Like, “I just got this weird comment, how would you guys deal with it?” – that kind of thing), but almost all of them turned out to just be places for bloggers to get followers. There are all of these threads with rules about how you have to “like” the pages of the five people above you, then they’ll “like” yours, or “comment for comment” threads, where you post to say you want comment on a particular post, and then basically exchange them with other people who ALSO want comments. It all just seems so bizarre to me – it would actually take up quite a lot of time go round all those random blogs posting comments on them, and then all you get in return is a bunch of insincere comments that you know perfectly well have only been posted in order to conform to the “rules” of the group. I actually found it a bit depressing, this desperation for meaningless follows and comments – it made me wonder how many of the blogs I look at that seem to be popular are actually just participating in those kind of “follow-for-follow/comment-for-comment” things: ultimately it must be quite unsatisfying to look at your comments section and know the only reason people posted something was because they were obliged to.

      1. It is. I did it for a long time before I realised that I could be expending that energy in to creating a new necklace, or packaging and sending orders or sitting on my backside drinking coffee and reading blogs (busted myself there).
        There’s a couple of general small business groups that I’ve found are helpful, and I’m always happy to share if you wanted a nose around. However, and this might just be me, I’ve found the social media side of business getting more and more competitive, filled with rules and bossiness, and less helpful, supporting friendliness.

        ETA – hit the wrong reply button. Someone clearly needs another coffee.

        1. I think what I need is something quite specific to blogging – I seem to keep running into situations where it would be really helpful to get the perspective of someone who really “gets” it (which non-bloggers wouldn’t a lot of the time), and who’s maybe encountered the same kind of thing…. There are occasionally some interesting posts in the blogger groups, which is why I keep subscribing to them, but for the most part it’s people who are obsessed with getting more followers (even if they never read their blog), or posting threads saying, “OK, I’ve had my blog for two weeks now and I’m still not making money: how do I make loads of money? Also, when do I start getting free stuff?” So depressing! I’ve actually toyed with the idea of starting a group myself, but I suspect it would just get overrun with the “FOLLOW ME!” people!

  3. It is. I did it for a long time before I realised that I could be expending that energy in to creating a new necklace, or packaging and sending orders or sitting on my backside drinking coffee and reading blogs (busted myself there).

    There’s a couple of general small business groups that I’ve found are helpful, and I’m always happy to share if you wanted a nose around. However, and this might just be me, I’ve found the social media side of business getting more and more competitive, filled with rules and bossiness, and less helpful, supporting friendliness.

  4. Excellent points. I have never understood this follow for follow mentality. I already follow quite a lot of awesome bloggers and online peeps, I am very picky about who’s stuff I bring into my life, why would I follow just anyone?? It drives me nuts because my Twitter follow count goes up and down about 10 a week, back and forth, look, just don’t follow me if you only want me to follow you back!

    As for the blogger groups. Why not start your own Facebook group for bloggers and make rules AGAINST the things you dont like about other groups 🙂 Its great to have somewhere to talk about the industry. Im a member of a number of entrepreneur groups that have helped me evolve in my business in leaps and bounds because I was able to ask other people for advice, or just vent about the struggle haha

    As for haters, if its appropriate, I usually just say something like “hey, you sound like you need a hug” and leave it at that, otherwise yes, just delete and block, nobody wants to read negative ish.

    1. I’ve considered starting one of my own, but I think it could end up taking up a lot of time – maybe one day, though!

      With the haters, I normally just ignore it if it’s someone *just* being negative, because I think you’re always going to get that with blogging, and as long as they’re not being actively abusive, I’ll let them have their say – I delete it if it’s obvious trolling, or if it’s some kind of hate speech, though: it just causes needless drama, otherwise!

  5. Great post and I agree with each point. I think there is so much written about what you should be doing that it can become overwhelming so it’s refreshing to read this. I also don’t get the follow 4 follow culture. The number of followers on my Twitter goes up and down all the time. People will follow then unfollow if I don’t follow back. I won’t follow someone back just for the sake of it- I don’t see the point of it. If I genuinely find what they post interesting then I will but I don’t see the point in following strangers I have never interacted with and who won’t interact with me. It strikes me as odd. Each to their own I guess!

  6. Great list…#4 resonates strongly. I recall that in the initial months of blogging, I was so confused when I had the follow me/follow you back comments, especially after visiting their blogs and seeing no commonality whatsoever. I was beginning to tire of the whole thing, and only recently have become more judicial when it comes to my own follow/commenting choices. I’m a happier blogger once again! This point does bear repeating though…I’m presently grappling with all the social media options out there…they could potentially be a minefield of follow/not follow stress. Ah, to be content with not growing my blog following…dang ego, LOL.

    A brief aside on your comments above. I’ve been fortunate to have met a couple of like-minded bloggers in person. They are my biggest, bestest support when it comes to anything blogging related. Although two of us live nearby, it’s often that the three of us will communicate in a three-way email. It really does help sort out the things only other bloggers will understand.

  7. I LOVE what you say about the follow for follow thing! I’ve just started blogging despite being a writer for my whole career; and keep getting annoyed with people favouriting my Tweets – for WHAT reason?! I don’t get it! SO here here for being honest! (PS can you follow me?! Kidding!)

  8. Really enjoyed this post. I used to review books, and at first I felt the same way where I’d respond to every publicist email, etc. It got to be so overwhelming with the number of books that showed up unannounced at my house every week, and eventually I had to stop and just include the ones I wanted to (and had time to) read. Now that I started more of a lifestyle blog, I’m definitely going to be more selective about the things I post about and do things more my way.

  9. Hello Amber,

    Thank you so much for this timely article. I’m just starting to get to grips with all the different ways of interacting on twitter and how that might help to actually get viewers for my blog, and you’ve answered my main question on the following thing.

    For the rest I totally agree – I’m doing my blogging as myself, so no point doing what everyone else is doing 🙂


  10. I love getting comments (obviously) and I feel obligated to comment on their blogs. Although I don’t expect it every blogger to comment on mine because I left a comment on theirs. If you get 10s and 100s of comments it’s impossible. But I get only a few and I want to build a relation with my readers and I always find a lovely post to comment on.
    I was also doing the follow for follow thing until I was followed by a couple of bloggers that I really don’t like, had no much negativity on their blog. It’s still hard, when I get a follower, I look on their twitter/blog and wonder if I should follow back 🙂

  11. Totally agree with not tolerating abuse on your own blog in the name of “freedom of speech”. You would remove graffiti from your house wouldn’t you? Ok, maybe not if it was a Banksy…

  12. I’m new to the blogging world and this post has been incredibly insightful. So thank you!

    It’s nice to have worries put at ease.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog, keep up the good work! 🙂

  13. Just wanted to say I’ve loved reading these posts about blogging. I’m very new to the whole blogging thing and it’s been great to read advice on a blog that I’ve been reading for a long time and love so thank you very much for that!

  14. This was a really great post. I’m in a couple of great local blogging groups, and they have been SO helpful to me. The link sharing groups really aren’t that helpful, you end up with so many non-genuine comments which I don’t particularly care for. I just found your blog today via Becky Bedbug and am loving it!

  15. I agree with your points because for me blogging is expressing yourself and what you feel through writing. It allows you to have your own identity, your way of writing and expressing your thoughts.

  16. These hit the nail on the head. After a year of blogging intermittently, I decided to become more serious about it and I hate to say it but some of these took a year for me to grasp the concept or have an epiphany of some sort. Thanks this was very useful!


    La Deutsche Diva — The Denglisch Blog
    ♥ German on top ♥ English on the Bottom ♥

  17. I truly hate the whole follow me follow back thing. Even worse when they follow you to get you to follow and then instantly unfollow. That is NOT a good way to gain followers. I feel like that’s dishonest and operating under the premise that I’m too lazy or stupid or naive to go back and check and see if you’ve unfollowed me.

    Welcome to blogging! ☺

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