Blogging started out as a hobby – a way to curate inspiration and share to the 14 people that read it in 2010. Almost 7 years later this site is not just a job, not just a career, but has now turned into a full blown business with hundreds of thousands of unique readers a month. There are now four full time people, 6 market researchers and 2 contributors. Somehow still saying the word “blogger” sounds so young and silly but it shouldn’t because turning your hobby into a full-time company is something not to be ashamed of (and we are not). That said, many of you may not know what really goes into creating each and every post. It might seem like all we do is pin cute pillows and speak in bloggy colloquialisms, but hours, days, and hundreds if not thousands of dollars in man hours and props go into most posts. It’s both a lot of fun, and a lot of work. So fun in fact that we even made a video documenting the process for your viewing pleasure.
So. Consider today “Career day” on the blog, where we answer the question: How does a blog post get made?
To start, we have 3 content goals with each post we publish – to have them be beautiful, inspirational or informational (obviously both if possible), and personal – meaning written mostly by me and with every post having a bent that makes it unique to this site. We battle generic posts on the daily, making sure that it really is something you couldn’t get from another site. We try to have a universal appeal in a unique way. We also try to make money, as this is a business, so we think about what potential ways we can monetize each post (with roundups) and how each post would do traffic and popularity-wise to keep readers (you) enjoying the content. We try to make it something you would engage with, share, and comment on. Four years ago I just threw up pretty photos that I found on the internet with a “don’t you love this drum table?” sort of copy. But now, we really try for at least 4 posts a week to have a real intent, a lesson and a unique payoff. But, then again last Friday I rounded up some outfits I’ve been wearing, so yes, we do some random off the cuff things too.
In fact that brings me to another goal: to be consistently unpredictable. I personally don’t like when blogs feel like machines so while things are scheduled and we have an editorial calendar, we tend to not do the same thing on the same day of the week. Sure, I post the most personal stuff on Fridays (because it’s the lowest traffic day on the internet) but other than that, we like the “you never know what you are going to get” feeling. Actually, not everyone agrees with that, but it’s my blog so it’s my rules 🙂
That’s the overview. Now here is the breakdown of how we make each post from start to finish.
1.) We Brainstorm: Once a month (sometimes less, sometimes more) we get together to throw out ideas. It’s like one of those scenes in newsroom where everyone is pitching their best – some ideas make it through and are applauded and others get boo’d and b*tch-slapped. Our ideas are based on what readers have suggested, what has done really well traffic-wise, what the zeitgeist tells us, what trends are happening, what we feel is missing on the internet, and of course my unpredictable whim. Sometimes I want to write about how I feel about breastfeeding in public and there is nothing you can do about it. Maybe Ginny has been scouring the internet for sconces for a client which can be turned into a post, or maybe Brady or Sara saw or came up with something that could be useful to younger readers that we are trying to tap into. Whatever it may be, it might have to do with our current design service clients or just be something we find culturally interesting.
We refine the ideas, honing in on what we can do to make them different and bring our bent to them. In a digital age where everything has been done the question becomes “what can we do to make this interesting, blog-worthy, and clickable?”
We take the 15 – 20 best ideas and start producing them. For the sake of this post we’ll produce one blog post – all about curating the best pastel paint colors for grown ups (which is coming up very soon). We settled on this because A.) I didn’t know the answer and wanted to find out, B.) I figured if I wanted to know what the best pastels were then maybe there were tons of readers who had the same question, C.) It would look pretty and therefore get repinned, etc driving back traffic to the site and our resources, and D.) Nobody else has done this post (or at least that we know of). Sure, people might recommend a certain paint color but they didn’t test out over 100 like we did.
The rest of this post will be following along in the real process of creating that post. It’s pretty much a docu-series – much like Serial or Making a Murderer, only involving a bit less murder and a bit more happy paint choices.
2.) Prep the Post: After brainstorming and deciding on the finalists we start prepping. Prepping normally involves pinning and general interest research. We not only have to ideate on the best way to show the post, but also create boards to help us make sure it’s going to look good. Most posts require a lot of shopping or out of office footwork.
In this case we went to all of our favorite paint decks and ordered as many pastel paint colors that we could without getting arrested. Turns out this number is 137. We ordered A LOT.
Mounds and mounds of tiny and not so tiny paint cans from all different vendors and companies for just one blog post. Are we crazy yet?
Picking those colors and placing the orders at the various sources took a few hours. Brady (and Jeff, who is our trusty PA) picked them up from all the different stores and then they started painting them on simple white paper so that we could see how the colors would look when painted.
We gave each of them two coats to make sure that they would indeed look like the true color of each paint sample. This took a day and a half.
The next day, after everything was dry we started choosing our favorites in each color (don’t worry, you’ll get WAY more information on all of this tomorrow). Sometimes posts include a makeover, sometimes it’s a lot of market research, sometimes it’s me writing like 9 pages of my thoughts on marriage that I end up editing back and then not even posting. Point being – the stage between idea and production is long and nuanced.
3.) Next we Shoot: This involves booking a photographer, finding a location or shooting in our studio depending on the post, collating all the props and coordinating a lot of moving parts. Sometimes we hire extra assistants or a stylist if I can’t be there. Brady/Ginny can style (and do), but they are also really busy with their own jobs (Brady manages the blog, and Ginny manages the design firm.)
We have a few photographers that we work with who we love (and who constantly get poached from us!!), so we try to book them in advance to make sure we are working with someone who we trust will produce some good quality images.
Often Brady and I style the post, and most posts take a full day to shoot although sometimes we try to combine them if we can to save time and money. Styling it is always the most fun part. We try to create original gifs or depopulate the space to create mini-movies.
4.) Lay It Out: After we shoot, it’s time to format the post – to lay it all out so that Brady and the rest of the blog team (Sara and our newest addition to the EHD team, Rebecca) can upload the right photos, edit them, create the gifs, plug in the resources, etc.
Every post is different. Sometimes I draw it out like so, and other times I create a draft in WordPress and write bullet points that represent the order of the photos and content.
5.) Prep the Post: Then Brady/Sara/Rebecca pull it all together. This takes days and a lot of computer skills, photoshopping, drafting, sketchup-ing, and even illustrating or hand rendering at times. We have all our photos on a huge server and every single photo is archived, tagged, categorized, and optimized as we go.
I don’t want to bore you with that part of the process, but trust me that the stage from shooting to writing is super time consuming. Some photos need copy on them, some need to be put in a collage, some gifs need to be sped up then slowed down in order to be seen properly. Sometimes we need to make a “get the look” product board and sometimes it’s a more organic mood board that looks best with the products. Maybe it’s a collection of pins to show inspiration or a floorplan. Every photo has to be resized, renamed, and then put through a exporting program that makes it look high res but not slow down the site with its file size. Then we upload them all (and save both the raw and the new versions in the server). ARE YOU ASLEEP YET???
After all of that is done, after the post is “prepped, ” it’s my turn.
6.) Write: Normally if its a DIY or a something more step-by-step Brady will write in all that information. But I write the majority of most posts and end up tweaking a lot of the photos, etc as the blog post comes together through the writing.
I have a couple contributors now (Carla and Orlando) and my team writes their own #makeovertakeover posts but unless it says it’s written by someone else, it’s by yours truly. Every now and again Brady will write a post if I’m on camera shooting something and simply can’t get to it and we are on a deadline, but it’s pretty rare.
After I’m done writing (which can be anywhere from 3pm the day before to 5am the day of) I hand it off to Brady to finish and finalize it. If it’s a sponsored post they usually like a draft a few days prior to make sure the language is correct about them and that we are writing all the proper legal stuff.
7.) We Edit: Oh I know, you don’t believe that we actually do this, but we do. Both Brady and Sara read through each post (after I’ve already read through it) and catch 90% of my mistakes. This includes everything from simple grammar problems to eliminating redundancies, extra words, too many “buts, ” “sos, ” “actuallys, ” and “basicallys.” Then there is the “that might get taken the wrong way” conversation which are a daily battle (more on that later), as we have a desperate desire to avoid unnecessary negativity. We clearly work hard to make sure that it will serve as a successful blog post, but at times we do get negative comments and its a bummer. While most are directed at me, personally, they do affect the whole team and can ruin our morning (but we thrive on positive comments, shares, and constructive conversation/dialogue and even criticism).
8. Link it Up: When we are done with the copy it’s time to link up anything that can be linked. This is another extremely boring (and LONG) but important step. This is where we link to photographers and artists, or credit any photos we are posting, but also where we link to older posts (called “back linking”), and obviously all product and resources so that you guys can have access to the products/items/sources that we are writing about. We also have to go back to some posts and “forward link” if its appropriate.
8. Schedule It: Now that Brady has taken over managing the blog (as of 6 months ago) he manages the editorial calendar and then schedules the following days post before he goes home from work. We usually schedule to have the post go live at 5am PST, which means that it gets published in our sleep.
9. Socialize: Pushing publish is not the finish line. Sara, who is in charge of implementing social media pushes out the posts and promotes it via all our social media channels. We Facebook, Tweet, pin, and Instagram everything. We are constantly trying to figure out what works best on which platform, and at what time. We are now even pointing Instagrams and blog posts to Snapchat where we may give you some extra insight into the post (my personal favorite pastel, for instance). And if it works with the post, we even Periscope or Facebook Live about it.
We might Instagram a gif (which takes a while to create) or Facebook a video (which again, is extra production). Then we have to make sure to tag, credit and link to anyone we need to (plus link back to the blog). GEEEEESSHHHH.
And then. THEN. We are almost done.
The only thing left is reading the comments and responding to commenters. Some days we are extremely on top of this, and some days less so. But, we do read every single comment and appreciate 99% of them (that 1% is those negative comments that we aren’t so fond of). So thank you very much, seriously. If you have ever shared on Facebook, retweeted a post, or even pinned it out know how much we appreciate it (and encourage you to, you know, do that more). We respond strongly to what you respond to, and we produce posts based on your reactions to each.
It’s kinda insane. Nobody trained any of us how to do this. It’s the wild west of careers. And we are forging our way through it, with a weedwacker that sometimes feels like a dull butter knife, learning so much along the way. We switch gears constantly, come up with new “get traffic quick” ideas weekly, and generally are all just throwing our creativity and media know-how into the air in the studio, hoping that it lands in a way that grows the site in an organic way. Sometimes its successful and sometimes its a total fail. We assess, adjust and move on.
We have big plans for this site – ones that don’t include losing the soul of the blog but instead growing it to create even more content and give more resources in a way that we hope you want.
It’s clearly a team effort and nobody in the world has a better one than I do. They are smart, creative, and CARE about the business. They even care about my feelings, helping me get over negative comments faster and reassuring me when I need to be. They also do a great job of telling me when one of my ideas won’t do well, or helping me adjust it to make it more popular.
So, a huge thanks to Brady, Sara, Ginny, Remi, Melanie and Paul for all your help. And welcome, Rebecca, to the team.
Wait, that’s not it: Our favorite photographers are Tessa Neustadt (going 4 years strong now!), Jess Isaac, David Tsay, Zeke Ruelas and Stephanie Todaro. Danielle Walch does my hair/makeup for all big shoots (man I wish I had booked her for this one) and Project M Plus designed the new site. FlyWheel Agency helps us in every digital way (online marketing ideas, IT support as well as helping us to adapt to more traffic, building new pages, creating new pop-ups, and lots of other marketing and monetization ideas). Scrunch Media does all our videos, and helps us come up with new innovative video content.
Obviously (why is this now feeling like either an oscar speech or an obituary???) YOU, the readers, are the most important people, here. And I thank you so, so, so, so much. There are so many of you who have read for years and who have been supportive through every move. You defend us when we are attacked and generally give positive feedback just because – which makes all of us feel VERY good. When you share it with your friends we feel even better. I wish we had a general thumbs up, thumbs down or “meh” button for every post because getting daily feedback is a really interesting, wonderful, if not totally stressful thing (so maybe we shouldn’t).
In short – we work hard, using our design, media, and general creative brains to produce content that makes us all really happy. We create a blog that we love to read, and we are constantly trying to make it better. But through it all . . . WE HAVE FUN.
In case you missed our post about how we create a design plan head over HERE, and to see some more of our behind the scenes fun be sure to follow us on Snapchat: emhendersonsnap, and Pariscope: em_henderson.
*Pastel Mint Chair from West Elm
**Photography by Jess Isaac