I get so many questions about how to grow on Instagram or become a full time blogger and to be honest, I don’t answer them. I don’t do this to be mean or to keep secrets but because “how to grow on Instagram” isn’t a question I can answer… but, if you’re interested in building a brand – and finding your own place in the industry – then I can help you … here’s my story.
Today we’re traveling back in time as I share some of my history and growth over the past few years. I’ll start at the beginning, share my story, and include some tips and tricks along the way. Most Importantly, this post is about embracing your uniqueness and daring to be different (because as you know, perfect is so boring). So, get ready to expect the unexpected and learn a little bit more about me – PLUS to say THANK YOU there’s a giveaway at the bottom of this post – yay!
I had about 1K followers on Instagram – consisting mostly of people I had gone to high school with. I had just attended my first Fashion Week and started my first day at Coach, when I decided to turn my blog into a business (before then, I had only used it as a resume boosting tool to show potential employers that, despite having degrees in business and an MBA, I had a real interest in fashion).
When I decided to turn Color Me Courtney into a business and a brand, influencer marketing wasn’t anything like it is now. To be honest, I didn’t really think I could have a full time job as a blogger – I thought I would always have both, a full-time job and CMC.
I went into it as I do most things – by studying. I found and followed big bloggers then started mimicking their outfits, Instagram aesthetic, and photography. I bought the sunglasses they wore, attempted to re-create outfits that emulated their style and tried (and failed) at perfecting their poses … I was miserable, and not at all me.
After about two weeks I was exhausted. I was putting all of my energy into working from 9-5 and keeping up this blogger charade in my free time. I quickly realized that if I wanted to be successful, there were a lot of unknowns, but I was sure of one thing – if I was going to spend my nights, mornings, lunch breaks and weekends working on Color Me Courtney, the brand I was going to build had to be 100% unapologetically me.
It didn’t happen over night but I gradually started to shed the sunnies, show my face (and personality), and dress outside the lines. I stopped stalking other bloggers and started looking for inspiration within. Although I still struggled with shooting sans sunglasses, I did my best to get good shots despite loosing this security blanket. I strayed from typical methods of growing (basically every method you could read about on the internet at the time) and developed my own ways of building a community and following. I went to every event I could. I constantly reached out to brands, publications, and pr firms; and spent all of my time blogging to the beat of my own drum.
Although I was doing my own thing, I still felt alone in the blogger community. I didn’t have any blogger friends and that was really hard on me (I’m a people person). In an attempt to meet some gals, I hosted a blogger party at my apartment and invited all my favorite girls – this also helped me grow on Instagram by about 1K. I remember hearing the girls (with about 50K on IG at the time) talk about getting ready to leave their full times job to blog and not understanding how they were making that kind of money … I’ll share how much I made off the blog in 2014 a few comments below, but it wasn’t nearly enough to pay my rent!
For the blogger event I threw #Macaronsandmimosas, I reached out to a million PR contacts and asked them to gift goodies for the gift bags. Most of them said no, but it helped me build relationships with those who said yes. It also demonstrated that I can create my own collabs and opportunities while exercising my party planning skills. Most importantly, I got to meet a bunch of bloggers. After that, we started exchanging invites and I just continued to meet more and more girls while becoming more established in the community IRL (instead of just online).
Fun fact! I’ve since learned that a few of the bloggers I reached out to and invited to this event made fun of me behind my back because of it. Laughing at me for doing something different, or making a fool out of myself because I was a “nobody”. The funniest part is those girls don’t even know I know they said those things, lol well maybe they do now – but they’ve always been nice to my face despite what was said behind my back.
Here’s one thing I’ll share about the blogger community – it’s clique-y and filled with drama. If you’re new, find a good group of girls who you can trust and be very careful before opening up to those outside of it. This was really hard for me and I got burned a few times by former blogger friends before learning who my true crew was/is. It really shook my trust because I had never experienced drama like this, not even in high school, so I had NO CLUE how to deal. The only advice I can give you, is to not compare yourself to others and always trust your gut.
Equipped with new blogger friends, I went to NYFW and had a blast. In September 2014 I was up to 10K on IG and my blog had increased about 25% in traffic since March. I became friends will Lex and Elena (of @lexiconofstyle and @anewyorkloveaffair) at a racing event, and we went to SO MANY events together. At one of these events I met Olivia of @oliviajeanette_ (formerly Corporate Catwalk) through Naty of @natymichele.
Right around Christmas, and about a year of juggling Coach and Color Me Courtney, I grew to 25K on Instagram. In the first week of December I was featured on the LiketoKNOW.it Instagram for the first time (gaining 900 followers) and we saw another 30% increase in blog traffic.
By then, I had developed a signature style (my go to red lipstick, bold patterns, fun color combos) and began getting offered a few collaborations. Paris was living in the city and working just as hard as I was to build CMC all while trying to find his own way in New York. To build off momentum, I hosted my first #colormecookie party and invited my current blogger crew…. including Olivia. I grew another 2Kish from the party and generated some buzz in the smaller blogger bubble in NYC.
Fun Fact – this was my first time really hanging out with Olivia! She came into my apartment and met Waffles my frenchie… and that was it. She didn’t talk to anyone or make one cookie the whole party, just snuggled with Waffles. As she left, she said “I‘m texting my husband, we’re getting one” … TBH I thought she was full of it, but 4 days later she sent me a photo of her new frenchie and I knew we were destined to be besties.
I’m not 100% positive, but in 2014 I probably made between $5-7K on my blog, this is a combination of small collabs ($100- $200 price points) and affiliate commisions. I remember when I got one collab that included a series of posts for a total of $1,200 – I was at a makeup event with Lex when I got the email and I remember freaking out! Throughout the year, I probably spent around $5-6K on blog related activities (new equipment, clothing, props, etc) so I’ll estimate I netted $1K for the year (but once again just a guess!). Also, in December of 2014 I was in RedBook magazine (my first magazine feature, along side my Idol Brad Goreski … side note, he’s not as awesome as you think he would be – he’s BETTER and still remembers me every time I see him, HE’S THE SWEETEST!!!! ). I remember crying when Paris brought one home for me and feeling like I was maybe, kind-of, doing something right.
In 2015 I hit the ground running and started coming into my own as a blogger and really enjoyed standing out from the crowd. Brands started to notice too! I started working with Refinery 29 (my favorite publication at the time), got invited on press trips and even designed a shoe for my favorite shoe brand at the time – Keds.
There weren’t always highs tho – at one activation I met YouTubers straight out of high school who were not only kind of mean but also had 10X as many followers as me which totally shook my confidence … BUT I did meet some cool girls (like the Sugar & Spice girls) too. I started getting more collabs (but wasn’t charging nearly enough for them) and had to turn down many opportunities because I was still working at Coach and couldn’t afford to take the time off. I was working overtime but only growing half as much as I wanted to.
Although I would sometimes steer off course, I worked really hard at creating consistent and colorful content that kept me in my own lane. I also had to continually remind myself to be true to myself – despite the lack of sleep and feeling that I was always running on empty.
That summer I took over the LikeToKnow.it Instagram, which totally helped me grow and become more well known in both the brand and blogosphere. Most importantly, it helped boost my confidence in this new direction I was headed (also Paris’ constant support didn’t hurt at all… looking back I realize more than ever that I couldn’t have done any of this without him. Paris, if you’re reading this, thank you isn’t a strong enough phrase … I am everything I am now because of you ( #courtneyandparis).
Fall was really good to me. Now at 70K on Instagram with blog traffic double what it was the year before, I had finally felt really confident in what I was doing. Dunkin’ Donuts (another dream brand of mine) took me out to dinner one night where we began working together, Style Watch Magazine featured me in their denim issue, Disney (OMG OMG) reached out and I got to do something really cool with Marc Jacobs, and the list goes on.
I met my good photographer friends The Hons, became really close with Olivia and started working with my friend Rique on stop motion videos (#colormevideo).
I was really proud of the work we were doing, but felt like I was slipping at Coach. I LOVED having a double life (#HannahMontana), but was pulling on average 2 all nighters a week and spending every second of the weekend shooting. Paris was working full time too (he still is) so we couldn’t spend any time together as Paris & Courtney, only as photographer and blogger. My health started to go and we were working around the clock. Reluctantly, I made the decision to leave Coach and put in my notice – my final day would be Dec 20th 2015.
Like clockwork, I hit 100K right before the new year. Now exclusively blogging, I went full force – pitching myself for collaborations, creating consistent content, launching a YouTube channel and working around the clock to succeed… I grew to 125K in the first month!
My goal for 2016 was to make 50K off my blog for the year, just enough to live and eat without having to borrow money from my parents. I didn’t know if it would last, or if I would be crawling back to Coach hoping to pick up where I left off.
Throughout the year, I traveled the globe, and worked on some of the coolest things I have ever created in my career. I had some long term collaborations with brands I’ve worn or loved for years (Sephora, Old Navy, Dunkin Donuts) and started designing my second product launch with birch box – Color Me Confident lip color. I was in three magazines, created 30 stop motion videos, learned to ride a bike and was on the Today Show!
I also decided to re-brand in Spring 2016 and become even brighter and bolder on social media. I made videos a key part of my content and became and expert in the space. I started shooting at more solid and graphic backgrounds that really resonated in the feed, and tried my best to create a constantly colorful experience.
Most of my growth in 2016 came from perfecting my signature style in combination with continued exposure through these channels. I also dabbled in partnering with other bloggers, cross promotion from brands (if you’re trying to grow, I suggest asking every brand you work with to cross promote you on the social channel of your choice, and would even make them add it to a contract) and traveling. Traveling to new location, geo tagging those locations and partnering with local bloggers in the area can help you grow tremendously in new markets!
I also had one of the hardest years of my life – Waffles became paralyzed, the gas line blew in my apartment, I was in the worst condition health wise and we lost two family members. It often felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back. And although I was blogging full time, I was still pulling 2-3 all nighters a week.
Although things were tough, the good vastly out weights the bad. I’m really grateful I got to grow and travel while creating unique content. Most importantly, I was able to be successful and support myself doing what I loved. Though I won’t share financial details, I will say that I surpassed all of my financial and professional expectations for 2016.
Now it’s 2017 (can you believe it’s March?) … and what’s changed?
While I’m still writing this post from my laptop in my underwear at 3AM as I have with so many posts before hand… things are different.
I’ve hired an employee, hit 200K on Instagram and so far this year I’ve signed three of the biggest deals of my career. I’m redesigning my website, rebranding my content and have so many exciting things happening that I can’t WAIT to share.
I feel lucky to be where I am, but also determined to aim higher and do better from here on out. Most importantly, I feel grateful for all of you – so to celebrate I’ll be giving back ALL. MONTH. LONG.
Welcome to Color Me March Madness, where I’ll be giving away goodies, running giveaways and randomly contacting loyal followers all month long. Basically, I’m Oprah this month and you’re all in the running to win some serious prizes.
HOW TO WIN:
Check my Instagram & Instagram stories daily for new ways to win (also you can follow along on twitter @colormecourtney) and be active! We’ll have some loop giveaways, some structured giveaways, and some random giveaways where I pick out people who are always commenting or sending me DM’s and surprising them with prizes!
Today’s post, was my first gift (sharing my story and ways to grow on Instagram) but I’m also running a few fun giveaways on Instagram. Keep checking the #colormemarchmadness hashtag regular for more giveaway opportunities.
OKAY HERE IT IS
So in summary – when people ask me “how do i grow” I really don’t have an answer other than, do you! I wish there was a super secret special sauce I could share, but you already have that within! Be true to yourself and you’ll always find a way to succeed!
I would recommend that you find your lane and blog to the beat of your own drum. Don’t be afraid to be different, shake things up, rock the boat! Create your signature style, thing, or niche that is unapologetically you – and stick to it. Become an expert in whatever it is (magic videos, red lipstick, crazy color combos) and make sure everyone knows you’re the queen of that castle. BYOB – build your own brand so that you can become your own boss, but don’t ever conform to someone else’s expectations to do so. If I hadn’t broken free, I would still be blogging behind my sunglasses and probably be 1/10 my current size.
Now more than ever the industry is so saturated, so find what makes you special and brand yourself around it. I’m so glad I made the decision 3 years ago to remove my sunglasses (both metaphorically and physically) because it helped me find my signature style and pushed me to dress, live, and blog outside the lines!