Events Life

Houston Blogger Union: 6 Lessons from Sugar & Cloth

Jillian Goltzman (Cup of Charisma) and Sugar & Cloth hosting the first Houston Bloggers Meetup.

Photos By: Nicole Kestenbaum, Photographer & Blogger at Lipstick & Brunch

The thing I love most about working in a creative industry like blogging is the people you meet. Driven, hard-working and innovative are a few words that describe each and every blogger I’ve met in Houston. There’s a uniqueness that sets creatives apart from most people I know. Maybe it’s found behind camera lens or computer screens, conjured in late nights and early mornings when the world is asleep and it’s just us trying to make things happen for our art, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sugar & Cloth‘s Ashley Rose has been the confused millennial, overworked waitress, full-time employee/full-time blogger, a 5 a.m. alarm setter, and most infamously the girl who sold her things on Craig’s List to make her DIY studio a reality. The best part? I get to call her my friend.

I recently started a chapter of The Blogger Union in Houston, after being approached by blogger Paola Mendez of Coral Gables Love and mentor/author Nikki Novo. The Blogger Union is a monthly meet-up, giving bloggers a space to share their knowledge, learn and support each other. My favorite element of the group is its focus on kind collaboration over competition. Blogging, depending on where you are, can be a catty bubble of superficiality built on fake fans, exclusive event invitations and a slew of insincere Instagram and blog comments. (Yep, I said it. I’m talking about the people who leave the “Like it!” and “100%” comments on often heartfelt posts…don’t do it!) To kick-off my first monthly workshop, I couldn’t think of a better person to invite than Ashley.

Ashley was the very first blogger I met in Houston. We went for manicures, got really weird neck massages in the process and talked about my day job… which ultimately led to me talking about my side job, Cup of Charisma. She had invaluable advice and with good reason. Ashley has been named Editor’s Choice for Best DIY Blog by Better Homes & Gardens, a Top DIY Blog to Follow by Yahoo!, a Top 10 Instagram Account to Follow by Huffington Post and Design*Sponge, and a guest pinner for Martha Stewart Living. She’s been featured on the Every Girl, Glitter Guide, Houston Chronicle, Today Show, and the list goes one. I can brag all day but I have a point to get to, so check our her notable press here. She continues to inspire and motivate me with her amazing work, so I am so glad she was able to share her knowledge and invite us into her studio space.

If you missed our meet-up, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite points.

Jillian Goltzman (Cup of Charisma) and Ashley Rose (Sugar & Cloth)

Small Beginnings Can Have Big Results

One of the most remarkable things about Ashley’s journey with Sugar & Cloth can be found in perhaps the most unremarkable of places, a restaurant in League City, Texas. I’ve heard the story of how Sugar & Cloth began about seven or eight times since the day I met Ashley. No matter how many blogger conferences I attend or sidebar conversations we have at events, it’s a narrative that never gets old to me. Originally from West Virginia, Ashley had a graphic design college scholarship… a full ride to be precise. During the course of junior year, she decided that college life and the path she was on wasn’t for her. After quitting school, moving to South Houston, and waiting tables, Ashley still was trying to figure out her next steps. Sometimes signs reveal themselves in unconventional ways—Ashley’s sign was in the form of tartar sauce. After an irate customer fought with her over condiments, she knew it was time to start to pave a path that would not only lead to an exit sign from waitressing, but ultimately lead the rest of her life. “I knew I had to put something out there for it to come back to me,” Ashley says. She thought “this will open up a door at some point.”

She didn’t imagine the blog would exceed the eyes of her family, but it was a start that opened doors, led to jobs and ultimately led to her self-employment.

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“When You Have Something You’re Really Passionate About, It’s Easy to Work Towards”

If you’re a blogger or a creative entrepreneur, this is no secret. Many of us show up to work at our 9-to-5 jobs (which can still be creative and very fun if you’re lucky) but daydream about that article, painting, podcast, book, blog post, etc. that we’re coming home to. I listened to an episode of Millennial that I felt to be so relatable recently, where Megan Tan (the podcast’s creator) woke up to her obnoxious alarm at 3 a.m. to churn out another podcast. The reason why it struck me was because it was MY alarm… the same unsettling noise I wake up to at 4 a.m. most mornings to write this blog, edit photos and submit freelance articles. If you’re having this same epiphany, I hope you realize that it’s OUR alarm. It’s in inconvenient but welcomed distraction from the mundane grind that gives us edge and adds color to our lives, sometimes at the cost of our energy and free time.

Ashley talked a lot about blogger guilt—personally, I think we’ve all been there. There’s always more time you could have been pinning, commenting, engaging, pitching brands, planning posts, etc. You’re a human being, albeit Type-A, and you’re most likely spread thin. Over-exhausting yourself for your blog may actual do more harm than good. “As long as you know you’re doing the best you can do and giving it as much attention as you can while still living a semi-healthy life then I think it kind of all comes together,” Ashley says. “There are always the ‘what ifs’ but at the end of the day it’s just an element of ‘do you feel happy with what you’re doing’ and you kind of just figure out how to make it work.”

When Ashley did finally decide to go full-time, it wasn’t because she was at a job she couldn’t stand (she had moved on from waitressing). It’s because she continued to do what she was passionate about (spread incredibly thin) and realized that if she were her full-time employer, she wouldn’t want an employee who’s heart wasn’t fully there.

Ashley Rose of Sugar & Cloth

The Struggle is Real

Nothing is as perfect as it is on Instagram or in a blog post. Thankfully, Ashley does a REALLY great job at demystifying her journey and transparently sharing the struggles she experienced to go full-time. At one point in her career, she was scavenging her studio for things to share on Craig’s List. “It’s never going to be easy,” she admits.

Jillian Goltzman (Cup of Charisma) and Sugar & Cloth hosting the first Houston Bloggers Meetup.

Here’s the Deal When Working with Brands

Working with brands can be a gray area for many bloggers. Ashley stressed the importance of evaluating if the product would be valuable for readers at the end of the day. While doing things for a quick buck can seem of interest to new bloggers, staying true to your voice and opinions is one of the most valuable tools. It’s also important to be honest with your readers about what’s a partnership and what’s not.

“Don’t allow [brands] to put too many words in your mouth that aren’t your own,” Ashley says. “There’s an element of gracefully standing your ground.” As Ashley stated (before a relentless fry tried to sabotage our Q&A), “you’re your only advocate and you have to stand up for what you feel you deserve.”

One of the most hilarious things mentioned during this entire talk was the repercussions of accepting free items in exchange for reviews. Do you want to be the person who accepted a free cake for a post or event and is forever indentured to tagging that brand on Instagram? Uh, no. While the example is extreme, I feel every blogger can relate. (I’ve had first-hand experience as the girl who was asked to write a “review” on a six-pack of gifted macarons last year.)

Other key takeaways on partnerships:

Just because a brand can’t work with you now, doesn’t mean they won’t keep you in mind for later. Send those media kits and pitches!

Ashley’s rule of thumb: when creating a sponsored post, keep your costs a 10% of what you’re being paid.

Don’t be the person that makes it “okay” for brands to not compensate bloggers. Know your worth and stand your ground.

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Is it Really All About Numbers? Spoiler: The Answer is No

After Sunday’s meet-up, I was reading a thread in a Facebook group for bloggers that infuriated me. Admitting to receiving around 1,500-3,000 page views per month, a young blogger was asking this unnamed Facebook community how much she should charge for a post. People began to say $30 was “pushing it.” Here’s a small confession: I worked with a brand on large-scale partnerships before that matched a two-week 9-to-5 salary and I didn’t have 100,000 readers to do it. Did that brand care? NO. Why? Because they liked the high-quality content I delivered. I’m not saying every partnerships will be the value of your typical paycheck, but you can find the rate (the common amount I hear is most often $200-$500) that works for you.

Ashley may boast of a huge social media following, but she still feels that she is a small fish in the national DIY pond. While I think she is in a wonderful place with Sugar & Cloth, the truth is that she still competes for MAJOR campaigns against major talent. If a brand knows you deliver the best content around, it doesn’t matter where you have/haven’t been featured and how many readers you have. According to Ashley, some brands are specifically interested in your content, storytelling and design. She encouraged everyone to come to the realization that content is king and it’s not all about numbers. In a world where bots and fake followers are filling the influencer market, can you blame brands? Sometimes a quality picture or post IS worth a thousand words. (Check out Cool Photo School to learn how Ashley gets those awesome images.)

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Contributing? Show Them What You’re Made Of

I keep myself pretty busy outside of Cup of Charisma. I write for Miami.com, the Miami Herald newspaper, Huffington Post and LAPALME Magazine. I also apply for freelance writing gigs at the same rate I applied for colleges my junior year. Teen Vogue, InStyle, The Every Girl, Hello Giggles, and 1,000 other publications have my pitches waiting to be read in their inbox. I’ve questioned this effort, especially when my pitches are landing me nowhere. Why should I strive to put out content for others when I have my own site to focus on?

Ashley has contributed her DIY projects and blog posts to tons of online sites for bylines, with good reason. She reminded us all that one of the best ways to gain an organic readership is to contribute to various sites that may appeal to target readers. Most importantly, we shouldn’t just be contributing… we should be giving our absolute best. If we’re exposing ourselves to potential readers, shouldn’t we make it worth their while so they come back?

Final Thoughts

 

Last year, I had close to zero plans of ending up in Houston. In fact, it was the footnote on my sparkly list of goals because uprooting yourself can be a terrifying and difficult process. If you were to tell me that I’d make more friends than I’m even used to having, become surrounded by inspiring people I look up to, and be part of a large cause that brings bloggers for the purpose of uplifting each other, I’d give you a double take. The reason why Houston feels like home is because the supportive blogging community feels like family. I’m honored to have interviewed Ashley and launched what I hope will become an amazing chapter of The Blogger Union, bringing like-minded creatives together for the sake of our craft.
If you want to get involved with the Houston Blogger Union, you can register here or request a chapter in your city. In the meantime, I am planning away for our June 26 meet-up on how to work with brands alongside speakers Jaclyn Kent and Elly Brown.
Were you at our May meet-up? Share your favorite takeaway in the comments section!
Special thanks to volunteers Nicole Kestenbaum (Lipstick and Brunch) for the beautiful photos and day-of logistics, Jaclyn Kent (Beauty and the Binky) for setup and MAJOR pep talks, and Dede Raad (Dress Up Buttercup) for repping the Houston Blogger Union on social media. 

 

Jillian Goltzman (Cup of Charisma) at the first Houston Bloggers Meetup.

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Jillian Goltzman (Cup of Charisma) and Sugar & Cloth hosting the first Houston Bloggers Meetup.

 

 

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  • Brittany Ashmore

    Loved it all! So sad I had to miss!!!! Great Job Jillian!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jillian Goltzman

      Aww Brittany, we missed you! Thanks so much for the support! I think we may need to move some Sunday meet ups to a later time since it’s really close to when most people go to church. Looking into it and hope you can make our next one! Elly and Jaclyn will be speaking 🙂 Thank you for reading the recap – hope to see you soon! 🙂

  • What a beautiful space and wonderful post! I loved reading this post so much and haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Ashley, but loved hearing her story and amazing tips! I would love to join The Blogger Union. You did a fantastic job Jillian!
    -Linh

    • Jillian Goltzman

      Hi Linh,
      Thank you so much for stopping by! We would love to have you on board. If you’re interested in joining, let me know! I’m happy that you could take away some tips from the post. 🙂

  • Miranda

    I was so sad to have to miss this event (it was during my vacation), so thank you for posting this awesome recap! I loved hearing Ashley speak at Thrive and learning about how she has grown her blogging career. It’s so inspiring! Thanks for putting all of this together, I’ll look forward to joining the meetup in June! Yay!

    • Jillian Goltzman

      Hi Miranda, we missed you on Sunday! I hope you had a wonderful vacation! Ashley is so great as a speaker and we were really honored to have her onboard. Hope to see you in June – save the date for 6/26!

      Xo Jillian

  • I’m hooked to your blog forever, you are a flawless writer! Thank you so much for all your handwork and your time, I learned a lot!

    • Jillian Goltzman

      Krishna, thank you so much for taking the time to read my recap! It means a lot. I am so happy I got to meet you during Sunday’s meetup and am so happy you learned something from it. I’d love to pick your brain about future topics one day and I definitely look forward to seeing you at our next one. Thanks so much for coming, supporting and connecting! You’re so sweet and I can’t wait to dive in and read your posts.

  • Heather

    Jillian! I love this post – while i am not a Houston Blogger, I still appreciated your thorough and well-written re-cap so very much! I have been struggling with whether to change the direction of my blog or whether I should continue to blog at all. This is for many reasons, both personally and professionally. Reading your post and Ashley’s advice that content is still king is very encouraging! I love to write and create, but I sometimes fall into the trap of comparing myself, not always standing my ground when it comes to brand negotiation, or wondering why brands overlook quality or engagement in favor of followers that are acquired mostly through inorganic means or almost daily loop giveaways (I do think doing this occasionally is fine and a good way to give back to readers, but I am sure you know what I am talking about). It has become a time of reflection for me, and has forced me to consider why and for whom I am really blogging. Your blog continues to be an inspiration to me – I appreciate the work you do and the content you produce. You are truly an example of how great things happen when you focus on producing quality work and staying true to yourself! Thank you for this and for being such a beautiful, authentic person! I am so glad our paths have crossed <3!

    To end my short novel here, lol, I also want to say these photos are lovely and you look so gorgeous! That blue pattern dress looks incredible on you!
    Again, thank you for this helpful and inspiring post! Have a wonderful weekend,
    Heather
    http://www.alittlecasual.com

  • Heather

    Jillian! I love this post – while i am not a Houston Blogger, I still appreciated your thorough and well-written re-cap so very much! I have been struggling with whether to change the direction of my blog or whether I should continue to blog at all. This is for many reasons, both personally and professionally. Reading your post and Ashley’s advice that content is still king is very encouraging! I love to write and create, but I sometimes fall into the trap of comparing myself, not always standing my ground when it comes to brand negotiation, or wondering why brands overlook quality or engagement in favor of followers that are acquired mostly through inorganic means or almost daily loop giveaways (I do think doing this occasionally is fine and a good way to give back to readers, but I am sure you know what I am talking about). It has become a time of reflection for me, and has forced me to consider why and for whom I am really blogging. Your blog continues to be an inspiration to me – I appreciate the work you do and the content you produce. You are truly an example of how great things happen when you focus on producing quality work and staying true to yourself! Thank you for this and for being such a beautiful, authentic person! I am so glad our paths have crossed <3!

    To end my short novel here, lol, I also want to say these photos are lovely and you look so gorgeous! That blue pattern dress looks incredible on you!
    Again, thank you for this helpful and inspiring post! Have a wonderful weekend,
    Heather
    http://www.alittlecasual.com

  • Awesome post! Great tips and things that you learned. I totally get let down when I see other “perfect” Instagram photos and always compare myself to that, but it’s not real. I’d rather have a real reader base who keeps coming back rather than a fake reader!

  • I’m so sad that I missed it!!! Hopefully next month I will be able to attend! I’m so happy that you did a great recap of everything that you learned! I feel that when I first started blogging and I would see all these “beautiful” instagram posts, I would compare myself to them. I don’t have the most beautiful posts but they are real and I feel that counts more than a pretty photo at times.

  • Lindsey Lyons

    It was so great meeting you! I had such a great time at the meet-up and learned SO MUCH! Thanks so much! Looking forward to the next one 🙂

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