Featured Post: 6 Widgets + Plugins You Need for Your Blog

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Making the switch to a self-hosted blog is a big step– but one of the best perks is all the freedom to add in widgets and plugins to help increase the effectiveness of your site + boost its usability. Bianca from Elle B Styles is sharing her top 6 list of plugins + widgets you need; head on over and check ’em out!

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6 Widgets + Plugins You Need for Your Blog

Blogger Babe of the Week: Alix of A Pint-Sized Life

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alixAlix of A Pint-Sized Life

Alix is a 20 something aspiring author/blogger at A Pint-Sized Life. When not working her blog, she is a mass communications student with an emphasis on PR and advertising. She is a born-and-raised Texas girl, and loves cuddling with her Shih Tzu.

 

What is your favorite thing about blogging?
Writing and creating things! I don’t mind spending hours on a project, as long as I’m being creative.

 

What do you find the most challenging about blogging/being a blogger?
Growing my audience and social media following for A Pint-Sized Life.

 

If you had to eat only one food for an entire year, what would it be?
Just one?! I guess bread or pasta, or pizza. 🙂

 

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Flying– so I could go anywhere.
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Thank so much, Alix!

Blogger Babe of the Week: Stephenie of Phantasm

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stephenie-phantasmStephenie of Phantasm

Stephenie Kang (that’s Stephenie with an “e” instead of an “a,” by the way!) is a bookish sartorialist and traveler blogging at Phantasm. You can mostly find her stalking other book/fashion/travel/lifestyle blogs or scuttling rapidly toward her local library, scaring off small children with her perpetual presence in the literature section.

 

What is your favorite thing about blogging?
Ahh, this is such a difficult question! I love almost everything about blogging, but if I really had to choose one thing I loved, it would probably be the writing. I want to earn an English BA once I get out of high school and try to break into the publishing industry, so on top of enjoying taking pictures and tinkering with my theme, keeping a blog is something I’m hoping will really help to develop that sense for writing I think will help me further along the road.

 

What do you find the most challenging about blogging/being a blogger?
For me, I find that the most challenging thing about being a blogger is simply promoting my blog. Especially because I chose to use my name as the URL, I feel sort of hesitant putting my blog out there, even though the official title of the blog is, well, Phantasm. It concerns me whether people think I’m too self-promotional when I attempt to spread the word. I haven’t even told my closest friends about the fact that I run a blog yet! But, you know, I suck it up, and WordPress’ automatic Publicize option really helps with promotion, too.

 

stephenie-phantasm2If you had to eat only one food for an entire year, what would it be?
Oh my gosh, I don’t even have to think about this one! I would eat pizza all day, every day for an entire year if I really could. Unfortunately, I’m still a minor and living with my mom, so I have restrictions as to what I can eat, but a girl can dream, right?
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
It would be the ability to conjure a small loan of one million dollars out of thin air. I would kill to be able to invest in business ventures without worrying about my own personal finances!

 

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Thanks for being this week’s babe, Stephenie!

Prep Series: Food Post

Earlier this month, we covered how to prep for an outfit post– check it out if you missed it– and now we’ve got Alyssa from Runway Chef giving us a lesson in how to prep for a food post. Take it away, Alyssa!

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Way back when I first started blogging, my food posts went a little something like this: open the fridge, see what I’ve got to work with, throw something together, snap a couple of photos and voilá. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with throwing together a meal from whatever is in your kitchen (I still do it all the time), but as far as food blogging is concerned, it doesn’t make the most appetizing or SEO-friendly posts. Now, my process includes a bit more planning and organization and looks like this:

Plan

I loosely plan my editorial calendar about a month out. To decide what to make, I first, always look to see if there are any holidays coming up (i.e. Cinco de Mayo in May), as certain things (like tacos) will be more popular around those times. I also make note of things that have caught my eye in magazines, on other blogs, on Pinterest, out at restaurants or on a trip to use as inspiration. Another thing that I do is keep a Google doc going at all times so that anytime an idea pops into my head, I can add it to the doc. I’m then able to easily reference my ideas when I sit down to plan my monthly calendar.  Using all of those things combined, I then write out a list of all the recipes, flavor combinations, ingredients I want to use or ideas that I have for the month, see which I think would do best and then cross the rest out/save them for a later date. When I’m planning, I also make note of recipes that need to be tested so I can schedule those into the calendar.
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Prep

I typically shoot my food on Thursdays or Fridays, but I meal plan and grocery shop on the weekends (unless there’s an emergency/I forget something/run out of something, which happens more frequently than I’d like). I try to work whatever I’m making on the blog into our meal plan so as not to be wasteful. I then make a checklist of everything I need for the week’s blog recipes. I cross of anything I already have or anything I’m getting for our other meals, and add whatever is left to the grocery list.
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Shoot Day

I like to start with a clean kitchen before pulling out all of my ingredients, the utensils I need, my notebook where I write my recipes, and the items I think I might like to use to style the recipe. I shoot my photos in another room so I also like to get that all set-up with my camera, reflector, backdrop and step stool. I usually do a few test shots with different dishes and towels to see what pairings I like, as well as to test the lighting and camera settings. Additionally, I’ll pull out a few other tools depending on what I’m shooting. For example, if I know I’m shooting produce, I like to have cooking spray on hand as a light misting of it can help make produce pop. If I’m shooting something that involves sauce, I’ll have q-tips handy to make it easier to clean up the edge of a bowl or plate.

 

After that, it’s time to cook, style, shoot and, my favorite part, eat the goods! After all, hard work needs to be rewarded, right?!

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Alyssa blogs at Runway Chef and is a member of The Blogger Collective.

Blogger Babe of the Week: Lulu of Musings Over Mochas

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lulu-musingsovermochasLulu of Musings Over Mochas

My name is Lulu and I’m the girl behind the camera of Musings over Mochas. I started blogging almost a year ago (hard to believe!) as a way to challenge myself to get out and explore my city. Since then, I’ve taken my love for mochas to Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, London, and Paris. When I’m not drinking mochas, you’ll most likely find me cuddled with my cat, drinking a gin + tonic, or watching Grey’s Anatomy. (In a perfect world, all three of these things are happening.)

What is your favorite thing about blogging?
The best part about blogging is having a reason to take pictures of things I would normally deem as not picture-worthy. When I look back on my Instagram and blog, I can pinpoint exactly what was happening in my life at that time– which has been really fun. I also started Musings over Mochas because I was losing my love for my city, Washington, DC. To combat this, I decided that once a week I’d find a new coffee shop to try. In doing that, a whole new world opened up to me as I began to discover new areas, connect with exciting people, and learn a thing or two about coffee. It’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me, as my perspective on life was changed by opening my eyes to savor the small things.

lulu2-musingsovermochasWhat do you find the most challenging about blogging/being a blogger?
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been “that girl” photographing her food for two minutes before taking a bite, I would be able to buy all the mochas in the world! There’s some outside judgement you have to get over you’re constantly taking photos, but I also have comes to terms with the fact only 60% of the photos I take are usable. This has been tough! But over time, it’s helped me realize how important it is to do things for yourself and realize random people’s opinions of you do not matter.

If you had to eat only one food for an entire year, what would it be?
I recently moved to Paris and I’ve started a morning ritual of enjoying a pain au chocolat and croissant from my local boulangerie. I don’t see myself giving it up any time soon, so if I were forced to only have one thing, it would easily be that.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
As silly as it sounds, I’m serious about my food. So if I could have any super power, it would be the ability to taste something before buying it to know if it’s worth it or not. Weird, I know. But it would probably save me a lot of money and frustration!

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Thanks for being this week’s babe, Lulu! Have fun in Paris and everyone go check out Musings over Mochas.

Featured Post: How to Stay Focused + Increase Your Productivity

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Who doesn’t want a productivity boost? As bloggers, we could all use more hours in the day. TBC member Kimberly from Sensible Stylista is giving us 10 ways squeeze more focus + productivity out of our day.
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1.  Compose a detailed to-do list.

Jot down everything you need to accomplish, but make sure you’re being realistic. If it’s a Monday, include weekly goals as well. Star the most pressing tasks and assign them accordingly. I’m most alert from 7 a.m.-12 p.m. and 4-10 p.m., so I practice piano and study then. I fade around 2:00 and am lethargic until 4:00 so I work on “easier” things during that time- while sipping on tea, of course. Obviously, everyone’s different so it’s important to keep track of your mental state throughout the day. Rate your focus on a scale of 1-5 for every hour to figure out when you’re most productive- do this diligently for a week, and you’ll be good to go.

2.  Form keystone habits.

In essence, these habits create positive ripple effects, which lead to the development of other good habits. For example, exercising daily keeps you focused, motivates you to eat clean, helps with stress management, and does wonders for your self-esteem. Other personal favorites include waking up early, organizing/cleaning, reading, and meditating. If you’d like to learn more, make sure you pick up Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit.” It’s seriously one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read.

3.  Time your breaks.

It’s far too easy to lose track and get sucked into the black hole that is Netflix or YouTube. A 3-minute video or 30-minute show can easily turn into a 4-hour binge sesh, so do yourself a favor and set an alarm. Also, while we’re on the topic of breaks, let’s talk a bit about what you should do to rest your mind. As much as I love trash TV, I’ve discovered that indulging during the day does a number on my brain- it makes me feel lazy and unmotivated. I do, however, reward myself with an episode of my favorite show at the end of the day- if I finish everything, of course. Otherwise, I prefer to take a brisk walk outside with my puppy or catch up with a friend to stay alert.
Check out tips 4-10 over on Sensible Stylista!

Blogger Babe of the Week: Kelly Rosy Outlook

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kelly-rosy-outlookKelly of Rosy Outlook

Kelly is a fashion + beauty blogger for Rosy Outlook. She is a self-proclaimed online shopping and product addict! Her closet has been bursting at the seams since she was in elementary school and her love for fashion trends has only grown with age.

Kelly lives right outside of Washington D.C. and lives with her fiancé and adorable golden retriever-terrier mix, Toby. When she’s not working or blogging, you can find her with a book and Starbucks cup in hand or, well, shopping! The shopping addiction is a real problem, people.

What is your favorite thing about blogging?
I started Rosy Outlook back in April of last year, so I still consider myself pretty new to blogging. But it has already added so much to my life! I enjoy my full-time job in human resources, but fashion and beauty are my absolute passion. Getting the opportunity to share my style and my thoughts on topics that I love talking about is so fun and is such a creative outlet for me. Interacting with others who share my interests and who also enjoy connecting through blogging is my absolute favorite part!

kelly-rosy-outlook2What do you find the most challenging about blogging/being a blogger?
At first, it was figuring out how to get a good following, but lately I have been really happy with my progress. There is still so much growth I want to achieve, but I know that will come with time and consistency. I think the hardest part right now is juggling blogging, work, and wedding planning. However, I’ve mastered a posting schedule that seems to really work, and it has been really helpful.

If you had to eat only one food for an entire year, what would it be?
Hands down: pizza. I try to be relatively healthy most of the week but every Friday I have a cheat night and it’s always pizza!

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I would love to be able to fly. I’m terrified of heights and flying in an airplane but I think that’s because I feel out of control. If I was the one flying, I would be all set!

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Thanks so much, Kelly! Go check her out on Rosy Outlook, TBC fam!

Prep Series: Outfit Post

Prepping for a blog post requires a little legwork if you want it to launch without a hitch. We’re polling our ambassadors + TBC members to see how they get organized and prepared for the most popular types of blog posts in our new Prep Series. First up, Rachelle of Pinksole is talking us through prepping for an outfit post. Attention, fashion bloggers!

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First things first: before you can shoot, you need an outfit to shoot in. (Duh!) I don’t have a boyfriend/friend who takes my photos or a professional photographer to shoot my outfits; I tend to shoot after posts myself. It’s a one-woman show for me!

One thing I always do after getting dressed is snap a clear pic of my outfit in a long mirror where I can see every single item I’m wearing. This helps me gauge if the outfit is blog-worthy and how it might look when captured in high-res.

I post 1-2 outfits per week, so when it’s time to shoot I have several pics in my phone to go through and choose my favorite looks. I also shoot 2-4 outfits at a time so I can bank photos to use throughout the week.

Consider the following when prepping your outfit post:

Location.
I have roughly three spots where I like to take pictures; they are open and not crowded. If you have no idea where to go, my advice would be to drive around your area and scout locations. Look for peaceful + quiet spots, and backgrounds that fit your aesthetic (this could be fairly plain or very unique depending on your personal taste).

Great shooting locations: parks, public gardens, and in front of walls (white, brick or stone, solid colors, etc.). You are looking for beautiful places that aren’t too distracting (you want the focus of the shoots to be you, after all). When taking pictures I try my best to avoid street/road signs or random people in the background.

Gear.
I am usually armed with my camera (make sure to charge your battery or have a spare battery with you to avoid having to drive back home!), my tripod (I got mine at Best Buy) and my remote control (I got mine ages ago on eBay for $10). I have a Nikon D3200 and shoot with a 50mm prime lens.

Shoot.
This boils down to an important skill: know your gear and know your angles!

While this took a lot of practice, now I pretty much know my angles and what I want my pictures to look like. It’s worth your while to spend some time practicing what angles work for you using your camera on the tripod. This can actually be done at home; you don’t need a pretty background because you’re just learning what works re: your body, different outfit types (think flowy maxi dresses vs. fitted denim– they require different posing techniques!), the camera height/angle, etc.

Set the tripod at several different heights and learn your preference. I personally like my tripod to be set just a tad lower than my waist. Pose several different ways; straight-on, slightly at an angle, etc. Try exaggerated poses like really focusing on getting that chin down/chest up/shoulders back; even if these things feel weird, sometimes they translate better on camera. Figure out what trouble spots you may want to minimize (make your legs look longer by posing with one leg crossed in front of the other; accentuate and define your waist by angling your body and putting a hand on your hip, etc.). The first time you do this, you will be uncomfortable and it might take some time before you master it, but I promise it gets easier. I actually like shooting by myself now because I do it a lot faster.

You should also get really comfortable with using your camera, tripod, remote, etc. Learn the settings of your camera beforehand, not while you’re shooting. If all else fails, shoot in auto-mode until you learn to properly use your DSLR. YouTube is your best friend for learning how to use your camera! Google around, hit up Pinterest, or take an online class. Knowing how to adjust your camera for each shoot means more quality images for you to use on your blog.

Time.
I love to shoot early in the morning or right before sunset; these are often called the “golden hours” because the lighting is really flattering. An overcast day is even better because you can shoot out in the open and not worry about direct sunlight, which is really hard to shoot in. Clouds and indirect light are good! I hate direct sunlight– a shaded area with plenty of natural light is key.

Get comfortable.
One of the hardest things about an outfit post is shooting in public, where people tend to stare. I definitely experience this when shooting my own pictures! All I can say is make sure to shoot in a safe location and don’t ever leave your gear unattended. While it does take time + practice, learn to ignore people around you and just do your thing. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I’ve reached that point! The more you shoot, the more comfortable you will get!

Happy shooting!

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Rachelle blogs at Pinksole and is an ambassador of The Blogger Collective. 

Blogger Babe of the Week: Christina of Simple and Delish

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christina-simple-delish1Christina of Simple and Delish

Hello, TBC! I’m a lifestyle blogger who currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On my blog you can find everything from recipes, travel guides, home decor, product reviews, and a little bit of fashion in between.

What is your favorite thing about blogging?
I love how accepting everyone has been. It’s a group of really talented, creative woman (and men!) who want to see each other succeed. Plus, reading other blogs allows me to find fun inspiration for my home and closet.

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What do you find the most challenging about blogging/being a blogger?
Making time to create great content. My day job keeps me really busy during the week, which only leaves me weekends to put posts together. I also live alone, so I am always running home to ask my mom to take outfit shots for me (thanks Mom!). If you’re ever wondering why my outfit shots are far and few between– this is why.

If you had to eat only one food for an entire year, what would it be?
French fries. My motto in life is never let a French fry go uneaten. You will never see one left on my plate.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I would want to fly! This way I could travel the world in an instant and avoid the lines at the airport.

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Thanks, Christina! We love your French fry policy. 🙂 Go and check out Simple and Delish!

 

Featured Post: What It’s Actually Like Being a Blogger

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No matter what kind of blog you run, there are certain things all bloggers understand that your non-blogger pals just don’t understand. Rebecca from Sunny Rebecca is sharing What It Is Actually Like to be a Blogger.
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Being a blogger means you’re willing to stand outside in the middle of winter in a dress, or wear fall sweaters and boots when it’s sweltering out– all for the tiniest hope of a decent picture. It means you force your friends and family to wait before indulging in a meal so you can instagram it for the foodies who follow you. Being a blogger is something that has definitely given me joy and if I’m completely honest, more of a life purpose.

The thing about blogging is that we’re led to believe that bloggers are perfect. Before I started my own blog, I would read blogs and think the blogger had an incredible life by always wearing the nicest outfits and going to interesting places. Now I know that’s not true. We only show the best parts of our lives or even stage things to make a picture look better and more presentable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown everything off my desk to snap a quick picture and then dumped it all in a pile on the floor. The pile doesn’t make it into the Instagram photo, but the mess is still there. Bloggers make it look easy and effortless, but in reality, that’s not true. There’s a whole part of blogging that usually isn’t shown on the blog and today I want to share that. This is what it’s actually like being a blogger.

As a blogger, you have to be willing to put in quite a bit of time. That means making trade-offs. Instead of going out with my friends, I sometimes decline and decide to stay in so I can get my post up on time. It means I have to mass produce posts when I’m going away or have a busy week ahead. For example, this week I have commitments that will keep me busy from 7am to 8pm every day. The time flies by and I end up being lost in all the things I need to do, so I have to schedule posts ahead of time if I don’t want the blog to go dark.

That brings me to my next point: being a blogger also means you have to prioritize. Schoolwork always comes first for me, but then when you bring your social life, family, free time, extracurriculars, and blogging into the mix, you have to figure out what is most important to you. I think this is probably one of the most important things about being a blogger– you have to stay balanced. Have you ever seen those triangles where one point says sleep, another says school, and the last one says social life, and it tells you that you can only pick two? It’s like that, but in reality, there’s more than three things you have to juggle in your life, even if you’re not a blogger. You have to figure out what your priorities are in order to get anything done.

Being active on social media is a big part of blogging. Yes, we’re all shameless self-promoters, but hey– what works, works. Although the social media activity of a blogger consists of raving over red Starbucks cups, cute stationery, and a ton of blog promo, there’s a community of its own among the to-do lists and sale excitement. The blogging community is something absolutely incredible. I’ve met so many amazing bloggers that just get it. They’re people I can relate with and connect with. Being a blogger may mean you’re obsessive with your social media and promoting your posts, but along with that is also meeting new people and branching out.

There’s also a huge learning curve for being a blogger. I find I’m always learning new things. Maybe it’s about SEOs or Google Analytics or MailChimp, but I’m finding out new things to help me grow my brand. Lately I’ve been watching webinars and looking into mini-courses for creating a successful blog. I’m looking for new information that can help me reach my fullest potential.

Explaining to someone what you do and why you do it can sometimes be awkward and nerve-wracking. It took me over a year to tell my friends about my blog. I used to block people that go to my school on my blog’s social media so they wouldn’t find it. But over time, I realized I shouldn’t care. When I told my friends about it, they told me it was something really cool and not something to be ashamed of. One friend told me she wasn’t that surprised because she felt like I was the kind of person who would have a blog. And eventually, I realized it shouldn’t matter if people I know find my blog. This is something I should be proud of and unapologetic about. Being a blogger means having the confidence to put yourself out there.

Although being a blogger can be stressful at times, it’s worth it. Yes, it may be totally tedious to run back and forth from behind the camera to in front of it perfecting a shot, or spending way too much time trying to get a great backdrop. But it brings a whole new type of joy when someone comments on a post telling you they enjoyed it, because it means you’re creating content that people love. (Bonus: you love it, too!) You’re blogging because you love it, even though it’s sometimes hard. And you know what they say: nothing worth having comes easy. So you do it. You snap a million pictures of your latte art and make everyone groan when you say, “Wait, one more picture!” Being a blogger means you do what you love, no matter how difficult it is or what anyone thinks about it, because it’s worth it in the end.

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Rebecca blogs at Sunny Rebecca and is a member of The Blogger Collective.