Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'd Rather Black(out) Friday

It seems counter intuitive how we spend Thanksgiving gathered around loved ones to talk about all the things we are thankful for, only for all the gratitude and pleasantries to fly out the window 12 hours later to make way for some crazed day of shopping.

As I was discussing the Starbucks holiday cups with an Australian friend last week, he says to me: You American’s fall for everything. He’s right. And Black Friday is no exception; a false sense of savings that's all to enticing as the holiday season approaches.

Instead of waiting outside a store for two weeks to get a discount on Black Friday maybe you can work those days and afford the whole price #truthbomb

Why I hate Black Friday 

1. People suck 

And if you didn't think so before Black Friday, you will walk away as a true believer after. When you watch a grown man shove a woman so he can grab the last toaster, you lose all faith in humanity.

2. Ruining Thanksgiving since 2005

Gone are the days of actually enjoying the quality time spent with family on this day of thanks. Black Friday begins earlier and earlier each year. Soon we’ll be starting at Halloween! #Merica

Not only do the people who chose to go shopping suffer, think about the employees (typically new hires) that are forced to leave their families to deal with this mess of a day.

3. I need my beauty rest

I place a higher value on my sleep than saving a buck. No one wants to be around Sourpuss Shane when she gets less than her designated eight hours a night. And no amount of Starbucks can save me from a 4 am wake up call, only to deal with crowds of idiots.

4. Doorbusters blow

News flash: you’re not really getting that great of a deal. The too-good-to-be-true TV ads, usually are just that. Every year you hear about how fast the big ticket item has sold out. Stores are pro at luring shoppers in on items purposely in low supply. That’s exactly what makes it appealing to us.

The prices of in-demand products will be jacked up the week before, so they can “slash” prices leaving the consumer to believe they have won. So unless you plan on camping out for weeks, you are bound to be left out in the cold.

5. Shoppers rage can be dangerous 

Nothing worse than getting mauled by an angry consumer. I've even seen a grown woman snatch a toy from a child. How pathetic! Not even the parking lots are safe as you see news reports with fender benders and pedestrians getting hit left and right on this crazy day.

6. Added stress

As if we don't have enough of it over the holidays already, add a day of ruthless shopping to the mix, the day after spending time with our family we only interact with once a year.

7. Security 

There are crazies out there waiting for unsuspecting shoppers to make a mistake. They know you have money, credit cards, and bags of expensive gifts.

8. Small businesses suffer

The shops that we need to help keep this economy going are destroyed on Black Friday. I urge you to find at least one unique gift from a local company or Etsy shop. I can promise you it will be much more special this way, for the giver, receiver, and the small business owner.

9. Impulse Spending

And ensuing buyers remorse is inevitable. You are likely to splurge on items you wouldn't normally, all in the name of "getting a deal," Your bank account will not be happy with you come Monday.

10. Cyber Monday

Online shopping is the bees knees – Avoid the lines and crowds all together and buy stuff from the comfort of your own home. You’ll also have more time to ponder your purchase to avoid buyers remorse. The best part: No pants, no problems.  

My advice for you? Instead of going to an insanely crowded mall at 5am sober, it’s so much better to do so with a little buzz to make fun of the crazies. Bonus: You’ll end up saving $$!

Feel free to start this game promptly at 6pm on Thanksgiving, as we all know that’s when the games begin these days.

Supplies: Some type of seasonal beer or better yet, peppermint schnapps or Fireball Hot Toddys if you’re feeling festive.

Number of Players: In the spirit of the holidays, the more the merrier!

Objective: Drink so much you forget all the calories you ate today.

Black(out) Friday Drinking Game

Take a shot every time:

1. You enter a store
2. You catch a shopper with a red Starbucks cup attempting to caffeinate
3. You see a man begrudgingly carrying his S/O’s purse

Shotgun a beer every time:

1. Two women fight over the last item on a shelf.
2. You spot a screaming child left alone in a cart.
3. And another when the parents return and scream back at the kid like it’s their fault they are terrible parents
4. You overhear someone in line bragging about how early they woke up this morning.
5. You witness a brawl in the parking lot.

Chug an entire bottle of wine every time:

1. Your mother-in-law calls you to come home and join the family

Game Over: You’re too sloshed to be seen shopping anymore, so head back to your family. Or on Cyber Monday, whichever comes last. 


Keep some love in your heart, folks. It’ll remain long after the sales have ended.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Simplified Guide to Radiant Feet

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RespectUrFeet #CollectiveBias

It's so easy to take our feet for granted. We give them so little respect for being the workhorses of our bodies day in and day out. And after a summer spent walking around barefoot, our tootsies could use a little TLC. So before you slip into those Jimmy Choo stilettos for the holiday parties, let's fix up those dry heels sistah!

I'm sure you follow a daily face regimen to keep your skin healthy and radiant, so why not start the same for your feet? Good news: You don't need an expensive spa treatment to achieve this. By spending just a few minutes a day on a simple at home pedicure, you save yourself $$$ and don’t even have to shave your legs! Win/win? I think so.
Now who's ready for a quickie?

1. Soak
Fill a small basin (or bathtub) with warm water. For every six cups of water add one cup of milk for nourishment. Soak your feet for at least 20 minutes, allowing the milk to soften dry, tired skin.

2. Exfoliate

Pat your feet dry with a soft towel. Lay the towel under your feet, turn on your Amopé Pedi Perfect Electronic Foot File and begin filing the trouble areas on your feet. Check if you have achieved the desired level of softness. If not, keep on going. 

Side note: I have extremely ticklish feet and usually end up kicking the pedicurist in the face, but I didn't have that issue moving at my own speed with the file.

3. Moisturize

After rinsing, apply Amopé Pedi Perfect lotion to your feet and let it soak in. This lotion is nice and thick, so a little bit goes a long ways. (Optional: Pull on a pair of socks for ten to let the moisture soak in)

4. Polish it off

Apply your favorite shade of polish to your nails. If you're an Essie addict like me, you have an entire arsenal at your disposal. Don't forget to apply a clear coat over the color once it has dried to extend the life of the pedicure!

5. Repeat

Apply an exfoliating foot cream nightly to ensure continuously supple, hydrated skin. Voila!

Amopé, Portuguese for “love your feet”, is a new brand enabling women to respect their feet. Pick up your Pedi Perfect and the matching moisturizer in the footcare aisle at a Target near you!
Don't forget to treat yo’ feet every once in a while. They need lovin’ too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stuck in a blogging rut?

Have you been neglecting your blog lately? Feeling stuck, uninspired or burnt out? New to the blog-osphere and need tips to get started?  

With the holidays fast approaching, we all know things can get a little crazy in our lives outside of the internet. Good news: Your blog doesn't need to suffer! 

If you have an ADD brain like me, odds are you have a million ideas brewing in your noggin at any given moment, but no way to organize these and make them reality (Think 75 blog posts in draft, eek!)  I have the solution for newbies and pros alike to keep the fresh content brewing.
In Content Brew, you’ll learn how to plan & create fresh content for your blog, Facebook and Twitter. Your thoughts will become organized and cohesive – not just a jumble of possible posts, inspirations and recipes that are stuck up in the brain – never to see the light of day. 

Instead of haphazardly throwing up posts and ignoring your editorial calendar, you will have a solid plan of attack. By the end of this course, you’ll have months worth of content planned out for your blog, not to mention a process that you’ll use over and over again. Trust me, I know this from experience!

Content Brew Breakdown

Lesson 1: Prepwork- Content Planning Questionnaire
Lesson 2: Getting to Know the Content Calendar
Lesson 3 & 4: Planning and Creating Blog Content Ideas
Lesson 5: Planning and Creating Content for Facebook and Twitter
Lesson 6: The Art of Using the Right Words to Drive Traffic
Lesson 7: Keep Fresh Content Brewing Using Evernote
Lesson 8: Finding and Keeping Track of Content to Share
Lesson 9 (Bonus): Easy Automation to Shelve Ideas and Articles for Content Planning

Don’t worry about signing up and then real life getting in the way, as this is a self-paced course! Log in at the morning or night, whenever you work best!

A few awesome things you’ll learn:

  • Why you need an editorial calendar (hint: it won’t stifle your creativity nor your spontaneity)
  • How to customize a calendar for your blog
  • Why and how you should include social media in your content planning 
  • Eight questions to ask yourself for more effective content planning
  • What types of posts bring in the best traffic
  • Techniques for coming up with an endless supply of content ideas
  • 23 Content Generation Prompts for Facebook and Twitter
  • Attention-grabbing words and phrases to increase engagement
  • Tools to save you time and keep you organized
  • And so much more!

Is this course for you?

Yes! Content Brew is for any level of blogger who wants to wants to solidify the process of using a content calendar and learn techniques to come up with loads of ideas for blog posts, Facebook posts and tweets. Even if you have tons of ideas already but no time to write them, you will learn techniques to help you save time so you can squeeze in some more writing into your life. It's good stuff people.

Content Brew is  also the perfect alternative for those who can’t afford to travel for blog conferences, or a great complement to the leanings for those that have attended.

The best part about this course is that it’s not just reading, video-watching and downloading pretty handouts. You’ll be DOING stuff. Planning content, learning techniques and getting loads of handouts that you’ll reference long after the course is over.

The Goodies

  • 2014-2015 content calendar template (spreadsheet format)
  • Nine written lessons, with each lesson having a video, handout or both
  • Idea guides that’ll give you an endless flow of inspiration (ex. 30 Fill in the Blank blog post ideas with examples for each one)
  • Interaction with other students in a private Facebook group
  • Interaction on Twitter with the #contentbrew hashtag
  • Forever access to the course!

Couldn't we all use a little extra time to spend with family and friends this holiday season without nagging guilt of what still needs completed on your blog? You will be a slave to your blog no longer after this course.

Hurry, for 3 days only, take $15 off this already affordable course using code: novbrew14
That's only $35! This deal runs from 12 am EST on Monday, November 24 to midnight Wednesday, November 26 

Consider it an investment in yourself. Or the perfect surprise for your blog bestie this Christmas.
I can promise you this, Content Brew is is all java and no gritty grounds. So what are you waiting for?

Do you have a content strategy in place for your blog?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Weekend Wanderings + Giveaway

It feels like the blog-osphere begins to die down come Friday, then trickles off on Saturday, with far less posts than Monday through Thursday. My quick fix? A rules free, anything goes link-up! Link-up your plans for the weekend, tutorials, giveaways. The best part? You can come back and link-up the entire weekend until Sunday at midnight! Then have fun wandering with some new friends! Wanna be featured next week? Use code: PIMPME for 20% off
Whispering Sweet Nothings

Alivia @ Liv Light

If today was the last day of your life, how would you spend it? 
I would spend it alongside the friends and family that I love, and my one year old King Charles Cavalier named Cooper. I would want to thank everyone for being there for me and remind them how much they mean to me. I would make the most out of every single minute of that day.. which in reality, is how we should all be living every single day. 

facebook // twitter // bloglovin

Allison @  Because I Said So

If you could be any color in the crayon box, which would you be?
I've always like cerulean (that's the pretty blue by the way) I never knew how to pronounce it until I watched the Devil Wears Prada!
Usually I would go with a pink color, but I don't know this blue is literally everything and I don't really have a reason why. I mean have you colored with it? That's reason enough!
bloglovin // twitter // instagram

Always Ashten

If you could be any color in the crayon box, which would you be?
I would be the brightest crayon in the box because that would make me the smartest, prettiest and most loved crayon in all the land. Ok but really I would be turquoise: not only is it my favorite color but it takes a special person to know how to use turquoise. I like to think I'm the kind of person who needs a special kind of person to bring out the best in me.

twitter // facebook // instagram

Tiffany @  HauteMess Magazine

If you could be any color in the crayon box, which would you be?
"I mean, what kind of crayon box are we talking? Like a special edition box orrrr (KIDDING- how obnoxious?) RAZZMATAZZ (is it even more obnoxious that I didn't just say pink/red?)
I think razzmatazz is a symbol of power, strength, sexiness & feminism. I mean, there is a reason why it's the official HauteMess accent colour. 

twitter // instagram

Trish @ Beyond the khaki pants

If today was the last day of your life, how would you spend it? 
Truthfully, I would spend it eating and spending time with the people I love most. I am a bit of a foodie and love trying new restaurants and food. Eating without any guilt would be awesome. Sounds boring I know, but I love food.

twitter // instagram

Nicole @ GenTwenty

If today was the last day of your life, how would you spend it? 
I'd like to think that I would spend it with friends and family, but I might just spend the day on the phone trying to convince George R.R. Martin to tell me the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. I need to know!"

facebook // twitter // pinterest

Ready to be featured next week

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

Truth be told, I come from a boozy family. So our holidays inevitably revolve around are gently accompanied by a few adult beverages, of the festive variety, of course.

My contribution to our feast this year? A case of wine. Yes, I am that girl. It's not that I can't cook, it's just I know there are people out there that can do a better job. So I'll leave it to the experts.

Sure we all love our family, but when you get 30 of the same high-strung individuals in one room, it's grounds for chaos. My foolproof way to maintain your sanity?
Supplies: Some type of seasonal beer or better yet, Rumple Minze or Fireball if you’re feeling festive.

# of Players: In the spirit of the holidays, the more the merrier!

Objective: Drink so much you forget all the calories you ate today.

Now who's ready to turn up for Turkey Day? 

Thanksgiving Drinking Game

Take a drink* every time:

1. Someone asks “when are we going to eat?”
2. Someone makes their “signature” dish, which is disgusting but no one has the heart to tell them.
3. For every person you are forced to hug or kiss whose name you can’t remember.
4. Someone unbuttons their pants.
5. Someone blames Obama
6. Someone refers to the turkey as moist or dry
7. Someone falls asleep.
8. You hear Christmas music. #toosoon
9. You are locked out of the bathroom by grandpa.
10. Someone actually eats the canned cranberry sauce.

*Drink is up for your interpretation, sip or gulp, I know every family is different

Take a shot every time:

1. You receive a mass “Happy Thanksgiving!” text
2. 15 minutes pass after planned dinner time, before the feast is actually served.
3. Aunt Betty asks about your love life. Bonus points if she knows full well you are single.
4. Someone says “I can’t believe it's Thanksgiving already.” followed closely by saying, “It’ll be Christmas before you know it!” 
5. Someone moans uncomfortably when standing up

Shotgun a beer every time:

1. You are compared to your more successful sibling 
2. You are awkwardly asked to tell what you’re thankful for. (My family, duh!)
3. Uncle Frank yells at the game on the TV
4. A debate ensues over if tryptophan in turkey really makes you sleepy
5. You have to resist that second (or third) helping of pie.

*If the river's running dry at this point, run to the store for some big batch cocktails

Chug an entire bottle of wine every time:

1. Someone says their diet starts tomorrow. Obviously a lie because…holidays. That’s what New Years Resolutions are for.
2. Someone picks up and leaves the family for Black Friday shopping #priorities
3. The host tries to force leftovers upon leaving guests, leading into a contest to see who can out-polite the other. 

Game Over: You’re too sloshed to hold a conversation with grandma anymore. Or on Black(out) Friday, whichever comes last. 

Hey, you have three days to recover, so drink up! Cheers!
All jokes aside, next week I will have a post featuring all I am truly grateful for.

ps. use code: TURKEY for 25% off any ad space until Black Friday!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fireball Hot Toddy + $$$

It's that time of year again, red cups and pumpkin everything no matter where you look! Personally, I'm not a fan of anything pumpkin and I'm not quite a Starbucks fanatic (Kelly's words, not mine) I prefer teas at home. But even more so, I prefer booze at home. While picking out some teas at the grocery store, I reached up and grabbed one of my favorites; Cinnamon Apple Spice.  Immediately filled with excitement I thought, "OMG I could use this to make a Hot Toddy with Fireball!" 
Genius. Absolute genius. 

If you're not familiar with a hot toddy it's basically tea, whiskey, honey and lemon. And as simple as that is, I'm all for making it even easier. So let's all grab our scarves and boots and mix some Fireball with a cup of Cinnamon Apple Spice tea! 

Fireball Hot Toddy

Stupid Simple Instructions:

1. Brew tea as normal (leaving room to add booze)
2. Add desired amount of Fireball
3. And if you're really festive, use a Santa face cup! 
4. Enjoy!

The mastermind behind this fabulous concoction? Meet fellow Fireball connoisseur, Kelly Louise. Not only is she a 5-star blogger, she's now an up-and-coming Youtube sensation as well! Try this unicorn makeup tutorial on for size. 
I am convinced Kelly is just a slightly older, slightly more beautiful version of me (other than the 20 tattoos). Shaking my head yes to all of her quirks: 

I usually speak without thinking. Which is great comedy for anyone close enough to hear the nonsense that comes out of my mouth. Watch her videos. All the sass. I adore it. #TeamNoFilter

Always hangry. It's a 24/7 vicious cycle, girl. 

I love animals more than people. But really. As a general rule, people suck.

Struggles with anxiety but working on balance in life. It's a lifelong struggle, I admire your strength!

I hate talking on the phone. Text me, maybe? But I'm also really bad at replying to texts also, so just don't talk to me. 

Hate hate hate the cold. Thank god for my new life down unda where it never snows!

Love for horror flicks. My dad had me watching thrasher films since I was 4. Nothing phases me now.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Operation Beautiful v.36

 As expected, I received overwhelming interest in my Operation Beautiful project. Thus, the showcase will roll out three lovely ladies each Monday as long as I receive entries.

This project is to make you think, ponder, appreciate the simple things about yourself, that add up and make you truly beautiful. The smaller qualities that you adore about yourself, like your lips or eyes, that make you feel pretty on the worst of days.

This project is about your talents, your secret hidden abilities, your amazing personalities. Those quirks which make you, uniquely you. And, I sincerely hope that after you read through the finished product to discover how these other ladies feel about themselves, you can spend the rest of the day, sincerely feeling great about yourself.

If you feel vulnerable, insecure, or hesitant to send in an entry, don't be! We're in this together. It will hopefully make you realize a few things about yourself. This will by far be one of my favorite posts I'll ever do on this blog, and I won't even write it, you guys will. Take it away ladies!

I feel most beautiful whenwhen I feel the most confident about myself
My favorite physical feature is my... smile.
Something non-physical that I love about myself is...my desire to always help others
I'm happiest when... I am around the people I care for the most!

I feel most beautiful when I'm dressed up for a night out.  Makeup on, hair done just right, the perfect outfit on.  That's when I feel the most confident and truly beautiful.  I also feel pretty dang beautiful in my PJs, lounging around the house.  Glasses on, no bra, no makeup either...just me.

My favorite physical feature is my...
smile.  It's big and goofy but I love it.
Something non-physical that I love about myself is...my desire to make other people's day that much brighter.  Even small things, like leaving little notes for Jeremy or making sure we watch one of his TV shows, lets him know that I care and I want to make his day that much brighter.  It doesn't have to be a huge gesture or love...just something small can really make someone's day a happy one.

I'm happiest when...I'm with Jeremy and we are sitting on the couch together.  This might not sound that exciting to some people, but it's when we connect the best.

I feel most beautiful whenI am at a charity event, doing everything I can to bring happiness to others.
My favorite physical feature is my...hair, when it's cooperating! No matter how often I dye it or style it, my hair is always beautifully wavy and smooth.

Something non-physical that I love about myself is...my heart. I truly want to do everything I can to help others and change the world.

I'm happiest when... my husband joins me in reaching my warrior queen goals. He is always so supportive and working on my blog (and hopefully someday magazine) makes me feel complete.

Interested on being featured in future rounds?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Side effects of moving to a brand new country

When I first landed in Sydney, I began feeling all the feels straight away. (And if you know me well, you know I’m not keen on emotions). This place was not the world I knew, and this was exhilarating for me. I was excited, anxious and terrified all at the same time.

No, it’s not just the obvious like being far away from family and surrounded by funky accents. It’s the tiny differences that really throw you for a loop. Before a big move, you mentally prepare yourself to handle the stress of saying goodbye, but you can never fully be ready to live in a world where the people, flora, fauna, sights, sounds and smells may be completely different.

1.  Expect to feel uncomfortable

And learn to embrace that discomfort by taking leaps outside of your comfort zone at every possible opportunity. Risk, by nature is scary, and some are perfectly happy staying warm in a cosy box of safety they have built. But this places bounds on experiencing all life has to offer.

I’m a girl who would plan out her entire life ahead of time if I could. I like to know exactly what I’m doing, when, and who with. This isn’t always ideal in a foreign place. Living in uncertainty has caused me to stretch my boundaries farther than I ever thought possible.

2. Expect to be pushed to your limits

Things in a new country will frustrate the crap out of you. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely in love with Australia, but they have the world’s most terrible peanut butter. Not to mention, the cost of living in Sydney is extremely high. 
You need to be able to laugh and embrace the challenges and quirks of the new culture. You learn tolerance, patience and understanding through the trials and tribulations of this new life.

3. Expect to ride an emotional roller coaster

Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Expect the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You will go from having the time of your life to a terrible bout of homesickness at the drop of the hat. You will inevitably be drained to where you think you can't take anymore, then built back up again. 

Part of you will always feel like an imposter, with a nagging wonder if you truly belong here. Relax and let things play out. I can promise it will be worth it in the end. 

4. Expect to learn resiliency

One of the greatest character traits you can possess as a traveler is being adaptable. Travel has taught me to embrace change, marvel in the unexpected, and take every chance of adventure I get. When things fall apart you will be able to bounce back stronger than ever before. 
Things will go wrong, they always do in life. Be willing to stray from your typical routine without getting irritated. Learning patience is crucial for when things don’t cooperate and go as you have perfectly planned. At the end of the day, you will realize that when you are able to adapt and go with the flow, you will have the world at your fingertips.

5. Expect to learn the value of sacrifice

You will discover where your priorities and values lie in life. You will learn that long distance relationships aren’t for the faint of heart and distance really does make the heart grow fonder crazy. But if this person means the world to you, you will find a way to be together.
You will learn when to budget versus when to splurge. The realization that I'd have to cut back on my online shopping habits was a hard pill to swallow. But nowadays, I don't think twice about putting my money towards experiences rather than material items. Because the memories will stick with you forever; that new blouse, you will eventually outgrow.

6. Expect to learn independence

Moving somewhere new often means having to leave a solid support system of friends and family behind. It will require you to trust yourself, know yourself, challenge yourself, and often, entertain yourself. You have to rely on yourself to get through the tough times.

You will learn to be okay with spending time alone. Whether it's your morning commute, or coming home after work to an empty apartment, you come to savour these moments. You will become your own best friend. 

7. Expect to learn to trust humans

The initial process of meeting new friends in a foreign place can be nerve-wracking. Each country has their own mannerisms and social norms which may confuse you at first. No, not every guy you meet at the bar has an ulterior motive waiting to be uncovered. At the same time, as a woman it’s entirely appropriate to stand your guard and trust your gut in situations where you don’t feel comfortable.

8. Expect to embrace diversity

By leaving what you’ve always known, you open your mind to the way others live. You realize there are a million different ways of doing things and none of them are necessarily “right” or “wrong.” You open yourself to new people, foods, cultures, and traditions you likely never would have experienced living 100 years in your home country.

Sydney is an epicenter of multiculturalism and I love it for that. I work with people from all walks of life, each with their own story waiting to be uncovered. I leave feeling energized from the conversations I have with these people. 

9.  Expect to miss things you never knew you cared about

Don’t mistake the familiar for superior. There are lots of minuscule things you’re so used to in your country, that you assume are part of the way the world works. All the things you thought you couldn’t live without become things you don’t even desire anymore. And you’ll feel a lot freer for needing less.

You will deal with people who speak a different language and eat things you didn’t know were edible. Just because they're different doesn't mean they're bad. How boring would our world be if each country was the same?

10. Expect the world to keep spinning around you

Family and friends learn to live with only having you in their lives virtually. You’ll miss weddings, births, deaths, and holidays. Just this year alone, I am missing both my mom's and dad's 50th's, my nephew's first (on Christmas day), and both my siblings 21st. With this sacrifice comes guilt. Sure, my mom and boyfriend want me to come back home for good after the year, but I'm going to do what's best for me in the end. 

Every aspect of moving abroad will challenge you. It’s not for everyone, but if you have the opportunity to do so, I can promise you one thing, you will be forever changed. You will understand who you are, where you came from, and where you place is in the world. Your twenties are your selfish years. Be selfish with your time. Travel, adventure, explore, and never look back.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A reader survey is good for your blog soul

What does success look like for your blog? For some, success is measured by consistent growth in traffic or a chunk of money earned. For others, it's through relationships formed or new opportunities presented. We all begin blogging for different reasons and have different expectations of what we will get out of the experience, which keep us chugging along.

Some days it can be difficult to gauge whether I’m on the right path with Whispering Sweet Nothings or not since many readers don’t comment on posts but rather tweet, pin, or causally observe. How can I even begin to grasp if my audience is digging what I'm dishing out if I don’t have a solid grasp on who I'm talking to?  A reader survey is the answer!

Whether planning a rebrand, exploring the root of a drop in traffic, or simply as a yearly pulse check, a reader survey is a great discovery tool for your blog. Although criticism can be a hard pill to swallow, ongoing and open feedback is essential. Not only will your readers feel that their opinion is valued, it will also uncover areas of improvement if you plan to continue growing your little corner of the interwebs in the years to come.

1. Choose a platform

I used SurveyMonkey because it’s FREE. If you desire more than 10 questions or 100 responses, it’s $24 for the month and you can cancel as soon as you’re finished. GoogleDocs is another free and intuitive option. 

Looking back, I would have splurged on the Premium version due to the wider range of features I didn't realize I was missing out on until I got 110 responses in two weeks and the free version cut off my last ten respondents. Shucks! They may have provided valuable information. Lesson learned.

Picmonkey Pro features

  • Unlimited questions
  • Unimited responses
  • Completely brand your surveys by adding your logo and custom colors.
  • Customize your survey's URL to surveymonkey.com/surveyname for eaasier access/
  • Skip logic to create a custom path through your survey that varies based on a respondent's answers. 
  • Discover hidden trends by segmenting your survey results with cross-tabs and filters.
  • Download results into spreadsheets, PowerPoint, or PDFs to create more customizable charts.
  • Display a thank you page at completion.

2. Define your objectives 

My goal with this survey was to gather an idea of who my readers were (demographics), how they found my blog, what they currently enjoy, and what new features they’d like to see in the future. I was also open to constructive criticism in what I could do better to make this a fun place to hang on a Sunday morning over a cup of coffee.

Other topics to explore:

  • Design (navigation, colors, fonts)
  • Readability
  • Content (post length, post frequency)
  • Social media engagment
  • Community building
  • Next step: Creating an ideal reader profile.

3. Formulate questions

  • Pick the proper question types.
    • Multiple choice: A closed-end question with pre-defined answers. Make the answers mutually exclusive (unable to all be true at the same time) unless you allow respondents to choose more than one. Nice for easy to analyze results.

    • Free response: Beneficial for gathering opinions, likes and dislikes or additional comments. The caveat: you are bound to get heaps of "I don't knows" and skips from people who don't have the time or motivation to write out an answer. Also difficult to analyze in the long run as everyone will have a different answer.

    • Rating scales: Useful for gauging behaviors and attitudes. Order answers negative to positive from left to right (ie. Strongly disagree to strongly agree) with an odd number of balanced choices and neutral in the middle. Currently SurveyMonkey doesn't offer this question type.

    • Ranking: For when you want a snapshot of least to most importance, such as for ranking types of blog posts that gain the most engagement. 

  • Be specific. Keep your questions clear and concise. If uncertain what you are looking for, you risk readers getting frustrated or, even worse answer the question randomly, skewing your results. Ask: "How many times a week do you interact with my blog?" rather than "Do you read my blog regularly?" 

  • Keep your language relaxed and conversational. Avoid confusing double negatives such as "don't not" and absolutes such as "always" and "never" which may lure the reader away from answering. Stay away from "only" and "just" which can also carry negative connotations.

  • Use logical order. Lead with interesting questions that entice your readers to respond. Make sure that one question leads naturally into another. Usually, the first questions will be broader and the follow-up ones will be more specific. Keep sensitive questions such as demographics to the end when you have built up more of the respondent's trust. Reduce answer bias by randomizing the order of the pages in a survey or the order of questions within a page for each new respondent

  •  Explore one idea at a time. If you ask about multiple concepts in the same question it makes it hard to answer and near impossible to analyse their answers. Instead of: How relevant and organized are my posts? split these into two separate questions.

  • Keep questions open ended but not too open. Stay neutral in tone and language for the most honest answers and avoid leading questions that subconsciously direct respondents to the answer you want. Instead of “Do I do too many sponsored posts?” ask “I do one sponsored post a week, is this …just right? Too much? Not enough?”

  • Clearly outline instructions. Only necessary for questions with specific response requirements such as multiple choice lists. For example: "Please select all answers which apply to you" or "Please select your three favorite options"

  • Limit response options. You will find that the answers are often more accurate and you get more of them. There is a marketing rule that says that the more choices you give people the less likely they are to make one. For example, instead of having an option where people can write their own answer give them three pre-defined choices.

  • Don’t ask too many questions.  Your survey completion rate will be higher if you keep it short and sweet. We've all been on the receiving end of poorly constructed surveys that require way too much time to complete. People will get bored and give up! I’d say ten questions which take 5-8 minutes to complete is perfect in most instances.

4. Create an intro

It is good practice to introduce your readers to the purpose of your survey to ease them in. Make the surveys anonymous, or people are less likely to give you honest answers. Keep it friendly and mention if any incentive will be offered for their time.

"Thank you for taking the time to complete Survey xyz for Blog xyz. Your feedback is important for the continued success of my blog. This survey should take only 5-7 minutes of your time. All responses will remain anonymous and you will be entered to win a $10 gift card by opting in at the end. Cheers!"

If not clearly intuitive, provide instructions on how to navigate and submit the survey, along with a contact email for questions. Mine was pretty straightforward, so I didn't find this necessary.

5. Spread the word

Embed your survey in a blog post, tweet it out with a catchy tagline, or advertise in your weekly newsletter. Consider offering an incentive to show your appreciation for your reader’s precious time. I made mine worth ten points in a giveaway I hosted, but I advise you to steer clear from too much bribery or that may cause bias with people who have never read your blog until now and just want a chance to win cool prizes. 

6. Analyze the data

You are able to create custom charts in the free version of SurveyMonkey.  I took screenshots of the charts after customizing to save that dough but as I mentioned earlier, I would have much rather had the paid version to export my results to Excel and pretty the graphics up for the sake of this post.

I realized open ended questions, while taking longer to analysem provided a wealth of info that I have since used to improve my ways of blogging. The results provided excellent insights into who my readers were, what they think of the blog and what they would like to see on the blog.

7. Publish the results

How long have you been reading Whispering Sweet Nothings?

Wow! How exciting to see so many fresh faces around here. It is concerning that I offered this survey as points in a giveaway which may have skewed the results. I  need to think of a creative way to lure survey takers in the future. I am grateful for my loyal readers as well (I'm looking at you Kim :)

How often do you visit WSN?

Not much surprise here, I expected a breakdown similar to this. I'm assuming the "never" comes from those just in it for the giveaway. Sad face. Based on this, I'm confident I could maintain a readership even if I only posted 2-3 times a week (the norm with this new job). Sad face again.

How do you discover my new posts?

Bloglovin' is clearly the reader of choice ever since Google Reader died out. (Whatever happened to Hello Cotton anyways?). I will be sure to focus on building up my readership on that outlet. Shameless plug: Heart this post, maybe?

How do you feel about the ratio of sponsored to authentic content I post?

I know, I know, you all are here to hear my voice, not feel like you're watching commercials. I agree, once a month is enough! As my blog has grown, so have my expenses, so doing that monthly sponsored post helps me keep WSN running strong. Now that I have a full time job for a steady source of income I am allowed to be more selective. I am moving towards only accepting product reviews where I feel there is some kind of value in it for my readers 

If you read my posts, what keeps you from commenting?

I'm guilty of reading without commenting as I peruse my Bloglovin' feed so I completely understand. I use to measure my success based on number of comments each post got, but realized I don't need to harp over that as there are so many other ways my readers engage with my posts.

What is your age?

Again, no surprise here, since I am 22 and a recent college grad myself, this is inevitably my target market. My association HerCampus network probably contributes to this as well. Love seeing other age ranges find value from my blog as well :)

Rank your favorite type of WSN posts.

What would you like to see more of on WSN?

12- Those raw, real posts (Family matters, body issues, perfectionism)

8- Giveaways on products you truly love

7- Travel/Australia Adventures

6- Empowerment (Operation Beautiful)

5- Humor (Sh*t girls love, Sh*t I don't get)

5- I'm still a newbie on your site, so just getting the hang of your style

4- Blogging tips/tutorials
3- Lists (22 truths in 22 years, Beyond a degree, college has taught me, 10 things men wish women knew)

1-each- Life updates, Life advice, Beauty, Style, Recipes, Fitness

Anything you would like to see less of on WSN? Lay it on me!

Much to my delight, the majority of the readers answered “nothing” with “you do you, boo boo” from one rebellious soul. I’ll admit, this summer I was a bit heavy on the sponsored posts as I laid my footing with Social Fabric and Clever Girls. I was told that I did a decent job making them seem less staged but readers, rightfully so, didn’t like reviews of products not relevant to their own lives. 

Since I’ve started my first job, I’ve become more selective with the brands I work with because I honestly don’t have the same amount of time I once did. One reader said they would prefer less sidebar ads- but admitted to being a total minimalist. Another didn’t dig the blogging tutorials. I thought bloggers loved posts about blogging? Lastly, one person doesn’t dig my classic list posts. Duly noted.

How does WSN make you feel?

I love reading WSN! It's inspiring, funny, and real! So, full of rainbows and butterflies! You have a great wit and you're real in your writingConfident. Empowered. Happy, and very positive. I love how you're very personal. You don't detach yourself from your posts. It's as if I'm listening to your read them aloud. It's my daily dose of real life and positivity. It's nice to see that there is a blogger out there that ISN'T perfect. Like I'm 22 again :) I'm just now getting in to it, but I'm liking what I'm seeing so far! So much fun! Fresh and entertaining. It makes me laugh! I love your sarcasm and humor. The design is really pretty and simple. All of the posts are easy to read and enjoyable. Happy and like I'm reading posts from one of my friends! Inspired, you make me feel lazy with everything you have done & it makes me want to do more and live my dreams. As I have told you before, your blog is one of my faves. You also have really good giveaways that are better than average, so that's why it's posted so high. But I definitely love the content or I wouldn't be reading it. Your blog is super unique and I find that it's harder to find that now. It makes me feel like I learned something new each time i read it (: Like there's someone out there that can relate to so many of the things I face, enjoy and experience. Happy, less alone. You do an awesome job with your sponsors. Excited to see your move to Australia! I'm always happy to see you have a new post up! I feel interested and up to date! Love it! Your posts are authentic and real.
I hope these tips and tricks have encouraged you to run a reader survey of your own.  You are able to gain valuable insight into the direction you want to take your blog! Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.