5 Years as a Fully Self-Employed Blogger

 
This weekend marks 5 years as a fully self-employed blogger. I absolutely love working for myself despite the many ups and downs and can't see me going back to employed work any time soon. I thought I would mark the occasion with a few random thoughts about how I got here and life as a full time blogger. 




My blogging journey in a nutshell 


If we go right back to the beginning, I absolutely loved Media Studies at school. I achieved A* at GCSE and won a school award for the subject. However back in the early 00s, if you were academic, Media Studies is a subject that you were discouraged from taking so despite my passion for the subject, I ended up taking Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A Level. 

I started going out with Steve when I was still in Sixth Form, I left to go to Uni to study Genetics in Dundee and dropped out after 4 months as I was ridiculously homesick. I returned home, bought a flat with Steve at just 19 and qualified as a Dental Nurse. 

We were married and had kids at a young age and trying to find a job that fit around three small kids was really tough (we could not afford childcare for three under 5s). I ended up working as a receptionist in a walk-in centre - two 12 hour shifts on a Saturday and Sunday. This meant I was off Monday-Friday to be with the kids and Steve / his parents would be with the kids over the weekend. Sacrificing every weekend was really tough but needs must! 

Anyway, as I was often home alone with three kids during the week, I was always looking for places to take them. For me, I found it so much easier keeping busy and being out and about than staying at home. My friends and family commented that I always knew the best places to visit so I should set up a website. So I did just that! I googled 'How to start a website' and that was that. 

Back in 2014, I won North East Blogger of the Year and was gaining more and more followers. It got to the point where I was missing out on lots blogging opportunities that were taking place over a weekend and I was starting to earn a little bit of cash through my website too.

I would say at this point I was at a real crossroads and I started networking during the week (often with the kids in tow) with like-minded mums who were also self-employed / at the very start of their business journey. I attended lots of business events (and even met Michelle Mone) and the support from these ladies was fantastic and really made me think that maybe I could turn North East Family Fun into a proper business. 


A lot of the advice from my business mentors was to earn the equivalent of my employed wage through my business for 6 months straight before leaving employment and focussing on my business full time. So I decided to do just that. At the same time, I gradually reduced my NHS hours until it was the point where I wanted to reduce to just 4 hours. At that point, my manager said enough was enough which is fair enough and that I couldn't really work for 4 hours a week. It was the push I needed and I handed in my notice. Scary times! 

I remember telling my mam I was going to leave my NHS job and understandably, she wasn't too impressed and didn't want me to do it. I can understand her point and leaving a secure job to embark on self employment with three young kids was a risk. I am so pleased I made the leap though (and my mam has been supportive throughout despite her initial concerns). 


It is hard work at the start 

How do you even get to the point where you can blog full time as your job is something I am asked a lot. I think it is a real combination of things and it will be different for everyone. For me, I have been blogging for almost 10 years now and having that time and experience under my belt certainly helped.

I also think I have a really strong niche and write about things a wide audience genuinely want to read about. I have pretty high page views thanks to google search and Facebook. 

It also takes a lot of hard work and support from the start. When the kids were little, once they were in bed I remember I used to work on my blog every night from 7pm - 11pm and then on my lunch breaks and when the kids napped - basically every spare moment. Luckily for me, Steve has always been really supportive and I have had the time and space to do this. 

In  the beginning, I would be working 24 hours a week for the NHS, I was an Usborne Team Leader, cared for three kids and worked 30 hours+ on my blog. It was a very full-on time of life and this went on for a few years. 

It is much easier now 

These days, I am much more established and once you have made the leap to self-employment and have a good couple of years under your belt, it is so much easier. I reckon I only spend maybe 15-20 hours per week at my computer now. 

I have also built up many connections over the years and there are agencies I work with again and again. They know they can trust me to do a good job and I know I can trust them to let me do the job. Some people may disagree but I personally believe in going above and beyond whenever you work with someone. Whether this be re-sharing a post a few weeks down the line or providing a spreadsheet with insights once you have completed a job, I really think doing a job to the best of your ability (and beyond) helps to build relationships and you become a go-to person to work with. 

I think there is a difference between going above and beyond and knowing your worth too. If a brand is asking me to complete far too much work for not enough compensation, I am likely to dig my heels in. But if they are fair with their expectations, I am pretty likely to add a few extras. 

There are times when work is tough and you are juggling a lot of things at once along with deadlines but overall, I would say this stage of my career is a billion times less stressful than the earlier days. 

Thankful for my excellent work-life balance 

Above everything, I am so grateful for the work-life balance I have now. I remember when Harry and Heidi were little and we lived in Wallsend and I worked as a dental nurse in Whickham. I would be up, get the kids ready, drive to Cramlington to drop the kids off at my mams, then brace the A1 in rush hour to be in Whickham for 8am. How I did that I will never know but you just get on with it don't you. 

Now, I work from home and manage my own hours, I can be here when the kids are off school/sick, I can meet friends for coffee during the week, I have time to keep on top of the housework and can bake / cook proper meals instead of endless freezer surprise, I have time to exercise and there is just no rushing around. I suffer from monthly migraines/sickness on the day before my period is due and I love that I can just factor in a day off work on these days rather than having to call in sick and make excuses (or battle through which I have done in the past). 

Steve loves me being at home too (not in an old fashioned kind of way - we still split all of the chores 50/50) and it just really works for us. It is cheesy but I am honestly thankful everyday that this is my life now.  

Yes, there are times when work crosses into my personal life, especially during holidays etc.... and as a business owner, it is impossible to fully switch off, but this is a compromise I am happy to take. 

You need bucket loads of motivation 

If you run your own blog / business, you need bucket loads of motivation and drive. I would say you need this above everything else. It would be so easy to just sit on the sofa watching TV all day for me (and don't get me wrong, occasionally I do). There will be times when you don't feel inspired at all and just can't find the words but have to push through and just do it. There is no boss to answer to so you need to be the kind of person who can be disciplined enough to put the hours in on a consistent basis. 

Sometimes you pinch yourself 


When I googled 'how to set up a website' all those years ago, I never dreamed I would be negotiating exclusivity clauses in contracts with McDonalds, having conference calls with PR teams in America or advising big brands on the best way to work with bloggers. It feels crazy that this is part of my job now. 

A financial rollercoaster 

The very worst part of self-employment is the financial rollercoaster. I have once earned £6000 in one month and £200 in another. It is very up and down and you need to be able to deal with this as it can be really stressful. 

Usually, payments take months to reach your bank account too. For example you could spend January negotiating a contract with a brand, in February you could send the content over for approval, you may publish this content in March and submit an invoice and then this will be paid in April. Payments are rarely quick and once you have completed a job and invoiced, it is a regular occurance that they will be paid late (ie over 30 days from your invoice date). 

Not having any money in your bank account and knowing that huge brands owe you £1000s and are making excuses as to why their payments are late is very difficult to deal with. Late payment fees etc.... don't really help when you need the money there and then. There is a lot of red tape when it comes to freelancing. A lot of people who aren't in the business say you should invoice up front but for lots of reasons, this just isn't practical. 

Now I have a bit of a buffer and have joined Mediavine (more on this later) so it is not so much of an issue for me but in the past, I have been on the verge of quitting because of businesses not paying their invoices on time. 

Here is a little look at my invoice payments over the past few years - as you can see, very up and down! 




Set your own boundaries 

The nature of my business does mean that sometimes people can cross personal boundaries. For example I have been asked which school my children go to and I am often inundated with messages from people asking questions. I know this is part of the job but it is also important to set personal boundaries and either set up automated replies, point people in the direction of somebody who can help or just say no and try not to feel guilty about it. 

I also set business boundaries. One blogging network famously pays their influencers late (by months, not just days) every time and sets fees at incredibly low levels. After a few years of feeling unappreciated, I decided enough was enough and decided not to work with them again. 

Another recent example is a huge brand (we're talking a brand who make millions) asking if they could send the kids a t-shirt and for us to write about it and give them the commercial rights to any photos we take. This is a huge no from me. Nobody has the right to use images of my children for how they please, especially in return for a t-shirt. 

Setting boundaries and saying no when needed is so important. 


Getting recognised in public 

I still remember the first time we were recognised in public, it was back in 2014 when we were at Hamsterley Forest. Harry was having an absolute melt down and rolling around the floor crying and whining that he was tired. At this exact moment, someone came over to us and asked if we were North East Family Fun. It was so embarrassing! But this is real life. 

These days, it is weird but I am pretty much recognised everywhere I go. It is normal for us to be approached by other families on a day out and people are always lush when they take the time to say thanks for the ideas for days out etc...... I like it now and I am used to making small talk / love chatting about wherever we are. 

Sometimes our two lives cross over, for example our Optician recognised us when Heidi was having our eyes tested, some of the kids' teachers follow my blog and will mention it to the kids at school, some of Steve's and my mam's work colleagues follow my blog and will let them know what I am up to before they even know themselves. One of Steve's grandad's carers used to follow my blog too and would chat about us which is nice. 

It's a funny old world and at times, I have been careful about our behaviour in public as I know there are eyes on us. Quite often, rather than direct approaches,  I will receive messages from someone who as spotted us and I do think, oh no, I hope I wasn't doing something dodgy / looking my worst / in a bad mood etc....... These days, I am much more chill though and what you see is what you get. 

The kids don't really mind being recognised, they find it amusing and enjoy the perks! In fact often, they like to wind me up about it. 

Again, if you had told the shy girl from Cramlington that when she googled 'How to start a website' it would lead to her being recognised in public, I would not have believed you in a billion years. 


Honesty is the best policy 

Some people like to comment that bloggers are inauthentic and will only ever say nice things about a brand because they want to stay in their good books / please them. This may be true in some cases (I certainly don't speak for everyone) but for me, it could not be further from the truth. 

My blog is my business and an integral part of this for me is trust with my readers. Why oh why would I jeopardise this trust and the future of my business / my credibility by providing fake reviews? It just makes no sense to me. My loyalty is always to my readers first and foremost. 

That being said though, over 100,000 people read this blog every month and I do feel like I have a responsibility to provide a fair review / right to reply for a brand or business too. My one-off experience may not be typical. If somewhere we visit is terrible, I will always try and give the business in question or chance to rectify it (but I will still mention the negative aspects) or I just won't recommend a place or even mention them at all. Who wants to be responsible for a business losing customers at this point in time? Certainly not me. 

In my experience, the best businesses don't like fully positive reviews as they know this is inauthentic. A balanced review with positives and negatives will work in their favour in the long run. Most people are not going to be put off visiting somewhere with a few negatives BUT people are likely to be put off somewhere if I just write a glowing review after glowing review as they won't believe a word I say and will therefore not act on my recommendations. 

Basically, any recommendation or review you see on here is always 100% authentic. It makes sense for me, my brand, the business and the reader to do to this. 

I do not blog for freebies 

Blogging is a learning curve. I kind of cringe at some of the things I would do in return for something of very little value in the past. I have definitely learned over the years to decline most 'freebies'. It's just not my vibe at all and I would honestly just pay for something myself and feature somewhere / something without any brand involvement.

I do have exceptions to this and that is when a small business or start up offers to send me something. If they are just starting out and genuinely don't have a budget to work together and I really think my audience would be interested in their product / offering and I could generate sales / interest for them, then I may agree to some kind of gifting collaboration (eg in some of my latest giveaways). To me, this is benefitting the small business and offering them a low-cost way to market their product/ get the word out to thousands of potential customers and it makes me feel good to support a small business like this. 

One thing that does annoy me still is that some attractions still don't see value in working with bloggers / influencers. They will offer us 'free' entry to somewhere worth £20 or something and then provide a huge list of expectations, often involving us giving up the rights to photos using our children. If one of these attractions is in Newcastle, it will cost me around £14 to travel there, then say 3 hours work at the attraction (including travel) and then 3-4 hours work afterwards writing up the day out and editing photos. 

7 hours work at £8.72 per hour plus £14 travel is £75.04. If we subtract the £20 'free' entry this means I am actually paying £55.04 to advertise said attraction to my 100,000 readers. How is this fair? This is why bloggers deserve to be paid or why I just prefer to pay to visit many places myself and write up / share in my own time. 

Many local attractions are absolutely lush and do value us (you know who you are) but there are still some who are stuck in the past sadly. These attractions will say they do not have any marketing budget yet you will see billboards, bus advertisements and even TV adverts featuring them. Hmmm........


Block negativity 

Trolls and negativity do come with the territory unfortunately and I do put myself out there and my thoughts online so I get that I am open to criticism. I always welcome balanced feedback. 

However some people are particularly awful and I can feel like they are just being mean. I think quite often, when somebody writes a horrible comment, they forget that there is a real, normal human being sitting there and reading it about themselves. 

For me, I seem to attract a particular kind of person who loves to be negatively critical about my work. For some reason, my biggest trolls are dads in their 30s and 40s. Why I attract this kind of person I have no idea. It is almost like some of them cannot deal with a female being successful and having an opinion / being an expert on something and have to constantly challenge us / bring us down with snide remarks. 

Sometimes comments can be personal. I have been told I am a bad mother for taking my kids to the pub for Sunday lunch instead of cooking one at home, I have been told I am a blagger and always asking for free meals (for the record, I would not approach someone and ask them for a freebie - I just don't work like that), I have been called a snowflake parent for dressing my (redheaded) children in UV suits for the beach, I have been called lazy and selfish, that my page is terrible and they are going to unfollow (just unfollow - no need to announce it), that I am an irresponsible parent, that I am childish, that I should not be working with brand xyz......I could go on. 

Someone I even classed as a friend even had a very public go at me on my Facebook page once for daring to suggest people visit our local nature reserve. NIMBYism really does exist and sometimes, even people you class as friends can be negative and unsupportive. 

I have been upset by negative comments in the past and they have even led to me crying so now, as soon as anyone is in the slightest bit negative, I just block them and then I don't have to deal with them. I share information online to inspire people not to receive criticism. 

I also now have the mindset that the people who are making the criticisms and share negative thoughts like this with strangers online most likely have issues themselves and something I have said/done has just triggered them rather than them personally having a problem with me. 

Lovely messages and community 

Thankfully, I have met SO many lush people through blogging. There are people I chat with on Instagram day, blogging friends who are now life-long friends, people I have chatted with online and then met up with - honestly, the sense of community around blogging is just amazing. I love it. 

Thank goodness for Mediavine 

Mediavine is an advert management company. They are different from the brands I work with on sponsored posts and are responsible for placing the (maybe annoying to you) adverts in the middle of the text on here. There aren't huge numbers of bloggers on Mediavine - you do need to hit some rather strict criteria in order to join including having over 50,000 monthly page views (actually it's sessions). 

I have been with Mediavine for over a year now. I hummed and harred about it for ages. I absolutely loved the clean look of my blog and did not want to annoy my readers with adverts. I was worried if I added adverts to my website, my readers would start unfollowing. 

Then I went through a quiet patch. My income was down and Christmas was approaching. I was a little worried and even considered a small temporary part time job at one point. Some of my lovely travel blogging friends and Nyomi convinced me to bite the bullet and just apply to join Mediavine so I did. Their argument was that readers are used to seeing adverts online now and I guess this is true. 

I was accepted and I now receive a monthly payment from Mediavine which is kind of passive income for me. It is always on the same date of the month and fully automated but the amount I receive varies depending on how much advertisers are spending and how many people are reading my blog.

You earn the most through Mediavine in November and December and last year, I almost earned £1000 in December. During lockdown however, my Mediavine income went right down to as low as £20 in one month as advertisers just weren't advertising. Yikes! I would say on average, I earn between £600-£900 per month through Mediavine at the moment. I cannot believe I was so resistant to earning this in the past. 

Since joining Mediavine, my readers have actually increased. I think it is because Mediavine allows me more time and freedom to write the kinds of articles I know people will want to read. Posts like this one take days to write but I know it is the kind of content people love to read and I can put faith that I will be paid for the time it takes to write posts like this through the revenue my Mediavine adverts in the post will generate. 

Mediavine has also massively focussed me on writing more evergreen content which I know is useful and will be read over and over again. 

I am so pleased I joined Mediavine as this is the biggest reason I have much more financial stability in my work now and a lot less stress in my life over brands paying their invoices late - it doesn't matter so much now as I can always rely on my monthly Mediavine payment arriving on time regardless of any other work I complete. 

I don't love Instagram 

I might be the only blogger to say this but I just don't love Instagram and see it as a necessary evil in my line of work. I love stories and the interactions we have but I could honestly never post on my grid again and not be bothered. It feels like a chore to me. 

I sometimes get annoyed with how filtered and perfect Instagram is and struggle to fit in myself. It feels like it is SO fake at times and I just like to see real life. I know others see Instagram as a creative outlet and art form but I am not that person! 

Blogging through a pandemic 

Blogging through a pandemic has been weird. I could have stopped posting for a bit when we were staying at home but I love the connections I have built up so kind of switched to chatting / sharing our lives at home instead. 

I have been lucky in that my website has a micro niche and a lot of the content features local days out which when lockdown lifted, was exactly what people were looking for. I broke my own record of over 200,000 views in a month in July. I still can't quite believe it! Ever since then, my views have stayed the highest they have ever been so thank you so much to everyone who continues to read here. 



The amount of work I am receiving has dramatically reduced thanks to the pandemic. Understandably, businesses do not want to spend on advertising events that may not go ahead and that is where a big chunk of my revenue comes from. Also, I don't particularly feel like it is ethical for me to accept money and advertise certain events that may cost families £100+ for them to attend only for the event to not go ahead and they end up losing their money. 

For the first time since I left employment, I have been in the situation with no upcoming work in the diary. It is pretty scary, especially as October - December is usually a very busy time for me. I am ok at the moment but I think I will really feel it in January/February when we are all skint after Christmas and I have no November / December invoices being paid. I will cross that bridge when I come to it though.

Thankfully, as an established business, I have been entitled to some help from the Government during this time. 


The future of North East Family Fun 

I used to think North East Family Fun had a shelf life and once my children had grown up, that would be it. However since joining Mediavine, I do think I will keep going forever (at the moment anyway, who knows what is around the corner). 

A lot of the content I feature now is something that adults or adults and kids can enjoy and I would still love to be sharing walk ideas / exhibition visits and what's on guides even when the kids have left home. Who knows, I may even involve the grandchildren..... 

Phew! That turned into quite a long post. I hope it has given you a little bit of insight into behind the scenes at North East Family Fun. Please ask any questions you may have, I like to be an open book. 


If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, here are some ways you can say thanks and support North East Family Fun: 

1 - Click here to sign up to our FREE monthly guide to what's on. This monthly email will feature lots of ideas for things to do for the month ahead plus exclusive deals. 

2 - Join our  Days Out Facebook Group here which includes lots of ideas for things to do - you can post your own recommendations too. 


4 - Share this post with your friends 

5 - Follow North East Family Fun on the following platforms :
Thank you for your support as always. 

Please follow social distancing rules & Government guidelines , respect the local area, leave no trace, take litter home, park responsibly and if somewhere is busy on arrival, please consider leaving and returning at a later date. 

Remember face coverings are required for indoor attractions / shops for those aged 11+ (usual exemptions apply)  

Check for local lockdowns / travel restrictions before visiting anywhere. 

Always check updated opening hours / protocols with venues direct before setting off as things may have changed after this post was published. 

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5 Years as a Fully Self-Employed Blogger


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6 comments

  1. Loved reading this. You are forever an inspiration to me. And I love that I was name checked for the mediavine nudge here. I’m so happy it’s working out for you and is offering a bit of a security blanket right now. I love your blog and I love you and I’m so happy blogging made us find each other. Keep being you!

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  2. Really interesting post, really enjoyed reading it.

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  3. Well done, it sounds hard work.

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  4. I'm so surprised that you don't like Instagram, as yours is one of them that I enjoy looking at x

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  5. Congrats! You are an inspiration. What an interesting read x

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  6. Thanks for sharing, and being so open and honest. Reading your posts gave me the confidence to have a go myself, and it has been heart warming, despite ups and downs, to see your business grow from strength to strength, inspiring many others along the way.

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