Monday 19 February 2018

Nuala Gorham: You can't buy dinner with a free jacket of pay a bill. To survive in this blogging business you have to be monetising it

Nuala Gorham (27) is a fashion and travel blogger and digital influencer. She started her fashion blog 'Penny and Polaroids' as a hobby after she finished her university degree, and now she earns her living from it. She lives in Connemara, Co Galway, with her family

Digital influencer Nuala Gorham
Digital influencer Nuala Gorham

Ciara Dwyer

I normally get up at 7am. The first thing I do is check the phone because I do so much of my work on it. Then, by 7.30am, I'm sitting at my laptop with a mug of coffee, checking emails and going through my diary. I'll have breakfast later on in the morning. I live with my parents in Connemara, and I have a room converted into a little office. I'm a blogger, but nowadays, the term blogger seems to be progressing towards digital influencer.

Back in September 2012, I started writing a fashion blog called Penny and Polaroids. It was more like a website. I had just finished an arts degree - English and psychology - and having spent those years in academia, I wanted to do something creative. I was always interested in fashion, and I had started doing modelling two weeks before my Leaving Cert. I did it on and off through college. It was handy, and I liked it.

Then I got into reading fashion blogs, and soon I was obsessed by them. These bloggers would take photos of their outfits every day and they would share links to where you could buy the clothes. So I decided to do the same.

In the beginning, I didn't have the confidence to do it. Because I'm from a small town, I was worried what people would think. I didn't want them to think that I was just putting up pictures of myself. To this day, people still don't really understand it.

Basically, I style an outfit, take photos of it and put links on the website to the shops where I bought it, so my readers can buy the same outfit. Also, I might suggest which sandals or accessories would work best for the look. For years, people have been stopping me on the street, asking me where I got my clothes. So now, when readers log on to my site, I tell them where I bought my dress, or perhaps a cheaper version of it, and then they can buy it for themselves. They use my website as inspiration to style their outfits.

When I started doing this, I was paying for everything myself. I love shopping for clothes anyway, so it was a great excuse for me to do more shopping. Also, I already had so many clothes, so I would put some outfits together, put them on, get my photo taken and post the photo on the website. My boyfriend was always the one taking the photos. I'd make sure that my hair was done and I'd put on some make-up. I'm the worst for throwing on a pair of sunglasses, because if it's sunny, I might be squinting in the photo.

I did this for a few months, and it was just a hobby showing my personal style. Then I started to get quite a bit of recognition. A few magazines in Ireland and the UK started to use my photos. Then brands got in touch with me. They would send me some of their clothes and if I liked some of them, I would feature them on my site. But if I didn't write anything about some of the pieces, they wouldn't follow up on that.

I only say good things on my site. But the thing is - you can't buy dinner with a free jacket, and you can't pay bills with something that is free. So, if you're going to survive in this business, you have to be monetising it. Gradually I started to monetise my social-media channels. I collaborated with brands and I charge a sponsorship fee. My blog was part-time for almost three years, and now I make a full income from it. I'm very ambitious.

My website is like a magazine in that you can flick through the pages, and some of those would be ads, but not all of them are sponsored. I only work with brands that I genuinely love and the quality has to be up to standard.

The amount of money you get from a brand would depend on your reach - the number of followers you have on your social-media channels, such as the blog, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. I have 20.5k followers on Instagram and close to 10k on Facebook. It all adds up. I prefer to work with less and charge more because I feel that if you work with a lot of brands, you spread yourself a little too thin. I don't want to dilute my opinion.

I have launched a travel section on my website. I write travel pieces and also, I'll take photos of the places I've stayed in and the outfits I've worn while away. Sometimes I will pay for these trips, but a lot of the time, I'm invited. But there is no point in inviting me on my own, or giving me a full itinerary. I need someone to take my photos - obviously I need to be in the photo - and it takes time to do that. My boyfriend is a teacher, so during his holidays, he comes on these trips and takes the photos.

Blogging is all very new. When I met with my accountants, to register as being self-employed, they thought it was really interesting, but they weren't sure about the rules. They wanted to know if I could claim clothes as an expense.

My photos have been picked up by Grazia India and Vogue Australia. They didn't pay me for the photos, but it's all publicity, which then helps with the brands. It shows you that you can do this from anywhere. Here I am in Connemara, and my photos have travelled all over the world.

The days that I am quietest on social media are usually my busiest days. I might be editing, doing bookkeeping, or up in Dublin at press events. I always get the bus so I can work on the laptop. Other days I could be at home, organising photos for the blog. The photos look so glamorous, but I would be the first to admit that there is a lot of work and time behind them. I always have a tan on, and there are so many filters used. It might take 100 photos before we get the perfect one.

When I come back from a trip, I have deadlines, so I could be at the laptop doing 12-hour days at the weekends. I go to bed around 11pm. I enjoy what I'm doing, but I find it hard to switch off. I'm self-employed, so it's up to me to get the work. But I love it. It's so diverse and exciting. You never know what email is coming in next.


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