Many local mom bloggers are not only gaining followers in a national climate of declining readership, but are actually still able to make a living and support their families through blogging.
When Southeast Portland resident and mom Alicia Paulson started her blog Posie Gets Cozy, an illustrated paean to crafting and wholesome living, there was no Instagram.
There was no Pinterest or Snapchat, and even Facebook was still in its infancy.
It was 2005: iPhones were still a few years away, and laptops were the exception; almost everyone viewed online content on bulky desktop computers, and it seemed like almost everyone was starting a blog.
Back in those early aughts, sites like Angelfire, Blogspot and Blogger — for better or for worse — allowed anyone with an Internet connection to set up a platform for sharing musings, rants and family news in a matter of minutes. People spent countless hours both reading and writing blogs, and some even built their careers on it. (Heather Armstrong, the original “mommy blogger” success story, began Dooce.com in 2001 and eventually turned it into a nationally known media empire before semi-retiring in 2015.)
These days, things have changed.
Desktop computers gave way to laptops, which gave way to smartphones. Longform essays and novellas are now expressed in Instagram captions and on Twitter, and for the first time since the inception of the Internet, it seems as if fewer people are reading blogs.* International media news site Mashable sounded the alarm back in 2015 with an article titled Requiem for Blogging: “Personal blogging for a mass audience has pretty much gone the way of the dodo,” the author wrote. “These days, if you have something to say and it won’t fit in a single tweet, you have so many more compelling options than blogging.”
Here in the Portland metro area, however, considered by many the world capital of DIY, blogs are still very much alive and well. “Mommy blogs” in particular — a once-ridiculed genre stereotyped for overshares about diapers and placenta pills — are just as popular as ever, offering everything from healthy recipes to instructions on how to construct your own Rejuvenation-style light fixtures. Many of these local mom bloggers are not only gaining followers in a national climate of declining readership, but are actually still able to make a living and support their families through blogging.
Some, like Paulson, use blogging as an extension of a larger lifestyle brand, making a living by selling associated products. (In Paulson’s case, irresistibly charming cross-stitch patterns and sewing kits, along with two associated, professionally published books.) Others do it by leveraging their readership to promote partner brands.
Amanda Garvin, an Aloha mother of two, started her blog Burlap and Babies in 2013, which eventually evolved to A Crafted Passion, focusing on Pinterest-worthy DIY crafts, upcycled furniture and instructional e-books for sale. (The 50-page “Ultimate DIY Party-Planning Tool,” for example, runs $24.)
Unlike many other monetarily successful bloggers, Garvin didn’t have a decade to spend building a readership. She treated it like a business from the beginning, she says, taking multiple blogging courses, attending conferences, and reaching out to brands on her own. She has an elaborate editorial calendar planned out months in advance, setting up auto-posts when she knows she’s going to be away in order to maintain consistency. She also reaches out to brands herself on Twitter, and given her more than 6,500 followers on Pinterest, they often respond. (“I just had a phone call with Orchard Supply Hardware, and they’re partnering to do my daughter’s bedroom makeover,” she admitted the day we spoke with her.)
Not yet in existence in the days of early blogging, Pinterest began in 2010 as a visual bookmarking site and has since become what’s arguably the largest online clearinghouse of craft ideas in the world. Unlike other social-media sites like Instagram and Twitter, Pinterest has been able to maintain a symbiotic relationship with longform blogging. In fact, many blogs, especially ones with a visual-arts component like crafting, sewing and home design, find that most — if not all — of their traffic are referrals from Pinterest.
Take Marlynn Schotland, for example. The suburban mother of two has been running what is now Urban Bliss Life since 2004. It began as Maternity to Madness (“mostly personal posts, mostly involving my experiences with being a working mom,” Schotland said), and has since become a veritable panoply of recipes, travel photos, sponsored crafts, product reviews, and even an associated media company offering everything from graphic design services to coaching and social media strategy workshops. (A former broadcast journalist and PR director, Schotland is no stranger to both writing and multitasking.)
Like Garvin, Schotland blogs religiously on a schedule and cites Pinterest as her now-No.1 source of traffic. With more than 9,300 Pinterest followers and 13 years of loyal readers, she’s had no problem attracting the eye of big-name sponsors like CVS and Jet.com.
“I make a decent five-figure income off the blog, which would be enough for most to consider a full-time income,” Schotland explains. Her Pinterest presence features hundreds of pins in dozens of categories, often prominently incorporating products like Target-brand placemats or Starbucks mugs.
“My blogging income comes almost entirely from sponsored partnerships,” she says, “and a teeny-tiny bit through ads.” To that end, sponsorship rates on Urban Bliss Life range from $350 for a simple blog post up to $700 for a YouTube video showing Schotland, every bit the polished former broadcast journalist, demonstrating the product in question. (Recent videos have included an OXO corn stripper and a vacation-rental travel tip involving laundry, sponsored by Wydham National Resorts.)
Schotland is hardly alone in her embrace of the sponsored post. Even a quick jaunt through Pinterest under an ostensibly generic search like “kids’ birthday party” turns up blog pages flacking sponsors like Orville Redenbacher, Hershey and Oriental Trading Company.
Is it even possible, then, to run a financially successful blog these days without product placement, sponsorships, e-books, and punishingly tight editorial calendars?
One need only look as far as Paulson’s Posie Gets Cozy for the answer. Featuring intimate photographs of her family, food and circa-1927 home (once featured on home-design site Apartment Therapy for its “romantic” and “old-fashioned” vibe), Posie Gets Cozy has no sponsored posts (“I don’t accept free products,” Paulson insists) or Pinterest pins. Just the photos and personal, diary-type entries about Paulson’s life, which she posts a few times a month — same as it was when the blog began in 2005. However, the homespun, vividly quaint world she presents through her photographs and writing is so compelling that people clamor for a part of it. So much so that Paulson gained two book deals from Crown Publishing in 2008 and in 2010 — one showcases embroidery patterns featured on the site, the other keepsake sewing projects.
In fact, the only hint of any form of monetization on the blog itself is a tiny “visit my web shop” link at the top right-hand corner of the Posie Gets Cozy home page. It leads to an online store selling cross-stitch and sewing kits to make many of the items shown in Paulson’s home — crocheted animals, whimsical samplers, felt ornaments and even supplies like yarn packs and heart-shaped scissors. It’s wildly successful (Paulson has sold more than 5,000 of the stuffed animal kits alone, she says), and Paulson designs, constructs and packages all of the kits herself. “I source all the materials, cut all the fabric here [at my house] or at a factory down the street, pull all the embroidery floss … I have to do it. We live on this money for sure,” Paulson says. (Her husband is a nurse.)
Technology is a cruel mistress, and as such it’s impossible to forecast what the future will be like for blogs, or mobile devices or even the Internet itself. However, there’s little doubt that regardless of what those changes may be, the Portland mom-blog community will still be around, finding a way to share their writing, passion and creativity with the world.
“[Blogging] hasn’t changed much over the years,” maintains Paulson. “But for me it will always be more appealing as a format than any of the more faster-moving platforms.”