With Millennials getting a pretty hard time in the press of late (cheers Simon Sinek) I’m doing a series celebrating how AWESOME they can be. Next up in the hot seat, I spoke with the amazing Lex: you may know Lex from her amazing blog Talonted Lex – and she also has a YouTube channel, as well as big followings on Instagram and Twitter.
Lex is the most incredible person. I started following her because I was sucked in by her AMAZING nails (seriously, have a stalk through her insta) – but then she opened up about more personal issues – Lex suffers from rosacea and endometriosis – and I became a lifelong fan. One of my firm beliefs about the power of social media, is that it makes us feel less alone. A huge part of that is when people open up and reveal health issues or vulnerabilities – which can be such a huge support to anyone feeling like they’re struggling alone.
All of her work is done with a dash of sunshine, style and humour. I needed to find out about her, so I bloody well did … Please welcome, Lex!
Hello! It would be great to start at the beginning – what was your first career job?
My first ‘proper grown up job’ was for a bank in Leeds. I worked in the Research team, but remember constantly pestering the PR team to try to sell them on the idea of getting the company onto social media. Back then I didn’t have a blog but was a total social media obsessive and spent a lot of time online so it’s been a long-term love affair!
How did you start using the internet to help enhance your career?
A few years ago I was working for Ipsos MORI in the qualitative research team (for those who don’t know, that meant doing focus groups, interviews etc.) which I loved. But I was always pushing them towards the growing world of online research. I became the team’s resident online guru (their words!) and found myself pitching huge brands which was scary but amazing. I think my giddy passion for online spaces helped sell them on the non-traditional methods they wouldn’t have typically considered.
My last job before I went full-time with my blog was as a social media community manager for a wonderful social media agency. I was brought on to work on a beauty brand and my entire interview hinged on my blog (and therefore love of and knowledge about beauty) and my social media use. The main part of my job was maintaining their very busy social media channels, which was crazy to me as talking about beauty on the internet is what I was doing anyway!
Amazing! So when and how did you make the decision to start blogging full time?
I didn’t actually *make* a decision to go full-time with my blog, I just made a decision to stop doing my previous job! Although working for that agency was amazingly fun and exciting, it was also enormously stressful. The wonderful thing about social media is also the worst thing: it never stops. I was working super long days, weekends, the client would contact me at home, I couldn’t sleep, my health suffered and I couldn’t carry on like that. The work was also taking me away from my blog. Firstly, I just had no time to dedicate to it, so I wasn’t happy with or proud of the content I was creating. Secondly, no one tells you that working all day doing the same thing as your hobby can actually drain all of the joy and fun from your hobby. I would finish work and the absolute last thing I wanted to do was get back online and talk about beauty! I made the decision to quit my job and thought I’d give myself a little while to fall back in love with my blog and see what happened… and I’m lucky enough to still be working that out. My lifestyle has had to adapt to make this possible and my husband Aaron has been a huge support. Blogging is a hard career and one that’s very crowded at the moment so I feel lucky and proud that brands are starting to take notice of me.
You should do! You’re doing so well! What are the pros and cons of your work situation?
The three main negatives are ones that will be familiar to anyone who works from home. Firstly, it can be very lonely: I miss having colleagues just to natter to on a day to day basis. I really struggle to motivate myself but feel so much pressure because my business is just me and no one else: I don’t have paid holidays, I don’t get sick pay (and for someone with a chronic pain condition, this is a worry), so every moment I’m not working I’m not earning and that’s pretty terrifying.
The second one is that all of my feedback is from readers and anonymous internet people – in all my previous jobs I had a manager or colleagues to say ‘good job!’ or ‘hmm that didn’t work, try this’, whereas when you work freelance in the online space, your feedback comes from people you don’t know and who don’t really know you. When those people are the faceless trolls of comment sections it can become hard to put those criticisms into perspective.
The third – and most frustrating – thing for me is the way bloggers (in particular beauty bloggers) are viewed by the general public. It’s still a very new career path and I understand that people don’t get it; my whole family are still so baffled by what I do! But people seem to think that it’s easy, frivolous and pointless which is irritating. I write my own content, I’m my own photographer, editor, videographer, PR, accountant… it’s a lot of work and I’ve taught myself everything from scratch.
And now that I’ve whinged about the cons, here are the pros. I’m my own boss – if I am not feeling what I’m doing, I can take a break. I can grab my things and go visit family up north for a week and just take my laptop and am able to work from anywhere. Although I feel pressure as the be-all-end-all for my business, it’s also freeing. There’s nothing more frustrating that working on a project and it all going tits up because of that idiot Jeff from Marketing (*names have been changed to protect idiots from Marketing…) Right now I am in total control of my life and my career. I love the creative aspect of my job, I want to not only produce content but to make it interesting, easy to process and pretty to look at. The main thing I love about my job is the impact I’ve had on complete strangers all over the world: every day I get emails and comments from people who feel less alone after finding my blog or YouTube channel. Having a skin condition can be a very isolating experience and for many, the internet is easier than going into a department store with the worst skin you’ve ever had and standing in front of a flawless 21 year old saying ‘help, I don’t know what any of this stuff is’. To many people make up is frivolous and silly, but my readers have proved to me that make up is sometimes the only thing that stands between you and living your life.
Gosh, honestly this has made me feel emotional. I TOTALLY agree. You’re post on rosacea where half your face was in make up and the other half wasn’t was SO brave and amazing. I guess where you have shown that vulnerability and openness, do you find it hard to separate the personal from the professional?
This is something I struggle with all the time and something I struggled with even before I became a blogger. I met my husband on Twitter and we were both huge social media users who often shared too much online. Our wedding had a hashtag so people who had watched our relationship develop could see pictures, which some people found odd. I expose my vulnerabilities online everyday which many wouldn’t do. When you’re a blogger, you are essentially selling yourself and your lifestyle. There are some bloggers who don’t put their face on the internet, who only talk about beauty, who think that personal opinions have no place on their blog channels but I am so over the positive-vibes-only bloggers who refuse to talk about politics, sexism, racism etc because it’s not happy or pretty. People connect to those they feel similar to – I talk about the podcasts I like, the box sets I’m addicted to, the holidays I take, because I want people to see that I’m a real person not just a robot who only talks about foundation! It can be tricky to make the distinction on what is ‘oversharing’ because I’m on social media all day every day, but I have rules about family and friends: they didn’t choose to put themselves out there for comment so I wouldn’t do that to them.
How would you describe your relationship with social media?
Mutually beneficial. My blog would not be where it is without social media and it is constant source of information and education for me. I rely on it to keep me company in my lonely freelance life on a day to day basis, and I also rely on it to educate me on what’s going on in the wider sense of the word. I’m very aware that without social media I would exist in a privileged bubble and would be a very different person, so I would defend social media to the death!
Do you have a favourite social platform?
This is so hard! The one that gives me the most joy and creative inspiration is definitely Pinterest (although Pinterest don’t describe themselves as a social media platform anymore, they’re apparently a search engine used more than Google by younger demographics!) But I have met the best people in my life on Twitter – my husband, best friends, blogger friends who keep me sane. I can’t pick, please don’t make me!
Haha okay!! So final question, if you had to give advice to someone who wanted to follow in your career footsteps, what would it be?
- Settle in for the long haul. You cannot start a blog and immediately make it a success or start monetising it. I started my blog about 6 years ago, treating it like a hobby as I didn’t even know that blogs were a ‘thing’ and that you could make money from it. It’s hard to stand out as a blogger and it’s getting harder as new blogs crop up everyday with people dreaming of being the next Zoella or Pewdiepie. You have to absolutely ADORE the topic you are writing about because in order for it to be a success it needs to take over your life. When I first started taking my blog seriously (about 3 years ago) I had a full time job and every single minute I wasn’t at work, I was blogging. I would stay in all weekend to take photos because it was the only time I’d have natural light. I would spend my evenings writing blog posts. I’d spend my lunchbreaks emailing PRs and replying to blog comments. If you don’t love it – or if you think that it’s an easy ride – you will be disappointed.
- You need to be offering something new or exciting to stand out. In blogging it’s now a given that you know what you’re talking about, that you take good photos, and that you can market yourself all day long. That’s the starting point. You need to offer something beyond that.
- Thicken up that skin. This news will shock you, but people on the internet are mean. I KNOW.
Surround yourself with supportive people. Whether that’s friends, family, partner, blogger pals. You need a network of people who – even if they don’t *get* it – will support you and look after you. Sometimes all I need is for my husband to say ‘I think you need to take a day off’.
Thanks for reading guys! To see more of me, follow me on Twitter @susieblues and on Instagram @susiebluesyy – I am extremely thirsty for followers.