Olyvia Works: An Interview with Kirsten Thompson of Sweet Tea And Saving Grace
Every time I see Kirsten Thompson of Sweet Tea And Saving Grace pop up in my email or on my social media accounts, I am left in the best. mood. ever.
Her combination of southern charm, humility, and plain ole hard work is seriously irresistible!
And that’s why it was a no-brainer that I had to feature her on Olyvia Works. 🙂
Kirsten holds down a full-time job while also working as a Virtual Assistant, running her successful blog, and being wife + mom. (You’re already in awe of her, aren’t you? I know I am!) In today’s interview she shares:
- Why she walked away from her blog for 6 months
- What it was like to completely rebrand + tips to make it easier
- How to avoid (or bounce back from) burnout
- Tips on monetizing your blog
- Her best blog organization strategy
- 3 must-have blog + biz tools
Her stuff is GOOD, so I’m going to stop talking and let her take it away!
1. Kirsten, share with us the story of your blog, Sweet Tea And Saving Grace: how did you first get into blogging and how has your content evolved over the years?
Sweet Tea & Saving Grace is a rebirth, a more finely tuned brand that evolved after a lot of trial and error and patience. I started blogging in 2010 under the blog name “One Tough Mother”, and after a couple years, finally started to see real growth and engagement. I was regularly sharing craft projects, home decor, and organization ideas.
Honestly, I was doing everything that I saw the “big” bloggers doing, just trying to get myself to some inflated idea of success, and eventually I faced severe burnout. I hit a proverbial wall, and, at the urging of my heart, I walked away in December 2013. I was going through the motions, but I felt like I wasn’t being genuine.
After six months of downtime, I finally felt like I was ready to jump back in, but on my own terms. Sweet Tea & Saving Grace is like coming home, a breath of fresh air…it’s me. I share whatever is on my heart, whatever is in my home, and I do it in the most genuine and authentic way I know how.
I still share craft projects, home decor, and organization ideas, because those are things I love, but I’m also more open about my faith and my family, and love to share the occasional blogging tutorial. It’s real life, it’s honest, it’s where I can say “y’all” a lot and call people “honey” and “sugar”…because that’s me, authentically Southern.
2. You did a full rebrand of your blog this spring. (With a new name and all!) What was the most challenging part of that process, and what do you recommend to other bloggers who may be considering a rebrand?
For anyone on the fence about rebranding, I’ll be the first to tell you to just do it! A blog is meant to be a genuine reflection of the blogger, so if you are in a season of life in which your blog no longer reflects that, it’s time for a fresh start.
I think a lot of people are afraid of losing followers on all of their social media platforms, but if you take your time, and keep your readers informed of the pending changes, you shouldn’t have any issues. All of your social media networks can be rebranded without losing a single follower (yes, even Facebook!).
The most challenging part is the technical side of the rebrand – changing your domain, doing a URL redirect on your hosting site, etc. If you are not comfortable getting your hands dirty on the back office side of your blog, hire someone to help you. Also, reach out to your hosting provider. I handled my rebrand myself, and at one point managed to lock myself out of my WordPress site completely. They were easily able to get me back in and correct my error.
(By the way, I wrote a lengthy blog post about the how & why of my rebrand that you can read HERE.)
3. Recently you began freelancing as a Virtual Assistant — while holding down another job at a company for which you’ve worked nearly 10 years! Tell us more about why you decided to start going into business for yourself and where you see yourself long-term.
My full-time job is a necessity for financial reasons, but it’s not my passion. I love to create, engage, and help others do the same, which is why I love blogging.
The virtual assistance piece is another way for me to share my passion for all things blog-related, and to connect with other bloggers. I have been blogging for almost 5 years, and most of what I’ve learned has been self-taught. I thought that, by offering my services as a Virtual Assistant for bloggers, I could put some of that acquired knowledge to work.
My ultimate goal is to be a full-time blogger and virtual assistant by December 2016. I have plans to create e-courses, and possibly an e-book or two, to further share what I’ve learned. It’s exciting to have these opportunities at my fingertips!
4. On top of everything else you do, you’re also a wife and mom! How do you avoid burnout? (Or, perhaps more realistically, how do you bounce back from it?)
Did I mention my six-month hiatus at the beginning of 2014? 😉 Burnout is real, and I think women tend to feel the pressures of trying to do it all, and be everything to everyone. We feel guilty if we have to say “no”.
My time off from blogging was honestly the best thing I could have done for myself. I spent a lot of that time soul-searching, and I realized that I don’t have to say “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself. A “no” from me didn’t make the world come to an end! (Shocking, right?!!)
It’s important to know your own limits. You are the only person who knows how much you can juggle at one time, so don’t beat yourself up if you have reached that limit and you simply can’t handle anything else. Schedule in some quality family time, and, perhaps equally important, some “me” time.
Create goals, and hold yourself accountable. Check in on those goals regularly to make sure that what you are working so hard on is in line with where you want to go in the future. If it isn’t, you might need to take a step back and reassess.
5. You’ve worked with big names such as Disney, Kraft, Sharpie, Cool Whip, and others. What practical tips do you have for bloggers who want to attract brands and begin monetizing their blog?
The short answer: Take your time, generate great content, and be authentic.
The longer answer: Monetizing doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and still don’t make a full-time income from my blog. However, the opportunities to make money blogging are definitely out there. While I have a love/hate relationship with sponsored posts, if that’s an income stream you would like to pursue, I would recommend posting faux-sponsored posts.
What I mean by that is, write really amazing, high quality blog posts with excellent photography about products or services you already know and love. When you share them on social media, be sure to tag the brand. They’ll start to take notice.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to a company you’d love to work with, just because you don’t think you measure up to their standards. A well-written pitch to a brand or company, complete with your current stats (regardless of how big or small they may be), an itemized list of what they will receive by working with you, and a clear request for a specific product, service, or fee, can go a long way to getting your foot in the door. Just be sure to follow-through on your promises, then go above and beyond to really knock their socks off.
Connect with blog networks and other bloggers, too. Bloggers like to help other bloggers, and can be a great resource for sharing leads and contacts with companies they have partnered with themselves.
By all means, stay authentic throughout the process of monetizing. If you wouldn’t typically write a post on XYZ brand’s product, don’t write it just because there’s money involved.
6. You run a super orderly and well-planned blog. 😉 Share with us your process of creating an editorial calendar, how you think of blog topics, how far out in advance you schedule posts, etc!
I think I inherited the organizational gene from my mom, and I’ve had an obsession with office supplies since I was a kid. I use both a paper planner and an online planner to keep my blog and VA business organized.
I took Blog Clarity’s Content Brew e-course several months ago and loved the spreadsheet style of editorial calendar we used in the class. I’ve tweaked it a bit to gear it more towards my own needs, but it’s amazing. I color-code each category of blog post so I can see at-a-glance if I need to rearrange my calendar, or add a post if I haven’t shared in a specific category recently. I also add links to any sign-up forms that may be associated with a post, such as blog hops and giveaways, and I add notes about sponsored posts.
The majority of my content is based on whatever is going on around me – if we are redecorating a space in our home, I blog about it. If there’s something on my heart that I feel the urge to share, I blog about it. Typically my posts are scheduled at least two weeks in advance, but the planner in me has already started working on content for 2015. (I couldn’t resist!)
7. What are your three “must-have” tools that you use to help you with your blogging and/or virtual assistance work?
I’d like to say “a big mason jar full of sweet iced tea”…because it’s the sweet nectar of life, the golden goodness that makes my little heart happy. 🙂 But, more in line with actual tools, here are my top three, in no particular order:
Google Drive – I create dozens of spreadsheets for various blog tasks, like a detailed editorial calendar, sign-up sheets for blog hops, curated collections for future round-ups, etc. I also use this for my VA services to log my time and keep notes about each client in their individual folders.
Picmonkey – My go-to photo-editing program! I use the paid service, and have for years. All of my photos are edited using Picmonkey, and I also use it to create all of my graphics, from watermarks to banners, to blog buttons and logos, and everything in between.
My Erin Condren Life Planner – everything goes in there. With three blocks per day, I can keep my personal responsibilities separate from my blog tasks and VA tasks. I use brightly colored Sharpie pens and colorful Post-it tabs to further organize my brain. Without it, I’d be a big ol’ jumbled mess, y’all!
And if your blogging sanity could benefit from a right-hand woman, check out her Virtual Assistance page and learn about all the tasks (from BIG to small) she does for bloggers.
What was your biggest takeaway from Kirsten’s interview? Can you relate to any of her experiences? Share with us below!
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