By Tony Allen
This is the first in a series of interviews with some of our favourite bloggers. Stay tuned for more.
Joanna is a travel blogger based in North Carolina, USA, who regularly updates her followers on her globetrotting adventures through her blog Charlotte Fox, sittingprettyinthequeencity.com. She is particularly interested in giving practical advice to travellers which sits well alongside her more descriptive posts detailing where she’s been. Joanna recently graduated from her local university with a degree in Economics (above).
She told us all about the highlights of her blogging career so far and dispensed some useful advice for those starting out.
Briefly describe your blog:
My blog consists of mainly travel posts sprinkled in with beauty, lifestyle, fashion, and wellness. I also share any tips or tricks I learn along the way if I feel it will be relevant and helpful to others.
Can you give us a brief personal background and talk about your hobbies/interests?
I was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina and have an Economics degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My biggest hobby would absolutely have to be travel! I also enjoy being outside whenever I can, a good book, and snuggling with my Bengal cat, Raja, the most lovable troublemaker I ever met. I’m always down for an adventure. I still tag along and annoy my big brother who I’ve always looked up to and my little sister is the complete opposite of me and she’s so much fun. I don’t like sweet wine or small talk. I love in depth conversations and being places I’ve never been before. I try to leave a little sparkle everywhere I go.
When, where and why did you start blogging?
I was always thinking about blogging. When I launched my blog a friend I’d known for ages actually said, “You mentioned when I met you seven years ago you wanted to blog! I’m so proud you’re actually doing it!” And honestly I wish I started blogging sooner. I think the unknown held me back a bit, not knowing where to start and I was worried people may think I was being narcissistic.
I had the pleasure of living with a girl who became a best friend to me and she really unrelentingly encouraged me to start a blog, then helped me come up with the name and would even help me take all the photos! When I first started we would go on our back porch and I would have her stand on a chair (I’m pretty tall and she is petite) and she would take pictures of me on a cell phone (before I bought my Canon Rebel camera). Without her encouragement, I’d like to think I would have started the blog but I really can’t say for sure. Her confidence in me was so impactful. So the blog essentially started on my back porch with her balancing on a chair.
I created a blog because I wanted to inspire others. I enjoy the beauty and style posts but the travel posts will always be my favourite because I’ve had a few readers actually go visit places after I’ve written about my experiences which is the biggest reward to me [like these bloggers who also visited Santorini after reading a post by Joanna about the Greek island]. I love connecting with others and really enjoy photography, writing, even the editing process so blogging has been a dream.
Has your blog led to any exciting opportunities for you?
One of the coolest experiences was when I was laying on the beach in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast [in Italy] sipping on a spritz and a woman, Maria, came over and told my friend in Italian that she read my blog and follows me on Instagram! She is a luxury beachwear designer and with my friend translating for us, we agreed that I would do a photoshoot featuring her designs. I woke up so early and rode on the back of a moped down the mountain (with my freshly done hair getting smushed by my helmet). We started shooting at 7 in the morning and I loved spending time with the kindest people. I’ve had a few similar occurrences where a restaurant in Italy asked for me to mention them on the blog in lieu of payment, things like that.
One really exciting opportunity was when a hotel in South Africa asked me to come stay and feature them. If I wasn’t in school [university] at the time, I would have jumped at the chance. Now that I’ve recently graduated, I look forward to saying yes to many more opportunities.
What would be your dream post, if you haven’t done it already?
Santorini was my dream post. But I am always dreaming about the next thing and how I can top it. I have tons of photographs saved that have inspired me in some way and there are so many places I can’t wait to go and post about. Croatia is next for me and I’ve wanted to go there for years!
What blogging tips or advice would you give to yourself when you were starting out?
Go for it!!! I was so concerned with negative feedback but I haven’t directly received any negative feedback whatsoever. I know my blog is not for everyone and that’s okay. The more you grow, the less you care what people think and if you’re putting energy into something that makes you happy, makes you feel like you’re thriving and creating something good – then that’s all that matters! I thought for sure I’d receive negative comments along the way or people would make fun of me – after all it’s kind of a vulnerable thing putting yourself out there like that – but I SO wish I could tell myself to start sooner than I did.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write but doesn’t know where to start?
Write about what you know. It is so easy to write about something you know in and out. I think you can always tell when someone is rattling off a generic post just to fill content or reach a word count and you can also tell when the writer is passionate and excitedly typing away. A lot of really successful bloggers will tell you to always post content no matter what. I am still learning but for me, I don’t feel like I’m being my most genuine self if I’m only filling up space just to put something out there. I choose quality over quantity every time. I’d rather not have a “blah” post. I have countless drafts saved that never quite made the cut. So write about what you know, and what excites you and the readers will come. They may come slowly but it’s about finding the right audience for your writing style.
Another tip would be when you do start to get a following, don’t start to endorse every sponsored post that comes your way. It’s so exciting when companies first start taking an interest in you! But if a lawn mower company came to me and had a great lawn mower and wanted me to promote it I would have to say no. Maybe it’s a great product but does it make sense? Stick to what you know and what makes sense for you and the brand you’re building. You also don’t want to over-saturate your readers with sponsored posts so be very selective when saying yes. It’s good to be picky and you’ll know when it feels right.
What methods do you use to expand your readership?
I have had many, many offers to boost my engagement, likes, followers, you name it – for a price. I would rather have no followers than pay for fake ones. I know the trend is to buy followers but it’s not for me. (no offence intended if anyone does – I have a few friends who have gained followers through these methods and it’s worked for them).
I really just try to interact with readers/followers. That’s my #1 tip. They want to know where my shirt is from? I will respond and provide a link. It’s simple things like that I believe make a difference. And I’m so thrilled when they reach out or ask questions and happy to answer them. I also gain readership by reading what others write and liking and commenting on it. It’s a great way to make friends in the writer’s community and there’s really no competition because everybody is so different.
Time management is a challenge for many bloggers: how do you keep yourself disciplined and organised?
I am still working on this! I shoot content when I’m feeling inspired and am normally so excited to post afterwards that I will put it up within 24 hours but finding the time to actually take pictures can be tricky. When I get an idea for a post I’ll make a note in my phone so I don’t forget about it and that is about the extent of my organization! Ha!
What has been your most popular post to date? Did you expect it to be the most popular?
Joanna explained that the post with the most views, over 1,300, is one detailing the money-saving tips and tricks she uses to afford to travel with two posts being the most popular in terms of audience interaction, a post about that Amalfi coast trip and one about a break in Paris last Spring. She joked that a post advising about Brazilian waxes was also very popular: “you have to mix it up!”
I never expected any posts to be very popular so it’s such a pleasant surprise when I see they are getting a lot of engagement! It’s definitely not something I think about when I’m shooting, writing, or posting. I do think about what is geared towards my audience and what posts they respond well to – but not in a way where I have specific goals with each post’s traffic. If my audience likes travel posts, or how to afford travel, or what to pack, I pay attention, listen and will try to do more posts like that.
Joanna enjoying the sun on the Italian coast in one of her most popular posts.
How do you get such good quality pictures of yourself? Any tips?
Invest in a good camera. I got my Canon Rebel Ti 5 off Groupon for about $500. To me that was a ton of money at the time and something I really thought about before I purchased it but it has made all the difference.
I get asked a lot who my photographer is and I laugh because I have had such a broad range of friends and strangers with no photography experience who I just direct and they can capture the best pictures! Whether it’s my roommate teetering on a chair as I direct her where the good lighting is or a stranger taking my picture in front of the Eiffel tower who doesn’t even speak English – it can be done! A lot of this is practice – I’ve taken enough pictures to know what angles are most flattering so my goal is to ask someone to maybe take five pictures and I’ll shift my pose slightly for each one. If you’re really laughing those are always the best pictures to me and normally I am! When I travel solo I’ll do a little charade motion for taking pictures (if they don’t speak English) and offer to take one of them and then ask if they’ll return the favour. Most couples or families are happy for the chance to get a shot together (not on a selfie stick!) and they trust you with their camera because I trust them with mine.
I’m impressed with how you blend practical travel posts with typical ‘I went to this place and here it is’ posts. Do you feel you have a responsibility to give advice as well as just share your experiences?
I definitely don’t want to publish a post where I know someone could go on Google and type in the place and come away with the exact same images and no new information. I want to make it my own – and I want to add something to it that’s helpful and hopefully a little insightful and gives that post value. It goes along with wanting to inspire and help others, I can’t imagine writing this blog without adding that in.
Obviously it’s something to do with your home city, but how did you decide on the name Charlotte Fox for your blog?
It started as an inside joke – my friend calling me that one day. And it was kind of cheeky so we decided that should be the name and then I started getting comments and e-mails addressed to “Charlotte” which we would laugh about and I would go along with. But I’ve also always been a pretty private person. Most well-known bloggers have their full name front and centre and it appealed to me to have a certain level of anonymity – at least in the beginning – I didn’t want to expose myself on that level and wanted to maintain a certain level of privacy and mystery. I’m not that opposed to it though so maybe in the future that will change…
We think that’s some very useful advice about how you can improve your blog and its reach by making your posts personal and interacting with readers. We hope Joanna’s photography tips and blogging advice inspires you to get your work out there! Don’t forget the value of supporting your friends either, just like Joanna and her roommate, as cooperation and sharing is what blogging is all about. Stay tuned for our next instalment of “a blog for your thoughts” – our new series of interviews with some of our favourite bloggers.