TEN YEARS AGO TODAY. Where have 10 years gone…?
In celebration of Not Dressed As Lamb turning 10 (and the fact that I ALWAYS write a blogiversary post), I thought I’d write up a recap of each year of blogging. It’ll show how This Thing Called Blog progressed from a hobby that I started to pursue my creative interests (and save me from an office job which had become excruciatingly dull) to my full-time career.
Plus, happy birthday to me… next year is my 50th, who KNOWS what I’ll be writing next year on this date?!
[Reading time: 15 mins]
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10 years is a long time in terms of digital content output. Few people have been blogging that long, and even fewer have been on Instagram that long (it was launched less than a year before my blog) – or is it the other way round I wonder? I’d say that most of the blogs I followed and/or interacted with in the early days are now no longer, so for me to have lasted this long is quite an achievement.
By writing a year-by-year history you can read about all the highs and the lows and how things don’t always go to plan – and how that’s okay. 10-15 years into the evolution of blogging and I don’t think anyone could have predicted influencers, Instagram husbands or TikTok. I couldn’t have predicted the way my blog turned into a career, or any of the things I’d had the chance to do during the last 10 years.
So here’s how things started, how they’ve been going, and right at the end I’ve eluded to what’s next. Big plans are afoot.
10 Years of Not Dressed As Lamb: A History
I started the blog on my 39th birthday in 2011. I’d followed a few fashion blogs for about a year or so and thought it’d be fun to combine my love of clothes and photography (I did a photography degree and it had always gone sorely underused) just as a hobby for a year till my 40th birthday.
I’d come down the stairs a few days before I set it up and announced to Keith I was going to start a fashion blog, and he’d have to take my photos for me (I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday). I came up with a great blog name (still the same one!) and on 23 July 2011 I published my first outfit post on my Blogspot blog.
It started out as many of us did in those days: 2-3 posts a week, all showing the outfits I wore to the office and on weekends.
No Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook. Just outfit blog posts – and I loved it. In those days we were obsessed with getting people to follow us on GFC (Google Friend Connect, don’t ask), Chictopia and other style sites. Asos Fashion Finder was also a new thing and being featured on there after a few months of blogging made my day (it was they who came up with the moniker “Queen of Clash” for me).
Comments took a while to come (I was VERY hesitant to tell anyone about my blog at first) but by the end of the year I’d get at least 10-12 comments on each post.
Ahhhh, simpler times.
Six months in and I was well in the swing of the whole blog thing… I was officially a ‘Fashion Blogger’. No ‘influencer’ rubbish goings-on then. I was still publishing regularly, I was getting lots of comments, but then I got myself onto social media. I was already using Pinterest (I can remember the utter revelation that THAT was – no longer was I cutting out pictures of outfits from magazines and putting them in a scrapbook… yes I really did that) and created my @notlamb Instagram and Twitter platforms soon after. Facebook followed sometime after that, but god who really cares about Facebook =rolls eyes=
The outfit posts continued religiously – Keith and I would head out after work to shoot photos or take them at my parents’ house in the country at weekends, and our photos started really improving when we bought some fast lenses and got a little more creative than just one full-length shot. I also started to venture out into covering other topics on the blog. I started my photo tips and writing about other issues (my “musings“) like the effect of Photoshopping a 40-year-old face.
I also secured my first real collaboration; it was with Marks & Spencer, and three other bloggers and I each had to style a dress in four ways for different job interviews. It wasn’t paid (whoever heard of asking for MONEY?!), but HOLY COW I was able to choose a dress and accessories and keep them. I honestly felt like I’d made it, it was terribly exciting.
I’m convinced that it was during these crucial early years that I got noticed by many of the PR agencies and therefore got known pretty quickly (those early mentions online meant I was featured on a lot of over 40 fashion blogger lists). There were few fashion bloggers over 40, and even fewer in the UK. I was one of only a tiny handful, so it was inevitable that I got noticed by those who were on the lookout for regular women in their 40s and 50s that brands could use in their marketing campaigns.
I guess you could just call it timing and luck, but then there was a lot of perseverance and hard work on my part.
At this time I was still working in my job of 10 years in an office in sales and marketing, and it was NOT exciting. The job had become nothing like how it had started out, and I was just glad to have the blog as a creative outlet.
My 40th rolled around, and I decided to make the one-year project permanent due to the following I’d built up. I couldn’t bear the thought of not blogging anymore once my birthday rolled around, so continue it did.
And it continued, and continued, and continued.
Things changed quite a bit for me in 2013. I started going to events (rewardStyle was so new they actually approached ME to join their programme, and in those days I was considered enough of an asset to attend their events) and I was starting to get offers of things like boutique hotel stays, which was a lovely perk of the job.
I entered my first blog awards in April that year (it was a South West England/Bath thing, I didn’t win but the experience was great) and the offers of gifting were coming in so often I managed to build up a pretty impressive wardrobe in a very short space of time. It wasn’t really the thing to do to NOT accept something in those early days; it took me a while to realise that I didn’t have to say yes to everything, and that I was doing a lot of work for no reward (except having something new to wear).
The big change came when I decided to go full-time with the blog in the Summer of 2013.
I’d been unhappy in my office job for a very long time, but the final 2-3 months there were unbearable. I lost a ton of weight, and in my desperation to leave I remembered that I’d been offered voluntary redundancy a couple of years earlier. Long story short: I asked if the offer still stood, and to my surprise (and delight) it did – I left my office job in June 2013 with a decent redundancy package but no job to go to.
I took on some part-time freelance work with a friend who ran a digital creative agency, so that gave me some regular income. I had enough paid jobs through the blog (I finally summoned up the balls to charge for blog work in this year) to keep me going throughout the summer while I worked out what sort of full-time jobs to apply for. I’d assumed social media manager or blogger outreach, that sort of thing.
I was lucky enough not to have to touch my redundancy money for quite a while, and although I’d never, ever intended to become self-employed, a friend suggested it to me. I’d only ever envisioned myself as a 9-5, Monday to Friday kinda girl, so I was like, Nooooooooo… but the seed had been planted and I thought I’d give it a go for a bit. I figured I would run out of money before long and then have to get a full-time job anyway.
But thankfully the money didn’t run out, the blogging jobs kept coming in, and by the end of 2013 I was officially a Professional Fashion Blogger.
By 2014 my fashion blogging career had really started to take off. I won a modelling competition for Fever London and met the lovely What Lizzy Loves for the first time (we’d already chatted a lot online) and became firm friends (so much so I’m going to her wedding next month). This was the year that I started to attend a lot more events and turn some great online friendships into real life ones, something I’ll be forever grateful to the blog for.
I also won a competition to become a brand ambassador for La Redoute and got to go on a three-day trip to Paris with the brand. We had just the best time, and I realised by this point that I absolutely LOVED my job. There was always something different round the corner, never knowing who I was going to meet or work with, and yet I could still dictate my own hours and work-life balance at home. The photography was a part I loved. The writing was the other part I loved. I was well and truly loving the new life/career I’d carved out for myself, and all because I’d taken a chance and decided to see where life could take me.
And it was a good choice, with no regrets.
By the end of that year I’d been to Paris, I’d done my first video shoot for a makeup brand (rather nervously) and my first fashion shoot (less nervously), and I’d put myself up for nomination in my first UK Blog Awards in December of that year. Blogging jobs were coming in regularly, and although I was earning a lot less than I was in my office job (A LOT less), I was happy.
Sooooo much happened in 2015… a lot of good, but some bad as well.
I was getting trolled regularly, so learnt how to deal with that. It was water off a duck’s back eventually, but tiresome. It prompted me to start the hashtag #IWillWearWhatILike in response to trolling and being bombarded by those “10 things you shouldn’t wear after 40” lists. By then I was getting regular jobs modelling – I say modelling loosely, I think this was the year that brands really started using bloggers as regular women instead of model-models.
The most exciting thing came in April when, after having nominated myself (!) the previous year, I was shortlisted for the fashion and beauty category at the UK Blog Awards (sadly now defunct). Again, I didn’t win, BUT I wore the most beautiful vintage gown which is still brought up by people every now and then. On the night I was scouted by a talent agency who I signed with later that year, and the best part was that within a year they’d increased my rates tenfold. Hence me finding out what I was worth, and carrying that on throughout the rest of my blogging career.
Keith and I went on holiday to Santorini that year and produced some of the most stunning photos we’d ever taken.
The bad? Well, the digital marketing agency that I’d been freelancing for went under, owing me thousands. I’d stupidly continued to work for them, despite them saying “We’ll pay you next month, we promise…” for several months in a row. There’s NO WAY I’d let that happen now; I learnt my lesson the hard way.
The second bad thing was that I went on a 24-hour press trip to Paris in the November and came back with a painful leg – one that caused me not to be able to walk without a stick for about six weeks. The correct diagnosis took two years, more about that later…
The year started well for me in terms of brand campaigns – they were coming in thick and fast – and I won my first blog award (Best Fashion Blogger at the Blogger’s Lounge), of which I was SUPER proud. I was shortlisted for the second time in a row at the UK Blog Awards; again, I didn’t win (didn’t expect to at all!) but that was the year I wore my fairy princess outfit… the same tulle skirt is going to be seen next week on the blog, so keep an eye out for that.
I was, however, in a lot of pain from my leg problems. It got better, then it got bad again, then it got better again, and so on and so on. It did hinder me somewhat, but I carried on.
That same year I started to get some really great jobs like presenting a style session with the public at a new Hobbs store, attending my first Specsavers Spectacle Wearer of the Year (SWOTY) Awards and modelling for Jaeger. I also formed the Over 40 Collective with some of my best blogger friends after a blogging event brought us together IRL for the first time (also now sadly defunct, just due to personal circumstances and distance) – we may no longer be together professionally but the friendships are what’s important.
The real bummer came when the talent agency I was signed to failed to pay me for work I’d done… long story short? They, too, went under – owing me (sound familiar?) thousands. I wrote about my financial woes in a very heartfelt post; the total amount owed to me by everyone was nearly five figures. I eventually got about a third of it back, but the other two-thirds were never seen again, and I had to write them off as a financial loss.
There were some really great moments in 2016, however; it wasn’t ALL bad. I organised the 30-40+ Blogger Meet in London and although I haven’t organised another since, I might change that next year and hold another. But let’s talk 2017 first…!
I’ll always remember 2017 for two things: first, it was the year we got Riley (who adored posing in my photoshoots) and the year I won for the first time at the UK Blog Awards (after being shortlisted three years in a row)! I wore The Red Gown, felt like a million dollars, and got to celebrate my win with (almost) all my best blogging buddies. Certainly a night to remember.
We also all went together to the Chelsea Flower Show for a fashion brand campaign, got fed by the one and only Raymond Blanc and boiled our socks off in an unseasonal May heatwave.
In this year I started what turned out to be a long run of video shoots with brands, something I NEVER thought I’d be able to do in a million years. But practice sure makes perfect, and although I still get a little nervous, I know now what to expect, what is expected of me, and of course what to do and not do. In 2017 I also took myself firmly out of my comfort zone and went to Cambridge as a guest on a panel talk (which was fine once I was there!) and then to Amsterdam to talk at a retail conference.
Nerve-wracking? Absolutely. Glad I did it? 100%. It wasn’t just doing the talk I was proud of myself for, but for flying by myself for the first time ever. I find the whole airport/checking in process incredibly confusing, and I get in SUCH a panic that I’ll miss the plane because I’ve not gone to the right place at the right time. But I did something that scared me and it was yet another career moment to have ticked off my list (and admit that I was wrong to have been initially afraid to go through with it).
The financial woes of 2016 were, thankfully, well and truly behind me, and for the first time I was starting to make more money blogging than I did in my sales and marketing job. So, no regrets.
I also switched up my photography game by finally shooting in RAW.
I finished off the year with another blog award win: Most Addictive Blog at the Thirty Plus Awards. To say – at that point – that I was “a multi-award-winning fashion blogger” was something I could NEVER have dreamt of five years previous when I started my blog. By the end of the year I’d had many, many “pinch me” moments and couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunities that had already come my way and the support that I’d received from so many.
2018 started with an operation to remove a cyst in my abdomen, the cause of my chronic leg pain that had taken two years to properly diagnose (it had been pressing on a nerve that runs down your bum and the back of your leg). I got that out of the way and the leg pain finally started to go. Unfortunately I’d been offered a job in Japan (JAPAN!) modelling for a brand, but it was a couple of days after the op so I sadly couldn’t go. That was probably one of my biggest regrets in terms of jobs I missed out on. Though I did hear it poured with rain the whole time, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I moved the blog from Blogger to WordPress right at the start of the year, a move I should have made much earlier. But thank goodness I finally got round to doing it.
We also moved house that summer – to a much nicer town which we absolutely love (and where we are now) and that year was the Long Hot Summer of 2018. So all my photoshoots consisted of summer outfit after summer outfit after summer outfit.
And talking of outfit shoots (which I haven’t mentioned for a bit!), by this time the blog had evolved to be an even mixture of fashion, musings, thoughts on ageing, health and beauty, women’s issues, and so on. Looking back I’m really proud of some of the issues I’ve talked about, even if it HAS truly pissed some people off that I “haven’t stuck to fashion” =rolls eyes=
The biggest surprise of 2018 was winning at the UK Blog Awards for the second time in a row. At the time these were the biggest blog awards in the UK, and to have won the fashion category not once but twice was, well… astonishing. Later that year I signed up as the fashion judge for 2019, both to do something a bit different and to most definitely NOT be able to win a third year in a row. I didn’t want to be “that” blogger who’s constantly entering awards things: it sounds incredibly conceited to say I might have won a third year in a row but I honestly NEVER expected to win twice so who knows what might have happened.
I was also shortlisted at the Vuelio Blog Awards – I didn’t win, but then I WAS up against (literally) the top fashion bloggers in the UK. To be honest, just being on that list with those others was something to be proud of.
Overall I was really happy with the way my blogging career was turning out. Sure, I had some horribly busy, stressful periods as well as having been fleeced for thousands, but I guess those are all life lessons.
The highlight of 2019, was, without doubt, travelling to Prague and filming a TV advert for Olia hair colourant (by L’Oréal). It turned out to be the first of three collaborations with L’Oréal, two of which were TV adverts. Although it was the most amazing experience and I loved working with the brand, I was unfortunately totally exhausted, overweight and unfit.
I wrote about the imposter syndrome I felt at the time, and a few months later we sadly lost Riley. I didn’t feel like myself for a long time that year, and although the work coming in was good (and regular!), I wasn’t in a good place.
I finally started to feel better (and stronger) once I started to get fit again by going to the detox retreat towards the end of the year. When we adopted Suki the greyhound we had canine love back in our family again… it made working from home a whole lot easier again.
I enjoyed being a judge at the UK Blog Awards, something that I’d done once before (being a judge I mean, it was my first time for UKBA). At the beginning of the year I shot a video for Direct Line Insurance in my own home, talking about brands working with influencers – being on film and talking had become something I was pretty used to by that point. At the end of the year I modelled for Fantasie (lingerie, though thankfully it wasn’t a regular “in your underwear” shoot).
The difference in my confidence was all too apparent when comparing the beginning of the year to the end.
Oh, 2020… what can we say. What a shit show.
Thankfully the pandemic didn’t have too much of a major impact on our lives [Keith and I], and for that I’m forever grateful. We didn’t lose anyone, no one we knew was ill, and we didn’t catch Covid. That’s the biggest, most important thing about 2020 for us. It affected my income MASSIVELY though… my earnings plummeted. I had zero work coming in. Nothing between February and August, and even then it was only a couple of jobs from August till the end of the year.
However, the two main campaigns I did secure were both big ones: another TV advert for Olia hair colourant and a marketing campaign for Specsavers, both shot just before Christmas (more about those under “2021”). So thankfully I had some money finally coming in, but I was also lucky to get the government grants for the self-employed. Without those, we would have been in severe financial straits.
I did lose my love for blogging somewhat in 2020, and that’s hardly surprising considering everyone was feeling the stress of the pandemic. My mojo deserted me. I didn’t post anything on the blog for a long time, I posted VERY sporadically on Instagram; Facebook… well, forget it.
What I DID do, however, was indulge in self-care. I went to the detox retreat twice in 2020, got myself fit and healthy, and started to feel so much better.
But then 2021 came around.
The year started badly, as I think it did for so many.
After “sailing through” 2020 – or so I thought – it all came to a head in February, when the enormity of all the stress I was under OUTSIDE of the pandemic hit me. We were at the end of winter (and a miserable one at that), Christmas was over, and I’d let the fitness I’d worked so hard for at the end of 2020 slip big time. Being put into yet another lockdown meant it all came crashing down around me and I finally admitted my mental health was in a terrible state.
But writing about it was cathartic, I got myself back on track thanks to a lot of support and inner soul-searching and jobs starting to come in again. I’m finally posting regularly on the blog for the first time in over a year, and I’ve got a ton of ideas and content waiting to be written, photographed and published.
Both of the campaigns I shot before Christmas are popping up all over the place right now. Every day I get several messages saying I’ve been seen on TV (Olia) or spotted on a billboard or bus stop (Specsavers). I think after winning at the UK Blog Awards twice, these two might be my proudest moments. If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d be on a billboard or in a TV advert, I’d have spat my tea out.
When the blog was just a few months old I was shooting some outfit photos at a family gathering, and my cousin asked me what the photos were for.
After explaining what a fashion blog was, she asked, “So what happens with this blog then? Do you make money from it?” – my response was an unclear, “Er, I don’t really know, I haven’t thought that far. I doubt it.”
I’m glad that I can look back on that conversation 10 years later and think, “If only I knew then what I know now…”
✷ ✷ ✷ ✷ ✷
What’s next – a new collaboration
Here I am, 10 years on, having turned my hobby into a career and still loving it. I’ve had a few lows, but LOTS of highs. I enjoy the freedom being self-employed gives me, I can work whatever hours I choose, I regularly get to meet and work with new people and do something different and unexpected in new and interesting locations.
So what’s next?
This is something I’m REALLY excited about. For a while I’d lost my mojo in terms of shooting outfits, and as it was the thing that started my love of blogging I was itching to get back to doing it. Unfortunately the pressure of it was eating into our weekends (I always felt guilty asking Keith to dedicate a chunk of weekend taking my outfit shots, and it became a chore in the end, especially when the weather didn’t play ball and we had other things to get on with).
So last year I worked out a way to take my own photos with a tripod, and I felt a little more in control again, and I wasn’t bothering Keith or spending our weekends “working”. However, I couldn’t stray far from home with a large tripod and no car, and photos in the driveway get a little staid after a while.
Then earlier this year, I was chatting to a very old and dear friend from my art college days who had lost his own mojo in terms of doing the photography we’d both studied. We were discussing how life had changed for both of us in so many ways, and I was saddened to find out that he’d practically hung up his camera for good. His photography was GOOD. I mean really, REALLY good. He’d worked far further down the road of fashion/portrait/event photographer than I ever had, so he knew a lot more about being an actual professional photographer than me.
Light bulb moment: I’m always needing photos, he needs to get back into photography – it was a no brainer. We made a date to meet up and shot some outfit photos together.
We’ve done two shoots together so far, and we’re planning to do more. What we want to do is to produce some fantastic fashion shots JUST FOR THE SHEER SAKE OF BEING CREATIVE. I have a ton of clothes, shoes and accessories, I’m always wanting to play dress up, and he knows what he’s doing behind the camera and needs new images for his website to relaunch his professional photography career.
I’ll introduce my freelance photographer Instagram husband next week with the first shoot we did together. But in the meantime, here’s a little sneak peek (GAHHHH I’m loving this shot)!
I hope you enjoyed the look back on my 10 years. It’ll be interesting to see where the blog – and life – has taken me in another 10 years’ time…!
How long have you been following along here, and have I jogged your memory with any of the things I’ve mentioned? Has anything really surprised you about my blogging journey? Let me know in the comments…
Stay safe XOXO
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