Ethical Unicorn is a blog about sustainable living, social justice and whole range of other topics. Francesca covers a lot in this interview, including productivity, monetizing your blog effectively and importance of finding other bloggers to surround yourself with.
Revenue of $1,000/mo
Email list size of 50
Founded in 2016
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
My name is Francesca Willow; I run the blog Ethical Unicorn where I write about sustainable living and social justice. I cover a whole range of topics, from ethical fashion to cultural debate, with the aim of providing as many resources as I can for a variety people.
It means I have quite a diverse readership, as people come to my blog for differing reasons, which I really love. I think ethical living has to be a mix of consumer choice, collective action, and policy change, so I try to write about all those things in different ways.
The time period from having the initial blog idea to launching was about five days, so I jumped in with no plan or goal of making a business, just a lot of passion.
However I was actually able to start earning money from about six months in and now, less than two years since I started, I make most of my income from my blog.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
Most people come into my field from a fashion background, but I actually come from a base of art and critical theory. I trained in contemporary dance, and still work as a performer, before doing a masters degree in Theatre and Performance Studies.
It’s a course many people haven’t heard of, but it’s essentially an interdisciplinary field that looks at society, culture and performance. I was particularly interested in the anthropological side of what we learned, which led to a strong interest in social justice.
While a lot of this interest was the foundation for the art I was doing, I also really longed to create something that was more practical. Art is an amazing tool for conversation, but I wanted to be able to go one step further and give people more tangible, understandable actions too.
I was living a fairly sustainable life already, and in 2016 I had both friends who got into zero-waste living and a friend working in PR who represented ethical brands, so I became more involved with these worlds. I felt like all these conversations were linked but I couldn’t find the blog that was covering them in one place, so I decided to be that blog! I came in with much more understanding of systemic issues in society, and have learned more of the nuances of how we understand ethical and sustainable production along the way.
I started the blog completely as a hobby. I’d gone straight from my undergraduate degree, to my masters, to my first tour, so was very new to the ‘real world’, and I was working in operations whilst figuring out where I wanted my life to go. My job was a busy one, but I was so passionate about what I was writing that I made the time to post three times a week and keep up social media.
I can’t explain it, but drive just took over! I was completely taken by surprise when the first company reached out to collaborate with me, and I had to figure out how to really be a working blogger. I left that job a few months later and went freelance, mixing performing work and blogging, and I’ve never looked back since.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
I think my model probably looks different to other types of blogging, as I really don’t rely on affiliate linking much at all. Most of my income comes from sponsored content, but I think that makes more sense with the type of world I’m part of. I don’t want to promote overconsumption, so it’s more understandable that I’d do more work directly with brands to share their stories rather than encourage constant buying of new things.
At the same time, I do know that my recommendations carry a fair bit of weight. In general influencer marketing is more trusted than traditional advertising, but because we’re talking about ethics I also take on a lot of work so consumers don’t have to, looking into a company’s sustainability and being quite specific about who I work with and why.
I started making money because a company (ethical of course!) reached out to me and asked for my media kit. I didn’t even have one at the time, but luckily I was already friends with some other ethical bloggers who I could get some advice from. I had quite a low rate when I started, as I was fairly small and also figuring out my writer’s voice and way of working.
I figured out the types of formats that worked for my content, and then did a mix of working with people who contacted me individually and working with brands who contacted the larger group I was part of, which is pretty similar to how it works now too, but with a higher rate. It’s hard to pin down an exact number as these things fluctuate, but I’d say I’m at around the $1000 per month mark these days.
I guess the biggest piece of advice for me is about finding your niche. The market for general blogging is very saturated, but if you’re writing on something specific then you’ll be able to find your crowd much more easily. I didn’t come into this searching for a niche, but it’s definitely what’s put me where I am today.
Also try to create meaningful connections with people in the same community as you, learn from the writing styles of others and try to always think about how you can improve as a creator – it’s a brilliant way to be creative so don’t take that for granted because of the business side of things. I also think if you’re authentic, thorough and open in your writing then people will connect with it.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
In the very beginning, I went down the social media route, as having friends in PR is really handy for getting some insight into that kind of thing.
I focused mainly on Instagram and Twitter, both being consistent in posting and deciding the kind of tone I wanted on both platforms, as well as SEO. Again because I have a specific focus, the keywords that are important to my content naturally come up in my writing, which is handy.
As more time went on I then started collaborating with others, especially after joining Ethical Writers & Creatives, occasionally writing for other websites and letting other bloggers syndicate my content, all of which helped by linking to me from other sites and helping us share audiences.'Find a supporting community in your field that will remind you that even though a blog is a solo endeavor, you aren’t alone.'Click To Tweet
Apart from that, I think it’s the content itself that has brought people in, especially because often my non sponsored work is written when I can’t find a specific question being covered elsewhere. I have some posts that consistently bring in new people because they rank well in google searches and other posts that have been widely shared, which brings a lot of new people to me as well. In this way I do think creating content that is interesting to read and actually useful has been great, because it makes people want to share it!
How have you grown the email list?
While I do have an email list it’s not something I’ve actively grown, and I currently don’t send out newsletters. I think this is because most of my growth has come from my social media accounts and people finding me through organic searching. The option to subscribe is there on my blog, which notifies people when new posts go online, but this has only been live for a few weeks after I went through a redesign last year.
I want to get to a place where I can dedicate real time into making a newsletter that is well designed, informative and useful, and not just another thing filling up our inboxes! So that’s a future goal for sure.
How do you write great content that performs well?
I have a running list of ideas that I update as and when things pop into my head, I’ll write these posts whenever I have time and intersperse throughout sponsored content to keep things varied. Sponsored content tends to have more specific deadlines so I write and create my schedule ahead of time, it’s extremely rare that I’d sit down and post something immediately after writing.
When it comes to larger topics and long reads I tend to work on them on and off for months, both because of the amount of information and research required and because they’re more complex to write about, so I like to give them breathing space.'Some of my really early posts make me cringe a little, but I do understand that I was figuring out my writer’s voice and tone after mainly writing in academic settings for a long time.'Click To Tweet
Most of my ideas for these kinds of posts come through interacting with the news, the world and artists working in these areas. With writing about things like fashion and lifestyle I’ll either write these posts because someone specific wants to collaborate with me, or because it’s something particularly fun or relevant that I’m interested in.
In general, my writing process follows a simple pattern. I’ll get all the information down on the page first, whether this be a brands sustainable/ethical credentials or some in depth research on a topic, and get all my sources cited. I’ll then think about the angle I want to take with the overall piece, or how I want to share a story in a unique way, and write around the information until I’ve got something semi cohesive.
I tend to then leave a piece overnight and edit it first thing in the morning with fresh eyes, ready to publish a few days later. I’ll do a little check over for keywords, but most of the time they’re in there organically anyway, and then I’ll try to think about how to craft a title that’s going to make people want to read or will be what the ideal reader would search to find my article.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
The biggest challenge is people expecting perfection. Sustainability and ethics can vary so widely from person to person that it’s literally impossible to please everyone, and the internet lets people say things to you that they would never say to your face, which is not always a great combination.
I’ve not had anything too bad compared to a lot of other people, but it still does get to you when you’re working as hard as you can and strangers are judging you. It’s something I’m learning about all the time, because as you grow you will naturally receive more criticism and questioning, so I think it’s about stepping back when that happens and giving a calm, rational response, not a knee jerk emotional reaction.
I’ve had a couple moments when I’ve wanted to react angrily, but I’ve generally managed to stop myself. I’m working on getting to a place where it doesn’t upset or discourage me because I know the truth about my life, but that’s quite the journey for a person who doesn’t put themselves on the internet, never mind those of us who do it for work!
I think apart from that, I wish I’d been more confident in my own words sooner. Some of my really early posts make me cringe a little, but I do understand that I was figuring out my writer’s voice and tone after mainly writing in academic settings for a long time. I’m way more confident and comfortable with how I write now, so starting over perhaps I’d try out a different tone earlier on.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Having a community of like-minded people in the same area is great. The EWC has been invaluable for sharing resources and ideas, as well as staying sane. Ethical writers spend a lot of our time reading difficult news, so it’s good to have other people that understand to bounce ideas off of, share information and to draw inspiration from, they really are the best people.
Apart from that I think making sure to disconnect now and again is important, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting obsessed with numbers. For example, I’m quite strict with reminding myself that the world isn’t going to end if I don’t insta story a specific thing, it’s important to just be in the moment and still live my life too.
I just want to focus on making the best content I can and, whilst numbers are of course important, they aren’t the only thing that matters. When someone contacts me about something they’ve learned or changed because of me, that matters more.
For productivity, I also find having a tidy space to work in helps me immeasurably.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
Think about the kind of audience you want to grow, and write with them in mind. Be thorough, be authentic and write in a clear way that makes people feel smarter or more energized when they’re done (there’s a great little article on this here).
Find ways to stay curious and creative, because I think people see when you’re being genuine and they react to that, plus they love to see things that are original and really reflect you. They’re here for your content, which means they’re here for something only you can bring, and it’s ok to lean into that.
Apart from that be consistent, make a plan of how and when you’ll post and stick to it. Not only does this help build an audience as they know you’re reliable and so are more likely to actively check back in for new posts, but it also helps you become better.
It’s only through consistently creating a body of work can we actually get better at our work, so also try not to cringe too hard at your early efforts when you look back (something I’m trying to do too!) And if you can, try and find a supporting community in your field that will remind you that even though a blog is a solo endeavour, you aren’t alone.
Where can we go to learn more?