We Explain | Traveling Hard on a 9-5

We Explain | Traveling Hard on a 9-5

One of the things I get asked a lot – like, every time I have to decline someone’s flat warming or baby shower or birthday drinks because of it, is: how do you get to travel so much? That’s usually always followed by: how do you *afford* to travel so much? Which, honestly is an entirely different blog post so for the sake of keeping things simple, let’s tackle the first question first.

I *get* to travel so much, because it’s my passion. It’s what makes me happy, it’s where I find my creativity, my hunger for culture, my – well, *actual* hunger too (I have definitely travelled for food), so for me, travel is my hobby. Some people like dancing in ridiculously high shoes until athe early hours of the morning, overpriced drink in hand; I don’t. Some people have houses they fill with plants and prints and soft furnishings; I don’t. Some people have expensive gym memberships, or kids (human or otherwise), or a real passion for spending their weekends in bed; I don’t. Well, except for that last thing, which I kind of do, too, but you know what I mean.

Travel is my hobby. And I doubt I spend any more time on my hobby than others do theirs, the only difference is that I record my hobby online, too. Yes, my blog is also my job (not in the way I will ever earn enough to run it without having to work in a *real job* too, but in the way that I work hard, dedicate hours, and am afforded opportunities through it) and I take care of it and it brings me joy, and so the two things combined are really when I am at my happiest.

I think it was Richard Branson who said that “clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”, and the best way to take care of your employees is to allow for and maintain a work/life balance. I have that in spades, luckily, and that definitely helps with being able to travel so much. It’s not unusual for me to have one or two Mondays or Fridays off a month because I’m off exploring another city for a long weekend, because I try to make the most of my annual leave like that. I rarely take chunks of time off, and when I do, it’s for long-haul trips that deserve the dedicated time.

https://unsplash.com/photos/VVgVlH1D10U

Which brings me to some points:

Be creative with your time off

Taking a Monday or Friday off is great if you want a long weekend, but you’ll often find that Tuesdays and Thursdays are when the flights are the cheapest, and Wednesdays is when you will find all the sales start. Why? Hump Day mentality, I think, but whatever the case, don’t do your travel bookings on a Monday. And, always clear your cache before you do as that way you’ll get the very best deal.

Be open minded with your destination

The “search everywhere” function on Skyscanner is one of the best things to have been invented, as it will literally search every single airport and airline in the UK for the lowest fare to everywhere that planes fly to. It’s great, and it’s how 50% of my destinations are decided.

Be prepared to not stop all weekend

If you don’t have a lot of time off, then you do really need to make the most of your trip. Trip Advisor and the local Time Out page will offer you the best 10 things to do in any given city, so have a look through, see what appeals, and plan your days accordingly. For me that means hitting everything in one area first, then move back towards wherever I’m staying. I will always be a little flexible with that, as you never know what you’ll discover along the way, and often there will be hidden gems for you to uncover yourself, too.

Be ready to be shattered

I make no secret of how tiring travelling can be. Last year I did 18 trips in total, including one two-week stint in Japan. That’s a lot of not-being-home, and so from the minute I finished work I’d be heading home back to bed. Honestly, catching up with sleep was like my second favourite thing to do last year (after eating), and over Christmas I literally stayed inside my house for almost a week; as much as travelling makes me happy, it really can be a little exhausting.

This year I promised myself more slow travel, and – as of this week have only had/booked seven trips for this year. Two of those are big ones (to NYC for a week over my birthday, and NZ for Christmas), and the others all being in and around Europe/Mediterranean, and…I feel better for it. I’m spending more time at home, with friends, in London – and that makes me just as happy as travel does. I’m certainly not *done* with travelling so much, but I’m certainly going to be more sensible about it from now on.

Up next: a long weekend in Luxembourg at the end of May. Where are you heading next?

Erica is head of digital promotions at Talented Talkers, and also runs a travel and lifestyle blog at imbeingerica.com

We Explain | Simple Food Photography Tips

We Explain | Simple Food Photography Tips

I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there – we’ve been out for an incredible meal or made a superb dinner and yet just can’t get THAT shot. The lighting is poor. The presentation of the dish doesn’t correctly represent how good it tastes. Knowing which angle to shoot or how busy the shot should be is a huge internal debate. By the time you get to eat, your food is just warm and you still haven’t got a shot good enough to justify it.

Simple Food Photography Tips

Sometimes this still happens to the best photographers – you can’t always be in control of every situation (I know that’s difficult to hear for some of us control freaks). To hopefully help make those times fewer and far between and make nailing those food shots come more naturally (it all takes practise), I’ve compiled a list of helpful, simple tips from my own photography experience shooting for food clients and my blog to share with you. So, here you go! Simple food photography tips!

Presentation: 

We all know presentation is important. If you’re cooking at home, it can be a tiny bit easier to correct presentation as you have an array of tools at your disposal. Some key things I’ve found useful for home-cooked dishes are:

  • Plates look better with food stacked, rather than spread across the plate – think height
  • Make sure your plates are perfectly clean and smear free – remove any liquid/crumbs which have come into place from serving the food unless of course, they add to the effect you want to achieve. A good camera will pick these up, and it’s harder to remove with editing than wiping them off in the first place!
  • Longer vegetables, such as Tenderstem or baby corn, work better as sides, than peas or sweetcorn
  • Think about all the colours – Home-cooked roasts are regularly classed as one of the most unattractive food posts, and this is often because it’s pretty beige. Consider the colours in your dish, and try to add extra colourful ingredients where possible
  • If all else fails, a sprinkle of herbs on top of a dish can add colour and do wonders for the overall appearance

Simple Food Photography Tips

If you’re out for a meal, most chefs will have the presentation in mind, especially in the age of Instagram. However, there might be the odd time when you need to smarten the dish up. Don’t be afraid to do so.

  • Ask for extra napkins and wipe the edges of plates – just like if you were at home
  • Make the most of any additional props you have on the table, or can pick up from different stations around the restaurant i.e. sauces
  • Move parts of the meal (the bits you can) – i.e. straighten burger buns and position gherkins, place sides which arrive separately close by or position on the plate

Simple Food Photography Tips

If the dish itself is pretty beige, then think about how else you can add colour to the shot – perhaps there are colourful napkins, tea towels, bright drinks, table decorations, or a colourful wall in the restaurant you could use as the background –  take a few shots and see which works best.

Simple Food Photography Tips

Lighting: 

This is a constant bugbear of many, especially in the winter when the sun is lower and daylight hours are limited. Not everyone has fancy lighting they carry around, and when out for dinner taking a speed-light flash unit is not appropriate so we have to work with what we have. For these quite infuriating times:

  • Use the aperture priority setting, set the ISO to auto, and use the lowest aperture to get the fastest shutter speed. This does mean you won’t get a very wide depth of shot (the background will be blurred out), but the main focal point should be good enough quality to be able to edit
  • Use another light – e.g. another phone light. Play with the angle of the lighting and even try and cover the phone light with a napkin/tissue to give it a more natural feel. You might get shadows with this method, so it does take a few shots to see where is best for the light to be positioned to minimise this
  • Have a go using custom white balance. Katy English has written a great post on this here.

Simple Food Photography Tips

Angles/Composition:

This is another key aspect that can make or break a photo – think about it…a simple pastry can look pretty superior when photographed along with a swirly flat white, on a marble tabletop, accompanied by a handbag/scarf/colourful book/diary, taken at a height.  Here are some points to consider/do:

  • Do your research – Spend some time on Instagram looking at similar dishes/foods and how they’re shot. Get a feel for the best angles and compositions and take notes for future shots
  • Turn plates around and experiment with different directions – the compositions of two or more plates can interact with one another, so take a few photos with plates in different directions
  • Take photos of different angles (flat lays and from the side), so you can look back later when editing to decide which works best for what you want to achieve – you might change your mind later
  • Again, think about any other props you can possibly use, and play around with including them in the frame, whether all in or only part featured

Simple Food Photography Tips

Editing:

There are a number of editing tools/programs which can be used, and it’s really all about finding the best for you. Lightroom is a fab photo editing product, and I will go into this in a later post. However you don’t need to pay lots to be able to get great quality food photos – I used to edit my blog photos through Instagram, playing with the manual tools. It’s all about finding something which works for you.

I will mention here though, the one big faux pas I’ve seen in edited photos is the images being made too warm due to being oversaturated. Be careful – saturating images is great in making colours like greens and reds pop, but it can add extra warmth to the image. Be sure to counteract the increased saturation with a reduction in warmth. Look at any white space in the image, and use this as a gauge – does it look true white?

Simple Food Photography Tips

Practice:

I know it’s annoying to hear, but it really is all about practice. Get the camera out and shoot everything you eat, experimenting with the presentation of the dish, lighting, angles and composition. You’ll start to get used to what works for what type of food/dish.

Simple Food Photography Tips

Scroll through Instagram and build a bank of ideas for future shots, and try them out. This is one of the best tools for photography ideas, with 95 million photos and videos posted each day, so make sure you utilise it.

Any questions, leave us a comment or come say hi on Twitter/Instagram!

We Explain | How to Beat the Latest Instagram Algorithm

We Explain | How to Beat the Latest Instagram Algorithm

Instagram: it’s the platform we all love to hate, right? Especially now that the Instagram algorithm changes are no longer published on their blog, meaning that you have to dig through their help section for details on all the changes.

What was once the fastest-growing and most engaging social media for most of us has, after one-too-many algorithm changes, quickly become a source of stress and far too many rules for almost every type of blogger or influencer.
And, January marks yet another update, with more and more rumours circling of what is and isn’t likely to get your engagement up, how to avoid shadow-bans, and whether your followers are even able to see your posts…so, it’s Fran here, and I’m rounding up the best tips and tricks for the latest updates, as well as some general ways to improve your engagement.macbook and iphone sit on a white fluffy blanket, with Instagram open on the iphone's screen

1. Use those stories

One of the biggest changes Instagram have made lately is the changes to how stories are displayed in your feed, with story suggestions not only being much larger than they were previously, but are also now showing up mid-feed. What does this mean for you? There’s now even more reason to add to your stories and keep them updated! Instagram counts story views as engagement in their algorithm, meaning that if someone watches your story often, your posts also show up higher in their feed – win/win!

2. Hashtag wherever you want – but do it fast

There’s a lot of debate all over the web as to where you should hashtag – in your caption or in the comments – but the truth is, the actual location of the tags doesn’t matter as much as how quickly you do it. The reason some people prefer to hashtag in their caption is because it means that your post appears in the hashtag feed, at the top, as soon as you post it, whereas if you post in the comments, you’ll appear in the feed, but your order in the results will depend on when you posted the picture, not when you added the hashtag (source: adweek). That means, if you post a picture at 6pm, then don’t hashtag it until 7pm, you’ll show up in the hashtag behind all the other people who have posted their photo in the hashtag in the last hour – not great if you’re posting in a packed hashtag, as it means you’ll spend no time at the top of the tag page.
If you’re posting your picture and then commenting straight away with the hashtags, however, it probably won’t make a massive difference.

3. Respond to your comments

If you’re anything like me, you probably forget to reply to Instagram comments all the time occasionally, but that could be why your engagement is suffering. The more likes and comments you get on a post, the more your followers are likely to see it in their feed – so if you’re getting one comment, that’s great – but if you’re getting that comment, responding, then getting a conversation going, your post is doing even better by the Instagram algorithm standards…! Get chatting!

4. Get yourself a business account

We’ve already covered the benefits of your Instagram business account on the blog before, so we won’t bore you with too many details if you’ve already read it – but if you haven’t, or if you’ve got a business account and aren’t sure if you’re using it as well as you could, have a read – you’d be seriously surprised how much having all those extra stats and analytics can help your engagement sore, weird Instagram algorithm or not.

5. Stop spamming

Okay, so that’s a little harsh – we’re sure you’re not actually spamming anyone…at least not deliberately. It’s a not-very-well-kept ‘secret’ that Instagram’s algorithm tends to view any comments under 3 words as spam – meaning not only does it flag your account if you’re leaving comments like ‘so pretty!’ or ‘that’s cute’, but it also doesn’t count them towards your engagement if you’re receiving comments like that. Your best bet is to leave slightly longer, more specific comments on others’ posts, and hopefully get some in return.

Bonus: have fun!

Whilst there are definitely a few tips to take on board to help defend your feed against the Instagram algorithm changes, everyone knows that engagement is hard to get – brands aren’t necessarily all caught up in the numbers when they’re looking for influencers and bloggers to work with, and as long as you’re producing great content and having authentic conversations, you shouldn’t be, either. Don’t let the algorithm get you down!

We Explain: How to use Pinterest to boost your blog posts

We Explain: How to use Pinterest to boost your blog posts

When we think of social media, Pinterest is always included on that list. That said, it’s a bit of a weird social media. You tend to have people either SUPER into Pinterest but not totally sure how it relates to their blog, or people who avoid the platform all together ‘cause it’s a bit confusing. (and of course, the people who smash it out). So, I want in this little article to explain why you should be using Pinterest, then a few quick tasks to get you started.

So, why as a blogger should you be focussing on Pinterest?

If we look at Twitter, an average post lasts about 30 minutes. In Instagram, you’re talking 1-3 days that people are actually seeing your content. This means that if you’re promoting your posts there, you only have a limited amount of time where people will click through. However, with Pinterest, that isn’t the case.

When you add something as a pin, that pin has a life of years. For example, I’ll write one tweet and get about 10 views to my blog in the following hour or so. I added one pin to Pinterest 22 months ago and I get 100+ views to my blog every single day.

This means, if you really want to increase your page views and get more people reading your blog, then Pinterest is a fabulous platform to really focus on and grow. Other socials are about community, Pinterest is different, it’s basically a giant visual search engine, and one we can really utilise.

 

What are the basics to using Pinterest?

If you’ve not used Pinterest before, then it’s basically a giant pin board. You see lots of nice pins, and ones which you may want to look at later, you add to a board. For example, I have a travel board for quite a few countries, when I see a blog post I like on that country, I pop it on the board. Then when I’m holiday planning I have a great resource to use.

So, the basics to get your Pinterest set up includes:

  • Setting up a business profile – so that you can show the link to your blog. Pop in an interesting bio about you too.
  • Creating boards around your target reader – it’s good to have boards in the niche that you blog about, for example, if you’re a travel blogger then lots of boards on different countries is great. That said, think about your target reader – they may like travel but they probably also like cooking or other related things. So, you don’t need to keep your boards super niched.
  • Get pinning – this is the most important bit. You should be pinning every day, a range of content that isn’t yours and some from your own blog too. Ideally, you love Pinterest so that this doesn’t turn into a chore! If you struggle with consistent pinning then consider using a schedule tool like Tailwind or Boardbooster, these allow you to sit and pin for an hour or so and they will the spread your pins throughout the week.

So, your Pinterest profile is set up, what do you need to do now to get your pins moving and people heading to your profile?

Some quick tasks you can do to help get your Pins moving

  • Create some optimised graphics with Canva – when you go to Canva you can select Pinterest and it will give you the optimum size for your pin. The best pins have text on them, so pop some text on there to encourage more repins.
  • Add a ‘pin it’ hover on your blog – encourage people who visit your blog to add your images to pinterest easily. You can do this through a plug in.
  • Join some group boards – group boards basically mean you pair up with some other people and when you pin to the board it goes to all the contributor’s followers. They are a handy way to help grow your profile and have your pins seen by more people. You can find group Pinterest boards through blogging facebook groups or having a search on Pingroupie.
  • Try some promoted pins – you can promote on Pinterest which helps your important pins get more of a boost. Good thing is that you can spend as little as £5 and that still gives it a decent boost.

There we have it, as with any social media, you need to spend time on Pinterest for it to really grow and flourish. But if you need to pick any social to get your head around and start using more, then Pinterest is most definitely the one which will give you the best returns!

What tips do you have for Pinterest?


By Jasmin Charlotte – follow her on Pinterest here!
(Jasmin is a lifestyle blogger and blogging coach at jasmincharlotte.com. She writes loads of tips to help you grow your blog and social media, plus understand the more techy bits of the blogging world. She offers blog coaching which includes Pinterest if you need tailored advice!).

The benefits of your Instagram Business account

The benefits of your Instagram Business account

By now, Instagram Stories is a constant in most influencer’s daily routine, and why shouldn’t it be? All the perks of SnapChat with a ready-made audience, and the opportunity to still have a curated non-instant grid while you still instantly share your day? What a winning combo we have there! Even I – the confessed Social Media Noob, is on the Insta Stories bandwagon, finding the engagement on my grid pictures goes through the roof when I do add to my Story, as well as loving being able to see those old school friends and exes peeping on my life like they think I can’t see them. I SEE THEM. Whatever the reason for your Stories use (and Jasmin has written a great post on things you should know about the function), there’s a hidden gem lurking in your Instagram Business account that it sounds like more than a few members of the community aren’t aware of – the See More function when it comes to your Stories’ analytics data.

You can actually retain and revisit the data from your 24hour footage for up to 14 days with a Business Account once the feature is activate, which is 13 more days than those without the business profile, and will absolutely help you when it comes to feeding back to brands and agencies that you’ve worked with if a Story has been part of your agreement. And even if not, this sort of info is an incredible added value that you can offer the brand – and why shouldn’t you! It’s evidence of a successful campaign, of incredible engagement, of brand awareness, and you should be excited to share that info just as you would any page views or comments your blog post received, or how many times your Tweet was engaged with.

The thing about Instagram Stories is that no-one but you has the access to that data (yet), as Instagram hasn’t opened up the API for reporting tools. So while we can see your likes and comments on your grid, we – as brands and agencies go, can’t see what engagement you’ve had on your stories. If you don’t already know how to find the information, here are some simple steps:

  1. go to your profile
  2. click on the Analytics icon
  3. scroll down to your Stories’ Insights
  4. click See More

From there, you have the option to look through a host of things like engagement (how many people watched), reach (the potential views from your following), skip forward and back (to rewatch), and exits, as well as the option to filter by 24 hours, 7 days, and 14 days. This is really useful information for brands, so if you don’t already offer it as part of your collaboration round-up, then have a think about it for the next one. The brand will appreciate the above-and-beyond information from you, and it will put you in good stead for future collaborations. So, what do you have to lose?!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Instagram Stories, and if you think this is in fact an added value, or if you think it’s a bit cheeky of brands to ask for it. And if you do, then why? We’d love to hear your side of it too.

We ask a Journo | Holly Brockwell of Gadgette

We ask a Journo | Holly Brockwell of Gadgette

1. How did you get into writing and journalism?

Like all writers, I was born one. The idea of getting paid for it was too enticing not to explore, but unfortunately, I was given some fairly bad career advice along the way. This included “don’t bother trying to get into journalism unless you’re the editor of the student paper.” Well, I had to have a job at university, which didn’t leave much time for that. So instead I went into advertising, which was still writing, but with a lot less control over the words. I enjoyed it, though, and I learnt a lot. Much of which was very useful later. Commercial awareness is a very good thing.

From there, I saw a tweet from my friend Becca Caddy asking for phone reviewers at ShinyShiny. I couldn’t believe you could get paid for that, so I did it on top of my day job for a while, then eventually they offered me the position of Editor. And that was my door into journalism.

2. When and why did you launch Gadgette? 

Gadgette started back in May ’15, because I’d been in tech journalism a while and was getting pretty tired of seeing the same demographics at every publication. The same mid-twenties, middle-class white guys, giving the same perspective on the same products. I wanted to read something more inclusive and interesting. It didn’t exist, so I made it.

I ran it as a full-on business for a while, with an all-female staff writing about tech for a female audience. But running a startup wasn’t for me (it turns out I do need sleep, after all) and now Gadgette is more of a passion project that I do in my spare time.

3. What three things do you love the most about your job?

  • I can’t get enough of tech, and if this wasn’t my job I’d still be going on about it, trying to get to the product launches and boring everyone stupid talking about my new gadget. So I love that I can do that as a career.I love the community around journalism.
  • I always read the comments (yep, really) – sometimes they make me sigh, but there’s a lot of insight there too. Plus you can always count on someone to point out your bad maths in a post written at 7am on a Monday.
  • Finally, I love online media. Writing for print has a special significance, but I’m far too impatient: I love being able to hit Publish and instantly see people reading what I wrote. The analytics are fascinating: where did the readers come from? What did they search for? Which articles did they share with their friends? What did they click and buy? I could bury myself in it for weeks. You just don’t get that with print.

4. If you could invent one technology that would help the world, what would it be and why?

What a fantastic question! I could ponder on this for years. But I’ll go with the Point Of View Gun from the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie (not the book… they added it for the film). Firstly because there’s no point trying to out-think Douglas Adams, and secondly because I think it would do us all an immense amount of good to be able to instantly understand each other. You fire the gun at someone, and they repeat your point of view to you. It might not ever exist, but there’s a technique counsellors recommend called reflecting, where you repeat what the other person says back to them in your own words. It’s also something I learnt as a Samaritans volunteer. It makes people feel really heard, and it forces you to clarify your understanding of their perspective. A gadget that did it instantly could foster world peace in a fortnight.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, bloggers and journalists?

Get your words out there any way you can. Write for your own blog, write on Medium, write for other people’s sites, write stories, write tweets, write your life story. Just write, write, write – which you most likely do already – but for the love of everything, put it somewhere people can find it. Then point them at it.

Secondly, don’t imagine you know the bits that will resonate best with people. The jokes you think are genius will fall flat, and the thought you had in the shower at 2am will set the world on fire. It’s a mystery, but a fun one.

Thirdly, if you want to be a journalist, I highly recommend taking a course to teach you pitching skills. The Guardian’s Masterclass is a good one, that’s the one I started with.

Finally, remember your voice. It’s very easy to read other people’s work and start to write like them, but your own experiences, perspectives, even your favourite words are ultimately what will make your name. If you’re not allowed to write that way at work, do it at home. In secret. On toilet paper if you have to. Just keep that voice honed until it’s time to sing.

Have something else you’d like to ask Holly? Get in touch on Twitter now!

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