(from November 5 2004, via the wayback machine)
One of the AMA’s recently was about my “job” and if I worked outside of the blog. I haven’t worked outside of Grechen’s Closet since I quit everything else and made it my full time job in 2006.
But here’s the WHOLE story…
In 2004 I started Grechen’s Closet as an online “magazine” featuring outfit pictures (with my head cut off) and a designer database. I was inspired to start the designer database after searching for a particular Ella Moss dress online and being frustrated there wasn’t a better way. So I created it myself.
When I started, I was working as the Director of Business Development for the Israeli Economic Mission in Atlanta. I was managing our office at that time, and responsible for helping Israeli companies work with Southeastern US companies, get venture funding, find customers, etc. I had been doing that since 1998 and was finding it less and less fulfilling, so I worked on Grechen’s Closet on the side, just as a hobby, never hoping to take it anywhere.
By 2005 Grechen’s Closet had become rather successful and was making money from selling advertising and a little from affiliate commissions, so I planned on quitting the Economic Office full-time and continue to consult for a US-Israel R&D fund, allocating more time to Grechen’s Closet.
Then, I got divorced suddenly. I lost the financial support of my husband’s income, but I stuck to the plan and quit my full-time job anyway. In 2006 was able to quit the part-time consulting gig and only focus on Grechen’s Closet. Once my health coverage via Cobra ran out from my ex-husband I started working at Starbucks again part time (I’d worked at Starbucks off and on before) for the health insurance benefits.
A year or so after that I was making enough money to get health insurance independently (I never went without insurance) so I quit Starbucks and have never had a second “job” since.
Great, but how exactly do you make money from a BLOG?
A few months after I started, my first advertiser approached me. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I came up with a pricing structure I thought made sense and away I went. After a while I had more demand for advertising than I could keep up with, so I increased my prices and had a waiting list.
At the same time, I started working with affiliate companies (back in the day it was CJ, Linkshare, share a sale, and now it’s almost exclusively reward style – if a link is rstyle, that’s an affiliate link) so I could make commissions off things I linked to that my readers purchased. It took a long time to start making much money from those, but I was linking to things I was wearing/buying/shopping for anyway, so I used affiliate links whenever I could and started earning commissions from sales.
I displayed google ads also, and those made really good money for a while, and then fizzled out, so I stopped using them. I also didn’t like them aesthetically, and a few times, I was frustrated by the content they displayed.
I decided early on that I wanted to work with independent designers I liked, so I started reviewing items they would send me. I selected an item, or items, to review and would wear it, photograph it, use it, and then give my honest review. I never tried to take money for doing those, my only “payment” was the item to review. I thought it was a win/win for me and the designer: I got product and content, and they got exposure for not a lot of initial outlay. And they got A LOT of exposure.
When bloggers started doing sponsored posts (paid posts, basically), I refused. Getting paid for a post, to write about something in a positive way, didn’t feel right to me at all, so I didn’t do it. I tried one with Rebecca Minkoff once, but it felt ALL WRONG, so I didn’t do anymore.
I know that’s a point of contention among bloggers (something non-bloggers are probably not aware of), and I do agree that everyone should be “paid” for their time, but I see getting “paid” in a very different way than many newer bloggers see it now.
First of all, I did a whole lot of shit for free in the beginning and worked hard doing it. You don’t just start fresh in a new industry and NOT do that. I wanted to prove my worth and create a name for myself, which I did. I never expected to make money doing this; I was so honored and grateful when I did, that I was very careful to do only what felt right to me, and never compromise my editorial integrity. If a designer or boutique was making more money off me than I was earning for my work, I was okay with that for a while. It was a learning experience, and helped me make better decisions later on. (sorry to be THAT person, but all the work I and the other OG fashion bloggers did paved the way for the new ones launching now – the ones that jump right in and feel entitled to make money from the start…)
Second, blogging wasn’t really even a thing back then and no one knew what they were doing. We just tried things and learned as we went along. After a while, I learned that advertising worked for me, and I was making more and more from affiliate commissions, so that’s what I stuck with.
Third, I struggled with what was a “fair” way to make money off a shopping blog. In my opinion, it was always by selling advertising (like magazines did), and affiliate commissions. If you’re not aware, affiliate commissions are what I earn when one of you clicks on an affiliate link on my site and then you BUY SOMETHING. I don’t earn money if you click the link, only if you buy.
There are some problems with that, because you could click my link and go to Shopbop for example, and then click on another blogger’s link thereby negating mine. So even though you clicked on mine first, I don’t get commission for that sale. I never did shopstyle links either, those are the ones that bloggers get paid for just by clicking on, not based on sales. Those were just clickbait in my opinion, and never felt right to me.
Ultimately, I really do think affiliate commissions are the best and most “fair” way to make money writing a “fashion” blog – if your readers won’t buy what you’re writing about, if they don’t trust you enough, or value your opinion enough, then you’re doing it wrong.
I worked really hard for a lot of years to build Grechen’s Closet up into a nice “business” – if you can call it that – things went really well this way for years. I was making upwards of 50k a year doing what I loved and life was good.
Then, in 2014 things shifted. I changed focus after living in Texas for a while and losing my beloved dog Ozzie. I started The Minimal Closet series chronicling my efforts to minimize my closet, buy more sustainable clothing, and overall, buy much less, so I didn’t write about shopping nearly as much as before. Now, I make less than half what I used to on both affiliate commissions and on advertising.
Haha…talk about biting the hand that feeds you! But I was SO TIRED of all the mindless shopping I and everyone else was doing, an really didn’t want to just talk about buying and shopping, and buying, and shopping anymore. So naturally, I started making less money. I also started featuring more and more designers and boutiques who don’t work with affiliate programs, so I don’t make any money at all off purchases via those links. But I didn’t think twice about the direction I chose to go in. If anything, I always do what feels right to me, and this new focus felt right to me.
Slowre supplements my decreased income from Grechen’s Closet now, but not by much (it’s really hard to make money in retail!!!), so things have changed a lot. I am grateful that Leo continues to support my work though, both financially and otherwise. I couldn’t do it without him at this moment.
It’s challenging though, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep it up. I will need to get my income back up soon.
I do know that I am proud of everything I’ve done these last 13 years. I have written with integrity and have always only been myself. I could have continued to make the income I did by taking sponsored posts, or using more affiliate links, but I have chosen instead to do what is right for me. And I am grateful to you for standing (or sitting, as it were LOL) alongside me while I do so.
I love you and I love your blog!! It’s one of the few blogs that I have read consistently over the last 9 years of my blogging journey. Thank you for being you!!
I guess these are all the reasons you are the only “fashion” blog I keep following … and trusting. You can really be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far and I hope you’ll find ways to keep it sustainable for the future.
I was curious about this question too. Thank you for sharing and being so honest with us. Hope you keep going because I look forward to every post.
So interesting to hear about your previous work. I will echo Cathy in saying that yours is the only blog that I read and look forward to daily.
That’s very interesting, thanks for sharing!
Congrats on your continues success. I bet working with the Israelis defiantly toughened you up (having spent half of my life here and half there – I can attest to their nature).
Do what you love and believe in – that’s my motto.
So interesting to hear how you got your start! Blogging as a career is so new, it must take a lot of effort to constantly stay on your toes and ahead of the curve. I feel like there must be a new wave coming as far as how to stay afloat without compromising your ideals.
Gretchen– Thanks for the behind the scenes look at how it all works. I so appreciate your transparency. I wish I knew of another way of generating income for you but I agree with how you have evolved and believe that you are definitely being true to yourself (and your readers who are trying very hard to buy less stuff!). Thank you for being you. Beth
This was so interesting, thank you so much for sharing candidly Grechen.
I don’t know how to go about it exactly but perhaps other freelance writing could supplement the income or consider writing a book? Or perhaps going back to the PT gig + the online.
I’m getting ready to shut my domain down. Although it was never about shopping per se, especially mass market retailers, it had shopgirl in the name and therefore people always took it quite literally and most opportunities that came my way had more to do with outlet shopping, etc and not the type of products I was showcasing (handmade, art, design, etc). Plus I no longer feel like a “girl” at 49. I plan to start fresh with another domain but it was pretty hard psychologically to shut my current one down. It’s on my to do list now. I no longer want to just be about shopping or perceived that way. Do you sometimes wonder if we feel that way due to our own independent evolution or if it is a wave that we are getting caught up in (current trend is miminalism/simplifying) or is our age a factor (I’m a few years older than you)? It is something I ponder regularly, how much of own focus/direction is influenced by others and media. I like to think I’m not influenced at all but I often wonder.
Thank you for this interesting back story! Do you mind sharing why you found the Economic Office less fulfilling and why you moved on? Was it the work itself? Or the mission of the organization? Thank you for being open and sharing with your readers! It makes your website compelling and engaging when so many have gone to the wayside.
You go girl- I love your honesty and your ability. You inspire me everytime I read your column. You are truly using your talent to help people. xoxogena from NY
Congratulations on being one of the OG bloggers! You built your business with hard work and that’s part of why you’re a success. I’ve said it before a thousand times, but I think a huge reason for your blog being so popular, with really loyal readership, is that you have INTEGRITY by the bushel! There no one like you, Grechen, and you show us that being yourself is a success in and of itself.
Grechen, thanks for this interesting, informative, honest post! I have read your blog for several years, and have always appreciated your honest reviews that are so much better than the ones by other people that are so clearly paid posts. There’s an obvious difference to me as a reader, and it’s why I still follow your blog but drop many others. Anyway, I really appreciate your integrity. And your work towards sustainably!
Thanks for this! I wish I could get on the rstyle train but they don’t want a blog as small as mine. I use Shopstyle almost exclusively and, while I do get paid per click, the click rate varies based on sales you make, so it encourages “good” clicks over click-bait type links. It’s been a long learning process for me to figure out what works without feeling like I’m being unfair to readers.
I also stopped doing most sponsored posts for the same reason as you – it feels inauthentic.
Jo B. says
What is a OG blogger?
Grechen Reiter says
it’s short for original gangsta 😉
someone called me that a long time ago and i thought it was really funny, but it stuck …
Original Gangster. Original Grechen, in this case! Grechen, this is an awesome post and I enjoyed reading it. I always love your honesty and willingness to share everything, and it is always so refreshing. Yours is the first blog I read every day and the one I most look forward to. Happy New Year!
Grechen Reiter says
oh, interesting point about shopstyle links – I didn’t know that, and of course, i don’t think ALL bloggers who use shopstyle links are after clicks primarily, just some OTHERS, who shall remain nameless LOL.
i do know that rstyle has been sort of annoying for smaller bloggers to work with, and that sucks. i’m sorry for that. i sort of hate the clique around the company too, and their stupid like to know it app, but it’s really become the very best affiliate marketing tool out there.
Grechen Reiter says
i loved the work, but in 2003-2004 the diplomat I worked with left to also run the office in chicago, and left me “in charge” in atlanta, but that meant I had to move my location into the consulate’s office, and no longer had my own private office, which was hard. and i missed working with her in person everyday; we worked really well together. the situation just changed so much i didn’t enjoy it like i used to!
Grechen Reiter says
haha. yes. those israelis LOL – i was also married to one (my ex-husband), which was a challenge, to say the least!! not that being married to a latin man is much easier…
Grechen Reiter says
oh!!! original grechen!! i love it 🙂
I so appreciate the transparency Grechen. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is we’re all doing with social media (as I think a lot of people have) and I think your candor and integrity is exactly what we need more of in the space. While blogging has never been an income source for me, I too turned away from shopping and trend related content in recent years – it just started to feel like a never ending race. This year I set a challenge to shop second hand for a year and blogs like yours have helped me along that journey.
thanks for sharing, grechen!!
if I did what you do, I’d feel the same
way about how the income is generated
and from where. I’m sure it’s easy to be
tempted to do otherwise…but it would
never feel right.
makes me wonder what some of those
big bloggers & instagrammers make who
are, shall we say, not quite as selective.
I really appreciate your blog and the way an affiliate pay structure helps bloggers remain organic in their posting and recommendations. I didn’t take any sponsored posts in the first three years of blogging because I didn’t have the readership and didn’t really have an idea of making it into a business at all (and I’ve also been blogging since 2004, but mostly it was just journaling). But when I did start thinking about collaboration structures, sponsorship made a lot of sense for me because the vast majority of companies I wanted to talk about were very small companies without affiliate networks. It was a way we could formally partner – and I could make a fair fee for my readership and click through rates – without them having to figure out how to set up a commission-based structure. In addition to that, I still talk about and support brands I love that don’t pay me anything.
This has been really good for some post formats and not as effective for others, but overall it’s been a good learning experience. The key, though, like you said, is having readers who trust you. So transparency at every turn is essential. I make my media kit public so anyone can see it. As my blog continues to grow and more brands have access to affiliate networks, I plan on re-calibrating my structure to be more affiliate based. I’m really excited about 2018 because I think it’s going to be a big year for me in terms of pinning down the best balance. I’m mentioning all of this because I think there is a way to be honest and fair while using a sponsorship structure. It just has to be very, very methodical.
I think newbie bloggers do need to understand that this isn’t a get rich quick scheme, and if you go into with that mindset, you may be setting yourself up for inauthenticity and failure. I have never tried to go full time because I think that puts too much pressure on the space and the niche I’m in to catch up when it’s not ready yet.
Yeah, RewardStyle won’t let me in.
Grechen, I would just like to congratulate you on your integrity and authenticity. It is rare in this world, very rare that people put that ahead of money/career advancement/pride. It is a quality that I value extremely highly in others, and seek (emphasis on “seek”) to attain myself. I’m a pilgrim not a saint in this respect, lol!. It doesn’t always happen and it’s certainly not always appreciated, but I do feel it is worth the effort to try and if only one person responds, or adjusts their own personal practices because of the example of someone operating with integrity, it is well worth while. You’re a hero! Best in “18!!!!
Gretchen – thank you for such an insightful post. I remember coming across your blog around 2005 when I was in the midst of shopping craze too. Back then I was buying so much and shopping at J Crew a ton. I then came across your blog again around 2015 when I was moving more to slow fashion and have always found your reviews of clothing and photos very useful. I remember realizing the shift in your focus and appreciating it, and loving that you had gotten away from how things “used to be” and being true to yourself and ethical fashion. I hope you can keep doing what you’re doing because it’s really helpful and inspiring!
Amy Mintz says
Me too! In fat your is the ONLY blog that I ever read consistently and by that I mean I too have been reading for years. Although we only met a couple of times, I think of you as a friend and sometimes read merely to keep up with you! Yes, I have liked a few other blogs along the way once or twice but they never seem to stick with me. Too much work. You continue to evolve yourself and you always have something interesting and thought provoking to say in between the great pieces you offer up for us to consider. Bravo, sistah !!!!!
Grechen Reiter says
thank you 🙂 🙂