Should you start a blog? Here is my advice.

akansha-agrawal-blogging

akansha-agrawal-blogging

I had the chance to catch-up with Anna Stern, community manager for Collectively Inc. and we both came to the simple conclusion that blogging in 2017 is fundamentally different than what it was back in 2009, or even 2013.

The online space is much more saturated now and as a blogger, you need something that sets you apart. These days it’s not enough to post your outfit of the day or your latest smoothie bowl.  What will you provide that separates you from the other thousands of bloggers out there?

I started my blog about a year ago and truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I wanted to share content around health & wellness from a South Asian perspective but did not have a strategy or method for getting there. I was overwhelmed and lost. Though I still have a long way to go, here are a few pieces of  blogging advice:

  1. Define your Mission and Stick to It: With a successful blog you need a clear focus for two reasons. Number one, to keep yourself accountable and number two, to give your readers a purpose. As a blogger it’s so easy to get distracted by the next shiny object and lose track of your original intent. Consistency and clarity will also help your readers understand what they will receive from you.
  2. Create a Community: I’ve created a successful community by creating a Facebook group for women interested in health and wellness. A Facebook group is more valuable than a Facebook page because your readers can participate in valuable, genuine dialogue. A community also allows you to conduct a bit of user research by finding out what matters to your readers.
  3. Approach Local Brands Proactively: Working with local businesses and brands is the way to go because you can lead with a warm approach by chatting in person. For example, if you are a fashion blogger, try hitting up your favorite retail store/boutique and discuss potential collaborations. It can be scary to take your blog from behind the screen to in-person but real life interactions can do wonders.
  4. Spend More Time as a Creator and Less Time as Consumer: I want you to do me a favor. Grab your phone, go to your settings, battery life and then check how much time you’ve spent on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Those hours could instead be used to create valuable content! There have been multiple weeks where I’ve felt exhausted, mentally drained from “blogging” but in reality, I had not published a blog post in weeks!  I was completely caught up in the noise of social media.
  5. Stay in Your Own Lane: I believe the biggest factor that hold bloggers back is their mindset. It’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed if you start comparing yourself to those who have been in the game for years. The quality of your content is important but you don’t need all the fancy production elements a professional blogger may have. Your reader wants to see you grow authentically so don’t be afraid to take them along your journey.

I hope my blogging advice is helpful! Do you have a blog or are you planning to create one? I’d love to learn more about your own journey.

Create & Cultivate Seattle With My Mom

sarika and akansha agrawal

create-cultivate-seattle

“Delegate when you can find someone who can do the task 70% as good as you.”  This quote was just of the few pieces of advice we heard at Create & Cultivate this past weekend. “We” you may ask? Why yes, I actually went to Create & Cultivate with my mom!

Create & Cultivate is full day conference for creative business women who want to “create & cultivate” the career of their dreams. As my mom and I are working on the recipe eBook together, this conference was a perfect way to kick-start the new chapter in our professional journeys. C&C was also sponsored by Microsoft, and if you recall, I just recently quit my job at LinkedIn – which happened to be acquired by Microsoft not too long ago. Life is funny at times.

It was incredibly meaningful for me to share this event with my mom. Back when I was a kid, my mom made the decision to stay at home to support our family and I knew it was not an easy decision for her. She had to forgo having her career which meant no meetings, events, conferences ( though we tend to complain about these things) to stay home with my brother and I. Create & Cultivate was my mom’s first ever large-scale conference! She’s a creative at heart, so I had a feeling that it would be a good fit.

sarika and akansha agrawal

The Feel:

While we are on the topic of firsts, Create & Cultivate was the first conference I attended specifically for women — that too creative women. With that, came a few interesting observations.

For example, while working in tech I was used to a very casual almost “vanilla” dress-code. However, the ladies at Create & Cultivate showed me a whole different side of conference attire with their finest and trendiest outfits.  It was kind of nice having an excuse to do my hair and makeup!

The conference itself was beautifully curated with fresh flowers and was perfect for Pinterest. Each sponsor such as Noosa Yoghurt, UrbanStems, and La Croix and each had its own booth with different interactive activities. And yes for all the Instagrammers there were a plethora of photo opportunities. Thankfully I brought my DSLR!

stella-dot-create-cultivate

As a health and wellness blogger, I noticed there was a CRAP ton of sugar at the conference. Does the “sugar n’ spice and all things nice” saying still apply to women? Breakfast was yogurt with granola or pastries, lunch was a sandwich with a tinyyy salad and then cookies. At our breaks we could stock up on candy and chocolate and then at the end there were cupcakes and more rose! Whew. I thought I had a sweet tooth but man this took it to another level.

Finally, based on my own observations at C&C – it seems like there are still relatively few ethnic minorities in the creative industry. At least at the welcome Happy Hour the night before I felt a little out of place (everyone looked the same!)  but luckily once we started chatting with people, that uneasiness was forgotten. Through our conversations we also learned that many attendees were moms which is not too surprising because the having the flexibility of running your own business is an attractive option when raising a family!

The Ladies:

We met bloggers, digital marketers, designers, and other small business owners from all across nation. It was interesting learning about the different stages each person was in with their businesses and what struggles and successes they have faced. It was comforting seeing that everyone has their set of doubts and struggles while trying to get their idea or business off the ground. Here are a few people I met:

Maxie Mccoy was the one who inspired to me to come to C&C in the first place.

maxie-mccoy

-So great spending time with my friend Neha, who is also a beauty blogger at nehabeauty.com

-I snapped a picture with Yvonne Orji from HBO’s Insecure!

yvonne-orji-create-cultivate

The Content:

At such a large event, I was not expecting to receive tactical business advice but to rather feel inspired and network with other women who had similar goals. Create & Cultivate served that exact purpose. The conference was divided into two tracks: Track 1 focused on growing your business and Track 2 was meant for content creators; my mom and I were in the latter. With the panels and keynotes we had the opportunity to listen to inspirational speakers such as Emily Schuman of Cupcakes & Cashmere, Doree Shafrir from Buzzfeed and Issa Rae from HBO’s Insecure!

Some panels were more helpful than others. For example, it wasn’t too helpful to hear advice from bloggers who started 10 years ago and admit they got lucky based on their timing. Nevertheless it was still interesting hearing their perspective. My two favorite panels were the one on snackable content: the intersection of food & digital, and one called “radically creative”. Here are some tidbits of advice we received:

  • “Delegate when someone can do it 70% as good as you” – Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon
  • “Saying no to this makes everyone say yes to something better “- Whitney Leigh Morris, The Tiny Canal Cottage
  • “I would encourage for us to charge double…if you delete creative from the world, it would become very boring.” – Anne Milan Alo, creative director at WE Communications
  • Always do things that scare you – Emily Schuman, Cupcakes & Cashmere

livestrong

Pro Tips for Create & Cultivate!
  • Bring healthy snacks! Nuts, baby carrots, protein bars. Although the food was cute, you are not going to get food with a lot of substance. As I mentioned there is a lot of sugar at the conference :).
  • Wear layers. Most of the conference was outside so if the weather is unpredictable, like it was in Seattle, you need to be prepared.
  • Ask questions during the mentor power hour and jot down your mentors email addresses after the session to keep that connection strong.
  • Take pictures, go to the beauty bar, drink some wine, meet new people, and have fun! It’s not supposed to be stressful.

Whew, I think this is the longest blog post I have written on Citrus & Gold but I clearly had a lot to say. I would 100% recommend this conference to anyone who has been thinking about going. I’d recommend to go with someone special and do your research to know what to expect! There really couldn’t be a better time to be in this industry :).

Why Every Young Professional Should Have A Side Hustle

This post is a little more buttoned up than my usual because I actually published this on LinkedIn first. It was kind of a big deal for me for a few reasons: One, publishing on LinkedIn adds a bit more pressure because all professional eyes are on you. It’s so much easier writing posts for my blog! Two, it was my first time I publicly mentioned my blog as a “side hustle”. Sure many people knew I had a blog, but I finally confessed that it’s much more than a hobby. It takes too much damn time to be a hobby. And finally, I work full-time at LinkedIn so it’s a big deal to me talking about what I do outside of my full-time job.

Hope you enjoy!

We millennials are known to want it all. We are known to be restless and a little naive, but I don’t think that’s necessarily bad.

Our itch to do more, be more, drives us closer to our dreams and goals. Yet the desire alone isn’t enough — we have to work for it.

Many of us have turned to side hustles: part-time gigs that supplement and complement our nine-to-five, and help us get closer to our long-term career and life goals. Some of us are creating our own clothing brands, others are picking up photography, blogging, or design. For others, the side hustle may be something as simple as working at a coffee shop or driving for a ride-sharing app. No matter what the hustle may be, almost all of them are stepping stones toward a larger goal.

Personally, I’ve been working a corporate job the last few years, and I’ve recently started to invest more in my passions by finding ways to monetize them. Alongside my full-time job as an insights analyst, I also teach group fitness and run my own wellness blog.

Side hustles are extremely beneficial when you are young and new in your career for a few reasons:

1. You appreciate your full-time job way more

The more you start investing in your side hustle, the more you come to appreciate the benefits from your full-time gig! With a side hustle, you don’t get the nice perks (goodbye health insurance and 401K!), you don’t have a team to lean on, and you may not even have the luxury of an office. It’s hard running your own business, and you sometimes forget the little (and the big) things you’ve been taking for granted. It’s a very humbling process.

2. You get to be your own boss — and learn from the good and bad

So you may miss out on the comforts of a corporate job, but with a side hustle you get to have 100-percent control over you and your business, which can be both terrifying and amazing. I’ve experienced more rejection, self-doubt, and excitement with my side hustles than I ever have with my full-time job. I’ve grown both personally and professionally from these key moments and I know these learnings will help with my career down the line.

3. You diversify your skill set

Many skills you pick up a corporate setting are very applicable to your side hustles, and vice versa. For example, public speaking is a skill I’ve always wanted to perfect — I’ve tried Toastmasters and other projects at my job, and they all helped to an extent. However, through teaching group fitness, I’ve seen a bigger improvement in my public speaking skills in the last couple of months than I have in the last few years; it’s because I threw myself into a job that forces me to get better.

4. You become a pro with time management

All right, so “pro” might be a stretch, but you do get much better with your time when you have more responsibilities added to your plate (just ask any new parent!). If you want to pursue your own idea and also keep your nine-to-five, you have to find a way to make it work. That may mean scheduling everything down to the hour, waking up earlier in the morning to work on your idea, or just being more efficient with your time (ie, not checking Instagram every hour…).

5. You professional network gets even bigger

Finally, through your side hustle, you expand and diversify your network. When you grow your professional network, you have the opportunity to learn and understand different perspectives from a wide variety of people. The breadth of your network can be very valuable; you are more aware about how other people work, you understand how business is conducted in different industries, and you have a chance to make new friends!

For those of you pursuing your own side hustles, what advice/learnings do you have from your personal experience?

Instagram: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As a newer blogger, I’ve been learning the ins and outs with social media and out of all platforms, Instagram is where I spend the most of my time. I really do enjoy sharing and seeing other people’s pictures but over the years instagram has transformed into a platform for business and it’s changed the vibe in big ways.

There’s a lot that can be said about this seemingly innocuous photo-sharing platform so I’m going to divvy it up into three categories: the good, the bad, the ugly.

The Good:

I absolutely LOVE how Instagram has helped me connected with other like-minded individuals (shameless plug, you can find me @citrusandgold). I’ve met amazing women into fitness, POP pilates, and I’ve also got the chance to connect south asian influencers who are killing it. It’s also a really great source for inspiration: whether for workouts, photography, places to visit…you name it!

Great example: I met Kruti Shah (who is amazing!!) through Instagram and I was able to share her story with health & wellness on my blog. It’s really great for community-building.

The Bad:

Instagram can also be a huge waste of time. Sometimes I feel like I’m “working” on my blog but what I’m really doing is spending hours scrolling through Instagram and commenting, hoping to make a dent. Also if you are a blogger (READ: Blogging 101: How to Choose a Blog Name), it’s good to know that Instagram isn’t great for conversion (i.e. bringing traffic to your site).

It can also increase the feeling of FOMO, and it paints a very superficial & curated version of someone’s life. Note to all: Instagram is NOT real life. People go to the greatest lengths to take the perfect picture.

Example: Remember Essena O’Neill, the insta-famous Australian model? Here she talks about why she called it quits with Instagram.

The Ugly:

Okay this part is where I get really frustrated with Instagram: the followers game. There are so many shady tactics that people follow to get more followers. Here are just a few:

  • There are apps & services that let you buy followers that are essentially fake but active accounts
  • Some people follow the tactic of using bots to comment with stupid emojis or generic terms like “Perfect!” or “Love!” It’s becoming easier to spot these fake comments so I’m not sure why people are still doing it. Not trying to become friends with a bunch of R2-D2s.
  • The sneakiest way is probably the follow & unfollow method. Again there are apps that help you follow a bunch of people in your niche, hoping they will follow-back. Then within a couple of days, you automatically unfollow these people so your follower to following ratio is higher.

I don’t want to call anyone out for using these ways, but it just seems so unethical. I mean a part of me gets it. You have to hustle to get noticed and sometimes it may need to do whatever it takes. But there has to be better ways to grow your brand.

Here’s the deal: I’m not giving up on Instagram but I want to really focus more time on writing valuable content and less on promoting on social media. And ultimately, I hope that means you have to waste less time scrolling through Instagram & Facebook (and spend it on things that actually matter).

If you’re interested, and want to stay in the loop about what I’m writing please subscribe below!

As for Instagram, I vow to stay ethical with my practice and grow the slow, authentic way.



Bloggers, if you use instagram to reach a large audience then you should know the pros and cons of this social media platform

Blogging 101: Choosing a Blog Name

Blogging-101- choosing-blog-name

Blogging-101- choosing-blog-name

You know how some people are good at creating witty/fun names for sports teams, group projects, or blogs? Yeah I was never that person.

My first blog name, akanshaagrawal.com, shows you the extent of my creativity. Therefore when it came to choosing a name for this blog, I started to panic just a little bit.

I wanted a blog name that first and foremost represented a brand, a certain kind of feeling, a lifestyle.

Find your purpose:

A good place to start is to start brainstorming names that fit your blog’s focus. Personally, I wanted a blog name that represent not only me, but also a lifestyle of health & fitness.

Some bloggers choose straightforward names that tells you directly about the focus of their blog. That works perfectly fine but I chose to pick a name that’s more abstract to give me flexibility to transform my brand over time.

Brainstorm like crazy.

It took me about a week to decide on “Citrus & Gold” and I was constantly thinking about it in the back of my mind. I asked my mom, my best friend, my boyfriend to help me brainstorm names. On my iPhone Notes app, I had a list of over 30 potential possibilities.

My advice is to write anything that comes to your mind – no matter how boring or crazy it may sound. At some point, you will stumble upon a name that has a nice ring to it. You’ll keep it in your back pocket for the next few moments and finally decide that it is right for you.

Research to find something that works across all platforms

You want a name that’s unique and sets you apart. First, check to see if the domain is available here.

Second, you should choose a name wisely so that you can use it consistently across all platforms. It’s important to have a recognizable identity on Pinterest/Instagram/Twitter etc.

Think about the future

“How long do you want to continue your blog?” is an important question to answer. When I asked myself this, I realized I needed to choose a name that was timeless and not temporary.

At first, I was thinking of names that defined me at this moment: running, California, my twenties. But what happens if I stop running and move onto another sport? What if I move from California and what if (god forbid!) I turn 30?

When creating a name, it’s important to find one that you can identify with for a long time (at least, if you want to continue blogging in the future).

In the end, it’s more about the brand than the name

If you’re still trying to find the PERFECT blog name I wouldn’t sweat it too hard. The name is important but it will not make or break your blog. What really matters is your brand & content.

Think about “Apple” for example. What does a macintosh apple have to do with computers and technology? Nothing. Yet the company was able to take that name & strategically brand itself to make it mean much more.

Finally, what I’ve learned from a few years of blogging: content is KEY. If you have a fancy name, a beautiful website, but you have weak content, you’re not going to get too far long-term.

Anyone else have any tips they’d like to share? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

image from Bloglovin