Thursday, January 19, 2017

The best online resources to improve your blog

Hello there my friends! It's almost the weekend, whoot! I hope your week has gone beautifully!

I used to share a lot of blogging tips and have stopped doing that as much over the years. I was reminded at a conference last year that SO MANY of you are interested in blogging or have already started one and the advice would be welcomed.

So I'm determined to be better about sharing again! I'll be going on my tenth year of blogging in just a few months and I still can hardly believe it. Truly the BEST, most amazing job I've ever had. I pinch myself every day. I still have SO much to learn as this business is constantly changing, but I do have a lot under my belt that I can share. :)

I'm sharing the six online resources I use nearly every day to run my business. They are so helpful for different reasons and I'll go into each. Most are free for the basic use!

1. PicMonkey for photo editing

I don't use anything fancy to edit my photos. I love photography and it was a hobby of mine before blogging, but I still haven't taken the time to learn Photoshop. It intimidates me, simple as that. :)

But photos are EVERYTHING on a blog...it doesn't matter what you're blogging about. You need visuals or it gets boring real fast. I used another program for years (you may see my refer to it in my earlier posts) but they went under. Thankfully PicMonkey came along to fill that need:

Online photo editing for bloggers

Their basic options are free (and there are a lot of them). If you want extras you can pay the upgrade and that's $33 a year. They are absolutely worth it for me. 

You can do a ton with this site -- brighten, sharpen, adjust color and resize your photos. 
Free online photo editing

You can also create your own printables! I love this site and find it offers plenty of editing options for my needs. Someday I may learn Photoshop...but maybe not. 

2. Tailwind for Pinterest

THIS is one I don't think I could live without. There are plenty of scheduling sites for Pinterest but this is the one I like the best. Tailwind is an incredible resource full of information and helpful tools for bloggers: 
The best way to schedule pins on Pinterest

Not only does it make it incredible easy to schedule your content on Pinterest for weeks and months out, it gives you access to the stats of your Pinterest account and how pins and boards are performing. 

The analytics are so interesting and you can see where it's best to spend your time on Pinterest. It also shows you the optimal times to pin for your specific account. I like the scheduling part the best because it means I don't have to be on the computer for hours every day: 
How to schedule pins on Pinterest

There are also "tribes" with groups of bloggers which make it super easy to pin similar content to yours -- which is important because people that follow your account want to see consistent content. 

Tailwind is free to those who want to just use the tribes but if you want all the bells and whistles it's $10 a month (if you pay for the year in advance). It is a tool I would hate to be without at this point and I can't recommend it enough. If you'd like to try it out, you can use my (affiliate) link here

I plan to go more in depth on this tool in a later post so I can show you all it does! 

3. Coscheduler for the best headlines

This is such a cool, FREE resource! You put in your post title and it will give you a score:
The best online tools for bloggers

Before I said photos are everything and I take that back...titles are even more important because no one will find you if you don't have great titles! I still struggle with finding the best ones and this is so helpful. I don't use it every time but I should.

Here's a very basic title for today's post:
Helpful online tools for bloggers

That's a pretty bad score. I consider anything below 70 to be poor. 

Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right combo of words but look what a difference it makes: 
the best free tools for bloggers

You can see I'm still at 0 percent for a couple of them but it's a MUCH better score. If I play around with it more I'm sure I can get it higher. 

They offer a few other helpful tips for each title as well. This is a simple way to see how well search engines will view your blog titles. Such a cool free resource! 


4. Google Analytics for stats

I have to tell you, I don't look at this nearly as much as I should. But if you have a blog, (at least one you'd like to make a business out of) you absolutely need to at least have this code installed on your blog so you can see how it's performing.

Google Analytics is an absolute treasure trove of information:
best resource for blog analytics

You'll be able to see how many page views and visits you get every day, the unique views, the general areas of the world your readers are coming from, and most importantly, what posts are getting the most traction and who is sending you traffic. 

Knowing what posts are popular at any given time is helpful so you can make those the best they can be. You want those coming from searches and Pinterest to stay awhile and come back to your site...this gives you insight into if they are doing that. 

Make sure the code for Google Analytics is installed at the top of your site to get the best information. 

5. Photobucket for photo storage

I've used this for both personal and blog use for years. It's a free service for the most basic needs and that includes quite a bit of storage. I don't use it to host my blog photos but it's an option. I used to use it for all of the images for my blog design, but now it's more for free printables I've created: 

how to store free printables and photos

This is great because you can share full size photos or printables with readers without giving them full access to your account. (Using the codes they provide on the right of the image.) 

You can see my free Valentine printable here if you need a cute one for this upcoming holiday! :)

This service is free if you stay under a certain amount of photos. I have a TON on my personal account and I'm not even close to the limit. But there are upgrades available: 
photo storage options for bloggers

If you have photos or images that you want to share in their full resolution, or you just need a place to house your photos off of your computer, this is a great option. 

6. Bit.ly for trackable links

This is another favorite FREE service. Sometimes it's helpful to see how many people click on your links -- for numerous reasons. This site allows you to add your post url into their site and then they give you a shorter link to use instead: 
my favorite online resources for bloggers

I started using these years ago purely for Twitter -- to help stay under the character count limit. But I've found this valuable in so many ways since! You can see how well your links are performing and they are stored forever (you can search by keyword to find old ones). So you can pull your link from a post years ago and share it again. 

I find it's especially helpful when sharing posts on social media. You can also see how the link performs over time: 
best online resources for blogging

I will create one bit link for Facebook and one (a mobile version on my phone) for Instagram. This way I can see how much traffic I'm getting from each site. If you work with brands this is a great way to show them how much traffic came from social media.

You can use your bit link within your posts (linking to old posts) as well to see the engagement. I don't do this but if you're curious it's interesting. 

They now offer the ability to edit your link to a more friendly version as well -- instead of numbers and letters I can change it to "TDCwhatever" and use words that describe the post. I think this is helpful to readers because I know I usually hesitate to click on a link if I can't see what it's talking about. :) 

The only problem with editing your link is that Instagram does not recognize them as a legitimate web address. I hope they fix this soon! 

Well there you go! My six favorite blogging resources that I use nearly every day. They not only help me organize and streamline my work but also give me helpful insight into how my readers respond to my content. 

Are you a blogger or have you considered creating one? If so you can check out my blogging posts with tons of tricks and tips over the past nine years.  I think I underestimate how many of you are blogging or are thinking about it! 

Have you used any of the tools I mentioned or do you have any you can't live without? I'd LOVE to hear about them! 

You can pin this image to save this post and refer to it later!: 

The best web tools to improve your blog




Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How to not kill your fiddle leaf plant

Hey there! Hope you had a lovely weekend, and perhaps a long one for some of you! 

I get asked about two things more than anything on the blog and social media -- the first is what's that paint color? (You can find all of our paint colors here.) The second is one I would never expect -- how do you keep your fiddle leaf plants alive? 

It seems many have struggled keeping these beauties from dying. The fiddle leaf fig has become incredibly popular over the past few years because of their big green leaves and pretty shape. I think they are the easiest plant to grow but I know many have had problems with them. If you have or are considering one of these, read on! 

I'll share some of our fiddles first, and then some tips. We have nine fiddles in our home and I've kept them all alive over the years. Most are thriving so I consider myself to be a fiddle leaf fig expert at this point. :) 

Some are doing better than others. My favorite, giant one was a killer find at our local nursery. This is how it looked shortly after we got it: 
healthy fiddle leaf plant

It was a $130 plant that I got for $30 because they said it was in such bad shape. At first I didn't see that at all, but then the leaves really started to fall. This is what it looks like now: 
fiddle leaf losing leaves

It's still doing well because a.) the leaves are now a beautiful, healthy, dark green and b.) it's still growing and sprouting like mad. It's grown nearly a foot (I moved that top line of art up years back so it's not a good indicator) and most of the leaves on it are very healthy. 

There's plenty of new growth on the bottom and at the top, but it's not done so well in the middle. I'll explain why it's especially bare right now at the end of the post. 

When I added the fiddle to our new loft space in the early fall last year it was much fuller: 
loft craft room and office

It's been growing well and the leaves are getting huge, but it lost quite a few leaves at first: 
How to fix brown or yellow leaves on fiddle leaf

I'll go into more detail on that one too. :)

But most, and theses are the ones I ignore the most (remember that!), are doing incredibly well! Our master bedroom fiddle is a slow grower but has healthy leaves that are a lovely green:
how to keep fiddle leaf plant alive

So pretty! This one is in our master as well and has grown at least a foot in just a year!:
fiddle leaf plant tips

I should have turned it (and need to) so you could see the size of the leaves on that one. It leans that way to get to the direct sun coming in through our bathroom window. 

My pride and joy is our master bathroom -- it was just a little guy a little over a year ago:
how to not kill the fiddle leaf plant

Isn't that crazy? It's HUGE. 

Our family room fig started out as a little bitty baby (right side of pic):
dark gray fireplace

Now look at him! 😍
tips on how to grow fiddle leaf

(See the end of the post for why the leaves turn yellow.) 

I found this small leaf fiddle at a big discount at the nursery as well: 
small leaf fiddle fig

They said he was doing bad and again, I didn't see it at first. 

He did struggle a little but now has grown quite a bit and is filling in a ton: 
small leaf fiddle plant

So here is my advice for some common issues with fiddles: 

BROWN LEAVES:  I think this is the most common problem I hear! These are tricky because most people think brown crusty leaves mean the plant needs water. Nine times out of ten it's the opposite -- brown leaves are a sign of too much water: 
brown leaves on fiddle leaf

Most of my plants have leaves like this -- usually from overwatering at the place I purchased them. Sometimes if the overwatering stops they will just stay like that for a very long time so I usually break off the brown parts (just don't tear the green part of the leaf) so the plant looks a little better. If the watering continues the leaves will fall off. I think this is the number one reason why so many die.

WATERING:  I only water our fiddles once every two weeks. You just need to watch the plant -- if it's really droopy you know it needs water, but it's very, very rare that mine ever get to that point. 

Keep in mind, if your pot is smaller you will need to water more often. If you have a lot of brown leaves, consider repotting to a larger pot and watering less. 

BARE BRANCHES:  If leaves fall off the branches they will look dead...they're probably not. Just leave it alone and new growth will appear again: 
empty branches on fiddle leaf

I will say, once mine lose leaves at the bottom and middle, it's very rare that they bloom new leaves again there. 

Our huge plant is getting some new growth at the bottom: 
cats peeing in plants
But again, for my taller plants that's rare. Side note -- Nerf bullets. I told you I find them everywhere. Secondly, if you have cats that occasionally pee in plants, rocks work wonders. They don't like stepping on them. You can find them at the dollar store. (Yes she has clean litter, yes she is healthy, yes sometimes she's just a butt and wants to pee in plants.)

LIGHT IS EVERYTHING:  I hear from so many that growing these plants is hard -- but I've found them to be the easiest plant by far. This is because they really need very little -- water every week or two and really great light. That's it! I promise. 

My best plants are in full, direct sunlight from half of the day to all day: 
healthy fiddle leaf care

The ones that struggle more don't get direct light. They will love you forever and be so happy if you put them in full sun. They LOVE it. If you're plant is not growing, it needs more sun. 

Also, if you have yellow leaves (you can see a couple on the plant by our back door), it means that leaf specifically isn't getting enough sun. Often I see this on the lower leaves because the upper ones block them. Sometimes there's not much you can do about that and that can lead to the more sparse branches. 

Now I do my best to turn our fiddles every month so they get full sun throughout. 

REPLANTING OR NOT:  When I bring a fiddle home, most of the time I don't replant it. I keep it in it's original planter and put a plastic water tray at the bottom. If the plant isn't doing well I may put it in a bigger pot, but some of mine that are absolutely thriving have been in the same planter they came in for years. 

You don't have to replant them, but if you are getting brown leaves and want to water less, go ahead and put them in something bigger. Once they get huge, you'll want to replant to something bigger. 

DON'T GIVE UP:  With full sun and little water, these babies thrive. I don't fertilize them, I don't prune them. I don't drag them outside or to the shower to water them (some do and have great success!). I forget about them for the most part and they seem to love that. 

Keep in mind they will go dormant during the winter. So they look their worst right now. Even so, ours are still growing new leaves, just not as fast as usual: 

fiddle leaf new growth

You'll need to be patient with them during these months as they pull back and slow down. :) 

WHERE TO BUY:  I get asked this a lot! Your local nursery will most likely have them. When I say nursery I mean a location with just plants -- if they carry indoor plants. I find they are the most expensive there though. If you find them, keep an eye out for one with damaged leaves and offer to take it off their hands for a discount. 

I used to find them at IKEA but it's been a couple years since I've seen them there. Now the best place I've found is Home Depot -- they usually have them in stock when I stop in. I've also heard Lowe's has started carrying them. I've purchased most of mine at Home Depot for $9 and that's a great deal for their size! 

I've heard some have had luck buying on Amazon, but the one I got there came and was ridiculously small. I mean, barely one tiny leaf so it was just annoying for the price. AND it died within a couple weeks. 

Have you had luck with these beauties? They are by far my favorite house plant, I adore them. They're awesome in decor because of their large leaves and fuller shape. 

If you have any additional questions I'll do my best to answer them!   

Here's an image to pin for later: 
Easy tips for growing fiddle leaf plants