Why I Started Donuts + Down Dog and How I Turned It Into A Business
HOW IT STARTED + MY WHY
When people hear what I do they usually ask a lot of questions. How long have you been doing that? What made you start? I had a blog a few years ago... blogging is weird. It’s confusing. It can be pretty self serving. I honestly struggle with that a lot. Does anybody even care about this? Is this embarrassing? Does everyone think I’m crazy? Do I care if they do?
When I graduated from college I felt, like most people, very confused. I had a degree in Public Relations and no idea what I wanted to do. I missed the community and constant movement of being a college athlete. My first job was great, in theory, but I wasn’t very excited about the work that I was doing or my career trajectory. I felt really lonely. Around this time I had started practicing yoga. Looking back now, I think that my yoga practice was the litter glimmer of something else is out there that I needed. Yoga reminded me how much I loved movement. My yoga practice reconnected me with my almost obsessive interest in health (whatever THAT is), and more of my free time became dedicated to learning about yoga, food, and fitness when I wasn’t at my desk job. It gave me purpose and made me feel like I had some control of my life. If you’ve been a recent college grad working an entry-level position in a career you aren’t sure you like (read: 90% of people), you know how important that feeling is.
I started “blogging” (if you can even call it that) on Tumblr with a friend in 2013. We posted random workout tips, recipes, inspirational quotes, and other basic internet shit. I had no idea what I was doing. I had been hungry for something to do, and blogging was my way of assigning myself homework. When I ran into something that I didn’t know how to do - website design, social media strategy, yoga philosophy, whatever - I would teach myself how to do it. We slowly started connecting with other people, mostly women, out on the internet that were interested in the same things that we were. We got a real website. As time went on I started filling up more and more of my time with self-assigned blog projects. We started our Instagram account and filled it up with shitty, grainy photos of smoothies and embarrassing inspirational quotes about yoga. My friend eventually stepped away from the blog world to focus on her career. I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. What if I made this my career?
At this point we had completed approximately zero paid projects, but hey- a girl can dream!
GROWING THE BLOG
I want to be really honest about my blogging journey because I feel like so many of the stories out in the world are like… I started an Instagram account and overnight I had 100k followers! I wrote one post about vegan smoothies and the sponsorships just started rolling in! All I do is post cute videos of my dog sleeping and somehow make $10,000 a month! I’m sure that these things do happen to people, but that hasn’t been my experience. Slowly but surely more people started reading my blog, which at that time was under a completely different name (Photosynthesis206. What does THAT EVEN MEAN?!) and on a different hosting platform. I would be thrilled when readership hit double digits. Yes. Double digits. Like, more than 9 people. I would write for the sake of writing, something that I find myself missing often when I’m in the depths of an intense paid collaboration. I wrote about my history with eating disorders. I wrote about yoga teacher training. I posted recipes and reviews of books that inspired me. I wrote about the things that I cared about.
My number one piece of advice for anybody that wants to blog or be an influencer (eye roll) is: pick a topic you are crazy passionate about. Pick that topic that your friends are sick of hearing about. Start a blog about the thing that makes you excited to get off work. If you want to start a blog but have no idea what your focus should be, PAUSE. Wait until you have a topic that you can’t shut up about. It will make your life so much easier, and people will be drawn to your passion. Trust me.
Ok, now that I have that out of my system…
Eventually a few people in the wellness world started to pick up my posts. I vividly remember the first free product I was ever sent. It was a cookbook called V is for Vegan. The book showed up at my apartment with a thoughtful note from the author about how much she loved my blog. I probably cried. At the time I felt like this was my first step to becoming the type of woman who reviews books in her crisp, white office. I made recipes from the book, wrote a blog post about how much I loved it, and posted photos of it all over social media. More products started to roll in. I wasn’t experienced enough at the time to realize that I could turn products down if they weren’t the right fit, so my blog started filling up with a lot of random reviews of workout equipment, books on different training philosophies, and snacks that tasted like they had been buried underground, dug out of the dirt, and then thrown into packaging. It’s all part of my process, but from time to time I want to go back to that sweet baby blogger and tell her to say no to free product (but it’s so exciting!) and to keep writing about what she loved. That’s the good stuff, anyway.
As all of this was happening I was working at Amazon. Despite not feeling fully confident in the career path I had landed in (recruiting), I had managed to get recruited to Amazon and subsequently promoted a few times. There were so many parts of me that really loved Amazon. I loved the people that I worked with. I loved learning complicated skills and figuring out ways to solve giant hiring problems. I loved helping to launch big projects, like Amazon Fresh. I loved feeling important. I loved that I had a job at a company that was notoriously impossible to get hired at. This was around the time that the New York Times published an article about how horrible Amazon was to their employees. The next day my coworkers and I brought in mimosas and cupcakes for breakfast. See?! We loved where we worked! The New York Times had no idea what they were talking about!
I would work late, usually until about 7 or so, and ordered dinner for delivery on the way home. I had a cute apartment in a neighborhood I had always loved. I traveled all over the country on recruiting trips and stayed in bougie hotels. I spent tons of money on services like Stitch Fix (still my forever favorite, I’ll be honest) on things that I didn’t need, because I had more money than I knew what to do with. People were always telling me how proud they were of me, how cool my job seemed. I could bring my dog to work! We had beers at lunch almost everyday! I had an Amazon discount!
One night after work I went for a run. About a mile from home I started having trouble breathing. I walked back to my apartment, laid on my bed, and sobbed. I called my boyfriend (now husband) and told him I thought that I was having a panic attack. We were in the middle of a crazy project and I had been working 80 hour weeks. My teammates and I joked about having a group sleepover in our office to cut down on the time we spent commuting to and from the office. I had laughed at the New York Times saying that Amazon employees were crying at their desks, but less than a year later I found myself quietly sobbing in a conference room. I was so tired. I was working so hard and, when it came down to it, didn’t care at all about recruiting or Human Resources, or launching new hiring initiatives. I wanted out. I did what every grown-ass, professional woman does. I called my dad.
When I look back at this time in my life I realize how incredibly burnt out I was. I was a member of every single club I could get my hands on in high school. In college I immediately jumped into being a college athlete. We were dealing with my mom being sick and then, in 2010, dying. I had spent a lifetime sprinting towards achievement, holding shit together, and acting like everything was fine. On the phone with my dad I finally acknowledged how unhappy I was. I was exhausted. I needed a fucking break.
I put in my notice at Amazon. I had saved up a fair amount of money by that point to live on while I figured my shit out. I picked up some classes at a yoga studio. I wrote. I did nothing for a few weeks. It felt fucking great.
FROM BLOG TO BUSINESS
Once I left Amazon I was able to dedicate more time to blogging, networking, connecting with brands for potential partnerships, and teaching myself ways to be more strategic with my efforts. Around this time I also finally ditched my old site (RIP, Photosynthesis206!) and launched Donuts + Down Dog. The studio that I taught at during that time was within walking distance to Mighty-O Donuts. I went there so frequently that they, and I’m not exaggerating here, knew me by name. It became a joke with my students that I would go get donuts after every class. I had a pair of donut yoga leggings that I wore on the weekends. The name was perfect.
As I got deeper in the blog world I noticed that fitness and wellness content I kept coming across was very intense. It didn’t feel realistic or sustainable to me. I saw SO many beautiful girls selling terrible workout plans, hocking 30 day cleanses, telling their readers how to get abs. I was so sick of it. I wanted real advice on wellness. I wanted to learn about fitness. I wanted to talk about mindfulness without the flowery language. I often felt shamed as a yoga person and former college athlete for liking things like beer, or pizza. I didn’t like the content I was finding online. So I start creating something I would want to see as a reader.
Running a blog as a reliable source of income is an interesting challenge. On the one hand, I wanted to continue creating the kind of content that my readers (yo, dudes) responded well to as well as the type of stuff that I got excited to write about - long essays about yoga, thoughts on finding balanced living, rage notes on diet culture. As great as that stuff is, it doesn’t always pay the bills. Creating content takes about one million years per project once you’ve coming up with a creative idea, workshopping that idea, taking photos, editing the photos, optimizing everything on your website, diving into your analytics to make sure you’re posting at the right time for your audience, and having an existential crisis about whether you should scratch the whole thing and start from scratch. It’s nice to, you know, get paid for all of that hard-ass work. Slowly brands started reaching out to me for more in-depth, paid collaborations. I saw how different brands paid, talked to more experienced bloggers, and did a ton of research on negotiation. I also went back to work for a bit. I worked in media and learned a shit ton about creating compelling content, understanding audiences, and negotiating media rates. That job wasn’t for me, but I learned skills that help me run my business today and secure great paid projects.
As much as I am able to, I like to work with wellness brands that have a female focus, because that’s who Donuts + Down Dog is. It’s an extra bonus when I get to work with people that I’m already obsessed with, like Stitch Fix and REI. Sometime times I’m introduced to new brands when they reach out to work together. Working with brands is kind of like a snowball - once you do one projects more seem to keep popping up.
Working with brands is also an important tool for growing my audience so that I can reach more people. The greater my reach, the more I can charge for projects. The more I can charge for the projects that I take one, the more wiggle room I have in my schedule to create things that you deserve and will be excited about as a consumer.
Look - I know that sponsored posts can be really annoying. I get it. As a consumer of blogs and devote follower of many Instagram accounts, I also get really tired of paid posts when they don’t seem to authentically fit into the things that make me love following that person or brand. I work hard to be incredibly thoughtful about the brands that I work with and to create content with them that I believe in and that I think you’ll enjoy. And you know what? Ultimately those projects give me the freedom to keep creating the stuff that we all love so much, so I’ve stopped feeling bad about it. I also give my fellow creators a little leeway, knowing how weird this business can be. I definitely get impatient with fashion bloggers who post almost exclusively sponsored content, but I also cheer for them . They’re crushing their shit. The type of blogger that can post sponsored post after sponsored post is making a buttload of money. There’s nothing wrong with making money. It should be celebrated and talked about and not shamed. I am so fucking lucky that I can make the amount of money that I do running Donuts + Down Dog. You are a huge part of that (thank you!).
A few months ago I finally started making more than I made working at Amazon. Initially I took a giant pay cut. I want to make this super clear in case anybody is reading this looking for their next fruitful career opportunity: it is incredibly hard to make money from blogging. A question that I get asked A LOT is how I make money. The question is long and semi-complicated (keep your eyes peeled for a full post on it soon!) but essentially it breaks down a few ways. I make money from paid brand collaborations, creating content for other sites, commissions from products purchased on my site, and events like yoga classes or mindful meetups. I’ve been doing this since the end of 2012. It took me almost seven years of trial and error, growth, and planning to begin making a reliable income from blogging. If you plan things out thoughtfully and are realistic about your income, it’s completely doable. Just remember that running your own business, no matter how much fun you know you’ll have doing it, is still going to be work in the end.
LOOKING BACK + AHEAD
I have so many ideas for Donuts + Down Dog. It keeps me up late at night in the good and bad ways. I get so excited about things that I can’t sleep. Then I spend so much time worrying if anybody will like them that I also… can’t sleep! Donuts + Down Dog has changed a lot over the years, especially on Instagram. I try to make changes based on what my readers respond to the best, vs. what might be the current trend in the industry. By doing this I’ve been able to keep an engaged audience. It also means that I haven’t grown as quickly as some bloggers have. I don’t care. I would rather provide you with excellent content and information than rapidly grow my account. That’s just me.
Do I look back sometimes at my old posts and cringe? Absolutely. I’ve deleted a lot of stuff for being terrible quality or just a bad brand fit. Outside of that I keep old content up because it’s fun to look back on. When I was a younger blogger I took on some projects (both free and paid) that I wish I hadn’t because brands were taking advantage of my work. That sucks, but I also think that learning opportunity was really important for me as a female business owner. I wish I had learned how to take good photos way earlier on. Outside of that, there isn’t a whole lot that I would change.
People ask me all the time what my “vision” is. My 5 year plan. Blogging and online content creation is an ever evolving industry. The things that I do now I absolutely would love have expected a year ago. It’s hard to plan out where media will go. I know that I want to keep doing this, though. I love this job so much. As corny as it is, I love all of you so much. Donuts + Down Dog is not only my job, but a place that I go to find comfort, inspiration, information, and to find my people. I am so lucky that I get to be immersed in this rad shit all day. I hope that I get to keep doing this for as long as I’m able to.
Moving forward I have a few goals. I’m a list person, so here you go.
Video content! I haven’t done much of it because, honestly, I’m terrified of it. Writing about myself on the internet already seems a little self indulgent. But you’ve asked for more yoga videos and I want to bring those to you. Aside from yoga videos, in 2019 I am planning more videos on meditation, some fun interviews with other women in wellness, workout videos, and more.
More classic blog posts like this one. As I was writing this post I realized how much I’ve missed doing these more casual, long-form posts. I started looking back into my archives and realized that you really like them too. I have a few fun ones planned, like my thoughts on my never ending obsession with buying vitamins. If there’s more you want me to wax poetic about, let me know.
Resources! I want to expand the resources that I provide you into bigger projects that you can integrate into your life. This means more resources like my 5 Day Journal. I’m working on an intro to yoga video series, a mindfulness challenge, and more journaling guides. Most of these resources will be free. A few will be for sale. I’m preaching to the choir here, but I believe in asking for what I’m worth. I believe in supporting small business owners. I can’t say those things and then not ask to be paid. I also know that people who pay for a wellness resource are more likely to follow through on their commitment. We both win!
If you’ve made it to the end of this post congratulations, that was long AF. Also, thank you. I mean it - thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting this strange corner of the internet. Thank you for your commitment to your own personal wellness and balance - it’s hard to take control of your life and you are a badass for doing it.
I was inspired to ask this post after reviewing a collection of questions that I get regularly. I want to be as transparent as possible to connect with you, and also to help out my fellow bloggers. If you have any other questions I can help you with, let me know below.
Live long and prosper, sweet angel bbs.