Things I Learned From Running a Beauty Blog (and how it saved my life)

Water marble nail art, modeled over a Logitech G700s wireless mouse. (Photo: Melissa Dex Guzman)

I never knew that an event that happened in 2012 would change my life forever (in the worst way possible). That year in February, my life plummeted: I was suddenly diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a supposed temporary paralysis of the face. My life was taken away: I couldn’t speak properly, I didn’t look right, I was unable to operate a camera. (But this is another story for another day.)

I couldn’t do the things I was used to doing anymore so as a last resort, I gave myself a new project and a new goal: to launch a nail blog without the aid of my existing network. I was to create, develop and run this blog and not tell anyone. It was my secret. My Superman to my Clark Kent.

Supergiant Games ‘Transistor’ inspired nail art. (Photo: Melissa Dex Guzman)
I always wanted to be featured on Kotaku. Little did I know I would be… But not for my esports photography… It would be my nails that would be featured.

For about two years, my nail blog was essentially my part-time job. I spent roughly 3–4 hours on each post which included:

  • Performing nail and hand care
  • Creating nail art, and drying time
  • Photographing products, nails in various angles, poses
  • Editing photos: colour correction, minor touch-ups, watermarking
  • Writing the blog post, uploading all images
  • Pushing content to social media
  • Commenting on other blog posts
  • Replying to comments on social media, blogs

Needless to say, it wasn’t sustainable anymore for me but I’m glad I did it. I was sent complimentary products, often offered discounts, and most importantly made friends with other nail bloggers and indie creators that I have kept in touch with to this day. I was in a period of my life where I wished I never existed but ultimately, my little beauty blog saved my life. For a while, it gave me something to look forward to and it challenged me. So many people cheered me on.

You gotta keep ‘em separated: the creation for unique email and social media accounts specific to the blog

I wasn’t about to start blogging about my nails through my own identity so my first step was to create specific accounts: I created an email address through both Gmail and Yahoo. Through Google, I instantly had an account for Blogger and through Yahoo, I had access to Flickr. These two systems were the main ecosystem of my platform.

From there, I created social media accounts for Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and eventually hopped on board with Pinterest due to the audience of my content. My reach grew with each post I made.

Adventure Time’s Lumpy Space Princess nail art done with Digital Nails polish. (Photo: Melissa Dex Guzman)

What’s your ‘schtick’? What’s your brand?

Because I wasn’t linking my beauty blog to my real name, I realized I finally had a luxury: I could be anything I wanted to be. I was not real, I was anonymous… But I chose not to: I was myself.

I decided to cater to all things indie, nerdy, video games. That was ‘me’.

Being myself was easy and soon enough, I found that there was a whole audience for nerdy, video game loving folks like me. I stuck to my guns and tied in as much nerd/geek culture that I could. This is how I eventually found myself on Kotaku, and was linked to from Day[9]’s Twitch chat.

Ultimately it’s about high quality content. Good photography is key.

I confess: my website never looked that great. I had no header graphic and it looked like a blog from the early 2000s but that didn’t bother me. My goal was to create high quality content — I wanted the content to shine.

This is where everything came natural to me: I wasn’t able to look through a viewfinder while I was recovering from Bell’s Palsy so I used a mirrorless camera: a Panasonic Lumix GF-1 with a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. It had a preview screen that I could use to take photos.

I knew that most people wouldn’t read my posts so I focused on having huge photos that dominated the posts. Every post would have bountiful images that would speak to not only other nail art fans but to capture the attention of the companies that produced the products: I was to focus on nail art as well as product photography.

With that said, I created my own DIY soft box with a clear plastic storage bin tipped on its side lined with white tissue paper and desk lamps shining in from all directions.

Doge nail art made with a DIY decal. (Photo: Melissa Dex Guzman)

“How do you do, fellow kids?” Stay on top of trends and memes

We are in an era of the short attention span and the only way I could stay on top was to create nail art for relevant and new topics. The new Diablo 3 expansion is coming out? Make nail art for it. There’s a Luigi staredown in the new Mario Kart? Nail art. If I was still running my nail blog, you bet that I would have made Blizzard’s Overwatch ‘Play of the Game’ nails. Don’t ask how but I would have found a way.

How’s your SEO game? It better be strongk

I felt a bit filthy for the way I ran my SEO but it didn’t stop me. A part of why I named my posts the way I did was because I wanted to be thorough.

SEO works in mysterious ways (re: I am not an expert) but I found the more you keep your blog updated, the higher it’ll rank. Because I haven’t updated my blog in a few years, there won’t be an easy comeback. I’d have to just get back into the game.

I noticed that there were different terms for nail polish posts: sometimes it was “No Specific Brand ‘Polish Name’ Review” and sometimes it was “No Specific Brand ‘Polish Name’ Swatch”… So I used both: “No Specific Brand ‘Polish Name’ Swatch and Review”.

If I based my nail art on a product, you can be sure that I used the full product name followed by “Inspired Nail Art”. My blog sometimes came up when people looked for the product or video game. “Video Game Developer ‘Game Title’ Inspired Nail Art”.

(Gross, I know.)

DO U EVEN NETWORK? Because you’ll be working with other blogs and businesses

I never set out to run a blog to get free shit or become famous but I ended up getting free shit and I ended up getting featured on major websites… I think a lot of it was because how accessible and social my blog was—It wasn’t a platform to yell out opinions or thoughts… I was looking for a connection and others were too.

With other blogs, I would collaborate on themes: one week I did a “bestie nail art” week with one of my nail blogger friends.

Due to catering to video games and general geek culture, companies that had the same audience would reach out to my blog, hoping to generate hype surrounding the latest release of a video game or movie.

Disclosures… Because it’s about ethics in cosmetics journalism

This is where I was introduced to the concept of ‘disclosures’, and being able to be upfront about when a product was sent for review meant a lot in regards to trust to readers. We’re seeing a completely different way of advertising. Advertising is no longer those scripted shorts in breaks between your favourite shows, but it’s celebrities wearing certain brands on their Instagram, YouTubers playing games. Often these “influencers” are being paid to promote items.

At the end of posts where I feature a product that I was sent, I would often include the text “Full disclosure: This sample was provided for an unbiased review.” I did this in efforts to be as open as possible.

Your audience actually cares about you

This one was the biggest surprise of them all… My readers legitimately gave a shit about me. They cared about my health, they wanted me to be well. I never told them that I had Bell’s Palsy but as an introduction to all my posts, I would say how I’m doing, what TV shows I was watching, what exercise/diet goals I had — Stuff that didn’t even have anything to do with nails!

But the truth is, I let go. I wasn’t afraid of what anyone would think because it wasn’t tied to my identity… And it turned out OK. It was OK to have a personality and it was OK to be human.

In a period of my life where I had troubles finding reasons to get up in the morning and could not take care of myself, my beauty blog added a small encouragement I needed to move forward.

I found it easy to be cynical but whoever knew that a weird nook of the Internet of nail polish and nail art would provide me a lesson of hope: there are good people out there.

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