Final Reminder – Win a £100 Amazon Gift Card In The ‘Glimpses’ Competition

It’s your final chance to enter Hugh’s incredible competition, where you could win a £100 Amazon gift card!!!

Hugh's Views & News

To celebrate the launch of my first book. Glimpses, on December 1st, 2016, I also announced details of a competition where one lucky winner will win a £100 Amazon gift card, and five runners-up will each get a £20 Amazon gift card.

All you have to do, to be in with a chance of winning, is answer the following question, solve its anagram, and complete a tiebreaker.

Question: In the story ‘The Easter Bunny’ what is the name of the toy maker of the soft toy Denise decides to buy for her daughter and what is the toy maker’s name an anagram of?

Tiebreaker: Using no more than another 15 words, complete the following sentence:

I enjoy reading short stories because…

Email your answers to glimpsescomp@yahoo.co.uk, no later than 23:59 GMT on Tuesday 28th February 2017, ensuring you enter ‘Glimpses Competition’ in the subject line.

Click here for a clue to…

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Want to Build Your Twitter Following? Join my Twitter Link-Up!

At the start of 2017 I created a Facebook group – ‘Big Up Your Blog.’ I’m a member of several Facebook groups, but I find that there aren’t very many opportunities for people to actually connect and share their blog and social media accounts, so I started a ‘Social Saturday’ every week where participants could share their social media links, grow their following and connect with lots of other bloggers.

It’s gone from strength-to-strength, becoming the most supportive and generous community of people, and I’m very proud of it. There isn’t any of the follow/unfollow nonsense that I despise so much, there are fantastic conversations being had, people have sold books and courses because of it and I absolutely love the atmosphere created every week not only in the link-ups, but in the blog share opportunities too!

Want to grow your Twitter following? We’re having a massive link-up in the Facebook group today, and you’re all welcome to participate! Simply click on the image below and request to join, and then share your Twitter account with everyone! You don’t have to be an experienced blogger, nor have a specific theme. The only requirement to join is a willingness to genuinely engage with others – any spammers will be deleted immediately…

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Not on Facebook? You can join me at my Twitter account http://www.twitter.com/suzie81blog

How to Simplify and Authentically Grow Your Blog Without Spending Money

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Blogging is now a viable career option and there are endless examples of bloggers who have monetised their site to the point where they can quit their 9-5 job and live the dream.

Consequently, the bloggosphere (blogisphere? blogosphere? There really should be some clarification on this) is filled with ‘Earning Reports’ (which I often ignore), along with a bajillion things that we should all be doing to optimise our traffic and increase engagement to our sites. I apparently need an email list, in which I should offer incentives. I should be part of an Instagram pod or tailwind tribe. I should be self-hosted and have a professionally designed site, I should have paid advertising across all of my social media. I should be building up my social media accounts by following and then unfollowing people.

Nonsense.

No wonder so many bloggers are feeling overwhelmed or disappointed with the fact that they haven’t been able to quit their job after blogging for two months. There’s so much conflicting information that many feel the need to do everything because they have seen that it works for someone else.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows me will tell you that, while I am not unintelligent by any means, I can be scatterbrained and incredibly lazy, combined with a heavy level of resistance to change and stubbornness. Essentially, if there is an easy way to do something that doesn’t involve moving lots of things around and/or paying for it, then THAT’s the way for me. I’m not self-hosted and I don’t belong to Instagram pods or tailwind tribes. I don’t have a targeted email list, nor do I have pop-ups. I’m in a small number of Facebook groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t follow hundreds and hundreds of blogs on WordPress – I think at my last count it was at about 250, but lots of those haven’t been active for quite some time. I don’t have plug-ins that aren’t already part of .com. I have a Bloglovin’ account but do absolutely nothing with it – it’s linked to share my posts and that’s it. My blog is not professionally designed. I made a one-off payment for my theme, and during the year I pay for three things: an annual payment for my premium account and domain name ($99), a monthly subscription to BoardBooster for Pinterest ($10), and unlimited wi-fi. Admittedly, I once paid £13.00 for Facebook advertising, only to receive nine extra views. NINE.

And yet, I have received nearly 750,000 views on Suzie Speaks. Of course, it isn’t in the same league as some of the big blogs that I see, but it’s enough to afford me a lifestyle that I could have only dreamed of a few years ago. There’s me, my blog and my social media accounts. I don’t have a Virtual Assistant or anyone else helping me. I write, post, promote, reply and repeat.

Of course, if blogging is a career goal, then numbers are important. I’m admittedly a stats obsessive. It’s a harsh statement to make, but  it’s an unfortunate fact that you are more likely to be taken seriously if your numbers are high. However, high numbers of followers, particularly on social media don’t necessarily equate to high engagement.

For example: I have just 81 people following my StumbleUpon account, and have received several thousand views from SU since the start of the year. I have just over 3,400 followers on Pinterest, but have received over SIX times that in referrals since the beginning of January.

The key is to grow your following authentically is by keeping it simple, by engaging with others, establishing a genuine community, and above all, PUTTING THE TIME AND EFFORT IN. And for those who complain they don’t have time, I did a large amount of this when I was working full-time in a very stressful teaching job.

This is what I did.

Social Media Management

When it comes to social media, I have a Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Stumble Upon, Instagram and Flipboard account, all with apps that I have on my phone to give easy access to them wherever I am. However, I didn’t start off with all of those – I began with Facebook, then Twitter, then slowly added the others over a period of time.

I initially began by doing a bit of social media planning in advance.

As a large percentage of my following is American, I worked out that I should be promoting early for my British audience before they started work and late in the evening for the Americans to coincide when they would be finishing work on or their lunchtime.

On Twitter, I wrote down a list of popular hashtags and chats for each day of the week (along with times), along with a list of posts that are relevant to these. Tip: you can schedule tweets in advance by using tools like Hootsuite. I don’t use a scheduling app for Twitter – I like to tweet and then engage immediately with others and Hootsuite can’t predict trending hashtags which I use – but it is indeed a useful and time-saving resource. I also put my favourite bloggers into a list so that I could easily access their posts.

On Facebook, I wrote down a list of the days when the opportunity to share blog and social media links are allowed.

On Pinterest, I joined large group boards and noted their follower numbers, created a group board of my own, made a list of posts and topics for each board and then set up BoardBooster.

I then used this information to create a daily checklist in an effort to try and organise myself. Nothing big or fancy, just a simple black notebook in which I have a list of tasks that I tick off, along with the amount of views I receive on that day.

This is a very basic version of my checklist for my OWN BLOG on my social media (I’ve simplified it to avoid having to name every group and their numbers etc)

Tweet x3 with hashtags (which will vary depending on the day and are staggered)
Share post or image on Facebook page
Share post in Facebook group (which will vary depending on the day)
Share post to SU
Post image on Instagram
Flip five posts
Share post on Flipboard

I don’t have anything specific for my own blog on Pinterest as I already have BoardBooster set up – this will send out pins to targeted boards throughout the day and evening and is totally worth the $10 a month.

To do this via my apps takes about 10 minutes, and aside from BoardBooster I haven’t spent any money.

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Now, HERE’S where the work starts.

I reply to every single comment on my blog. I have set it so that comments have to be moderated and approved to appear, so I don’t approve anything until I have read and replied to them, even if it is to say a simple thank you. This may take minutes or even days if I have had a lot of comments, but I value the comments above anything else.

When I tweet a post out, I then share posts from others who are using the same hashtag.

I pin lots of posts from others into my various boards on Pinterest throughout the day.

If I have left a post in a Facebook group link-up, I comment on a post from someone else participating.

I will share posts from others on my blog in the form of a reblog – not every day, but I certainly do five or six a month.

I visit at least five blogs I follow every day on WordPress, leaving a meaningful comment. I can’t do more than that – I once tried to read as many as I could and I quickly became overwhelmed.

I reply to questions that other bloggers post in Facebook groups.

I stumble other bloggers posts every day.

On certain days, I participate in chats and link-ups on Twitter. For example, during my #SundayBlogShare link-up I spend several hours reading and retweeting the thousands of people that participate every week. I also host a link-up in my Facebook group.

I put a link to most of my social media accounts at the bottom of almost every blog post I publish, so that people who enjoy my posts will know where they can find me elsewhere online.

I do my best to TALK to people and establish connections. As a result, I have a core group of blog friends (some of whom I have known for years) that have been a huge support. I have met some of them in person, we send each other Christmas and birthday cards. If they have published a book, I want to help promote it. If they have written a killer blog post, I want to share it. Blogging is not just about YOUR blog posts – the more you share, the more likely you are to get back in return.

I DON’T follow and unfollow lots of people. I’ll unfollow if they haven’t posted in a while, consistently don’t engage with me over a long period of time or are suddenly writing things that don’t necessarily match my own views (ie. I suddenly see posts from them that are racist, sexist and homophobic). This sort of activity is one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of Instagram, and I actually mentally blacklist bloggers who have repeatedly done this to me on Twitter. It’s a shady way to conduct yourself.

When adding up the amount of time I spend online every day, it can vary from an hour to three-four hours at the weekends, not including the amount of time it takes me to write a post and create a pinnable image. However, I can do lots of it while doing other things at the same time using my apps, and it’s totally worth it.

So, if you want to grow your blog without spending lots of money:

  • Choose a few things to focus on as a starting point. When you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, then you can add more.
  • Create and effectively use a targeted checklist.
  • Consistently engage with people because you enjoy reading their blogs, not because you want to boost your numbers.
  • Promote your posts daily across your social media.
  • Share lots of posts from others across your social media.
  • Use social media scheduling tools.
  • Be patient! You aren’t going to get anything simply by pressing the publish button!

What about you guys? Do you pay for advertising? What’s your most effective way of building your views?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

That Time The Bloke DIDN’T Propose…

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Valentine’s Day has never really been a big deal for The Bloke and I. I’m not a particularly romantic person at heart and generally we spoil each other throughout the year, so aside from exchanging cards and the odd gift, February 14th is a day that is no different to any other.

Last year, however, I had been particularly looking forward to it. We’d had the usual discussion a few days before:

Me: Are we doing Valentine’s Day?
Him: Yeah, I suppose so. I’ve already got you a card and a little present.
Me: Ooh! What sort of present?
Him: It’s something small that’s for the both of us.

Now, I don’t know why, but for some reason this suddenly meant one thing:

An engagement ring.

We’d been in a relationship for six years by that point and we’d had discussions about marriage, but it wasn’t anything that he’d seemed hugely bothered about – our relationship was a consistently happy one and  we didn’t need anything to solidify it further. However, I had started to think more seriously about the idea.

The day before Valentine’s Day I was ridiculously excited, imagining all sorts of scenarios in how he would do it and the reaction I would have. That evening, I deliberately did my hair so that pictures in the morning wouldn’t be too horrific. I had all sorts of questions – had he asked my mum’s permission? Had he bought the right sized ring? What would it look like?

I was awake at 5.00am on Valentine’s Day. I had bought him a Big Bang Theory Lego set, so the minute he opened his eyes I jumped at him, shoving the present and card in his face and demanding that he open it. He was delighted.

Ok, this was a good start…

He then handed me a card and a beautiful small white bag that was the perfect size for a ring box. My heart started beating as I opened it… This was it! He got out of bed and walked round to my side of the room and I made sure that I was sitting up. I pulled the present out of the bag.

Inside was a beautiful glass frame with my favourite picture of us carefully placed inside.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

I. Was. Gutted.

“Yes, it’s beautiful! Thanks love…” I mustered a big smile and gave him a hug. He walked off and went to feed the cats.

The disappointment was immense, but I couldn’t help but smile to myself – I’d had no reason to think that he was going to propose, or even the fact that he wanted to get married, and I had created an imaginary scenario in my head from just a single statement.

The following day, I met my friend for a drink, during which she showed me her brand new engagement ring. After lots of squealing, I told her the story, which we both found hilarious…

Little did I know, he actually WAS planning to propose and did so in Scotland a few months later. It came as a complete surprise and was above and beyond anything I could have possibly imagined during my pre-Valentine’s Day mania.

I only told The Bloke about it a few months ago. He found it just as hilarious as my friend did.

And this morning, I woke up to two beautiful cards (he couldn’t decide which one to buy, so bought both) and a beautiful glass trinket from the same store that he had purchased my frame from the year before. I had a little smile to myself when I saw the frame sitting on top of my bookcase.

I’m so glad he didn’t propose on Valentine’s Day…

What about you guys? Have you been left disappointed after building an expectation up in your mind?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

50 Easy Steps to Make Life Better

It’s Monday morning, the most depressing time of the week for some, so it thought I would reshare this…

Suzie Speaks

Easy steps and life hacks

This was a list of physical, psychological, financial and emotional things that I created a couple of months ago to make life that little bit easier… and it really works. Of course, it’s impossible to do all of these in a day, but I have broken it down into smaller chunks – I’ve found that incorporating things into a daily routine, while occasionally adding in a few extra tasks makes day-to-day life easier and good for the soul.

1. Find a mantra. I have one that I refer to regularly during difficult times: Create a life that you don’t need to take a vacation from. This is what drives me in almost everything that I do.

2. Learn the power of no, and recognise what you do and don’t owe others.

3. Declutter. Be ruthless. Anything that you haven’t read, worn or listened to in a year serves no…

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How to Have a Hygge Day

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As with most things I am late to become aware of different trends, usually a year or two after they have become popular.

Hygge (pronounced ‘Hue-gah’) is a Danish term for finding pleasure and comfort in simple and everyday things, with an emphasis on comfort and coziness. I only discovered the term towards the end of last year, when The Bloke bought a Hygge book for his sister at Christmas and it was something that I immediately connected with.

After having a particularly stressful few days during the week and being low (partially due to the constant rain and dull weather we seem to have experienced over what seems like months), I decided to devote today to having a full Hygge experience. The Bloke was going to be out for most of the day as he was visiting his family, so it was the perfect chance for me and the cat to indulge in a relaxing day…

I prepared for it the day before by tidying up my living room – the place where I planned to spend the day – bought an unsliced crusty brown loaf of bread, French onion soup and prepped a sausage casserole (one of my favourite dishes) for my evening dinner.

First thing this morning, I went for a leisurely walk to the park to try and get some nice pictures. It had lightly snowed and was freezing, but I wanted to get some fresh air as a positive start to the day.

When I got home, I put on a pair of freshly washed, clean flannel pyjamas, a comfy, oversized cardigan and a pair of thermal, fluffy socks. I turned the heating on and opened the curtains as wide as possible to allow as much light as I could into the room.

I then created a little ‘nook’ on the couch filled with cushions, pillows and fluffy blankets (which the cat loved as much as I did), and lit some scented candles.

I climbed into the blankets and spent fifteen minutes meditating and practicing deep breathing – my bloggy friend Lucy swears by this and has often recommended that I try the Insight Timer app, which I downloaded a few weeks ago.

Instead of turning the television on, I picked up one of the many books that I have been meaning to read for a while, and read until I felt I’d had enough.

I cooked the French onion soup, topped with cheesy brown bread croutons, did a little bit of social media and decided to watch a film. I didn’t want anything that would cause levels of stress, so I put on ‘Valley Girl’ – a ridiculously cheesy-but-feel-good 80’s film (and Nicolas Cage’s first film) – and smiled all the way through it. The cat had nestled himself amongst all of the cushions near my head by this point and was busy snoring into my ear.

As it started to get dark, I put the casserole into the oven and ran a hot bubble bath, turning the lights off and lighting candles all around the bathroom. I put in my favourite relaxing playlist and practiced more deep breathing while I lay in the bath.

By the time The Bloke got home I had got out of the bath, changed back into my pyjamas, cardigan and socks and the casserole was ready. We talked and laughed, and he had a little snooze.

And as I sit here, writing this post, I feel more relaxed than I have done in a while – cosy, warm and happy.

Bliss.

What to bring more Hygge into your life?

  • Create a relaxing space filled with cushions and fluffy blankets.
  • Snuggle up in knitted clothing.
  • If you have one, light the fire in your living room.
  • Candles, candles, candles!
  • Do something creative that makes you happy – knit, sew, write, read, colour, draw, paint…
  • Have technology free hours. Turn off the electronics and be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Make comfort food that requires slow cooking.
  • Treat yourself with hot and comforting drinks. I’m not a fan of things like tea and coffee, but I did see a recipe for cinnamon hot chocolate with marshmallows that I’m desperate to try!
  • Be aware of and take comfort with your surroundings…

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

Blog of the Day: Deb’s World

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Meet Debbie, the creator of Deb’s World.

As a lifestyle blogger, she has one of the most interesting ‘About Me’ pages that I’ve ever seen. Here’s just a small selection…

I am Debbie – I am a wife; mother; daughter; sister; friend; blogger; reader; runner; walker; cyclist; Rail Trail enthusiast; traveller; Rotarian; Whovian; teacher.

And now I’m a retiree!!  Very early retirement!

I have three beautiful daughters who are all grown up and making their own way in the big wide world. I like to write about my family…

I am into keeping healthy and have learnt how to run again. I feel fantastic as a result of my efforts and I sometimes blog about my  running journey. Continue reading

A TV Offer!

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I received a message via my Facebook page last week.

‘Have you got married yet.’

I didn’t recognise the name, so I simply responded with the fact that I hadn’t and that the wedding is in October. After a quick conversation it became apparent that the person messaging me worked for a TV production company that were creating a programme for a main channel here in the UK about different weddings. Turns out, she found out that I was getting married through my blog and we had a lovely chat about our current stages in our wedding planning, as she is getting married a few weeks before me. Continue reading

Blog of the Day: A Girl and Her Passport

I’m always envious of travel bloggers, in particular when I see their beautiful posts of all the places they have visited and the experiences they have had.

Tiffany is one such blogger. The creator of ‘A Girl and Her Passport,‘ she is an American ex-pat living in Qatar, and she describes what she does in her About page:

Hi, I’m Tiffany… From here, I travel the world exploring countries’ culture, art, history, and food and to share it with my readers through stories and photography. My focus is on independent travel with an eye for finding the uniqueness of each place I visit.

I absolutely love her images:

Continue reading