Creating a fitness blog that’s both authoritative and relatable can be a tricky business - and one that’s even harder to turn into a financially lucrative one. The wellness industry is booming, but with the competition so stiff, what’s the secret to standing out from the crowd and transforming your passion from a past time to the big time?
Cue personal trainer Faya Nilsson, who’s been able to merge the worlds of workouts and words to award-winning effect through her blog, fitnessontoast.com . Scribing since 2013 after moving from Stockholm to London, her blog’s gone from strength to strength having won Best Lifestyle Blog at the UK Blog Awards in 2015 and Cosmopolitan's Lifestyle Blogger of the Year award in 2014. Having amassed 21,000 followers on Twitter and 122,000 on Instagram, she's also featured in the likes of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Red, Stylist, as well as fitness publications such as Men’s Health and Women’s Health (for whom she also writes a monthly fitness fashion column) and has also recently published her first book, Fit in 3: The Scandi Plan: How to Eat Well, Train Smart and Enjoy Life The Swedish Way .
We caught up with Faya to talk all things blogging and branding and to find out her top tips for online success.
GTG: What would be your recommendations for starting a fitness blog?
FN: My most valuable piece of advice would be to write about a subject that you have a genuine and differentiated view. I think it’s important to be yourself and use your own voice when writing because occasionally we all encounter a platform where everything feels a bit ‘forced’ and there’s a distinct impression that what’s being written isn’t genuine. At that point, the fight is lost, and readers very quickly lose interest. Yes, much has been said before in the history of existence, but your own unique view, couched in your own authentic style of expression, can meaningfully advance the debate!
GTG: Are there any particular platforms that you think work well from a technical perspective?
FN: WordPress is the platform on which I write my blog and I find that totally suited to my purpose. There are so many social media platforms these days – to stay on top of them all is a full-time job in itself. Having said that, I think it’s totally worth dedicating some regular time towards a few specific channels to start off with (as many as you can manage to do well), as it will help broaden the reach of your message so that more people feel inclined to get involved. I joined Instagram fairly late but now find I love it – it’s intimidating at the start, but you soon lose that once you get into it! Your blog is all about sharing a message; to go so far as to write the blog, but then not to share it properly is like wrapping up presents and then never giving them to anyone…
GTG: What would be your top tips for making a success of it?
FN: a) Only write about something you’re genuinely passionate about. Focus on your writing - while I’m by no means the grammar police and admittedly make mistakes with my missives, sloppy spelling mistakes are a proper turn-off. Spending a little time crafting the message means that people should be happy to take your work seriously, to consider it professional. That also stops anything coming between your message and the reader’s unbiased consideration.
b) Invest in a good camera - in 99.9% of my blog posts, I use my own imagery, and indeed across Instagram and Twitter too. The reason I go to some lengths over the photographic component (often doubling the amount of time it takes to put a post together) is because I think that original imagery can really transform and lift the written content I’ve taken time to craft; it gives the opportunity to develop and create a unique look and feel that represents your own blog and complements your message. That aesthetic is hopefully identifiable for the reader and it’s part of who I am.
c) Engage and network - whether you’re left with 1 or 50 comments, try to reply and engage because someone has taken the time not only to read the post, but was also moved enough by it to make a comment. That way you get to know a little more about the community who are keen to engage with your thoughts, which is warming!
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GTG: What have been the most important things you’ve learned about making it a monetary and business success?
FN: Business success is based around a brand of consistency, whereby you’re able to produce high-quality content on a regular basis. That way, partners will, hopefully, trust that you’re capable of doing a good job without the tail risk of embarrassing them in some unforeseen way. That’s never my intention; I only ever want to do the best possible job that’s true to my own ethos and way of creating. Always work with brands/products that you’ve tried and tested, love and that fit your ethos too and the message will ring true.
GTG: Could you pinpoint a pivotal moment when everything took off?
FN: No, not really! My blogging career, much like my career as a personal trainer, has been a relatively steady and gentle path; it’s not the most glamorous of stories perhaps, but it’s quite a real one. I used to get up at 5am to open the gym and instead, I get up at 5am to train, ahead of my day of work these days.
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GTG: How do you best deal with the pressures of being your own brand and dealing with online trolls?
FN: Touch wood, I’ve been very lucky here and not really encountered online haters very much. I believe that’s probably because the blog has a clear focus on health. It’s never been about me, my love life, nor my friends or family. Not that this should make any difference, but simply the fact that it may be harder to ‘hate’ on facts and figures seems to have lent me some relief! So it’s based on my fitness experience and research instead. The few times I have come across it, I just ignore it as it’s ultimately irrelevant in the scheme of things. Those who go out of their way to be nasty are undoubtedly in a very unhappy place themselves and I always say to my friends who experience hate (and it seems typically fashion bloggers get exposed to this more than fitness bloggers, in my experience) to channel that energy into something good and creative.
GTG: What would be your recommendations for standing out from the crowd?
FN: As clichéd as it sounds, I genuinely think you have to be yourself. I’ve been working in the fitness industry for over a decade and started blogging to share information with my clients. It was never intended to be a full-time job. For me it was originally a creative outlet, a fun project and something I was passionate about – and it still is. I think if you start a blog with the main goal to make it a job, it’s going to feel like a chore and that’s going to come across to the readership too. Have fun with it, do the best you can, but don’t strategise too much.
GTG: How important are qualifications in your opinion?
FN: That very much depends; if you’re a fashion blogger and people love your style, you don’t need a qualification because at the end of the day preference is in the eye of the beholder. You can’t universally judge art as it’s such a personal perception.
I think with health, it’s a different matter. Having worked in the industry for a long time, of course it’s worrying seeing someone with a large audience and no qualifications give ill-informed and/or dangerous fitness advice. If you’re giving fitness advice, one should ensure it’s backed up by fact and understanding, or else you’re in murky water. I think you do have a certain amount of responsibility to the readership that you bestow only the highest quality advice.
Equally, I recognise that we have freedom of speech and I think anyone should be able to share their experiences and passions without embargo. Also, there’s a way I like to word things which I think is important; there’s a big difference between sharing a salad recipe versus declaring ‘don’t eat gluten, it’s dangerous’.
GTG: How does social media factor into the puzzle for you?
FN: For me, social media was originally a way to drive traffic to the blog posts which I lovingly craft, but I have since found that each platform is valuable in its own right and they all have a unique purpose, reflecting a different part of your inner psyche - so it's fun to explore that a bit!
GTG: Which fellow fitness bloggers do you admire and why?
FN: I am a big fan of Cat Meffan - with a formal background in gymnastics (in itself a punishing and rigorous discipline) and the yoga component, I think she has a wonderful ethos and I very much enjoy spending time with her. I also simply LOVE the raw, boundless energy of AJ Odudu, which is incredibly infectious and always helps lift the mood whatever the situation!
Faya Nilsson will be discussing ‘Fitness in the Digital Age’ with Alice Liveing and James Exton at SF Studios on Saturday 18th March for London Book & Screen Week. Tickets are available to buy online here .