How to make your first $100 from blogging: The 100×100 method

There are SO many people out there giving out advice about how to become a successful blogger and how to monetize your blog. They talk about authority sites and high-ticket products but they’re missing what it’s like for 95% of bloggers.

The hard truth is, most bloggers can’t get started with making money from blogging. So they lose motivation and give up. In some niches (I’m looking at you, beauty bloggers), it’s even harder because the path that people are trying to take isn’t the most profitable one, it’s a big shiny distraction that will fill your make-up drawer but not your wallet.

Here, I want to share my 100×100 method for making your first $100 from blogging. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything.

What I did wasn’t remarkable or unusual. Anyone could do it. 18 months into blogging, I was regularly taking home about $400 per month. I didn’t have a huge email list (I still don’t have a mailing list for my blog because I’m managing 50,000 subscribers across 3 author mailing lists and need another one like I need a hole in the head).

I didn’t have a huge amount of views in the early days. My blog’s been running since December 2014 and along the way, I’ve learned a few things. I’d like to help you take some shortcuts to being a successful blogger and the hardest thing I found was making that first $100.

Once I’d broken that barrier, the views, money and everything else started rolling in.

And I’ve never written a sponsored post or accepted a free product from a company in exchange for a review, although I get about 20 requests a week (I usually say no because I don’t want the obligation of reviewing something I might not like although there are some things I’d say yes to that have never been offered, such as Latisse or an all-inclusive trip to Tibet).

I didn’t set out to make money from my blog.

This is important because I didn’t monetize until January 2016. There were 15 months at the beginning of blogging when I wasn’t monetized. I think this was good for me, overall, because it meant I focused on writing strong, well-researched articles and my success measure came from growing my daily views, not from how many affiliate links I’d dumped into any given article.

I actually started my blog two months after I had turned my Citroen Xsara Picasso into a campervan and taken my husband on a 16-day adventure from York to Rome for our honeymoon.

I just wanted somewhere permanent to put my travel pictures to share with my family, then I started YouTubing hair tutorials so I also wanted somewhere to write down how to do beauty-related things for people who didn’t watch videos. The twin focus of my blog – beauty and travel – made me think it was impossible to monetize, and all the advice said focus on one thing, but this just isn’t true. Focus on doing each topic WELL, don’t flit around doing half a job, would be better advice.

I think I got a lot of followers early on because I had Travel Tuesday and Beautiful Friday, and shared posts on both topics. Although it did take longer for Google to rank my site as a travel blog than as a beauty blog, it now ranks well for both.

The 100×100 method for monetizing your blog

Before you try to make any money with your site, ask yourself the 100×100 question: “Do I have a good blog with around 100 well-written posts on it and am I getting around 100 views a day?” If the answer is yes, you’re ready to take the next steps into monetizing your blog.

If not, I suggest you work on these first; let’s look at how.

Write good content for your blog

Content IS still King in 2020. What does that mean? Content is the most important thing in blogging. Your entire success or failure comes down to whether your posts are engaging for your readers, and whether your posts answer readers’ questions.

Your primary focus should be writing 100-ish posts of good content. At first, you will be shouting into a hole and wondering who will ever see these articles when you have no views. You might be wondering whether you should waste your best content on a blog which no one is reading.

I wondered these things too.

What I learned over my first and second year of blogging was those best articles with good content will soon rank in Google, and when they do, people will find them. One of my earliest posts is “Hair Bleaching 101”. It got a grand total of 15 views in the first six months after I published it.

Now, five years later, it has an average of 150 views per month. I have over five hundred posts on my site (I didn’t blog for all of 2018 and posted 6 times in 2019, or there’d be a lot more).

If each post on my site gets 150 views a month, that’s 75,000 views total in a month (rough average; that post isn’t even in my top 10 most popular, as you can see from the sidebar on the right hand side of the screen), so all those early posts are contributing to my overall success.

How to get more views for your blog

Once you have around 100 posts of good content, your viewing figures may take care of themselves if you’re a natural at SEO (getting your posts to show up on Google) but they may not. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and you need it on your site to make everything visible to Google.

SEO for bloggers in brief

In (very) brief, SEO for bloggers is all about ensuring your article titles match with what readers type into Google, your articles are the right length (over 1500 words for most articles, but change it up when you need to and don’t force yourself to ramble, Google hates that), and that your tags are all correct.

You also need internal links, so Google knows how important any given article is to your whole blog. And you need to post regularly. That doesn’t get said enough. If you don’t post at least once a week, every week, no exceptions, Google won’t rank you as high.

If you take time out of posting (I took about 18 months away from blogging) your SEO will suffer because Google penalizes “dead” sites in favour of “current” sites that are still being updated.

The best site about SEO is Neil Patel. That guy knows what he is talking about. If you want lots and lots of advice and info on SEO, go read his stuff.

Do bloggers need to be on social media?

If SEO is too technical for you, you should focus on building a platform of readers on social media who want to see your stuff. There are many ways to do this. You could start a Facebook Page for your blog and invite your friends to like it (scary but necessary for a Facebook strategy, as strangers will be reluctant to hit “like” on a page which has zero likes).

If you don’t do Facebook, you could start a Twitter or Instagram. Twitter is better if you like writing short sentences with a link, Instagram is better if you like sharing really good photos but don’t want to link to specific articles (e.g. for cosplayers or food bloggers).

Most of us will do a bit of SEO and a bit of social media. You can’t do everything, so don’t try, you will just waste a lot of time chasing your tail. Pick one social media site and get good at it before moving onto others. Make friends in your niche e.g. other travel bloggers. Find Facebook groups for bloggers in your niche.

Some people will say you don’t need to do any of this, just be your authentic self and the readers will find you and adore you. People say this to authors, too (I’m a double USA Today bestselling romance author so I hear this garbage a LOT).

They’re lying and trying to stoke your ego into believing them so you won’t work hard on the mechanics behind blogging, won’t succeed, and won’t compete with their site. Believe me, they did all this stuff to monetize their site, too. Or they’re not making money off their site and they don’t know why. In which case, share this post with them. ūüėČ

If you haven’t got any of the stuff you’ve read so far in this post completely nailed, bookmark this (click the star in the right hand corner of the screen in Chrome and you can save this post for later)! Go take action, and come back to the rest of this post weeks or months from now, when your blog is ready for you to move forward. I’ll still be here.

I have 100 GOOD posts and 100 views per day. How do I make money?

Perfect! You’re ready to move forward.

The best way to make your first money with a blog is by joining Amazon Associates. This is a program Amazon runs, which means they give you special links which you can use on your blog, and you make a small amount of money whenever readers click on the links, if they buy something on Amazon within 24 hours of clicking on your link. It works best in review articles, in my experience, but you can also get them into “how-to” articles if there’s an appropriate spot.

The golden rules for ethically putting affiliate links in your blog:

  1. State somewhere on the page that you use affiliate links. My blog has been set to say it on every post and page on my site, at the bottom, to be sure I never forget to state it, and it’s also stated in other places, too, although I try not to interrupt the flow of any given post.
  2. Don’t shoehorn a link in or mislead readers into clicking e.g. by disguising the link. Reader trust is all you have as a blogger so don’t abuse it.
  3. Only link to things that are actually worth linking to. Don’t sell crap. Steve Jobs said that, and it’s something you should live by with affiliate marketing.
  4. Don’t put affiliate links into negative reviews. You don’t want people to buy products you hated, do you? That would be pretty scammy. Instead, link a negative review of one product to a positive review of a related product, or write a comparison between something you did/didn’t like and link to the good products only.
  5. Don’t just rehash the Amazon reviews for a product on your blog. Google will actually penalize you for this because they don’t like duplicate content. Amazon can also penalize you for this as the copyright for reviews belongs to the people who wrote the reviews.

The amount of money you will make from doing this depends on how much traffic your site has and how much your readers are looking to buy a product when they read your post. If they’re not in a buying mindset, you won’t get a sale. That’s why your honest reviews and especially comparisons of different products are the best places to put links.

That’s all you need to do to make your first $100 from blogging! But it’s not very scaleable to higher figures. Several six-figure blogging sites have said your income with this will peak around $4000 per month and it can fluctuate very heavily from one month to the next as it’s really dependent on luck, so you could go from $100 one month to $60 the next month then $300 the month after.

If $4000 a month is the amount of money that will transform your life, then fantastic. But if you want to take things further, then at that point, you need to move into different affiliate programs with high-ticket products like cars, private jets, or online courses.

I’m not doing any of those very well, yet, but when I do, I’ll write about it, so you can climb the success ladder with me.

I use three affiliate programs but realistically, Amazon is the only one making me money because I haven’t figured out how to write high-ranking articles that find buyers for the other two yet. And earlier this year, I designed an online course that didn’t sell a single copy, so I need to go back to the drawing board with all of that and work out how to take my blog to the next level.

If this article was helpful for you, feel free to link to it on your blog, or share it on social media using the sharing buttons below. And if you have any questions, ask them in the comments! I usually close comments on posts after 28 days but I’m going to keep them open on this one.

How to access your Gmail emails from China without a VPN and 7 other solutions

This article will cover how to read your emails without a VPN, even if you use Gmail, and 7 other solutions to internet access problems caused by the Great Firewall of China.

What is the Great Firewall?

Basically, China has some concerns about the data security of specific western companies and they have blanket banned their services. This includes all Google services, not just Google search, so Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, Scholar and Google Books are all affected.

You might be forgiven for thinking that no one in China uses the internet, or that it’s a bleak, pared-down service with no real value to anyone. Google is EVERYTHING, right? Uh… no.

People in China use the internet like 24/7, and they do pretty much everything on there. More things than you. I’m pretty sure they’d use the internet to sleep if there was an app for it. The internet in China is thriving, and you can use it, too, you just have to know what to do instead of what you’re accustomed to.

If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s in-house programs instead of Google services.

If you have Google’s Maps app on your phone or tablet, the app will still work (ish) but it will be horribly inaccurate because it doesn’t know where anything in China is, streetview doesn’t work, and half the addresses are written in Chinese characters instead of English, so don’t use Google Maps in China anyway.

So anyway, there’s this firewall, and you’ve heard the answer is a VPN (virtual private network… you basically lie to the internet and tell it you’re somewhere else). You’re about to go to China and you are wondering about buying a VPN? STOP! Ask if you really need it. If you’re only going for a short trip, you likely will be about to waste ¬£100!

Lots of rich-kid travel bloggers will tell you that you need a VPN to use the internet in China but it’s just not true. And actually, it can cause more problems than it solves.

Here’s the main reasons people think they need a VPN to visit China:

  • Gmail
  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive and Dropbox
  • Google Translate
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • To access news sites and anything using AdSense or Analytics
  • YouTube

This article is going to cover how to set up your stuff so you won’t need a VPN for most purposes. It’s for people who are only going to be in China for a week or two.

If you’re going as an expat, a VPN makes more sense because these workarounds are not long-term solutions, but as a tourist, why waste ¬£100 on a year’s subscription to something you’ll never use after you get back from China?

How to get at your Gmail emails in China (do this before you go):

The biggest reason you might seriously need to use non-Chinese internet is to access important messages in your email inbox. Many things in the West are done via email these days so not being able to communicate with people is an abject nuisance, especially if you’re a digital nomad running a business.

Here’s how to read your emails and and stay in touch with your contacts while you’re on holiday in China:

  1. Go to Mail.com (that’s a different website to Gmail.com – note there’s no G at the start because it’s not a Google site). Set up a free account. It’s fairly basic and their popups are really annoying but they have one huge advantage for tourists in China trying to read their email, which is that mail.com is not banned in China.

    You could also use Yahoo Mail (the search engine is banned but not the email, so bookmark a direct link), or if you have a self-hosted website or a work email, you could set up Outlook, Mac Mail or Thunderbird (but these are complicated for getting at web-based mail).
  2. Go to your Gmail account and go to “settings” (the cog). Click “go to all settings” near the top of the menu. In the tabs across the top (grey and hard to spot, see my screenshot), go to “forwarding and POP/IMAP” and check “forward a copy of incoming mail to:”
  3. Click “add a forwarding address.” Type your new mail.com email address into the box here and check “keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox” so you have a record of all your emails in case you need them later. Ignore all the rest and click “save changes”.
  4. Go back to your Mail.com account and confirm the forwarding request. If you don’t do this, the whole thing doesn’t work.
  5. Go to China and read your emails. It’s that simple!

What to use instead of Google Search in China?

http://bing.com

http://baidu.com

These work fine. Bing throws up more results in English. Take your pick.

What to use instead of Google Maps in China?

A mapping app is something we’ve all come to rely on to help us find our way around. Sure, you could buy a paper map, but it won’t tell you shop opening times or give you a company website when you click on it.

However, there are LOADS of alternatives to Google maps which work in China. Here I’ll review all of them along with the problem all of them share:

1. Bing Maps.

This is basically the best mapping app for China.
Pros: The road names are all in English so you can read them. It shows the public transport lines really clearly, like WAY better than Google which absolutely isn’t geared up to showing you public transport very well. It gives you details about things on the map such as their website and opening hours, where these have been added to Bing. It works in your browser so even on a Mac you can use this Microsoft app. There’s also a downloadable Bing Maps app for your phone!
Cons: None. I am not a fan of Bing search engine but their mapping app is really good.
Find it: https://www.bing.com/maps

2. Apple Maps.

Misses out on the top spot because it only works on Apple products and there’s no browser option.
Pros: Works on your iphone, ipad or Mac. You don’t need to remember a URL to get a map. Has more up-to-date China maps than Google.
Cons: Doesn’t work on non-Apple products and you can’t use it in a browser.
Find it: On your Apple products.

3. Here We Go.

This works in your browser or as an app, across a range of products. I saw reviews which said it only worked on Windows, Android or iOS but I tested it on my MacBook Pro and I can safely say it also works on Macs.
Pros: Works on all platforms and there’s a browser mode. Great for getting from A to B when you know where you are and where you are going.
Cons: No business listings, destinations or places of interest, it only works with addresses you already know, so it’s not great for getting travel inspiration or mapping to somewhere by place name rather than street address. Very simple in terms of features shown, e.g. there’s no green to show parks.
Find it: https://wego.here.com/

4. Maps.Me

This is a mapping app that claims to work offline and be a great friend to travellers.
Pros: Works offline (if you downloaded the map)
Cons: Doesn’t work on laptops, you can only run it on iOS or Android. No good for late-night laptop research for tomorrow’s itinerary (am I the only one who does this?).

The one problem all mapping apps share when you’re in China:

Street names are shown in Chinese characters or Western translations, both of which are, of course, useless for people who aren’t bilingual. Pinyin of the Mandarin street names written out in full would have been a better choice for readability and would also help with conveying addresses to taxi drivers (many of whom can’t read Chinese characters either).

If app developers are looking to update their maps with a major improvement, things like the screenshot below (from the English-language version of Apple maps) are basically useless when trying to get around in China. Instead of Fengcheng 1 Rd, it would be 1000% more useful to see “Fengcheng Yi Luo” written out in Pinyin, so travellers to China can read this out loud to taxi drivers, and those Chinese characters are hopeless, too.

Maps Conclusion:

Bing maps, y’all. It’s the best of the lot for getting around in China.

How to access Google Drive or Dropbox in China without a VPN:

You basically can’t. Sorry. The best workaround is to back up your files onto an external hard drive and use that, instead. Large-scale file sharing is a non-starter in China.

How to translate things in realtime in China:

Google Translate is very useful when you want to paste some text into a box and see some English. However, it is banned in China, which is a country where few people speak English.

Instead of using Google Translate in China, locals use a phone app called WeChat, which includes a translation option. You can either translate text, if someone sends you a message in Chinese, or you can use the phone’s picture scanner to translate Chinese into English.

Go to “options” “QR code scanner” then on the QR code scanner, press the “translate” button to toggle between QR scanner and translation. This will take a picture of the thing you want to understand, and it will translate it for you. Be sure to snap a screenshot if you need to keep the translation, as WeChat doesn’t save the translations for you.

You can also use a translation app but I have tried about 6 and none of them (even the expensive ones) were useful for China if I’m honest so I have nothing else to recommend.

If you want an app to actually learn Chinese, get Duolingo.

How to use Facebook in China (and Twitter) without a VPN

The only way to use Facebook in China is by using a VPN. And you can’t use a VPN on mobile data. BUT you can stay on top of your notifications by being clever.

Go to Facebook and look at your email settings. Get it to email you notifications for everything that happens on your Facebook. If you set your email up (first section, above), these notifications will be forwarded to your Mail.com and you can see who has liked your cat photo. This also works for Twitter. Who knew those crazy emails every 2 seconds, like “Bob Smith liked your post!” were actually useful for something?

How to read western news in China without a VPN

A lot of western news sites are blocked in China. Without saying too much, this is usually because they’ve been identified as having an anti-China bias. To make it even more annoying, paranoid webmasters in western countries block Chinese IP addresses for no good reason.

You can still get western news however. Your local hometown newspaper is very unlikely to be affected by this, because when was the last time the Springfield Gazette ran an article on China?

Bookmark your local hometown news site. If you’re from a big city like LA, Washington DC or New York, you might be better finding a smaller gazette or chronicle.

Additionally, certain western news sites are not blocked. This list is ever changing but if you bookmark the main sites, you have a good chance of finding one that can keep you abreast. When I last checked, the Independent and the Guardian weren’t blocked, and both cover US news as well as European news, although I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they get banned.

How to get YouTube in China without a VPN

Sorry, YouTube is a Google company, so you basically can’t access YouTube at all without a VPN. If you’re a Youtuber without a VPN in China, stay up to date on your channel notifications by getting them all via email, and save your videos of China to share when you get home.

For non-Youtubers, if you download your favourite videos with a YouTube downloader (my go-to one has just stopped doing free downloads so I no longer have a recommendation for this), you can watch them offline. Otherwise, buy a DVD and external DVD drive to take with you.

Are there any other apps or sites you’re struggling to use in China? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do some looking and update this article for you. ūüôā

Mailerlite vs Mailchimp: A warning (it’s not what you think)

So about 12 months ago, I was using Mailchimp and there was suddenly a huge drama because they changed their fee structure and got a LOT more expensive. Customers started leaving them in droves. I didn’t understand the issue until I got my new bill and it was suddenly insanely high compared to how much money I was making.

I asked around and everyone told me it was so easy to switch to Mailerlite, and that they were better in a number of ways that no one could explain. I was pregnant and knew I needed to reduce my overheads.

So I exported my contacts and imported them into Mailerlite, where I grew my list to over 15,000 subscribers.

With Mailchimp, the only issue was the cost. Everything else about it worked perfectly, I never had a failed send or anything. They always just sorted out payment and everything was smooth. I don’t know what their customer service was like because I don’t remember ever having to contact them after the day I first signed up.

Also, Mailchimp works in China, and Mailerlite does not. I was living in China when I started emailing my list through Mailchimp instead of using batches via Google mail.

With Mailerlite, it seemed like every time my mailing list grew, they wanted me to re-verify myself, to fill out a tedious questionnaire (for the fifth time) about what I was using their services for, and they threw in some mandatory market research questions as well, which honestly is offensive but you do what you gotta do to get a half-price mailing service to email your newsletter for you.

The best part? They do this when you want to send an email, instead of when you hit the new subscriber threshold. This means, if you’re sending about something time-sensitive, like a flash sale or 24-hour deal, you will not get to send your email in time especially if you want to send according to timezone.

I didn’t like the fact that a lot more of my emails seemed to go to the spam folder when I used Mailerlite, either.

I sucked it up.

Then I had a baby, so I deleted my contacts because no-one wants to pay $150 a month for a mailing list they’re not actually sending any emails to for a year. I downloaded and carefully saved my 15000 contacts in a CSV file that I never actually looked at because I had more important things to do like keep a small baby alive.

Obviously.

Ready to get back to work, I uploaded my email list to Mailerlite and guess what? They wouldn’t let me re-verify because I’d already uploaded this list and deleted it.

So in desperation I went back to Mailchimp, thinking that paying $200 monthly is worth it if you actually get the service you’re paying for. I uploaded my mailing list.

Then I found out why you should never, EVER move your list to Mailerlite.

We’re always told that our mailing list is the most important marketing asset for our business because it is ours and we get to keep that no matter what happens to service providers, right?

WRONG.

Mailerlite has deleted so much information from the downloaded copy of my mailing list that Mailchimp actually doesn’t have the data it needs to let me upload to them.

So I opened the file to look through it. There’s email addresses, but then all the other columns are empty. No first names. No last names. No opt-in timestamps or IP addresses and no confirmation timestamps or IP addresses (all of which you need to be compliant with data handling, CAN-SPAM, and GDPR rules). It’s a mangled, useless CSV file that is as useless as a phone book comprising of phone numbers but no names.

I am effectively stuck with Mailerlite who seemed able to re-connect all the data when I uploaded the email addresses (presumably they’ve stored the rest of the data on their server and can access it by using the email addresses as a “primary key”, but I obviously have a right to have all that data, it’s not theirs, it’s mine, so they shouldn’t keep it like this). Who won’t let me go through their stupid validation and approval process. And anyway, I resent all the bullshit they’ve put me through so I’m not going back to them.

This means I have no mailing list. Mailerlite has destroyed it by deleting key data. Five years of hard work down the drain. Fifteen thousand fans of my business, who I cannot contact because Mailerlite have ensured I can’t go to another service provider.

God I wish someone had written about this before I switched to Mailerlite.

Please, please, PLEASE be careful. If you want to switch to Mailerlite, be sure you’re going to stay with them forever. Because they will not let you take your mailing list when you leave.

I guess that’s what you get when you go with a cut-price mailing list provider. I have learned my lesson the painfully, devastatingly hard way. I have no business to come back to after maternity leave. I built my business to give my baby a future, and now our situation is more precarious than ever.

If I am very, very lucky, I might still have an old version of my mailing list from when I switched from Mailchimp to Mailerlite in the first place. But obviously, that could have people on it who have since unsubscribed, so I have to weigh up whether I can use that old version or not.

This is my honest review of two companies I’ve spent thousands of dollars with, over the past half-decade. Verdict? I’d rather spend more money on a service that actually does what it says it’s going to. Your mileage may vary. If you have a different perspective, or a solution for this issue, please let me know in the comments.

The psychology of choosing a color scheme for your website

I was reading (as I’m sure many of you do, too) Neil Patel’s blog earlier today when I came across this interesting article about the psychology of choosing a color scheme for your blog or website. I quite like reading articles that go into psychology, because while I doubt they’re applicable to everyone, everywhere, I usually find something of value in them (unless they’re truly terrible).

Most of Neil’s article was very interesting, and I liked spending time thinking about how color schemes affect the way my readers feel when they’re on my site. I don’t want anyone to get distracted by a jarring or stark color scheme and I do sometimes wonder if my black-and-white format is too harsh for my usual content.

I found his take on the “color wheel” (part-way down that article, looks like a flower) and at first I was interested, then I felt I just had to disagree with the “meanings” assigned to color. Purple, for instance was associated with revulsion. It’s my favorite color, so of course, I don’t feel revulsion when I see purple. According to the color wheel Neil had posted, the exact shade of orange which is part of his own branded color scheme, was a color which evoked mixture of vigilance and rage. It just doesn’t add up, does it?
I decided to search for some more interpretations of how color affects people, and I found these:

This one has been done phenomenologically and it’s sounding very authoritative but it has no evidence on which it’s based its conclusions, which appears to be an endemic problem in this topic.

This article from Entrepreneur.com has a good summary of the debates surrounding the psychology of colour and highlights the need for more evidence.
There is no doubt that color plays a huge part in buying behavior in marketing, but no-one seems able to agree on which colors are best to do what.

Personally? I think the most important thing is to use a color scheme that goes together properly. The color blender color matching tool often gives surprising results, but overall I think it works very well. In some instances, the coloring might be obvious (this erotica author’s writing site, for example, is themed monochrome and pink, and it’s easy to tell that it’s a steamy romance author’s site with exciting books) but in other cases, the role of color is ambiguous and complicated.

Different colors mean different things to different people, but we can associate color schemes or sets of colors with the things we know they represent – for example, fire is orange, water is blue, so is sky. If we see those colors, with other associated colors (orange with brown for the logs on the fire or black for coals, and grey for smoke, for example) it will definitely ensure people make links between a brand and a concept or thing.

I have no idea how to apply any of this to Delight and Inspire, but it’s been interesting to research how other people have thought about the psychology of color.
Isn’t color theory fascinating?

This post was scheduled; I’ll reply to comments tomorrow ūüôā

Brexit: You have doomed us all.

So I haven’t really said a huge amount about the big important referendum that took place yesterday. ¬†I woke up this morning (it’s currently 7:49am here) to check the results, confident that, despite all the alleged posturing etc of the “remain campaign,” that the “leave campaign” didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of winning. ¬†I thought they’d maybe get 20% of votes.

Nope.

They won.

They actually won.

Apparently I live in a racist, xenophobic country that is more interested in getting foreigners deported than remaining a part of the EU.

To put it into perspective for my American readers, it would be like if Texas was sick of all the Mexicans and decided to quit the United States.

You might say, “whatever, doesn’t matter to me, I’m not in Texas.” ¬†No, but I am, I am stuck in Texas that wants to leave the USA. ¬†Only I can’t just leave because of border control.

I genuinely don’t know what to do – I think this time, I’m going to have to emigrate. ¬†I have a cheque from US Amazon which I now can’t put in the bank as the exchange rate is so bad – it’s plummeted. ¬†My latest book is selling really well (but also pays in USD). ¬†All my ways of earning money are now worthless and I’ve got a foreign sounding name in a country of xenophobes who are so desperate to deport foreigners that they’ve voted to leave the EU.

There, also, goes the US-UK tax treaty.  The IRS can now tax me as well as the UK.  I will now pay double tax on my meager earnings.

I am glad I voted remain.  Now, I think I have to vote with my feet and leave the UK before it gets any worse.

Suggestions? Apparently as a writer I will meet the eligibility criteria to emigrate to Canada by next April.

Why Daisy Ridley shouldn’t play Lara Croft.

So I saw yesterday that apparently Daisy Ridley is in talks to play Lara Croft. Because, y’know, she’s got brown hair and has been filmed running around.

daisy ridley
Daisy Ridley will not make a good Lara Croft for another 10 years or so.

When are the people making Tomb Raider movies going to get it through their thick skulls that they are doing it wrong? They just keep repeating the same mistakes. ¬†I’ve seen a lot of changes since I started¬†following the Tomb Raider franchise in 1996, but this is utterly ridiculous.

Lara is English. She should be played by an English actress, they’ve got as¬†far as working that out. However, there’s plenty of English actresses other than Daisy Ridley.¬†They can run around and point guns at stuff just as well as American women, it’s not a “talent” that’s unique to Daisy. Not only that, but any English actress will be able to point out anachronisms in the script “we don’t usually eat that food, we don’t actually say that phrase” etc.

The main issue is that Lara is 29 in the first game. Twenty. Nine. ¬†She gets older as time goes on. ¬†Her official date of birth was February 14th, 1967 until the marketers stepped in and de-aged her. ¬†Because, y’know, women aren’t allowed to age, we hit 25 then they rewind and rewrite the history and get a new actress to play the part, redesign the video game character, all that jazz. ¬†But Lara started out as 29 and she aged 1 year in every subsequent game up to Tomb Raider Chronicles (Tomb Raider 5) where it gets a bit confused due to her being thought dead. ¬†Of course, women stop ageing when they’re believed to be dead and it was implied (but never stated) that the clock rewound at some point because Angelina Jolie was too young when she played Lara.¬† Why make the same mistake again?

Hiring someone who is 23 but looks 16 isn’t going to make a great Tomb Raider movie. She needs some gravitas. ¬†If you don’t understand this, think about an analogy – would you hire a 23 year old actor to play James Bond? It’s exactly the same. ¬†The role of James Bond generally goes to someone aged in their very late thirties or early forties, and they play him through their forties and sometimes into their fifties. ¬†Lara has life experience, she’s supposed to be laid back and a bit sassy, and (here’s the really important part) in her original bio, she was completely self made. She got disinherited and EARNED her money from writing travel books. You need time to establish that sort of money.

In order to win the all-important over-21 female audience, you are going to need to give them something inspirational, instead of sending the message out (yet again) that women’s lives are over at 25 and they’ve peaked. ¬†The reason Lara did so well with the female demographic in the first place (in the video games, and she really did) is because it was the first time we’d had a character like that; older, smart, physically active, totally independent AND didn’t feel the need to look like a man to make it in the world (but wasn’t frilly and uber feminine either). ¬†Give us Lara Croft at her actual age with someone who can really get inside the character, and I promise you, it’ll do MUCH better than whatever you’ve got planned.

Lara’s physical appearance is wrong for Daisy Ridley. Her hair is a medium brown (and in the original games she had a henna rinse). Angelina Jolie’s hair was nearly black. What’s the point in them making such a big fuss about¬†the physical characteristics such as boobs and waist, and then consistently getting the hair wrong?

The marketing geniuses behind the Tomb Raider films seems to think that tokenistic Britishisms and the right costume are all they need, and that they should just throw it at some popular-today actress. They probably don’t understand why Cradle of Life flopped. Lena Headey would be the ideal Lara Croft in every way shape and form. ¬†If they need more suggestions,¬†Keira Knightley¬†would be a MUCH better choice than Daisy Ridley; her face¬†looks exactly right and she is a good age to play Lara convincingly, or how about Emilia Clarke (who also played Sarah Connor), these¬†are¬†fantastic English actresses who could really do the role some justice. ¬†If they consider¬†hiring an American actress (given my reservations outlined above), they should be looking in the direction of Angelina Goddamn Jolie. Really they need someone over 30 with enough life experience to actually make a credible Lara Croft, and maybe some experience in a similar role. ¬†The only obvious reason I can think of for why they’re not considering Keira Knightley is boob size. ¬†And that’s a¬†disgraceful excuse.

Actress Knightley poses as she arrives for the European premiere of the film "The Imitation Game" at the BFI opening night gala at Leicester Square in London
Keira Knightley is the right age and she has the right appearance to play Lara Croft.

lena headey
Lena Headey would make a MUCH better Lara Croft than Daisy Ridley.

Lara Croft is Sarah Connor without kids. She’s not some petulant and 2-dimensional little girl who lives off daddy’s money and got into daddy’s gun cupboard. If you look at the original bio before it all got sanitized and changed to fit the films, the conflict between Lara and her parents (and getting disinherited) is what drives her to be so independent. Without it, you’ve just got an uber-wealthy spoilt brat running around third world countries damaging old stuff. Not only that, but she’s supposed to be tongue in cheek, like James Bond or Indiana Jones. ¬†She has balls.

Characterization is where they went badly wrong with the first two films – they just didn’t understand the character when they wrote the script, turned her into some laughable idea of British Upper Class and, while the first film pulled through due to canny marketing and product deals, the second one flopped. Nobody even knew when it was out because all the advertising posters didn’t have the date on them.

They need to return to the original character concept – it worked for Batman, there you have a strong body of evidence that the modern audience wants authenticity, not some popular-culture influenced, re-styled version of the original idea. It doesn’t need to appeal to 14 year olds, it needs to appeal to twenty-and-thirty-somethings who own action figures, because the rest of the market will follow where they lead when it comes to things like this, and they will determine whether the film becomes a classic or is totally forgotten in a year’s time. ¬†It all starts with hiring the right actress to play Lara Croft.

Marketers aren’t usually this stupid. They know how the audience thinks and they know how to market things. If they’re hiring Daisy Ridley for this, there’s something wider going on here – they want it to fail. Why? Because if they can’t reboot Tomb Raider then it’s proof positive that consumers don’t want female action heroes. Ghostbusters was a shockingly fake nod to “diversity” and following it up the next year with a terrible Tomb Raider movie will really turn public opinion against female action protagonists. Which means they can get back in the kitchen and bake cakes instead.

Edit: To reflect Lena Headey’s nationality, I have amended this article. ¬†She really is the ultimate Lara Croft.

Want more about my Lara Croft obsession? Tutorial: Three classic Lara hairstyles.

No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants. ¬†All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding. ¬†Without funding, people don’t research things. ¬†Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for. ¬†Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields. ¬†By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the¬†research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products. ¬†Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.¬†¬†Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.” ¬†For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other). ¬†This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible. ¬†This is how many people get a PhD these days! ¬†It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are¬†hints that this¬†happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries. ¬†If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall. ¬†When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)? ¬†It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of¬†the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding. ¬†Research is driven by funding – especially at universities. ¬†Who funds research? ¬†Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens. ¬†It’s a shame¬†everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.

We may experience some technical difficulties

Invoke Delight is moving to http://www.delightandinspire.com

When I started this blog I wanted it to be called inspire delight, but that domain was taken by an online lighting store. ¬†In May 2015, inspire delight was bought up by someone claiming to have been blogging since 2010. ¬†Clearly not, since she has filled out three or four pages (all dated between 19-21 May 2015) then got bored and not bothered again. ¬†But she had time to configure an online shop… go figure.

In the meantime, I bought up invokedelight.com back in November 2014 and had numerous problems with GoDaddy refusing to let me uninstall their really awful “website builder” and connect a WordPress.org plugin instead, including many, many emails back and forth, before I finally capitulated and registered for WordPress.com instead, leaving invokedelight.com as a redirect to this site.

In November 2015, invokedelight.com expired, and I got an email (actually several) telling me that if I didn’t pay renewal to GoDaddy, they were going to de-register it and after that, that it would cost hundreds of dollahs for me to restore my site. ¬†I was looking forward to this happening because then the site would be purged from the domain name, and I could buy it again through WordPress and finally achieve my goal of making this blog invokedelight.com.

It’s the end of January. ¬†GoDaddy claims InvokeDelight.com is owned by someone else. ¬†But the domain registrar lookup claims InvokeDelight.com is owned by GoDaddy.

Registry rules state that an expired site should be held by the registrar (GoDaddy) for 4 weeks plus five days before releasing it back to general sale. ¬†It’s well over that time now – invokedelight.com expired on 17th November 2015 – so I can only assume that GoDaddy are holding onto it because they want me to pay the hundreds of dollahs.

Me being independent and contrary, I decided to brainstorm site names for this site and check what was available.  All the invoke delight -derived names just looked really shit so I checked some inspire delight names (they were all taken in November 2014 but I wanted to see if any had expired).

Delight and Inspire had expired so I aspired to purchase it.

Over the next 72 hours there may be some technical problems as WordPress gets it working, then it should start to redirect. ¬†If you’re subscribed via WordPress (less than 2% of my viewers), it shouldn’t affect you being able to find my site. ¬†If you use Feedly or another RSS reader (I use Feedly) you may have to “add new” and put http://www.delightandinspire.com into your subscriptions so you don’t lose me!

Google and WordPress should handle the re-indexing of the site so all my hard-earned SEO results keep bringing people to the right place.

My Youtube Channel will remain Invoke Delight and so will my Twitter handle @invokedelight and email invokedelight@gmail.com because they don’t let you change such things without signing up for a whole new Gmail and Twitter account.

Once it’s all sorted it’s going to be LEGEN (wait for it… ) … … ¬†… … DARY!