Shilpa Gandotra is the name behind ‘Our External World’, one of India’s topmost beauty and fashion blogs. Whenever a new beauty product comes out, people rush to her blog to check out its review. She loves experimenting with nail art and posting the results for all to see. She was one of the Top 5 Beauty and Makeup bloggers in WIN’14. We got the prolific blogger to answer some questions about blogging, beauty and more.
Q. When and how did you start blogging?
I started blogging in April 2012. With a full time job I just wasn’t getting the time or motivation to do anything creative. And I realized blogging was not only a great way to do something other than my software job but it was a great way of connecting with people without having to actually meet them. I am a very shy, introvert sort of a person, so blogging was the perfect avenue for me.
Q. What was the thought behind your blog’s name ‘Our External World’?
Since blogging happened by chance, all I wanted to do was showcase anything that I found worthwhile in my “external” world. I know people talk about internal beauty and all that, but through my blog I wanted to showcase external beauty. I wanted to focus on making things around us pretty to keep us happy even on days when internally we feel like life sucks. So whether it’s a bright red lipstick or some beautiful piece of art done on my nails, I try and cover everything that appeals to me. That is why I named it “Our External World”
Q. Please tell us how you plan your blog posts in terms of frequency and topics.
This is a tricky one – I started off by posting every day. I tried to write at least one post per day but then with a full time job sometimes you just don’t feel like writing anything. So now I try to pace myself, but I am still trying to get back to one post per day. The topics are varied, from makeup product reviews, skin care, hair care to hotel and spa reviews. My favorite ones are nail art posts. I used to paint earlier but with the limited time I have, I turn my tiny nails into a canvas and enjoy painting on them. I have started learning nail art slowly through YouTube. I try and break down whatever I learn into easy-to-follow picture tutorials which others like me who want to do something creative with their nails can follow .
Q. What inspires you to blog? Do you look for inspiration in your daily life?
Yes, inspiration can come in any form. Sometimes a bright plant in the sunlight inspires me so much that it becomes a backdrop for my product shoots. At other times the color of a nail paint can inspire me to do something creative on my nails. I am a makeup junkie of sorts. I don’t apply too much makeup, so if you meet me on the street you would probably see a bare face with a lip gloss at the most. A peek inside my vanity, on the other hand, will reveal all sorts of bright colours. I love collecting beautiful looking makeup items so basically anything pretty becomes my inspiration.
Q. When did you start doing product reviews? How has the experience been till now?
I think my very first post was a product review. It was a compact powder that I’d been using and really liked. I love it when people at my workplace come up to me and take my feedback or recommendation on products. So yes, it’s been great so far.
Q. Has reviewing so many products lead to fatigue? How do you manage to keep every review fresh?
Reviewing products can get boring if that is all that you are doing. I try and bring in a variety to my posts by firstly reviewing different genres of products. Then I throw in a bit of nail art tutorial posts, a bit of fashion and a bit of random rants. I also have another blog where I write poetry or do book reviews. So that also brings in variety to my work. I am not a very talkative person in real life so my posts are also mostly quite straight forward. I am learning to slowly make them more interactive so that even if it’s a review post, I talk a little about myself and my life in the post.
Q. What do you do if the product sent by a company is not up to the mark? Is it difficult to keep the blog post objective and honest in this case?
See all products, no matter how big the brand is, will have their pros and cons. Firstly, I ensure that I have personally used the product myself. This gives me a true sense of whether the product will work for people. If I find the product is not working for me, I ask my friends and family to become my guinea pigs and try it out (which they happily do as they really support my blog!). This gives me a fair idea of who the product will work for. So in my reviews, I tell the readers what was good about the product and who I think the product is suited for.
Sometimes a product might cause me to break out since I have sensitive skin, so I will mention that. Any review has to be honest otherwise the readers are eventually going to know that you are just blabbering everything that they would anyways get to see in an advertisement for the product.
For lipstick and nail paint reviews it is very important to get the pictures clicked correctly. In my own experience, I saw a swatch on a popular blog, ordered the product, only to find that the actual color doesn’t match the pictures on that blog at all. So as a blogger myself, I try to be very careful in makeup swatch pictures, otherwise the whole point of doing the review fails.
I have had brands come to me asking why I did not like the product when everyone else has given it positive reviews, and all I can do is politely tell them that the product simply did not work for me. I am not here to write what I am told to, it’s my responsibility and choice to give a fair judgement of the products that I use.
Q. Tell us something about yourself and your family. How would you describe yourself to others?
I think I’ve already mentioned that I am a complete introvert who takes ages to open up and become friends with people. I am a software engineer by profession and still love that job of mine but blogging is my venting ground, It urges me to expand my horizons in all domains. I can be a fashion model for my own shoot, I can showcase my paintings without having to set up an exhibition. Blogging allows me to share a part of myself with the unknown world out there without any fear. My friends and family really appreciate the efforts that I put into my blogs. I have also made a lot of e-friends and many of them have become so close to my heart that I can easily share the ups and downs of my life with them.
Q. You also do a lot of e-commerce website reviews. Is that a way to indulge the shopper with you? Are you a shopping enthusiast?
Oh yes for sure. I am an online shopaholic, so much so that I have got everyone around me addicted too. I simply love it when my dad enthusiastically messages me for sharing the latest online discounts being offered on a particular day or when a friend calls up to check where they can buy a certain piece of jewelry. I actually need to open a shop and sell of a lot of my hoarded stuff so that I can shop some more! 🙂
Q. Tell us about one of your blogging experience which has been memorable- a great post, some interesting feedback…
I’ll actually pick two posts. One was a nail art post where I did some free hand painting on my tiny nails. This post is memorable because the whole experience of doing that painting was a catharsis. It took a long time to do but I just felt completely rejuvenated by the end of it.
And the second post is a fashion post I did – this was really my first proper fashion post with an outdoor shoot. I am very shy so posing is very difficult for me, I can’t even take a proper selfie! But the overall results of the shoot and the feedback I got on both the posts make them very dear to me. They also taught me that once I put my heart into something, there is no limit to what I can achieve. (And they also taught me that generally I have become a lazy bum!)
Q. What is your personal sense of style?
My personal style is very laid back. I always prefer comfort over anything else. A pair of jeans and a simple t-shirt is what I love wearing the most. For work I prefer corduroy trousers with a bright sweater for winters while in summers you’ll see me mostly wearing a well stitched churidar suit in breathable cottons. As far as makeup is concerned, I just need to hide the imperfections on my face, apply a lip gloss and I’m done. For a beauty blogger that is a bit too simple but that’s just the person I am!
Q. How do you promote your posts? Your Facebook page a great number of likes and interaction. Tell us how you did that.
For promoting my posts I use tools that automatically promote my post on Facebook and Twitter. When I do get time I try and share the posts on different groups on Facebook. For me the toughest part is getting people to comment. I know a lot of my friends who read the posts, love them and would SMS me or drop me an email saying they loved it but won’t go and comment. The reason – they are too shy to leave public comments *sigh*!
The followers on my page have come very slowly, sharing my posts on different groups has helped. Also sharing other people’s work that I really liked on my own page has helped. As they say, you reap what you sow!
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to start blogging?
First of all if you want to start blogging find out why you want to do it – are you aiming to make it a full time profession or is this purely a hobby. Because if it’s a hobby its pretty simple and you will always find some time to do what you love. But unlike me, if you are aiming to make it a profession and earn through your blog, then spend some time thinking about what you want to write about. Find a niche area that interests you and then take the plunge.
Money will come because I know people have given up full time jobs to blog. I am not the best person to tell you how it is done as I am still not sure how blogging can earn you a living. But whatever you do, it will be easier for you to sustain yourself if your heart is really into what you are doing. Make sure you are really passionate about what you put out there.
Q. Which other blogs do you follow?
There are several blogs that I read – IndianVanityCase.com purely because I love Cynthia’s writing style and love her pictures, temptalia.com for the awesome swatches the blog has, for makeup I follow Corallista.com, for stamping nail art and swatches I follow Dimpal from Crazy Polishes, and there are many others who have YouTube channels. For fashion posts I like Rati’s posts from Faux Pas (and I love Sanjeev’s photography)
Q. Any Dos and Don’ts that you would like to tell other beauty and fashion bloggers?
Click clear photographs – the best photographs come out in natural sunlight but away from the direct sun. A picture speaks a thousand words and I am still learning to get the perfect indoor shots because I don’t have time to click during the day, but if you can then you should click all your photographs during the day. For fashion posts my personal suggestion is do whatever you are comfortable in and tell me a story through your post, it just makes it more interesting to read 🙂
Q. What are your areas of interest other than blogging? What do you do in your free time?
Painting and writing poetry. With a full time job and blogging during my free time I weave in my interest in painting through nail art, yes the canvas size is much smaller and so the challenge that much more exciting. For poetry I mostly write little #thoughtfortheday type of posts on my Facebook page. For a full fledged poem it takes a different mindset altogether. But yes these two are inseparable from me. Give me a pen and paper anytime of the day and you will surely get a doodle or some words written on it. I also love travelling to new places so I try to do that as much as I can!
Q. What do you think is the future of blogging?
Blogging has become big, it seems like everyone is blogging in some form or the other. It is a great platform to showcase your talent. I think the future is very bright, with people turning it into a full time profession. The only thing that I don’t like about it is the need to advertise as the concept of ‘my work speaks for itself’ is no longer there. It is slowly becoming all about having the right contacts in the right PR firms to get your work noticed by brands. But I guess there is no escaping from that fact. That is why I said, if you are not passionate about it, you will want to shut the door very soon!
Q. How has your association with BlogAdda been? Any feedback for us?
BlogAdda has been a great platform for me. Not only did it bring me a lot of visibility through the nomination in the top 5 beauty bloggers of India, it was a huge humbling experience. Here I was sitting and blogging from my home with very little outside contact and all of a sudden I realize I’m there in the Top 5 at WIN’14. It was immensely motivating.
The brand-blogger associations that BlogAdda has been providing have been very rewarding too.
Q. What is your family’s reaction to your blogging success?
You will be surprised to know that my biggest fan is my dad! Yes, from being excited everytime a new brand wants to collaborate with me to actually reading my posts everyday, he has been the most supportive of all. Everyone in the family is all praises for my blogging. I think they appreciate the fact that despite having a hectic work schedule with a full time job I take out time to do something that I love. My family is my best critic as well – they will eagerly tell me whether my nail art is really worth sharing, or if a product needs to be re-shot. They help me in trying the products or actually sharing their own experiences with products so that I can tell my readers.
1. Beauty products and brands that you swear by – I am not a brand addict so to say, I can keep switching between brands so long as the product really works for me. Lately I have found one moisturizer that did not cause me to break out and I’ve raved about it on my blog a lot – it’s the Za Perfect Solution moisturizer. I really like the L’Oreal Paris Moist Matte lipstick in Flaming Kiss and the Lip Infatuation lip glosses.
2. One beauty product that took you by surprise – The Body Shop Tea Tree BB Cream – it has become my go-to product for my base makeup.
3. Favourite cuisine – Italian, and anything made of rich smooth chocolate!
4. Favourite movie – Letters to Juliet
5. One beauty and fashion secret that can perk up anybody’s look – A clean flawless face with basic black eyeliner and a hint of color on the lips paired with a well fitted churidar suit. I think churidar suits look good on everyone whether you are fat, slim, tall or short, just make sure it’s stitched to your size. I think it looks great on people from across the globe as well.
6. One celebrity whose wardrobe you’d like to get your hands on – Sonam Kapoor, I love the beautiful dresses she wears.
7. Blogging for me is… A journey of discoveries
8. What makes my day – A night of good sleep!
9. Beauty for me is… Being confident about yourself
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Shilpa Gandotra. We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section below!