Most of Doha probably knows her but let me give you a brief introduction. Polly Byles is a lifestyle blogger who has been living in Qatar for over 4 years and is amongst one of the most popular bloggers in Qatar. In fact, Follow Your Sunshine was the first blog in Doha, that I started to follow.
Polly started her blog as a way to connect with her family back home and share her expat adventures with them, but slowly it grew a much wider audience worldwide. It is all about luxury travel, great food and all positive experiences in Qatar and beyond with her adorable little toddler. She recently took blogging as a full-time career and is making waves in the Qatar blogging scene!
I would run into Polly at various events but we never had a chance to have a one on one conversation. So we agreed to meet for coffee. I had so much fun chatting with her and of course, photographing her. She is full of positive energy and that is what her blog is all about!
So let’s dive right into the conversation with this lovely lady!
Q: Tell us something about yourself? Who is Polly in real life?
Polly: I’m a thirty-something mum of one who was born and raised in the middle of the British countryside. I am the second of seven siblings, including half brothers and sisters, as my parents split up when I was four, and both remarried and had more children.
At nineteen, I moved to Nottingham to attend University, and that’s where I met my husband, although I didn’t know he was ‘the one’ at the time! I was dating someone else, and we went our separate ways, only re-meeting six years later at a mutual friend’s wedding. I was newly single, living and working in London at the time, and it was the start of a whirlwind romance. He got a job offer in Qatar less than a year into our relationship and I made the difficult decision to follow him over here three months later.
It was the best decision I ever made! One blog, one wedding and one baby later and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Q: What inspired you to write a blog? Tell us about the ‘Follow Your Sunshine’ journey?
Polly: I’ve always loved writing, so a couple of weeks before I was due to move to Qatar, I made the decision to start a blog on a whim. I sat in my little attic kitchen in London and set up my website, using YouTube tutorials to guide me. I was feeling a lot of different emotions about the move: sadness at saying goodbye to friends and family; nervousness about leaving my job and starting afresh in a new country and culture; apprehension about whether this was the right step to be taken so early on in my relationship. Yet, I was also incredibly excited about the new life that was awaiting me in the Middle East and longing to see my (then) boyfriend again. I needed an outlet for all of these feelings, to document my adventure overseas, and to keep family and friends up to date with what we were up to.
Naming my blog was easy – I was following my sunshine (literally, because of the heat of Qatar and figuratively, because as cheesy as it sounds, I was following what made me happy in life without dwelling too much on the consequences). ‘Follow Your Sunshine’ is a life motto I’ve tried to stick to ever since, both as a theme for my blog and my attitude to life.
Over time, my blog has evolved from an online diary into a luxury lifestyle blog about living the best life you can possibly live, be it through making the most of luxury travel, discovering the best restaurants, embracing positive parenting or adopting a lifestyle which brings you happiness and fulfilment. There’s a bit of something in there for everyone!
Q. What challenges have you faced while bringing up your blog game?
Polly: I always tell people that are interested in starting a blog that the most important thing to get right, if you want to become an impactful blogger, is your content. I have always worked in communications, so I didn’t struggle too much with the writing part, but the visual aspects of my blog, including website design and layout, and my photography, took a lot of work. I invested in a Canon 750D and a couple of good lenses last year and I’m slowly finding my way around it and enjoying playing with editing software to improve my photos further. I still have a long way to go, though!
Juggling blogging with a career and being a mummy has proven to be just about the hardest thing in the world, especially as it’s a 24/7 job if you want to do it properly. The key I’ve found is to constantly prioritize your workload, only work on projects and collaborations you feel passionate about, and be realistic about delivery. At the start of 2018 I vowed I would write three blog posts a week when in reality, I’m lucky if I can manage one!
In terms of the wider blogging community, my biggest struggle has been the nastiness that comes hand in hand with this competitive industry. There is a lot of jostling for position, and perceived competition for opportunities, which just isn’t me and makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’m a big believer that because everyone’s blog and writing style is different, there’s something out there for everyone and no matter how many of us there are, we can all make it! I am particularly frustrated that a lot of these ultra-competitive types are buying followers and likes in an effort to come across as more popular and in-demand than they actually are. It makes a mockery of the hard work that bloggers like myself with a hard-earned but genuine following put in day in day out.
Luckily, these days I have a bit of a stronger backbone. I have learned to ignore the vicious rumours that circulate by those who are attempting to derail others for their own gain and try to turn a blind eye to the underhand and fraudulent behaviour. Thankfully, these bloggers are in the minority, and I have a great support network of positive, supportive and inspirational blogger friends that I look up to and make me want to improve my game!
Q: Can you walk us through a typical day for you?
Polly: My two-year-old, who I refer to as Baby Sunshine on the blog, is a notoriously bad sleeper, so after a disrupted night’s sleep we’re usually up and about by 8am. After getting her breakfast, getting her dressed and making her lunch for the day, she’s either dropped off at nursery or spends the morning with her nanny, Rowena, who comes in a few times a week to help us out.
My mornings are then spent working: posting to Instagram, responding to emails, meeting with prospective Follow Your Sunshine clients, writing blog posts, taking photographs, writing Lonely Planet articles or articles for one of my freelance clients. Sometimes I meet friends for coffee, or get my nails done and enjoy a bit of time off, but if this happens I usually feel guilty because between 9am and 2pm is literally the only uninterrupted time that I have to myself for work.
After a snatched lunch, it’s nursery pick-up time or our nanny goes on to another family, and it’s the time of day that I look forward to the most. Baby Sunshine and I spend some quality time together, walking around the marina where we live, or taking a boat out. We often meet with friends or go to a toddler class together, and I really value this one-on-one time with my little girl.
My husband is a sports TV producer, which means he has irregular hours, but on a ‘standard’ office day, he can be home by around four or five. We try to eat together as a family, and then bath and read to Baby Sunshine together, but sometimes I have blog events to attend in the evening, so I leave Mr Sunshine to hold the fort.
Bedtime for me is usually around 11.30pm. If I’m not out at an event, I’ll spend most of the evening working on my laptop, in between getting up 10,000 times to put my naughty sleepless toddler back to bed!!
Q: How has motherhood changed you and your life? How has it affected your work?
Polly: Motherhood has changed my life completely and irrevocably, and I wouldn’t go back for anything! The best thing about having a child is that no matter how bad your day has been or what has happened, you can still manage to find joy in every moment. She’s a real bundle of energy, creative and very sociable, so she loves nothing more than playing imaginative games with me with her Duplo or drawing pictures, or running around outside. I’ve really enjoyed watching her development and how she’s turning into such a loving and funny little girl. I sometimes have a flash of pride when I think to myself, ‘I can’t believe I created that!’
The biggest change to my life (apart from the fact that I’m tired all the time!) is that I recently made the decision not to return to the 9-5 and to take blogging and freelance writing full time so that I can work my hours around her and her schedule. It’s been a decision that I haven’t regretted for a minute, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return to an office again! It doesn’t matter where my career may lead me, my primary role is being a parent now.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a mum? Your advice to other mums?
Polly: I’m not going to sugarcoat it, bringing up a child as an expat, away from your family and usual support network is hard. There have been so many days, when I’m surviving on three hours sleep and deadlines are looming and emails are stacking up, when I’ve wished so hard that I could just pick up the phone to one of my or my husband’s parents, or siblings and asked them to come over and help out.
My biggest advice to any expat mum in the same position is not to be afraid to reach out for help. This could be investing in some help at home, like a nanny to take your child for a few hours while you do what you need to do, or a cleaner to help out with the house and take a few things off your to-do list. It could be going to mummy groups to meet some like-minded women and friends, who will offer you the advice and support that you need. Don’t be afraid to have an honest and frank conversation with your husband if you’re struggling too. They’re the other half of this partnership and should be putting in half the work (luckily mine does, and more!).
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I didn’t appreciate the full meaning of this until I had one myself.
Q: What if you are invited to a food/hotel review and you do not like the food /service AT all! What do you do in a situation like that?
Polly: That’s simple. I don’t write about it.
There are bloggers out there that do, and I completely respect them for that, but Follow Your Sunshine isn’t about negative things, and I’m certainly not a food critic/reviewer. I only include positive recommendations on my blog – I see it as a place to go for advice on what you should be doing/eating, not what you shouldn’t (although I always make sure I let people know if I’m collaborating with a brand or being paid for the content in my disclaimer, but that my judgement isn’t affected by this and I’m remaining impartial).
If the meal has been really terrible, I will let the PR or Marketing representative know about it in a respectful way, via email, a meeting or a call. I think it’s important that they get that feedback so that it doesn’t happen again.
I made the mistake of being peer pressured into writing a negative article once, and it was a disaster. I’ve since deleted it from my blog as it was making me feel uneasy, and I will never go there again. We learn the hard way in life sometimes!
Q: You have recently started writing for Lonely Planet? Congrats -That’s fantastic! Tell us how did that happen?
Polly: Thank you so much! My Lonely Planet gig was real proof that blogging can open so many doors for you. Through my blog, I’ve made blogger friends all over the world, and one of them is the lovely Binny from Binny’s Food & Travel Diaries. She happened to see a tweet from someone who works for Lonely Planet saying that they’re looking for Qatar-based writers, she replied tagging me in and the rest is history!
I’m loving my new role as it means I’m getting out and about, exploring more of the country that I’ve never had the chance to see before. It’s also helping to hone my travel-writing skills, which is the part of my blog that I love the most.
Q: What is a skill you’d like to learn and why?
Polly: I’ve mentioned photography – that’s one which I definitely think will help me to improve my blogging game. The next thing on my list is mastering more social media platforms, like Pinterest, which can be a huge source of traffic for your blog.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? Any advice for newbie bloggers?
Polly: The best advice I ever received was from one of my blogger friends in London, just after Baby Sunshine was born. I was in a dilemma. Prior to her birth, the blog was mainly all food and travel, but suddenly I had a baby and family life to add to the mix, and I was struggling to think of a way that I could continue without bringing more of my new life into my writing. I asked for advice, and this blogger said simply, “I like reading your blog because it provides an honest insight into you and your life. Carry on doing you and people will carry on reading.”
This really resonated with me. She’s right! If you write from the heart about what you’re passionate about – whatever that may be – then you will have an engaged audience. Try to retrofit your blog into something you think people want to read or that you think will gain you followers, but that isn’t really you, and your writing won’t be as authentic, nor as engaging. Basically, do you and the rest will follow!
Q: What’s next for you and the blog?
Polly: I have some really exciting projects coming up over the next few months. I feel really grateful that I’ve got to the point now where I’m able to be very selective about the brands that I work with, and only choose those which have a Follow Your Sunshine-like philosophy to life, and I’m so honored to have the opportunity to partner with some individuals and organizations that really inspire me. I’m excited to write these blog posts!
We also have some incredible luxury family travel coming up very soon, and I can’t wait to take you all along with me. Make sure you’re following along on Instagram for live updates via my stories!
For the rest of 2018, you can also look forward to: collaborations with other bloggers in Doha, a few discounts and giveaways to say thank you and give something back to my readers, and a very special five-year anniversary surprise! Watch this space!
TV Show/Movie: The Notebook. I’m a sucker for a romantic story (and Ryan Gosling!)
Book/Novel: Pride & Prejudice
Blog: I could never choose just one! I have about 15 that I go back to regularly for a read.
Daily Wear Attire: Skinny jeans! Live in them.
Activity with Family: Travelling (obviously!)
Travel Destination: It has to be Italy – for the food, people, culture, diversity, history, landscapes, sights…basically everything!
Fine Dining Restaurant: This is a hard one! Probably the best restaurant I’ve ever been to is 3 Michelin star Don Alfonso 1890 just outside of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast (check out my blog post on that one, it was mind-blowing!)
Family Friendly Restaurant: Here in Qatar, it has to be Elements at the Four Seasons. They offer child-friendly brunches and the staff are so laid back and accommodating to your needs. There is a decent kid’s menu and colouring sheets too.
Coffee Shop: I know it’s cliché, but it’s got to be Flat White. I’m branching out and trying a few more at the moment though…look out for my findings on the blog soon!
Designer: Mulberry (bags), Louboutin (shoes), Alex Monroe (jewellery), Chloé (clothes)
High Street Store: Reiss
Kids/Baby Store: Currently Next for kids clothes and Mamas & Papas for accessories.
Thank you, Polly for taking the time out for doing this for my blog.
You can follow Polly (and the sunshine)