Sponsored posts. Paid-for links. Advertising banners. Accepting products for review. Working with brands. Attending events.
When you start off blogging, you see all these things on other blogs. Bigger, more established blogs with more followers than you have. 99.9% of us started blogging for the love of it, because we wanted our own little corner of the internet to talk about clothes/makeup/crafts/food/books with people who loved them as much as we did. If you blog as a hobby rather than as a business, you don't start off expecting these opportunities to come your way and it can be a bit scary when they do. You're essentially selling you - your opinions, your sense of style, your photography skills, your writing voice. How on earth do you put a price on that? What are the rules?
I don't pretend to know any definitive answers - I don't think there are any hard and fast rules. Equally I wouldn't want anyone to read this and think "who the hell does she think she is?" I'm never keen when people set themselves up as some sort of expert and that's not what this is meant to be. It's just my thoughts on a topic that often seems quite mysterious. Most of what I've learned has happened via trial and error.
I'm under no illusion. This is not intended to come across as Alex pretending she's a super successful blogger who knows it all. I'm not the stereotypical tall, skinny, teenage fashion blogger who raves about all the latest trends and adores catwalk stuff and fashion magazines. I don't live in London. I don't get invited to loads of press events, and even if I did, it's unlikely I'd be able to take the time off work to trek 200 miles to attend them. I'm just me. I have a small to medium sized blog that isn't a particular standout in any genre and I was as surprised as anyone else when companies started to contact me. I have lots of amazing readers who leave chatty comments, I like to think the blog is vaguely amusing and I hope that my writing is halfway decent so perhaps that's it? I struggle to get my head around Alexa rankings and the complexities of Google Analytics and stuff that supposedly tells you what a successful blog is. I just like what I do and I hope that that shows and is appealing to someone.
So here's what I'd suggest if it's something you're considering doing or are curious about. I hope it's helpful.
- Don't expect anything. Companies don't approach you because you think you're great, they approach you because the style of your blog matches what they're trying to sell. They make that decision. You don't. If you've started blogging for free stuff or money rather than for the love of it then that lack of passion is likely to show. I quite happily blogged for ages without ever getting a sniff of a product review or a sponsored post and I'd quite happily continue if they dried up.
- Work out what approach is right for you. I took a fairly hardcore no-sponsored-posts, no-direct advertising stance for a long time and no-one ever shouted at me for turning down opportunities. Equally, when I did start doing sponsored posts, no-one told me how disappointed they were at me for selling out. I still don't put advertising banners on my blog and that's meant having to refuse one or two things, but that's fine by me. If you're happy to feature lots of different types of advertising opportunities, smashing.
- Try and maintain your blog ethos. God, doesn't that sound pretentious? All I mean is that it's not a great idea to accept products or sponsorship opportunities for things that you wouldn't dream of writing about otherwise. We've all seen those posts, we've all moaned about them. A blogger shoves up a copied and pasted press release raving about a product or brand that you're 99% certain they wouldn't give a crap about if money wasn't involved. It doesn't engage readers and it's far more likely to leave you thinking negatively of the blogger than positively of the brand.
- Work out what your rates are. This might happen completely by accident. If you're offered a figure during an email exchange and you're happy with that (based on some of the stuff I mention later on), then go for it. That's what I did. Try not to stare at your computer going "Holy shit, you want to give me money?" If you're struggling on this or you want to check that what's being asked/offered is reasonable, then:
- Talk to other bloggers. Revealing rates for sponsored posts and links within posts is one of those things that just doesn't seem quite done. Ditto page views per month and other related stats. Often the only thing you'll be able to judge is how many GFC followers a blog has. But every blogger I've ever met in person has been happy to talk about these. Seriously. Maybe we're all bashful of writing down numbers in a public space but we have no problem talking about it in person or via email or DM on Twitter. Don't be afraid to ask.
- Check out how other people do it. There are many, many different approaches and I'm sure people have different ideas of what constitutes a good and bad sponsored post or product review. As a basic rule, if I don't notice any difference from the blogger's normal tone of voice then they've done a good job with it. For example, I like the way that both Sarah and Helen make their posts personal to them and include the sponsored content in a very natural fashion. I like how Claire does product reviews and actually talks about the clothes rather than just whacking a link in the outfit details. I don't think I've ever seen a bad post from Jen or A Thrifty Mrs - you can learn a hell of a lot about good blogging from those two.
- Be polite. If someone emails you, even if it's something to which your immediate reaction is "hell no!" or "WTF does that have to do with my blog?", it takes all of thirty seconds to send them a quick reply back declining their offer. They may well contact you again with something that's perfect for you.
- On a related note, be professional. I can't say I've really suffered with it myself but you do hear exasperated bloggers sharing stories about rude PRs who either can't understand what they're being told in an email or take a massively patronising tone. I try and apply the same standards to blog emails as I do to work emails (although using a chattier tone) - you wouldn't tell a customer or client to eff off, so it's not a great idea to do it to a PR, even if they are getting on your last nerve.
- Don't be afraid to say no. Despite the above mention of rudeness, you're unlikely to get shouted at. If it's, for example, a clothing brand which sells nothing that you'd like to wear, what's the point in saying yes just for the sake of free stuff? It's always nice to suggest another blogger who might be appropriate for an opportunity if it's not right for you for whatever reason.
- Put the effort in. I probably spend longer and work harder on my sponsored posts than on normal posts as I want them to be really good. Partly because I'm representing a brand, partly because I want to look professional and partly because I don't want my readers to roll their eyes when reading it and think "God, she's crowbarred that reference in, hasn't she?" Hopefully I succeed and people read and reply to them the same way that they do with a normal post.
- Value your time. This bit is hard. Easier for freelancers who have an hourly rate, I imagine. It was a comment from one of them on a different blog that really brought this home to me. Yes, blogging is a hobby for most people, but that doesn't mean your time isn't precious. If someone asks you to write a post for them and you spend, say, two hours writing the post and an hour taking photos, sorting through them and editing them, then what do you think is a reasonable amount to be paid for it? £75? £50? £25? Is nothing a reasonable amount? Is the chance to enter a competition to potentially win an item a reasonable amount? Make your own mind up on this one.
- And value your blog space as well. If you do sponsored posts or product reviews then the general wisdom is to try and schedule them evenly through the month and intersperse them with normal posts*. If you've only got one or two spaces per month and accept a sponsored post that pays a piddling amount, you're blocking off the potential to accept something more lucrative down the line.
- Be flexible if the opportunity is interesting enough. Your rates aren't set in stone and neither is the approach you take. I know that some bloggers (mainly the few who can earn a living just from blogging) get very cross at "hobby bloggers" doing things for free. I can see their point to a certain extent - giving brands coverage on your blog is essentially giving them free advertising space, and they're less likely to pay if loads of people are happy to give it to them for free. But the vast majority of us blog for fun and any chance to work with brands is really flattering, so I'm not morally opposed to doing things for free sometimes. You don't know what opportunities it might lead to. And not every mention has to be paid for. Plenty of us are happy to feature small brands that we really love, just because we love them.
- Finally, and very importantly, be upfront. Shove a disclaimer page on your blog and explain how you label sponsored posts/paid-for links/product reviews etc. Label your posts accordingly. Unlike the US, there are no laws in the UK about this but I think it's just decent blogging behaviour. Not labelling an obviously sponsored post is enough to make some people stop following you.
So, those are my thoughts. Have I missed anything important? Speak now or forever hold your peace.* I must admit that I'm about to bend my rules on this one. It's November, a few different opportunities have arrived in my inbox and I'm not really in a position to say no to them right now. So you may see a few sponsored posts in a row but please don't let that put you off. As I've mentioned above, I wouldn't accept them if I didn't think they fitted the tone of the blog, and I've worked hard on writing them! Roll on December and the blog will be filled with great big glorious giveaways for you lovely lot.