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The Business of Blogging

Monday, 12 November 2012

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.


  1. I agree with all these points. One of my MAJOR sticking points with PRs who contact me is I like writing my own content, and to be honest it's nice seeing other bloggers receiving things to review/having sponsored posts especially if you know they work hard on their blog and have for a long time (i.e. you!) xx

  2. AHA this was a good meaty post about the nitty gritty. I made a choice a long time ago not to plaster adverts up on the blog just for a few pence income. I'd prefer to keep my blog JUST the way I like it.
    There are some sponsored posts posts that are jolly good to read but some are just a bore, so obvious when a blogger has grabbed the money at the expense of keeping things relevant. Sad really?
    I never expected to be contacted for anything free/sponsored posts (and I've only had a couple of offers) and to be honest I was taken aback and delighted! Not going to bank on anything, mind. My blog is my hobby and I want to keep it on my terms x

  3. All exceptional points as ever. I'm starting to get cross with attitudes of other bloggers and also PRs just at the moment, how you deal with all this is quite personal, and if you really don't like something you have the capacity as a reader or human being interacting to say 'no' or to hit the unfollow link.

    One thing I think it's important to mention also, is to take a good look at what you're being offered in return. I know you touched on this, but by agreeing to post every sale/promotion/press release by a brand, what are you getting in return? If said brand then invites you to a fun event, or offers to send you something, or pays you, great, but if not, are you just doing their leg work for a vague and false promise?

  4. This is a brilliant post Alex. I've had a few companies contact me about advertising links on my blog but as I'm more of a daily-life-and-photos kinda blog I declined - it didn't fit my blog as you mentioned, but this is a great post for people considering linking up with companies. xxx

  5. I think it's all about making sure the blog is something you'd read without thinking "blimey this is all free stuff, would they actually have bought that?"
    I get offered a lot of stuff, including clothes, as my blog is more relevant to beauty, I stick to it. If I started writing about a jumper, some readers would totally call me out on it.

  6. I am quite choosy when it comes to working with brands (funny I even get interest, as I have niche, small-ish circulation blog about not spending money!), and tend to only work with those who are a ntaural match. I tend to write for sample products rather than cash (it is a hobby only, for me) - mind you, even with that small fry type stuff, sometimes PRs send mass emails and you do have to grit your teeth and write *very* polite decline emails sometimes... especially if, for example, they get your gender wrong (as has happened to me haha!).

  7. Brilliant post I didnt even know the world of sposered posts even existed until this year. I've accepted many and turned down some, like you said it's all bout what you think fits. :] xxx

  8. LOVED this post, I'm lucky because I don't have any shame and asked bloggers who are also my mates like Sarah what rates they accepted and I openly talk about these things. I like that you said 'It's always nice to suggest another blogger who might be appropriate for an opportunity if it's not right for you.' I ALWAYS try and do this, because sometimes you get the most wonderful and personal emails and you don't want to say no but they don't fit in and I want to be helpful and friendly.

    I went through a period of doing a few too many because I wanted to pay for my Paris trip but I did mention this to blogging friends and I don't think anyone even noticed.

    It's all so hard, I'm a library assistant not someone in PR or a journalist so I have no idea how much my time or space is worth. Is a nightmare!

  9. Thanks for this Alex, it's been very informative - although I don't think I would ever be asked to do a sponsored post on my humble blog!

    One thing I learnt from your post that you might not have been expecting, was that you can put labels on posts!

  10. fantastic post, helpful advice i hope to use one day when my blog really takes off... (not holding breath!). seriously, thanks :)

  11. Very well said! Very good post Alex! I'd never be offered any thing like this, aside from being a teeensy blog not least because I have removed myself from Googlesearch (don't like the thought of school children finding me!) so it wouldn't apply, but it's still useful to know. I agree with most of the stuff Sophie says. I do get a bit bored with the generic kind of press relief e-mails I've read on certain blogs and I just can't be bothered to comment on them. But if, like you, they are well written in a personal style, then of course I will comment because you can appreciate hte Pensmanship!

  12. This was such a good post, sponsored articles/posts are something I've just recently started to dabble in and the whole question of how much to charge was a biggie for me. Especially as those I did talk to on twitter had completely different amounts! I'm always a bit dumbfounded by my stats too, I just don't think they measure up to my followers but without actually knowing what "the norm" is I have nothing to compare it on?
    Anyway I dither on about this but at the end of the day I blog, I like blogging, and if someone wants to approach me and pay me to do something I love then hell I'm not going to turn it down!


  13. This is quite helpful for those wanting such things, or starting to get emails about such matters.
    Interestingly, NONE of the emails I get from potential sponsors or whatever are for anything remotely in tune with my blog, and I thank each and eveyone of them politely and tell them the why it won't work for me...which they would know if they had REALLY looked at my blog.I mean, diamond rings?!
    If I ever get approached for something that would fit my blog style, or me,, I would consider the issue for sure.
    I know I'll feel weird about it, though!

  14. Great post - as a new blogger it's not something I've come across yet and I half anticipate I might never do, but I don't mind - I spend enough of my own money to keep my blog going without pr gifts/sponsor etc lol
    The bit about not living in London and not being able o go to PR events made me smile as I've seen quite a few blogger events but they are all in London so I haven't attend a single one! I don't think I would even know what to do with myself if I was ever actually invited to one I might actually be able to and be interested in attending! I'd probably back out out of far lol!

    Jenni x

  15. This is a really interesting post Alex. As somebody who works brand side but also blog in my spare time I find it amazing when I hear horror stories of PRs that get it wrong. My mantra is always authenticity, and I always hope that that comes across in my own blog but also when I speak to bloggers for a brand too. I cringe at the idea of approaching somebody completely wrong for a campaign!

  16. This is a really interesting post. I am inclned to agree with most of it. I do get a little bored with blogs that have dozens of outfit posts with sponsored links and little else in terms of content. Another thing I can't stand are all those wishlists, grr! I think if you are going to accept payment/free stuff for something the least you can do is be honest about it so your readers just feel as though they're being completely patronised. I was flabbagasted when I got my first offer, it came right out of the blue. Then I got a few other offers which I just couldn't agree to as they would have been competely unnatural for me to write about. Haven't had any for ages though, ha ha. That's OK by me. Like most people, I only started blogging as an outlet.

  17. I can't imagine ever being offered a Sponsored post - but your post has been really interesting to read anyway. Those sponsored posts that I have read - on your blog or on Thrifty Mrs's - have always seemed very natural and "fitting" for the theme of the blog. There is another blog I used to follow (which shall remain nameless - but it's a US one) which really got boring, as I was sure the writer was shoe horning in references to shops EVERY bl***y post. I stopped following in the end as it was so tedious.

  18. That was a really interesting post, something I have been in a quandry with myself. I am often dumbfounded at some of the offers I get and wonder have they even seen my blog, I am guessing not but like you say I respectfully decline those ones.
    I never have a problem with sponsored posts if they are in keeping with the tone of the blog in general and yours are. I do admit to unfollowing blogs in the past which seemed to me to be tarting themselves for unrelated tat.

  19. Agree with everything said - especially saying "no" :)

  20. Thank you for this post! I have saved it onto my computer for reference :) I have been doing more sponsored posts recently but hopefully I have still managed to not be too generic or sales-y (??) but I don't know! I have turned down a lot of stuff but I have also asked if I can change it, eg "this is the kind of post I would normally do, can I do XYZ or can it go up at a later date?" and the majority of PRs are more than happy to try and accommodate that- it is really difficult though and I still don;t know if I am doing it right!

    Maria xxx

  21. Oh I'm honoured to be included as a good example! The money thing has been hardest for me, it's hard to think of your worth at times I think. However, I really really hate brands that ask you to take part in a competition which involves way too much work for very little back (create an outfit, make a wishlist, promote our goods for free!). I know that budgets make me stretched but it does de-value us. I think for PRs, building up a good relationship with bloggers is good because then you may win over one new customer yourself! I know myself I have re-bought from brands I have been sent samples of. I also think that disclosing sponsored posts is very important, especially as the majority of your readers may be bloggers themselves and will know what sponsored posts are doing the rounds at the moment. I mean, why hide it? I think it makes a blogger seem more honest if they say 'yes, I was paid for this, but it still sounds honest and it is.' Phew, rant over.

    1. Also there is the whole legality issue of disclosing that you've been paid for a post - I've seen a number of PRs ask bloggers if they will write a sponsored post but not mention that it's sponsored, when they really ought to know better.

  22. Really interesting Alex. I've been doing one or two sponsored posts and recently started offering advertising too. After two years of blogging, posting regularly and putting a lot of myself into it, I felt justified in getting a bit of reimbursement. I've worked as a journalist and copywriter for quite a few years though so I don't have a problem with valuing my time and skills. I've also worked in PR and marketing in the past, so I quite enjoy working with brands when it's a good fit. And that's the key. It's got to be relevant and honest. I heard another blogger say, "If I wouldn't be prepared to spend my own money on it then I wouldn't review it on my blog" and I think that's quite a useful benchmark.

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