5 Things Bloggers Need to Know About Working With Brands
In the past week I’ve received the following requests from brands, all of whom claimed to be “huge fans” of my blog, and absolutely desperate to be featured on it:
01. An “opportunity” for me to win a skiing holiday by entering a competition in which I’d write a post – about skiing, natch – on my blog, and hope the brand liked it enough to reward me for it. So, leaving aside the small fact that I know absolutely nothing (Jon Snow) about skiing, and that the holiday had to be taken in the weeks immediately following my due date (Although, to be fair, who DOESN’T go skiing directly after giving birth?), this is a bit like me asking a bunch of ski companies to all give me a free holiday, on the understanding that I will only pay for the trip I enjoy most. Not exactly a great deal, is it?
02. A “collaboration” in which I’d write a blog post in exchange for a pair of tights.
03. A “collaboration” in which I’d write a blog post in exchange for a bottle of mouthwash.
04. Too many guest post requests to count.
05. Twice as many, “please can you post my infographic?” ones.
06. Oh! And a MYSTERY collaboration, in which the PR wouldn’t tell me what the campaign was actually about, or who it was for, but who assured me that, although they weren’t willing to either pay me OR send me the product in question (Er, whatever it was…), it would be a “really nice writing prompt” for me, and would really help me out with my blog. Condescending, much?
Needless to say, I turned down all of these amazing offers. They did get me wondering, however, why brands still try to get away with this kind of thing, and the answer came back loud and clear: it’s because they CAN, isn’t it? Because some bloggers really will jump at the chance to do a whole lot of work in exchange for absolutely nothing – or in exchange for a pair of tights, or a tube of toothpaste, or whatever – so you can’t really blame the brands for keeping on asking, can you?
Why do the BLOGGERS do it, meanwhile? Well, probably just because they don’t know any better, to be honest. And I don’t mean that as a criticism, by the way: we’ve all been there, and, when you’re new to blogging, it’s really, really easy to feel so flattered that a brand has actually noticed you, that you’re willing to jump through whatever hoop they present you with – even if there’s absolutely no benefit to you. I know that, in the early days of my blogging career, I took on some “collaborations” that now seem absolutely ridiculous to me in retrospect: so, to save YOU from the same fate, here are some things I wish I’d known about working with brands, back when I was starting out…
Just because they don’t mention a budget, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one
Most of the time, when a brand first approaches you about working together, they won’t make any mention of budget: they MAY offer to send you a product to review (if you’re lucky), but they might also just make a suggestion along the lines of, “Hey, this would be a great topic for your blog, whaddya think?”
Brands do this purely because, as I said above, they know that some of the bloggers they’re targeting will just accept that a product/suggestion is all they’re being offered, and will be happy to go along with that. Just because the brand doesn’t mention paying you for the post, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not willing to, or that they don’t have a budget: in fact, a lot of the time they’re just testing the water, in the hope that you won’t even ASK.
Now, obviously if you’re willing to accept that first offer, that’s totally your call – I’m not your mother, and I’m not here to tell you that you MUST charge for every single collaboration: that’s up to you. If you DO expect to be paid for your work/time, however, you have absolutely nothing to lose by replying to that initial email and saying that you’d love to work with them, however you’re not able to do so in exchange for a product/whatever they’re offering, and that these are your rates. All brands are different, obviously, and some genuinely WON’T have a budget for collaborations, but I find that 9 out 10 brands who approach me with an offer to work together will be willing to at least negotiate with me on price – and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t started asking!
You don’t have to accept the first suggestion you’re given
Another thing I’ve learned from working with brands is that brand reps will normally have an idea of the kind of post they want you to write – but they’re also normally willing to listen to other ideas, and take suggestions from you, too. You, after all, are the expert on your blog: you know better than anyone what will work for it and what won’t, so don’t be afraid to say, “You know, I don’t think that will really work for me, but here’s another idea for you…” Again, most of the time, I find brands really receptive to this kind of thing: it’s in their interests, after all, to make sure that any collaboration they enter into is actually successful, so if you have a better idea, tell them!
You’re under no obligation to “help out” a brand, just because they asked you to.
Sometimes – read “often” – I’ll get brands trying to pull at my heart strings, and persuade me to write about them by telling me all about how they’re just a small business trying to make their way in the world, and that if only I would do them this quick favour, it would make all the difference in the world to them, and they’d no longer have to send their children to the workhouse, or serve gruel for supper every night. Or words to that effect.
Now, I’m not totally hard-hearted: I’m all for helping people out when I can, but the problem is that the kind of “quick favour” these brands are after will normally involve me spending hours of my time writing a blog post which won’t be relevant to my blog, or of any interest to my readers. And, the fact is, I’m ALSO a small business owner, and that means I have to make business-led decisions about who I work with, and what I’m willing to do. Seriously, if I were to write a “quick” blog post for every brand that asked me to, I’d never do anything else, and the sound of people unsubscribing would be deafening. (Well, I mean, it WOULDN’T, because unsubscribing doesn’t actually make a sound, but… oh, you know what I mean.)
The thing is, though, I know a lot of very new bloggers who genuinely do think they’re in some way obliged to “help out” everyone who asks, so if you’re one of those people, please understand that it’s YOUR blog, and that, just because someone sent you a press release, or asked you to support their Kickstarter, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. You CAN say no – and, a lot of the time, you probably SHOULD.
Your time has value, regardless of whether you blog as a hobby or a career
One of the things I see quite often in the various blogging groups I’m a member of is people saying they don’t feel they can charge for collaborations because they’re “just” a hobby blogger, or because they “only” have x number of subscribers, or whatever. The fact is, though, if a brand has asked to work with you, they’ve already seen value in your work – so it’s time for you to start valuing it yourself, don’t you think?
I can’t tell you what to charge, or when you should think about doing it, but I CAN remind you that your time has value, regardless of whether you blog as a hobby or as a career. If a brand has asked to work with you, think about how long it’ll take you to do what they’re asking, and what else you could be doing with that time – then decide what that time is worth to you. Sometimes you’ll conclude that, actually, the post you’ll get out of it will have enough value to your blog for you to be willing to do it for free, or in exchange for a product: other times, however, you might find yourself thinking, “Wait: that’s going to take me all day,” in which case it’s probably worth asking if there’s a budget for it: you have nothing to lose, after all…
Freebies aren’t actually “free”
Lately I’ve become one of those really annoying people who, whenever someone mentions all of the “freebies” I get as a result of my blog, will gently point out that, actually, they’re not “free” at all – I have to WORK for them, by creating content … which can often involve a lot of time and effort on my part.
Embarrassingly enough, though, it actually took me quite a long time to realise this myself, and I spent a lot of time accepting things like clothes or beauty products in exchange for content, without really stopping to think that, actually, given the amount of time I was having to spend writing posts about them, I’d have been much better off just paying for them myself if I really wanted them.
This is something I think a lot of bloggers – especially new bloggers – really struggle with, though. It’s really, really easy to get caught up in the mindset that if someone gives you something for “free”, you should be grateful for it, and do whatever you can to express that gratitude. That’s absolutely true, too… IF the item is GENUINELY “free”- as in, there’s absolutely no expectation that you’ll do something to “earn” it.
That’s rarely the case with so-called blog “freebies” though. Sure, every so often a brand will send you something purely as a nice gesture (although, even then, they’re really hoping you’ll choose to blog about it – or to feature it on your social media, at least), but, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll be expected to give them something in return: which means it isn’t really a “free” at all, is it?
The message? It all comes back to the point above – that your time has value, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to under-sell yourself: no matter how hard people try to persuade you to.[separator type=”thin”]
Want to know more? My book, ‘My Blogging Secrets‘ tells the story of how I turned my blog into a business – and how you can, too. If you have questions about any aspect of blogging for a living, meanwhile, feel free to drop me a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer in an upcoming post!