how to make money from lifestyle blogging

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…

lifestyle blogging advice01.
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.

5 things bloggers need to know about working with brands04.
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!

5 Things Bloggers Need to Know About Working With Brands5 Things Bloggers Need to Know About Working With Brands

5 Things Bloggers Need to Know About Working With Brands

Liked this post?? Take a second to support Amber on Patreon!
  • Not quite the same thing, but many years ago I received an email from a PR for a London events company saying she “loved” my art and mentioning a couple by name she’d seen on my old (and pretty ropey) website. She was offering me a bit of wall space at an event for which I’d pay, plus they’d get a percentage of any sales. I politely declined – after all, even Jon Snow must know people don’t go clubbing on the offchance they’ll buy some art!

    Meanwhile, a Scottish friend living in Italy, also an artist who had a site in the same server, heard from the same people. The wording of the email was practically the same and they’d picked two of her works out too. My friend thought it sounded like a great idea and may have gone for it.

    I’m not saying it wasn’t a genuine offer, but it sounded as if they were just throwing mud against a wall to see what stuck. It came across as from someone/a company who hadn’t looked at anyone’s site, therefore had no idea where we were all based. And were just trying to dazzle us with an amazing opportunity where none existed.

    On the other hand maybe the next Jackson Pollock is living in a huge house in Hempstead having gotten his start flogging his work to bleary-eyed London clubbers. Silly me!

    November 1, 2017
  • Brenda


    I am not a blogger, and I only follow a few (yours is really my favourite), but after reading this post (and other posts you have made about blogging…) I think what is happening is that a lot of these brands are looking for some free advertising (duh!)… because fewer people are watching traditional TV and heading to streaming services, and magazines are on the way out too. So two big sources for advertising are drying up. The brands are needing to find new places/ways to advertise, but they don’t want to pay the big bucks that TV and print advertising has been. Instead they try to get the free posts and collaborations. However, it really can backfire — which I am sure you know. I completely understand the need for bloggers to make an income, but when the blog gets so bogged down with sponsored content, it can lose its charm. Case in point, I was following a really cute photography blog for a while that had quite a few followers. Occasionally there would be a sponsored post. It was really cool when her photos were actually published into a coffee-table book. But then, her posts changed completely — barely any photography — other than the products she was sponsoring. And it was every post! Lotions, food products, cleaners, you name it. It was like her blog was completely hijacked by brands. I was so disappointed and eventualy unsubscribed. As a reader, I don’t mind sponsored posts because I love it that you try stuff out for us! I know now I probably won’t buy magnetic eyelashes, but I am the proud owner of a Dyson hairdryer! (not sure those were even sponsored posts — I think you just tried the stuff out because you love us…) . Anyway, I appreciate the way you handle brands, etc. Sorry for my rambling!

    November 1, 2017
  • I´ve recently been offered a sponsored post on home decor (but no client´s name mentioned of course). No need to say that I have a blog about travel&life in Switzerland :O

    November 1, 2017
  • JHP


    This happens to musicians all the time as well. Businesses and restaurants always say stuff like, “It will get you exposure to play here for four hours for free…and we’ll give you dinner!” Four hours of performance would be one expensive dinner if that were an equal trade. I’ve had all sorts of people and relatives ask for me to perform at events or write arrangements, etc. because it’s always fun for me apparently…not work that requires time and dedication? I venture blogs and writing have the same reputations. But the more, as a collective, the musicians and teachers in my area request our worth in time and work, the less these strange requests come about.

    November 1, 2017
  • I can’t believe you turned down the tights!

    November 1, 2017
  • Oh geez if I had a dollar for every pitch I’d been sent lately offering me a chance to win my compensation on “just a blog post and 4 social shares” – I mean seriously, does anyone fall for that?!

    November 2, 2017
  • Yeah my favourite thing is when some PR emails me suggesting that I give their completely irrelevant brand a write up! When it comes to making money however, I think this largely depends on what you blog about. Having spoken to a lot of vintage bloggers, I do know that the majority of vintage labels do not pay bloggers, it’s a merchandise only exchange. With a few brands being the exception of course. I know bloggers who have 20- 60k+ followers and amazing blog stats but can’t get anything more than merchandise in exchange for their work. Certain brands even have a policy to not pay the bloggers they work with because they expect everyone to feel #blessed that they’re getting a freebie.
    I personally am happy with the merchandise as payment because at the end of the day what would I be spending the money on? More clothes of course – so I’m very happy with this arrangement. My blog isn’t very good compared to the *big* bloggers out there who have their $10k camera set up, nor do I have the followers so I don’t think the content I create at the moment justifies being paid for. If I did have a professional camera set up and invested several grand into a camera that created magazine grade quality photos, then I definitely would want to be paid somewhat but I would like to put that money towards some of my favourite local animal charities rather than have it as an income.

    November 3, 2017