Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Working With Brands & Not Underselling Yourself As A Blogger

Working with brands is something that many bloggers aspire to do, and is also the cause of many a debate in the blogging community.

Some believe that working with brands is "selling out" and whilst I personally disagree, they are of course entitled to their opinion and to keep their own blogs collaboration-free.

But if working with brands is something that you wish to do, then read on.

When I first started my blog I honestly had no idea that brands worked with bloggers at all - I didn't read any blogs at that time and so I had no knowledge of how the blogging worked - I simply wanted to start an online writing space after falling out of love with LiveJournal.

So when the brand opportunities started to come in, I was surprised...and completely lacking in any knowledge on the subject at all.

When the email offers started I was honestly so flattered that these companies wanted to work with me that I was ecstatic to receive even a packet of toilet rolls to review - I paid no attention to what the value of them was and how much of my time it would take to review them, I was simply glad to be given anything at all for "free".

For a while I thought that getting freebies was the best thing ever. 

Within a few months I had amassed a collection of goodies that you wouldn't believe (or maybe you would if you're at the start of your journey too!) - the entire underneath of my bed was FILLED with products and there were boxes climbing the walls - my partner & I joked about how we could open our own shop and make a small fortune from selling it all.

But soon, the pressure started - when there are 30+ boxes of things to review arriving every week, you end being unable to keep up with the demand. The time that goes into photographing those items, writing about them, emailing back and forth with the PR person about the review, and actually trying them out is phenomenal and, quite simply, it was all too much.

I was soon spending HOURS every day trying to keep on top of it all, and two things happened...

1) I wasn't enjoying blogging as much anymore because all of my time was taken up with writing about products instead of writing about what I wanted to

and 2) I was struggling so much to keep up, that I ended up neglecting to actually write about the products - resulting in lots of chasing emails from PR people wanting to know where their review was, and a lot of anxiety for me about how to manage it and keep them happy.

One day, Jon said to me "You've been working all afternoon on these reviews and what for? Two bottles of Radox shower gel and a packet of whitening toothpaste?"

He was right. The value of those products was less than £10, and I'd just spent around 3 hours writing about them and promoting them. Which means that I was effectively working on behalf of those companies for around £3.20 an hour. 

Was it worth it? Wouldn't it be so much easier and more cost effective to just go and buy the shower gel and toothpaste myself?! And if I was honest...they weren't even products I'd have chosen to buy for myself anyway, which made it seem all the more pointless.

Here is a breakdown of what I've learnt as a blogger about working with brands, and some tips for those still unsure:

Setting A Minimum Product Value

From that moment on, I vowed to limit the review work that I took on to only products of a certain value and only those that I was genuinely interested in.

It was difficult to force myself to stick to that rule at first - the phrase "Never look a Gift Horse in the mouth" kept coming to mind and trying to train myself to believe that it was ok to "turn down a freebie" took some doing - but the truth is, these products are NOT freebies.

 They are sent to you for something in return - a review which will take up your time, and exposure to your audience  - an audience that you have earned through hard work and dedication.

Why would you give your hard work and time away for so little in return?

Now my minimum review value is set at £50 (Unless I have a particular interest in a lower value item, which isn't often) and I find this works so much better for me.

Of course it means that I'm turning a lot of lower value items down, but I have to remember that the time spent reviewing those items could mean turning down a far better item down the line...the less review work I take on, the less time pressured I am and the more freedom I have to write my own material and save my review space for bigger items.

Of course every blogger is different and we all need to start somewhere, many people believe that they need to accept low value items to begin with to make themselves known to PR people and there is an element of truth to that - of course its great to get familiar with a PR person by working with them in any way you can, but don't let them use you for less than your time is worth.

By all means take a low value item once or twice to showcase your review skills on your blog - do the best damn toilet roll review there ever was! - but don't allow it to happen continually.

Unfortunately there will always be people out there who will take advantage of you - don't allow them to.

To Be Paid or Not To Be Paid?

The next thing to come along is paid work - usually in the form of sponsored posts, sponsored tweets/facebook mentions/instagram posts, etc  - these come in many forms, and there is all the debate that goes along with them about follow links, no follow links and so on - I'm not going to get into that.

What I am going to talk about is negotiating a fair price.

Often you will be contacted out of the blue by a company with a campaign outline and a price will be stated - when I first started taking on sponsored work I assumed that this was the available budget and there was no flexibility on that - it did not occur to me to even ask the question of whether the price could be increased. I was offered £50 and I took it gladly! No questions asked.

You will also often be emailed without any price being mentioned at all, or worse - people will try it on and ask you to post in return for "promotion on their clients social media sites...great exposure!" or "Quality back links to your blog - great for your DA!"

To be frank...this is largely bullshit. They want you to promote them, link back to them, write about them...whatever it is they're asking for...because THEY need YOU. What they are offering in return is usually worth very little. YOU do not need THEM in these situations.

Ok so they have 50,000 Facebook fans and they'll promote your post to them - but ask yourself, how many of those people are your target audience? How many of them are going to click the link and then bother to read anything else on your site? Are you really going to gain any long term followers from their promotion of your post to their fans? And how engaged are their fans anyway?! It's all well and good having several thousand followers, but how many of them are actually bothering to look at the content?

If they're offering you a link back, is ONE link going to make such a massive amount of difference to your DA that you can't turn it down?....No, not likely.

Don't let them mess with your head - chances are they are just trying to get away with paying you or offering you product in return. DON'T LET THEM DO IT.

Negotiating A Fair Price

It's so difficult, even 3 years in, to know what a fair price is - it all depends on so many factors - how much work the post requires, whether it's written for you or by you, whether they want social media promotion included, whether it's something you feel comfortable promoting, what kind of link they want (Always charge a lot more for gambling or e cigarette links if you accept them, as they can damage your site and lower your future work potential. I did accept a Bingo link last year but I wouldn't budge on a £500 fee - some people wouldn't even accept that price for the risk those links carry - it's a personal choice but be aware of the damage they can do. I certainly wouldn't be accepting a gambling link for £30, as I've seen advertised in some groups lately).

And also - your own personal circumstances come into play too. It's all very well me telling you not to accept less than x amount per post, but everyones financial situation is different and what one person will happily walk away from, others simply can't afford to turn their noses up at - I get that.

BUT keep in mind that the lower the price you accept - the more you're letting these companies know that they don't have to pay a higher price.

If they can get bloggers to post for £15 they will, and then they will never need to re-examine their offer - whereas if everybody refused to work with them at that price, they would HAVE to offer more...right?

Also keep in mind that a lot of companies keep a record of the fee they pay you - so even if they have a campaign come in with a much higher budget, do you think they're going to tell you that and pay you what they're paying everyone else? or are they going to just tell you "Yep, same price as last time" because they know you'll accept it.

I can guarantee it's the latter - it's happened to me plenty of times - friends of mine are paid £300 for a post and they won't offer me more than £30 because I used to accept posts for that price. So my past willingness to offer low prices has come back to bite me on the bum, quite a few times.

For every paid post you accept, take into account the work involved, the time it will take, the relevance to your audience, the link included (is it damaging?), the extra social promotion being requested  (I charge separately for this), and the fact that the price you quote is setting a precedent for future commissions - and based on all of those things, charge what you think is fair.

(Note: If you want a guideline, my DA is currently fluctuating between 29 and 31, and I currently charge around £100 per blog post on average - this is a mid-range price amongst bloggers.  I know a LOT of bloggers who charge 2 or 3 times this price, or even more. I charge extra for social media promotion, and a higher price again for videos. Don't be scared to ask for a decent price - at one time I would have been terrified to ask for more than £50 per post, but my fee has been £100 for a year now and I have earned over £1000 every month since then, people do pay it.)

Reviews Can Pay Too

This is something I honestly wasn't even aware of until this year, and I feel kind of silly when I think of all the reviews I used to accept in return for a couple of bottles of shower gel.

Quite often, a company will approach you with a review opportunity - they'll make it sound like something you absolutely cannot refuse! And maybe the product/products is really lovely - maybe it's well in excess of your minimum product value - BUT around 50% of the time, that company actually has a budget to PAY you to review that item as well as gifting it to you.

Since learning of this, I've forced myself to respond to ALL review request emails with the question "Do you have a budget for this?".

Here Are Some Of  My Recent Surprising Experiences With This:

  • A company representing a well known cereal brand got in touch to ask me if I'd be interested in trying their new cereal - I asked the budget question, expecting a no - the e-mail had made it seem that all I should expect in return for the post is a couple of boxes of cereal.
Minutes later, the reply came back "Absolutely, we can pay you £150 for the review".

Well...wasn't I glad I didn't just snap up the cereal and ask no questions?! I've since found out that other bloggers haggled on that price and were paid significantly more....So there's a lesson there for me, too!

  • Another cereal company emailed recently and asked me if I'd like to work on a campaign with them in return for a nice little personalised item for my little one - I asked the budget question. 
They responded to tell me politely that there was no budget, only the lovely gifted personalised item - I'll be honest, I was almost tempted to agree as the item was sweet and I knew my son would quite like it - but I thought about the time that it would take to write the post and decided it wasn't worth it, so I politely declined.

A few days later, the company emailed again - a budget had been found, would I do it for my usual £100 fee?

Good job I stood my ground, right?!

  • A company recently sent me a very standard looking email, no personalised greeting - just a short blurb about their company, who they were, what they sold, a link to the site and that was it.
I VERY NEARLY pressed delete, thinking it was just more spam - the same emails I get 20 times a day from companies hoping for a bit of free publicity.

But I didn't - I sent my standard "Do you have a budget" reply.

The response came straight away - "Of course! We'd love you to choose £150 worth of products from our website which we will send for you to keep, and we will pay you £250 for your review."

...And to think I almost deleted that opportunity!

My top tip would be to reply to EVERY email you get - even if its 50 a day, even if it's just to say "No thank you, I don't think that's the right fit for my blog but please let me know if you have any future opportunities that may be suitable" - you never know what it could lead to.

I feel like I've babbled enough in this post already so I'm going to leave it here, but I feel like there is so much more I could talk about.

I hate to think of newer bloggers being short changed by companies when it comes to blog collabs, and I often see bloggers doing some of the same reviews I have been paid well for and I wonder "Where they paid too? Or did this company pull the wool over their eyes and offer them just a box of cereal?!"

And so that's my reason for posting this - I'm by no means an expert when it comes to blogging, but I do want to be as helpful as I can to any other bloggers out there - I see the blogging world as a community and I hate the idea that we're all clambering over each other trying to "get to the top" or win opportunities over somebody else  - I feel that when we work together and help each other out, it makes us stronger as a collective...and that's why I won't hold back on discussing any of these things.

If you would be interested in a post detailing HOW I earn over £1000 per month blogging (including exactly what I do, sites and apps I use to increase earnings, etc) - please comment and let me know.

Or if you have any questions you'd like answered about this subject or any other, again - just let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to help.

Now...go get 'em! ;)

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