Earlier this week I talked about how the fashion blogging bubble might have burst, discussing how brands appear to have shifted from PR stunts to business strategy when working with bloggers. Upon reading the insightful comments, of which many could have their own post, one struck me in particular:
“The concept of intellectual property–the monetization of valuable content–is becoming both less transparent and also intrinsically more complex as partnership marketing strategies evolve. It’s not just the blogging community that is struggling with this. Plenty of more traditional content providers and syndicators are between a rock and a hard place right now trying to figure out how they can sustain their business models in the digital era. Do you put content behind a pay wall? Do you harvest and sell user information to third parties? Do you increase advertising?” – Erin from Stumptown Stil
For a while, bloggers appeared to transcend the problems of the publishing industry. However, as bloggers become more established and thus the industry as a whole, we will have to deal with the very same monetization problems as the rest of the publishing industry. Talk about growing pains.
Bloggers do offer real value to brands. Many brands like Cambridge Satchel Company got off the ground through the help of bloggers integrating their products in content. The exchange for product for content for many bloggers is very much a win/win situation, ie, as a personal style blogger, how to you keep content fresh for your readers without breaking the bank? I know this from blogging in the pre-gifting era, it took years to get out of that mess. However, gifting, unless you plan on peddling that stuff on eBay (which opens a whole new can of ethical worms) won't pay the rent.
So what do you have to offer as a blogger? How do you survive in the post-PR stunt phase of blogging?
Treat Yourself Like a Professional
Back in the day, when I was working on my blog, I spoke with a consultant, who said there were some really great things going on with my blog, but the photos needed to be professional quality, not my little digicam. At the time, no bloggers were using SLR's to take photos, so I told him that it was part of the “appeal” of blogging that I didn't have “professional” looking photos. That was probably the biggest mistake of my career. You may be a beginner, but that is no excuse for amateur work in the professional landscape, because readers tend to follow quality work.
If you don't treat yourself, and your blog as though it were a real business, don't expect others to treat you like a professional.
Create professional quality work, and opportunities will open up.
Decide on What You Are Selling:
Many bloggers, myself included, just started blogging and figured it out along the way. The truth is, that may work, sometimes, but it won't ultimately work unless you know what your “product” is. Are you selling styling tips? Are you a writer? Are you selling your photography services? Do you have a clothing shop? Are you an event planner? Do you want to work in television or video?
The truth is, everyone has to sell themselves at some point, so don't worry about coming off as to “salesy” if you come from a place of authenticity (ie, you really love the craft of writing) and you offer real value to your readers/customers, it will be a natural fit.
Create a Business Plan:
This sounds big and scary but it's really not. While business plans are often for people asking for loans or funding, it can also help you focus what your purpose is with your blog. What is your mission? What are your products? How are you going to sell your products? Who are you trying to reach? One of the biggest problems for bloggers is that they don't really know how they are different from other bloggers, aside from being a different blogger (does that make sense?).
Treat creating a business plan like a meditation on your purpose of blogging. You might find clarity, or you might find that you need to get focused. Either way, it's a good start.
Diversify Your Income Stream:
This is probably one of the oldest tricks in the book. But, this piece of advice is more important now than ever. One can never know how things are going to change, so it's best to have many lines securing you to shore. If your business model relies heavily on brand collaborations, what happens when brands find something cheaper and easier to work with? If you rely heavily on affiliates on Pinterest, what happens when Pinterest changes their terms of service? While it's important to be focused on what you are selling, as a brand, it's also important to have as many channels promoting that product (and making money) as possible.
Know Your Numbers:
It's not enough to know how much traffic and how many Twitter followers you have. That's not always what brands are interested in. What is the quality of your traffic? How long do they stay on your site? How many people click on the links in your posts? How many people click on your ads? How many sales do you generate with an outfit post? What's the average content count? How many shares on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest do you get?
A brand might be able to look at your traffic and Twitter followers, and with some of those new services like Fohr Card, how you rank with traffic among other bloggers, too. However…
…more and more brands are also now interested in conversion, so to close a deal, you want to be able to prove your conversion to brands, and this can only be done by tracking engagement.
This shows not only the quality of your blog, but also helps brands to manage expectations, because they might have unrealistic expectations of what your blog can do – which is equally as bad.
Never Stop Learning:
It's why I've hosted the IFB Conference over the last four years. Things change quickly, and bloggers need to know how to adapt. It's amazing how many times I've heard from bloggers, “I already know everything I need to know.”
But, even after observing and working in this industry every day for the last six years, my ass is still getting kicked by how quickly things change. No industry stays the same, ever.
Especially one so tied to technology which is a fast moving industry by itself. As a blogger, you're not only having to deal with changes of trends in content consumption, and new competition, you're also having to deal with changes in technology. Just think about what's different from last year, when everyone was going on about Pinterest…this year it's Vine, and that literally happened overnight.
Build a Strong Circle of Blog Friends:
No one is an island. You're going to need your blogging friends now more than ever.
If you don't have any, make them. Nothing is more helpful to staying in the loop with changes and with new things, and to save your sanity than having blog friends. It's how I got my start, and how I continue to figure out what's happening, and how to deal with tough questions. Besides, you never know what kind of life-long friends you'll make.
We'll be talking about many of these topics (and provide plenty of opportunity to make blog friends) at the IFB Conference. Hope to see you there.
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