Blogging as a Business: How to Choose the Right Brand Partnership for You
If you’re like me, you probably find it pretty exciting when a legitimate message from a well-known brand shows up in your firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox. I was privy to this excitement recently when a brand wrote to inform me that they were looking for fashion-focused writers and would love to “have [me] on board.” They provided some information and photos of a new product that was about to launch, and asked if I could have a post featuring their images of the product ready by Friday.
It was a tight time frame, sure, but when JoeTheBrandRep@bignamebrand.com sends an email addressed to your actual name asking you if you’d like to be included in a product launch, you figure it out. However, due to my career in freelancing, I’ve experienced many a long day of deliberation with various brands regarding messaging, keywords, imagery and the like. Thus, I found it a bit odd that a popular brand would reach out to a newbie blogger and give her completely free reign to post about their product. Unless…
Was he asking me to post about his brand on my own site with no intention of sharing, featuring, compensating, or participating in any way? And did he give me…a deadline?
I asked the question, and my suspicions were confirmed.
Sure, being noticed by a well-known brand is gratifying, but why would I provide inorganic, unauthentic advertising in return for nothing more than the personal illusion (a.k.a. delusion) of being “on board” with said brand? By Friday? Blogging is a business — a legitimate and potentially lucrative one – and should be treated as such. Hosting my site is not free. Being a member of IFB Pro is not free. Incorporating my business was not free. Quarterly accounting services are not free. Therefore, I don’t work for free, and you shouldn’t either.
I attended multiple industry conferences, roundtable discussions, and expert panels over the last year, and the one concept on which everyone agreed was that bloggers and influencers are the future of marketing. Brands need them. Brands need us. And, as more influencers/bloggers provide free content collaborations, more brands will expect them, which in turn means they’ll become less willing to compensate. It’s that old “why buy the cow?” adage that your grandma told you about, and it’s terrible for the influencer industry as a whole. Of course, payment can take many forms — product, exposure, or dolla dolla bills y’all — but you should always be compensated for your work.
So how do you know if you’re being rope-a-doped by a brand? How do you ask the uncomfortable questions? How do you say “thanks, but no thanks” without burning bridges?
Step One: Make sure it’s legit.
When receiving first-time, unsolicited e-correspondence from any brand, the email should be addressed to you directly. This indicates that a brand has taken some time to research your point of view, and that they are serious about working with you. If you receive an email from any brand that has taken notice of you, allow yourself a few minutes to be flattered. Brag a bit. Call your mom so she can brag a bit. Then…
Step Two: Put on your business executive cap and take a good hard look at your goals.
Does this brand align with your values? Do you or would you use this brand’s products? If you aren’t familiar with the brand, do some research. If you would like to see the product in person, ask for a sample and offer to return it. Once you’ve decided the fit is a good one, make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial. What will you receive in exchange for your endorsement? Expect realistic returns based on your following and skillset, and remember that sometimes simply helping to promote a good message is payment enough.
Step Three: If all of the above checks out, great work and congratulations! You can take it from here. If not, there may be some hard conversations in store for you.
Although I was peeved by JoeTheBrandRep’s expectation that anyone would work for his company for free, I understand that it’s business, and we’re both simply acting in the best interest of our respective companies. I never burn a bridge, so I politely declined “the opportunity,” made it clear that I expect compensation for my work, briefly summarized my relevant experience, and offered my services in the future if a more mutually beneficial arrangement ever presented itself.
In other situations, I’ve had to negotiate terms regarding freebies, discounts, and the number of social media/blog posts per month. If I’m repping a pair of trendy sunglasses or a great t-shirt, I can wear and tag them frequently; while a boldly printed maxi-dress might only make one or two appearances. Think of the suitability and frequency with which you’ll be able to post each product that you agree to endorse, and have honest conversations with the brands so all expectations are aligned.
Step Four: The single most important aspect of brand collaboration and endorsement is that it is part of your business model.
There should be an underlying strategy for both your business as well as the brand, and there should be some measure of compensation. If you can’t walk into BigNameBrand’s store and take their products for free, they can’t expect to take yours either.
So it turns out that JoeTheBrandRep got me to write about his brand for free after all, although I’m not sure this is exactly what he had in mind. I simply feel that while there is a lot of discussion in the blogging community about how to connect with brands, there’s very little information about deciphering legitimate opportunities, evaluating the suitability of a product, discussing appropriate compensation, and making the difficult decision to decline a collaboration. So let’s start the conversation, because as more and more brands turn to influencers for marketing, it’s becoming an increasingly important one.