If I had signed with an agent, I could 100% guarantee you IFB would not be where it is today. With a team of five, on the verge of a total website relaunch which you'll see in July, the IFB Conference twice a year, and so much more in the works. Of course, agents have worked wonders for some bloggers, but speaking from my own experience the rewards can be much greater for a blogger to be on their own.
Bloggers are Creative Businesspeople
When I started blogging, I didn't necessarily get into blogging to make money, nor did I think of myself as a business person. I went to college for typography, and was a graphic designer. No MBA or even management experience. I tried freelancing once, but bailed for a regular 9-to-5. However the experience and getting to know graphic designers who had run their own businesses, showed that most creative people had to be savvy when it came to money, negotiation and of course, perseverance. When it came to blogging, the principles were the same. Juggling the creative part of writing posts, taking photos, and styling outfits with the business part of marketing, branding and inevitably courting sponsorships would be no different in any other creative industry. For instance Andy Warhol was a great artist, but he was an even better businessman, which in turn enabled him to become a greater artist.
The first step in becoming a professional blogger requires us to shed the notion that creativity and money were opposing forces, and realize the two can actually work very well together. Over the years I've heard bloggers say, “I just want to focus on the creative part of blogging.” Which is great, but giving up the creative part of building a business will ultimately affect the creative part of blogging. Either by giving someone else the power to control your work, or by not earning enough to sustain yourself.
Bloggers Can Negotiate for Themselves
One thing I've heard several times over the years blogging, “It's better if you let someone else negotiate for you.” That is complete bullshit. How can anyone negotiate for you if you can't negotiate for yourself? How can anyone stand up for you if you can't stand up for yourself?
While these might sound like intimidating and unpleasant things to deal with, it's not as bad as it seems. No matter who you deal with there is always going to be a negotiation process, because everyone wants a favorable situation for themselves. The trick is learning not to be afraid, and focus on the value you bring to the table and how to make something work for both sides. If someone doesn't believe in what you're doing, that's ok, all you need to do is believe in yourself, and learn how to communicate that.
About a year ago, I was working on partnering with a few people who could help develop IFB. They had worked at prestigious digital agencies for years, and told me they would be able to get bigger brand partnerships than I could on my own. Though I personally liked these people, they really didn't land anything other than what I was already doing. Even worse, because I brought them into the negotiation process, a few partnerships fell through that I could have kept together if I were on my own.
For years, I didn't have confidence because I learned things on the fly, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. The truth is, most people don't know what they're doing, and in the blogging industry, pretty much everyone doesn't know what they're doing. All a person can do is focus on what they do know, focus on what they bring to the table and try to create something that works. Bloggers can try for themselves and become experts, or they can give that opportunity to someone else.
Agents Don't Work for Bloggers
It's not an agent's job to make sure you personally have money coming in every month. They negotiate on your behalf. Some may give you projects if a good fit comes up. But unless you are on the top of the top of the blogosphere and in high demand, you will have to find your own projects, and diversify your income streams if you want to have money coming in every month. If you have to secure projects yourself in order to maintain a steady income, you're already doing the work. Why would you need an agent? Why would you give agents a cut of the projects you brought to them? Maybe I'm missing something, but that really doesn't make sense.
Bloggers Don't Need Agents to Deal With Contracts
Freelance rule #1, ALWAYS give your clients the your contract. Don't expect your clients to understand the nitty gritty legal tidbits behind what you do, that's why they're hiring you. Get an attorney and invest in a customized and customizable Service Agreement. It may seem like a big ticket item (though it should be way less than a Celine handbag) it will make it's money several times over by protecting you. Your attorney should write you a contract that protects your work and will explain to you exactly what your contract means, line by line if need be. When you go to work with brands, always get your contract signed and hand over the invoice before you start the project (even if they are personal friends). You can set the terms, and if they counter, they have to specify what and why they want to make a change to your contract. That way nothing gets slipped in like perpetual usage of your likeness for a campaign in a foreign country (it's happened). But even if you had an agent, it's advised to familiarize yourself with contract negotiation, and if you have any legal questions to talk to someone licensed to practice law, ie. your attorney.
Bloggers Can Be Leaders
In my past career, I worked alone. I really expected blogging to also be a solitary career. It has been nothing of the sort. Even though it took years of learning, doing my own business deals has given me the confidence to lead my own company. It enabled me to gain experience communicating, negotiating and learning how to work with others. If I didn't have practice communicating the value of my vision, if I gave someone else the job of doing that for me, I would never be able to communicate this to my team. If I didn't have the support of my team, it would be impossible to grow the company and provide better resources for our readers.
If You Do Decide to Get An Agent
There are some bloggers who absolutely believe they need an agent to make it as a blogger. If you do decide to go this route, there are a few things to consider. First, try to do your own business deals. Figure out what works for you and what types of partnerships you are comfortable with. Having this experience will show you if you are working with the right agent, by giving you a point of reference for what a good partnership looks like. Don't sign any exclusivity contracts until you have at least done three deals with a prospective agent. If the agent isn't right for you, or messes up a potential partnership right of the bat, you'll have an out. Don't sign any contracts until you have spoken with your attorney. Getting an agent is not a replacement for having an attorney, and do not trust the agent's attorney will write contracts favorable to you, and you will need your own attorney to make sure the agreement is fair to you. Make sure you have an “escape hatch” in your contract. Everyone has different things they are comfortable with. I am touchy about people selling my services or speak on my behalf without my approval, and would not want to work with someone if they breached that trust. Having a clause that will give you an out will protect you from being tied into a contract that doesn't work for you.
Alternatives to Getting An Agent
Aside from doing everything yourself, there are other ways to build your blog without contracting out business development. If you're getting to that point where brands are approaching you left and right, or if you are at that point where you can bring on a partner or even someone to handle advertising sales, this could be a viable option. Forming a partnership with someone who is working directly for your blog will give you the piece of mind that someone is personally vested in the financial success of your blog. Blogs like Apartment Therapy have their own sales team, but you don't need to get to that point to have your own sales team. Perhaps starting out with a partner who handles the business end, or maybe even bring on another blogger who just happens to be a bit more business savvy and the two of you could work together to build your blog into a career.
So there you have it. You don't need an agent to be a successful blogger. All you need is to have confidence in yourself.