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.
AMEN…agents are like leeches trying to take a cut of your money! brands are willing to work with bloggers direct!
Jennine, this is such a great article and something I’ve really struggled with as my blog grows, but you’ve validated everything I’ve been feeling. I completely agree with everything you’ve written here. Such a smart, useful, and well-thought out article – thank you!
I’m really glad to help! To be honest, for me deciding not to use an agent was borne more out of being a control freak than anything. However, the result I feel was much better than if I hadn’t taken the harder route. I think you have a lot of options and you’ll feel good about exploring them!
Just want to echo what Grace said… confirmed many things I’ve been thinking about lately, and also encouraged me to perhaps look into some other viable alternatives! Thanks, Jennine!
Great article Jennine I don’t have an agent and my blog is pretty successful. I also think joining a blogger network helps and at the end of the day it’s all about who you know so get out there and network. Look forward to the new site design!
Yes, it’s certainly important to get to know other bloggers, and networking is essential!
Congrats! A great, business savvy post! Bloggers should consider themselves small business owners. They rule their own destiny! Great work, as always!
I see where my blog is going and the potential it could have so I wondered about this. I think sometimes people get so caught up in seeing where the “big” bloggers are NOW that they don’t think about what they did to get there. For the most part, they did everything themselves up to a certain point, then got interns, maybe then an assistant, and THEN, because of other aspirations they had (say a book deal or a TV show) they got an agent and/or other staff. In those cases, getting one makes sense. But for the most part, learning about the business, asking questions, and getting an attorney will really be all that you need if you decide to blog professionally.
oh? is that how blogging works? you go from blogging alone, to an intern, to an assistant? when did this start?
Another great article that taught exactly what I needed to know. Thank you.
Great article! I remember hearing about the concept of blogger agents while listening to an IFB conference last year and it had me totally baffled. I was like, “Why would a blogger need one?” LOL
I definitely agree that if a blogger wants to take things to the next level they have to be business savvy. If you look at any other creative people that are hugely successful, especially in the long run (like music artists, photographers,models, etc.) had to put on that business suit and be active members in the business aspect of their careers.
Thanks for the this great post, Jennine! I think it’s a topic a lot of us are curious about lately, and hasn’t been covered, so thanks.
I agree with you. My problem with agencies is they seem to form blogging “cliques” per se. And, in turn, you can tell which bloggers are repped by whom because they’re pushing the same brands together over and over…how boring.
What I love about blogging is being original and my own person. I’m afraid if I had an agent they would take part of me away, and I don’t want that. 🙁
I specifically agree with the partnership idea, bringing someone in your venture to grow your blog/business is a smart move, and can be a win/win for all involved, if everything is clearly defined.
Last December, I addressed this very question of Bloggers and Agents with others fashion enthusiasts and the opinions were so diverse, we even got Bryan Boy to share his side of the story, on how having an agent was beneficial to him. http://bit.ly/uHQof0
In the end, it’s about clearly defining what your goals are and what matters to you.
Thx for the read.
This is the first article I’ve seen tackling this issue and I have to say, it’s really great! I’m by no means at that point when it comes to blogging, but as a photographer (and thus, friend of models, makeup artists, and stylists) sometimes its really beneficial to stay without an agent. Too many people think that having an agent is the goal, and that just isn’t the case unless it really is right for you.
I have been thinking this since it was talked about at Lucky FABB. If your serious about blogging and turning it into a business you should learn everything you can about the industry/business. It will show through in your blogging, collaborations, etc. and will only benefit you down the road. No need for an agent.
Thank you so much for this article!!
Forgive my language, but FUCK YEAH Jennine. Al that needs to be said. You’re so awesome I could kiss you! Like I’ve said on your panels and at LuckyFABB in LA. If you want it, go get it yourself. You reap the rewards of what it takes to be a successful blogger – HARD WORK.
I’m not at the point where I need to consider this yet, but when I am, I’ll remember it! Thank you!
Thank you for writing this post and setting some of us straight. Walking down the beaten path in your ow shoes, learning all we’ll need to know along the way to the top of our own blogging, entrepreneur empire will be much more rewarding that having someone else while driving by on same beaten path for us.
oh two more things that have occurred to me: partnershops can indeed be helpful, but I wld rather pay a percentage to an agent on a project by project basis than partner with anyone. I own ALL my company and the 80-85% of revenues, as opposed to the 50% I’d get if partnered seems a lot more attractive to me.
I also think I should have added, that savvy as I am – and I’ve been an executive fashion editor so I KNOW about the editorial/advertising bridge, and a blogger since 2006, the sounding board, support (they come to my gigs to look out for me) and long-term advice that my agency gives me are absolutely invaluable. And along with that substantial time – which isn’t billed, they also work on plenty of non-revenue bearing projects for me, like fashion week attendance abroad etc which they believe to be generally useful for me to go to.
It’s all worth every penny of the percentage. (And sometimes on straight deals which I have negotiated and just need a legal eye looking over the contract, we agree on a much reduced percentage commission).
This is really interesting, and I think you bring up a lot of good points. However I have to agree with libertylondongirl.
In my experience, my representation has been invaluable. I acknowledge I don’t have the time and expertise it takes to negotiate long term, lucrative contracts. And honestly, I don’t want to. My strengths and interests lie elsewhere. It’s the same way some bloggers are very happy to do all of their own ad sales, while others will happily pay a percentage to a network so that they can focus on their blogging. (Or lives. Or families.)
Having a great agent (and I’m lucky to have one!) doesn’t preclude you from finding your own deals, by the way. If something falls in your lap, feel free to take that 100% all for yourself. But it’s lovely to get a phone call that starts, “hey, would you be interested in…” and it’s something I never would have known about on my own.
I have no doubt there are plenty of mediocre agents, agents who are incompatible with their clients, or agents that don’t have their clients’ best interests at heart. I suppose your perspective will be formed by the kind of relationship you have.
This is really interesting reading Jennine and so nice to hear someone not afraid to say that for us to put so much into blogging we must, at some point, be in a position where we get something financial back – otherwise it just isn’t viable long term (unless we are a wealthy heiress or something, sadly I am not…)
I am only in the beginnings of negotiating contracts but just feeling my way through for now and while it seems tempting to go down the agent route you have given me a bit of a shove to continue awkwardly making my way through on my own for now.
You had a lot of really good points. I do have an agent, but no exclusivity and she focuses on getting me hosting gigs (which the blog aids). I negotiate blog sponsors unless it’s for a longer period of time. So a one time post sponsor is all me, but I just a six month blogging gig for a major mall and she did that.
If you have an agent that gets it and gets you, it’s kind of like a friendship. They give you constructive criticism, help you realize you’re worth more money, and give you an idea of what other people make for the same work. It’s helped me with goal setting, but I think for many sponsorships it can be done on your own.
I will say, I have learned what to say and what not to say while negotiating thanks to watching my agent.
There are pros and cons to both. An agent won’t change your life over night, but the more people on your team (quality people) the more you can grow. I currently have a few contributors and it’s freed me up to do more TV, more social media promotion, and more time to read up and focus on how to make my site and my biz better.
Great article! I love that there’s a place for bloggers to go to hear the real deal.
I’m a blogger who’s trying desperately to find a business partner. Finding someone with editorial/writing/photog/design skills is easy. Finding someone who can make it rain is not. It’s a specialized skill in a very new field, and the people who are willing to do it for equity/partnership (i.e. no pay to start) are very difficult to find.
Jennine, I really appreciate the truthfulness of this article. With so many bloggers being backed behind agents, it was hard not to feel pressure to make that a future goal. But I agree with I Heart Heels. My main concern with an agent would be not being able to express myself and having creative restraints. In the end I truly believe you are right, confidence is the key.
Wow, Jenine, what an incredibly insightful article. My blog isn’t ‘big’ by any means however I’m starting to connect with bigger brands. Luckily my husband is an attorney (though in real estate!) who’s adept at contracts and I own my own PR business so I’m decent at them, as well as negotiating. At the end of the day though, I agree… it’s all about having confidence in yourself AND completely understanding your brand and its value.
It’s taken awhile for me to post – because I had quite a visceral reaction to this article.
And, in essence, that reaction was, can we stop telling bloggers what they do and don’t need?
Sure, not having an agent worked out for you, it works out for a lot of people. But I think it’s incredibly disingenuous to title an article “Why Bloggers Don’t Need Agents” when time and time again this site will focus on extremely successful bloggers who do extremely well WITH an agent.
The reality is some of us are business minded, or have made this area our career, and sure we might not need an agent.
But some of might want to solely focus on the creative, some of us (Aimee Song for example) might have a full time job and therefore don’t have the time to blog, work AND negotiate.
This was a terribly imbalanced article, from one person’s perspective, which is a shame. It may have been more insightful to ask an array of bloggers their opinion instead of blanketing our entire community with one opinion.
I also think this alienates the bloggers who do have agents from our community (bloggers that are heralded constantly for their success) and is somewhat misguiding from a site that encourages bloggers to “quit their day job” – sure you can do that without an agent or manager but it’s harder and it takes longer and you’re going to need a really good support network.
Kelsi, I wrote this specifically because more often than not people are telling bloggers they need agents. This post is sharing my experience, which since this is my website, it should be expected that I would be more apt to endorse what has worked for me. I can 100% guarantee you that depending on an agent would have made IFB’s ability to be self-funded impossible. That’s compelling information, and why wouldn’t I want to share that with my readers? Every day, bloggers ask me if they should get an agent, and all I can do is share my own experience.
Besides IFB is here to help bloggers build their *own* businesses. We give bloggers the opportunity to discover talents they never thought they had by encouraging people to just try, and if it doesn’t work fine, read the later half of this post.
Maybe we’ll run that “well rounded” post one day. But so far, I have not seen compelling enough information to make that post possible.
I’m 100% not saying you shouldn’t share your experience. Your experience is important, valid and absolutely worth sharing.
But I guess I consider this site a community site rather than one person’s site positing one person’s experience.
In the comments alone you have two people who have have had good experiences with agents. Daily, IFB features bloggers who are represented by agents and seem to be doing well – it would have been great to hear from one of these bloggers in ADDITION to your experience. That’s all.
I think we can agree to disagree on this one. For one, most bloggers won’t be represented by an agent such as yours. For two, the prominent agents in the blogging industry ask for a cut on every project (unless the blogger had negotiated otherwise). So my “disingenuous” comment was to highlight, why give a cut on a project a blogger brings to the table themselves.
Also, I have yet to see a project from an agent that I couldn’t have negotiated better myself. Cocky as that may seem, but in the 5 years I’ve been in business, and all the promises I have received, nothing has materialized to prove otherwise. Posting anything other than what I have experienced firsthand would be disingenuous indeed.
Interesting to read the article and all the experiences in the comments and get views on both sides of the coin. I work for a global corporation and due to my experience there and knowledge around contract application in court settlements, I wouldn’t want to sign a project contract with a brand unless an agent were involved on my behalf, who knows: what the terms and conditions should look like for a blogger who’s working with a brand etc, and what should be specifically included and excluded in that type of contract, and who knows what terms to negotiate for against the project brief. Otherwise, sod’s law may be implemented via the butterfly effect!
The reason I use an agent and not a lawyer is for precisely this reason: he knows what he should be looking for in a very particular arena, and has explicit experience in negotiating contracts for talent, ranging from broadcasters to well known actors, and I can only benefit from that expertise …LLG
Agreed, the last thing you need after slogging away for years building a blog is to risk something going wrong in a contract; you need an agent to help prevent risks from occurring in the first place. It’s like insurance for your blog. It’s not just about the project outcome, there needs to be some thought around protecting your own interests and your brand, also solid decisions around what’s in scope for the project and what’s specifically out of scope and reasons why. At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding – if something went wrong or you needed to pull out of the contract, or you feel the terms have been breached – I would feel more confident of my standing if an agent had been on board with the project at the outset.
I’m glad the post is generating real discussion. So many good points are made pro and con- I appreciate Ms. Jacob’s personal point of view, that is what she is offering and it makes sense. Most likely IFB would be a different beast if Jennine would have taken an agent.
I like the idea of a talent agent- but I think the point is that the new breed of blogging agent is really a “middle man” between brand and blog and probably doesn’t have the best interest of the blogger in mind when it rounds up its cut.
I think it may be helpful for a blogger to have an agent… Not everybody knows all that business stuff.
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I’ve never had an agent, but I had a PR person once. While I think they’re great to help out with events and such, if they don’t “get” you, you’re going to go nowhere with your blog. My PR person kept on getting me gigs for mommy-type products when I wanted my DelectablyChic! (then known as Prospere Magazine) to target more along the lines of sophisticated, professional women.
Love this post! I agree but there are some exceptions. For example, if a blogger is approached by companies wanting her creative material for development into TV, books, etc. it would definitely be smart to have a good team on hand. I’ve had to deal with some of this this year and it’s incredibly difficult to navigate through without some expert knowledge. xo
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