Business of Blogging: Pitching, Rates and a Year End ReviewBlogging
For a long time, I was a “Rules” gal. Remember the book The Rules? Buy a twin bed, play hard to get, and nab Mr. Right. I followed a version of The Rules with this blog for many years; I let brands come to me. My blog was around so long, Google loved me. People heard of me, and brands wanted to work with me. I’d open my email on my lunch hour and would find the PR person of a brand I admired offering to send me product they already knew I’d like and often include a reasonable amount of money to wear it, blog about it, and promote that blog post. I’d wear it, promote it, sell a ton of it, and brands thanked me for a job well done with more opportunities.
Things started changing when brands hired PR firms. And the names on the emails from those PR firms seemed to change every six months. I’d create a relationship with someone and next thing I’d know I’d get an email that a new person replaced her and this new person isn’t interested in me. I’d get emails from a new PR firm handling a brand I had worked with a dozen times inviting me to work with them, offering something offensive like the “opportunity” of joining their affiliate program or writing about them without payment or product for a chance to work with them in the future. I’d reply kindly, letting them know about the current relationship I had and either wouldn’t get a response or get one saying essentially, I needed to start again from ground zero.
When I quit my job last year to blog full-time, I had to seriously look at my income. I made an income goal I felt was reasonable since I could dedicate all my time to my blog. Working with a business consultant, we figured if I kept at the same rate with affiliate and got two sponsored blog posts (the kind where they pay for the post and all the social media to promote it) a month, I’d likely exceed my goal. Only problem was I hadn’t been offered two of those kinds of posts a month for about a year (at least ones I wanted to do or were right for my audience). Opportunities were smaller – a single Instagram post, a mention in a blog post, one photo on Facebook.
All the blogging experts said the key to financial success was pitching. I read stories about people whose blog had only a couple thousand pageviews a month that would receive whole home makeovers, year-long campaigns with major brands, and more just from a single pitch. So, I started pitching. This is just as fun as cold calling, meaning not fun at all. But unlike cold calling where you usually have a script, each pitch had to be different and unique and personal. I crafted unique pitches, sent them out and I got nothing. I followed up, crickets. I joined Facebook groups and read message boards and worked to improved my pitch. Still hardly anything. I paid $400 for a popular pitching course. After that, I had a few bites… all for gifting. Sure, I could email them and get anything I wanted at any time, but I can’t pay my utility bills with sweaters. I followed the directions from the course and its Facebook support group, I tried to turn those gift requests into dollar signs. Sometimes it worked, but when I looked back to see how much time I put into getting to that point and all the work and deliverables for that “let’s see” rate, I was lucky to make $10 an hour on the project, which is less than minimum wage in my state.
But I kept at it, because all the experts and super successful bloggers said that pitching was a must. I set aside a certain amount of time twice a week to pitch, and every day I spent at least an hour following up on sent pitches. Another two hours were spent engaging with brands on their social media platforms and replying to generic press emails to try to create a relationship. I created a media kit, and revised it regularly with new templates and advice I gleaned from various blogging experts and mastermind groups. Content was created, thinking of brands I wanted to work with. I’d try to make photos like what they featured in their Instagram feeds, I’d tag and mention them on social media. When I did get a sponsored post, I’d work hard not just for that brand but to use it as an example of what I could offer future brands. My blog started becoming a site not for people but for brands.
Every time I received a decline it killed my morale. I’d read on message boards that long-time readers found my blog boring since I quit my job. I’d be up until 11pm trying to finish a blog post for the following day because I spent the whole day on calls with brands trying to create relationships. It sucked. Not only did it suck, it sucked all the creativity out of me.
I never wanted to be a spokesperson. I didn’t start my blog to be an advertisement or even a magazine. I dreamed of having a book. I wanted to create virtually the experience I had with customers and clients when I worked in apparel. When I got to know them and their needs, helped them achieve it, and we created a relationship. I wanted to create a community for like-minded women where they could live a vibrant and stylish life on their terms. That wasn’t going to happen if every three days I shilled a different random skincare brand on my Instagram account for $150 a pop.
So I stopped pitching.
Instead, I looked at the relationships I already had with brands that were converting on my site. Conversion is the number of clicks to the number of sales. I saw some brands I was pitching to I may have liked and got a bunch of clicks but not a bunch of sales. I focused on the ones that were already making me money from affiliate sales. I asked for free product from them, and treated that gifted merchandise with as much respect as a paid post. And I took the time I spent pitching to brands to create content. I reached out to brands and firms I had relationships with and pitched creative ideas; that’s where the real-life capsule wardrobes came from. I took time I spent following up on email and looked at my analytics. What worked well? What posts got the highest traffic? The biggest sales? The most shares on social media? Instead of writing for brands or even for Google, I wrote for the audience I already had.
2018 is almost over and I didn’t make my goal. However, I did make more money this year than last year with my job’s net salary and blog income combined. I knew full-time blogging may be a big bust. I prepared myself for starting 2019 by reaching out to old colleagues and applying for jobs back in Corporate America. No need, this year was still a success. My goal wasn’t that ridiculously far off; I think if I spent less time pitching and more time focusing on my audience this year, I could have achieved it.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in blogging is there isn’t competition because no two blogs are alike. Cold pitching is a great choice for many bloggers because their audience desires that, and their goals from blogging are different from mine. What works for one blogger won’t necessarily work for another. The only way to have success from blogging is to be true to yourself and focus on your goals, not your peers. I won't stop pitching altogether, but I am going to be more focused on what will bring value to Wardrobe Oxygen and not just a quick fix for my wallet.
To my readers, thank you for sticking with me. Over these 14 years of Wardrobe Oxygen, I have had highs and lows, and have made a heck of a lot of mistakes. This year held a few of them. But I like to think I learn from my mistakes and they help me become a better blogger and person. I look forward to taking what I learned in 2018 and making 2019’s Wardrobe Oxygen even better. As always, let me know what you like, what you hate, what works, and what doesn’t. Even though this is now my career, I’ve learned that my relationship with you is more valuable than any contract that comes in my inbox.
How to Know Your Value as a Blogger
This part is for my fellow bloggers. A few weeks ago, on Instagram Stories I called out a successful clothing brand that offered me $100 for two carousel Instagram posts (meaning two different posts that each has three photos, totalling six photos for $100). They offered me this rate after receiving screenshots of my Instagram analytics. When I shared this on Instagram Stories, a couple bloggers replied saying they received the same offer and took it, and a few others said they had no idea how to figure out how much they should receive for a paid post.
If you’re not watching the YouTube series A Drink with James, watch it. Start at the beginning, when Fohr co-founder and CEO James Nord had far more basic blogging advice. But keep watching because there's at least one nugget of value in every episode. And if you’re not on Fohr, join it. It’s free. It’s another influencer program where you can get sponsored campaigns, but it also has a built-in media kit. You can print out PDFs with your stats and give them to brands, but also on your personal page you’ll see average rates you should receive for sponsored blog and social media posts. To be honest, I don’t know if these rates are based upon just numbers or engagement, but I think they’re pretty fair and the rate I ask for and usually receive.
Generic advice is you should receive at least $100 for every 10,000 followers you have on Instagram. I feel this is DRASTICALLY low. Many use Social Bluebook as a gauge, and I am not the only blogger who also finds this number to be too low.
For many years, I undervalued myself. I used Social Bluebook or I took rates influencer companies offered me and asked other brands for the same. And then every year something would happen to open my eyes. A brand would accidentally CC instead of BCC all the participants in a campaign and someone would reply back with their rate. I’d look that person up on Fohr or Alexa and see their numbers compared to their rate, realize I was asking for too little and would up my rate. Fohr is what helped me most.
Let’s take my Instagram for example. At the time of writing this I have just under 15,000 followers with an engagement rate of around 4%. With the generic advice, I should receive $150 for an Instagram post. Checking out Social Bluebook, it suggests $47.53. Bloggers, you know it takes a few hours to do an Instagram post, if you consider the time emailing with the brand, going over the contract, scheduling the shoot with your photographer, and all the time engaging to get that photo seen by the biggest audience possible. If I took either of these rates, I’d be making less than if I got a job bagging groceries at the market down the street and there I’d have a chance for promotions and raises and wouldn’t have people making fun of me on message boards and in my comments.
Fohr suggests I receive between $500 and $1,200 for a single Instagram post. And while many brands refuse to pay that, many brands do pay it and come back and pay it again.
The brands who refuse to pay it find other bloggers who will do the work for less than they are worth. Those bloggers who undervalue themselves undervalue the entire industry.
Sure, there are plenty of bloggers who would gladly take that $150, do an iPhone selfie of themselves smiling with a bottle of vitamins or a jar of eye cream and laugh all the way to the bank but just as I mentioned above about pitching not being bad, neither is this. If a brand wants just an iPhone selfie with their bottle of vitamins, then they can find those bloggers who are willing to do it. But if you’re doing the work I mention above for that Instagram post and you have a real audience and real engagement… sister you’re selling yourself short and screwing all of us in the process.
If you were working in Corporate America, you would work hard to get paid well. Well whether or not your friends and family think so, blogging is a job. Before bloggers existed, brands paid good money for models, for photographers, for sets, for editors, and for spots in a magazine and on TV. It’s 2018. We stream TV instead of watching our local channel, we text instead of talking on our land line all night long, and we follow influencers instead of reading magazines and watching TV commercials. Even when we ask the rate we deserve, we are still way cheaper than traditional forms of advertising. And if we treat our platform and our audience with respect and put effort into our work, we are often times more effective than traditional advertising.
We’re near the end of 2018, the start of a new year, new possibilities. A great New Year’s resolution is to know your worth. Treat the audience you’ve built with the respect it deserves, but also treat your brand with respect.
Choose quality, not quantity when it comes to what goes in your body, on your body, and on your Instagram feed. You deserve it, and so do we.
Images via CreateHER Stock