A few weeks ago, I thought my brain had already clocked out for the night awhile ago, but while laying in bed mid Once Upon a Time episode, I had one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time:
Let’s round up brands that are connected through similar stories (I’m starting with brands that were built by entrepreneurs dealing with depression, brands built by entrepreneurs struggling with anxiety, and brands built by entrepreneurs touched by suicide and then opening up to other topics) to show that your struggles don’t define your potential. Everyone’s attracted to fun fashion and pretty photos, so let’s use those to cultivate mighty conversations on stuff that deeply matters.
That’s powerful stuff right there.
It’s been awhile since I’ve outreached to brands. The past few months, I’ve been working on the more service providing side of my business (please accept my online course as a written note to excuse my blogging absence).
Now, featuring brands, I love. Talking to them about it, not so much.
Shout out to the wonderful businesses who have jumped on board with the idea. I’m thrilled to include you in such a powerful project. We’re going to make waves of conversations and build skyscrapers of awareness together.
Like riding a bike (I shouldn’t use that saying because I don’t know how to ride a bike, but you get it), I quickly remembered what made this brand outreach process not quite so fun.
“We don’t pay bloggers/for exposure/for features”
“I don’t want to pay but can I still send you products?”
“I don’t have the funds right now”
(To put this into perspective, I’m asking $175 for this – 2.5x times less than my normal rate because I love that this supports a cause and I knew finding business owners willing to open up about this stuff would be a challenge, so I aimed low. I also know as a small business, every single dollar matters. Sometimes, you see the value in something and simply cannot afford to make the investment no matter how bad you want to – I’ve been there and in some ways I am still there. This post isn’t geared towards you. There’s a difference between not being able to afford something and trying to convince someone to do work for you for free).
And to an extent, that’s how selling anything goes (a few “yeses” and lots of “nos”), but I also think there’s a major lack of understanding in what working with an influencer means, the value working with good ones can hold, and what it is that makes blogger collaborations successful.
The worst part is, some people are appalled that I’d even mention compensation for such a thing. One time, after someone had replied that they don’t pay for features, I sent her back an email saying I’d love to stay connected and that I often post about non compensated opportunities when I’m looking for certain types of brands in the Gem Nation Facebook Group. Her response was, “I already told you we don’t pay bloggers”.
So, let’s clear things up because this is a sticky subject. Plus, I love you and I want you to be successful (both when you’re outreaching to bloggers and when they’re pitching to you).
Also for the brands reading this, it’s only fair I follow this up with an equally witty and smartass filled post aimed at bloggers on how to not screw up or mishandle brand collaborations… stay tuned! 😉
Guess whose job it is to sell your stuff?
Yours!… That may have surprised you.
A great influencer only tells a portion of your story in their content. The goal is for them to build momentum around your brand, get their audience emotionally attached to your story, and then leave them off at a cliff hanger so that the next action my followers take is to head directly to your site or social media and latch on to your brand (via following you on social media, signing up for your email list, heading to your website, etc.). To put this another way: it’s one person authentically telling their existing community about you and inviting them to join your collection of supporters.
I am not a sales rep or even a brand ambassador (unless we specify that in our contract). My job is to influence, not force or sell. Can influencer marketing generate sales? Absolutely. However, you need to make sure your website – from the layout to the copy – is setting you up for sales success. You need to make sure the story I’m able to tell my audience about you aligns with the experience you deliver through every corner of your business. More on that here.
Time is money, right?
Off the top of your head, how long do you think a blog post takes? Take a moment to listen to your answer before you keep reading.
Here’s the deal.
Without photos, it takes me about 3-8 hours, start to finish, to complete a blog post (including formatting everything, creating the accompanying social media content, scheduling it, making a few promotional graphics, emailing anyone involved that it’s live, etc.). This might air on the lengthier side compared to a lot of bloggers, but I like to explore depth with my content and not just add to the noise.
With photos, we’re talking 10-30 hours depending on how complex it is (which is why there haven’t been many of these on here lately). Read that again, 10-30 hours. I don’t get to step outside my house with an Insta husband to snap 10 photos and plug them into my site where I just type the name of your brand and attach a link to it. I go deep. I cultivate meaning. I style stories. Everything from the brands I pair you with to the words I string together is intentional and designed to create a connection between you and my audience. This takes time, strategizing, and TIME.
And if you’re a blogger and you’re like, “ummm no, my posts take so much less time than that”, I challenge you to track your time for the next post you do. Start from the time you begin communicating and coordinating with the brands and end when you’ve finished every ounce of marketing and promotion (don’t forget about the time it takes to shoot and edit photos!). Those hours add up quicker than you think.
Product is not an appropriate currency
I CANNOT PAY MY BILLS WITH YOUR CLOTHES.
I cannot buy groceries with your jewelry.
I cannot pay my team with your makeup.
I know it might appear like I’m superwoman because I wear 28 hats, however I can’t take photos of myself (I mean maybe I could, but that would take a lot more time, see above). Which means, I need to pay someone to take my photos. My photographers don’t accept jewelry or makeup or leggings or purses or online courses or dresses or home decor or tech gadgets – most of them have mouths to feed and bills to pay. And so, if I feature your stuff, I’m LOSING money.
Yes, I can make money off spammy ads and bombarding my audience with your coupon code, but we’d be adding a lot of noise to the already over-saturated internet. I prefer to deliver content worth attending to every damn time I post anything.
Any blogger who is willing to feature you for free – there are exceptions but I’m talking they’re willing to do it off the bat, with no questions asked – is a red flag because either 1) they are very new and haven’t come to understand the value of their time, which means they haven’t had enough of an opportunity to explore what works and what doesn’t in brand collaborations or 2) their “feature” of you is going to be surfacy, short, and lacking substance.
You have work to do, too
You can’t just box up the things, ship them off, and then hope my blog post with your link in it will bestow a ton of sales in your pocket the day after it’s published.
If you focus only on the people I’ll be connecting you with, you’re missing half of the power of us working together. You already have a community of people watching your brand. It takes 7 times or something like that for someone to purchase from you. Your people already following you are likely very close to that edge, so milk the shit out of this. Don’t just share the link to my post 1 time. Continue sharing the content and reminding your audience that a person of some influence had great things to say about your goods. Upping your credibility in the eyes of your existing audience is GOLD.
You’re not paying for exposure
I’m not promising you that I’ll drive millions of page views to your website, or even hundreds. I’m promising I’ll create you quality content and new relationships. I can’t speak for every blogger, but with my brand partnerships, I give you permission to use the images I’ve created with your stuff for any marketing or branding purpose.
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard, “We don’t pay for press”. That’s cool. I get it. I owned a Public Relations firm before I did this. We may occasionally act in the role of a journalist, but the structure of our career is vastly different. Journalists have an employer paying them. They are getting a paycheck (even if they’re freelancing). It is someone else’s responsibility, most likely someone in a totally different department, who is making sure the outlet is bringing in enough money so that checks get written.
It can be acceptable to send product without payment. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. In fact, it does. In my day as a publicist, I secured many top notch blog placements for free for my clients. So, you may get lucky and find bloggers willing to feature you, BUT without payment, know that paid collaborations will always, always, always come before you. There’s a big chance you’ll fall down on the priorities list and never be featured. How do I know? I admittedly did it when I was still doing a lot of free collaborations (now I make sure everyone knows that sending product without a campaign in place does not guarantee coverage or placement). AND, to play this game, you’re going to have to send out a lot of free stuff and do a lot of finger crossing hoping for the best. It’s probably going to cost you just as much in product and shipping than if you just found a few bloggers that completely, wholesomely resonate with your brand and pay them to create brand reflective content together with you.
You’re not buying my opinion
Again, I was a PR girl. It seems tainted to pay for placements. There’s a really easy way to get around this.
SET EXPECTATIONS and communicate about the “what ifs” beforehand.
For the brands I work with, my policy is that if for any reason the product doesn’t meet my expectations when I’m using it and physically holding it in my hands, I’ll be honest with you privately about what the problem is and I’ll refund your money. You can even have it back if you pay return shipping.
This ensures there’s not negative content floating around about your brand and that I’m always bringing honest content to my peeps.
You’re paying me for deliverables – like professional images and optimized content.
Don’t ask me to join your affiliate program
… until we’ve worked together
As mentioned, it’s your responsibility to make sure the leverage I’m providing you with converts to sales. So, if we work together and little to no sales are generated, it could be that my audience isn’t connecting with your product or that your website isn’t designed properly to nurture sales (it’s also true that it may be the blogger’s fault if you haven’t done your homework). If that’s the case, I cannot benefit from your affiliate program. So, we need to built trust first. We need to establish that we value each other’s time. I can’t spend 3-30 hours on content for your brand and cross my fingers I’ll hit the commission threshold to get paid 30-90 days later with your affiliate program.
You’re not asking me for a blog feature, you are asking me for access to my credibility and community – these are two things I’ve spent YEARS curating and nurturing.
I’ve got a proven track record
You can go back to 2013 on my site. I’m not new at this. I’ve got a Media Kit and testimonials ready to shoot over to you.
Plus, I’m always growing. There’s a 99% chance your link is going to stay on my website forever. And thanks to the power of Pinterest, people are going to continue to land on the post you’re featured in. You’re investing in longevity.
Now, I can’t promise I’m like most bloggers. And I will caution you that there are a lot of shady bloggers out there that will try to get the max amount of your money possible while putting in the least amount of effort forward (or even less than that) once they have it. It’s on you to make sure you establish a relationship with who you’re approaching to work with. Don’t get in bed on the first date. Don’t pitch your product to someone you just found 3 minutes ago by searching #lifestyleblogger on Instagram. Do some stalking. Pay attention to their content. Notice their approach to featuring brands. Find bloggers with integrity and morality. Look for bloggers who are meant to be BFFs with the voice your brand exudes. Look for bloggers who show some heart and vulnerability. Look for content that paints the picture of the type of human being that blogger is. Work with those people. Integrity always wins.
And bloggers, if you’ve been at this for a good bit of time and you’re creating content for free, on behalf of the rest of us bloggers out there, knock it off. Stop setting the standard that our hard work, non pixelated photos, and creative concept development doesn’t deserve monetary compensation. Also, it is our responsibility to remain authentic and ethical. Never let money cloud the vision of the unique experience you wanted to give to your audience when you started. Respect your time, integrity, and reputation, always.