I’ve come across a lot of blog posts lately talking about the misperceptions of bloggers and blogging. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot too lately, especially as I return from my holidays. I guess like any industry when you’re in it, these things are obvious but I can see how it might be harder to understand from the outside. For example, did you know that bloggers don’t actually get anything for free? *Face palm* Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Setting up a blog
The first thing that happens when you become a blogger is that you realise you have an overwhelming amount of new things to learn – quickly.
From setting up your own self-hosted blog to choosing, installing, and customising a theme; learning how to edit and compress your images; WTF is a MailChimp, Yoast, and affiliate links; identifying and engaging with your peers; mastering social media, plugins, apps, and so on, it’s a lot! Like settling into a new job, there are a ton of new things to get familiar with.
Most likely you will also have to make some rather significant investments. For example, you might need a new laptop, a mirrorless camera, a waterproof camera, a drone, an external hard drive, monthly web-hosting, Lightroom, etc, etc.
Long story short, blogging is challenging, time-consuming and potentially expensive. Either you do it because you love it and progress to stage two or you quit altogether. Just don’t quit your day job!
Choosing who to work with
Stage two of blogging comes after you’ve figured out your shit, you’re now posting regularly and have built up a micro following of maybe around 1-5k. You start doing things you wouldn’t normally do ‘for the blog.’ Such as, staging photos of your coffee next to a cactus or posing in front of flower displays, thus entering into the virtuous cycle of content creation. But behold, this is also when the shitty emails start to land in your inbox.
Hi there, we love what you do and would love to collab! If you post our shitty article with this link and infographic that has nothing to do with your blog we will give you $100!
Look, we’re not turning away free money, it’s literally spam, and that payment promise, questionable. It’s the equivalent of someone coming up to you in your office and saying, Hey, we love what you do, so how about this, if you scrub the toilets every day for a week, we’ll give you $100!
A, it’s not your job and B, it would kill your rep in the office. Well, the same thing with a blog. Until one day when you’re least expecting it, an actual cool email comes in from a brand you love, asking you to review their product/service. Queue the suspense music.
Recognising you have a business proposition
Eventually, they find you. If you blog consistently for long enough and you’re growing and making a name for yourself, they find you. Who finds you? Whoever it is you’re blogging about. If that’s food, then it’s restaurants and cookbooks and kitchen products. If that’s travel, it’s hotels, tour companies, and airlines.
But equally important, you also find them. When you can finally say, I’ve been blogging for X time, with X followers, X monthly page views, on X topics, and I think my readers from X age and X gender and X geography would be interested in your X, that’s when you have a business proposition.
Turning your blog into a business
Up until this point, your blog hasn’t earned a dime. And this is where it gets a little confusing, because not all blogs make money or turn into a business. Especially at this early stage, most bloggers have full or part-time jobs and just do it as a hobby. If making money is your goal, there are far quicker and easier ways.
While some will start looking into ways to earn money, others will accept no payments at all. Though that doesn’t mean they don’t take their blogs and blog posts as seriously as they would for a client. And even blogs that make money will continue to write a lot of blog posts for free.
How to tell the difference? Look for the line that states “this is a sponsored post” or #ad, which, by the way, is a legal requirement.
Building your brand and following
Over time, each blog will develop its own character and following. A travel blogger that is budget conscious will attract a different set of followers compared to a luxury blogger. In the same way, a blog that is all about zero waste and the environment will also have its own niche following.
The following you build is highly valuable to brands – and something a blogger should never compromise on. For example, an anti-fur blogger won’t promote Canada Goose jackets no matter how much you pay them. The message has to be consistent. Bloggers are well aware of the perception of ‘selling out’, which could cost their entire following.
Blogging is not free, I repeat
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it is, a face cream, a dress, a shoe cupboard or a restaurant visit, a hotel stay or holiday, when a company or brand offers something to a blogger, they do so in exchange for something else. So the idea that bloggers get things for free is just plain wrong.
The bigger, more targeted and engaged the following, the more that collaboration is worth.
The value of that exchange is a negotiation, but the exchange is almost always defined: a dinner for two in exchange for a blog post review, or an Instagram photo wearing a product in exchange for $X. Why? Because it’s advertising. Advertising is not free, nor is creating content.
Understanding the value of your blog
A lot of bloggers now charge based on how much it cost them to create that content: factoring in their time, equipment and expenses. Still, most bloggers charge far below what an advertising agency or more established magazine would for similar work. As unfortunately, the number of bloggers in the market willing to work for next to nothing puts downward pressure on what companies are willing to pay.
Working with bloggers has now become standard practice for most companies, setting aside big budgets exclusively for blogger collaborations.
Interestingly, some of the smallest influencers are actually the most effective yet cheapest (check out my post on 10 micro-influencers). To give an example, a blogger with a highly engaged 1000-strong following might only charge $50 for a sponsored post that generates 150 sales for the client, compared to a blogger with 10,000 followers charging $500 yet generating only 50 sales.
Defining your blog monetisation strategy
Now we’re on to stage three. Once you recognise your blog’s potential to earn money, you might want to decide what path you’d like to go down. There aren’t a whole lotta ways to monetise a blog with 1k readers. You can drop as many affiliate or ad links as you like, if no one clicks through, you won’t earn a dime.
You need a strategy to take you towards the bigger numbers that earn the serious, quit-my-day-job money. The problem with that, however, is that growing followers in 2018 is Hard with a capital H. Sure, you have to create great content bla bla, but the ever-changing algorithm is not in your favour.
THE F%&#ing Algorithm
Another industry popularly perceived as ‘free’ is social media. The same way a blogger wants a cut from their endorsement of a dress that spiked sales, social media platforms want a cut from the money earned from showing that dress across their platform.
Increasingly, bloggers have to pay for their posts to be shown to their followers, as unpaid reach has fallen to a measly 1-10%. If you follow me, for example, you probably don’t see half my posts unless you explicitly select the option to turn on post notifications for my posts (Instagram) or see first in your newsfeed (Facebook).
Wait for It…
Blogging success doesn’t happen overnight and the truth is that for most it will never come. A blogger might blog for years without seeing their following or income grow by much until one day, an image or post gets re-tweeted or re-grammed by a major account and the blog blows up. But if you quit, that day will never come. You gotta be in it to win it.
So are all bloggers just waiting for that magic day to come? Some, yeah, but not all. It’s like any industry, do you become a singer to be Madonna? Sure, maybe. But most people really choose to become singers because that’s just what they love to do. Whether they spend their lives singing on the big stage or in pubs and choirs. We all gotta make a living and we can’t all be Madonna. Which brings me to my next and final points.
Blogging vs Real Life
To continue with the example of Madonna, people readily accept the fact that she has a performer persona different from her private life. But why is it so hard to understand that it’s the same with blogging and every other industry where you’re putting something of yourself out there in the public eye?
There is always going to be a difference between what we choose to reveal about ourselves in public and in private.
Where the distinction probably gets lost is because of the overlap between the two. My blog both influences and is influenced by my personal life as I focus on the topics and things that interest me. But it has also grown into a positive, motivating force in my life. I choose more diverse experiences than I perhaps otherwise would, in order to create more interesting content. What you don’t see are the personal sacrifices that are made and all the other behind the scenes shit that goes on.
My private life is what it is, complete with its ups and downs no different from you, but what I post under my blog Miss Portmanteau is highly curated, carefully selected and thoughtfully crafted to deliver a message, an opinion, a seal of endorsement. Don’t forget I’m building a brand, a business that other brands will want to work with, like a CV or online portfolio of what I’m capable of delivering.
Instagram is not Real Life
To bring this lengthy post full circle, I recently got back from holiday and was surprised to hear comments from people who know me IRL saying what an awesome holiday I had from seeing my Instagram photos. Quoi? This took me by surprise because those Instagram photos were made for my blog. They are essentially photoshoots, not personal holiday snaps. I have an entirely different set of personal holiday photos I have not uploaded anywhere.
Frankly, personal holiday photos aren’t as interesting! They are my moments and memories, but the light, the angle, the frame, all wrong. There is a certain formula to what works well on Instagram. You only have to compare the number of likes on photos with a token blogger and without to see. But also, brands don’t pay for shitty photos. There is a level of expected professionalism even if the photo is designed to ‘look natural.’
Back to my story, I realised that nobody was asking me how my holidays went because they were assuming it was all fine and dandy from my blog’s Instagram. While I’m not a different person online compared to IRL, my personal life and my blog are still two separate things.
To put it bluntly, if you want to know how my holiday in Mykonos went, ask me. If you want to know where to go in Mykonos, read my blog.
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