I started FOXYOXIE.com in February 2013 – three months after getting married – as an outlet for my overflowing and ever-shifting creativity. Blogging was a way for me to combine many of my passions into one project and share it with the 10 people that cared to read what I had to say.
I have no doubt my newly-established role as a wife played into my need for creative expression. I've been what you'd call a creative person for as long as I can remember. Blogging, no doubt, helped me not lose sight of who I was while simultaneously discovering my new role as a married woman.
Fast-forward 5.5 years. This website continues to be my biggest passion project – but also so much more than that. At this time, FOXY OXIE is my full-time job; it's the most ideal work-from-home scenario I could dream of, allowing me to stay home with my daughter and continue pushing myself creatively while contributing to our family finances.
Of course, I have all of you to thank for that. Because of your continued support, I am able to do what I do. So, thank you!
Today's post is also a result of your doing, thanks to the many questions I receive about blogging in general and, more specifically, working with brands. I'm (finally!) sharing everything you've ever wanted to know.
The first time I worked with a brand was April 2013, a mere two months after starting FOXYOXIE.com. In exchange for gifted jewelry, I partnered with a fairly new company on a giveaway and a 25% discount for my readers.
Since then, I've worked with many different brands. But I started receiving monetary compensation only in the last 3.5 years. The timelines vary from blogger to blogger, and as you're about to discover, so do many other factors.
Enough with the introductions, though; let's answer some questions! It's quite a lengthy read, so feel free to skip around to the question that interests you most by clicking on it below.
8. How much time does a typical collaboration require? Can you walk me through the process of a sponsored post from start to finish?
1. What exactly does "working with brands" mean?
Working with brands has many, many names: collaborations, partnerships, sponsorships, influencer marketing, content creation, and so on and so forth. These terms are used interchangeably to mean one thing: a company employs a person with an audience to promote a product or service to that audience in a natural and authentic way. In exchange, the company offers gifted product or monetary compensation.
Quite the definition, I know. But each part is vital in defining a successful collaboration:
- A PERSON WITH AN AUDIENCE: Before a brand will work with you, you must have an authentic, engaged audience. More on that later, but suffice it to say that you must write for writing's sake, because you're passionate about certain topics – NOT because you want to make money.
- PROMOTE A PRODUCT OR SERVICE: To maintain editorial integrity, you must be very selective in choosing the brands you work with.
- NATURAL AND AUTHENTIC: Influencer marketing is more than just selling something; you have to genuinely connect with people – and the only way you can do that is if 1) you've built an authentic, engaged audience, and 2) you truly stand behind each product and service you promote.
- COMPENSATION: A collaboration must be beneficial to both parties. Sure, there are occasional instances where you may agree to work in exchange for gifted product (more on that later). But in general, if you're an established blogger, you must know your worth and what you bring to the table – and charge accordingly.
A common misconception is that you need millions of followers before a company will pay you – but that just isn't the case. Research shows that micro-influencers (bloggers with 500-10,000 highly engaged followers) are more effective and provide the biggest return on investment (ROI) than any other category of influencer marketing.
Most major brands are quickly coming to this realization – which explains how, for the past 3.5 years, I've been able to successfully work with companies like Target, Target, Pier 1 Imports, Burt's Bees, Rust-Oleum, Tuesday Morning, Ergobaby and many, many others – and get paid for it.
2. Do bloggers reach out to brands or the other way around?
Most collaborations result from one of the following:
- A brand contacts the blogger,
- The blogger contacts the brand, or
- Influencer networks.
The most common – although unsuccessful – option is for brands to contact bloggers. It's basically like cold-calling except via email, and it rarely works because most companies that choose to this approach don't have a large marketing budget (if any at all). They're simply mass-emailing hundreds of people with hopes that a handful will agree.
I typically receive no less than 10 of these "collaboration proposals" every day, and they tend to sound something like this:
We are a totally random company completely unrelated to anything you write about, but hey, we love your blog! We love it so much, in fact, that we've decided to send you (as well as 785 other random bloggers whose names we do not know nor care to find out and whose blogs we've never actually read) this mass email.
Are you excited yet?
Even though we have no clue what you actually blog about, we think our totally random product is a great fit for your blog, and we really, really, really hope you'll write about it in exchange for, well, nothing. Doesn't that sound like fun? We think you'll love the experience!
Did we mention that we SO love your blog? Okay, cool. Just making sure you saw that.
Anyway, if you're super lucky, your blog post will be entered into a very secretive, very special drawing. If you win, we'll promote your post to our 50 Twitter followers. It's truly the opportunity of a lifetime, and we have no doubt you'll agree!"
The number of pitches I receive in my inbox that actually result in collaborations are very few and far in between. It's obvious when a brand is truly interested in working with me, because it'll look nothing like the email above.
To sum up, the advantages of a brand contacting the blogger are:
- A brand showing interest in your work opens up the conversation about compensation.
- If the brand is genuinely interested in your work, the collaboration has the potential to grow into an ongoing partnership (in other words, a stable workload and an ongoing stream of income).
The disadvantages of this approach are:
- The majority of the time, the blogger is simply a victim of a mass email.
- Brands that take this approach typically have a smaller marketing budget (if any at all).
A more proactive (and successful) option – at least in my experience – is when I reach out to a brand myself.
Yes, it's far more time-consuming and labor-intensive than sitting around, waiting for the right brand to contact you.
First, you have to research brands you'd like to work with, then you have to find the correct contact person and their info, then you must craft a brand-specific pitch. You go through this process over and over and over again until you finally land a collaboration. Out of 20 companies I pitch, I may hear back from five, and only one or two will agree to work with me. Once discussion turns to compensation, even less pitches result in a collaboration. Needless to say, reaching out to brands directly requires a lot of work, but when you do finally land a collaboration, the results are some of the most successful.
The advantages of a blogger pitching a brand are:
- When you do land a collaboration, it usually evolves into a long-term partnership.
- It allows you to be very selective in who you work with, since you're only reaching out to brands that genuinely interest you.
- The brands are more likely to cross-promote your work, which translates into more blog traffic for you.
The disadvantages of this approach are:
- The blogger doesn't always know the best time to contact the brand; oftentimes, a brand may be interested in working with you, but you've unfortunately reached out to them after they've allocated their entire budget towards various collaborations. So you end up having to circle back around in six or so months.
- PR and marketing specialists receive hundreds – if not thousands – of pitches from bloggers every day. As a result, the response rate is typically quite low, and you have to be prepared for ongoing rejection.
- Bringing up the question of compensation can be tricky when you're the one reaching out.
A third (also successful) way to work with brands is to join influencer networks that bring bloggers and brands together. Companies like IZEA, Collectively, AspireIQ, Social Fabric, Massive Sway and Clever are just a handful of my favorites that act as the middle man between bloggers and brands.
The advantages securing collaborations via influencer networks are:
- You can avoid most of the outreach needed to connect with a brand. Each influencer network works with brands that are actively seeking influencers for various campaigns. If your influencer profile meets the campaign criteria, you will be notified of the campaign and invited to apply.
- Brands that use this avenue to find bloggers typically have a larger marketing budget and are able to pay more than average for campaigns.
- The network takes care of all financial details, ensuring the brand pays you according to the contract terms.
- You're able to skip much of the uncomfortable talk about pay. Sometimes there is room for negotiation, but more often than not, the compensation is already set and you simply decide whether the campaign is worth your time.
- The process is less time-consuming and labor-intensive than, say, reaching out to brands directly. You sign up with the network once, occasionally update your stats (if the network doesn't have automatic updates), and when a relevant opportunity arises, the network reaches out to you directly.
The disadvantages of this approach are:
- The influencer network takes a percentage of the budget for their part in orchestrating the collaboration. Ultimately, however, it shouldn't really affect the blogger in any way (because you're smart, and you only take on collaborations that are worth your time).
- Most brands employ numerous bloggers for the same campaign, which is why you'll often see similar content across several websites.
- You lose out on the personal connection with the brand. Typically, you don't even have access to a direct contact, since the network acts as the bridge between you and the brand.
3. What are some different ways you work with brands?
FOXYOXIE.com has grown at a much faster rate than my social media channels. As a result, I focus more on sponsored posts, guest posts and digital content creation rather than social media campaigns.
Most collaborations can be classified into the following categories:
- SPONSORED POSTS: The most common way to work with a brand is on a sponsored post, where a brand will pay you a fee for writing about them. Sponsored blog posts are professionally written, styled and photographed articles that include back links to the brand's website and often come as a package deal that includes social media amplification, inclusion in an e-newsletter and photo usage rights, among other deliverables.
- SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS: Some bloggers choose to focus more on social media instead of a blog. Social media promotion is basically a sponsored post but on a specific social media channel. This approach typically requires a bit less work than an entire blog post but can still be very lucrative, especially for those with a large community.
- GUEST POSTS: If you create high-quality content but your traffic isn't as high as a brand would like, they can choose to house your post on their own website or blog.
- BRAND AMBASSADORSHIP: The role of an ambassador varies from brand to brand. In general, the blogger acts as a spokesperson, either regularly writing about the company, styling and photographing the brand's new product lines, or a mixture of both. Depending on the situation, the brand either provides free products or monetary compensation; either way, brand ambassadorships are usually ongoing partnerships that span several months or longer.
- GIVEAWAYS AND DISCOUNTS: Giveaways are very popular, especially on Instagram. While I personally question the integrity of this approach (especially if a blogger is constantly hosting giveaways), I can't deny that it does help boost social media accounts. In some cases, the brand offers a sample product for the blogger to review along with the giveaway. In other cases, the brand will offer an exclusive discount code as payment. Occasionally, you may receive a giveaway hosting fee, but that's far more rare.
- VIDEO AND OTHER DIGITAL CONTENT CREATION: This type of collaboration is becoming increasingly popular. Digital content creation is the development of newsworthy, educational or entertainment material created for distribution on the brand's website and social media channels. Beyond videos and imagery, it can include webinars, podcasts, infographics, GIFs, memes, newsletters, case studies, mobile apps, ebooks, magazines, quizzes, illustrations, and so much more.
- EVENT HOSTING OR ATTENDANCE: Brands can also choose to host an event with a blogger, which typically includes pre-event promotion, live social media updates the day of, and a post-event recap on the blog. If hosting an event, the blogger typically gets paid a fee. Another option is for brands to invite several bloggers to an event being hosted by the brand itself, in which case it's more rare for the brand to pay a fee. Rather, the compensation consists of free attendance and gifted product.
- ADS: A bit of an outdated approach, ads are typically small buttons on a blog's sidebar that promote a brand. Some companies pay per impression, while others prefer to pay only when a viewer actually clicks on the ad. As a result, it's not the most lucrative collaboration, especially if you don't have massive blog traffic.
4. Does blogging pay well?
Unsurprisingly, money-related questions are some of the most popular.
Let me preface by saying that if you ever find yourself considering starting a blog to make money – don't. A blog cannot be successful without an audience, and the only way to build one is if you're truly passionate about writing for writing's sake. The underlying purpose of your blog's existence has to extend beyond your need to pay bills.
My simple (although unsatisfying) answer to "Does it pay well?" is "What is your definition of well?"
Contrary to popular belief, blogging is definitely not a quick way to get rich. In fact, it's very unlikely you'll ever make as much as you would in, say, a corporate setting. I certainly don't!
The YouTube stars and Instagram influencers with millions of followers raking in six figures? They are certainly an exception. To put it bluntly, you're more likely to become a millionaire by slowly climbing the corporate ladder rather than becoming a blogger.
However, if you're looking for creative freedom, job flexibility, and a way to justify your online shopping habits, then blogging just may be the way to go.
All joking aside, I've said before that FOXY OXIE is my full-time job, and I honestly cannot imagine a more perfect life/work setup. But I don't make nearly as much as I did in my corporate job – although that's definitely my next goal! As with any freelance work, some months I have many paid projects, others – not so much. Yet in those less-lucrative months, you have to continue blogging and putting in the same effort; otherwise everything falls apart.
I do, however, make enough to allow for occasional luxuries like an additional family vacation that may not have been possible otherwise, or a new piece of furniture here and there, or – far less glamorous but necessary – health insurance! Of course, I am not oblivious to the fact that if it wasn't for my husband's stable income and job security, I wouldn't be able to quit my corporate job to blog full-time.
5. How much do you typically charge?
My sponsorship rates depend on many, many factors. Not only do these factors vary from blogger to blogger, but they vary from project to project.
I've worked on projects that paid $400, and I've worked on projects that paid $900. I've also worked on projects that paid $4,000+ but in gifted product. Again, I evaluate so many factors when determining whether a collaboration is worth my time. Below are just a few of these factors:
- THE SIZE AND ENGAGEMENT OF MY AUDIENCE: Obviously the larger and more engaged my audience, the more I can charge.
- THE TIME AND RESOURCES REQUIRED: Does the brand expect me to write 350 words – or 1000? The more extensive and detailed the project scope, the more I can charge. Will I be granting the brand full rights to my photos? Complete ownership (as opposed to usage rights) drastically increases how much I charge. What are the exclusivity requirements? Am I prohibited from working with competitors for the next 30 days, or say, for an entire year? The more exclusive a partnership, the more I can charge. I could write an entire book about the "what-ifs" and theoretical scenarios, but this post is already quite lengthy.
- THE COMPLEXITY OF THE CAMPAIGN BRIEF: Each project comes with its own requirements. I prefer to work with brands that allow creative freedom and do not have such strict rules around every caption, every photo, and every word I share. I would hope that when a brand agrees to work with me, they trust that no one knows my audience like I do. If I am being paid for my influence, then it would only make sense that I would know what sort of message will be well-received by my audience. Otherwise, the entire project feels unnatural and forced. So, how does this affect compensation? I am more prone to accept lower compensation if it means I have total creative reign.
- ADDITIONAL EXPENSES: I style, photograph and edit all of my photos, so I don't take into account the expense of hiring a professional photographer. Some bloggers need to hire out such tasks. In that case, that additional expense must be factored into the sponsorship rate.
- CONTENT QUALITY AND MY CAPABILITIES: The higher the quality of my work, the more I can charge. If, for example, I shoot professional photos, am able to create GIFs, and have a decade of writing experience under my belt, I can obviously charge more than someone who cannot offer these deliverables.
- HOW THE COLLABORATION CAME ABOUT: Whether the brand reached out to me, I reached out to the brand, or we connected via an influencer network often affects the campaign budget, so it's another factor to keep in mind.
- COMPANY SIZE: A small company is less likely to have a marketing budget as large as a multi-billion dollar corporation. Thus, I don't expect to charge the two the same.
As you can imagine, there are far too many exceptions to every rule. The bottom line is this: Know your worth, and charge accordingly.
6. When (if ever) is it okay to work in exchange for gifted product?
Working in exchange for gifted product is typically a no-no. Majority of established bloggers will agree that the only exception to the rule is if you're new to working with brands.
While I will be the first to stand up for fair compensation, my personal experience has showed time and time again that there are cases where it's beneficial to accept gifted product – even if you're an established blogger.
For example, when we first bought our bungalow, it had previously stood abandoned for nearly 2o years. To say it wasn't in livable condition would be the understatement of the century. We tore the entire house down to the duds and rebuilt it. Needless to say, it was a massive project that spanned nearly two years, because we did a lot of the work ourselves. During those two years, I had several opportunities to work with various brands in exchange for building materials – materials that I would purchase and use regardless of whether it was sponsored or not. In such cases, I am totally open to working in exchange for gifted product (as long as that collaboration fits my blog aesthetic and all other criteria I have for working with brands).
A more specific example: When choosing the tile for our house, I had the opportunity to work with Wayfair on a 3-part series of step-by-step DIY tile installation guides that were featured on the retailer's website. In exchange, all of the tile we chose for our projects was comped by the brand.
7. Do you ever say "no" to projects?
Probably one of the most-asked questions I get is if I ever decline offers. The answer is, "Oh goodness, yes!" I say no to about 98% of opportunities that come my way – if not more.
Here's my criteria for working with a brand:
- Collaborations are extremely time- and resource-consuming, so I expect to be compensated fairly in exchange for the work I put in. Without delving too far into the details (which I'll do on another question), a typical campaign includes writing proposals, drafting contracts, strategy creation according to the project scope, photography, editing, drafting the post, several rounds of revisions, social media promotion and engagement, and post-campaign reporting. Of course, each campaign has its own objectives and requirements (and budgets), so compensation varies from project to project. But the bottom line is that companies who value content creators compensate them accordingly – and those are the only companies you'd want to work with.
- The product or service that I am being paid to promote has to truly fit our lifestyle, projects we have coming up, or be of genuine interest to my audience (that's you guys!).
- Even if the product is wonderful and a great fit, but realistically I could never afford it, I personally cannot accept it. For example, I once had a luxury home decor brand reach out to me, wanting to gift a mirror for a room makeover I was working on. It was a beautiful, round, brass mirror – exactly what I had been searching for to hang over our fireplace. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? One minor little issue: the mirror cost $900. Regardless of how you look at it, that sort of collaboration just doesn't fit my idea of ethical blogging. Sure, the mirror was perfect in every way. Sure, the work I would put into the project would more than pay for the cost of the product. But it all comes down to one question: If it wasn't a gift, would I buy this specific item myself? The answer is no; I can't name a single person who'd pay that much for a basic, round mirror. So, promoting it would be dishonest.
8. How much time does a typical collaboration require? Can you walk me through the process of a sponsored post from start to finish?
I touched briefly on how time-consuming a collaboration can be, but it's even more so if you're a perfectionist (like me!). I'm certain I spend more time on any blog-related task than the average blogger. I pour my heart and soul into every post I write, always asking myself, "If this is the only post someone sees, what will they think? How will they feel?" Basically, I treat each blog post as if it's the most important piece of content I've ever created – quite an unrealistic standard, I know. But my perfectionism won't allow anything less.
I find it impossible to pinpoint exactly how much time goes towards a single project. Each collaboration is a creative process; sometimes I feel inspired, other times – not so much. Sometimes the subject being photographed (like my toddler, for example) cooperates, other times – not so much. Contrary to popular belief, bloggers aren't machines that churn out post after post after post – at least not the bloggers who truly take pride in their work. So, it's nearly impossible to quantify the time spent on an average project, because there's no such thing as an average project. However, the more you work with brands, the more you start noticing patterns in your workflow. With experience, you become more equipped at estimating the time required for a particular task.
Here's the collaboration process, from start to finish:
- APPLY FOR CAMPAIGN. I prefer to either email the brand directly or apply to a campaign through an influencer network. If emailing a brand, I start by researching the company, their products, previous campaigns, relevant industry trends – basically, any information that will help me craft a successful pitch. Based on this information, I develop a clear, strategic direction for how I plan to promote the brand, making sure it fits my lifestyle, aesthetic and overall direction of FOXYOXIE.com.
- NAVIGATE SEVERAL ROUNDS OF BACK-AND-FORTH EMAILING. The first time I email a brand, I rarely include specific details on the collaboration I have in mind; it would simply be far too long of an email – one that would likely get deleted, because marketing and PR specialists are very busy people. The key is to pique their interest enough for them to respond. It's not until the second or third email when I outline the project details and proposed deliverables. If the brand requests a media kit, I update my stats and send that as well. Up to several weeks can pass before we agree on the terms. If using an influencer network, the brand typically provides a massive document outlining project details. It can include thought starters for the post, photo direction, social media caption hashtags and many other requirements. Sometimes, these documents are quite lengthy. But as I previously mentioned, I prefer to work with brands that aren't so controlling.
- NEGOTIATE COMPENSATION. The discussion around compensation also happens during the back-and-forth emailing. Probably one of the least-favorite tasks in the outreach process, it becomes easier the more you do it. The better you understand the requirements, the more confident you'll be in charging for your work.
- DRAFT UP AND SIGN CONTRACTS. This part is self-explanatory. Sometimes the brand drafts up a contract; other times, it's the blogger's responsibility to insure they'll get paid on time.
- WRITE THE POST. A quick scan of my drafts shows that each was revised anywhere from 20 to 50 times; that's 20-50 times I re-read and made edits to the entire post. Again, this varies from post to post. But on average, I'd estimate spending 6-12 hours on writing a single blog post.
- STYLE AND PHOTOGRAPH YOUR CONTENT. You'd assume home decor is easier to style and photograph than, say, a toddler. But every subject requires brainstorming, a strategic approach and perfect timing. It's a creative process I enjoy very much, but it certainly is a process.
- EDIT THE PHOTOS. Again, some brands have a very specific direction they're looking for in photos created by influencers. This determines how much editing (and what sort of editing, if any) is best.
- SUBMIT ALL CONTENT FOR APPROVAL. Oftentimes, a brand will request to review what you've written before it goes live. In my experience, revisions are usually done to ensure professionalism (no grammatical mistakes!) – not to change the entirety of a post. Then again, I do prefer to work with brands that allow more creative freedom, because I never want to feel controlled in what I'm allowed to say about a particular product. I have, however, heard horror stories where brands will tell bloggers exactly what to write. But those aren't bloggers you want to be following anyway, nor brands you want to be working with.
- PUBLISH CONTENT AND PROMOTE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Once the content is approved, it's ready to be published. Then comes the fun part of promoting it on social media and engaging with the people who've expressed interest. I personally strive to over-deliver on project requirements, providing more photos than requested, extra Instagram stories, extra back links, etc.
- PROVIDE A PERFORMANCE REPORT. After a campaign is over, some brands request a performance report. It can include links you've published, engagement rates, any interesting comments or discussions, and all other pertinent information that shows whether or not this collaboration was a success. Even when a brand doesn't request a report, I typically like to provide one anyway. Not only does it open the discussion of a long-term partnership, but it also shows me what to improve in future collaborations.
9. How much time do you spend reaching out to brands?
I reach out to potential sponsors via email. It's quite an extensive, time-consuming process that more often than not results in rejection. However, when I do land a partnership using this approach, it is always some of my favorite and most successful.
Because every pitch is so individualized, it's hard to estimate how much time it takes on average. Take last week, for example. I have several home- and baby-related projects coming up on my content calendar. So, I decided to reach out to some brands to gage possible interest in working together. In six hours, I researched and emailed 17 brands. So far, I've heard back from five of them, only two of which expressed interest in working together.
10. How do you prep yourself and your family to have some aspects of your life be known to the public?
I’m a firm believer that certain parts of life lose their magic when put on public display. Not every aspect of a blogger's life needs to evolve into a blog post. I always strive to be honest and completely transparent in both my online and offline relationships. However, you wouldn't share every single intimate detail of your life with a friend. The same principle applies online.
I often see bloggers talk very openly about extremely intimate topics like miscarriages, marriage problems, family health, etc. Obviously, it's a choice each blogger makes for themselves. I personally believe we can be relatable and encouraging to others without necessarily delving out intimate information that affects other people in our lives.
Having said that, building an online community requires authenticity, transparency and being relatable. So, a certain degree of vulnerability is a must; otherwise, you risk alienating people with your oh-so-perfect life. It's a fine line to balance, for sure.