Prepare yourself, this might be the most honest post you’ve ever read about blogging.
Does the name “Blogspot” ring a bell?
Back in 2007, after getting married, quitting my job and moving to Paris, I found myself alone. That year I would see my husband 5 months out of 12 (that’s how often he was traveling), and even if I had plenty of time to wander around the city, it’s just different when you’re not there as a tourist. I was 22 and, funny enough, apparently overqualified to get an entry level job in France. I then went back to school to learn what would be my 5th language – because you are far better off speaking French in France, trust me!!
I decided to create my “personal online magazine”, and dedicate some of my time to a hobby: writing about beauty, fashion and celebrity gossip. It’s when I discovered I could create a “blog” in a platform called Blogspot, which was far more popular than WordPress back then. So innocent I was, I had no idea other people would also have blogs with the same subjects, and discovered people sharing my passions, following me, and I was following others. Through my blog, I made my first friend in France and, who knew, she was a Brazilian married to a French. I had 50 (f-i-f-t-y) followers on my blog (Instagram would only come 3 years later) and I thought I was super popular. “WOW! 50 people follow my blog!!” But my friend had 1,000 and, to me, she was the queen of the world (still is, her online store is just amazing).
I moved to the USA and fell pregnant with my first born, and unfortunately, at that time, I simply stopped writing. My priorities shifted, I went back to Brazil, had my two babies, and three years later found myself back to where? Paris. September of 2014 was when I decided to start blogging again, I needed to take my mind off babies even if just for an hour a day, and created my second blog. It was in Portuguese, I wasn’t really sure what I was blogging about, and around the same time in 2015 I rebranded it and “My Boring Wardrobe” was born. I knew what I wanted, how I wanted, and put my effort into it. 6 months later I was moving to London (January 2016) and I felt I was almost back to mark zero. Did not know a single English blogger, let alone brand, let alone could write in British English! My English as a whole was (is) not as before.
Maybe it motivated me to do better, and soon enough I had a few brands reaching out to me, wanting to send me free gifts and inviting me to events. WOW! Free gifts!! Another high point in my blogging adventure! So many things happened in 2016 (highlight me modeling for a clothing campaign), so much I learned, I was decided to make blogging my career. If I was spending all that time, effort and money – and talk about investing! – and people were interested in me & my content, why not give value to that? I was watching through the years fellow bloggers that started around when I first had a blog, became top influencers, have brilliant careers as bloggers and inspire others. Camila Coelho, the biggest blogger in Brazil, has 6.7+ Million followers on Instagram only. Her 2 youtube channels (Portuguese & English) have over 4 Milion subscribers together.
In two years I took all possible online blogging courses out there (paid and unpaid) and also participated in workshops (one in Brazil from Alessandra Garatonni – the original founder of It Girls blog renamed and owner of a Brading Business). I thought I had in my hands all the tools to take my blog to the next level until I faced a variable that was out of my control: The Blogging Industry.
The power of influencers
Bloggers, content creators, digital influencers, you name it. It’s the new job that some don’t consider a job because it “breaks many of the rules”. “You have to be a journalist to be a blogger”, “You have to be a model to star in a campaign”, “You have to be a celebrity/movie star to be in the front row of a fashion show.” Well, you don’t. You don’t even need a higher education to be a blogger or succeed, though in Brazil you can now enroll to the pioneer “Digital Social Medias” graduation idealized by the industry mogul Alice Ferraz, who also created the first digital influencers platform of the world (F*Hits), and is considered by BoF as one of the 500 personalities shaping the global fashion industry. In fact, the rules are being created as we speak.
Influencers are the golden children of (digital) marketing strategies now, simply because they are trusted, drive attention, traffic, sales. Millenials in fashion shows, for example, can be responsible for driving 40% of the digital traffic to that show. And then Rebecca Minkoff took a step forward and brought 3 digital influencers to walk the runway along with the models. Dolce & Gabanna followed, with the catwalk dominated by celebrities and influencers at the Fall 2017 Men’s Show (including Brazilians Lee Oliveira & Lala Rudge). Soon it would be Negin Mirsaheli, Aimee Song, Kristine Bazan.
My latest surprise on how digital influencers are really everywhere was when I saw Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte (who sang in the 2014 World Cup opening alongside with Jennifer Lopez and Pit Bull) release a video clip with the participation of a very popular brazilian YouTuber – Mariana Saad.
How big is big
The thing is, the vast majority of bloggers aren’t huge global influencers or subject to a Harvard case study. They won’t be and they don’t have to be. But then there’s always that question of how big is big, when can I work with brands, when can I consider blogging a career, and how can I land that dreamy campaign with L’Oreal Paris.
Seems like even the internet can’t decide if micro-influencers have from 1,000 to 10,000 followers or up to 100,000. But 100,000 appears to be the aimed number by both brands and influencers. I knew in Brazil big brands (and self-proclaimed big) wouldn’t even consider working with a following smaller than that, but I learned by observation that it’s almost a rule in other countries as well. And brands are as obsessed by numbers as bloggers because mainly bigger audiences mean bigger reputation.
When to work with Brands
Big numbers aren’t prerequisite for influence. If your opinion is decisive to someone else make a purchase, for example, you are already influencing. Some might have a 3,000 following with highly engaged audience of a niche, which can be of extreme value to a brand focusing on that niche. 3,000 people interested in knitting are far more valuable to a yarn brand than if it reached to a lifestyle blogger with 50,000 followers that don’t necessarily knit at all.
Can I make money blogging?
It’s when brands start reaching to you, or the other way around. A brand that does its homework will contact bloggers that fit their profile in terms of reach, visuals, engagement, or simply because they like them and want to raise brand awareness. You as a blogger can and also should get in touch with brands, even if that’s a tabu between the influencers. “I never contact anybody, they all come to me!” – can be true, but again, it’s not the rule. If I know or discover a brand that I love the products and would be delighted to work with, and, of course, that I know is within my power of influence ( you can aim big, but try to keep your feet on the ground) I’ll reach to them. I may dream of one day working with Lancôme, who has celebrity artist Lisa Eldridge as its creative director for makeup, but I know I have work to do.
Many brands like to work on a gifting basis because that is obviously less costly to them. That is also interesting for bloggers, who are normally starting and trying to build a profile. As I shared before, being gifted by brands was a high point for me. It definitely has its value. But for how long?
How much are you worth?
I have some interesting stories to share on this subject. Money is that thing everyone wants to know about but no one wants to share about. That includes both bloggers and brands. There are many charts on the web indicating how much one should charge depending on a few factors, but when it comes to putting it in action, the reality is a bit different.
Creating a blog, growing your influence and engaging an audience is work. You put your time, effort, creativity and money to build it and keep it running. Some start it as a hobby and end up making money (or not), some start it to make money and invest heavily in marketing companies, people who will decide what you’ll post, how you’ll post, how you will act, way before you appear online. In any situation, if you’re succeeding, it means people like you and your work. And as in any other “job”, you should be entitled to earn for it.
After a good while blogging “by myself” (no brands in the picture) and after a good while being also gifted by brands, I realized it was time to put a number to my worth. I was creating content for brands for free when people were being hired and paid to do so. Please keep in mind that whatever your number is, should be according to your size of influence, and comparing to the market, what you find to be reasonable. I won’t ask a brand to pay me £1000.00 for a post today because I don’t think that’s the right price now. But I am creating a content, taking pictures, arranging the layout, the styling, the quality of it, and that’s worthy of payment. Should I justify?
The other day I was contacted by a platform to do a collaboration and I asked what their budget was. They replied saying that none of the brands they worked with pay because they think that way the collaboration is more genuine. WHAT?? Let me tell you what a genuine collaboration is: is when you work with a brand that you like, that you know or test the products and that you think will bring value to your readers. No matter if money is involved. The payment has nothing to do with genuine collaborations unless you only collaborate with brands for the money. The payment is what you get for creating the content (and influencing purchases/ generating brand awareness, etc). I replied to her in a very polite way, but what I really wanted to say was: would you exchange your salary for gifts? Would you do that to show a more “genuine” relationship to your employer?
When I chose to put a price to my work, it was when things got a bit odd. When being contacted by a brand that was interesting for my blog, I would ask if they had a budget for it. A lot of them would say no, and sometimes wouldn’t even ask how much I charge. Oh well, how to handle this?
Ethics in the blogsphere
Truth to be told, my content is not defined by others. I started a blog to share what I like, and all the content I create is based on my own research, taste, creativity. I can blog about everything I personally own and always find more content to it. When you work with brands, you are growing, you can have more and different things to showcase that you don’t have to buy yourself, you are evolving and helping them evolve with you. Is mutually beneficial and I highly value that. But working with brands is not mandatory/imperative to blog or influence. I was stunned the other day when I saw a brand saying they wanted posts in such and such platforms, they required professional photos and they would gift you their product in exchange. Meaning you would even have to pay for photography yourself to receive their product worth less than the photography price (and hope the photographer would maybe accept the product in exchange for his work? Because he would certainly charge his price). So If they want to partner with me (meaning they have specific demands) in a unfair manner, I do not need their products to produce my content and engage with my audience. And this year I turned down many offers because I don’t want to bring labels just for the sake of bringing labels, I will not be “forced” to review a product just because it was sent to me for free, unless, as I said, I genuinely like it, and think will bring value to my readers. I receive gifts that are featured more than once on my social media because that is genuine. I’m also exploring other media platforms like Youtube and creating a dedicated media to my Brazilian followers.
When you partner with a brand and you want to keep true to yourself, they should not define exactly what you write and how you write it (and please, work with brands that you like and make sense to your public/niche). Of course, they can give you a direction but the creative director is ultimately you. And that’s what brands love and the public love, that’s why people trust over 90% of an influencer’s opinion over a traditional advertisement or celebrity endorsement.
When it comes to disclosure, it’s an issue that has been there for a long, long time. Last year I joined Collective Edge at the Bristol Social Media Week in a panel on the topic of sponsored content, alongside the Internet Advertising Bureau’s Christie Dennehy-Neil and Future Publishing’s Director of Content Marketing, Clare Jonik. We had brands and influencers in the audience, and it surprised me how little brands were aware of regulations.
It’s no secret that even big and respected labels approach influencers asking for nondisclosure of sponsored content. They want it to appear “as natural as possible” to the readers and think that saying they “collaborated with” is a deal breaker. They also want follow links, to have traffic driven from influencer to their website, which is prohibited and penalized by Google according to their guidelines. The problem is that a lot of influencers consent to that. I am glad that we are having more clear and effective digital regulations on that matter as well as brand and influencer awareness. Even if someone works with a brand they love, I still have the right to know if they are being sponsored to show that product or not. Ultimately, it’s my decision to be influenced by them.
Valuable lessons I learned through blogging:
You can buy your way into the industry. Shocker? It’s way more common than you think. These days you can buy followers, likes, comments, even YouTube views! If you can keep up with the payments, you can grow fast and even have an “engaged audience”. And you can easily reach those precious numbers that “make you big”. Do brands care? Some do. A lot don’t. Bloggers aren’t the only ones buying followers (hello Obama’s and Beyonce’s twitter) , brands do it as well. Some people even buy followers while promoting a giveaway, so you cant’ really tell. But you can always tell when they go to sleep with 65k, wake up to 72K, and the next day they have 69K. Is that thing a lot of people do but never talk about. If you want to do it, you do it, it’s really a personal decision. The path you choose tells a lot about your ethics, but remember that buying numbers isn’t a guarantee of anything.
Educate yourself. Go and learn. There are so many things the web can offer, it’s incredible. If you want to be good at what you do, you need to consume knowledge. One course that I highly recommend is from Secret Blogger Business by the Aussie Kate McKibbin. And there are so many others! Starting a blog involves a lot more than just writing and taking good pictures, there’s all this tech behind it. Once you go past figuring out host, domain, templates and how to install everything, you find yourself trying to fix the issues of Google not crawling your website, not indexing your pages, not ranking you well. SEO becomes your best friend, and for each and every post you write, you go through a checklist of SEO friendly steps. I once spent an entire week trying to figure out how to make my website have a better score for speed. Downloaded apps, compressed photos, etc etc. If you have the time and patience (for endless articles and YouTube tutorials), go for it, otherwise, I suggest you hire someone for those parts.
Don’t compare yourself to others in a negative way. You should be inspired by others but not focused on their numbers, collaborations, etc. See what they do best and learn the trick, but don’t be a copy cat. It’s naive to say everyone invents new things/subjects/methods every day, people do what everyone else is already doing, just maybe in a different way. Be genuine and true to yourself, there’s always a public for you.
Brands will take advantage of you – if you let them. Know your worth, value your work, but don’t think that just by opening a blog, start writing and posting pictures you are entitled to everything. And once you work with a brand, built a strong relationship with it. You can also work with agencies that can help you mediate that.
Growth doesn’t happen overnight. Again, it might happen a lot faster to ones than to others, but sometimes it takes years. There are many factors that can influence your growth but don’t expect to have 4M followers from one day to the other like a Kardashian (unless obviously, you are one of them).
Not every blogger will be your friend. There’s a battle of egos in every type of industry, but I see it really prominent in the fashion one. Some will give you vague advices, but will chase you when they need something. So the answer to that is to support others. Blogger is only a community once there’s mutual support. It’s ok to share good advice, cheer for each others success, and not be afraid they will grow bigger and faster than us if they know what we do and how we do it.
Never give up. I learned this the hard way. I always wonder if some things would be different today had I never closed my first blog from 2007. Now I don’t care if I have enough time or not, all I know is I do it because I like it and don’t want to stop, even if I have to slow down the pace for whatever (personal) reason. I understand the pressure is different if you quit your 9-5 to dedicate to blogging, but that’s an extra reason to make it work. Consistency is also important. There are so many things we know we should be doing and frequently struggle with! But our biggest enemy is our own self.
The blogging industry can be overwhelming sometimes. Wether you treat it like a hobby or a business, remember why you started in the first place. Stay true to yourself, be yourself and show that to the others. We like to relate to people, and that’s what brings us close to them and makes us stick around. Do your best, be genuine, be kind. Keeping your uniqueness is the boldest statement you can make.