What to Expect When Working With Brands (and How to Get Started)

Yesterday we talked about how you gotta think of your blog as a business in order to actually make money. 

Seems kinda obvious now that you know it, right? 

And today, we're starting to dig into the nitty gritty of working with brands and sponsored posts. 

You probably have a ton of questions about working with brands. Like: 

"What should I expect?" 
"What kind of stats should I have in order to get paid?" 
"How do I get started?" 
"How much should I charge?" 

We're going to get into ALL of that, I promise. But we're going to tackle them one at a time. 

Today, we're talking about what to expect when working with brands, especially some of the challenges that can come along that you should be prepared for. 

The best sponsored posts tell a story, engage your reader, and feel like an authentic extension of the rest of your blog's content. While sponsored posts are one of the best ways to make money from your blog, let's be straight with each other — working with brands can present a few challenges: you want to keep the "ad speak" and branded hashtags to a minimum, they want more input into how your post comes to life. It's just the way the world works. 

And if you think about it, you can't blame them, especially if they're shelling out hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars for a single post on your blog.

Yes, you heard that right — hundreds or thousands. 

But here's the rub: this is YOUR audience sponsors are trying to get in front of. You've spent years busting your ass to get your engagement metrics up, grow a respectable social following, and steady incoming links. It's no small feat, to grow an audience, and if brands want to piggy-back those coattails you so lovingly tailored, it should come with a price tag.

Or, you could be just starting out with your eyes on the prize and a business on your mind. Weeks 1-3 of this challenge taught you how to get creative and grow your audience, so now's the time to put your boss lady hat on. 

Collaboration with a sponsor comes with its own set of challenges, but that doesn't mean you can't pull it off, even if you're just starting out. Check out five that you may not see coming, but need to know about, below.


Payment

Well, maybe you saw this one coming from a mile away. Pricing your posts is the number one question I get asked ALL THE TIME about sponsored posts. And let me tell you — it's not an easy thing to answer. 

Here's why: there are no set "rules" on how bloggers should be pricing their posts. There are industry standards for the big publishers, but for influencers and smaller bloggers, pricing structures are still living in the Wild West.  

Previously, pageviews and social followers were the hero metrics that got bloggers paid, but brands are becoming savvy to the fact that big numbers don't always mean they'll get a big return on their investment. Right now, it's all about "engagement metrics" like visitors, shares, and time on page that are commanding the bucks. 

It matters less and less if you have a huge number of followers on social media if no one is engaging with the content you're posting there. It matters even less if you get 100,000 visitors per month if your time on page is 10 seconds — that basically means that no one is reading your posts (and you have a much larger problem on your hands). 

The longer people are hanging out on your post page and sharing the content there, the more engaged your audience is. This is extremely valuable to an advertiser, so you should play up your strengths if you have it, and price accordingly. 

Bottom line, advertisers are willing to pay more than you think, and for smaller audiences than you would have imagined. 

We're talking more about pricing later in the week. 

 

Deciding on a Topic

What you're posting about can be a tough one to nail down, especially if your brand partner wants a larger say in what the post topic will be. You may be provided with sample thought-starters from the brand (which is actually good, even if their thought-starters aren't) because you'll get a peek behind the curtain to see how the internal wheels are spinning. 

But know that there is always room to negotiate your topics before you sign on the dotted line. Craft your topics thoughtfully, taking into consideration your audience, the brands' goals, the product or service they're advertising, and what works on your site for YOUR ideal reader. 

 

Integrations

Integrations may very well be the most difficult part about creating a shareable, authentic sponsored post that doesn't reek of an advertisement. 

What's an integration, you ask? It's the part of your post where you mention or talk about the brand's product or service. 

It's how you fit it into your post without sounding "like an ad." 

Brands spend millions of dollars gearing up for campaigns, and have specific objectives for each launch. Some of these objectives could include things like: awareness, clickthroughs to their site, contest entries, driving trial of a product, or driving purchases. 

These objectives could translate to your post in a million different ways, but brands do tend to get stuck on the actual mentions of their brand or product in a post, along with any "official" campaign messages or statements they are pushing.

If there's a way to negotiate how you word certain "required" language to make it feel more authentic to you, you should. No one wants to feel like a sellout by saying stuff like "sweetened with 100% all-natural sugars..." if that's not a way you'd describe a product on your own. 

 

Photography

Fashion and food bloggers are especially at risk for speed bumps when a product is being photographed. 

Brands have very specific guidelines on photography — from how their product looks in the photos to how the photos look overall, so this can create very interesting conversations around images; You're creating a post that includes their product but are not taking product photos. You're creating original photography for the brand, but are not taking "brand photos." There's a fine line between the those two. 

If you're planning on taking original photos for a sponsored post, it's best to get all the requirements and information about photography up front, and have the discussion around what they'll be expecting. 

Creating mood boards to communicate what's in your brain will also help. The goal here is to authentically integrate the product into your post and collaborate, not let the brand dictate your vision, style, point of view, or voice. 

 

Revisions and Approvals

I've heard of some bloggers going through upwards of 20 edits before a post is approved thanks to an inefficient system and layers upon layers of brand approvals. Here's the deal: your contact can't simply approve a sponsored post on the brand's behalf. Your post may be reviewed by an entire army of department leads, including: 

  • Your contact at the agency (if there is one), to make sure you came correct with what you promised and to give any initial feedback based on what they think the brands' thoughts might be. Consider this a "primer" review. 
  • The agency or brand's content lead, to give it a once-over and ensure quality from the brand's perspective. 
  • A campaign or marketing manager, to ensure you're positioning the product in the best light and correctly communicating any messaging that was agreed upon, and offer up any tweaks to the overall execution to align even closer to their messaging. 
  • A brand manager keep any logos and photography of the product in check.
  • Your post may also be reviewed by the PR or corporate communications department as another set of eyes to spot red flags that may be a threat to the campaign.
  • A suit from their legal department, to ensure your statements about the product and your post as a whole have all the appropriate disclaimers and statements, and no laws are being broken.
  • A compliance or risk officer, to put the kibosh on any potential false statements about the product itself, and evaluate any risky situations you might be putting the brand in — I'm not talking skydiving here, but more about the statements you're making about the brand or product.
  • Surprised? It's insane to think about the amount of man hours that go into just one sponsored post, but your sponsored post is — technically — an advertisement which is why you need the the numerous rounds of review and appropriate disclaimers saying you were compensated. Corporations have strict FTC regulations around ads that they must adhere to. 

And here's the biggest #Facepalm about this whole process: in some cases, brands won't forward your draft on to the next approver until their revisions are made. So you'll get one round of review for each of these departments, which can create a Siberian black hole of never-ending edits that can test the patience of the Dali Lama.

 

What to Do About It

So how can you minimize these challenges before you even start the process?

Get all the goods up front. This includes the product details, photo guidelines, messaging, any required statements or specific words they want you to use, topics to surround or avoid, competing products or brands to avoid, style guidelines, timelines, and hashtags.

Establish the rules of the road. While some negotiation and flexibility will be required in order to be a good partner (especially if it's a brand you're exited about working with), you should have some established timelines, deadlines, and revision allowances before you begin.

Start at your publishing date and work backwards to plan sufficient time for reviews and edits, and put a cap on those suckers in order to manage expectations. I'd say even five rounds of review is too many, but again, this all depends on how much you want to make this relationship work.

That being said, you shouldn't let a brand walk all over you and push you into a direction you don't want to go. Ask them to consolidate feedback to minimize the game of email tag, and work smartly to get them the revisions back in a timely fashion. 

Get payment up front. Unfortunately I've heard of too many bloggers that didn't get paid ahead of time and the sponsor threatened to pull the post if the blogger didn't do exactly what they wanted. It's a damn shame, but this is business and you gotta take the good with the bad.

 

How to Get Started Working With Brands 

There's a chicken-and-egg conundrum that seems to happen when you're dipping your toes into the sponsored post pool — you want to work with brands and open up your site to sponsored posts, but there aren't any brands banging down your door to work with you . . . yet. 

Great news — there's a way to get your feet wet before you try working with the big boys, and all it takes is a bit of effort, drive, and determination on your end. 

Here's what you do:

Work with local businesses that you already know and love in exchange for services. 

I preach a lot about getting paid what you're worth in order to actually make a living on the work that you're doing (and I totally, 100% stand by that) but for those who have never created a sponsored post before, there are benefits to going pro-bono first. 

  1. You'll gain experience — Not only will you get real life experience in making sponsored post deals (pitching, negotiating, setting and meeting deadlines, reporting back on your results, and more), but you'll also gain the confidence you need to make deals with much larger brands in the future.
  2. You'll work out the kinks in your process — If there's a hiccup in your process, these early sponsored posts will find them. And honestly, it's better to work them out now, so that when a brand is shelling out $500 for a sponsored post, your process will be SEAMLESS. 
  3. You'll get some great testimonials and social proof — One of the reasons that brands price so low to start is because there's no proof that you CAN produce a sponsored post worth investing real dollars in. After you've got some work under your belt, you can create case studies of your past work (who your client was, what their goals were, how you helped them achieve those goals, and results from your sponsored post), and set minds at ease. Plus, you'll be seen as a real professional that they'd be more than happy to work with. 
  4. You already know and love the business so it'll be easy to create content and get from A to Z — Whether it's your favorite hair or nail salon, a wine shop, restaurant, or dog sitting service, when you love something you want to tell everyone about it, so coming up with some ideas on sponsored posts should be a breeze. 

Bottom line? You've got to crawl before you can run. And if you're looking at your blog as a business, you'll see these first few exchanges as an opportunity to gain the skills required to work with much larger brands in a professional way in the future. 

However, you might be wondering why any of your worldwide readers would care about a local business post on your blog. 

I'm glad you asked! 

The sponsored post does not have to focus on the business itself. In fact, it shouldn't. You want to create a post that anyone, from anywhere, could read and share. And, by the way, this is exactly how you should look at all sponsored posts from here on out. 

Let's say you've got a beauty blog and your favorite hair salon has agreed to do a sponsored post in exchange for your next cut and color. You could position your stylist as an expert, interview him or her, and create a post about: 

  • Color maintenance tips you didn't know about 
  • How to find the right color for your skin tone 
  • An "encyclopedia" post of the different types of cuts (bob, lob, a-line, etc.) 
  • Questions your readers have about hair cuts, color, styling, or hair care. 
  • A tutorial of a cool style. Just grab your camera and someone who knows how to hold a camera. 

Your sponsored post should be totally relevant to your audience, but showing the salon and stylist some love via links back to their site (using no follow!), credits, and appropriate messaging they'd like to convey. 

This is the key to amazing sponsored content that gets shared: making it super relevant to everyone, and integrating your brand partner into the post in an authentic way. 

 

Today's Action


If you haven't checked out the free chapters from yesterday, please do so. The remainder of the week will come with some sweet bonuses that will turn you into a sponsored post pro in no time!