When I announced in 2013 that I was to become a full-time blogger, my friends’ and family’s first reaction was “Awesome!” and the second – inevitable – one was: “How are you going to make money?”. So I have, through sheer willpower and stubborn determination, been figuring that out for 4 years. I then decided to write about that so that other would-be brave souls, wanting to make their mark in the digital world, won’t have to. “How do you start to get paid for blog posts?” I get that a lot. The answer is simple really: build it, and they will come. Kind of.
Here’s my step-by-step for building that credibility, getting noticed, and getting paid.
Create the content first to create credibility
I will always remember my first sponsored post. It was a post for Dettol in which I created the Dettol Duck. It wasn’t really a DIY post, it was supposed to be just a product review, but that didn’t stop me! 3.5 years later, my kids STILL love Dettol Duck. My photography wasn’t great, but the post was authentic and the client was happy. And it put money in the bank! You can see from the images that this was still when my blog was called Playing House – the rebrand happened about 5 months later. I have deleted many of the old posts that I initially wrote for my first blog, but this one is special to me because it reminds me that perseverance paid off.
What you can’t see though, is that before Dettol Duck happened, I had also created around 25 posts for various other brands without being compensated. What that did, was create a portfolio of work that PR companies and other brands were able to look through to get an idea of my style. You won’t go to an interview without a portfolio or a CV, and that is exactly what your blog is. It’s your body of work, so build it.
In most cases, PR companies are contracted to deal with bloggers. I have spoken with the marketing managers of brands who wouldn’t even give me time to finish my pitch and then got long-term sponsorships from that same brand through a PR company. So how do the PR companies know about you? A good friend in PR told me, if you’re worth knowing, the PR companies will know about you. But that shouldn’t stop you from introducing yourself.
In 2015 I found a list of PR companies in the country and contacted them 1 by 1. Seriously. I don’t remember where I got the list, but here is a similar one. I copied the file into excel and made notes as I went. Even if a company didn’t seem to be relevant, I contacted them anyway because you never know who their clients are. A prime example: Bosch was a huge sponsor for Homeology when we wrote our book, and their PR company is a specialist in the mining industry or something. So if I though that wasn’t relevant, we wouldn’t have had that sponsorship.
1 by 1, I sent out emails to each of these companies, introducing myself and attaching my rate card. At that stage, my traffic was really little, maybe only a few thousand page views per month. But I put myself out there anyway. I spent a couple of weeks and contacted around 800 companies. The response rate was 3%, so I only heard back from 24 companies. But that meant that I was now on the radar of 24 companies that didn’t know I existed before. It’s also important to know that those replies didn’t mean I got work from those companies – not immediately anyway. They just replied, thanking me for my email and saying that they will contact me should something come up. Even though it’s now more than 2 years later, it’s too soon to say how much work came from it – I am still being contacted by PR companies every week.
Unashamed Self Promotion: a stealth tactic
I know, this doesn’t come naturally to most people. But if you’re a blogger and you work for yourself, no-one else is going to do that for you.
I’ve created a technique called brand shadowing and I do this regularly with big brands that I love and admire. I start to create a content series for them out of my own, including their brand links as if it were a sponsored post. Then when I share it on social media, I tag them. They usually interact and share it with their followers as well, so if anything you’ll get nice traffic from it. The interesting thing about this tactic is that it hardly ever works in the way you might expect. That brand is getting promoted, beautiful and engaging content for free, so why would they now all of a sudden start to pay you for it? But by constantly tagging a brand in a series of posts, you are alerting their competitors and adjacent niches to your presence. They see what you’re doing for Brand A, and they definitely want that as well. See how that works? Clever, isn’t it? This is a long-term tactic, so make sure that you really love the brand you are shadowing and that you’ll be able to keep it up for a while. And if you later lose interest and you stop with the content flow, they might even contact you and offer to pay to keep it up 😉
I still sometimes do posts for product only. But ultimately, product doesn’t pay my bills and when I calculate the hours that I spend on an unpaid promotion, it actually costs me a fortune in writing and marketing time. In the beginning, however, you should do anything to work up to that first paid-for post.
If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
This is true of blogs as well. In the sea of content that is the internet, if people don’t know about your blog, then what you write on it won’t matter. So do whatever you have to do to get yourself out there.
Feature image background from Shutterstock