31 August 2015

I sold my blog for a bar of chocolate. Blogging and monetisation.

Bar of chocolate. Text: I sold my blog for a bar of chocolate.

Five years ago I sold my blog for a bar of chocolate.

I don't enjoy cheap chocolate. Yet I gave up space on my blog to advertise cheap chocolate for $110. I'd sold myself short. As I've furthered myself as a blogger, I regret it.

When I was approached by Nuffnang to write about chocolate for payment, I thought I'd made it as a blogger. Instead it left me empty. I had to include scripted-wording in my post. I don't really like chocolate so I wasn't a convincing salesperson. Anonymous (it's ALWAYS anonymous!) commented: "sellout. I do normally love your posts though." Back then, my metaphorical skin was really thin, so I might have cried! And a reader received $50 worth of chocolate - not the greatest prize in the world!

Back then, new to the commercialised blogging world but not new to blogging, I wanted to work with brands. Everyone was doing it. I wanted to have that type of success and exposure they were having. I wanted to be a part of the in-crowd and make some money. I tried seeking advertising spots - nadda.

No brand wanted to work with a chronic illness blogger. I wasn't pretty enough or cool enough or commercial enough. And I'm not saying that to fish for compliments - but a brand does want a certain look to sell a product. But not even Vaseline wanted to sponsor me - and hell, their product keeps me alive. Back then, that rejection hurt.

I kept blogging - focusing on my writing, and slowly getting published elsewhere. Being published on a national (or international) website is a far more satisfying than being paid to write a sponsored post. The readership is loyal and vast, and I can explore interesting and important issues. And it's a way to make a little play money. I've won some awards and brought a community of people with my skin condition together

Working with brands is not my pinnacle of success. It might be yours, and that's completely ok. But I'd never want to let working with brands stand in the way of my writing and storytelling. I'd rather make money away from my blog.

My blog is primarily about writing. I don't want to inundate my blog with sponsored and gifted posts. But I would love to occasionally be rewarded (and compensated) for my time, knowledge and influence. I do the occasional sponsored post (like, two a year!) and have worked to promote a few brands that align with my values. I've been flown to Canberra for the amazing Human Brochure tour, and test drove a car and was paid to write a sponsored post for Ford as a part of the Kidspot Voices alumni.

I've got a relationship with St Frock - they give me lovely clothes and I post photos of me wearing them. I do this because I love fashion and I also want to ensure there's appearance diversity in fashion. I love the St Frock success story, and was friends with its founder Sandradee before our professional relationship.

I also recently pitched myself to Olympus, just before the Australian Ichthyosis Meet. I wanted to promote positive body image and appearance diversity on social media, and I wanted participants at the meet to feel good about themselves when they see themselves in photos. So I wrote to Olympus and told them my vision. They gave me an awesome camera and also one to give away to a participant at the meet. The winner was a little boy with Ichthyosis. He loves the camera! And I also sourced a heap of goodies to give away to guests at the Australian Ichthyosis meet- many brands supported the meet. As I said in an interview I did for Problogger, I leveraged with brands for social good.

When I was at Problogger, I listened to Heather Armstrong (Dooce) and Kayte Murphy (Mrs Woog) discuss personal blogging and monetisation. Their opinions differed greatly - and perhaps that is because of the current state of the Australian blogging scene compared to the maturity of the American scene. I expect for bloggers who are starting out with the view to make money, or even just to have their writing noticed, their discussion would have been a little depressing to hear.

Heather Armstrong, Lauren Dubois and Kayte Murphy discuss personal blogging at Problogger

Both women started blogs for personal reasons, and after blogging for a few years, they realised they could monetise. Kayte loves writing sponsored posts (which are, surprisingly, hard to come by), finding them a good challenge. (And I think she does them well, incorporating a story into them and not sounding artificial.) They both believe the future of storytelling is via mobile and YouTube.

Heather and Kayte both spoke about the importance of getting paid for advertised content. "Free isn't going to pay the electricity bills", Heather said. Not being paid "makes it hard for all bloggers to make money", she continued. Kayte believes it's important for bloggers to make their own choices in deciding to work for free or not: "I think you're all big people and can decide for yourselves about what to do".

In recent years, Heather didn't want to put her children's faces on her sponsored posts. And that was one reason she gave up blogging. She also felt burnt out because she cannot celebrate content creation to anyone as a personal blogger. "I can't sell anyone but me."

"My earning potential is not a component of my happiness...a blog post is my heart and I had to stop giving it away", she told us.

The two discussed how the idea of earning money has changed. In 2015 it's easier for newer bloggers, but a few years ago, it was taboo. Kayte mentioned how she and other bloggers were heavily criticised for sponsored posts early on. But she maintains integrity in the products she promotes: "I would never spruik something I don't love". "If monetising is something him want to do, just own it", Kayte said.

Sadly, Heather believes storytelling has disappeared from personal blogging. "There's no joy in writing sponsored content anymore." It's craft and food blogging that have earning potential now, because of the blogger's ability to delegate content (and I suspect, the lack of personal division in posts).

Many of Heather's blogging friends are disillusioned with blogging now. "I don't know a single one of us bloggers who are happy doing this anymore. It's not why we started, the joy has gone."

Heather recognises the influence bloggers have: "I have a responsibility to the world and have to use this responsibility wisely. It's important to use this power for good."

Similar to the impact criticism has had on Heather, Kayte is affected by the trolls. She's become more anxious and has to focus on self care. She believes we tend to focus on one negative comment and forget the 50 positive ones - but emphatically said the good people far outweigh the bad.

I came away from their talk feeling conflicted. Two top bloggers see sponsored content very differently. One has given up due to the pressure of sponsored content, and one really enjoys it. What does it mean for bloggers who love to write? So many questions. I really liked Robyna's post about the talk, asking whether personal blogging is dead.

Hearing bloggers talk about Their success (and failures) working with brands is a little intimidating. Maybe it's because of the comparison thief? I have been scared to pitch myself to brands because I'm not a mainstream blogger. I write about facial difference and disability - which isn't considered glamorous to brands. But I persevered, writing consistently and finding brands that align with my lifestyle and values. I've leveraged working with brands for social good. I have also built a wonderful, reciprocating community that I love and am so thankful for! I encourage other bloggers to believe in themselves if they want to work with brands. Give it a go - who knows where it could lead!

And after writing a really lengthy post (sorry!) with lots of thoughts about personal blogging, storytelling and brand relationships, here's what I think:

Blog for the love of it, blog for money or for both.

Don't get caught up in the hype of sponsored posts. Your self-worth is not dependent on whether you're a brand ambassador.

Know your worth when accepting a sponsored post. My thoughts about writing for exposure alone have changed over the years. I once said I will write for free for exposure, but now I won't write for free, especially if there is a budget for advertising or contributors. I really won't. And I think that sometimes, those who say they will write for free might be in a place of privilege.

Say no. If a product doesn't align with your lifestyle, you don't have to take it. Work with brands that for work for your lifestyle - brands that you already use.

Do sponsored posts with integrity.

Leverage your relationships with brands for social good.

Writing sponsored content is really hard. It's especially hard when you've only got yourself to sell. 

Diversify your income streams. Don't do too many sponsored posts. Make money elsewhere, off your blog where you can.

Don't lose your voice. Keep writing. Continue to tell those stories. We're all finding our way and always have the freedom to reinvent ourselves.

What do you think? How has personal blogging changed for you? Do you do sponsored content? Do you like cheap chocolate?

 

 

36 comments:

  1. This is a great post! I've done some sponsored posts in the past I'm not proud of. I've also done some standard posts I'm not proud of in the name of "having content". I think readers can smell authenticity, or a lack thereof, a mile away.

    You're an amazing writer and speaker. To my mind your way forward is more of a Kerri Sackville model - writing a book and public speaking engagements. Running workshops and giving your advice to others.

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    1. Thank you so much T! Writing a book is definitely on my list!

      And your comment reminded me that I've written some standard posts I'm not proud of too.

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  2. Yes to all all forms of chocolate!

    Seriously though, as a small personal blogger, I definitely see that there is a lot of pressure on anyone trying to grow their blog and feature products and services that they love, to do it for free. I think Kayte is spot on though, everyone will find their own sweet spot. There's enough room for us all, and me accepting a giant pack of scented candles to write about my favourite homewares brand without any other form of payment won't break the internet, or lower anyone elses' earning capacity.

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    1. There is enough room for everyone! And I think there can be a little outrage amongst bloggers if a blogger accepts a product instead of cash for payment. I've had such a great relationship with St Frock that I've not had to buy many clothes this year - and that's saved me money! Thank you for your comment!

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  3. Cheap chocolate - no! Lindt - I wouldn't refuse! Lol! But I also don't think they'd be offering sponsored posts to a beauty blogger!

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    1. I've heard Beauty Bloggers get product rather than payment - why is this?

      And yes to expensive chocolate!

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  4. I think it's a balance, especially if your blog is personal. My blog is a bit of both, personal and business but at the core it's about informing and empowering. Sometimes that's through words, sometimes through product. I feel extremely grateful to have worked with awesome brands, I've also said no to quite a few too. Guess what?...saying 'no' isn't the end of the world. In fact it helps to define what and who I'm really about. I wouldn't sell out for cheap chocolate, but there's 2 great chocolate brands (Pana and Haighs) that I would flip for in a second 😀

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    1. Pana is the best!

      I saw Pip talk about creativity the other week at the writers festival. She said say no, and say yes. It's important to be choosy - and even to make mistakes - so we can come to learn who we are.

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  5. Great post Carly, it's a fraught topic. I guess you just need to do what sits right with you. And hindsight is a good teacher to. Your experience with the chocolate taught you a little bit more about where you stand on it all. I agree with you that diversified incomes streams are the way to go, but I guess when I started blogging it was never to make money, but rather to practise my writing without the constraints of an editor or specific publication. That alone is enough for me to keep blogging. But finding that balance is hard at first. You've definitely provided food for thought.

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  6. Oh I love chocolate. Could have written that post with passion and joy!
    I agree with Kayte - everyone is a grown up and can make their own decisions on this. There is no right way.
    It isn't "better" to write for national (or international) publications, unless that's your personal benchmark/goal.
    It isn't "better" for someone to write sponsored content either. Neither is better or lesser. That's comparison.
    To me, if someone has any talent as a writer and a good dose of thoughtfulness about what they want - not what others are doing, they'll be able to choose what they do and write it with their head held high.
    As for the idea that storytelling is dead, I think that is simply not true. I read fabulous stories on personal blogs all the time. Maybe Dooce should broaden her reading?
    Personal blogging is just that, PERSONAL. We all learn as we go, and I love how many different blogs there are out there. Keep writing bloggers!!

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  7. The Cadbury Marvelous creations campaign was terrible the whole way through, so many people saying through gritted teeth that they liked the hideously sweetened monstrosities.....

    Yes, I do sponsored/gifted content, but I try to stick we my own voice

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    1. The chocolate was terrible!

      It is so important to keep your own voice through sponsored content. I think Mrs Woog does that really well. Thanks for your comment Fiona

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  8. I've written for chocolate before, even thought at the time I didn't know I would get chocolate, I was simply giving away a huge hamper of Lindt. In the end, I received one myself. It was the best payment ever, especially as it included a Myer gift card.

    Personally, I love writing sponsored posts, but not many come my way, because who wants to pay a blogger who writes about depression and anxiety? My readership isn't very big either. Right now my blog isn't monetised - I make a living from my business, which is a separate entity.

    And personal blogging defnitely isn't dead. We all love other people's stories and as long as we keep telling them, people will keep reading them.

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    1. Hey Dorothy great to see your comment! There's this stigma around chronic illness and depression it seems - but it shouldn't be that way. I'm so glad you've forged your own path! And yes, Lindt chocolate is one that I enjoy!

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  9. I dislike reading sponsored posts immensely...way back i came across two of my fave crafty blogs who starting posting about the wonders of a certain car and the other about a certain department store. It made me angry to be advertised to particularly that the products had nothing to do with their blog. I did let one know that that was disappointing (no i wasn't anonymous) cos if i wanted ads i could turn on the tv. That's not why i read their blogs.

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    1. Yes it's always weird when it's not a lifestyle fit, isn't it? I recall seeing a blog (a crafty one I think) that was 2/3 ads and 1/3 actual blog content and that disappointed me! Thank you for being honest

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  10. I could never sell myself - or more importantly, my writing - short. Ever. It might sound wanky, but I'm more of a writer, not a blogger, in that I write for literary journals and have been widely published for my creative writing. I decide long ego that I'm not built to be a brand ambassador and that's my personal choice. I find many brands that bloggers spruce a little cringeworthy almost to the point of grovelling, especially when it doesn't match their voice. There is no passion; no spark. I believe that it mitigates why people choose to blog in the first place. For me, it gets down to how much you value your self-worth and authenticity.

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    1. I so agree! It's so tough not to follow the crowd early on, and to know your purpose and self worth. I don't like seeing blogs that are taken over by ads. Well done on being true to you and beating a beautiful writer x

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    2. I could never sell myself - or more importantly, my writing - short. Ever. It might sound wanky, but I'm more of a writer, not a blogger, in that I write for literary journals and have been widely published for my creative writing. I decided long ago that I'm not built to be a brand ambassador and that's my personal choice. I find many brands that bloggers spruik a little cringeworthy almost to the point of grovelling, especially when it doesn't match their voice. There is no passion; no spark. I believe that it mitigates why people choose to blog in the first place. For me, it gets down to how much you value your self-worth and authenticity.

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  11. I love chocolate and if I had Cadbury's knocking on my door I may find it hard to say no because I love it! Having said that, I think you've brought up some great points and a great summary of what was spoken at Problogger. Every decision for each blogger is different and I have learned that there are different motivations for working with brands and pr companies. I do do sponsored posts and I probably do 1 every week or so. My decision about doing this is at present it's the only income stream to my blog right now and the one I can handle while I mother 3 little girls, but I have no doubt it will change eventually once I work out exactly where else I can earn income. I try to do my sponsored content justice by using my knowledge as a a plumber and in property to make the posts useful to readers. I've had good feedback recently from readers telling me they didn't realise it was a sponsored post, despite it saying so at the top of the post.
    I think as bloggers we learn along the way. Your first advertisement for chocolate may feel like a mistake, but take it as a learning exercise. You are so well liked and known for your heart Carly. We do the best we can when it comes to deciding what we will and won't work for. And what is with Vaseline not wanting to work with you? That is CRAZY! Keep doing what you do Carly and thank you for this post. xx

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  12. Great post Carly. I've done a grand total of two sponsored posts. I've got a huge list of boxes brands need to tick, the first being that I use their product anyway. But I fully acknowledge that I'm in the position of privilege you briefly mention. x

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  13. Hey Carly, I've already left a comment on the blog, but have just had another thought on this topic - I was chatting with someone recently about how people (particularly new bloggers) sometimes don't seem to have much confidence in themselves, in their own ideas and following their own path.
    Maybe this feeds into how people see the ways to make money from blogging in such a narrow manner?
    It makes me a bit loco because there's just nothing better than walking your own path, yet we strive after formulas and replicating someone else's methodologies.
    So in some ways entitling a session "how to monetise (stupid non-word) a personal blog" could be a set up for disappointment because there isn't a way that will fit for everyone. There just isn't. People may well have expected to hear step 1, 2, 3 and shazam you're making money. That's an unreasonable expectation.
    The whole thing makes me roll my eyes, and want to shout JUST BE YOURSELF! into the void.
    What I reckon we need more than how to do things sessions or books or blogs is how to BE who we are and stand tall in that.
    Like Liz Gilbert says, onwards.

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    1. Annette that is such a great comment!

      Yes! Being ourselves is most important.
      There are so many 'rules' and perhaps that means people have forgotten how to do that because they follow the crowd. Thank you.

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  14. As a chocoholic I would go nuts if some company offered me choc! It would be gone in minutes!
    As a parenting blogger and large family mummy, there are plenty of opportunities that come my way. There are so many experiences within a family that reach companies and align. This is something that has come to my blog but I never looked for it. I am happy to do sponsored content. For every post I accept, others were rejected because of a poor fit. I read the sponsored content of other bloggers. If I am honest, I prefer blogs that aren't personal as oversharing makes me cringe. I have no problem with what other bloggers are doing. Each to his own. Bring on the chocolate!

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  15. Great post, Carly. I have just written up the findings for my PhD on blogging motivations. Money certainly came into it for some bloggers (but was not the big motivator). Community and connection, helping people, therapy, having a voice and improving skills were the other motivations I found...Does that sound right to you?
    Now I am trying to make some sense of all the findings on motivation and other areas. Your comments certainly resonate. Thanks for your continued excellent writing (and distraction from my own writing ;))

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  16. On my first blog, I used to write posts about products. Not sponsored posts, per se. They were a lot of work and to be honest, I don't think many people read them. Personally, I stopped reading blogs with a lot of sponsored posts content. I agree with what you wrote about Mrs Woog's sponsored posts: she writes them like a story and it's still entertaining. Engaging a reader when you're writing about a product is not something that everyone is able to do well. Mrs Woog is in a league of her own there.

    I recently wrote a post about how blogging for money changed bloggers around the time I was writing my old blog. It became more about what products/companies each blogger could secure, what event they were invited to etc rather than the writing. It's a shame, because I don't know many bloggers who start up a blog with the clear intention of making money from it from the get go. Most just want to write. That's what I do on my new blog: just write. I went back to basics. No, the kids don't get free Lego anymore, but I also don't feel pressured to be churning out content to secure readers to up my stats, and therefore I'm writing stuff I'm proud of. It's all about the writing for me now. No pressure - when I feel like it. As I said in my post: If you want to just write, then write. Don't let what others are doing influence you. Great post, hon. xox

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    1. In some of the blogger groups I belong to, people are wanting to make money from the outset - asking about media kits and stats and wondering how to get more page views and FB likes after blogging for three weeks. I fear that kind of 'get rich quick' yearning is dangerous. They must think blogging is easy and anyone can make money.

      I love that you are getting back to basics - isn't writing just wonderful? I am off to read that post of yours soon. Thank you x

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  17. You had me at "I sold my blog for a bar of chocolate" LOL. Interesting read, especially for those of us that didn't make it to PBEvent this year. Thanks Carly!

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  18. I've stopped doing sponsored posts for now, but that's not to say I wouldn't do them in the future. I do enjoy them if it's the right fit! I find I need to pause every now and then and reassess why I'm blogging and make sure it doesn't become a chore. I've found that making money from writing off my blog is much more enjoyable and financially viable than trying to turn my blog into a media outlet - which is essentially what we do when we monetise. It's my home on the internet, not my primary (or even secondary!) income source.

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    1. Yes, me too! Writing for publication and being paid is much more fun than writing sponsored posts for me!

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  19. Thanks for bringing a slice of PB Event to those of us who didn't make it there this year! I read this with much interest as I've also been thinking about the future of blogging. On the one hand I think there are hundreds and thousands of us who would always blog even without being paid a cent, I also think that a lot of the time it's got so intense that there should be payment. I love writing and helping other women over 50 feel good about themselves and look good, and I would always want to do that ... but I also feel compelled to earn something to pay my bloggie fees and to justify the amount of time I spend at my computer.

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    1. Yes, it is a tricky balance to write and feel like you should earn something for it. Perhaps you can make an ebook for paid download, or create a short course for women over 50?

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  20. Great post Carly. I'm pretty new to the whole blogging world but I can already see how easy it would be to get swept up in it all...the most important thing I have learnt so far was from Pip Lincolne (who I know you love too) who taught me the importance of knowing my why? Now for everything I do, before I hit publish on a post or say yes to an offer/collaboration I check back in with my 'why'. If it isn't serving the reason why I blog then I say no and for someone who never says no this has been very hard!! For some people their why will be 'because I want to work with brands and make money' and that's ok but if your 'why' is because you want to help people and you find yourself writing a post about dishwashing liquid or alcohol for example then you really need to question it. Stick to your why and you'll be staying true to yourself!

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  21. Great read Carly. I too felt conflicted after listening to this session at PB Event. Being someone who started for the love of it and now moving into a bit of sponsored posts it's a lot of work and stress. I want to do my best work, add value and then hope I get a great response which doesn't alway happen as people tend to switch off. It's hard work.

    I also found it interesting as I'm trying to do more storytelling and personal blogging so it was a bit of a thump in the chest to listen to that sessions however I've decided to take what Heather said with a grain of salt. I will carry on doing what I love, in a way that is enjoyable for me. It's all about balance.

    Oh and I'm a bit of chocolate snob I couldn't eat cheap chocolate. Too waxy!

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