While 10 years ago, no one started a YouTube channel or blog with the intention to make money from it (Instagram didn’t even exist), in 2019 young people now say that their preferred career isn’t a pop star or footballer: it is to be a YouTuber or blogger.
When I started my blog ‘The Residents’ in 2012, and then re-launched it in 2015, I primarily did so to try and create a place where I could go, outside of work, and enjoy making something of value for people around me in my community, and to express myself. I’d know about blogs since I was in high school, but it always felt quite cringe. I’d never started a blog because let’s be real - I didn’t need another reason to be weirder. It was only when I was 22 I had the courage to give it a go.
But my bravery didn’t last long. Who was I to publish myself online? Who cared what I thought?? So I had a 3 year ‘on-off’ break, leaving the blog to stew: although Instagram had just arrived in 2012, blogging and putting yourself out online definitely felt like it was very dorky and uncool still.
Four years later, that’s all changed! Blogging, Instagrammers and YouTubers are the new mentors, trend setters and it-girls - and even I (as a late millennial) am more likely to know people who are primarily internet famous than the latest celebrity on television. We listen to their conversations on podcasts, read what they’re up to and suggested travel tips via blog posts and shop their recommendations on Instagram. While traditional celebrity endorsements are on the decline, the new generation of online thought leaders are gaining attention.
With this shift, advertising has altered at a rapid pace - and in no area more than online marketing. In the last 5 years a new category of ads emerged known as ‘influencer marketing’.
Although I am just a tiny grain of sand on the beach of internet commerce, I do work with businesses and have done so for two years. So how and why did I start to ask to be paid for my blog work?
While I’ve always been a creative soul, I’ve also had my head screwed on in reality most of my life. At 17 I decided to study law, art history and english at University (I later switched to Italian). Despite my passion for painting and creative writing (I’d won awards for these at school), I sensed that there were not very many jobs for authors and artists. I knew that I liked ‘nice things’ and having a secure home because it was what I’d grown up with (I still do). Being a writer isn’t, a career path per se - it is an identity because you can’t not do it. There is no guarantee of success. You might have multiple books written before one gets published. Even then it may not sell. I understood that you can’t expect your creativity to support your life; so as Elizabeth Gilbert has said of directly speaking to her creativity “I will work to support us both.”
With this pragmatic stance, at age 23, I had completed my degree and was working in my new job as a first year banking lawyer at a big scary law firm. It was around the time that ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran (2012) and ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg were published (2013). I was inspired by what I was reading about a new wave of feminism.
While I didn’t entirely love my job as a banking lawyer, I made the connection between actively learning about business, money and law to being a feminist. Too often as a young girl I’d assumed that someone else would take care of all these things for me, while I’d be a famous author and live in a creative bubble. Now I started to see that there was real empowerment in taking control over my own knowledge and that the skills I was learning in the office could serve me in other areas of my life. I started to understand while working here that those who controlled the purse strings, like the banks, were the ones who called the shots in business and in life. Negotiating, writing a good email, knowing how to read a contract and being savvy commercially aren’t just things some are born good at: you learn them. The more you know, the more you can be in the drivers seat of your life, your business and work. Those who can understand what goes on behind the curtain, all the pulleys and levers of finance, and are bold enough to ask for money to grow the ones with power.
When I began blogging in late 2015 I quickly understood that it wasn’t a free hobby. It required time, and more recently money. Facebook would only show your content to a certain section of the population unless you ‘boosted’ it, which meant paying out of my own rather meagre purse.
I took monetising my blog as a personal challenge regarding my own personal smarts. In year 1, I focused on building relationships, a body of content and a reputation. In year two, I was ready. But first I needed to understand what I would and I wouldn’t do.
Not much has changed in terms of what I consider before I take on a paid post since the early days, so it pays to explain what I consider when I am approached by a business to work with them. There are three key questions that I ask myself:
1. Do I feel a spark or a personal connection when I read this proposal?
I need to feel a spark of excitement when I take on a piece of work, whether paid or not. If someone pitches to me, I want to be feeling a twitch in my fingers, or be nodding along. Sometimes I need to train myself to read all of the email or click all of the links before I agree to cover it. I’ve had times I’ve said yes too quickly without realising the work it would entail or other times I’ve initially thought “Meh!” only to read more carefully and find out that it actually was interesting and featured someone I admire. In my experience, there usually needs to be two to three points of overlapping interest for me. One often isn’t enough.
For instance, I recently was asked whether I’d like to interview Amanda Miller about her new film ‘Celia’. My Dad was talking to me about Celia Lashie recently and also Amanda Miller is someone I admire because she is an excellent presenter. Also, I’d met Nikita, the young woman helping Amanda to promote the film because she’s interviewed me for her journalism project. Therefore, I decided that I would love to be involved and interview Amanda Miller for The Residents and to go and watch a preview of the film. This is all unpaid but it has importance for the community (Celia Lashie was a great thought leader for New Zealand families and a feminist).
I also like for someone contacting me to take a personalised approach to their email to me, and prefer that the content that they’d like me to cover hasn’t been too widely exposed so that I still feel that it provides value to my readers.
2. Is this something I like and would buy myself with my own money?
I need to make sure I actually like the product. Otherwise, it just won’t work. I’ve turned down teeth whitening, gym memberships, charcoal toothpaste, snacks, vitamins, alcohol, internet gadgets, digital envelopes and plenty more just because it would feel forced if I tried to talk about something which I didn’t really feel interested in and wouldn’t buy.
3. Does the business and what they want me to write about or promote fit into my four core values?
I have four value which have provided a test for me on whether I should take on a project since I started my blog and social media channels. These are:
World-class artisanal brands - for instance, Allbirds (a New Zealand and San Fransisco based shoe brand are making merino wool shoes. There is an aspect of being artisanal because they’re using natural fabrics and making something which has a small-scale feel. However, they’re also world-class because their shoe is the most comfortable in the world!)
Local collaborative communities - for instance, Cuba Dupa (this festival brings together the people of Wellington to celebrate their creativity and meet each other, face to face, on the streets of Cuba Street. It is a true community gathering where people connect in an authentic way).
Honest stories - I ask myself often ‘Can I tell a story here which is sincere for me, which others can relate to, yet links to the product or brand?’. For instance, I’ve had a love-affair with the myth of the French woman since I was a young girl, added to reading by books like ‘How to be Parisian wherever you are’ and ‘French woman don’t get fat’ (I also love Charlotte Gainsbourg). When I discovered Violette_FR, I connected to her content, and then when she produced a collection with Estee Lauder, I used it as an opportunity to reflect on why as a New Zealand girl, living on the other side of the world, the francophile aesthetic made me feel so inspired, breaking down whether it was because it was so far away, or if it was because I needed a place to take inspiration from when I’d lived in Wellington almost all my life).
Not taking yourself too seriously - sometimes, it really is about breaking down the barriers. Whenever I interview someone, I allow us to talk freely and frankly, and don’t pretend to be a traditional media journalist. Our talks often have a humour, warmth and intimacy which is special. I also love to show off colour, joy and a little madness in my photos online and realise that I am just a lucky doggedly determined woman who wants to make friends wherever I go. I hate the term influencer, so you’ll never hear me refer to myself as one. In the same way that Jo Malone refers to herself in her autobiography ‘My Story’ as a shopkeeper, I prefer to think of myself as a humble blogger or simply a writer. I just want to connect people to a good read they can sneak off to enjoy on the loo which will only take 10 minutes and hopefully might make their day a bit brighter.
If not, can I make it fit into my core values in a way which feels genuine to me, and will be authentic for my readers. How can I add value to the business with my own creativity?
If it doesn’t pass the test, I’ll take a look over it again and see if I can counter pitch an angle which feels more genuine. This can often fire my creativity and result in some surprising work. For instance, I walked all over Wellington looking for symbols of love as part of a blog post for a jewellery company that wanted to work together.
Finally, it makes a big difference if the person on the other end wanting to work with me is realistic about what I will do (i.e. They don’t see me as a free advertising billboard). I want people to come to work with me because they like my spirit as portrayed in my writing, photos and videos. I don’t like to be seen as a cheap or free alternative, especially if a business has specific hashtags they want me to include, expect a significant amount of content or think I should try something over a period of time. Dudes, if you me to do that much stuff for you, time to pony up? You wouldn’t ask your plumber to fix your sink for ‘the exposure’. At this stage it has taken me 3 years of working my butt off for free to build an amazing audience: it would cost you thousands in facebook ads, photographers, copywriters and stylists to emulate what I am doing commercially - so don’t try and short change me. Also, I really do feel like blogs are more valuable than Instagram posts because they have a much longer life online than an Instagram post does (it usually lasts bout one to three days whereas a blog post can last decades online via SEO).
I prefer to not take offers on and write for nothing most of the time now, because I need to keep that time and energy free to dedicate to projects I actually want to focus on properly, like my interviews and think-pieces.
As a result, I prefer to work with fewer businesses, but work over a longer period of time. For instance, I loved working with KiwiRail on my Interislander series, showing how you could make the most of a long weekend cruising on the Interislander to Nelson, Picton and the Abel Tasman. That project required me to produce three blog posts, three vlogs, and dozens of Instagram posts and Facebook posts. They arranged great activities and meals, which photographed well, and made for amazing content. I also had an seriously excellent person as my contact who I am now good friends with.
I also love doing activities which stretch my skill set: for instance, public speaking, consulting or writing for other publications. Really, it’s all about trying to make magic together.
Once we have agreed to work together, I do the following:
Come up with a creative concept which is linked across my blog and social media platforms.
Explain which platforms fit best for the client and why based on the kind of content they want to create and the kind of story they want to convey.
Estimate the amount of content that they need (i.e. 1 blog post, two Instagram posts and one facebook post).
Estimate when we can fit it into my schedule to publish the posts, across a timeframe
Provide a quote for my work.
Go on any trips, travel or undertake any experience to base my photos and writing on (i.e. a day trip to Boomrock). This is the fun bit, but usually I also need to be on alert for photo opportunities and be working on-the-go by posting Instagram Stories during the day.
Take photos using my DSLR Cannon Camera, notes and other information required to compose content.
Draft my blog post, edit it and include links.
Edit my photos on Adobe Lightroom.
Edit my videos (I might use a video editor for this if I know it has a tight timeframe).
Mock up a final blog post and draft Instagram and Facebook captions for review.
Send content to the contact for review.
Receive any feedback and make changes to the content to make sure that it is on message for the brand.
Send the content back for approval by the client.
Schedule the content to be posted.
Pre-plan where the content will be posted on Instagram so it looks good in my feed.
Mark it ‘AD’ in the title if it is a blog post or #AD if it is an Instagram, or use the paid partnership tool on Facebook (a very important step - see the Advertising Standards Authority Guidelines - I’m still a legal eagle).
Post the content.
Add any information into the description box on YouTube and create Thumbnails using Canva.
Share the content on my social media channels.
Make any final edits that the client may comment on once the content is live.
Reply to any comments from my lovely audience.
Boost or promote the content on social media.
Report back on how the posts performed.
That is more or less a step-by-step of all the work involved in a paid promotional post. Yes, I love it but it is a huge amount of effort which has to fit in on top of my normal 8:30 - 5:30pm Monday - Friday job working in Policy.
I am incredibly proud of my work with brands and can say I’ve had good revenue this year. Much of it has gone right back into the blog (almost all of it) but it’s something I know I did all by myself. I think you should know how much I earn because I always wondered how people managed to create a side-hustle which paid and I hope that many of you can do the same with your passion. You just need to be brave and to work really really hard for a really really long time at something you love and then get the balls out and ask to be paid for your work. It isn’t about the money, but sometimes it is also about the money - and as a female working in the financial markets I want to stress to you that that is okay. I feel it is important for women to talk to each about money MUCH MORE. We need to bust the myth that I had as a little girl that ‘someone else’ would take care of all that stuff.
You’ve got this. I promise. And if you’re a brand who is interested in working with me in 2019, let’s talk. I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say.
If you have any questions about this blog post, or about being a multi-hyphenate like I am, please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.