How to…Know When it’s Right to Take on Blog Sponsors

June 21, 2010

Credit: Emma Case Photography

I like writing posts like this. They get my brain a-flexing and they’re always a little bit controversial…and that’s all good to me! I constantly receive emails from newbie (or sometimes even quite established) bloggers from all niches (not just wedding) asking for my help or opinion on how to go about taking on blog sponsors and how to make money from their blog. I try to reply to every single one, however of course how much detail I go into generally depends on my current busy-ness situation. So, I’ve been toying with the idea for a little while to put all my thoughts, musings and opinions (for that’s what these are) into one place so I can hopefully direct future question-askers right here. I’m sharing my own experience and the trials and tribulations I’ve had through this ‘making money from blogging thing’ and am in no way claiming to be an expert. However I hope in some way I can help some of your starting out in this journey we call blogging…oh and for those of you out there that berate me for making money as a blogger…well…I’d suggest not reading on.

When I started blogging nearly 3 years ago I didn’t really understand the potential of the medium or really what it was all about. I had no idea about SEO, I didn’t understand the ‘unwritten rules’ about how or what to blog and  it certainly didn’t even cross my mind that any money could be made from it.

In the Beginning…

I made mistakes. We all do. I blogged things that I didn’t have permission to do so. I didn’t credit properly. I didn’t know that blogs had exclusivity policies…and yes I pissed some people off. When you first start blogging its scary, exciting and exhilarating. You really don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for and anyone who thinks running a successful blog is a walk in the park or an easy money maker needs to get their head examined. Egos, turf wars and a (more often than not) predominantly female group (certainly in the wedding blogging industry) can and does lead to fierce competition for the best features…and something which I’m seeing more now than I ever have before, a hell of a lot of bitchiness. 

Nowadays blogging, particularly in the UK seems much more prominent. Most people now do seem to be aware of the magnitude of blogs, how important they are to suppliers, wedding vendors and brides and therefore have some kind idea of things like exclusivity and transparency. I wanted to be open and honest about my (sordid haha!) past so you can all be acutely aware that I ain’t some kind of guru. I’ve made the same mistakes a lot of newbie bloggers have and will continue to do. I was just a few years ahead of you is all. So firstly, don’t beat yourselves up about it. When I got my first ‘Oi, you’ve copieeeeed me’ email I died a little bit inside. But do I care now? Do I hell! Learn from it. Move on and become a better blogger.

OK, soul-bearing over, let’s get on with the real reason behind this post shall we?

As soon as I started blogging, I loved it. I’d found something I enjoyed and the inner geek inside me rejoiced that there seemed to be like-minded people like me out there. I worked extremely hard to make connections within the industry – both with other bloggers and with suppliers and vendors. I definitely learnt the hard way how to do this and it took at least a year before I actually met anyone in this country (everything and everyone was in The States at this point!) Even though, looking back at how much time and effort I put into establishing myself, it was a pretty hard slog, I’m happy to say that not only have I somehow come out the other side making a living from doing what I love, but I’ve made some pretty damn awesome friends along the way.

Be Honest About Who You Are

Although I was the first, I’m not saying I was the catalyst to the millions of UK wedding blogs I’m now seeing springing up all over the place, but nowadays, and since I’ve come through ‘the wilderness years,’  it appears that there’s a lot of newbies on the scene and they’re causing a bit of a stir. My biggest issue is these blogs launching themselves as already established. They write like people know who they are and they take on sponsors right away. In the words of Jasmine Star all I can say is KEEP IT REAL! Taking like you’re the new Style Me Pretty isn’t going to make people think “Wow, where has this awesome blog been all my life and why haven’t I heard of them before?” Anyone with any brain will think “Who the hell are these numb-nuts and why are they trying to be Style Me Pretty?” (I use SMP as an example because I know Abby’s blog is by far the biggest and therefore probablly one of the most-emulated blogs out there!) Listen up, at the end of the day, no matter how you write, who you feature or how much you hype yourself up, you are new to the scene. You need to be humble. You need to learn and I’m sorry but I think it’s pretty ludicrous that you can have a blog for 2 months and they expect people to pay you to be on it. You must, first and foremost, establish yourself as a blog that actually has a following, has an opinion (controversial or not) and has a niche to offer potential sponsors. You gotta be yourself. Emulating/copying/ripping off someone else’s idea(s) is not what’s going to make you popular or successful.

Know Your Niche

One of the best things I ever read when I was researching into how to do this ‘sponsorship’ thing was that the amount of readers you have is not what is the most important. Sure, it’s impressive to have on your media pack that you have 1 million page views or 300,000 unique monthly readers – but if these readers are not interested in what your sponsors have to offer then no body wins. I am well aware that I will never been the most popular ‘statistic/visitor-wise’ blog out there. However that’s good with me. I know my readers are all about the unique, all about the alternative and all about the punk rock – and that isn’t a style that’s going to appeal to everyone is it? However, what I can offer my sponsors is a smaller more targeted group of brides-to-be who want to find wedding suppliers like THEM. Perfect. Everybody wins.

Question – Who are the most popular blogs in your niche and why? For my money they are the ones that are bursting with originality, realism and stay true to their brand.

The thought of starting a blog to make money is a very alien one to me. How can a blog, which has been around 20 minutes possibly offer their sponsors a return for their investment? One of the most important things that you need to be hyper-clued up about is to know exactly who you and who your readers are in order to offer a specific type of supplier to a specific type of bride (and vice versa.) You need to establish yourself and your readers before you can even think about tackling the whole money-making thing. You need to get to know yourself, your blog, your features, what works, what doesn’t work and really intimately get to know your readers…and I’m sorry but that can’t be done in 2 months. I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 years now and I shudder to remember what Rock n Roll Bride was like back in 2007. In fact I was so clueless back then that I (ahem) accidentally deleted the whole thing in early 2008 and had to start again from scratch (see I ain’t no guru!) So lucky for me the very rookie Rock n Roll Bride no longer exists ha!

The Numbers Still Count

However, of course the number of people that read your blog still has to have some weight. If your blog niche is too specific (i.e. your readers consist of your Mum, your best friend and your Nan) then what exactly are sponsors going to get from that? Numbers do matter to some extent but its just about knowing what to do with them that counts. When I started thinking about taking on sponsors on Rock n Roll Bride (after a full year of blogging – yes I blogged for no monitary gain for over a YEAR before I even considered taking on advertisers) I read this amazing article by Design*Sponge about how to go about it. One of the things that stuck with me from this article was that you shouldn’t take on advertisers unless you have around 3000 visitors a day.

I scoffed at this figure back then. “I’ve got only nearly half of that” I  thought, ” what’s stopping me giving it a go?”And I did…and I had moderate success but certainly nothing to write home about. I had a number of regular advertisers and I was making enough money for a trip to Topshop once a month and a few of the advertisers got a few enquiries. However heinsight is a wonderful thing and looking back, the Design*Sponge article couldn’t have been closer to the truth. Over the last year my visitor numbers have steadily grown and grown…and guess what? It was really only when I surpassed the 3000 visitors a day mark that I really noticed a significant leap in my advertising revenue and my advertisers noticed a jump in the number of enquiries they received every month. With a figure such as this behind me, not only were advertisers willing to spend just a little bit more to be included but the return on their investments was surely more likely.

Create Tangible Goals

So, I ask you – what is your goal when it comes running a blog?

I’ve always thought that if you’re in this game to make money then you should stop right now. However I’m going to be real with you now. I think I was wrong. When I first started blogging, the idea of doing it to make money was ridiculous to me. The concept never even entered my mind. Yet now, it would appear that blogging is a legitimate way to make money. Hell, I was wrong and I’m proof of that. But do yourself a favour and take your time to get there. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong about starting a blog to make money. In fact it’s pretty admirable that you want to be your own boss, make your own money and live the life you want to. However be a little bit humble about it. Realise that you are new to the scene. Make friends, make enemies, live and learn…and take the baby steps needed to really make your business a real success.

Final Thoughts

And finally, the word ‘sponsors’ is a very clever one. I don’t know who coined it but that person knew what they were doing. When you think of a ‘sponsor’ you think of someone that is supporting you right? Like when you do a run for charity you get sponsors, who give you money for a job well done and to support a charitable cause. Blog sponsors may choose to be on your blog because they like you and what you offer but lets be honest, they’re in to get what they can too right? They choose you because they want a bit of what you’ve got – your readers. You’re duty to them is to give them those readers and if you ain’t got them…well no matter how little you charge you are quite frankly doing them a disservice.

So here’s my advice – to both bloggers and advertisers…
Firstly use the 3000 rule. 3000 visitors a day is a good solid starting ground. It worked for me and I think I’m doing alright.
Know your readers, don’t jump straight into a ‘how much money can I make’ mentality.
Take 6 months, a year (or even more) to really get to know yourself and what you can offer before you jump headfirst into that scary world of paypal, tax and spreadsheets.
And finally, have fun people. When you take your time and get it right it’s an utter blast and in my opinion, the most rewarding job in the world.

Further Reading

Here are some other great articles I’ve read on the business of blogging recently. Check ’em out…

♥ 8 Habits of Hightly Excellent Bloggers
♥ The Demise of the Wedding Directory?
♥ Wedding Blog ‘Exclusivity’ – My Thoughts, and My ‘Policy’… 
Advertising 101 for Bloggers
BLOGGING 101 — Living & loving online, monetisation in the new world & thinking beyond the 9-5!