Score the Right Blog Collaborations
Before I met my bestie Kelsey Chapman, I honestly thought I understood how social media and blogging worked. I admired the curated feeds and the cool product sponsorships, but I naively assumed that bloggers either "got in" to social media at the right time, or they had grown an organic following, and that's why their content was so visible. While those categories exist, I'm here to tell you that building a brand online, just like building a brick and mortar business, is equal parts strategy and authenticity.
Before we go further, I do have to say that Kelsey's course Instabreakout and all of her other brilliant content has given me the tools that I use in blogging and scoring collaborations. I've also been influenced by the courses and podcasts of Grace Lever, Jenna Kutcher, Julie Solomon, and Lewis Howes, who are killing it in the influencer education space. But, the thing I want to hit on in today's post is this:
If you spend your time learning how to advertise and monetize your blog without authentic content, you will never build a legitimate following or an engaged audience.
I love the world of email lists, analytics, and click funnels, but without a brand to promote, those tools can only get you so far. About a year ago, when I decided to take my blog from a writing hobby to a personal brand, I had to make some tough decisions about who I wanted to be in the online space.
You see, there are specific categories of bloggers: food bloggers, fashion bloggers, travel bloggers, faith bloggers, and fitness bloggers, to name a few. Most aspiring influencers hone in on one of these categories and eventually branch out to more of a "lifestyle" focus after they've grown their platform. So, in essence, I had to figure out how to be me, but also embrace a specific niche.
I will be the first to admit that the niche I chose was a little bit unconventional. I knew I had clout in the Pure Barre world from being both an owner and a Master Teacher Trainer at the time. I also love to write about business and entrepreneurship, so to get my content seen, I capitalized on my status. I wrote posts that were honest about growing my business and the struggles that came along with it, but I was timely about where and how I released those posts in order to grow. My strategy wasn't anything crazy; I just spoke of the world I knew to the audience that cared about it. After all, my heart has always been to influence entrepreneurs to chase their dreams and women in general to pursue a healthy lifestyle. I began sharing more of myself in my captions and Instagram stories, and most importantly, I left room to pivot.
You see, I don't love just one topic; few people do. Even if you begin as one "type" of blogger, without a brand that allows for flexibility, you're boxing yourself into a digital jail that will eventually bore you and your audience. On the flip side, I see many bloggers make the mistake of sharing everything under the sun just to get exposure and collaborating with brands that don't have a unifying theme.
Bloggers without a defined brand want to throw a wide net and attract as many people as they can, but they would be better off to repel those who don't belong in order to serve those who would actually invest.
I had to let my audience get to know me and grow to trust me under a label they could grasp before I started throwing new things at them. They learned about my passion for health and fitness, my desire to grow a business, and my quirks: sharks, birthdays, goldendoodles, and kombucha, to name a few. I started to build trust by sharing my own free content, and then I chose to grow by partnering with purposeful brand collaborations.
If you're unfamiliar with the blogging world, collaborations are when influencers work with brands for product or pay. You see it all the time, you just don't always know you're seeing it. When it's done correctly, it shouldn't feel like a sales pitch; it should feel like a product review.
I started reaching out to brands when I had about 4,000 followers, which is honestly nothing in the grand scheme of Instagram. Some of the first brands I reached out to were in my local community! Why? Well, I'm a small business owner in this community, and I had already made it known that I desire to invest in Colorado Springs. So, I got some clothes from a local boutique for my first photoshoot. I worked with a client to get a free set of lash extensions, which are a dream for my active (sweaty) lifestyle. My photographer and I trade photos for a Pure Barre membership, and I advertise her work by crediting her in each post.
Then, I started reaching out to healthy living companies like Purely Elizabeth, Vital Proteins, and Bobo's - all brands that I used in my daily life and knew I could share with passion. Thankfully, they said yes, and I probably reached out to 20 more who said no, but it didn't matter. The more I utilized Instagram stories to share about the food and recipes I was creating, the more brands reached out to me and asked me to share about their products.
The majority of my early collaborations were done for a trade - I received product, and they received content. When you're too worried about making money, you start taking collaborations that mean nothing to you, and everything feels fake. Additionally, you have to be willing to say no to brands a lot more than you say yes. When a food company that makes products full of crap reaches out, it's a swift and polite no. If I wouldn't eat it, neither would my audience. Athleisure companies and boutiques have asked to collaborate, but if I wouldn't wear it, I won't model it, even if it's free. By keeping my eye on my core themes: healthy living, entrepreneurship, and fitness, I have been able to clearly select the right brand collaborations for me.
So, if you read this post to learn how to score the biggest, most expensive brand collaborations, my advice is to slow down and hone your message. As Julie Solomon said in her blog post, How to Keep Your Brand Consistent,
"But here’s why this matters. It isn’t about popularity, it’s about growing the RIGHT audience, and I’ve managed to do just that with consistency! I am always a supporter of the turtle in the race. Just because you didn’t grow 10,000 followers overnight doesn’t mean that you should call it a day while crying in a tub of ice cream. It’s just about noticing this little improvements, the day by day small growth --- as that is what leads to long term growth."
I am proud of the content I produce because it is authentic to me, and I know that I will score the best collaborations for my audience by staying consistent. If this resonated with you or you learned something new, let me know in the comments below!