I have a sewing and quilting blog that I call “small but mighty.” My monthly traffic may not be as impressive as the draw of some of my fellow Craft Industry Alliance (CIA) members, but my social media presence is consistently growing, I’m active on aggregate sites like Craftgawker and CraftGossip, I draw some traffic from my regular Craftsy blog posts, and my email newsletter open-rate is a healthy 45 percent.
I treat my blog like a job because, in many ways, it is. I file taxes and adhere to an editorial calendar. My background includes a master’s degree in writing, a certification in copyediting, and lots of experience editing and writing and teaching — all of which enhance my credibility and help me create quality content. While the blog itself is not my business’s primary source of income, I feel strongly that my writing skills and training, background in sewing and quilting, and consistent promotion efforts bring value to my work there.
This all means that when companies want to pay me in fabric (or, even worse, in “exposure”), I feel … stabby.
The state of craft blogging partnerships
Blogs are vital marketing tools for businesses in the craft sector. They’re a fantastic way to reach a targeted audience; if a blogger has an authentic voice, they can write a sponsored post in a way that highlights or incorporates a product without coming across as a total shill (even though they must indicate up front that they were compensated for their work). Craft businesses of all sizes are smart to recognize the benefit that blog sponsorship can bring to a marketing campaign.
Unfortunately, many companies like to capitalize on the fact that we work in a women’s hobby sector, where our work can be doubly undervalued. Due to some weird law of transference, since many people craft purely for enjoyment, it must mean that anyone who writes about crafts (or who works in the craft industry) must also be doing it purely for enjoyment. CRAFTS ARE FUN, RIGHT? While many craft hobbyists do exist, creating quality content is time- and labor-intensive for everyone. As Vanessa Vargas Wilson noted in her latest CIA webinar, something as simple as a 20-minute YouTube video incorporates hours of pre- and post-production time, and that’s not even counting design and construction, step-outs, photography, social media graphics and other factors.
As Jenny Hats of popular yarn blog Jenn Likes Yarn points out,
“Blogging is [still not] taken seriously as content creation, so that’s something that needs to change. It’s a time-consuming endeavor that requires knowledge of your partners and advertising to make sure you’re being compensated for your efforts.”
Often, companies don’t consider (or they bet on new bloggers not considering) the time and work involved in creating a quality post. Suddenly, even for hobbyists, $20 worth of craft supplies and an Instagram repost seems a lot less fair. Four hours of work for someone else (one-third of which, maybe, might be spent on the actual craft that a crafter would “be doing anyway”) is valuable time that should be fairly compensated.
As real-life examples, craft businesses like Springs Creative and Cali Fabrics have recently published calls for submissions for blogging partners — unpaid positions that would be compensated with fabric and “free stuff.” Springs Creative spoke idealistically on Instagram about the position being a wonderful opportunity for “budding craft and sewing enthusiasts” to “grow their own platforms and hone their skills.”
“We understand that professional bloggers should get paid for their work,” the post replied to pointed questions from fellow CIA members Abby Glassenberg and Stephanie Woodson. The implication? They just can’t/don’t want to pay “professionals,” so they’ll work instead with people who would love to manufacture craft projects, write engaging blog posts and take quality photographs in exchange for some free stuff. To their credit, Springs Creative did attempt to engage in dialogue with critics of their approach. Cali Fabrics could not be reached for comment for this article.
Approaches to fair compensation
For even small companies looking to work with bloggers, there are certain steps that craft business owners can take to fairly compensate their brand partners. Many of my interviewees had tips and suggestions for strategic arrangements that benefit both bloggers and brands fairly.
Saving money? Spend some time.
For companies with a large social media following, “exposure” is one of those buzz words that gets thrown around quite often. Personally, I don’t find it to be a satisfactory method of compensation on its own. (One of my all-time favorite quotes from quilt designer Sam Hunter: “People die of exposure.”) But it’s often an included part of a business relationship. If a blogger is willing to trade work for promotion in the form of increased traffic or social media followers, the partnering company should thank its lucky stars and then do everything possible to support the blogger — Instagram posts. Facebook posts. Tweets. Periscopes. Snapchats, if you’re into that sort of thing. Email newsletters.
When I first began, I worked with several large businesses for low or no money under the assumption that they would share my content. “They have marketing departments!” I thought. “They’re professionals! Of course they’ll share my free work!” This was, as you can imagine, a rookie mistake; very few of them did. (I now know better and it’s in the contract.) Social media cross-promotion is, quite literally, the least you can do to foster a strong business relationship with a blogger.
Pay for blog posts
This is the most straight-up sponsorship opportunity there is. You pay a flat fee for a blog post that reviews or incorporates your product in some way. Sometimes bloggers will be willing to negotiate for ad space on your company website, or for gift certificates or credits for product. If you’re unsure about compensating a blogger for content on their website, pay them for a guest post on yours and then allow a link back to their blog. Other arrangements are also possible; Stephanie Woodson describes a recent partnership she had with Little Remedies: “The initial payment was nice ($150 to $250), then I get the continued traffic from the tutorial I provided, and after a few months I can swap out affiliate links for the products and continue to earn income that third way as well.”
Pay for social media promotion
I was recently approached by a small company with an offer to give me product for free, pay a small flat fee for a blog post about the product, and then pay me additional add-on fees to promote that post (and the product) on Facebook and Instagram. The overall price was not huge, but it was a solid effort at fair compensation. This approach incentivizes bloggers to promote their content and increases the company’s social media following at the same time. (I usually always promote my blog posts and the companies that sponsor them, but it was an interesting compensation model.)
“I’ve always had a policy that what I earned through affiliate links would be given back to the scrapbooking community, so it goes chiefly to paying contributors to my blog and online classes,” Laine says. “If I can make it work as a very small company, I’d love to see bigger companies adopt similarly fair policies.”
Share the love
Speaking of affiliate links, this topic kept coming up as I was discussing compensation with bloggers.
“It would be great if each partner provided some type of referral plan so anyone who purchases the product from your website helps generate revenue for you. That would be fair, as compensation would be based on your blog’s popularity and the work you put in for the promotion,” Jenny Hats, of Jenny Likes Yarn, says.
Affiliate programs, covered in detail in Vargas Wilson’s CIA webinar, are not difficult for bloggers or companies to set up and they often motivate both parties to promote the posts well. Shimelle Laine, a professional scrapbook designer, uses affiliate links to cover her website costs.
Striking a balance
Of course, brand ambassadors who design for fun are out there. Both Laine and Hats find reason for this within their specific craft niches.
As a hobby blogger, Hats prefers to be compensated in yarn because good quality product tends to be quite expensive.
“I love discovering new yarns and fibers as well, so being compensated in this way allows me to explore options I might not typically gravitate toward,” Hats says.
Laine explains that her industry contains “plenty of talented hobby scrapbookers who would love to create pages in exchange for no longer paying for their stash, and there can be really happy matches there if you find a great match with a company you love and the difference in not shopping for supplies makes for less stress in your family.”
But both artists stress that the quantity of product required for fair compensation for a blog post is substantial (usually far more than just what’s required for the specific project or post).
“If you could buy what you’re getting for £15 a month but you’re spending 15 hours a month working on your assignments, then there is a need for evaluation,” Laine says. “Some companies will send you far more product, but it needs to be product you will actually use (and enjoy using!) to make sense.”
The bottom line is that companies should expect to compensate bloggers fairly for their work, but it’s up to the company and the blogger to determine exactly what “fair” means. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s product. Sometimes it’s promotion. If your company is looking to work with bloggers for “free,” it’s wise to remember that your mileage may vary in terms of what you get in return. A hobby blog is not likely to be your brand ambassador’s first priority, nor should it be. When you choose not to pay for blog sponsorship, you also waive your right to any standards for good writing, SEO targeting, quality photo and video, met deadlines, social media promotion, or just about anything else you might hope to gain from the experience. If you’re looking for more assurances, find a professional. (I promise: We exist.)
Lauren is a freelance editor, writer and recovering college English instructor living in Boulder, Colorado. Her business, Wordcraft, provides copyediting and writing services to the handmade industry. When she’s not saving the world one comma splice at a time, Lauren also blogs about quilting and sewing at Right Sides Together.