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,
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.
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.)
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.)
Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this article. I was actually part of the Springs Creative conversation on Instagram and was just rubbed the wrong way by the way they are trying to take advantage of small bloggers. Even if you are a small blogger the amount of work does not equal a couple of yards of fabric. This is a wonderful article on the subject. I am so glad the industry is doing more to bring to light this issue. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Shelly!
I was dissatisfied with their answer, too. If Craft Industry Alliance can afford to pay Lauren to write this awesome article, Springs Creative could afford to pay a blogger to create a post using their fabric. They are a much bigger company than we are and have a much larger marketing budget.
This is a fantastic article! It really is a fine line to walk. I do some sponsored posts for a blog sponsor where supplies are provided to make the quilt, but no compensation for the time. But when I get an email asking if I’d like to participate, it comes down to whether it can work for something I needed or wanted to sew anyway. Sometimes I say no. Sometimes, it’s the perfect timing to make the promised quilts for my parents, AND have all the fabric supplied, AND keep my blog sponsor happy. So it’s a win-win-win all around!
I think this is a perfect example of how to make it work for you. It’s “worth it” if it’s something that you find of sufficient value. I find I sometimes have to rein myself in when I get E-mails offering me some goodies in exchange for making a project and blogging about it. “Whoa, there. Look at your ‘to-do’ list. Is this something you want to make anyway? Is it worth it to NOT work on another project in order to get this done? Or give up time with the kids?” If they answer to all that is, ‘no,’ I walk away. And that’s from a very small blogger who really COULD use some exposure.
However, I’ve found in the past that “exposure” of the wrong kind doesn’t get me readers who stick around nor help me get my work out there in any significant fashion. I’d be more interested in a working relationship that did include some spelled-out significant cross-promotion. But it would have to be with just the right company that is likely to have an audience that would like my stuff for what it is, or they’re not going to stay. So I think that’s the other half of it – if you’re working for “exposure,” does your sponsor have an audience that is likely to become your audience? And sponsors aren’t always as good a judge of that as you might think.
As a brand, I often get contacted by bloggers asking for ‘free’ product in return for exposure on their blogs / social media. As a small business, I have allocated a marketing budget and that includes sponsoring prizes at shows, actual paid advertising and marketing and a small amount for other sponsorship. I find that sometimes that it is difficult to say no – but I need to allocate my budget where I believe it will bring me the best return. At the end of the day, increasing my social media following is less important than generating more sales.
Bravo – and yes! And thank you for the shout out 🙂 If only I could pay the rent with all the exposure I’ve been offered!