I wanted to write a post about some of the ways I work with brands. The aim of this post is to be completely transparent, but also to shed light on a few different ways to earn an income as a content creator. Additionally, I’d like to highlight a handful of the benefits for brands that may be considering working with content creators to supplement their traditional advertising efforts.
It was actually my dad who inspired this post. We were having a conversation about guest blogging and inbound marketing for his businesses. Brands are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of working with content creators to tap into niche markets. On the other hand, this post could be useful for those of you who are looking for ways to grow your revenue streams or break into the industry.
I should mention that the ways I earn an income aren’t necessarily the same as other creatives, which vary depending on industry and skill set.
Digital marketing strategy – I spent a few years working in digital marketing, on the agency-side. Now, as a freelancer, I work with smaller companies and brands to help build their following, drive traffic to their website or blog, and ultimately sell their product or service. My strategies are usually holistic, business-focused and go deeper than just building brand awareness. I’ll put together recommendations companies can implement themselves (or hire me or someone else to implement). These documents are tailored to the brand and I do a lot of upfront research to understand how best to reach their audience and keep them coming back for more.
Content planning and creation – I also work on the content creation side for several brands. I’ll put together their content calendars (usually with their help and access to their image library, but occasionally taking the images myself), schedule posts for them, and engage with other accounts on their behalf. Engagement is a two-way street, so I urge the brands I work with to be active and comment on other accounts. When possible, I choose to work with brands that fit with my personal ethos, so the content creation comes naturally and doesn’t feel forced.
Copywriting and freelance writing – I come from a publishing background, having worked as an editorial assistant at Canadian publications. While I was at university, I used to proofread other students’ papers, essays and theses. I still take on a few proofreading jobs here and there, but mostly I write for print and online publications because I find it more rewarding. I typically have a set fee for the articles I write, but it can also depend on the budget available.
Recently I’ve started guest blogging and contributing to company websites. These are usually fashion or food related, but I am also in talks with an athletic company that I’ve loved for the past few years. Obviously to write an interesting and informative article, you have to immerse yourself in the industry and understand the product or service, so a lot of research goes into my writing.
Sponsored content – Let me preface this by saying that sponsored content is a very small fraction of what I do. The majority of content you’ll find on my Instagram and blog (my two primary channels) is organic. When I am working with a brand, I always try the product first to see if I like it and then decide whether or not to enter a partnership. I’ll seldom agree to do a sponsored post before trying a product, whether it’s from a restaurant, my favourite clothing brand or a local business. That said, if I haven’t had the opportunity to try a product before (maybe it’s being sent from overseas or it’s an experience), I set realistic expectations that my content will always include my honest opinion. Sponsored content is always clearly labelled and disclosed to keep things transparent. Fortunately, brands are increasingly attuned to the fact that traditional, overly promotional content doesn’t exactly fly on social media. It’s always nice to work with brands who have done their research and have actually read some of my content and are willing to listen to what works best for my audience.
I work with a few agencies in New Zealand and Australia, but I often negotiate my own rates because I know how much effort goes into my content. Even though I have less than 10K Instagram followers (which is a deal breaker for brands who are overly fixated on numbers), I always vouch for myself and my skills and the skills of those I’m working with. If I need to work with a photographer or other creatives, that comes into play as well. My pricing is reflective of the work involved and my experience, not just how many impressions, likes and comments I anticipate my content will receive.
Sometimes the brand will know exactly where they want the ad to appear, but often I’ll recommend the channel I think will work best. When given the option, I suggest creating sponsored content for my blog because I like having the extra space to give a product or brand the full attention it deserves. I also prefer to have content on my own channel not only on Facebook or Instagram.
Gifts – I usually don’t officially disclose when something has been gifted to me because I’m not being paid to mention the product. I’ll occasionally say that Company ABC sent me XYZ to try, but I’ll only talk about it if I really like it. It’s also quite confusing as most content creators regularly get sent products to try and this differs from paid content where a brand is essentially buying advertising space. There’s also a lot of behind-the-scenes work and back and forth that goes into a sponsored post (time spent coming up with the concept, pitching it to the brand, writing/shooting it and waiting for approval and sending results to the brand). It’s not a legal requirement to disclose what’s gifted. Most creatives will tag the brand as a way to link back to their channels and I find this to be the perfect middle ground.
We also get discount cards for certain brands, which I personally prefer. It’s a more authentic way of working with a brand I already love (rather than being sent a dress or a lipstick that may or may not work for me). I love being able to handpick the items that I’ll regularly use. From a brand’s perspective, it’s a nice way to showcase a range of your products and services in a way that’s genuine and not too sales-y.
Collaborations – Like gifts, it is not industry standard to disclose collaborations and most content creators (myself included) do not use hashtags to inform their readers of collaborations. There is no budget or contract involved and therefore it is not an official partnership. Occasionally brands will request a particular caption or style of image in exchange for product, but I do not work with these companies.
While it may seem like all the paid jobs go to macro influencers (those with 100K+ followers), brands are constantly on the lookout for micro influencers with good engagement. Many of the brands I’ve worked would prefer to spread their budget between five to ten smaller content creators rather than on one person.
I’ve heard many people lament the rise of ‘influencer marketing’ saying that content creators shouldn’t be paid to promote products and should just talk about what they love. This is a contentious issue and one I’ve followed closely. We need a better term to describe everything that’s involved in creating content. The successful content creators I know are incredibly dedicated to putting together stunning imagery and captivating copy. They usually pay for their meals and clothing themselves. Occasionally, they’ll get paid to promote something or to go on a press trip, but it’s always done genuinely in a way that fits their brand and aesthetic (which I’m going to cover in my next blog post). Many of these individuals have backgrounds working in advertising or at magazines. To say they shouldn’t earn a living off their blogs and channels is insulting given how hard they work and how difficult the industry is. If you’re following someone, you’ve opted to trust their opinions and should acknowledge the time and effort that goes into creating every single image you see on their Instagram feed or blog post.
I hope this gives you an idea of the content creation landscape and my experience within the industry. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!