How to Work with Brands as a Blogger: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know!

How to partner with brands as a blogger

Hi everyone. This post has been in the queue for a little while now, so today’s the day. We’re diving in and talking all about working with brands. Get cozy, because I have a lot to say.

If you attended The Blog Connect conference, you know that I sat on a panel with two other bloggers {Amber & Erica} where we discussed brand collaborations for a little over an hour. I think that all three of us would agree that we could have talked for HOURS. Everyone really enjoyed asking us questions and hearing about our experiences {both good and bad} working with brands. 

Since we were limited on time, and I was super nervous, I forgot to mention a few things. 

In this post, I’m going to review the following:

  1. The Basics
  2. Blogger Networks
  3. How to Pitch Brands Yourself
  4. What to Do if a Brand Reaches Out to You
  5. Why You Shouldn’t Work for Free

Let’s hop right into it, shall we?

How to work with brands as a blogger via simply-nicole.com

Let’s Start with the Basics

Influencer Marketing 101

Brand/blog collaboration is a type of influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a form of marketing that uses key leaders to drive a brand’s message to their intended market. Key leaders = INFLUENCERS. Makes sense, right?

The takeaway here is this: You need to have an established following before reaching out to brands. It’s the cold, hard truth. You need to have people to influence to be considered an influencer. Brands aren’t going to pay you to promote their product if you can’t reach their target audience. 

You’re probably thinking, “How many followers do I need to have?” I’ve gotten asked this question dozens of times, but I have some bad news to tell you. I don’t have an answer, because there’s no magic number. But…in general, I’d say once you have 10K views per month on your blog and you have an engaged following on social media, you’re probably good to start reaching out to brands. 

For me, I didn’t start working with brands {and getting PAID for it} until maybe year 3 or 4 of blogging. I think a lot of people start a blog and expect to work with brands almost immediately. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s never going to happen. Brands like seeing examples of your work, so it’s important to have a solid amount of content on your blog. 

Alright, now that we have a good foundation, let’s get into the nitty gritty. 

How to partner with brands as a blogger

Blogger networks

First up are blogger networks. These are organizations that provide bloggers with sponsored post opportunities and social media campaigns. Think of them as the middleman between the brand and the blogger. The brand tells the network what type of campaign they are interested in running, what kind of bloggers they would like to work with, and the compensation they will be providing. There’s definitely pros and cons with working with a network, one being that they handle all the contracts and financials directly with the brand. I’ll get into some more pros and cons further down in this post. 

So you might be wondering what networks are good and which are bad? Well, I can’t speak for all, but the four below are my absolute favorite. These networks have amazing teams who are super responsive if you have questions or concerns.

Networks I’m a Part Of

1. Social Fabric: I use this network the most frequently. When you sign up, you’re able to see a list of “Shoppertunities” {aka campaigns} and the payment amount for each. Many of the campaigns have to do with food and beverages. I’ve seen campaigns on Social Fabric run anywhere from $150 to $750. The thing I like the best about this network is that you can view all the details before applying. The application process is quick and to the point. You fill out a form that includes background about your blog, why you think you’d be a good fit for the campaign, and what your ideas are for your blog post. 

Sponsored post examples: Eco Friendly Tips with Tom’s of Maine, Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini with Welsh’s, Clean Your Kitchen in 10 Minutes or Less with Scotch Brite, Veggie Pesto Pasta with Barilla

2. Wayfair Homemaker Community: If you write about home decor, I highly recommend applying for Wayfair’s influencer program. I’ve been a fan of Wayfair for a long time, so joining their blogger community was a no brainer. They send emails to their bloggers usually once or twice a month with a campaign idea. If you’re interested in the topic, you just reply back to the email with your blog URL and how you plan to make the topic your own. I also like sharing a previously sponsored post that I’ve done with them, so they remember the type of work that I produce. Creativity is KEY and you need to sell yourself. What makes you different than the other 50 bloggers who will probably apply? 

Sponsored post examples: Throw an Off the Charts Labor Day BBQRaspberry Lemon Cake, Raspberry Champagne Cupcakes, Sweet and Simple Apple Butter, Caramel Apple Crumble Pie

3. Izea: I joined Izea a long time ago, but only somewhat recently started seeing campaigns come through. That might vary blogger to blogger. Just like Social Fabric, Izea features campaigns from a variety of different types of brands. 

Sponsored post examples: Sweet and Bubbly Sherbet Punch with Vintage Seltzer, Simple Dinner at Home with PF Changs

4. AOL Lifestyle Collective: I recently joined this network, but already had the opportunity to be part of their Beauty Award panel of blogger judges. It was a fun campaign, and I got to test out really great beauty products. A bunch of them were from were natural or organic brands, so that was a huge plus. AOL also promotes their bloggers quite a bit, so the traffic back to my site is a great perk. 

benefits of blogger networks via simply-nicole.com

Pitch brands yourself

Alright, now that you know all about blog networks, let’s move along to the next way to find brands to work with you – pitch yourself! This is my absolute favorite way to start partnerships, because everything is in the blogger’s court. There’s no middleman like with networks. You get to pitch whomever you want, with whatever packages you want, and with whatever creative idea you want.

Before you even reach out to a brand, you need to figure out what type of collaboration you’re interested in. For me, I ALWAYS start with my editorial calendar. I map out the types of content I want to produce each month, then I figure out if there are any opportunities within that framework to work with brands. For instance, if I want to do a healthy recipe post, I might reach out to my local Whole Foods to see if they’d be interested in collaborating. Why? Well first off, I freaking love Whole Foods. I shop there all the time. Secondly, the mission and products of Whole Foods fit well with my own brand. I can’t stress this enough: Partner with brands that make sense for your blog and your audience. 

How to find the right contact

So you have an idea for a post lined up, but now have no idea where to find the right contact at a brand. I’ve been there, trust me. When I first started reaching out to brands, I would just fill out a form on their website and hope for the best. PLEASE don’t do that. You’ll almost never actually receive an email back. {I’ve worked in PR. This is the truth.} You need to try and reach an actual human. Emailing contact@brand.com isn’t your best bet and is frankly a huge waste of time. 

Instead, here are the exact steps I take when trying to find the right person. 

1. Visit the brand’s website. Search for a tab that says “Contact.” This is often in the footer, but sometimes in the top navigation. Some brands will list members of their team, their titles, and their emails. Look for someone who works in marketing or partnerships. If nothing is listed, search for the “Press” tab. Look for a publicist’s name. This is usually found at the top of a press release. Keep in mind that PR reps generally don’t pay for bloggers. They are looking for free press. However… I have found that if you’re really nice to a publicist and pitch them your idea, they might actually provide you with the correct marketing contact within their organization who has a budget for influencer marketing.

2. Try LinkedIn. This takes all of maybe 10 minutes. What you’ll do is search on LinkedIn for the organization that you’re interested in pitching. Then, check out the profiles of employees at that brand who have a marketing title. Sometimes, the employees might give a description of their job responsibilities. If you find the person who is in charge of blogger partnerships, you’ve struck gold! I’ve never actually messaged brand reps on LinkedIn because I think it comes off a bit spammy, but once I know their name I’ll head to Twitter.

3. Twitter is your best friend.  This is my all time favorite way to reach out to brand reps. Once I have the name of the person I’m trying to reach, I search for them on Twitter. {Side note: Twitter is also great for searching for contacts, since a lot of people put their company and title in their Twitter bio!}. Don’t be creepy and “like” all of their tweets. Instead, give them a follow and send them a tweet like “Hi-I’m a HUGE fan of [BRAND]. I write all about wellness on my blog & I’d love to chat about a post I’m working on. What’s the best contact?” If they are interested in working together, they’ll respond. I’ve started a lot of brand relationships this way, but as with everything… you’ve got to be genuine. 

How to pitch brands for blogger collaborations via simply-nicole.com

Sample Pitch Email to a First Time Contact:

Your email should be short and to the point. If you’re writing paragraph after paragraph, you need to cut it down. You definitely want to include specifics, but keep it short. No one has time. I try to keep it under 10 sentences. 

It’s nice to have a template to work off of when pitching brands, but you want to make sure you customize each and every email you send. I usually start with the message below, and then edit it based on the brand and the collaboration I’m looking to cultivate. DO NOT send a mass email to a bunch of brands. That’s tacky, and no one likes tacky.

Dear [REP NAME],

My name is Nicole and I blog at Simply-Nicole.com. Since 2009, I’ve created healthy living content for my readers – mainly women ages 25-35. They come to Simply Nicole because they have a passion for wellness and balance. These women like working out, but also enjoy marathoning Netflix. They love drinking green juice, as well as a few glasses of rosé at happy hour. 

I’m working on a post all about [DETAILS] and would love to collaborate with you. [BRAND] is a great fit for my blog, and I know my audience would be eager to learn more about [PRODUCT/SERVICE/BRAND]. 

Would you be interested in a potential collaboration between [BRAND] and Simply Nicole? If so, I’d be more than happy to send you over a proposal or set up a call with you to discuss in more detail.

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day,
Nicole Raudonis

Sample Pitch Email to a Brand You Have a Relationship With:

If I’m reaching out to a contact that I’ve worked with in the past, I send a slightly less formal email. The rules are the same though: keep it short, to the point, genuine and customized. 

Hi [REP NAME], 

I hope all is well at [BRAND]. You might remember that I featured your brand [WHEN] on my blog, [LINK]. The post did really well with my audience. [INCLUDE A QUICK STAT ABOUT REACH OR SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT]. I’m working on my content calendar for the next few months, and would love to include [BRAND] in an upcoming post about [DETAILS]. I’ve been using [PRODUCT] for months and continue to absolutely love it. 

If you’re interested, I’ll send over some packages that I offer and we can chat more about collaborating. 

Looking forward to talking to you soon. 

Thanks,
Nicole Raudonis

How to pitch brands for blog collaborations via simply-nicole.com

What to Do if a Brand Reaches Out to You

This is good. If a brand is reaching out to you to work on a post, you’re golden. That is, only if the brand is a good fit for your blog. PLEASE don’t partner with a brand who has a product that makes no sense for your blog. Even if they are giving you $$$. I’ve done this in the past, and those posts never do well. Your readers aren’t stupid. They can smell a bad blog partnership a mile away.

For me, that was when I took on a sponsored post all about a meat product. I’m vegetarian. I don’t eat meat. That collab made ZERO sense. Maybe you write all about budget fashion, and your readers absolutely love when you share goodies on sale. Don’t do a collab featuring a $4,000 watch. Know your audience. Know your brand. 

Sample Email Response Back to a Brand Pitch 

Hi [REP NAME],

Thank you so much for your email. I’m thrilled that you’re interested in working together on an upcoming collaboration. My sponsorship package typically costs $[PRICE], which includes 1 blog post with promotion across all social channels. However, I also offer a la carte services, which can be customized for any budget. 

What did you have in mind?

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

 How to Pitch Brands for Blog Collaborations

Blogging Can be a Full Time Job: Why You Shouldn’t Work for Free

Oh man. If you guys got to the end of this post, I commend you. There was a TON of info here, but I think I saved the best for last.

At The Blog Connect conference, things started getting a bit heated when the panel was asked to talk about working for free. We all felt the same way – bloggers should be compensated for their work. End of story. And don’t give me that “We’ll send you free product” runaround. Products don’t pay the bills. We’ll get to that in a minute. 

But first, why shouldn’t you work for free? Think about how much time and effort goes into a blog post. For me, a blog post from start to finish can take anywhere from 6-10 hours {this post – WELL over that}. You need time to brainstorm your post idea, take and edit photos or hire a photographer, outline your post, write a first draft, proof a final draft, publish the post, and promote on social media. I’m sure that I’m missing a few steps in there someplace, but you get it. Blogging takes time. A lot of time.

Product Only?  

In 99% of cases, I NEVER accept product as a form of compensation. Why? Well… for one, products don’t pay the bills. Secondly, you’ve got to pay taxes on products sent to you. So, I’m super picky when companies want to send me product in exchange for promotion. I only accept products if:

  • The product is worth over a certain $
  • I love the product and would have purchased it with my own money anyway
  • I can easily weave the product into my every day content
  • The brand does not require any specifics in regards to posting {they don’t give me a laundry list of tasks}

One company, who I won’t name, asked me to complete a huge list of deliverables in exchange for a product. The deliverables included a blog post of at least 250 words and an embedded image from the brand’s site, 3-5 social shares using very specific hashtags at a very specific time, and the creation of a custom Pinterest board where I’d have to pin my own content as well as content from their brand’s blog.

The brand expected me to complete all of this in exchange for a product that was worth less than $200. You’ve GOT to be kidding me. No thank you. If I were to take on that project, it would have taken at least 8-10 hours of my time. I could use those hours on another campaign with a brand who actually values bloggers and their work. Before you decide to do a campaign for free, think of it that way. Could you be using your time more wisely? In most cases, YES you can!  

What if a Brand Can’t Afford Your Full Rate? 

There’s going to be times when a brand might respond to your email and tell you that they can’t afford your rates. Let’s say they have a smaller budget and want you to lower your rates for them. PLEASE don’t devalue yourself. Erica said it best during the conference – You wouldn’t go to Nordstrom, pick out a $1,000 bag, tell the cashier you only have $300, and you’d like them to sell you the bag for a discount. That wouldn’t fly. Mall security would be escorting you to your car.

If you charge $500 for a blog post + social, and they only have a $200 budget, just remove some things. Maybe that’s less social posts or instead of a full post about their brand you feature them in a larger post. I have a Friday Favorites series and sometimes I’ll include a brand in there. You’ve just got to find what works for you. There’s no real right or wrong way to do it. 

Sample Response Email when a Brand Wants Free Work:

Dear [NAME],

Unfortunately, I don’t have space in my editorial calendar for unpaid opportunities or product-only compensation. If your relationship with bloggers changes in the future, please keep me in mind. I write about wellness, so [BRAND] would be a great fit. 

I’m sorry that we couldn’t work something out this time.

All the best,
Nicole Raudonis

I hope you found this post to be super helpful. If you have any other questions about working with brands, definitely send me an email or tweet. I’d be more than happy to help!  xo, Nicole

Photos: Tim Becker
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32 Comments

  1. May 12, 2017 / 9:50 am

    Great article about Brands! I definitely need help in this area. I’m pinning it for later, too!

    • May 12, 2017 / 2:20 pm

      Thanks for reading, Stacey!

  2. May 12, 2017 / 10:46 am

    THANK YOU for writing this! This is seriously so helpful for me as I begin working on media kits and considering pitching to brands. It’s also helpful considering that I’ve gotten approached by some companies for some unpaid post opportunities and it’s felt really discouraging because while I may not have 200k impressions, you’d think since they’re getting paid to pitch ideas to me that they’d realize that I would require payment as well. Thank you for sharing, Nicole!

    • May 12, 2017 / 2:21 pm

      I’m so glad you found some value! Keep plugging away. Brands will be paying you in no time!

  3. May 12, 2017 / 12:10 pm

    This is SO HELPFUL! Thank you so so much. I’m at the point where I want to start working with brands more but I’m not sure where to start. This answered ALL my questions. Thank you again!

    • May 12, 2017 / 2:21 pm

      🙂 You’re so welcome, Kasia!!

  4. May 12, 2017 / 12:25 pm

    Very helpful @ full of information post. I appreciate that you share some templates. Sometimes its not easy to communicate and having an outline always helps.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Ioanna

    • May 12, 2017 / 2:22 pm

      You’re very welcome. Yes, I would just use the templates as a starting point. DEFINITELY customize every email you send.

  5. May 12, 2017 / 2:19 pm

    Absolutely loved this post! Thanks for all that great info. I’ve done some work for free and will think about it twice from now on.

    Keep up the amazing work,

    xx, Victoria

    http://www.airofsimplicity.com

    • May 12, 2017 / 2:22 pm

      🙂 Thanks for reading!!

  6. May 12, 2017 / 9:40 pm

    Super helpful to those of us just starting out! Awesome. 🙂 Thank you.

    • May 12, 2017 / 11:38 pm

      YAY! Working with brands is a lot of fun. Good luck!

  7. May 12, 2017 / 11:07 pm

    Great article Nicole!!! I agree with u completely! I wrote for a few brands too but thru middlemen for the moment! Waiting to make some long lasting brand relationships soon! All the best to u n blogging. Do check out my blog too.

    • May 12, 2017 / 11:39 pm

      Thank you Cindy! Working directly w. a brand definitely has it’s perks. It’s nice to build that direct relationship.

  8. Charu Singh
    May 13, 2017 / 10:42 am

    wow how so informative. Thanks for collating great info and helping bloggers out! You are awesome!

    • May 13, 2017 / 3:50 pm

      Thanks for reading!!

  9. May 13, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    I love hearing different people’s takes on this topic. I think bottom line is, pro bono work and free product does not pay the bills. Thanks for sharing!

    • May 13, 2017 / 3:51 pm

      Exactly!!! Value your time and your golden. Thank you for reading!

  10. May 13, 2017 / 3:46 pm

    I love hearing different people’s takes on this topic. Like you said, I think bottom line is, pro bono work and free product does not pay the bills. Don’t sell yourself short. Thanks for sharing!

    • May 13, 2017 / 8:25 pm

      DEFINITELY. Thanks for reading!

  11. May 14, 2017 / 7:59 am

    Thank you SO much for this post!! I already knew quite a few things in here but also learned SO much! I also love the part about not working for free. I just had a blogger meet up this week and the whole “working for free” topic came up, naturally! So many brands tell me they don’t have a budget for bloggers and basically always want to work on “trade” which as you say and we all know – definitely does NOT pay the bills!
    Thank you again! I’ve bookmarked for referencing your wonderful email templates!
    All the best! xx
    LS

    • May 14, 2017 / 9:59 am

      So glad you found it helpful, Lauren! Let me know if you have any specific questions.

  12. May 15, 2017 / 10:00 am

    Such a great an insightful blog post. Thank you for sharing some of the companies that offer sponsored opportunities!

    • May 15, 2017 / 10:03 am

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Nicole. If you have any questions, please let me know!

  13. May 15, 2017 / 12:45 pm

    Super helpful. It summarize it all, my blog is one year old and I start getting spontaneous sponsoring offers, I always feel bad when I reject a campaign where they only offer a product. But after reading your article, I feel like I am doing the industry good 🙂

    Article bookmarked <3

    • May 15, 2017 / 12:47 pm

      Thanks for reading, Dalal! Keep pushing for paid posts. Create a 1-sheet with some packages you offer and customize it for each brand. Only send after you’ve established a relationship with your contact.

  14. May 15, 2017 / 1:48 pm

    Such a great resource! Working with brands can be really overwhelming for new bloggers and sometimes its hard to know what to say yes to…and more importantly, what to say no to.

    -Dee
    http://www.everybodygirl.com

    • May 15, 2017 / 1:49 pm

      Thanks, Dee. I completely agree. Working with brands can even be overwhelming for veteran bloggers!

  15. May 15, 2017 / 4:41 pm

    Wow Nicole, this post is seriously amazing – I am absolutely bookmarking this. Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information! Blogging can be like the wild west at times so it’s refreshing to read some direction, especially as things pick up & working with more brands! xx Shannon

    http://champagneatshannons.com

    • May 15, 2017 / 6:51 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful, Shannon! Thanks for reading 🙂

  16. May 16, 2017 / 12:03 am

    Totally bookmark worthy post! such a helpful thing you did here! thanks a bunch and much love!

    ♡Courtney Bentley ||http://www.starsystemz.com

    • May 16, 2017 / 5:49 am

      Thank you!! xo, Nicole

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