Being a ‘blogger’ is pretty weird. Most of the time, when I tell people that I’m a blogger, the response I get is a head cocked to one side and a question like, “you can make money doing that??” There is a lot of mystery and snark around the idea of blogging as a career, and many bloggers catch a ton of heat for creating sponsored content, for being ‘fake’ or for ‘branding’ themselves (or their children) for a pay check. There’s also a climate around blogging / bloggers that suggests vanity, vapidness, and self aggrandizement.
Today, I wanted to open up this conversation a bit, hopefully dispel some rumors/myths and maybe (and this is my most optimistic self talking) even start to change the climate around the way we think about blogging as a career. I want to start off by saying that I have been somewhat shielded from the sh*t ton of snark and criticism that many of my colleagues receive and have received over the years. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I’m grateful for it (seriously, thank you). But because I’ve been largely shielded from it, it puts me in a unique position to bring up the convo, hopefully, in a open and honest way. Also because, the few negative comments that I have received over the years hurt me so deeply, that I want to try and curb some of the hate that bloggers get.
Last week, Emily Henderson (who’s a friend of mine) detailed what goes into making a blog post for her and her team. And while I’m sure the process varies for every blog and blogger, the general system, from brainstorming to execution, is probably pretty similar across the board. Case in point: blogging is a lot of work. It’s super fun and creative, it’s a cool job for sure — but it’s still a job.
Like magazines, movies, T.V. shows, or radio, it takes a lot of skill sets and time to pull off creating daily content. But it seems, of all creative jobs, bloggers are often expected to do this all without compensation. When I’m watching my favorite TV show (that I’ve paid to watch because it’s on HBO or Showtime or whatever) and I see product placement for a soda brand, or a car, I don’t really think twice about it. When I open up my favorite magazines, that I’ve paid money for, thirty percent of the content is ads. I see celebrities from Beyonce to Helen Mirren touting products. But bloggers are the only group of people that I see consistently apologizing (or feeling the need to apologize) for sponsorships. Why is that?
I pick my sponsors very carefully on this blog. I don’t want it to feel cheesy. I always disclose partnerships. I don’t support and publicize brands that I wouldn’t use. I want to give you all great content and I want this blog to be an inspiring place of discovery. But I also want to make money. I’m not ashamed of that. I’m a business owner and an entrepreneur and this blog supports me and my family — especially while the design/product side of my business is still in its infancy. As it is, I turn down about 70% of the ad/sponsored post opportunities I get on the blog and on social media. Sometimes, it pains me to do so, especially while I’ve still got serious credit card debt. So when I do create sponsored content (and I’m sure that this is the case for most bloggers) I do it with excitement and pride. I’ve worked my ass off to get to the place where I can attract sponsors, and I work with brands that I admire and it feels great.
So why all the drama?
I think part of the reason bloggers catch a lot of grief for creating sponsored content is that the whole thing is shrouded in mystery. How much money are bloggers really making? We see bloggers with fancy studios and large teams–it’s all very illusive! So let’s talk about it. I make a lot of my money from creating sponsored content that I then ‘distribute’ to my audience across the web. So, in that sense, when I create sponsored content I’m kinda like a creative ad agency (like Mad Men, only with no cigarettes and way more women of color ;)). I come up with ideas that I think my audience will like, create the concept, find locations, shoot the post and create great images around it, write and layout the post and then share the content (usually) across all my social channels — which for me is:
Blog: 100,000 unique visitors per month
Pinterest: 1.2 million followers
Instagram: 187,000 (@JustinaBlakeney)
Instagram: 224,000 (@TheJungalow)
…Which means that my content has a total reach of 1,731,000. And just to put that in perspective, the Vogue magazine circulation is 1,259,826. And while Vogue magazine charges $196,535 for a one page ad in their magazine, a sponsored blog post on The Jungalow with ‘social media amplification’ on all channels costs between $5000-$10,000. And the more my following grows, the more that figure goes up. Holla. On a good month we make anywhere from $20,000 -$40,000 from creating sponsored content. On a bad month (like every January!) we make nothing! It evens out. This money goes to supporting both branches of my business, the social media/blog side and the creative design studio. Right now I have three people that work with me and agents, attorneys, bookkeepers, and accountants that are also paid from that pool, and I work about 70 hours a week to make it all happen. Also, I’ve been blogging daily for about six years and it’s only in the last two/three years that I’ve been able to monetize the blog at all.
Average rates on sponsored posts on Instagram are around $100 per every 10,000 followers, so if I have 200,000 followers, I might get $2000 for a sponsored Instagram post (of course this can vary but that’s my experience). All of this sounds like a lot of money, but when you calculate the amount of time, effort and expenses that go into building up an audience on these channels, and creating content every day, it averages out (trust me). We’re doing fine but we’re not balling (yet!).
Why am I sharing all this? It’s not necessarily glamorous to see how the sausage is made. I get it. But I think that transparency is often the key ingredient to mutual respect and understanding. I just got my first royalty check from The New Bohemians which means that I’m finally getting paid something for that project (woot woot!) — because after three years of planning, concepting, styling, shooting and promoting the book only now am I starting to see a financial profit. Bloggers are creative hustlers and we figure out how to be creative everyday and get paid doing it. That’s part of the challenge. We pick and choose our projects. Some of them pay well, some of them pay nothing at all. We have to put everything on the scale and figure out what works best for ourselves, our businesses, our brands and our families. We make choices. Some of them are good ones, some of them flop. But we put ourselves out there. We share. We are vulnerable–and I think that mutual respect is paramount.
So hit me with questions and comments. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time and I’m proud of myself for finding the courage to do so. Ok, now I’m taking a deep breath, and pushing ‘publish’.
This post is sponsored by all you amazing folks that have been faithful, kind, and supportive blog readers over the years–here and around the web. Thank you. <3 ;)