All of the great questions readers sent in ended up making yesterday's How to Make It as a Micro-Influencer post way too long, so I've collected them all here. If there are any more questions, leave them in the comments and I'll be happy to update this post accordingly.
WHERE TO BEGIN
What is a micro-influencer?
Generally, a micro-influencer is a social media influencer with under 100,000 followers.
Where do you start?
You come up with a blog name (it can also just be your name!) and create a Blogger account. That's what I did! You don't have to share your blog with people right away. Take a couple months to get it the way you want it. No joke, I designed mine with HTML knowledge I learned from using MySpace. I can't stress enough you don't need anything to start. If you have a desire to start a blog, just start one!
How did you start writing your first blog post?
I was eighteen years old. I just typed out three things that were inspiring me, chose some images that went along with them, and linked to all of them. That was my first blog post! Here it is, if you want to read it.
How do you turn blogging into a job?
After you have been blogging for several months and have a following, you start pitching campaign ideas to companies. I go into detail about this in my blog post “How to Make It as a Micro-influencer.” Brands pay you for the content you create.
When did you decide to take the plunge and go full-time? What pushed you to make that decision?
Back in 2015, I had been toying with the idea for a few months. I was brainstorming daily, with dozens of lists of how many and what kind of partnerships I would need to be able to blog full-time. Out of the blue, I got a contract with Coach that was the same amount of money I was making at my full-time job in finance! The week after, I put in my notice and dedicated all of my time to finding new brand partnerships to sustain my income.
What was the first brand you reached out to? How did it go?
I had to do some research to answer this question! The first brand I reached out to was Travalo, a little travel perfume atomizer. They sent me a free one to review, and I was SO excited about it!
What was the first brand that reached out to you?
The first brand that reached out to me was Karen Kane. It was a very special partnership to be a part of (for free, obviously—I had been blogging for four months). I’m still Facebook friends with the Kane family!
Lifestyle blogs are a big category—do you feel like you need a niche? What’s the best advice for figuring out the focus of your blog?
You don’t need to have a niche. There are dozens of bloggers that succeed and write about fashion, travel, beauty, home décor, and recipes—they do it all, and they do it well. The thing is, when you’re an influencer (micro or not), people want to know everything about you. Even if you’re fashion blogger, once 50,000 start following you, they start to have questions. How do you get your hair like that? What moisturizer do you use? What potholders should I buy? As an influencer, you are sharing your entire life, so your expertise naturally expands to other areas. The best advice for figuring out the focus of your blog? Write what you love. You will get tired and cranky writing about anything else.
What does being "successful" as a blogger mean to you?
I never intended to turn blogging into my job. I would say that truelane is successful because I'm doing something I love to pay for my life, but that's definitely not all of it. The community I've created is my greatest success. Everyone that has ever reached out to me and said I inspire them has inspired me in turn. I've met some of my best friends by having this website. It has made my life whole in so many ways that would never have come about without truelane. A general definition of success is achieving the goals you set when you began. I've set out to inspire, and I've accomplished that in many ways over the last seven years.
GAINING AN AUDIENCE
How did you increase your following?
Back in 2010, I grew my following by hosting giveaways, doing guest posts on other fashion bloggers’ websites, attending New York Fashion Week, and several of my friends happened to have a lot more followers than I did and tagged me when we hung out. And don’t discount being a kind person! Always respond to comments and interact with your readers. Most of the fun of blogging is building that invaluable community. My readers are my friends!
How did you find your niche/build a genuine following?
I started Zipped (my first blog) as a fashion blog. That was my interest, that was my passion, and that was all I wanted to write about. I never had a ton of money growing up, so my outfits were girl-next-door prices and very accessible to the everyday gal. My niche was just who I was as a person! Regarding building a “genuine” following, I’ve been very lucky. Every day, I feel so blessed that I don’t get creepy Instagram messages from sketchy guys or hateful comments. Just make sure you’re associating with brands and bloggers and readers that share your values, and be as kind as you can.
How do you get to the next level once you have a consistent & cohesive feed?
In the beginning days of Instagram and blogging, having a consistent & cohesive feed didn’t matter, so I don’t have personal experience with this. My best advice to growing followers is to host giveaways (yes, spend your own money on the prizes if you have to), follow & engage with & comment on other blogger’s Instagram posts, meet up with other bloggers in your area, and don’t be afraid to hand out business cards in real life. Word of mouth is a great way to gain page views! People are always curious to look you up.
Do you reach out to a ton of brands hoping for a response or are brands reaching out to you?
When I first started out, I reached out to probably thirty brands a week. I’ve been blogging now for 7 years, worked on countless campaigns with countless brands and agencies, so they know my name and have me in mind when new opportunities come up. But when you’re starting out and trying to get to that next level, you have to reach out to a ton of brands! Don’t sit and wait for them to find you, because odds are, they won’t! Put in the work. It takes hours. That’s how this is done.
How did you get your foot in the door with partnering with companies?
My first campaigns came after I was featured on Natalie Off Duty, who was a model and already well known by dozens of companies. I got lucky! Other than that, like I said, I reached out to 30 brands a week and asked to feature their clothes. You just have to do the work.
How do you find people to work with?
Brainstorming. Ads on the internet. Brands I find while I’m shopping in real life. Client lists on PR firm websites. Brands I love. Instagram explore page. Just think outside the box! Make a list of brands you want to work with and start emailing.
How do you choose who you collaborate with?
As soon as I read an email, I have a gut response, and that’s what I go with. 99% of the time, it’s right. There is no black and white way to answer this question, because each opportunity is different. If it’s a product you can see yourself using in your everyday life and would be interested in purchasing with your own money, you’re probably solid in saying yes. If you’re wavering or leaving the email marked as unread for days on end or talking to your mom about whether you should accept it or not, you probably shouldn’t. You just have to use your good judgment. Be honest with yourself. Money is not worth more than your authenticity.
When you started blogging, how did you know if a brand reach-out or collaboration was legitimate?
Often, you can tell by the email. Grammar and spelling errors? Pass. However, when I was first starting out, it did take me awhile to figure out what was legit or not. Do your research—Google the brand they’re promoting, Google their email address, the name of the agency (if there is one), and use your street smarts! Sometimes, I’d respond to an email, and never hear from them again, so that’s another telltale sign. Other times, it’s just a language barrier if the company is based in another country! I haven’t had many problems with fake emails, so hopefully, you won’t encounter too many.
Spill on the free travel benefits! Pitch email, media kit etc.
Free travel is one of the greatest things I’ve gotten out of blogging. When I decide to go somewhere, guess what…yep, I put in that hard work again. I email 40 hotels asking if I can have free nights. I email the tourism board for that city or state or country telling them I’ll be in town and asking what’s going on and what they can hook me up with. I email travel marketing agencies all the time, pitching myself and telling them which clients I’d be a good fit for. I write an introduction email or a campaign pitch email. Tell them exactly what you’ll provide for them in return—what blog posts, how many Instagram posts, etc.—and deliver! Don’t expect to be paid by visitors bureaus or tourism offices for cities or states—trust me, they don’t have big pockets. Also, do a good job. Tell a story with your travels. Don’t just post your outfit in front of a colorful wall and say “Loving Austin!!! #ootd #lol #amazing #travel” Actually talk about what you’re doing, where you’re going, why you’re loving it. That’s how you win with tourism boards. Check out this post for a pitch email and media kit example.
How long were you posting regularly before you started making an income?
At least 4 years. Blogging wasn’t such a “thing” back then, so I didn’t even know I could charge for posting. But it’s different these days. I’d say after you’ve been posting consistently for a year and have a large following, you could make a solid income.
How do you check in on a late payment?
For any agency or brand, they usually have something that says “payment will be made within 30 days of invoice receipt.” If they miss their deadline, it’s up to you to check in, and I am ruthless when it comes to getting payment. I have bills to pay! I usually send an email a couple weeks after I send in my invoice and say, “Are you still on track to pay me by January 30?” or whatever the day is. If the due date passes and I haven’t received payment, you better believe the next day I’ve put an email in their inbox saying, “Following up on the payment that was due yesterday. I still haven’t received it. Please give me an update as soon as possible.” I send this email almost daily until I get the check. Many people suggest adding interest to the fee and sending the brand updated bills. Even if you don’t see that interest added to your final paycheck, they see you mean business, and should be more eager to get your check out sooner. And it’s very rare that you never get paid and have to contact a lawyer, but always be aware.
How do you earn enough money to pay your photographers and still have enough for yourself?
You account for that in the fee you charge for a sponsored post. If you’re paying your photographer $50, and you want $250 for yourself, you charge the company $300.
What do you do when people ask for free posts? How do you decline without burning bridges?
First of all, do not just decline because it’s a free post. If J.Crew emailed me and said “We’re sending you this sweater we want you to shoot for us to post on our blog,” there’s no way I’m emailing them a, “Sorry, I’m only accepting paid posts at this time” email! There is huge value in a big company giving you exposure. However, if I don’t have the capacity to post for a brand without payment, my emails usually go something like this: “Thanks so much for your email and interest in working with truelane! Glad to hear about [Brand], I love [something you noticed about the brand that’s interesting to you]. At this time, I don't have availability to work together, but I appreciate the offer. I’m attaching my media kit and post rates to this email. Please reach out to me in the future and hopefully we can put together a great collaboration!”
Does money come from posting sponsored Instagram posts or ads on the blog?
Both! For me, I don’t currently run ads on my blog, so most of my income comes from sponsored Instagram and blog posts. It’s smart to have revenue coming in multiple ways, so if it’s tough to find sponsored posts one month, you’ll still have that income from running your ads.
Is it smart to invest in a mid-price DSLR camera going into blogging, or just stick with iPhone? Portrait mode is awesome, but I’m more concerned about videos.
It’s smart to invest in a DSLR if you know how to use it or know someone who knows how to use it. If you’re stuck with a DSLR and no one to shoot for you and no knowledge about how to use a tripod and remote and photo editing software, it is of zero use to you. As a general rule, I think iPhone is great for Instagram. I prefer DSLR images on my blog website, but that’s just me. And I’m not a video blogger, so I can’t help you there. I think iPhone videos are phenomenal quality, but I’m not in tune with the YouTube community enough to know what you need to succeed there.
Is @truelane a separate account from your personal? How do you let people know you are going to have another account?
@truelane is the only account I use on Instagram. If I created another account, I’d post an announcement on my original one.
What should you be mindful of? (Having a nice camera, filters for consistency…?)
Be mindful of the story you’re telling by having an Instagram account—be mindful of your intentions for it. Why are you starting this in the first place? Be mindful about how you’re coming across to random scrollersby on Instagram. Be mindful about posting consistently—post once a day or twice a day or three times a week, but post consistently. Be mindful of posting quality photos—that doesn’t mean they have to be shot on a $1,000 camera. I don’t think consistent filters are important, mine often change seasonally!
How did you network with photographers and bloggers?
Honestly, when I moved to Minneapolis, I didn’t have any friends, so I just messaged other social media gals and asked them out to coffee! Never be afraid to cold call. There are also tons of events in cities across the nation for creatives to mingle. Start searching them out or create your own! Photographers are a little harder, but I used to find college students on Instagram that were looking to expand their portfolio and photographed me for free.
What hosting platform is best for bloggers?
There is no “best” platform. Blogger is great, WordPress is great, Squarespace is great. I started out on Blogger, which is an incredibly easy platform to use. WordPress I’ve heard is very confusing, but much more customizable, and when you get to a place where you can pay a designer to create your site, WordPress would be the best choice. Squarespace is what I’m currently using. It’s super clean and simple, but you have to pay for it, and there isn’t as much room for customization as you may want.
How do you handle dips and changes in engagement? Has the algorithm affected you?
I have to be honest answering this question—I simply don’t care anymore! The algorithm has been in place for so many months now that I’m used to the fluctuation. Here’s how it has affected me: I used to get between 2,000 and 5,000 likes on every one of my photos. Some now don’t even make it to 1,000. But I’ve accepted that this is the way it is now, and it truly just doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve never had a brand come to me and say, “We won’t work with you on this because your engagement isn’t high enough.” They get that it’s a problem too. My best advice is that if the dips in engagement bother you, try something new! Think outside the box and be resourceful. Never underestimate the value of a fifteen-minute brainstorming session.
It's tough for me to answer some questions today since I started blogging at a different time when the Internet was a different place, but hopefully you can find some nuggets in my experience that you can apply to today's social media madness. Thanks for asking, and thanks for reading!