As a shy person, there’s a reason I chose blogging as my career—80% of my time is spent alone at my computer. I’ll never be a blogger-turned-model with millions of followers working campaigns for Dior and Gucci and Cartier, and I wouldn’t want to be. Although settling in at a comfortable 100,000 followers would be ideal, I’ve been living on a great income with 60,000 Instagram followers for the past few years, which might be hard to believe. But it’s possible!
In this post, I’m not going to tell you how you can make it as a full-time blogger. I can only tell you how it works for me. There is no secret, magic way to start making $60,000 a year as a fashion influencer. There is no secret! What I know you don’t want to hear is that maybe 30% of it is hard work. 70% of it is luck and being in the right place at the right time. That is the truth, and if you want to just get fame and fortune overnight, blogging is not the career for you.
Since I get so many questions about how I got to where I am, here are a few things that helped me: one was beginning my blog in 2010. Sincerely Jules and Sea of Shoes were just getting started—right place, right time. Another big blogger at the time, Natalie Off Duty, visited Seattle and we got together (my first blogger meet-up!). I was offered my first campaigns after brands that followed her blog found mine—luck. Three years later, I attended my first New York Fashion Week. I attended dozens of shows, exhausted myself networking, and planned meet-ups with the big-name bloggers back then—hard work. Now here we are in 2018, blogging is my full-time job, and as much as I’ve settled into a rhythm, it’s not an easy career.
How do you make an income?
“Sponsored” is a hot topic and a buzzword, yet personally my favorite way to earn money through blogging. Sponsored content makes up about 90% of my income, which is an extremely high percentage, so I'm working on amplifying my other forms of income this year to be a little more balanced. Partnering with a company that aligns with your aesthetic and values is a great opportunity, and it’s exciting to have them believe in you and your content enough to pay you. It’s not the easiest way to make money (sponsored posts are a ton of work!), but if you do it right, it is the most organic way. You are getting to create a story and image around a product you love. The key to keeping it organic is to say no to any offer you aren’t 100% on board with. A wavering "sure" will cost you in the long run.
What to charge?
People hate talking about money. I hate talking about money. I won’t be sharing my personal income or fees here, but people are always asking me for guidelines and advice, so I’ll give it my best shot.
If you have 50,000 Instagram followers, you can easily ask for $1,000 for a sponsored Instagram post. You are paying for a photographer, props and wardrobe for the image, potentially a space to shoot in, and effort of the hours you put into it. Say that ends up costing you $300. What’s the other $700 for? This company is paying for the exposure to your stadium full of people that follow you, and paying for the caption or photo guidelines they’re giving you. That exposure is huge value for a company looking to get their product in front of people.
But guess what? The company says no, their budget is only $500. That’s when you have to buckle down and calculate what they’re giving you on top of the lower fee—free product? Exposure?— and decide in your heart if you want to accept a lower price or not. My best advice? Your gut is telling you the right answer. Don’t ignore it.
Sponsored Post Pricing:
Keep in mind a sponsored post fee really depends on the factors surrounding the individual post itself. I included both low-end and high-end suggestions, just as a starting point for negotiations and to think about what you are comfortable asking for.
10K followers | $50~100
20K followers | $100~300
30K followers | $250~500
40K followers | $500~700
50K followers | $750~1000
If you have under 10K followers, I would not ask to be paid. At that point, all you are looking for is exposure to get to the next level. Receive the free product, promote it to the best of your ability, and send them the results of your efforts. And once you get to that next level, don't underestimate the value of doing free work! I still do gifting campaigns all the time—I just can't make promises about posting it, because sponsored posts always take priority.
This guideline can also apply to blog posts. In my experience, my blog readership is lower than my Instagram follower count, but a blog post takes much more work than an Instagram post. Since an Instagram post is mostly paying for the audience, and the blog post is mostly paying for the effort, it evens out to ask for about the same price for each. In general, charge most for the platform you have the most followers on, and then take into account how much time and effort you personally will put into the project.
ShopStyle, Like2Buy, RewardStyle, LikeToKnow.It…you’ve probably heard of these even if you aren’t a blogger, because it’s how bloggers send you links to what we’re wearing. When you click-through and purchase the item, we’re then given a commission (usually between 5-15%) and paid after the return policy on the item expires. If you return the item, the commission is also returned. Bloggers from all tiers—10K, 30K, 50K, 90K—can make thousands of dollars a month just by doing this (albeit aggressively). I'm not aggressive about this, so it only adds up to about 5% of my income. You have to have a significant amount of followers and a referral or invitation, so make friends with a blogger who uses it so they can refer you.
Food bloggers I know can make $10,000 in one month just by running banner ads on their sites. Although their page views just about quadruple mine, running ads on your site is a valid way to earn a passive income—you don't have to do anything beyond installing them to make the money. However, many agencies require statistics from Google AdSense (or a certain number of page views) before you can apply to their agency, so get started with an account there. Any passive income is worth it as a micro-influencer!
Product Creation or Partnerships
You've noticed that bloggers often release capsule collections in collaboration with another company, like my past partnerships with Elegantees and Goldfine Jewelry. On top of being paid for their time and effort in the design process, they are paid with commissions on each piece sold. You can also create your own products, like an app or an eBook if you're into the tech or writing side of things.
How do you run your business?
The hardest part about blogging is that you are doing everything. As a micro-influencer, I make a comfortable living for me, not for anyone else, so I don’t have the income to hire regular employees. I am the CEO, the COO, the CFO, and the secretary for each of them. I run the sales department, the marketing department, and the legal department. I can bring in help on a case-by-case basis, but since 2010, I've done it all. I’ve never been good with numbers or organization, so discovering a process that worked for me was the hardest part. The key for me is to write every single thing down—every single thing. If I don’t write down an email I need to respond to, that email will be lost in the black hole of my inbox faster than the speed of light. If I don’t write down a sweater that I was gifted from a company, I’ll forget I ever received it and it’ll be months before I get around to shooting it. My friend recently set me up with a Trello board, which has changed my world.
To succeed as a full-time micro-influencer on your own, you do need to have an organizational system. You do need to have a income and expense spreadsheet. You do need to have an editorial calendar. You do need a filing system. You do need to have a dedicated office or desk space. You do need to have a business checking account. You do need to have a notebook you can scribble things in as soon as you think of them to refer back to when you have time. There is so much value in staying organized when you work from home and for yourself. Since I’ve put this into practice, I’ve already been able to improve brand relationships, feel less stressed, and even enabled myself to make more money.
How do you get work?
That's simple—pitching. I've sent thousands of emails (even Direct Messages on Instagram or Twitter) over the last seven years telling brands why they should pick me to create content for them. Probably 40% of them came through. Yeah, over half of this job is rejection. For me, there are two categories of pitch emails: introductions, and campaign pitches. Here is an introduction I sent to a travel marketing agency back in 2015:
If you don't have a list of companies you've worked with before to kick off your email, just list a few brands that you have featured in your content, and sell them your brand! Whatever you can say to make yourself sound enticing to them—as long as it's true. With an introduction email, I also send along a media kit, which is a PDF that gives them the rundown about you: your website pageviews, followers at a glance, campaigns you've worked on. Here is an old media kit I used to send out:
This is the email you send before you start campaign pitching. Just from sending that email two years ago, I've worked on five multi-thousand dollar campaigns for them! People want to see professionalism, a bit of your personality, and your credibility, and that can adapt depending on who you're writing to.
Here is an example of a campaign pitch email I sent to a brand last year:
I had done "gifting campaigns" (receiving free product) from this company before, and so this was a pitch to a company already familiar with me. Their fashion is fun, bubbly, and girly, and I gave my email that personality. She was interested. In my next email I sent her my rates, then we were able to work out a fair price for the trio of blog posts.
After doing this for seven years, I've made enough contacts at brands and agencies that they have me in mind when a campaign comes up, and they reach out to me. I probably send out a pitch email three or four times a month now. But when I was starting out, I sent thirty pitch emails in a week. How do you find what brands to pitch to? Email the ones you love. Look at who other bloggers are working with. Look at the ads Facebook is throwing at you. Look at the #ootd hashtag and see what brands people are featuring. Browse Pinterest. Use your resources. Here is an example of me being resourceful, in a cute little quotation indent:
When I was breaking into the travel blogging world, I researched every hotel and destination out there and found out who their marketing agency was. Once, I tracked down an agency I was interested in, and all I could find was the CEO's email address—not about to pitch a blog post to a CEO! I then went to LinkedIn and looked up the social media team for the company, and input a name of an employee I found in the formula of the email for the CEO—firstname.lastname@example.org. The email got through! Never underestimate time spent on research and resources.
Now that I've overloaded you with information, I'll reiterate: I don't have all the answers. I don't know how you can make it as a blogger, I can't tell you how to get more followers, and I can't tell you how to start making more money or make the jump to the "next level." No matter how many times you ask me "How do you become a full-time blogger?" I will never have a simple answer for you. I've tried to be as plainspoken as possible in this blog post, and I hope you find some of it helpful rather than discouraging. You can definitely succeed in this career, just as I have, without being a millionaire superstar. And I hope that if it's your passion, that you do!
Good luck out there!