How much income can I make from blogging? What should I charge for an Instagram feature? At what point will I start to make money with my blog?
These are all questions I see practically every day in a variety of blogger Facebook groups, as well as in various groups on Instagram. Recently, there was a discussion in one of my favourite travel blogger groups about whether it’s okay to ask someone how much they were paid for a campaign, such as a blog post on a sponsored Instagram post. The responses were somewhat mixed, with some people saying it was incredibly rude and others mentioning that for ‘newbie’ bloggers, it was actually really tough to know what to charge for sponsored posts.
So why should I discuss my income?
In the influencer marketing industry, the knowledge is predominantly on one side of the negotiation. Often bloggers, especially newer bloggers, have no real idea about how much they can (or should) charge brands for sponsored posts on blogs or social media. There is no ‘main consensus’ about what a charge-out rate should be, or even if you SHOULD charge for it if there is a product involved.
Discussing your income doesn’t necessarily mean creating and publishing income reports, or disclosing exactly how much you were paid for a specific collaboration. When I say that bloggers should discuss their income, I mean that this subject should not be taboo.
Yes, sending an unsolicited message to a blogger (especially if you don’t know them very well) asking them how much Company X paid for the such-and-such campaign is kinda rude. After all, you wouldn’t go up to a stranger working in a store and ask how much they were getting paid for it, and the same goes for people in the blogging/social influencer world.
However, knowledge is power. Currently, brands hold most of the bargaining chips and often use this to take advantage of smaller (and/or newer) bloggers and either underpay them or pay them nothing at all.
Sure, there are resources online that recommend amounts to charge, but there is nothing that really compares to actually talking to fellow bloggers about their experiences. Niches vary and collaborations and sponsored post payments also tend to vary slightly across niches. After all, being paid to write about a particular mascara is slightly different to being paid to write about an airline when they are comping you an entirely free flight.
Why is discussing income taboo?
In 2015, a senior software developer by the name of Lauren Voswinkel, started a Twitter hashtag ‘#talkpay‘ where she encouraged people to tweet their job title, experience level and their salary.
“The employer-employee relationship is inherently antagonistic. Employers are trying to make as much money as possible; by nature, they are trying to pay employees as little as possible while still having to be excited and dedicated to work at the company. So during negotiations they are offering the least amount that they think they can get away with.” -Lauren Voswinkel
This conversation with #talkpay not only made some interesting observations on pay differences but also highlighted the fact that many people still find it taboo or inappropriate to discuss remuneration. Lauren states that “this type of discrepancy [pay differences] is only allowed to exist in an environment where people are afraid to talk about this pay” and I wholeheartedly agree. If we never discuss pay and therefore don’t have any way of knowing what other people charge, then how do we know what is the right amount to charge brands?
I have personally never understood why it is so taboo to discuss salary and income. I wouldn’t ask someone I don’t know about it, but I think it’s perfectly fair to know what your colleagues earn (even approximately) and to talk about income with your friends. I don’t have a problem with people asking me how much they ought to charge for sponsored Instagram posts and I absolutely love discussing with fellow bloggers about what they consider ‘fair’ and also what companies are renowned for offering incredibly low remuneration or for pitching to very new bloggers on an ‘exposure only’ basis.
Knowing your value is vital
One of my least favourite interview questions is about pay. “What are your salary expectations?”
Well, that’s a good question, HR person. How much are your pay expectations, then? I always feel like I’m backed into a corner – if I go too high then they’ll think ‘oh I don’t think so’ and therefore no job for me, but if I pitch too low then they’ll just take advantage of me and pay me less than I am actually worth.
I feel the same way with blogging and pitching. I’ve found that companies (and clients in my freelance work) will ask me to pitch a number. Well, that’s great, but what’s your budget? I do have a somewhat ‘standard’ amount but this will often scare away smaller companies who can’t afford that amount, but also wouldn’t be as high as I would pitch to a huge international firm.
Websites such as SocialBlueBook can help you calculate your recommended fee that you can charge brands but tend to err slightly on the higher side. With Instagram, the ‘industry standard’ (which is often not standard and doesn’t seem to be remotely relevant to industry) is to charge around $5-9 CPM (cost per thousand followers).
SocialBlueBook suggests that I charge $458 for one Instagram post, $6.27 for a Tweet and $107 for a sponsored blog post written by me or $57 to publish a guest post on my blog.
Would I actually charge these amounts? Well, it depends. Have I charged these amounts? That’s an entirely different question!
How to ask other bloggers
We mentioned earlier that it’s somewhat impolite to ask someone directly how much they were paid by Company X for Campaign Y, especially if you don’t really know them very well. So, as a fellow blogger, how do you go about asking them for advice?
This is somewhat easier if you have been approached by a brand but don’t really know how much you should pitch to them for. Otherwise, consider brands that you want to pitch to. Think about what you can offer them (e.g. one Instagram post? One blog post? One blog post with 2-3 Instagram posts in return for a sponsored stay PLUS payment?) and then it is easier to ask other bloggers for advice.
I might not be able to fly out to New York right now, but I can remind myself of the amazing food I had there! Thanks to @deliveroo I can order in the best smoothies and salad bowls (*ahem* and burgers 🍔) in the city! YUM! Get £2.50 off your first Deliveroo order with my code FLYAWAYGRL and experience all your favourite dishes at home! 🙏🏼 What is your favourite international dish? 🍽 #ad #exploringtheglobe #theglobewanderer #beautifulcuisines
For example, if you asked me:
Hey Penelope! How much did Deliveroo pay you for your Instagram post for them?
I would probably find this a little abrupt and brash and be less keen about discussing my pay with you. However, this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still be willing to discuss this with you. A much better way would be to ask:
Hey Penelope! I loved your post for Deliveroo – I’m really hoping to get more sponsored posts for my own Instagram. I haven’t done so many yet and I wasn’t really sure how much I ought to charge companies, could you help me? I could really do with some advice!
This starts well (flattery gets you everywhere, my dear) and doesn’t necessarily ask me exactly what I got for a specific campaign. You have come to me for my knowledge and my experience and, even if I can’t tell you exactly what you should charge, you would at least be able to bounce ideas off of me and I could point you in the right direction (e.g. $5-9 per 1k followers, higher for higher engagement etc) or I can help you figure out if a brand is trying to take advantage of you.
Of course, this isn’t just limited to me. Most bloggers and influencers are perfectly happy to give you some tips – we were all new once. And even if you aren’t new to blogging, you might be newer to sponsored posts and/or pitching to certain brands. Never be afraid to ask, but make sure you ask in the right way.
Interested in learning how I decide how much to charge brands? Read my article on How Much You Should Charge For Sponsored Posts!
When I started blogging and using my Instagram more for business and my blog I had very little idea on what was a sensible price to charge brands. I started to do more and more research, both on other blogs and in Facebook groups, on how much I should be charging.
This was also around the point where I started to get emails about adding links to posts or publishing guest posts on my blog for payment. I’m going to hand over to Karen of WanderlustingK to explain more about this.
Selling Follow Links
Have you made it big as a blogger? You’ll know the second that a company or a fellow blogger contacts you out of the blue asking to write a guest post for you. It’s really exciting but, sadly, many of these requests are disingenuous.
What are they after? Follow links.
What is a follow link?
It’s a normal link directing traffic to their website that Google sees. Your ranking on google depends on how many places give a follow link to your page, so many SEO sharks (as I call them!) seek out bloggers to place links to their business within your posts.
Why is it bad?
It doesn’t help you, only them. Many website rankings look at the “spam score,” which assesses the quality of the links, so even if you say yes for free, it might hurt you spam score & ranking on google if it’s especially spammy.
If you’re getting paid to place the link, this goes against Google’s policies about paid links. Some bloggers ARE willing to place follow links, for a set period, for a fee, but the risk can be high since you (and the company!) can lose your entire Google ranking if Google determines that it’s a paid link. How? Machine Learning (aka Magic).
If you’re after some well-written guest posts since you’re busy, this can be an easy way to get content if you’re careful. Be sure to make it clear that IF it’s paid, there are no follow links and that you will not approve the post until you approve the resource links.
I had a fellow “blogger” write a beautiful guest post for me, but ended up sneaking in a follow link to a sketchy client to an auto parts seller as an essential resource link. I notified her that I’d go forward IF she removed the sketchy link. She immediately withdrew the guest post.
Situation A: A business or a company contacts you saying they want to collaborate with you paid or unpaid. Don’t do this for exposure. Businesses should pay bloggers–and if they want to work with you, they should pay for exposure on your website (no follow).
Situation B: A fellow blogger (whether from a Gmail OR their website) offers to write a guest post for you. Check out their website and see if they seem like a real person. If it seems to check out, you can agree on the condition that the post will not be shared UNTIL you check all resources & proofread. Some bloggers create a post guidelines that includes many of these points. Often SEO agencies looking to promote a link pretend to be bloggers, so don’t say yes until you’re happy with it.
Advice: If it’s a fellow blogger that you don’t know writing a guest post, know that SEO agencies often pretend to be bloggers in promoting their clients’ websites. Don’t say agree to the guest post or give a follow link if you have doubts.
Karen is my go-to person if I need advice on SEO, link selling scams or how to properly disclose – definitely check her out on Instagram!
SEO sharks are really important to be aware of and you will receive emails from them. This is one form of monetisation that you should definitely steer clear off. SEO agencies will prey on newer bloggers as they know that they are less likely to be aware of the fact that being paid for follow links will get you penalised by Google.
So how should we be more open about our income?
I’m not saying you necessarily should go and create an income report detailing exactly where you make your money blogging (although if you want to then go for it – I really enjoy Carly on Purpose’s income reports and I definitely recommend that you check her blog out!) but I firmly believe that there needs to be more discussion around how much we, as bloggers, make and accordingly how much we charge to brands and companies.
I’m not one for saying I believe in something and doing nothing about it, so here is the breakdown of what I have made (and received) for each of my sponsored posts.
Sponsored blog posts:
Why Gothenburg Should Be On Your Bucket List – 2 comped nights at Slottsskogens Vandrarhem & Hostell (saving me approximately €53)
Two Days in Skopje – 2 comped nights at Unity Hostel (saving me approximately €14)
Why I Plan to Return to Bulgaria – 1 discounted night at Moreto & Caffeto Hostel (saving me approximately €5)
Savings on travel: €72
Sponsored Instagram posts:
Plymouth Gin Evening – two free cocktails per person (worth approximately $40) plus $30 payment (instead of a bottle of gin, since they couldn’t send it to the UK) [through Obvious.ly] with 17.7k followers
Marco Polo Travel Journals – product only (two travel journals and four guide books) with 22.1k followers
Uber Campaign – commission only (£3 for each sign-up with my code – THEFLYAWAYGIRL for up to £15 off your first Uber ride, UK & Ireland only). I don’t have a total of what I have earned from commission with Uber as the campaign is still ongoing! [through Real Tribe] with 50.8k followers
Other remuneration: as mentioned above
My main blog aim (and Instagram too) for this year is to start to consistently generate revenue. Instagram is my main revenue source in connection with my blog but recently I have been really bad at actually pitching to companies and being proactive about it (moving to a different country and starting an internship impacted that slightly).
However, I feel strongly about that fact that more bloggers should openly discuss their income from blogging and using their social media influencer status to generate revenue. Without the open discussion, it’s harder for influencers to know what they should be charging and to know when a brand is trying to really underprice their work. For example, I was once pitched to by Magnum (on Buzzoole, another influencer marketing platform) for an Instagram post with approximately £50 in payment. I had around 40,000 followers at the time, making this rate around $1.50 CPM, well below the ‘recommended’ amount of $5-9 CPM. I was really quite insulted!
Baffled by how much to charge brands? Read my brand spanking new post that breaks down all the numbers!
Companies will continue to underpay (or not pay!) influencers until we can make a stand and, as I said previously, knowledge is power. If bloggers have no idea what they should be charging then they may well be underpricing themselves (and therefore accidentally undercutting fellow bloggers). It’s up to us, as a community of bloggers and influencers, to make sure the knowledge is out there and to advise those who want to know more.
What do you think about openly discussing income from blogging?
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