A few months ago it occurred to me that everyone’s writing articles about how much money bloggers make, but nobody wants to talk about how much it costs to be a blogger. In fact, it would suffice to say that most people are under the dangerous assumption that bloggers are raking in the profits with as little overhead as a Macbook computer, a camera (a boyfriend to operate the camera), and a Website. Blogging is so cheap. It takes little time and effort. We’re basically laughing all the way to the bank, clad in Valentino Rockstuds.
Blogging is expensive. It’s risky, uncertain, competitive and costs a lot of money (and sheer iron will) to stay in business. Perhaps that’s why lots of trust fund babies and rich housewives have been among the bloggers to see big success, and fast. They have the money, which then affords them the freedom, to blog. If you don’t have a support system behind you to see you through the requisite 2-3 income-less years (the sort of bloggers’ rite of passage that we must all survive in order to make it big) you’re most likely headed towards failure, or in blogging terms we call that a day job.
Problem is, brands, which are our major source of income from sponsored posts, all seem to think that blogging is easy. That we pocket all the money from our campaigns to go buy designer bags and drink champagne. That they are only paying us for a CPM (cost per one thousand impressions) and the work is just a bonus because we were going to write a blog post anyway; we need the content. That bloggers and influencers are solely defined quantitatively by our numbers and reach. Trust me, I’ve had my share of conversations to glean this.
Well, I’m here to say that type of thinking is extremely erroneous. For this reason, I have to speak up about the true cost of blogging. And I’ve asked a lot of other successful bloggers to speak up about it, too, for the sake of this post. We’ve all come together right here to say the things we’ve been thinking and whispering behind closed doors for months.
First of all, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that those bloggers who aren’t charging a fair price for their work, out of fear of not being hired or bullied by large corporations spewing corporate policy left right and centre, are shooting themselves in the foot. Please, you know who you are (we know who you are): stop undercutting the market. Chances are, you don’t even know what that word means.
If you are going to be a successful blogger, you must have principles, a good work ethic and contribute to the community; you won’t last by slashing your prices or agreeing to silly terms such as exclusivity, ownership, usage rights, licensing, non-competes, and legally binding your heirs (yes, that’s a thing) at no extra charge. You may be getting the jobs from the rest of us today but you are single-handedly contributing to the instability of the industry and therefore your failure, tomorrow. And it’s the job of the veteran bloggers to educate those who don’t have experience with contracts and pricing. So feel free to reach out, I’d be happy to impart my knowledge.
What is the true cost of blogging? I asked some successful fashion and lifestyle bloggers what their typical monthly expenses are. Here’s what they listed collectively: vehicle financing, vehicle insurance, transportation costs (gas, tolls, parking, cabs, Ubers), clothing, office and shoot supplies, cell phone, Internet, outsourced photographers and videographers, mortgage/rent, hydro, credit cards, travel, studio rental, assistants, advertising, paid marketing costs (FB, Google, Twitter), apps, equipment (cameras, computers, tablets), hair and grooming, accounting (anywhere between $2k-$5k per annum), bookkeeper, manager fees, bank fees, wining and dining clients, photo props and server costs.
Those are just some basic expenses. But what about hidden costs? Canadian it-girl blogger, Ania Boniecka, offered an interesting insight on how blogging can take a toll on your overall quality of life, health and relationships with those around you:
“Time is the biggest cost of running your own business, we work 24/7. If we don’t deal with it (ie. anything and everything) nobody is going to do it for us. Stress and indirectly health can also be affected, although we try to do everything that it doesn’t get the best of us. Balance must be kept. In our particular case personal relationships with each other, work can get in between us sometimes, with different points of views and creative visions, it’s definitely something we have been practicing to get under control, but it’s a moving target, what we do changes all the time, it’s fluid so we have to adapt as we go.”
Between the basic costs of running a small business to the hidden costs, wouldn’t it, then, seem absolutely ludicrous that brands would expect bloggers to work for free? If you wouldn’t go to a store and expect them to just give you an item without paying for it or hire a photographer to shoot your look book campaign for free or hire a lawyer to write a contract for you without pay, then why is it OK to make bloggers feel bad for charging not just for their following per se but for their time and work?
Yet here we are, constantly expected to work for beauty samples and the occasional swag bag. Womp womp.
So, we try to sell ourselves to brands so they understand we deserve monetary compensation. It’s incredibly difficult and requires so much finesse, especially when the prospective client thinks your job is so easy, a monkey could do it. “I think brands believe we have a super talented boyfriend or partner who does everything for us out of love and we just have to look pretty and make their product appealing to our followers,” says one of London’s rising stars, Natasha Ndlovu, “it is not just a matter of stepping outside the house to go around the corner to shoot a dress, upload it and call it a day.”
“Just because you make it seem easy,” Ania B chimes in, “it doesn’t mean that it is. Taking an Instagram photo IS NOT a 5 minute activity. It takes time and effort, we are art directors, stylists and photographers all bundled into one, we have to make sure that all those parts are covered before anything gets produced.”
My boyfriend, Alexander Liang, one of Canada’s few menswear bloggers, comments:
“The biggest misconception that brands have is that they don’t consider blogs as businesses…. I also think that a lot of agencies and brands have the assumption that bloggers are young and inexperienced in business. Many bloggers are young, but in order to run their own businesses, most of them usually do have a strong foundation of business experience. Not to mention that they gain invaluable experience every day just by being active entrepreneurs.”
“But the thing about the blogging industry,” says Canadian style blogger, Jill Lansky, “is that people are very hesitant to talk about pricing and finances.” We’re changing that today.
Running my own small business over the past few years I’ve learned so much. For example, when I saw my first accounting bill I nearly jumped off a bridge. I called my accountant confused as to how they could charge me the same amount of money as my income, to tell me what my income was. “That’s just the cost of doing business,” says my accountant, “you need to learn to factor this cost into your work.” I asked him if he would accept a pair of Nike shoes as payment, you can imagine what he said to that.
In addition to accounting, the biggest overlooked cost I’ve experienced is how much it costs to take a photograph. Anyone who thinks photography doesn’t cost money should reconsider their perception of the world.
What does a good photographer cost? I asked all the bloggers I interviewed and the consensus was anywhere between $250-$500 an hour. The average shoot could take anywhere between 1-3 hours depending on the outfit changes and deliverables, plus all the editing and post-production work. You do the math. A photographer could easily run you $1k per project. That’s a large portion of your profits if a brand wants to pay you, let’s say $1.5k for the following: a blog post, event attendance, social media, drafts, non-competes, telling you exactly what to write, appearing in the photographs, usage of all your material (and sometimes ownership) aligning yourself publicly with that brand and then sharing all of that with the loyal following you’ve nurtured over years and year. We basically have to create the ad and then provide the channel upon which the advertisement will run.
No wonder, when asked, most bloggers said their profit margins are on average between 25-60 percent. Photography and management, in my experience, take up the most percentage of my fee – but both are integral to running a successful blog.
Expanding on the controversial topic of photography fees is one of Canada’s top fitness bloggers, Sasha Exeter:
“Brands sometimes make the assumption that all bloggers have a beautographer taking their pictures bringing their overhead costs of producing content lower. Trust me, I wish this was the case for me as I have friends who have partners that take amazing photos. The added cost I have of using photographers is reflective in my pricing, which sometimes can come as a bit shocking to some brands or PR companies.”
But even as someone who often uses my partner to take my picture and vice versa, that is still time out of his day and my day to do the work. As we get busier and busier, we too, have to outsource photographers. Maybe I’m a unique case because my boyfriend is also a blogger. Maybe the girls who just have their hubbies following them around all day is the real answer?
“I work with my hubby and he gets paid in sex. Kidding.” LOL the blogger who said this preferred to remain anonymous. But really, it’s great and all but it’s impossible to get the results that a professional photographer can produce no matter how many sexual favours you perform for your partner.
In the UK, it seems as though the situation is just as bad as it is here in Canada. Natasha Ndlovu speaks up about her value when booking gigs as a blogger:
“No I don’t [feel like I get full value]. The problem I find is there are bloggers who don’t know industry rates. So when brands come to someone like me, they can not only pretend to “not have a budget” but can argue that someone with 10 times my following is doing the job for this rate so why should I be asking for more? Some of us are no longer 15 years old, living at home, sponsored by the bank of Mom and Dad and we have costs to cover every month so exposure and gifted items do not pay the bills.”
But there has to be sometime when we feel appreciated, right? The anonymous blogger writes to me when I asked whether or not they feel they get full value for their work:
“When a brand collaborates with me and gives me full creative reign to do what I want to do and when they allow for me to charge them taxes, then this is perfect! Sometimes no. In the instance of [unnamed brands], sometimes brands want more pull (aka. micro managing, lower fee) then it’s not the best value for me.”
You see, we like when brands pay us what we’re truly worth because then we really have something to prove – we want to impress them and get re-hired – we want to do the best work because at the end of the day, it’s what we really love. When brands nickel and dime, are difficult to work with, refuse to pay our rates, ask for last minute changes and ask us to sign over our first born baby, we don’t feel like we’re being respected and valued as equals. Sorry, but the “we’re so excited to work with you” in those particular instances reads like a slap in the face.
Sure, we’ve got to figure this whole thing out. Blogging has only recently (thanks to Chiara Ferragni and Aimee Song) been named a viable business. It is in no way a sure bet. It’s not the brand’s responsibility to make everything worthwhile – we have to be smart and try to cushion ourselves as much as possible if we want to weather the storm (or save up for dental work). That’s why we must educate, educate, educate. If we stick up for our value, sooner or later, brands will come to the table with reasonable, and sometimes even great, budgets.
Until then, what’s a blogger to do? At the end of the day it is just business – but because it’s also blogging it’s also extremely personal. We must find a way to balance the business and personal sides, as well as balancing our cheque books, whilst looking beautiful, clad in Valentino Rockstuds (that we preferably don’t have to return to the PR company the next day).
I’ll leave you with Ania B.’s final words that are so thought-provoking, I couldn’t have said it better myself:
“The one thing that I will add is that complaining about profits and money is one thing but it is OUR responsibility to value our work accordingly. If a blogger undervalues him/herself they are the ones to blame for it in the end NOT the brand. The key is educating bloggers and artists about the value of their work, a conversation between bloggers is important as well, having everyone on the same page. Undercutting and people going around offering their work for less is a 100% guarantee in any business but am I willing to kill myself creating something for a client and hating my life in the process (and hurting the quality of the end product) because I feel undervalued? NO! What I can guarantee on my end is great quality work that I am proud to put out into the world, that the client will love and everyone will feel like they got what they were looking for (if not more) in the end without cutting corners.”
A big thank you to all the bloggers who took the time out of their lives to answer all my questions and share all their insights with me. It should be noted that I did ask about 5-10 American bloggers for their comments, none answered. Perhaps this is because in the US, bloggers and influencers, are indeed getting full value for their work and have been able to cover their costs, and turn a big profit. This is just my assumption. But if WeWoreWhat is any indication… God bless America.
Illustration by Karen Koh of The Illustrienne. She’s wearing Louboutins and Courrèges.