26 November 2013

Beginning Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Seven: Working With Brands and Writing Reviews

The Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp is a series of posts published once a week on Monday evenings. It is designed for new bloggers, those thinking of starting a blog, or seasoned bloggers wanting a refresher, and covers everything from starting a blog to photographing your nails to using social media. Check out past posts in this series.

Hi Bloggers! Perhaps you have been blogging for some time and you've been approached by brands to do reviews, or maybe you're still very new and wondering how to approach brands and companies to get samples to review on your blog. The point of this post is to tell you about the ins and outs of doing reviews for indie makers, nail polish and/or beauty companies. I also want to get you thinking about why you want to do reviews, and how to make them work for you as a blogger.





I will start this post off with my point of view, which might be seen as contentious: Sometimes swatching and reviewing polishes can seem like a HUGE waste of time!

...Wha!?

Let me explain that one. I tend to gauge the success of a post by the amount of traffic it receives. Popular/successful post = lots of pageviews. Seems reasonable to me. Many of my swatch/review posts have received a lot of traffic, and I know people have found my blog through my swatches. Especially if these posts are shared (usually by the indie maker) or they rank high in Google searches. Yet it's my general perception (based on comments and traffic) that it's my nail art posts that really represent the unique content on my blog.

So why don't I just quit doing swatches and review posts and stick to nail art?! Well that's a good question and one that I will try to answer in this post.

Why "Free" Polish Isn't Really Free

I used to post my nail polish hauls on my Instagram, including packages I received from indie companies for review. I remember a comment on one such photo, in which the person asked how they could get "free" polish. I politely responded that she should work on taking good photos and post on a regular basis. I was pretty unnerved by her comment, yet I feel these types of comments are all too common. Yes, it is exciting when an indie maker or polish company contacts you about reviewing their polishes, and yes, it's exciting to get blogging packages in the mail.

But let's make this clear - this is NOT free polish. If you have agreed to swatch and review the person's polish then there is work involved in that exchange. The maker/company is sending you samples in exchange for a review on your blog. To break that down into time versus cost of polish:

Average time spent swatching and reviewing one polish:
  • Swatching: 20 minutes (removing old polish, applying polish, clean up, and getting hands photo-ready).
  • Photographing: 20 minutes (taking photos, selecting photos out of multiple shots, editing photos, watermarking, and possibly adjusting colour)
  • Writing the blog post: 20 minutes (writing up your thoughts on the polish, including information on finish and formula, information on the brand, providing links to shop/social media pages, and editing the post)
  • Sharing on social media sites: 10 minutes
  • Time spent: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Keep in mind that this is a conservative estimate. 

Essentially you are exchanging over one hour of your time for one bottle of polish. In Canada where minimum wage is roughly $10/hour, and the average price of an indie is around $10, it's the equivalent of working minimum wage. Think about that.

I put this out there not to discourage you from doing reviews, or to criticize people who work minimum wage, but rather to make you think about how you want to spend your time. Think about how much your time is worth, how much time you have to spend on your blog, and your overall goals for your blog. If swatching polishes and writing reviews corresponds with your overall goals for your blog, then I encourage you to pursue this avenue.

I also put this out there so that indie makers realize how much work is involved in swatching and reviewing polishes. I've seen indie makers who want to charge bloggers for blogger samples (albeit at a discounted price), even with the expectation of a review. I really don't agree with this practice and I encourage bloggers to work with companies and indie makers who recognize and value the work that bloggers do.

Why Write Reviews?

Now that I've discouraged you from doing reviews and told you it's a waste of your time, I want to tell you how valuable of an experience it can be. 

There have been some brands I have only reviewed once or twice, and it is nice to be able to try brands that I might not otherwise have tried. I also find that in reviewing polishes my tastes have expanded. I get sent polishes that I wouldn't buy myself, colours and finishes that are not really my "taste", and often I find myself surprised that I actually like the polish. 

There are some indie makers whose polishes I have reviewed numerous times on this blog, and I value those working relationships that have been established. Every time you connect with an indie maker, blogger, reader etc. it makes blogging a little less isolating. Also, when it comes to indie makers it is nice to see their development as a maker.

Ultimately your goal is to provide content that you think your readers would find interesting. Therefore, posting reviews/swatches can be a great way to add variation to a blog, to introduce products that people might be interested in buying, and to introduce people to new brands that you think are worth knowing about.

How to Contact Companies

You've gotten this far and you are still interested in contacting companies and indie makers about receiving blogger samples. So how do you go about doing it?

Some indie makers and companies have sign up forms for bloggers. OPI, Color Club and I Love Nail Polish are examples of companies that do this. In that case it's simply a matter of submitting your information and blog/social media links. To find out about these opportunities visit websites of brands you like, and follow them on Facebook. Many of these opportunities are advertised on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

But say you want to take matters into your own hands and contact a brand you'd like to work with. Here's some general guidelines and advice:
  • If you are contacting a brand or indie maker for the first time, avoid asking for free samples. Instead ask to get put on their mailing list for press releases and other info. If you show them that you are more interested in developing a working relationship, you will get off to a better start than if you ask for free samples.
  • Be clear about what makes your blog unique. Why should they be interested in you? Maybe you like to show how polishes can be used to do simple nail art that everyone can recreate. Or maybe your focus is honest reviews with high quality photos. 
  • Include information on your blog - since you don't want to overwhelm them, keep the information to a minimum. No one is expecting a new-ish blogger to have tones of followers, but if you think your stats are strong compared to how long you have been blogging it's worth mentioning. 
  • Very obvious, but very important, include links to your blog and social media channels that you use.
  • If you haven't heard from them after 2-3 weeks, it's okay to follow up with an email, but if you still don't hear from them, I would avoid sending further emails. 


What Do Companies Look For In a Blogger?


Generally it's good to wait awhile after you start blogging to begin approaching indie makers and companies. A good rule of thumb is to post on a regular basis for 3-6 months before you start to contact people. You may find that you get approached before then, but you may not. Making your blog as strong as possible will make it more appealing when you are approaching companies. Remember that they do not owe you anything, so you have to prove yourself to them:

Here's some things that indie makers and companies consider when deciding to work with a blogger. It varies, so these are general rules:
  • A regular and consistent posting schedule. If you only post once every couple of weeks it will be hard to get companies to send you blogger samples. It's a good idea to post regularly, at least 3 days a week for several weeks. 
  • Clear, evenly lit, in-focus photographs with accurate colours. Good photographs are so important, make sure to check out my posts on taking and editing nail photos.
  • A strong following. You don't have to have thousands of followers, but this is one thing companies and indie makers will consider when deciding who to work with. 
If you work hard to make your blog stronger and develop unique content, you may find that people start to approach you. One mistake bloggers make is that they think opportunities will happen right away. Like almost everything in life, a successful polish blog takes hard work and patience. In time companies and indie makers will recognize your hard work and want to work with you.

Your Role As a Reviewer

In a nutshell, your aim is to provide an honest assessment of the polish you are reviewing. Since people will be looking at your post to decide whether or not to buy the polish, you want to have clear, in-focus, evenly lit, and colour-accurate photos. You also should provide information on the finish and formula, especially if there were any special issues with the application. Finally, you should let your readers know where they can purchase the polish, and other relevant information (i.e. social media links for the company). 

But there's a bit more to it than that. I tend to think about art criticism, which I have also dabbled in. Some of the best art critics were not just impartial critics of the art they were writing about. They were also champions of the artists whose works they admired. I like to think of my role in that way, especially with indie makers. 

But let's be clear, you are a blogger, not an advertising platform for the company. Your responsibility to your readers is to give your honest opinion. Unfortunately there are companies (very few though) who don't realize this and expect good reviews. 

Developing a Good Working Relationship


When you start to work with companies and indie makers you want to try to maintain a good working relationship, especially if you hope to work with them again. Larger companies may have specific guidelines for how they want to be contacted, but in general these tips apply to most people you will work with:

  • Be very clear and honest about your turnaround time if asked. If you are swamped with your blog, work and/or life, don't promise to finish a review in 1 week when you know it will take 2-3. It's possible they will choose to work with someone else but it's better to be upfront.
  • Don't take on too much at one time. I'm currently learning this the hard way and it sucks. Trust me, just be realistic about what you can or can't do.
  • Maintain clear and open communication with the person you are working with. Let them know you received their package, and email them the review once it's completed. 
  • Notify them of delays. If you are going to be late in getting a review out, contact the person you are working with and let them know.
  • If you have criticisms about a polish, provide it in a constructive manner - something good/something not so good. 


Final Thoughts


Do I regret swatching and reviewing polishes? Not at all! Although I constantly feel behind in my reviews, it's been a rewarding experience. However, I am starting to think about how I can make my reviews unique. I really admire bloggers like Chalkboard Nails and Manicurator who do nail art with the polishes they've been sent to review. I like how this format can make a review stand out - especially when it comes to mainstream polishes that have been reviewed by many bloggers. 

Let's Hear From You!!

Do you have an interest in working with nail polish companies and indie makers? If so why? Indie makers and experienced bloggers - tell me, am I leaving anything out? What are your experiences?


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See also:


Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Six: Developing Unique Content and Building a Following
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Five: Editing Nail Photos
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Four: Taking Nail Photos
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Three: Blog Design
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Two: Blogging Platforms
Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week One: Starting Your Blog
Introducing the Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Kickstart Your Nail Polish Blog!

20 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved this post! I've started blogging a few months ago and was really wondering when I could start contacting companies for swatching and reviews, so it's really nice to know what you, as an experienced blogger, think about it :) I'm convinced that I should wait a bit longer and post more nail art first. This was really a very helpful post, thanks so much!

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    1. Hi Robin, thanks for the nice comment and I'm glad you found this useful. :) There's nothing wrong with waiting awhile before contacting companies to work with them. In the meantime work on developing your own style and voice.

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  2. I was actually quite surprised to read that, contacting the brand for a first time, you shouldn't ask for the opportunity to review their products, but for press releases. I mean, isn't that giving them unrealistic expectations? who even needs press releases any more, rather than a couple of blogs that specialize in such things?

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    1. Maria, this was advice I got from a blogger who had much more experience than me, and who has worked with *many* indies and mainstream companies. I think it's very good advice which is why I published it. The point is that contacting someone when there is no previous contact between the two of you, only to ask for blogger samples, can be off-putting. The point is to establish a bit of a rapport first. Press releases are still useful for keeping up with new collections - you don't have to publish them.

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    2. I also agree on this point, asking for press releases shows your interest in the company and that you're not just looking for a "handout".

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  3. I TOTALLY agree with you on the "free polish" comments. It is practically another full time job for a lot of bloggers and that is just insulting. Although I realize to outsiders they really have no clue what we do *rolls eyes* haha. This is really a great series you're doing!

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    1. Thanks Kellie, I'm glad you are enjoying the series, and it's good to hear your perspective as I know you have more experience than me in this area. :)

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  4. Very interesting and useful article.

    Cooperation between beauty bloggers and companies is still quite a new thing in my country. Mostly because local companies have had no idea what blogs are and that there are specialized blogs that can help them promote their products. I was quite surprised when I was first approached to do reviews because I had no idea how to react, what to do or how to do it, but the people who contacted me were as clueless as I was and open to suggestions, which turned out to be great for both sides and we are continuing to successfully work together.
    Now, while most of the advice you provided is great for both beginners and more experienced bloggers, I guess some of it isn't of much use to bloggers from my country because we are the ones that have to contact the companies, who don't know we exist. We have to be pushy here. And if you're as resourceful as me you can end up with so much product to review that you are left with no time to actually wear polish you like. That's the downside no one tells you about.
    Oh, and I got most of my bloggers' samples when I wasn't asking for them. I'd contact company expressing genuine interest in this or that product, ingredients, availability or whatever info I needed at the moment, but I'd always present myself as a blogger and in most cases that would end up in them offering me products to try and review. I don't know if that would work with big international/multinational companies or indies, but I'd prefer that approach to the one where you ask for press releases.

    Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks for your input Vedrana, it's definitely not possible for me to speak about blogger's experiences all over the world, so it's good to hear your perspectives and experiences.

      And when I mentioned contacting companies to get on their mailing list, that is really only one approach. Contacting them for more information about their product is also a good approach, as long as it's information that you can't find elsewhere, or else it may come off the wrong way.

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    2. Certainly, certainly. And for me, the inquiry has to be honest, not just a made up excuse. In so many instances it turned out the companies are more than willing to provide additional information to bloggers, connect them with relevant people, organize educational seminars. It's not just about getting freebies or products for review. It is also about educating people who are going to write about those products so that they can better inform the end consumer. Now, I suppose that isn't so relevant to nail polish community, but your article is so full of information that is applicable to any beauty blogger I feel it is good to mention it. Also, the most important thing to me is feedback I get (actually ask for) from the companies I do reviews for. Indies and smaller manufacturers are people who can give that info to bloggers they work with. If they see your work is having impact on sales they can inform you about what aspects of your reviews customers were responding to, which in turn can help you with your future blogging.

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  5. Hey!

    Just wanted to let you know... I'm a French blogger and found about you on IG (mine is @faustgil BTW) and I loved your swatches. When I saw you were doing articles about blogging I moved to your blog and I so love it. I love how you share your experiences, give advice and let us know what we should do or not. It's so humbling. I always feel like in the blogging world, everyone keeps the tips and tricks to themselves, but you are not like that at all. So touching. I love it!

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    1. Thanks for the sweet comment. I don't understand the secrecy thing, but for bloggers who do this for a living, it is their livelihood, so that may have something to do with it. I don't know. I'm really happy to hear that you've been enjoying this series though! :)

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  6. I look forward to this series, but this particular post I was really interested to read your thoughts on....great points!

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    1. I hope I addressed what you were hoping to learn! If not, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment. :)

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  7. Another really great and useful post! I often do swatches before doing nail art, but I never thought to add the nail art on the review post for a unique addition. Great idea! Especially since I'm doing the work anyways. haha This is a really exceptional series. You should make this like a little book or ebook or something for bloggers. haha It's very useful!

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    1. Thanks so much Toria! I've actually thought about the ebook idea - not sure whether to just put the posts together in a free ebook, or expand on it and make it a paid thing (but still inexpensive). Hmmm.... :)

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  8. I think you did an excellent job. I know for me, when I enjoy a polish I like to do a review/swatches and I share that with the company. This is actually how I was first approached to do swatches and a review by some. They loved my photos and swatches so much they wanted to see more-and it's been a wonderful relationship ever since.
    Also, in case I didn't say this from the start-thank you so much for putting this all together!

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  9. I have linked this post so many times but just realized I never left an official comment. This is so informative and I especially loved how you tackled the issue of 'free polish'.

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    1. Thanks so much for the feedback Kirby, and for linking back! :)

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