If you blogged for more than a year or two, you must have noticed how much the space has changed. We are in this chaotic transitional stage where blogging is redefined and becomes something more established, with FTC making the  rules or without them. The explosion of social media and blurring the lines between marketing and opinions, makes it harder for a single person to navigate their way in the space. From advertorials to sponsored tweets, branded widgets, dedicated emails, giveaways, contests – many bloggers turn their hobby into profitable (even if still small) business.

The question is how do you keep growing and monetizing your blog without losing your true audience and… your style? In the days when brands go out of their way to get the bloggers on their side, it’s more important than ever to establish your own rules and stick to them.

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As someone who is constantly approached by marketing and PR people, I thought it would be helpful to share few pieces of advice. I believe together we can change the way some companies approach bloggers and eventually all benefit from it. At least I hope so….

1. Define your assets. Your blog is your media property, and you should treat it as such, whether you have 1k or 100k visitors. It is important to get a scope of your assets in order to play the blogging business game. Example: you have a blog with X page impressions, email list with X subscribers, Twitter account with X followers, Facebook page with X fans, etc. Get those numbers together, keep them handy and update often.

2. Decide whether your persona is part of these assets. Most of fashion bloggers these days are open about putting their personality out there, and some manage to close endorsement deals, ad campaigns and other opportunities based on their personality (and sometimes looks). If you are an expert in your domain, have a great niche, put your personality out there and manage to create a following (even small) – you might be appealing for some brands to work with you.

3. Decide which of these assets you want to monetize. It might be a good decision not to monetize all of these channels. Example: You might decide that even if you are fine with running occasional sponsored posts, you don’t want to send out sponsored tweets. It depends on your audience, and some might be more tolerant than others.

4. Define your rules and boundaries. They are painful and hard to decide on, but trust me it’s better to create those once, than have ethical dilemmas every time a sponsor approaches you with opportunity. If you are in the business of blogging you have to have Editorial Guidelines and Media Kit, both available online. It’s so easy to send people the link (plus, you can update both without resending to every contact). It presents you as a serious professional and eliminates unnecessary negotiations.

5. Learn to differentiate between editorial and promotional content. The recession has put lots of pressure on retail brands, which now use their PR firms to not only create the buzz, but also increase sales conversions. These days I see many PR companies  trying to push promotional and purely marketing content as editorial. Discount offers and sales are a great example of these gray areas. Many shopping and fashion blogs are posting these promotions, which sometimes look like oversized banner ads. I’m not against posting sale offers, but I believe it should be done in a tasteful way that doesn’t compromise the editorial voice. Great example is the NY mag’s The Cut blog which combines all sales offers in a daily text-only post without promoting one specific sale.  One of the consequences of posting promotional content is that once you start, you get more sent your way. Also, you largely eliminate the chances of these brands ever buying ad space or sponsored opportunity on your blog – why would they ever pay you if you keep posting their promotions for free?

6. Beware of giveaways. Companies love offering giveaways to bloggers from number of reasons: a) they “pay” in product, which in most cases are low cost compared to the exposure they are getting b) they get free promotion, as if it was a sponsored post c) they get engagement with your readers without doing much work. Not to mention all the promotion you do for the giveaways on Facebook, Twitter and sometimes via the email list. There is lots of value in these channels. They are practically using your voice and your media property to reach your readers without compensating you personally for the service. My suggestions for running giveaways are: a) the product should be high value (at least $100 for the total package)  b) you should come up with a fee for running giveaways, which will compensate you for the promotional work you do and c) giveaways should run in low frequency. I feel there is such an overload of the products given away lately, blog readers simply ignore them unless it’s something unique and valuable.

7. Set your rate card and stick to it. It’s as difficult as setting your boundaries, but it makes your life easier by saving you from individual case-by-case decisions. Every channel you decided to monetize should have its price – whether it’s public and part of your Media Kit, or private and shared based on inquiries. Don’t be afraid to ask 20-30% more than you think you deserve – creative people tend to underestimate fruits of their work, and sometimes you will be surprised how much people are willing to pay for them. It is important to stick to your rates, even if you have to say NO sometimes. You will do great service not only to yourself, but to your peers who operate in the space.

8. Learn to say NO. Every time you tend to say YES to an opportunity, even though it’s not the right fit – think about why you started blogging in the first place. Example: running non-relevant sponsored post on your blog can turn off your readers. Placing a WalMart ad on a high end fashion blog may delude the value of your blog and turn off potential luxury advertisers. Think long term rather than how to make a quick buck – it pays off, trust me.

9. Beware of bartering. This is my personal rule, which I know some will argue, but I’m against accepting anything but cash for any sponsored opportunities on a blog. I constantly hear stories about brands paying bloggers for services with clothes and gift cards, which isn’t the best way to build your blog as a business. Reasons: a) it’s not scalable – what happens if you are get paid in shoes, and your traffic has increased? Do you ask for boots?  b) it’s unprofessional – even if you sell a sidebar ad for only $50, you are still a service provider and should be treated as such by the brand.  d) it sets the wrong standard for the entire industry.

10. Don’t lose your essence. And by that I mean many things: your personality, your writing, your daily portraits, your point of view, your editorial choices and many other things. If the chase for money/traffic/audience starts driving your blog’s voice, it might be a good time to take a break and remind yourself why you started blogging in the first place…

Lastly, with all respect to money I truly believe that authenticity is the highest online currency these days. Therefore not disclosing relationships or misleading blog readers will never be in style.

Feel free to add your own rules or advice below…

p.s. I recently decided to put to work my art degree by adding drawings to my posts. Enjoy! ;)