With the holidays coming up and already being a month into the fourth quarter, I wanted to write this behind the scenes post. I am going to be as transparent as possible. Obviously it can be tricky since some things are contractual and I don’t want to roll specific brands under the bus. And I also don’t want to speak for every blogger/influencer (I know, gag, I hate the word too)– this is just my own personal preferences and experiences.
I asked for questions on my Instagram and was blown away by the sheer number. There is definitely a lot of confusion/curiosity around this whole thing. I didn’t even really organize the questions by the way– I just typed them up here as they came! I’m keeping this pretty focused on my holiday strategy (which is my biggest quarter of the year), but if you want to know more about the blogging process, I wrote two posts that you might be interested in: Blogging Tips & Part 2
How long does a typical blog post take you from start to finish?
Every post differs and it depends on what the post involves (and what we’re counting). If it’s an outfit post, there’s probably an hour of pre-shoot prep (sourcing outfit online, steaming, trying pieces on to create the outfit, finalizing accessories), ~30 minutes to shoot (I try to zip through it because I find it so awkward, ha). And then about an hour to put the post together (optimize photos for the web, find links for clothing items/alternate items if they’re sold out, and writing the post). This obviously isn’t taking into account hair/makeup, traveling to the location, etc. Lots of tiny details go into everything, even low key shoots.
If the post is sponsored add in at least a couple of extra hours split up over time (phone calls, negotiations, drafts, product sourcing, etc.).
If it’s a collage, it’s at least 2.5 hours depending on how many items I include. From finding the products (at least an hour) to putting together the collage (at least another hour) to formatting the post. Here’s how I do the collages by the way!
Gift guides take longer. I’m going through more sites, spending a long time curating the guides to make sure they’re coordinated.
How do you choose who to partner with?
I’m lucky that I CAN be super picky about who I partner with. I mostly trust my gut. Over the years I’ve had to be more “cut-throat” about it and I try to get as much information as possible BEFORE agreeing to anything, even if I already love the brand. If the campaign seems over the top or includes an element I’m not comfortable with or don’t love, I pass.
For example, this summer I was going to do a shampoo campaign and tested it for a few weeks and everything. When I went to sign the contract, I realized they wanted me to feature a specific big-box retailer’s shopping bags in the Instagram post and I turned down a near 5-digit deal over it. It bothered me that I LIKED the shampoo (loved it even) but was going to be forced to include a secondary brand (that would have been a stretch for my brand). So I passed.
A lot of factors go into deciding who I work with. In no particular order:
1) Do I like the PR person/team and are they a JOY to work with (there are a few agencies with so much red tape that the communication/approval can be a nightmare)
2) Do I like the product/brand or is it one that I want to learn more about myself
3) Is this a brand/product I think my audience would want to know more about
4) Are they able to meet my rate
5) Does the timing work with my editorial calendar and is it clear of exclusivity issues
(There are TON of other factors though that my manager and I go through but those are the big ones. I only forward her offers that I think are a good brand fit for me and then she only comes back with offers that are at least my asking rate. That cuts out like 95% of campaigns that come my way!)
Would love to see more things that you end up not liking and why.
I prefer to keep things positive when I can. It’s so much easier to share things that I really love than to showcase things I didn’t. And 95% of the time, it’s a personal issue (like size/fit) and not something that my audience would benefit from knowing!
Especially during the holidays, I’m going to be churning out extra content, and especially consumerism products, that I want to make sure the space/airtime is going to brands/items that I DO like/recommend/want to buy!
How frequently do brands send you free products? What do you do with the excess?
I’ve been VERY strict with brands when it comes to mailers. Moving twice in 24 months helps because a lot of agencies have definitely lost my address, ha. But most of the time, unless it’s for a paid campaign, I say no. It’s a much cleaner transaction if I can just buy what I want frankly. It’s awkward when things don’t fit or look right and then I feel guilty and kind of “stuck” with something that I don’t even like.
I went to an event somewhat recently and a PR person just handed me a GIANT tote filled with her client’s products. While the gesture was “nice,” I was so overwhelmed by the number of things in there and it didn’t make the brands look great collectively. Nothing was my size and I was kind of so annoyed that I was handed something that I then had to pack and lug around with me that it soured my taste on everything in there!
Some people get VERY frustrated when I mention that getting free stuff isn’t that great. I totally understand because it looks amazing. But what you don’t see is hours of breaking down boxes, having to figure out WHAT to do with unwanted product (like WHY send me 40 shades of foundation?), etc. It’s actually a lot of work. I’d say 5% of things sent to me blindly are things that I actually like/would use/buy again. When brands/PR agencies send it out, they’re not doing it out of the kindness of their heart but because it’s free press for them. All very transactional so it can be annoying when it’s unsolicited.
How far in advance are you working?
It depends! Brand deals can happen in five days or over five months. I try to know what I’m doing blog-post wise by the week. And then I generally write the post within three days of it going live so it feels timely and not “stale.” (Unless it’s a campaign in which case a draft can be due two weeks prior for brand/agency approval.)
Now, I also have a lot of things going on in my head. I have my holiday “game plan” up there, but I’ve honestly been doing it for so many years that it’s kind of second nature. I am definitely less stressed this year than the year before and so on.
How early do you have your campaigns/partnerships lined up?
Generally speaking, I’d say most partnerships unfold within a month. But some are longer and some are (way) shorter. Things can be rushed for a myriad of reasons. A product is launching and the brand decided last minute to do a social campaign. Another blogger dropped out and they’re filling that space with me. There was a delay in shipping that “crunched” the timeline. My management team and their agency spent a long time on nailing down the contract, etc.
How do you schedule your days? Traditional M-F or switch it up?
I used to work every day and thought I was going to lose my mind. Now, for the most part, I keep to a regular M-F schedule. Sometimes I end up working more or less, but that’s the beauty of creating your own schedule. (Or the downfall of essentially being a contractor.) Some weeks are INSANE and some weeks are slow. I’ve learned to 1) enjoy weekends and try to disconnect from work as much as possible and 2) relish the slow weeks (don’t feel guilty) because it’s there are crazier weeks to come.
My general schedule is that I shoot outfit posts on Monday and Wednesday. So those mornings are spent doing full hair/makeup + getting outfits finalized and steamed. I shoot for three to four hours each of those days (more or less depending on how many campaigns I have to shoot in addition to regular outfit photos).
The rest of the days of the week can be a little bit of a grab bag. I write blog posts every day. I draft campaigns. I answer emails and DMs for hours every day. I source products for upcoming posts. There’s a lot of “admin” work that comes with owning a business (taxes, paperwork, etc.) and then a lot of weird stuff that comes with blogging (like breaking down boxes and steaming clothes). I wear many hats throughout the day.
How do you negotiate your fees?
My manager does it for me!!!!! I lost my old manager earlier this year and got assigned to another one at the end of January and then she went on maternity leave this August. So it’s been a littleeeeee weird this year. Luckily, they’ve all been amazing so I feel lucky in that department.
I get a lot of emails directly to me and I forward them to my manager with a little note. I’ll fill her in on my personal relationship with the PR person or brand manager, what I’ve done with the brand in the past, organic posts where I’ve included the product/brand, if I’d want more or less than my asking rate, etc.
Then she takes it from there and comes back with an offer. Then I tell her if it works for me or if I want more money (haha) or would be willing to do fewer posts for their budget, or whatever. Then she goes back to the brand and that continues until everyone is aligned.
Is it stressful to make everything look perfect?
During the holidays in particular, YES. I don’t want to shy away from the fact that it’s my job! So when I’m working with a brand, I want to make sure they’re getting exactly what they want. I try to balance being real/authentic with still delivering beautiful photos. Unlike a magazine where the brand provides the collateral for the ad, regular content and ad content is created by and starring me. It’s a weird balance for sure.
How do you make sure your photos are out before the product sells out?
This is really hard. I don’t have insight into inventory with brands so sometimes I take a good guess and hope for the best. If something is sold out, I may hold onto the photos for a week or so to see if it gets restocked or I’ll try to find something similar.
But it’s a shot in the dark for sure.
Do you decide what products to feature or do brands ask to highlight something particular?
Every brand is different. Some want a look that’s head to toe featuring that brand. Some give guidelines and some parameters and then I can pick everything else. And some brands don’t care and just give me complete creative control.
For holiday, a lot of time the brand has something specific they want to push. If it’s really something I don’t like or doesn’t feel “me” but there’s something else from the brand that I do, I always ask if it’s possible to switch. If it’s not possible, I pass. But in my experience brands are pretty receptive to the suggestions, especially since they know that I know myself and know my audience! Ultimately everyone wants a successful campaign.
How do you take images of all the content before the holiday has happened?
It’s unfortunately/fortunately all staged. Yes, it’s weird. I totally acknowledge that. Last year I set up a Christmas tree the first week of November JUST for blog photos that wouldn’t be going live until Thanksgiving.
While it’s weird and feels fake, it ultimately lets me enjoy the time I spend “in real life” with my friends/family. I’d prefer to stage holiday content for blog purposes and then not have to feel like my actual life is a photoshoot. (If that makes sense.) A big thing is that I have a photographer who I hire. It’s not a husband/boyfriend/family member who’d be there anyway. It gives me the best of both worlds and I way prefer my set up, even if it comes across as staged. I need to do that for my own mental sanity and privacy!
What does shoot prep look like?
A typical holiday shoot entails getting outfits and props ready. I try to make sure my outfit coordinates with the product and spend time going through my closet/shopping online for it. I also take into account what kind of photo I’ll be taking. Am I outside and will I need a coat? Will I have to sit on the floor and would jeans work better?
I also tend to have to get/prepare props. Last year in our super dark apartment, I STRUGGLED with the tree. Mike and I were both “over” the apartment and didn’t bother getting a tree. I had a fake one in my office and would literally break it down between shoots, drag it to the living room, re-decorate it with different ornaments just to have a different “look” for the campaign. This year, I’m doing multiple trees. (Because I’m excited to have a house to decorate yayyyyyy! and also because it’ll be so convenient for the blog.)
Do you go out after taking outfit pictures or do you go home and change into lounge clothes?
I shoot at least three outfits each day I’m with my photographer! So I typically stay in the last outfit for a while. But if I’m going to be working out later, then I change into workout clothes. And sometimes I have another event/appointment where the outfit I shot last isn’t appropriate so I change again.
My closet/room turns into a MESS (picture Abercrombie and Fitch’s dressing rooms circa 2003 on Black Friday ha) after a shoot with clothes/accessories/shoes everywhere.
How do your hours differ during the holiday season?
They’re pretty much the same, maybe an hour or two more of work a day. I generally spend more time shooting with my photographer and I typically have more events in the evenings that I have to take into account, too. It’s less about the time that things take and more about how ON TOP of things I have to be. No room for error and my organization/strategy has to be tight. I’ve been doing this for years though, so I feel pretty good about it.
Do you do more business through your blog or Instagram?
It’s kind of 50/50-ish. I’d say throughout the year it comes out in the wash but there are some months where everything is on Instagram and other months where my blog is the main focus campaign wise.
How much money do you make on average for each sponsored post?
I’ll be as specific as I can be. I will say that I take a lot of things into account when charging brands (how many pieces of content they’re asking for, what the messaging is going to look like, what the branding requirements are, what’s the timeline, what’s the exclusivity, who have they worked with before, have I enjoyed working with them before, etc.).
I pretty much won’t do anything under $3,500. That’s the bare, bare minimum and I rarely accept that rate. I also prefer to do FEWER campaigns for higher rates. Like, I’d rather do one $10,000 than ten $1,000 campaigns. I don’t want every Instagram to be sponsored so I charge rates that ensure I’m doing as few campaigns as possible.
I would say the normal bell curve for sponsored campaigns (with varying “packages” of content) goes from $7,500 to $20,000. There are some campaigns that are bigger than that and some that are smaller.
How much do you make per click?
Every retailer is different. But I don’t make money per click, it’s actually per order. So if a brand has a 10% commission rate and someone clicks on my link and buys a pair of shoes that cost $100, I make $10. The lowest rate, I’m pretty sure, is 7% and some commissions are 50% (but in my opinion those are all weird products and brands desperate to be featured on blogs). The mean is probably 10%. My conversion rate is about 2%– so it takes 50 clicks to make a sale. I don’t try to kill myself on commission because frankly doing one sponsored post is a lot easier than trying to make that flat fee in commission. For years, my goal had been to have what I make in commission to more than cover all yearly operating expenses (my salary, new equipment, software, travel, contractors, accounting fees, etc) and whatever is left is basically a bonus and then sponsored content is on top of that. Now I’m doing more than that but it’s still a nice cushion. I make at least $10,000/month on commission (after returns) for the first half of the year and then every month from July-December goes up exponentially, peaking on Black Friday.
Who’s on Carly Team?
I realized last year that I don’t want full-time employees, at least for right now. It’s a lot of responsibility and I feel most comfortable with as little overhead as possible. I moved Carter to a part-time contractor, so I pay her a flat fee every month like on retainer for all of my photos and video content. It’s more expensive than paying an hourly rate but the benefits are worth it because I have her on a set schedule every week, if a trip or something big pops up it’s covered, and I get priority for her schedule.
Then I am signed to an agency that represents a lot of bloggers and digital influencers and assigned to a specific manager’s roster. I mentioned earlier that my current manager is on maternity leave so I’ve been working with her assistant. They make 15% of all sponsored content I do and it is SO worth it. They free up so much time, save me from costly mistakes in contracts, protect my brand, and negotiate higher rates than I could on my own behalf. And be the “bad cop” chasing down payment, ha. They collect all of my fees and I get one 1099 from them at the end of the year, this ALONE makes my life easier.
I also have a financial advisor, accountant, and attorney whom I use as needed throughout the year.
Would you benefit from an assistant?
YES, but I’d want like a personal assistant, not a blog assistant. At the same time though, I’d feel so awkward about it. There will likely be a time when I reevaluate this, but whenever I’m breaking down boxes or driving to the mall again to make returns or steaming a rack full of clothes, I do think about how nice it would be to have an extra set of hands. Not that I can’t do it myself, but help would be nice 😂 My dream would be to hire my mom because I COMPLETELY trust her, but she doesn’t live here.
Sometimes I feel so alone, mostly in the mundane tasks that are not hard but are extremely tedious and I’m just like, “Ugh! I want help!” It’d be hard for me to figure out a schedule for said role though so for now, I’m on my own!!!
Okay, I think I covered the major questions! Thanks for sticking around through this lengthy post!