Brands, Bloggers and Business…..

(image:deathtostockphotos)

On Saturday morning I found myself sitting on our porch, coffee in hand watching our dog running around the dew stained grass. It was a beautiful scene as the morning light illuminated the dew. I’v recently decided that working on weekends is a no-no. When you’re online and starring at you screen from 06h00 – 03h00 7 days a week, your passion for what you’re doing tends to get a little stretched out. I love what I do and that’s why it is so important to keep it a healthy business.

As I sat there I was thinking about all the emails I needed to answer an pieces I needed to write, the stress of everything else going on in my life. As most “Bloggers” will tell you. Unless you’re bringing something unique to the table and have all the tools in your hand to play this game you’re not going to make a living out of it. And most Bloggers don’t.

When I started my Website, I started it out as a Blog, an Online Journal of sorts. I have been writing since I could read and I have been reading from a VERY young age. I love the written word, I love getting lost in descriptions of places, people, tastes, and experiences. When someone said to me I could publish my rumblings online and interact with people across the globe who do the same, I jumped at the chance. So last year 16th November 2014 that’s exactly what I did.

My journal, quickly grew into a blog and as that process started happening, I realized that I finally had a starting point to the future that I dream. See travel really is my passion. It’s what I sleep, eat and breathe. Unfortunately I have been through quite a bit in my small life time, and the biggest hold back has been finances. Living in SA doesn’t make that any easier, when it seems like we need visa’s just to walk out our front door, and then once you’re out the door the government tells you, you’re not wearing regulation shoes and fines you. At least that’s how it feels.

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Luckily for me, I enjoy travel so much, that experiencing and exploring my own Country is often a great adventure of its own. And that’s what I have been doing since I returned from the UAE last. Knowing that this space, this site was and is going to be the introduction of Cee, I knew that I had to make a decision. Invest my everything and my all into this NOW or wait another 3-4 years.  I decided on the now option. And I am so glad I did.

Let’s get some things straight. Its hard. It does not pay in the beginning and often you feel taken advantage of. See the term “Blogger” unfortunately has been adapted by way to many, in positions it really doesn’t refer to. I personally, don’t like to hear my site being referred as a Blog because in today’s mindset it implies that I am limited to JUST BLOGGING, and I am not. Not anymore anyway.

There is a Blog “section” to my site, but its basically an Online Travel Magazine, where I review, good products, gadgets, wines, spirit’s, accommodations, events, clothing and travel beauty brands. I am a social media manager, a brand marketer, an independent writer  in the travel & tourism industry. And recently a @BBlogAwardsSA 2015 Nominee.

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And I learn something new everyday. You have to. Its a constant work in progress. “Your” industry as a writer, or blogger or any online work is constantly changing. Its much like being a fashion magazine editor. This week the Little Black Dress is all the rage, next week its Leopard Print EVERYTHING! Strangely enough while every other magazine, is watching the trends, there are those few, who strut to their own music and those are the few that lead the way. The few that people pay attention too. The few that are intriguing to us. We want to know why they march to their own band.

So lets get a few truths out there, and share with the new age of Online Marketing, Online Branding, the age of the Online Travel and Hospitality Industry, how we do what we do.

1. What are you? 

Brands, Bloggers and Marketers alike this is for all of us. Define who you are. I find it personally frustrating when Brands say things like “Oh we worked with a Blogger once and we didn’t get what we wanted”.

We’re all responsible here for this issue. Brands, before choosing to work with a Blogger or Marketer, please be responsible enough to read through their site. Analyze how they write, who they write for, what kind of demographic are interested in who they are and what they have to say. Pretty pictures an selfies on top of mountains should not be your selling point, unless you’re a brand who sell selfie sticks and do mountain peak tours…see where I am going?

Bloggers and Marketers. You have to put EVERYTHING on the table. Make sure that YOU understand what the brand want from you. Do they want images? An article? Social media tweets and links? Mentions on a contract basis? Are you obligated to share site links? Do they own your property once the event/article is completed? Are they obligated to link back to your site? What do they want from you?

If a brand approaches you as a known Vegetarian Food Blogger and they ask you to promote Biltong, obviously they have NOT paid attention to who you are, and you are responsible for pointing out the fact that that is NOT what your site is about.

The same rule applys to PR companies. Please we’re not free ad display sites. We will not keep posting your PR links, and when you said us PR media prints that aren’t even related to the nature of our site we find it VERY insulting!

2. Do You Need to Pay Us? 

YES! YES! YES!

It’s rather offending when a company emails you, especially a company  you’ve never heard of and they say something like “Oooh we loved your Review or Article on….. we need your postal address to send you some samples to write up for us”. Wait what? WHOA! Hold up!

Look at the beginning, when you’re still building your brand, your name, your influence and growing traffic you do, start out doing free reviews, free coverage and the likes. However that is NO excuse for any brand to assume that you’ll do anything for free, “because its for free”. Our landlords and banks will not accept the free yogurt sample you’re sending me as rent. It’s sad that we actually have to bring this topic up as much as we do, but its something that people seem to have rather odd ideas about.

When I write up a brand, or cover an event. I have petrol costs, It costs me time to be at the event, it costs me hours to write the article up. It costs me time to edit the images and put everything together. So yes, much like any other marketing or pr personnel I will be billing you for this. The reason you choose us over huge marketing brands and companies is because we generally have a far further reach globally. We have slightly more intimate relationships with our demographics. Your article has a longer shelf life plus the potential to be rehashed in a few months cost free. Among other benefits.

Accommodation reviews  & write ups,  are somewhat more tricky to work out. Bloggers and Marketers, obviously choosing off season periods to stay and review is the smart move. I’ve been in the Hospitality Industry for 12 years including working in a Hotels abroad & locally. And the last thing anyone from the GM to the Reservations Manager or F&B want are free stays, comps or marketing drives happening during peak season. Hotel’s want to deliver the best for everyone, and to be honest the GM has far more time to talk to you about the venue and sit with you during off peak season rather than in the midst of a Holiday Season on a Saturday Grill Night.

Personally, when working out a stay, I still believe a cash payment of sorts should be made. Even if its just enough to cover petrol costs to an back from venue. Other than that, its up to you to make an agreement, on room type, DBB Rate or dining options. As you’re essentially doing a establishment review, you should be able to experience either a spa treatment or utilize at least one on property experience to write up.

 3. Influence

Influence this is most likely the make it or break it aspect of your website or page. I remember when I first started. People would say things like, “Ooh I love how you write”, or “welcome love your fresh take on this stuff”. Then a few months later, I started getting those tips and advice steps from other bloggers/marketers in the industry. The Do’s & Don’t list, if you dare to have dreams of succeeding. And while some advice is well appreciated and received, some even helped me mature as a writer, there comes a point where you must say NO.

It got quite scary when my website started looking and sounding like everyone else’s. When I found myself trolling other writers pages to see “what was the in thing”. Note I was trolling pages and blogs of people I didn’t even like.  Then one day someone in boxed me on Twitter and asked if I was okay. I hadn’t even realized how stressed and depressed I had been sounding on my social media accounts. I felt trapped, I felt like I wasn’t climbing the social ladder fast enough. I lost a follower OMW someone call the President and demanded he find this individual so I can grovel for their forgiveness and fix what ever I may have done to offend them….. sad right?

After a lovely encouraging and motivating talk from this follower who by the way was just a fan and reader of my site, who does not own their own page, I was sent back on the right path. No more advice, no more sheep like mentality. I was going to go and source what I wrote and how I wrote from the passion, drive and love I started this site with. Let me tell you the first post I wrote after that was a hit. It ended up being one of my most viewed posts since I started this site. I was back. Cee was back, and she hasn’t left since.

Its important to know who you are, where you’re coming from and where you want to go. So that when opportunities come knocking, the people behind the door ask to speak and see YOU, not that other person they can twist,turn and use. There is nothing more motivating for me, to receive feedback from companies I work with, even if they’re just saying thanks great post, because I know they thought it was a great post, written an put together by ME.

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(image:deathtostockphotos)

4. Can you send back, turn down and reject proposals. 

Yes. If the company feels after reviewing your original agreement that they do not want to publish or feature your work, than that is a decision they are entitled to make. They are still obligated to pay you for work completed, hours worked and agreements referring to pay. Unless you have BLATANTLY not delivered as agreed upon.

Yes. Bloggers and Marketers you are fully entitled to reject offers, proposals, samples and product drops. Seriously. If you feel that the item sent to you is either not align to the image of your brand, you can send it back to the company. If you receive a product drop or product sample that does not work you are fully entitled to contact the brand and let them know how you feel. You can them give them the option to take back the product or if you have agreed and been paid to write up the product, make sure you have a “opinions are my own” disclaimer and write honestly how you feel.

Disclaimers, Agreements, and Contracts are very important folks. Please make sure yours cover you for all situations you may run into. Personally I have disclaimers in my Media Kit, Proposals and Agreements. I also DO NOT take an telephonic calls when discussing possible contracts and agreements, and ONLY accept these via email. So that everything is in writing and can be date and time stamped. My godmother taught me the phrase “CYOB – Cover Your Own Butt” from a very young age, as a business woman herself.

Before you go Rihanna on a brand, always think about things in long term aspect. I state in my agreements that once I have formed a relationship with a brand that I intend to work with them on several projects and ventures. So when I received a 1st time project from a clothing brand the other day and found the quality not to be up to standard, I emailed the brand and asked if they still wanted me to write up the article, mentioning that I was not happy with their quality or if I could just drop it entirely.

The brand took a rather impressive stand and told me that they had in fact found the cotton fiber they’d be using seems to be giving the issues I had mentioned. They then told me that they can understand if I choose not to write the article and not only thanked me for 1 contacting them, 2 being honest but 3 informing them in a professional manner rather than blasting them on social media.

The brand then informed me that once the samples of new cotton items were completed, they would re-send me product drops to try out. And in the mean time instead of throwing away and destroying the first batch, they were donating the “twice wear” products to the local rural community, so that at least someone could get some use out of the product. The product which is made entirely in SA for a local SA businessman might  add.

I then told the brand, that that itself was a story I was far more interested in. So in a few weeks, I will be covering the charity drop and talking to the brand about the responsible step they’ve taken to combat the 1st bumps and how they intend to support local school kids once the new merchandise is complete.

This is how you build relationships and grow. Never assume, and don’t be hasty.

5. Don’t loose your Passion. 

I touched on this at the beginning of this article. Don’t loose your passion. Whoever you are, in whatever industry you work. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love as a job, don’t abuse it. Don’t take it for granted an never let it be bought.

It’s hard for me to pull myself away from my laptop screen, when I do what I do, but I also know how uninspired and burnt out I find myself, when I don’t say NO, or make time to do absolutely nothing.

Whether its playing with the dog for 20 minutes, taking a hot bath, watching a movie with a friend. Just let your mind go somewhere else. Let it wander, often I find for me it wonders to the white walls of Santorini or the Wine Estates of Tuscany, where I bask in the sun listening to the chatter of locals in a language foreign to my own…..

I hope that this piece has inspired some of you, and I hope it has brought an understanding to some of the businesses out there who are confused about this new wave of branding, marketing and social media influence.

And As Always……..

#LoveAndTravelHugs©

Cee

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