Dec 9, 2010 Blogging
When my son was young, my husband traveled somewhat frequently for work. He would usually be gone several nights at a time. There was no consideration of the fact that he had a baby at home or other responsibilities. And for my female friends with Wall Street jobs, it’s the same story. It’s the nature of much of the corporate world: we need you when we need you and your issues at home are yours to figure out.
Fast forward almost ten years, and I’m the one doing most of the traveling: to conferences, press junkets, and blogging events. I love it, but there are some headaches that go along with those trips; even an evening event close to home can cost me out of pocket and throw my household into chaos.
My husband can’t arrange his work schedule around mine, so when I’m going to be out of town I have to figure out how the kids are going to get to school in the morning, home in the afternoon, and who’s going to take care of them until my husband gets home each night.
I also try to arrange my flights so that on the day I leave I can take them to school, and on the day I get home I can pick them up. It can make traveling logistics difficult. If I were in the corporate world I wouldn’t expect the people hiring me to take any of this into consideration (the fact that they should take those needs into consideration is a whole other topic). However, I’m a mom blogger. There’s been a ton of debate over the past year as to whether that label is a good or bad thing, and why female bloggers with children are all being lumped together under one title no matter what we write about.
I don’t know what the answers are to those questions. But I do know that brands and PR companies often seek out mom bloggers for certain reasons: our relationships with our readers, our understanding of certain kinds of products, our ability to translate our experiences as moms into relatable posts, our availability, and our access to tiny, non-union focus groups that work for animal crackers and hugs.
Some of the qualities and qualifications that make mom bloggers valuable to companies are the very same things that can make meetings and trips difficult. This puts me into the awkward position of having to ask brands who want to work with me for things like childcare money, or specific flights, or a car service so that I can race home to relieve a babysitter or pick someone up from an after-school activity. I’m constantly explaining why I need my car to the airport paid for (because I shouldn’t pay a penny out of pocket to write about your company) and why I can’t pop in to an event for just a little while, even though there will be free drinks and manicures (well, those “free” drinks and manicures will cost me $45 in babysitter money and nearly two hours on the subway). Whether a mom blogger is freelancing to make a living or enjoying a hobby as a blogger, we all have costs and needs associated with helping you to promote something.
So what I ask is this: treat me like a mom blogger. You wanted someone who has an “in” with other mothers. You wanted someone with a following and a reputation and the ability to write about products you’re trying to sell to other moms. You’ve come to the right place, and I’d love to work with you. But please remember the qualities that brought you to me, and understand that I have needs much different than someone else who would not have the special qualities you’re looking for.
This is not a blanket indictment of all PR people and companies, just the ones that are trying to take advantage of me. The vast majority of PR people I work with totally get it (that’s why I work with them, and invite them to my house and bake them cookies and entertain them with lewd emails). I’m talking to the rest of you, the ones who treat me like I’m being an entitled diva when I send you my rates or try to negotiate a per diem. If you don’t have it in your budget and can only work with bloggers who will work for free, fine. But you can’t have it both ways: if you want to work with me, treat me like a mom blogger, with all of my mom blogger baggage.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.
Oct 19, 2010 Blogging
I’ve started this post a bunch of times over the past couple of months. I do OK for a while, then it gets out of control and rambles on. There are so many different issues having to do with mom blogging for money, or products, or trips, or access to celebrities. Recently I’ve seen enough arguments, scandals, and condescension to fill dozens of posts.
Charging for giveaways, letting companies look at drafts before they’re published, keeping review products, getting paid to write about a product, getting sponsored for conferences, blogger junkets…any one of these topics could fill several posts. If you say something nice about a company, are you then responsible for everything the company does? Are you responsible for everything a pr company does, with every product they represent? Do you cheapen yourself by writing about certain products? Should you go within a hundred miles of writing about medical products or procedures? Is insisting on a car or other perks entitlement?
There are so many different aspects to the umbrella topic of maintaining integrity while blogging, and I could (and should and probably someday will) go into detail about all of them, because detail is helpful and I like nitty-gritty stuff. But in the end, for me, it all boils down to a few certain principals. As long as I follow these – and my gut – I’m proud of my blog and the little career I’m carving out for myself online.
There are as many different opinions about this stuff as there are bloggers, and what works for me might not work for someone else. But this is how I do things – for now, anyway. In the three years that I’ve been blogging my opinions about making money and working with brands have evolved, and continue to evolve. What I do now in certain situations would not have worked when I was a new blogger. But they’re working for me now, and I continue to figure things out as I go along.
I work with companies that I like. (I’m not talking about reviewing products, that’s different – if I’m sent something and I don’t like it or don’t want to review it, there’s no obligation for it to ever appear on my blog – I haven’t actually worked with the company.) If something feels like a bad fit for my blog, I say no thank you, even if (actually, especially if) they’re offering me money to write. And since it’s my blog, nobody else gets to tell me what a good fit is.
I don’t bluff. I don’t start out negotiating for pay and then do the job anyway for free. There are many, many things that I will write about for free. When I’m offered a fantastic writing opportunity, it doesn’t even occur to me to ask for anything, because I’m just happy to get the editorial content. But the less interested I am in a subject, the more I ask for. It’s simple supply-and-demand. I always have a huge list of fascinating topics to write about for free, so in order for me to make room and take the time to write about something else, I ask for compensation. Unfortunately, a lot of pr people take offense at this, but it’s not a reflection on the product, and I never have any hard feelings when I’m turned down (although I do often wonder how exactly they value my blog – if the brand isn’t going to get enough out of the post to pay me for it, then why do they want it on my blog in the first place?).
I’m never afraid to walk away from a deal. It’s happened about half a dozen times since I started Selfish Mom, where I thought I had a deal with a brand and then things got weird. A couple got all the way to the end before they fell apart. It sucked to do the research and writing and then not get paid for it, but the posts didn’t get published so at least the brand didn’t get anything out of it either. (Honestly I was tempted to post them anyway, just because they were good posts, but I didn’t want to set a precedent or get a reputation as a bluffer.)
Once I had to refund money for an ad because the advertiser insisted on a change I just wasn’t willing to make, and that had never been mentioned before the ad went up and payment was made. I’m pretty sure they did this on purpose, figuring that once the money was in my paypal account I wouldn’t want to give it back. They were wrong: the ad went down, and the money got returned (minus 10% for the three days the ad had been up).
I ask blunt questions. Unfortunately I’ve heard that I’m getting a reputation as spoiled. If people want to think that, they’re free to do so and I won’t bother to try to change their opinions – it probably wouldn’t be worth it for me to work with them anyway. But the fact is, it’s incredibly difficult to tell when an event is going to be worth my while and when it isn’t. I expect to waste a certain amount of time, it’s just the cost of doing business. But it’s better for everyone involved if I know what I’m getting into. It does nobody any good if I spend an hour each way on the subway and two hours standing in a pretty room drinking a Diet Coke and learning nothing about a product I couldn’t have gotten from an email. If I pay a babysitter – or actually bring my kids – and get nothing out of an event, nobody wins. I have nothing to write about, and I took a space that could have gone to somebody else who really wanted to be there.
So how do I avoid those situations? By asking questions. By finding out if I’ll have one-on-one time with a celebrity, or where the seats will be located, or if I’ll be going home with the product. What one person may call entitlement I call smart use of my time.
And that’s it. I’ll get around to writing about the specifics someday, but it all boils down to being able to stand behind what I’ve written – no more, no less. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If it feels like I’m being taken advantage of, I probably am. If I feel like I’ve wasted my time, I’ll look at everything else that ever comes from that brand or pr firm with suspicion. And if I’ve done things right, my writing will be good and readers will be interested whether I’ve been paid or not.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.
Aug 20, 2010 Blogging
Making fun of bloggers is easy. The image of a lonely, somewhat nerdy, sweaty person in a basement full of Radio Shack equipment, eating burritos while wearing sweats and unleashing their unappreciated genius on the world, is an easy one to conjure. In my case it’s usually pjs, and my couch isn’t in the basement, but other than that I do what I can to promote that image. You’re welcome.
It’s all tongue-in-cheek and funny and almost completely false (almost!), but behind the scenes there are some serious businesswomen and writers and photographers, people who are passionate about what they do whether they’re trying to make a living at it or not, whether they have ten readers or ten thousand. I myself have had an especially hard time this year transitioning from hobbyist to professional in a career I didn’t know existed two years ago. What might have been cute when I had 15 readers – “So sorry I didn’t post that for you on time, one of my kids was throwing up and a pipe burst and OMG I don’t know how women with kids work from home HA HA HA LOL I’ll try to get it up ASAP!” – isn’t so funny once companies have decided to take a real chance on you, and NDAs and W9s are involved and you’re starting to get somewhere. An essential part of that growth and transition for me has been getting my hands dirty out in the real world, giving my precious time to go other places. And I’ve finally come to the realization that when I’m out in public with other bloggers at blogging events, I am my brand. I am representing myself either as someone other people want to know and work with, or not.
I have a real love/hate relationship with events and trips for bloggers. On the one hand, I hate having to get off of my couch, get into respectable clothes, and try not to say anything completely offensive for a few hours or days. But on the other hand, I get to connect with people. Real live people who I might know pretty well on twitter or email, but I’ve never hugged or eaten a meal with. If given a choice between a big, loud, flashy party with hundreds of dancing, happy people, or a small table with three friends and some take-out Mexican, I will always choose the smaller gathering. And that’s why I like going on blogging trips, where someone has gathered a small group of people who all have a loose connection – writing online – and we get to spend two or three days getting to know each other in more than 140 characters. It’s fantastic. It’s something that I probably wouldn’t make a move to do on my own, because I usually let inertia take over (and it’s taken my ass over quite nicely), so I love that companies do this for me. I know they’re not gathering a group of us to help me make friends, they’ve got the economies of scale on their side. Still, it’s a nice fringe benefit.
I’ve always felt that by going on those trips I’m indicating something. To the company that invited me, I’m saying that I’m interested in taking things to the next level, that I’m willing to leave my house and family for a few days and immerse myself in their world. And to the other bloggers, I’m saying that I want to get something out of the trip that I can’t get online. We may not end up best friends, we may not ever see each other again, but we’ll always have some kind of special bond. I’ll keep up with your tweets, I’ll smile when I see you. When something good or bad happens to you it will mean a bit more to me because you’re no longer just an avatar staring back at me. When I go on these trips I’m saying to the other people involved, we get to have a connection that’s one step up from the one we had online. It doesn’t mean that I click with everybody, but it means that I give it a shot. Otherwise I might as well just stay home and stay anonymous and two-dimentional.
This is why I get upset when I hear about bloggers being bitchy on trips. Being a blogger does not in any way mean that you have to be a nice person. In fact, a few bloggers are making names for themselves being exceedingly bitchy, and it seems to be working for them, so brava. But it absolutely astounds me when I hear stories about bloggers traveling somewhere to spend time with a group of people and then being completely disrespectful.
This isn’t Montessori kindergarten. You are under no obligation to be anybody but yourself. If you’re not a nice person, let your bitch flag fly high and wave. But why then would you want to sequester yourself with strangers? Why would you bother leaving the cocoon of your online world to mix with people if not to try to be a part of some kind of community? What’s in it for you? It seems like it would be torture.
I’ve always thought that my blog was a good representation of me: happy, a little flighty and inconsistent, sometimes grumpy and bitchy and cynical, but overall a good heart beating alongside a willing and hopeful soul. When I go out into the world I don’t always represent myself the way I want to, sometimes I overreact or underreact or try to steal focus, and sometimes on the way home I beat myself up a little. But I do try to be a productive member of whatever group I’m in. And I think that’s the key: if you don’t want to try to be a respectful member of a group, nobody will blame you for staying home. But if your unyielding tendency is to stir up trouble on someone else’s dime, you give all of us a bad name.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.
Aug 3, 2010 Blogging
I get pretty stressed when I travel, at least until I get out of the door. I never check to see if the clothes I want to bring are clean until it’s almost too late to wash them. I never order a car for early enough because I don’t want to sit around at the airport for hours. My husband works a lot so the only way I can leave is if I take care of everything before the trip, which means laying out clothes for the kids for however long I’ll be gone, printing out schedules and lists and maps, and making sure there’s babysitter coverage if needed. (Maybe I need to borrow my good friend Abby Cadabby’s magic wand.)
But once I’m on my way, I try to leave all of the stress behind. Since having kids, I don’t get a lot of time to think about only myself. Even if I’m home alone (which I am many weekdays) I’m surrounded by chores and obligations and piles of stuff that need my attention. But when I’m out of town, if I didn’t get it done before I left, then there’s no use worrying about it, because I can’t do anything about it.
And it’s not like things always go well while I’m gone. I had a babysitting disaster a few trips ago that came to a climax in the middle of a meeting full of people I wanted to impress (or at least not sob in front of). But that disaster could have been prevented with more planning on my part before leaving home, so that just hardened my resolve that the more I can prepare before I leave, the more I can relax while I’m gone.
I know from reading twitter and other blogs that many (most?) of you don’t share my lack of stress in being away from home. I wish I could say that I understood, that I sympathize, but I’d be lying. I think if you’re going to spend the entire time you’re gone crying about missing your kids and feeling guilty that you left them, then you just shouldn’t go. I’m not saying your feelings aren’t valid, I’m just saying that your guilt isn’t going to make anybody back home feel better and it may ruin your trip, so why bother?
But the stresses that people feel about attending BlogHer seem even more profound than the stresses of leaving kids at home, and I get this more than I get the kid thing. So much of it sounds like high school, and I hated high school, so I will try to help. My only qualification for this is that conferences don’t stress me. Much like leaving home at home, a lot of it has to do with preparation before the conference.
NYC freaks freaks you out
I totally get this. I lived in NJ for four years before moving to Brooklyn eight years ago, and every time I had to go into the city I got totally stressed, thinking a stray bullet was going to pierce my skull while I was getting raped. But of course, I was just letting the media scare the shit out of me. NYC is safe. Is it as safe as a small midwestern town, or a nice quiet suburb? Well, those places are scary for different reasons, but yeah, you might not be as likely to get shot or robbed. But honest to God, you’re not likely to have those things happen to you here, either. For a gigantic city, New York is very safe. You just have to take some basic precautions.
Don’t be a tourist target:
- Don’t ever ever ever put down your purse. Hold it on your lap in restaurants if you have to. No matter what you do you’re probably going to look like a tourist (I do, and did I mention I’ve lived here eight years?) which will make you a target. So don’t give anybody the chance to snatch your bag.
- Don’t walk around with a camera the size of a toaster around your neck. What’s that you say? You have to have it with you, because that’s why your pictures look so much better than mine? Well then, treat it like a purse. Don’t ever put it down.
- If you’ve got a smartphone, download maps of NYC streets and the subway system. So much easier than opening a big map, and again, you may be able to avoid the whole tourist look.
- If anyone near you does anything especially gross or alarming (goes into a huge coughing fit, makes barfing motions, break dances), immediately check your belongings – there’s a good chance there’s another person working with that person, trying to get your stuff.
You may not have to step foot on public transportation in NYC if you don’t specifically want to. Most of the events are in or around the Hilton, and most companies having off-site events are providing transportation. But if you do want to venture around on your own, you should do these things:
- Sign up for HopStop.com before you leave home, with your cell phone #, so that you’ll be able to text directions to yourself if need be (or if you’re an iPhone person, download the app). HopStop is a fantastic site that will give you subway and bus directions, walking routes, and even estimate cab fare for you.
- Don’t go into an empty subway car. If the car you’re in empties out, change cars. Strength in numbers.
- Avoid pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages like the plague. They promote the whole unsavory tourist look, plus they’re ridiculously expensive. And the pedicabs are annoying. And I don’t care what the carriage drivers say, those horses are not happy.
- Before you leave home, really pour over the conference schedule. Figure out what you absolutely don’t want to miss, and schedule everything else around that. Don’t schedule panels and classes back-to-back if you can help it. You may need to get to a lot of them early to get a seat. Knowing where you want to be will cut down on a lot of stress.
- Dress comfortably. What does that mean? Whatever you think that means. If you’re comfortable in a business suit and pumps, wear that. Jeans and a t-shirt your uniform? Go with it. You will see every style of dress at BlogHer, so don’t worry about being over- or under-dressed. OK, OK, I promise not to wear sweats, and you shouldn’t either. But really, anything else goes.
- Don’t worry about who you’re going to sit with, or who you’ll have lunch with. This isn’t high school. Actually, it’s a lot like high school, but with one major difference: you now know how pointless all of the petty high school bullshit was. You know that the people who snubbed you were really just insecure losers. Take a seat, introduce yourself to the other people at the table, and maybe something will click, you never know.
- So you’ve been reading someone’s blog for a year, and you’re dying to meet her and tell her how much you look forward to seeing her each day on your magical light-up screen. You’re nervous as hell to go up to her. You know what? She’s probably going to be flattered as all get out! And if she’s not? You’re a blogger. It will make for a good post.
- Make sure you have some alone time each day, especially if you’re sharing a hotel room. In San Francisco in 2008 I was staying off-site. And while that sucked for a multitude of reasons, the quiet time on the train was actually a blessing. Staying on-site in Chicago in 2009, I had to manufacture that alone time each day, usually with a walk outside of the hotel to get something to eat by myself. Trust me, you’ll feel better.
I think the parties surrounding BlogHer might cause the most stress for the most people. For one thing, most parties can only fit a small percentage of the people attending BlogHer, so people stress about who got invited to what, or who RSVPd in time. There are absolutely parties I wanted to go to this year that I didn’t get invited to. I don’t know a single person who is going to all of the parties she wants to. Last year there were parties I would have loved to go to that I didn’t even know were happening until after BlogHer was over. Life went on. Yes, I’m dying to go to the Nate Berkus Show party. I love him. But sadly he doesn’t know who I am, or at least whoever is in charge of the party doesn’t. And it would be incredibly tacky to beg here on my blog for an invite. So…I’m…not…
- Make sure you’re signed up for wait lists for parties you didn’t get into. Tomorrow’s the day when people will need to start canceling hotel reservations, and along with those cancellations will be party cancellations, so you never know.
- Every party is different in terms of dress. In 2008 I wore plain black outfits both nights. In 2009 I went all out – I even got my hair done in a period style for BowlHer. I’m not sure which I preferred, and I don’t think it mattered. Everywhere I went, there was someone more dressy than me, and someone in jeans. Seriously. So dress up if you feel like it. But if that’s not your thing, and it’s causing you a disproportionate amount of stress, wear something simple. They’re parties, you’re supposed to have fun.
I love working with brands. I’m being sponsored for BlogHer by an awesome website, eBay Classifieds. BlogHer is a great place to introduce yourself to brands, especially if you don’t live in a big city and don’t get these opportunities all the time. However, I would caution you to keep things at an introduction, unless you’ve got an appointment set up. It’s going to be crowded and loud a lot of the time, and many people will be vying for the attention of the brand reps. Don’t try to pitch them on your fabulous idea when there’s a line of people waiting. Give them your card, take their cards, have a short conversation, and promise to follow up after the craziness of BlogHer is over. Give them a few days, then contact them. If there’s anything specific about your brief meeting you can throw into your email, do it.
If you really want to have some in-depth conversations with brand reps, catch them during the big panels and speeches, when things are quieter.
God, I don’t know what to say about swag. I saw some things that disgusted me last year. My roommate had her baby strapped to her chest and still got shoved out of the way by people trying to get their hands on gift bags full of dildos.
If there’s a company giving something away that you just really have to have and can’t get it without embarrassing yourself, try contacting them after BlogHer is over. So much better than waiting in line at parties just to grab a swag bag and go. If you get caught up in swag euphoria, you’ll feel cheap the next morning. Trust me: as I was packing up boxes of crap to ship home from San Francisco I felt like a $2 whore. And most of that stuff is still sitting in my spare room collecting dust. I wanted it just to have it, I didn’t even think about what it really was or if it was a good fit for my blog.
Well, that’s all the wisdom I can think of, at least for three in the morning. If you take anything away from this, I’d want it to be that most of the drama that happens at these things is self-imposed, and why would you do that to yourself?
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and Momtourage.
Aug 1, 2010 Blogging
I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and tweets in the past couple of weeks that make me feel really good and really bad at the same time. They’re along the lines of “Can’t wait to see you at Blogher, want to meet up?” “Getting together w/a few ppl 4 lunch, want to join us?” “Where will you be at noon on Friday, I’d love to finally meet you.” Whenever one of those comes in, my head and ego both inflate a little bit, and I’m sincerely flattered. And honestly they’re all from people that I’d really like to see.
But here’s the thing: BlogHer is a crappy place to meet up with people, at least for me. I’ve spent the past month working out my schedule, trying to figure out which meetings and parties and panels and sessions I can reasonably get to, and at this point the only truly free time I have left in my schedule I want to spend in my room alone, recharging myself so that I can go out and be among people again for a couple more hours. I don’t like crowds, so I find conferences absolutely draining, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Add my well-known inability to remember names and faces, and by Sunday I may need to check into a hospital with “exhaustion” like a batshit crazy starlet.
I think there were something like 3,000 attendees at last year’s BlogHer in Chicago. There were times when I was in the same ballroom with good friends and it took a dozen tweets to locate each other. I found out afterwards that there were people there I had really wanted to run in to, and in four days hadn’t spotted them once. The fact is, it’s just too big an event to run into anybody, and too busy to plan meetings with friends. Sure, I could cram in 15 minutes here and a quick meal there, but would it really be worth it? I know myself pretty well, and I’m fairly sure that I would just resent giving up some hotel-room-alone-time.
I think part of the problem is that everyone goes to conferences for different reasons. For some, it’s almost purely social, for others, it’s business. I fall into the business category, so learning and meeting with brands comes first for me. If I can find a corner table at a quiet party I’d love to talk, but that rarely happens, and by the evening I’m pretty spent anyway.
I think what we need is an un-conference. No panels, no brands, no parties, no schedules. Just a bunch of bloggers meeting in the same city to socialize, sit around and talk with no plan and no agenda. I know that won’t happen, but I can dream, can’t I?
I hope to meet up with a lot of friends this week. I’m going to be doing a lot of DMing to see where people are so that hopefully we can catch up between sessions or share a car to an off-site event. But please don’t hate me for not making solid plans. It’s not you, it’s me.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.
Jun 16, 2010 Blogging
I just updated my PR and Advertising policy page for the first time in almost a year. It was long overdue. While there’s nothing new in there that I haven’t been saying for the past year in emails to PR and brand reps, I felt it was time to get it all down in one place. I find myself explaining the same things over and over, and hopefully having a clearer policy right there on my blog will clear some things up.
PR people have things really hard right now because we bloggers are all making our own rules, so hopefully by giving them some guidance as to what I’m willing to do or not do on my own blog, I can cut down on the back-and-forth that I go through daily when people want me to do things that I’m just not interested in doing, and they don’t understand why. I mean sure, it might seem like a small request to just tweet something out or write a short post about a product, but multiply that by dozens of requests a day, and I have to draw the line somewhere. The line’s location is simple: it’s in one place if it’s a product that I’m interested in, and it can move over slightly if you pay me, but no amount of money will move the line to “I have no interest in this product but I’ll write about it on SelfishMom.com anyway and whistle as I skip to the bank and cash my check.” That’s really hard for a lot of people to believe.
There are so many different ways to get a product onto a blog or in a twitter stream, there’s a solution that will work for most products (and for me), whether it’s a review or a sponsored post or straight-up advertising. The last thing I want to do is leave a PR rep unhappy after dealing with me, but if the expectation is that I will simply write about whatever they throw my way, then there’s not much I can do.
Jun 11, 2010 Blogging
Whenever I sell an ad I do a little happy dance in my head. It always seems like free money to me, since all I have to do in exchange for it is upload a jpeg and put in a few lines of html. It’s easy to forget the two years of work that went into making a blog that someone felt was worthy enough to advertise on. But it did take work.
I’m always reluctant to take responsibility for what I put on my blog in the first year or so. It was like a drunken freshman year where I was just having fun and not studying at all, and making out with just about any brand guy that showed me a little attention. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m not claiming to know now either, but at least now I think a lot harder about what I put my name on. The change basically happened when I decided to try to make money as a writer and blogger, to treat this as a business rather than a hobby. From the moment I started my blog I never lied in a review and I always disclosed compensation, but I was very loose with what I would talk about. I didn’t quite get that simply by talking about a product, no matter what I said, I was giving it credibility: an SEO boost, a name that a PR person could put on a list as having written about it.
Yes, I’m sounding rather big-headed right now: “I deigned to mention your lowly product on my blog, and now it belittles me. I’m too important for you” But from where I sit, that’s what it can start to feel like, no matter how obnoxious it sounds. Everybody wants a piece of you. And my blog is tiny. I can’t imagine what A-list bloggers have to slog through.
In my last post I talked about the obligations involved (or not) with talking about products. But an area that I’m still trying to get a handle on is sponsored posts.
Making a significant amount of money blogging is very difficult (yes, I know, thank you Captain Obvious). I’m at a point where I’m kind-of making decent money because of my blog, but not actually on my blog. One wouldn’t be happening without the other – the paid writing jobs that I’ve gotten, the consulting jobs, the appearance fees, none of those would have happened if not for SelfishMom.com. So if I never make another penny on SelfishMom.com, it would still be worth keeping up (plus I genuinely like doing it). But the more opportunities that come from my blog, the more important it is to make sure that I have complete integrity when it comes to my blog.
That word, integrity, means different things to different people. To many people I have absolutely no integrity because I review products that I get for free (and I keep them too, yes I do). But for me, integrity means honesty and openness about relationships and whether I receive compensation. So earlier today, I was doing my mental happy dance while nailing down the final terms of an ad sale, when I got a request from the advertiser to also write a review of the product, with links to the product’s home page, and then the links in the ad would point to my review of the product. I had no problem with this since I really like the product, and sent along my rates and terms for a sponsored post.
The response I got back was that the post would mean more and be more powerful if it was not a sponsored post, if it was just a review that I did on my own. Well, of course it would be! But it would also be complete crap. Every word would be true, but there’s little chance that I’d be writing a post about it if I weren’t getting paid, because I have a huge backlog of other things to write about.
Ah, but I would be getting paid – I’d be getting the advertising deal. Ick. This was my response:
I agree that it would come across as more effective for my readers if I did a non-sponsored write up and review (despite the fact that I would still disclose that XXXXXXXX was advertising directly on SelfishMom.com), but that post would go so far to the back of the line that it would probably be at least a couple of months before I got to it. I write first about topics that I have a burning desire to write about, then topics that I’m paid to write about (whether on my site or somewhere else), then topics where I have some sort of ongoing relationship with the company, then anything else that’s left over. And it’s been quite a while since I got to the leftover stuff.
Anything I would write in a sponsored post would be 100% honest – the fact that it’s sponsored merely means that it gets written about at all. My blog is definitely a business, and I do work hard to make money with it, but the reason that it works at all is that anything I’m not being paid to write about is something that I’m genuinely interested in discussing. I’d be trading your site’s credibility for mine.
That was six hours ago and after a morning of rapid-fire negotiations, I haven’t heard a word back. I can understand losing the sponsored post – the advertiser is right, no matter how much you claim that it’s your own opinion, sponsored posts seem tainted – but I think I probably lost the ad sale too. Oh well. Other ads will come along. Once you lose credibility, it’s gone for good.
I’ve done a couple of posts where the post itself was sponsored by a product but I wasn’t writing about the product. It was more like “This post is brought to you by XXX.” But so far brands just aren’t willing to say that they paid me to talk directly about their product. I wonder if there will ever come a time when sponsored posts will be acceptable. For those of us who like working with brands, it seems like there are some big opportunities being missed.
UPDATE: It looks like things are going to work out after all: I’ll be writing about something that I like, the sponsor will be getting an honest and enthusiastic write-up, and I can pay a bill or two. I’m really encouraged by this, and I hope I can help turn the tide of what people think of Sponsored Posts. With an almost endless number of subjects to write about, Sponsored Posts can be a really great way to cut through the noise and get your product out there.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.
Apr 22, 2010 Blogging
I wrote a long-ass email today to a blogging listserv I’m a member of, in response to a discussion about accepting free stuff in exchange for being a member of the “media.” Reading over my email I think maybe I didn’t really answer the question that was asked, but there must have been some interesting stuff in there anyway because Kim Moldofsky said I should turn it into a post for Behind the Screen. Clearly Kim needs to run my life because that hadn’t occurred to me. I’m the very definition of “Work harder, not smarter.”
So, with that email as the jumping off point I’m going to explore the idea of obligations to brands (and by that I mean products, companies, shows, venues – basically any group that has something to offer a blogger for free).
My own rules
As a blogger I’ve developed my own rules over the past couple of years – I had to, there’s no handbook – and they keep changing as I encounter new situations. I started out writing about anything that was sent to me. I felt that if a brand had taken the time and money to send me something, that obligated me to write about the product. And while just about all of the products I was sent were good, most of them just weren’t interesting to write about. But I was still finding my footing as a blogger, so in the beginning I ended up with some posts about products that didn’t interest me. It was like pulling my own teeth to put out those posts, on what was supposed to be a blog about whatever I was interested in writing about.
It doesn’t mean that the product was bad, in fact often it was a product that I loved and already used. But great products aren’t always interesting to talk about it, unless you’ve got a blog that specializes in a certain kind of product and an audience that expects those posts. I did my best, and stand behind everything I wrote. But if that had been today I would have simply asked for money in exchange for writing about the product. Back then I didn’t realize that was an option. And I was writing about plenty of things that did interest me, so it wasn’t a huge deal.
At some point though my feelings changed about this. It wasn’t a switch going off and it wasn’t black and white. It was just a gradually emerging feeling that I was being used, something I touched on in my last post. So I’ve developed some rules for myself about when I write for free, when I write for products or perks, and when I write for cold hard cash.
Basically, if someone offers me something with no obligation – they send me an email asking if I want to try something or go somewhere, or a product just shows up at my door unannounced – then I may or may not write about it. I’d estimate that I’ve only written about 25% of the products that have come my way in the past two years. What I choose to write about isn’t really based on what’s best or worst, but on what I’m interested in at a given time. And sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be interested in writing about something until I try it. So, I say I’m happy to try the product but I make no promises. Sometimes that’s fine with the brand, sometimes they pass.
If the brand wants me to guarantee that I’ll write about something, there has to be something in it for me. Either the product itself has to be something I would have spent my own money on anyway, or there has to be cash compensation, or some other opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise (put me in a room with George Clooney and this vegetarian will write a ten-part series about your pork product). Either way, if there’s a formal agreement, I make sure it’s clear how many posts I will owe and when I will be paid. I also make it abundantly clear that unless the brand actually wants to do a sponsored post, then the opinion will be my own whether I like the product or not. Their payment is simply a guarantee that I will write something. This may seem risky on their part, but honestly in my experience most of the companies sending out products have products they stand behind, and are willing to listen to criticism as long as it’s made in a constructive way.
The deals that involve money usually start that way, though, at least for me. If a PR firm approaches me to write about something and I ask them for money, they almost always come back with “no.” But that’s OK too, because it’s a quick way to get rid of PR people who just want to take take take and not give anything.
I don’t return products (well, hardly ever)
Sometimes the brand says that I can “borrow” the product for a week or so to write about it. Sometimes I’m told that I can only keep the product if I write about it.
The reason I usually get for this is that the PR firm simply wasn’t given enough units. In that case the brand needs to stop screwing around and fully commit to working with bloggers and provide more products. I mean, there may be things going on that I have no idea about, but it seems like if a company wants to promote their product they should have access to their product. If I can go down to Target and buy one, it sounds silly to hear that there aren’t any available.
These are games I simply don’t play (with extremely rare exceptions), for several reasons:
- If the product isn’t “mine” I simply won’t be using it the way a regular consumer would. I’m not going to risk damaging a borrowed product, so I won’t get to see how it holds up under normal use.
- I hate packaging things and going to the post office. I’m talking hate and I avoid it at all costs. I usually can’t draw a straight line from a review that I write to money that I make, so any extra effort on my part is just not worth it. The two times I did return products, they were picked up from me, at my house, at my convenience.
- Sometimes my opinion about a product changes the more I use it. Or sometimes, my original opinion is reinforced. All of that is valuable info, and I wouldn’t have it if I used a product for two weeks and sent it back.
- Often the most important thing I discover is whether or not the product will be used long term. This is especially true with kids’ items. If a toy sits in my living room for two months gathering dust then it doesn’t matter to me what my kids said about the product. Even if they said they loved it on day one, the cobwebs speak volumes (not only about the product, but about my housekeeping habits).
- This is the one some people don’t want to hear and most people don’t want to admit, but sometimes I just want to keep the product, for myself, because I like it and I don’t make enough money from blogging for it to be truly worth it. I’ve had other jobs that didn’t pay enough but had great perks. This is no different. After two years of literally hundreds of free products, I’m over the thrill of it, but there are still some items I get and keep using – and recommending – long after any kind of obligation to the brand is finished. That works well for both me and the brand.
But what if I approach them?
On those rare occasions where I approach a brand for something, I make sure to be extra extra clear about what they will get in exchange. Me approaching the brand is totally different than them approaching me. When brands approach bloggers they know what they’re getting in to and the risks they’re taking (and if they don’t it’s their fault). But when I approach a brand I feel a responsibility to publicize the product that I don’t normally feel, and I try very hard these days not to get into situations where I’m forced to write about something that doesn’t move me in some way, either because I love the product (or hate the product), or want to share something, or want to help somebody.
An opportunity, not an obligation
Most companies still don’t know what to do with bloggers. Some consider us media, some treat us as a special category. We’re playing a part in shaping how we’re treated long-term, and I think our best bet is to be as open and honest and straightforward with companies as we can. Some people look at free stuff as a perk, some look at it as a right, some look at it as necessary to keep review blogs afloat. There are plenty of people who refuse to take anything for free because they see that as compromising their integrity as reviewers. I think ultimately it’s up to your audience to decide if they trust you, and everybody’s situation is different. But I do know this: being a blogger who is given something for free does not obligate you to write about it.
It’s relatively cheap for a company to blanket the blogosphere with products and sit back and watch the publicity roll in. It’s much cheaper than putting up billboards and shooting commercials, and yet in many ways it’s worth so much more, because we’re often trusted voices in our own communities. But the only obligations you should feel are ones that you’ve willingly, knowingly entered into. A product arriving on your doorstep is an opportunity, not an obligation.
Mar 29, 2010 Blogging
What is the “right” way?
A couple weeks ago I read an article in the NY Times – as I’m sure many of you did – about mom bloggers. I won’t bother commenting on that article here, since it’s been talked about ad nauseum (and what I’d have to say wouldn’t be all that interesting, since the article didn’t really get my panties in a bunch). But buried near the bottom of that article was a fantastic quote by Ciaran Blumenfeld of Momfluential, referencing the game “Seven Minutes in Heaven”: “The brands know they need a blogger. The bloggers know they need a brand. When everyone gets in the closet, nobody knows what to do with each other. It’s like we’re all 13 again.”
That quote really sums it up, doesn’t it? Brands get bashed all the time for not knowing how to deal with bloggers, but I haven’t really seen anyone come up with a good definition of what the right way is. I can start listing what I’d like from brands (payment for my time being at the top of the list), but with each thing I want from a brand will come a requirement from them, and pretty soon it will start to sound like a job, not a blogging relationship. What attracted me to blogging was having my own online space, on my own terms, so finding ways to work with brands that preserve my space as much as possible, while benefiting me and the brands, is one of my long-term goals. And it’s not easy, because at this point I don’t have a clear idea of what that looks like.
I’ve worked with a lot of brands in the past couple of years. In the beginning, I was just thrilled to be sent free stuff, I really and truly was. I also used to get excited (pre blogging) when a free sample of detergent arrived in the mail, so that’s not surprising. So I often reviewed products just for the sake of getting products, mixed in with rants about my husband and cute stories about my kids. And with the amount of traffic and credibility I had in the beginning, I’m not sure who was getting the better end of the deal. I will never ever criticize new bloggers who work for products, because if reviewing is a direction you want to go in, you have to start somewhere, and after you’ve reviewed the things you already own you realize that you don’t have a budget to buy things just to review them.
But somewhere along the way, you start to feel a little bit used. At one point you were getting detergent and toys and writing about them and thinking to yourself, “The joke’s on them, only my family reads my blog!” Then, as your readership grows and your writing improves and you get more exposure, you start to realize that the relationships are now lopsided. You crave something long term and more beneficial, where you feel appreciated, but the companies are still only offering one-night stands. You publish your giveaway or your review, only to see the brand running out the door, as you yell after it “Call me!” And you feel cheap.
The value of a mom-blog review
Brands and PR agencies are also realizing the value of aligning with certain bloggers longer-term, and I’m seeing more and more campaigns pop up that seem to be giving something back to the bloggers. What might work for one blogger might not work for another. Some of my blogging friends want sponsorships to conferences so that they can improve their blogs, some just want cash to pay their bills. I really appreciate the companies that are trying to work it out. I’m no fool, I know that their bottom line is…their bottom line. But I really believe that campaigns that help bloggers be better bloggers or contribute income to their households will ultimately work out well for the companies too. In other words, just because they’re trying to make money off of us doesn’t necessarily make them evil.
And I still work for free if the product is interesting or strikes a chord – whether I’m writing about a product or about my kids or my house or New York City or whatever, there has to be inspiration in there somewhere. That took me a long time to learn. I used to write about products as totally separate from my life and the rest of my blog, but my reviews got more interesting when I started writing about my life and my family around the products. (Just the other day I went to a lunch hosted by Uncle Ben’s and wrote about it, because I was interested in whether or not my picky son would eat a whole-grain product.) And that, in my opinion, is the real value of a review by a mom blogger. Any writer can look at a product objectively, and test it, and analyze it. But our readers get to know us and our families, and it’s our histories and the complete subjectivity of our reviews that make them influential.
Companies on the right track
I’m working with some companies right now that I think are trying hard to figure it out. I’m one of the Frigidaire Test Drive moms, a program run by MomCentral. We’re three years into renovating an old Brooklyn brownstone, so when the opportunity came my way to write twelve posts on my blog in exchange for a kitchen-full of quality appliances, I jumped at the chance. Taking into consideration the cost of the appliances, minus some of the prep-work we had to do in the kitchen to accommodate those specific appliances, and keeping in mind that we were in the market for appliances anyway, it works out to more money per post than I would charge for a sponsored post. That’s a win for me: I get new appliances at a time I really need them, and I get to write about them long-term and hopefully attract traffic looking for appliance reviews.
Of course, since I signed a contract agreeing to a certain number of posts in exchange for the appliances, those appliances are clearly income, and I will have to pay taxes on them. Frigidaire understands that, which is why they’re cutting a check for me at the end of the year to cover the taxes (and of course I’ll have to pay taxes on that…). To me, that’s a sign of a company that’s taking the whole mommy blogging world into consideration. They’re targeting moms who may not be making much actual cash from their businesses, and they didn’t want bloggers to have to reach into their own pockets for the tax money. I think it’s a smart move on their part, because they’re able to get their message out to a wider audience that way. My husband and I probably would’ve been willing to pay for the taxes out of our own household budget if we absolutely had to, but not every blogger could have.
I’m also doing a program right now with Tropicana, run by The Motherhood. Along with other perks of the campaign, I get a monthly stipend. That’s right, cash for the time it takes me to write posts. And there’s no requirement that I write good things and no expectation that I gush. I’m sure that Emily and Cooper targeted mom bloggers for this campaign who they thought would naturally be into it (“What? I get points for something that’s already in my fridge? Wheeee!” Yeah, they targeted me well). Paying someone to write something good about you is a whole other thing – PR and advertising. Reaching out to bloggers is a bit of a risk, because you can’t control what’s said about your brand. But if you choose the right bloggers, ones with a natural interest in your product, you have less to worry about. And then you pay them for the time they’ll spend writing and researching. It’s just the right thing to do when you’re asking someone to participate in a long-term project.
eBay/Kijiji/M. Booth & Associates
I was very surprised last week when I flew out to California to spend a day at eBay‘s headquarters in San Jose, talking about their local classified site Kijiji. I was asked numerous times why I was going across the country just to spend a few hours at their offices, and I really didn’t have an answer to that other than “curiosity.” What did eBay have in store for me that was worth it to them to fly me in?
They had gathered together a group of bloggers and professional organizers, and the first part of the morning was about what I had expected: we learned about eBay and Kijiji, and got to know some of the people behind both. Then the day took a turn I wasn’t expecting. First, we were asked what we would want from a relationship with Kijiji. I was so excited by the question I don’t even remember what I blurted out as an answer (it had something to do with cash though, I do have a one-track mind).
Then, we were given access to some of the top people at eBay, who analyzed our blogs and answered our questions. I got to ask Dennis Goedegebuure (don’t even try to pronounce it, his co-workers can’t), who oversees SEO for all of eBay’s worldwide sites, specific questions about my blog, my SEO, my strategy (turns out I need to work on it quite a bit). It was like getting an acting lesson from Meryl Streep. And we’ve been tweeting and emailing. How much would I pay for this kind of consult, if it were even available on the open market? I have no idea. But I know I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Then we got to speak with Richard Brewer-Hay, who writes the eBay Ink Blog and handles corporate communications at eBay. We got to talk about blogging and social media, and use actual examples from our own blogs. It was invaluable. (We also got to talk about the pub his wife built for him on the show “While You Were Out,” which has nothing to do with this but is cool as all get-out.)
Then, as if we hadn’t already been treated to more valuable blogging information than we had ever expected, JJ McCarthy – who runs eBay’s U.S. affiliate marketing program – taught a seminar on monetizing our blogs. And again, he used our actual blogs as examples and gave us personal, concrete advice.
It was almost overwhelming. eBay and the PR firm they worked with, M. Booth & Associates, understood a few key things about what they could do to most effectively work with bloggers:
- They asked what we wanted to get out of a future relationship, instead of dictating terms
- They had experts in several different fields at their disposal, so they used them to their best advantage
- They used our own blogs, over and over again, to explain strategies and tactics and point out problems, so that if nothing else we went home with concrete information that would help us
- They made their experts available to us after the event was over
- They talked about working with us long-term
I have no idea what will come out of that initial meeting, if anything, but even if it goes no further the trip was worthwhile. They valued my time and showed it. They didn’t pay me for the day that I spent away from home, but much like my new appliances, they gave me something valuable that I’ll be able to use for a long time. And if we do continue working together, they totally get that the better my blog is, the better it will be for them when I write about them.
The “wrong” way
So I still don’t know what the “right” way is. There isn’t just one. And the ones that do rise above will be constantly evolving. But I can offer up a few things for companies not to do if they want quality, long-term relationships with bloggers:
- Don’t promise traffic unless you can actually deliver. Companies somehow got the idea that a good relationship was one where a blogger wrote about a brand, the brand mentioned the blogger, the blogger got tons of traffic, and the blogger made lots of money from advertising due to that traffic. I have yet to hear of that actually happening. Unless you’re going to put real time, effort and money into promoting a blogger, don’t mention traffic.
- Don’t waste their time. If you invite bloggers somewhere, make sure that they’re going to get something out of it. It’s bad enough to have your time wasted when you’re getting a paycheck, but when you’re doing it for free, it just sucks. And if you’re promoting a product that has a high value, don’t gather a bunch of bloggers together and then raffle off one of your product. If you’ve only got one to give, then find a blogger you want to work with. Otherwise you’ve left all but one of the group feeling left out. This isn’t a game, this isn’t a social group where everyone should just feel honored to attend. These are people with a business, and if they need to experience your product to do a knowledgeable write up of it, just give it to them.
- Represent your product truthfully. If you send bloggers extras that aren’t usually included with the product, make that crystal clear. If you invite bloggers on a trip and give them something special, but they’re under the impression that they’re seeing what regular guests see, it’s going to come back to bite you all in the ass. The blogger is putting her reputation on the line reviewing your product, and she has to be able to represent it accurately to real consumers who will not be getting a freebie.
- Don’t ignore the bloggers after they’ve written about you. You came to them and asked for something. If they come back to you later and ask you for something, don’t develop a sudden case of amnesia.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has Compensation Levels of 2 & 7. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.
Mar 11, 2010 Blogging
I just got back from my accountant’s office. My new accountant. My first accountant. I’ve never needed one before. I’ve been blogging for almost four years, but before 2009 there wasn’t any money involved, unless you count what I paid to get myself online and go to BlogHer in San Francisco in 2008. I didn’t, I just thought of it as a hobby.
Then 2009 hit, and I started getting products in the mail. Some I knew were coming because I had gotten emails asking if I wanted them. Some I knew were coming because I got emails telling me they were coming whether I wanted them or not. And some just showed up – I have no idea how those companies even got my address. I’ve gotten some incredibly cool stuff, I’ve gotten some incredibly lame stuff. All in all I’d estimate that in the past year I’ve written about 10-20% of the products that have come through my door. I’m going to do this entire post without mentioning any products or brands, because I just can’t handle disclosure and taxes in the same conversation. My head will explode.
Then there were the trips, I think seven in all. Some I paid for completely, some a brand paid for completely, some I got partial sponsorships for. I wrote about all of them. And while every single one was enjoyable (I love to travel), they were all work. That is, if I weren’t blogging about them, I wouldn’t be taking those trips. And I don’t mean that I took my kids to a water park and then reviewed it to try to deduct it on my taxes. These were all business trips. The only problem is, how do I treat them for tax purposes? I had no clue.
The thing is, not too many people have a clue about a blogger’s taxes. Or rather, everybody has different clues. Asking around for the past year and listening in on twitter, here’s what I’ve discovered is “the law” according to whoever is saying it:
- All trips that are paid for by brands have to be treated like a prize, with sales tax being owed
- All trips that are paid for by brands are counted as income
- All trips that are paid for by brands don’t count
- All products received by a blogger have to be claimed as income
- All products received by a blogger have to be treated like a prize
- Products received by a blogger only count as income if the blogger asked for them
- Products received by a blogger count as income unless they are given away again in a giveaway, in which case they don’t count as anything and the shipping can be claimed as an expense
- Products received by a blogger only count as income if they are written or tweeted about
- Products received by a blogger count as prizes unless they are written about
- Products received by a blogger and given away to charity don’t count as income, unless the blogger takes a deduction for the donation
- Products received by a blogger don’t count as anything
Basically, if you ask three people, you’re likely to get three different responses. So what’s a girl to do?
Find a good accountant, that’s what. I found one who in fifteen years has only had six of the returns she’s prepared get audited. I like those odds. The reason is that she’s cautious. She’s not going to let me claim my home computer and internet as an expense, because if I weren’t blogging they’d still be sitting here, getting used by the whole family. She isn’t going to let me claim the food the kids ate at the Type A Mom conference as an expense, because they aren’t on my payroll and didn’t go to North Carolina to work. That’s all fine, because if she’s that cautious with those types of things, I’m more likely to trust her answers when it comes to trips and products.
So what were her answers? I’m not going to tell you, for several reasons. Number one, I’d be giving away her advice for free, and that’s not right. Number two, what’s right for my situation may not be right for yours. And last, because if it turns out she’s wrong, I don’t want to be on the hook for giving bad advice.
So instead, I’ll tell you what you should be doing all year to prepare for your taxes as a blogger. Do these things now, in March, even if you still look on blogging as a hobby. By October it could be a career, and you’ll be scrambling like I was, looking for receipts for all sorts of things that you were prepared to just forget about before.
- Don’t just save receipts, track them. I thought I was off to a good start by bringing in receipts for everything from my laptop to room service to software and web hosting fees, but they need to be on a spreadsheet, not in envelopes. I mean, you want them in envelopes as proof, but your accountant wants them organized in some kind of money program, or even just an excel spreadsheet showing what came in and what went out.
- If you go on a trip (no matter who pays for it), keep track of what you’re doing in order to prove that it was a business trip. If there’s a printed conference schedule, tuck that away with your tax papers. Keep a log of meetings you went to. Hell, I asked her jokingly if I should print out my twitter stream from trips, and she said sure, that that would be a great way to show that I was actually working. If you review a product connected with a trip, or the trip itself, print that out to put with your tax papers. You need to be able to prove that the trip wasn’t a vacation.
- Don’t mistakenly believe that you don’t need to worry about income that falls below $600. That may be the magic number for you to receive a 1099 form about that income, but you have to track and count your income no matter how small. Again, do it now in case big things happen to you later in the year.
- If you buy something specifically for blogging – a laptop, say, or some kind of software – document how you’ll use it and why it’s a work expense.
- Don’t forget about all those expenses you just wouldn’t have except for blogging. No, I’m not talking about the Valium in your purse, I mean the business cards and the shipping charges for sending prizes and the copies you made at the library for that research you did for that one post (seriously, I’ve heard some bloggers actually do research!).
You may have a stronger stomach for expenses than I do. I came across this list of 101 deductions for bloggers and freelancers, and actually laughed out loud at a few of them. My new accountant would never let me get away with most of those. I would rather pay a bit extra in taxes knowing it’s extremely unlikely I’ll ever get audited. If you’re more daring, more power to you. But whichever way you decide to go, make sure you have the paper trail to back it up.