Monetizing a blog or social media platform is a pretty hot and oftentimes polarizing topic. There are some people who are absolutely fascinated by the fact that bloggers and social media influencers can earn money (and sometimes lots of it!) for merely posting photos of themselves and their life. Others think that posting sponsored content somehow “taints” your online presence. Personally, I’m of the camp that nobody should work for free. Growing a blog and Instagram takes a lot of time and effort, so you should absolutely be paid for your effort. If you’re interested in turning your blog or Instagram into a money-making business, read on for my comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to monetize these platforms.
[ 1 ] Grow your online presence
Before you can even begin to think about monetizing your blog or social media, you’ll need to grow your online presence. Get readers to your blog and followers to your social media accounts. I wrote up a detailed post on how to start and grow a lifestyle blog here and how to grow your Instagram account here. If you’re looking at a different type of blog or a different social media platform, a lot of what I wrote would probably still apply but I would also google around to see the best ways to grow a blog in your niche and any other social media accounts you’re focusing on.
To give you an idea of what sort of online presence will start to see sponsored content, I got my first Instagram collaboration request at around 5K followers (about 3 months in) and my first blog collaboration request after around two months (about 2,000 page views per month). Those were just for free product but it was still super exciting to get that first traction. My first paid collaboration was at around 14K on Instagram (about 7 months in) and on my blog at the 3 month mark (about 4,000 page views per month). Both of these were for around $100 and I only had a handful of collaborations per month (blog and Instagram combined) for a few months after those first paid gigs. My rates increased as I grew, of course, but my first full year of (Insta)blogging was definitely at an hourly rate well below minimum wage. The potential for earning decent money on blogging and Instagram is definitely there, it just takes a lot of time and effort before you see any return on investment, so to speak.
[ 2 ] Add easy-to-find contact info
Make it easy for brands to find you by adding your contact e-mail in your Instagram bio and on an easy-to-find contact page on your blog. You can even have a form to fill out to make it easier and avoid spam but I would personally always list an actual e-mail address since some people just don’t like these online forms (and then get yourself a good spam filter).
As for Instagram, having a business account makes it even easier for brands to contact you but I would personally shy away from switching since there’s a lot of whisper in the blogging world that Instagram will soon make business accounts pay to get their content seen by anyone. If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts, check out my Instagram growth blog post – point #10).
[ 3 ] Tag brands in your photos
This is a great way to get noticed by a brand and maybe even have them repost your photo, which is great for growth. But even better yet, if you get on their radar they might just contact you for a collaboration. At the very least, it’s great for brands who are thinking of working with you to see that you do product placement on your Instagram (whether or not the brands you tag actually paid you or not). I wouldn’t go overboard, though, and tag every single item in every single photo. Just whatever happens to be prominent in the photo or whatever people typically ask you about in your comments. For example, I get a lot of questions about my IKEA learning tower hack so I actually created a separate Instagram account with the tutorial link so I can tag that account (@ikealearningtower) in every one of my kitchen photos because I know there will be someone interested in that info.
[ 4 ] Highlight products / services on your blog
Brands like to see an example of the type of post you would create for them so make sure you have some samples posted. If you want to do reviews, review some of your favourite products (even if they’re not sponsored by the brand). If you want fashion brands to give you clothing for outfits posts, make sure you have lots of outfit posts with clothes you already own. If you want to get a hotel to comp your stay as a travel blogger, have posts from previous trips that highlight the hotel you stayed at (even if you paid for it yourself). Brands want to feel confident that the work you provide for them will be in line with their marketing goals and what better way to show them than with some samples of your previous work.
[ 5 ] Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing can be a great way to earn money through your blog, especially once your traffic picks up. If you’re new to this concept, it’s essentially a custom URL with a unique tracking code in it. If someone purchases something through your affiliate link, you’ll earn a commission (typically between 5-15%). And it usually doesn’t have to be the specific item you linked. Most of these affiliate programs will give you a commission if someone purchased anything from a particular site within a specific time window after the click through. The great thing about programs such as Amazon Associates, Reward Style, Shop Style and Link Share, is they’re easy to setup and start using and there is no risk involved – worst case scenario you don’t make any money but best case you’ll make a nice chunk of change without anything other than creating a custom link for the product you’re planning on linking anyway. Most will also accept all bloggers regardless of page views. I’m not going to go into too much detail about affiliate marketing, since there’s a ton of good information online already. You can read a great in-depth article about affiliate marketing for bloggers here.
I personally use Reward Style, which is a little more exclusive (there’s an application process involved). It’s more fashion based, which is not as ideal for me, and as thus I’ve recently signed up for Link Share (Rakukaten) as well. To give you an idea, I’m making about $100 per month (which is really not a lot) with Reward Style – meaning blog visitors are spending about $1500-2000 through affiliate links. I only link about 20% of my links through them though, since a lot of the home decor / baby items I share on my blog aren’t part of the Reward Style program. Once I’ve had some experience with other affiliate programs and how well they work for a lifestyle blogger like myself, I’ll make sure to update this post.
[ 6 ] Put ads on your blog
Website advertising is probably already very familiar to you. You’ve seen an ad, you’ve clicked on an ad, heck you may have even purchased something as a direct result of clicking on that ad. There are essentially two ways of creating ads on your website. The first is getting brands to pay you for advertising space and in turn you post their ad (banner) somewhere on your website (usually in the sidebar). You can reach out to brands directly to try and sell your ad space or, if brands reach out to you, you can offer that as an option.
The second is through an ad network, like the hugely popular Google AdSense. You can either get paid based on impressions (e.g. for every 1,000 page views you get, you earn a set dollar amount) or based on clicks (regardless of page views, if a visitor clicks on the ad from your site, you’ll earn a certain cut of the ad revenue).
I personally don’t do either of these forms of advertising because I’m very particular about the look and feel of my blog and from my (admitted) very limited research, it looks like I might earn about $10 a day which really isn’t all that much when you take into consideration what I’m giving up (that very clean, ad-free blog look). That said, I really haven’t done enough research and I might look into this option at some point down the road.
[ 7 ] Sponsored collaborations
The bulk of the money that I earn through blogging and Instagram is through sponsored collaborations. Essentially, a brand or shop will provide me with one or more products and I will incorporate them into an Instagram or blog post (or two, or three). How do you go about getting sponsored collaborations? By working with brands that reach out to you and/or by reaching out to your favourite brands to see if they want to collaborate.
Once you reach a certain online presence, brands (or their PR firms) will naturally start to reach out to you. Always make sure that your e-mail address is easy to find, as per step number 2. Not every brand that reaches out to you will fit your aesthetic or your own personal brand. Don’t say yes to just anyone because they’re willing to pay you. Make sure the brands you promote align with your aesthetic and principles. Your sponsored posts should be authentic and you should only promote products you truly believe in and use yourself.
If you’re not getting the types of collaborations you’re hoping for through e-mails alone, you can be proactive and reach out to brands yourselves. Do a little google sleuthing to find their PR / media contact. Sometimes it’s as easy as a media enquiries e-mail address on the brand’s contact page, but more often than not brands make you work for it. I usually google “pr / media / press [at ] company [dot ] com” to see if the e-mail address shows up and will sometimes get lucky this way. Sometimes I’ll comment on a brand’s latest Instagram post with a note saying I sent them a DM (since brand accounts are usually handled by their social media manager, who either also handles collaborations or works closely with the PR department that does). Sometimes I get a media contact through a blogger friend. There are lots of ways to find the right e-mail address and, if all else fails, you can always try contacting the general help desk to see if they’re able to give you the right contact.
[ 8 ] Join influencer networks
Influencer networks are companies that connect bloggers and influencers with brands. Some will have you apply for campaigns yourself while others will contact you if they have a brand who’s interested in you. For those networks where you apply yourself, they’ll have either a web platform or a phone app where you go in and look at all of the open campaigns and apply to those that interest you. Sometimes they’ll let you come up with a pitch that includes a rate you decide on yourself, other times it will be a fixed rate and you can decide if this amount is worth the effort of applying for and then, if you get picked, doing the work involved. Influencer networks can be a great tool, especially when you’re first starting out and want the chance to work with some bigger brands that might not yet have you on their radar.
I don’t have experience with all that many influencer networks so I can’t give a comprehensive review or even list them all. Those that I’ve got decent to good experience with are Popular Pays (my favourite Instagram influencer app and where I got my very first paid gig last summer, with one of my favourite brands no less), Social Fabric (although most of their gigs are US only and they’re vigilant about that), Muse Find and Revfluence. I also signed up for the following networks, but haven’t gotten much (or even any) work through them: Collabor8, Collectively, IZEA, Linqia, Nichify, and TapInfluence. Some of these don’t pay well versus others I just haven’t been contacted much, which could be because I’m based in Canada and a lot of these influencer networks focus on US brands who want US influencers (even though my reach in the US is about the same as fellow US-based mom bloggers).
Here are some more influencer networks that I have absolutely no experience with but that I’ve found online and are recommended by other bloggers, in alphabetical order (*): Acorn Influence, Activate by Bloglovin’, AdvoWire, BlogHer, Blog Meets Brand, BrandBacker, Clever, Content BLVD, Everywhere Agency, Experticity, Famebit, Fitfluencial, Hypetap, Influence Central, Influincity, Instabrand, Massive Sway, Megan Media, Network Niche, NeoReach, One2One Network, Pollinate Media, She Knows Media, She Speaks, Snapfluence, Speakr, Sway Group, The Shelf Network, and Tribe Group.
(*) I haven’t used or researched any of these, so I can only recommend that you do your own research before signing up.
[ 9 ] Figure out your Instagram rates
Technically this should go before #7 and #8 because you need to figure out your rates before you can do sponsored content. That said, most sponsored content starts out as free gifting, which means you don’t actually need to know rates in the beginning since you’ll just be getting free product in exchange for your Instagram and blog posts. I also wanted to talk about sponsored content and influencer networks before I get into rates because I’ve had two very different experiences with the two when it comes to how much they pay.
So, how much should you charge for a post? There’s no hard rule, but the general consensus is $5-$10 CPM (cost per thousand) for Instagram. For Instagram that means you’ll charge $5-$10 for every 1,000 followers, So someone with 10,000 followers would charge $50-$100, whilst someone with 1 million followers would charge $5,000-$10,000 per Instagram post. Which end of the spectrum your Instagram rate falls on depends on a lot of factors – your engagement, the quality of photo you’re producing, how competitive you want to be. Personally, if you’ve got good engagement (most brands look for at least 2-4%) and you’re producing high-quality photos, then I think you can and should charge closer to $10 CPM.
Now, this is is just a guideline that most influencers (and influencer talent agencies) go by. There are plenty of brands out there who aren’t willing to pay this high so you be the judge of what you’re willing to accept. Don’t undersell yourself though. It takes a lot of work to produce content and just because someone is willing to pay something, doesn’t mean it’s enough for the work involved or the reach you provide.
For influencer networks, I’ve found the average rates to be quite a bit lower. The average rate for gigs I was accepted for through Popular Pays, for example, was about 30% lower than the rates I was able to get through direct e-mail collaborations. I assume this is because these influencer networks have influencers compete with one another so everyone lowers their rates a bit in hopes of getting the gig. With a brand who e-mails you, on the other hand, you already know they want to work with you so you’re more confident in sticking with your full rates. I would say $10 CPM is a great starting point for e-mail negotiations (if you’ve got the engagement and photo quality to back it up) vs. $5 CPM is about the lowest you should accept / offer for influencer networks.
[ 10 ] Figure out your blog post rates
There’s not quite as much consensus online with what is a good rate to charge for a blog post. Some say $100 per 10,000 monthly page views (not uniques) is a good starting point, others create a rate based on the number of hours you put into each post (at least $50 per hour for post creation, $100 per hour for photography). I would say take both of these into consideration. If you have 10,000 monthly page views but spend 10 hours putting each post together, that would be just above minimum wage if you went with the first calculation. That’s hardly worth your time. I would say the minimum you should charge for a lifestyle post with beautiful photography is $200 plus $100 per 10,000 monthly page views. It would surprise me if you can spit out a blog post – photography, editing, writing – in under 4 hours and your time is absolutely worth $50 / hour. That’s just my personal opinion though, coming from a very visual (and time-intensive) lifestyle blog.
Whilst most influencer networks focus on social media, there are some that also have heavy focus on blog. Social Fabric is the only blog influencer platform I have experience with and their rates are fixed. This was great in the beginning as I actually got a few blog gigs that paid a little more than what brands who e-mailed me were offering. If I get the chance to research more in depth which platforms do blog and how they pay, I’ll make sure to update this post.
[ 11 ] Know your worth
There will always be plenty of brands that reach out to you who don’t have budget beyond simply free gifting. When you’re first starting out, that’s only natural as you don’t yet have as much to offer when it comes to your online reach. Collaborating on a free gifting basis allows you to build up your credibility, your brand, and open the doors for future collaborations because you’re able to showcase that you make a great spokesperson for a brand. But there comes a point when ( a ) the novelty of getting stuff for free wears off and ( b ) you realize that you’re providing brands with something of value and that you should be fairly compensated for that. The expectation by so many brands that influencers do work for free is something that really irks me. In what other profession would you do work and not get paid for it, whether or not you’re just starting out in the industry? Sure, you might just make a little above minimum wage, but you’re definitely being paid something. Yes, smaller brands and those just starting out probably won’t have a huge marketing budget and I still sometimes work on a gifting basis if it’s a brand I firmly believe in and want to build a long-term relationship with. But when companies that have been around for years and have built up a successful brand themselves don’t value you and your work enough to feel you should be paid? It’s a slap in the face, to be honest. Ladies (and gentlemen), please know your worth and don’t feel pressure to do free (or underpaid) work. It’s better to say no and save yourself the time and hassle. When you say no to working for free, you’re leaving yourself open to collaborations with brands who are willing to pay you fairly. You only have a limited number of hours to do work each week and, most likely, you also have a limited number of sponsored posts you want to do each week to keep your Instagram feed and blog from appearing too sales-pitchy. Leave those coveting slots open for brands who value you.
[ 12 ] Create a media kit
Once you’re starting to work with brands in a paid capacity, it’s great to have a media kit on hand to send along when requested. A media kit is a document that outlines the key facts and statistics of your blog. From the number of blog readers / social media followers you have, your page views, reader / follower demographics, the types of collaborations you do, and brands you’ve worked with in the past. You’ll also want to include a short bio of yourself / your blog as well as where you can be found online. Jeni, from The Media Maven wrote a detailed post about what you need to include to make a kick-a** media kit.
I created mine in Photoshop but you can also download a template from Etsy if you’re not as technically saavy (I really like this one).
[ 13 ] Digital products and downloads
Once you’ve established yourself as an expert in your field, you can create digital resources for your readers and followers to download for a fee. Travel guides, blogging tips, a fitness program, you name it. If people are loving what you’re “selling” (for free) on your blog or Instagram, chances are you’ll get interest in more detailed, targeting information that you only offer to those who are willing to shell out a few bucks.
I personally haven’t ventured into this form of monetization, but who knows! Maybe one day.
[ 14 ] Provide your services to others
Whatever you showcase on your blog or Instagram – be it good photography, writing, interior design, fashion styling – there may be people who are interested in hiring you for these skills and not for you to promote anything on your channels. I’ve worked with several brands on a photography basis (I photograph their content for them without necessarily posting anything to my Instagram or blog) and I’ve also been hired to makeover a brand’s Instagram account. These sort of opportunities usually come to you but you can also try actively reaching out to brands who you think you would be a good fit for.
[ 15 ] Sign with an agency
Once you reach a certain level of growth, the more you’re going to be inundated with e-mails and there may come a point in time when you feel like you’re spending all of your time answering e-mails rather than doing any actual work that brands want to hire you for. This is where a talent agency can help you. They can handle all of the nitty gritty for you – answer e-mails, negotiating rates, creating a content schedule for you, etc. They’ll also reach out to brands and PR firms on your behalf to pitch you for potential collaborations. In return, they take a cut of each of your collaborations (industry standard in North America is around 15-25%). On top of that cut, you will have to give up a lot of control that you might have a hard time doing and most will have you sign exclusively for a certain period of time. Definitely weigh the pros and cons for your particular situation. Having a firm handle all the paperwork and media management for you frees you up to do what you do best – create beautiful content – and that can be very liberating for some bloggers and influencers.
Some of the top influencer talent agencies include INF, Socialyte, Viral Nation, and Shine. I have no experience with any of these at this point, but these are the agencies that I’ve heard of several times from some bigger name bloggers as well as the ones that pop up time and time again when doing online research for these influencer agencies.
That’s it! As always, thanks for reading this novel of a post. If you have any more questions, feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll make sure to answer as best as I can.