Every once in awhile it’s good to dust yourself off from lessons learned and start anew. Before I move on with what promises to be an exciting year, I wanted to share some of the insight over the years that have made managing my brand and blogging career easier over time.
Networking is just like dating, or pretty close
Networking sessions are often promoted as opportunities for you to pitch yourself and so most people approach them ready to talk, but rarely ever ready to carefully listen.
I attended my very first “speed dating” networking session at TBEX Athens last year and in many cases, when I first sat down, the brand representative would sit back waiting for me to tell them why I was such a fabulous fit for them.
But, I didn’t.
I wanted to hear them speak first, to know what their expectations were, how they work with bloggers, why they work with bloggers, and what they were hoping I would be able to offer. My pitch (and I hate calling it that because it wasn’t really a pitch, but rather an intro) was brief and addressed the areas that they were most interested in, or where I felt I could bring something to the table. After several very cordial conversations, I walked away knowing who would be interesting to pursue further and who was not. Funny thing is, those with whom I felt the potential are the ones who have already reached out to me for opportunities. And as happens with dating, those with whom I felt no connection, never contacted me.
Before saying yes, ask questions
It’s really exciting to get approached with an opportunity for work. One lesson I have learned is the importance of researching or vetting, and asking questions before saying yes to a contractual agreement, trip, or anything that will need your time, your expertise, and your talent.
Got an email to an exciting destination? Wait a minute before saying yes. Research the brand/agency. Ask to see an itinerary, ask about expectations, and ask who is going – you don’t want to travel with a diva or a psychopath, trust me.
Take a moment to think about anything that comes your way before agreeing to it. If possible, sleep on it. It’s fine (and polite) to acknowledge the email and let them know you will consider it and get back to them the next day.
Work on making the money, while investing the money
Let’s be realistic here: blogging, like any entrepreneurial business, costs money. I’ve said it before, I will say it again. When it comes to careers, travel blogging is probably one of the most expensive ones to have. I invest a lot into my business and it behoves me to make my money back and then some. Mama gotta bring home the bacon too, ya know.
For this, look outside your blog.
Reach out to publications you already write for or with whom you have a relationship, send them a pitch (if going on a press trip, having an itinerary or trip focus beforehand really helps with the pitch).
Read the publication before you pitch. I once had an accomplished journalist who had just met me tell me I would be perfect for a publication she worked for and that I should reach out to them. It sounded exciting! But, before I let my excitement get the best of me, I went home, researched the publication closely and found the travel content style to be outside of my realm of interest. Not every fabulous publication or opportunity is fabulous for you. It’s important to not get distracted by potential “bragging rights” and get involved in situations that are not good fits. (Bragging rights don’t pay the bills either.)
Stop pitching small
I love my blog. I put content on my blog with the same level of passion and commitment as I do for any other freelance publication. I am pretty lucky in that I get recruited for my blog alone and that is something that I am really proud of. But, my blog doesn’t actually pay me for the content on here. I might get advertising money here and there, and some sponsored content requests, but those aren’t huge income generators for me.
You know who pays me? Other publications. (And the occasional brand campaign.)
So, though I am able (more so now than when I started) to get a discounted room, or tickets to an attraction, or a complimentary meal, the experience alone – for the purpose of my blog – ain’t gonna pay my rent.
That means that I have to think about where else I can share any trip I take. Who else might be interested in a story? How else can I share my content and grow my audience, outside of my blog? How far can the experience from this one little trip take me?
Like I said before, I don’t like to promise placement to brands or agencies unless I am on assignment (and I almost always try to be these days), but even if those who I partner with are more than happy to see themselves mentioned on my blog, it makes no sense for me to not pursue placement in other publications – especially if the content is good, the experiences are positive, and there’s an audience elsewhere that would enjoy reading it.
Beware of the dangling carrot
We’ve all heard it before, the non-promise that sort of sounds like a promise – depending on how badly we want it to be – that if we do this, there’s room for that. A maybe. A “let’s see how it goes”. These are tricky because sometimes those first encounters and casual working engagements can lead to something greater, especially if you are great and they are great. Sometimes the intentions are good and there is truth to the potential being presented.
But negotiation still needs to happen in these cases. Agreements, preferably written out, need to be made so that you aren’t dealing with a dangling carrot that you will never get a bite out of and especially so that you are always the one in control of how much you give before they make a decision to pursue further, or you realize it might not be a right fit.
Dangling carrots are not just a blogging problem, they have been around forever. I’ve had my share of them in the corporate world, especially as a young college grad trying to climb up the ranks. What I have learned from them is this: people who respect your work and are genuinely interested in working with you and/or forming a partnership with you have already researched you and are seriously considering you for a professional relationship. They don’t play games, take advantage, or manipulate the situation because they want you as much as you want them. They have little interest in wasting anyone’s time, be it yours or theirs.
If someone ever says to you, “I would’ve given you that, if only you had done this”, run. Run as fast as you can. It’s not very professional and hints at being altruistic and controlling. Now, of course potential recruiters are always going to be measuring you up and trying to decide whether you are or are not a great fit for their brand, their voice, their campaign. But that doesn’t take away your right to do the same.
You can negotiate how much you get paid, how much content you are willing to deliver in exchange or what services you are willing to offer, and most of all, you have the power to walk away. Never underestimate how empowering walking away can be.
Breaking up is not that hard to do
Before you get any deeper into the year, look at your list of potential partnerships, actual partnerships, and those that have been dormant for awhile.
I like to reach out to the dormant ones to remind them that I am here and what I am up to and to ask if there is anything going on where we can work together. By now, most brands/agencies have their budget allocated and year projects mapped out. Dates may not be definitive, they may still be working out the kinks, but campaigns are in motion, even if in the first stages and they should know whether there is room for consideration or not. And if they still don’t have those last minute contractual details ironed out yet, at least you have placed yourself in the forefront of their minds.
But, if you don’t get a reply, move on. Put your time and energy elsewhere. I am not a huge fan of burning bridges, but I also don’t believe in standing in the middle of one waiting for something amazing to happen.
Before the end of last year, I reached out to some of the main brands I have traveled with or have been interacting with for some time and let them know that I am interested in taking our relationship to the next level.
This year will determine where those relationships go. In the meantime, I have to keep working and pursuing opportunities in areas where I am clearly wanted or where the money is. Such is business. It’s easy to take it personal, but it’s not worth it.
You don’t have to burn the bridge, just cross it and keep moving forward. Stay professional, stay focused, and stay true to your work and worth. Stay productive and continue to pursue opportunities with caution, careful consideration, and forethought.
In time, you will end up with something much better and stronger than how you started.