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It was almost a year ago that I attended the Mom 2.0 Summit View definition in a new window in Houston and listened to a keynote address from Heather Armstrong View definition in a new window (Dooce), Maggie Mason View definition in a new window (Mighty Girl), and Gabrielle Blair (Design Mom). Their keynote was excellent. In large part this is why I had been recommending the Mom 2.0 Summit to people who are looking for a more business oriented conference within the mommyblogging space. (Note: I still recommend it for people who haven’t been before, and for whom money is not an object, with some other reservations that are described here. And if you want to buy my ticket for cheap, let me know. Is that tacky? I don’t really care.)

One thing about that keynote keeps sticking in my craw in light of recent events, though. There was a moment during the Q&A in which Heather Armstrong answered a question about the future of monetizing blogs by stating that she did not believe that sponsored posts were “where things were going.” I remember this moment specifically because I had been curious about her take on that particular issue. And yet, here we are not even a year later, and everything is about content campaigns.

Well, I’m stodgy. I don’t like it, and maybe I’m sounding like a broken record, but here’s why.

1. A “content campaign” is still a sponsored post, and everybody hates sponsored posts.

Times change, and the environment changes. I get this. So it’s not 100% surprising that we are seeing more content campaigns plus advice on how best to structure them. While I admit that all sponsored content is not created equally, calling it a “content campaign” does not change what it is. People don’t like sponsored posts — they either don’t read them or they get suckered into reading them by people leaving the disclosure until the end of the post, and then they get mad. Filling up your blog — the valuable product that you own — with stuff like that is a questionable long term business plan for most bloggers.

As I have said before, different niches have different levels of comfort with sponsored content. How many readers you stand to alienate with too many sponsored posts can vary greatly. But if your only plan for monetization is to use sponsored posts, you may find yourself without any value (i.e. readers) left at the end of a busy season.

2. Advertisers do worry about overexposure.

You cannot just throw up sponsored posts all of the time willy nilly, even if this didn’t piss off your readers. Why? Because advertisers do worry about whether or not a blogger is overexposed. They will opt to go with another blogger if they feel that you have been using your space to pimp products too much. The reason they will do this is because every time you use content to sell a product, there is a tiny bit of credibility that is expended. If you use too much up without putting enough back in, you don’t have anything left to sell.

3. There is about a 4000% discrepancy in what bloggers get paid to do the very same campaign.

Now that Clever Girls Collective has partnered with Federated Media for content campaigns, the number of people getting sponsored content deals is much bigger than before. But not all of these deals are created equally — there was a recent content campaign that was advertising a rate of $75 for one post to people in Clever Girls Collective who wanted to apply to be a part of the campaign. But according to my sources, that Clever Girls Collective rate is anywhere from 10 to 60 times lower than what a blogger on Federated Media would be offered for the same campaign. THE SAME CAMPAIGN.

Now, maybe you’re thinking $75 is not such a bad deal for one post? And besides, you’re not with Federated Media, and you’re not big enough to command the rates that some of the bloggers who are represented by Federated Media can claim. This may be true, but remember, when you do a sponsored post, you are not working as a freelance writer — the $75 does not just cover your writing labor. It is the price that is attached to the eyeballs who will be reading the piece on your site. And if those eyeballs get tired of looking at sponsored content, how are you ever going to get to the point where you can command more money?

4. If you must do a sponsored post, broker the deal yourself.

The most egregious thing about the rash of content campaigns, though, is the amount of money that bloggers are leaving on the table by letting other people set up these deals for them. If you want to do a content campaign, sell it yourself and take home all of the profit. Think about what kinds of products come up organically in your blog, make a list, and then go pitch some independent businesses for these deals. Most small business owners are easier to convince on this kind of stuff because they’re looking for new ways to promote, and they often cannot afford what a placement through a big ad network would cost them. If you can come up with a good pitch, send them over a professional looking media kit, and show them how well-targeted your blog is for their product, they will sign up. You might have to email or call a few places before somebody signs up, but you’ll take home so much more money in the end that it will be worth it. Plus, you’ll get experience that you cannot get any other way.

My position on forming partnerships is, roughly, thus: don’t do it. They almost always suck, and they almost always don’t work out. When they are formed between friends, they almost always lead to bad blood, not to mention lots of unnecessary expenditures of legal fees and hassles.

Obviously, I don’t believe this is always the case: I am married, after all. But I think that a happy marriage is probably the exception that proves the rule that you should mostly avoid partnerships whenever possible. But since people seem to be forming partnerships left and right, and in light of the recent controversy involving the Blissdom Conference and its own partnership disputes (about which I know nothing, except what you might have read), I have a few thoughts.

1. Assume your potential business partner is a douchebag; prepare yourself accordingly.

Let’s say that you are dead set on starting a partnership with somebody because you are certain that you cannot get ahead in social media without doing so. If you do, you need to act as if whomever you are going into business with is a douchebag in hiding. Because even if they aren’t, currently, acting like a douchebag, there is a good chance you will believe they are a douchebag at some point, particularly when there is money involved.

Start-up businesses are tough: there is tons of work, and no money. Until there is money, and then you’re going to start fighting over it unless you have made a written agreement for how the partnership is to be structured. An oral agreement is not good enough, even if there is no money and you’re not sure there will ever be.

2. If you aren’t sure what the agreement is between you and your potential business partner, figure it out before you do any work.

You have a voice and you have the ability to stop doing work if you are not sure you’re going to get a good deal. Figure out what you want out of a deal and ask for it. Do not do any work until and agreement has been hammered out, and do not assume that everything will work out without these details being clearly discussed. If your partner does not want to make a formal agreement, or wants to put it off, then you need to forget going into business with them. Do not trust that they will remember you when they make it big, because they won’t, and you will have nobody to blame but yourself.

3. Forget about being rude. There is no “rude” — there is just “dumb.”

Talking about money and the details of an ownership stake is difficult. It requires you to act like an adult. If you cannot do this or are worried that you won’t be assertive enough to do so, then you need to hire somebody to do it for you: that’s what lawyers are for.

4. You must have an exit strategy.

Have you thought about what is going to happen when your partnership goes sour (because it probably will)? How about when your partner decides, for whatever reason, that you are not right for the company and wants you out? You need to have a clear agreement for buying and selling shares in the company so that if this happens, at the very least, a partner is forced to buy you out instead of just kicking you to the curb. And you need to have a lawyer write this for you, because you will not be able to do it on your own.

Here’s what I think about partnerships disputes, both hypothetical and alleged: there are two sides to every story. Sometimes people go into agreements without making their needs clear because they are afraid to bring up the issue. Sometimes they deliberately obscure the terms as a means of making things better for themselves. The details of most partnership disputes are usually really complicated and it’s impossible for an outsider to make a judgment one way or the other on who was right and who was wrong. And because I’m guessing that the recent disputes in partnerships between mommybloggers adhere to this rule, I think a more appropriate response than choosing sides in all of it is probably just using it as a reminder of why you have to protect yourself.

3 Steps To Figuring Out Your Niche

by anna on January 31, 2011

You have probably read a million times already that finding a niche is critical to your blog’s success. But what if you cannot figure out a niche for yourself? Or, what if you’ve been writing in a niche but cannot see your blog really taking off, even after years of consistent work? It might be that you haven’t delved deep enough, and that you are still a little bit off from your real target. Here’s an exercise that will help you determine what niche your blog should be in; or, if you’ve already chosen a niche, if you’re in the right one that will lead to your success. Get out a piece of paper and jot down your thoughts and ideas in response to the questions below. Or, if you’re really organized, use some mind mapping software to see where the brainstorming takes you.

1. Determine your passion.

The first step to figuring out a good niche for yourself is to determine what kinds of posts you really love writing about. It’s been said before (a billion times), but you really need to figure out a topic that will keep you interested for a long period of time when you’re starting a blog. Even with the perfect topic, there will be days that you just don’t feel like blogging — but if you’ve chosen the right topic, you’ll never get tired of discussing the concept that inspired you.

Some questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with finding a topic:

  1. What kinds of post inspire you on other blogs?
  2. When you are moved to comment on somebody else’s blog, what are they writing about?
  3. When you do writing (or speaking) that does not feel like work (most of the time), what are you writing about?

2. Determine a hook (or “story”) to differentiate yourself from everyone else.

Figuring out what your special marketing hook is going to be is something with which a lot of bloggers struggle. There are a few bloggers, of course, on whom a hook is bestowed without any effort of their own. These people might be lucky or unlucky, depending upon your perspective and the nature of the hook itself. For the rest of us, carving out a unique story takes a little bit more work — but it also allows us to have a say in why we are known and exactly what people remember about us.

Deciding what your unique contribution will be requires you to look at your experience in a more critical way than you are probably used to doing. When I started ABDPBT, I thought that my hook would be my experience in academia combined with my new experience as a stay-at-home mom. This experience does shape the content that I produce for ABDPBT View definition in a new window; however, I quickly learned that “former academic stay-at-home mom” is not unique in this space — if you used that to describe who I am, there are actually a few people who would probably come to mind before myself.

In order to find something for myself that was different, I had to look deeper into the skill set I was bringing to the table. Being a former academic was not enough — what was I uniquely talented at doing, in addition to my academic background. Eventually, it became apparent that my tendency to be “inappropriately critical” would be my defining characteristic. I may not have self-consciously crafted this as my story, but it is definitely what my story became as a result of interacting with people in this blogging community.

Some questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with finding a hook:

  1. What is your background?
  2. What kind of education do you have?
  3. Before you came to blogging, what kind of career did you have?
  4. Have you held any unusual jobs?
  5. Do you have any unusual talents? What are they?
  6. What kind of unique slant can you bring to the conversation that nobody else can?

3. Is anyone else doing it?

Once you’ve got a rough idea of what kind of writing you want to do, and what will make your blog different from others, you need to determine whether there is anyone else out there doing the same thing as you are proposing. To use myself as an example again, when my inappropriately critical voice began to emerge as my “hook,” it was an organic result of me interacting with a community that allowed (at that time) virtually no critical dissent whatsoever. It became a story because nobody else was doing it, and some people (not everyone, but enough people) in the community craved that kind of a voice.

When you are deliberately searching for a story for yourself, you might have to do a little more due diligence than I did in determining if your idea already exists. You will need to search around and look at other blogs in your niche and any related niches to see if there is somebody doing what you are doing. If you find somebody with a similar idea, do not fret: it may be that your idea is different enough that, with a little tweaking, you can still carve out something new. But if you do find something similar to what you want to do, bookmark that site because the people who are reading that site are likely to be a part of what will become your audience.

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