BlogHer Recap: “How to Price and Value Your Services”

One of the most highly anticipated and well-attended sessions of Day Two at BlogHer ’12 was the panel on pricing. Figuring out how to monetize a site is a big question for many bloggers, and the speakers didn’t pull punches.

The panel was moderated by Monica Barnett, “Blueprint for Style,” and featured Amy Bradley-Hole, who writes about politics and business for a variety of sites, Ana Lydia Ochoa-Monaco, “Cabeza de Coco,” and Cecily Kellogg, “Uppercase Woman.”

Where’s the $$$?

Right off the bat, the speakers defined where bloggers need to put their efforts if they want to monetize: “PR isn’t where the money is,” said Kellogg. “PR people generally don’t have a budget.” Marketing does.

You’ll typically hear the term “earned media” when working with a brand’s public relations department – this tends to be product reviews (unpaid). “Paid media” is either a sponsored post or advertising and is arranged through the marketing department.

Working with the marketing departments of brands doesn’t happen overnight, the panelists stressed. “Marketing people are looking for money,” said Bradley-Hole. “If you want them to pay you, you have to be able to show them how you’ll make money for them. It’s cut and dried.”

Your Stats Affect Your Value

Ochoa-Monaco urged bloggers to “speak the language” of marketing and advertising, meaning you should know essential statistics about your blog and be able to demonstrate demographics along with levels of engagement and influence.

You can use tools such as Alexa, Quantcast, Klout, Peer Index, Kred, Tweetreach and Hashtracker. And so can brands, the speakers warned.

“Don’t lie about your stats,” Bradley-Hole emphasized. Your stats aren’t “a deep dark secret” that brands can’t access. “It’s public information.”

Ochoa-Monaco also recommended showcasing your influence and engagement. “Make a page on your site to show the influence you have,” she said. “The tweets and comments and emails that people have sent to say they bought something because of you.”

Brands are looking for genuine engagement between bloggers and their audiences. “They used to be worried about numbers, but are now looking more at engagement,” said Ochoa-Monaco. 

You need to be able to tell brands, “When I blog about fashion, my audience goes out and buys those items,” and back up that statement with sales, click-throughs and a social-rating score.

Who Gets Paid for What and Why

When working with a brand’s PR department or PR agency, it’s important to understand that an invitation to a press tour, receiving a product to review, or being able to attend an advance screening of a film is the payment.

Once you’re known as an influencer, you may be able to work with the marketing department, which is a different ballgame. Marketing has a budget and can pay for sponsored posts and other perks.

Bradley-Hole recommended researching blogs who are in the same space, writing about luxury, fashion, travel, shoes, etc. Study the brands they’re working with, the topics they’re writing about, the audience they attract. Knowing the competition will give you a good sense of what you can ask for and from which brands. 

“I hate to say ‘competition,’” said Bradley-Hole. “Blogging is a friendly and collegial community, but you need to pay attention to the others who are doing what you want to do in that space.”

Know your “added value,” encouraged Ochoa-Monaco. “If you’re part of any niche group, that can be added value to a brand,” she noted. “Are you influential with indie designers? Do you reach a special demographic? Then, they’re not just buying an ad with you, but reaching an extended audience beyond your blog.”

Pricing Your Services vs. Working for Free

There was a consensus among the panelists that there was no value in working for brands or writing for high-earning blogs for free. (The exceptions involve causes that are important to these bloggers.)

“Anything given away for free does not have value,” said Bradley-Hole. 

“Here’s what I don’t do for free,” said Kellogg. “I do not run press releases on my blog. There’s no value for me or my readers. I’m not traditional media; I don’t have space I need to fill. I don’t ever write for anyone for free. I support my family. I have a mortgage, and I have to earn a living. Some products are nice, but they don’t pay my bills. I don’t do reviews because they’re a lot of work and most review items are not high in value.”

Barnett added, “The bottom line is that you have to value your services and make other people value your services.”

Kellogg said when she started consulting, she figured out how she would price her services based on what she needed to earn per hour. That way, she could charge a project rate (figuring how many hours the project would take and multiplying it by her hourly) or an hourly rate, depending on how the client wanted to work.

Barnett agreed. “Consider different pricing strategies,” she said, “everything from tiers to hourly to project-based.”

And, when you set your fee, she said, “price it so that it hurts a little. We undervalue ourselves. If you don’t value yourself, no one else will value you.”

Your price does need to be reasonable – based on your blog’s audience reach and your experience. The panelists offered several suggestions for finding out what other bloggers are charging:

  •  If you’re part of a blogging network, find out if there’s a standard rate within the group;
  • Ask bloggers for their rate sheet (you don’t have to tell them you’re a blogger); and
  • If you write about more than one area, make sure you know the rates in each industry.

Beyond Blogging

There are other types of business opportunities that brands can offer, including consulting and being a paid brand ambassador. The panelists noted that having a blog or a Twitter account doesn’t make anyone a social media marketing expert, but if you’ve been a lon
g-time member of a niche audience and have a marketing background, brands may be interested in learning what you know about targeting your niche.

Ethical Issues

When you start working with brands, it’s important to understand that although bloggers aren’t journalists (and therefore expected to be objective), they need to be credible and authentic with their audience. 

“Tell the truth,” Barnett said. “Even if it’s bad.”

Bradley-Hole added, “If someone gives you a product, you can write whatever you want about it. If someone pays you to write about a product, they get to dictate some of the content. It’s still a review, but it’s a paid review,” which needs to be clear in your post.

The Bottom Line: Know Your Worth

All of the speakers were adamant that bloggers understand the value they’ve created in their blogs and the work they’ve done to engage their audiences. 

“Know why your product is superior to other similar blogs,” said Bradley-Hole. And then start asking brands if they’ll work with you.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” she concluded.

Follow the speakers on Twitter:

Amy Bradley-Hole @amybhole

Ana Lydia Ochoa-Monaco @latinaprpro

Cecily Kellogg @Cecilyk

Monica Barnett @Blueprint4Style
Image Credit: The BlogHer “Pricing Your Services” panel: (top row, l to r) Monica Barnett and Cecily Kellogg; and (bottom row, l to r) Amy Bradley-Hole and Ana Lydia Ochoa-Monaco.