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Two years ago, Vanessa Lambert was feeling stifled. She was married, with a two-year-old at home, and working full-time in the financial services sector in Chicago. “I felt like there was no Vanessa,” she recalled. “Like, I’m a mom, I’m married and all I do is work.”
In another time, Lambert might have embarked on a find-yourself vacation, or taken up yoga; but in 2014 she didn’t have to go that far. Instead, like some 18 million other people that year, Lambert started a blog. After a year and half, the income she made from What Would V Wear had matched her corporate salary. Soon after, it surpassed it. This January, Lambert—who is ranked #767 out of 9,352 influencers on Fohr Card’s verified blogger directory—quit her corporate job.
“When I first started, I didn’t even know you could make money,” said Lambert. “Now my blog is an actual business and my source of income.”
It’s difficult to say just how many blogs are out there—mostly because new ones crop up each day. According to Wordpress, a popular publishing tool, 58.6 million posts are published each month on the platform, while 409 million people view more than 22.6 billion pages each month. Recent data from Tumblr shows that it now hosts 275.9 million blogs.
Basically, the blogosphere is massive—and it’s growing very fast. We often hear about the ones at the top—A-list bloggers like Chiara Ferragni and BryanBoy—but what about those somewhere in the middle? Increasingly, it’s the Vanessa Lamberts, those with solid followings but a lower profile, who are making an impact on the industry and cashing in in a major way.
“If you have a social following of 50,000 and your content is great and your readership is loyal, I would say you could easily make $50,000 in your first year,” said Lambert, who declined to disclose how much she currently made from her blog. Heidi Nazarudin, the blogger behind The Ambitionista and founder of blogger network BloggerBabes, seconded this: “When I was mid-tier, I would say I was making about $50,000 a year.” Nazarudin is now ranked #198 on Fohr Card and rakes in upwards of six figures each year.
According to multiple sources, mid-tier bloggers can charge up to $2,500 for one blog post, plus corresponding social media conversation. The average fee, however, probably ranges closer to between $400 and $1000, depending on the breadth, scope and content. Even those with just 10,000 followers can find ways to monetize. “We try not to let bloggers take less than $200 per post, even if they’re small,” said Nazarudin, whose BloggerBabes network helps broker deals between brands and bloggers. Two hundred dollars might not sound like a lot, but if a blogger is publishing two to three sponsored posts a week, as many are, even on the low-end of the spectrum, it can quickly add up. And certainly, there is no shortage of opportunities for motivated bloggers to partner with brands.
“A lot of our clients will prefer to work with two-tier, or five or seven-tier influencers—depending on what their goals are,” explained James Nord, founder and CEO of Fohr Card, an agency for influencers. “Sometimes it makes more sense for them to work with a whole range of people—that way they can hit the customer from multiple angles.”
Fohr Card uses a proprietary algorithm based on data points culled from social media and Google analytics to rank influencers so brands can discover and connect with those that make the most sense for their goals. In the last year, the company paid out roughly $1.4 million to 200 influencers—and according to Nord that number will likely rise steeply in the coming years.
“A year ago, the average campaign’s budget was $50,000 or less,” Nord said. “Today I would say the average campaign is $150,000.” How that media spend gets divvied up can vary greatly: “We have done campaigns for $150,000 where we’ve worked with three or four people, and ones where we’ve worked with 120 people.”
While Fohr Card does not track bloggers’ income, Nord estimated that many are making $50,000-70,000 each year. “There are plenty of influencers who are clearing six figures each year,” he said. “I’m sure there are some that are doing a million.”
From a brand perspective, the appeal of working with bloggers is becoming increasingly apparent. When Nord meets with clients he explains the importance of working with influencers who have a respectable 200,000 followers this way:
“Take the biggest football stadium in the country, put two of them next to each other, fill them to the brim with people who are interested in potentially purchasing your product. Put the person they trust explicitly to give them advice on the kind of products they should buy on stage. Give that person ten minutes to talk about your product. Now, would you spend $5,000 on that?”
To this day, no one’s said no.
In fact, as brands become smarter about advertising and engaging in the digital sphere, many are beginning to see the advantages of working with a mid-tier blogger over an A-list one. The obvious reason is that they can get more bang for their buck: What one A-lister might charge for one sponsored post, could be enough to buy sponsored posts from 10 mid-tier bloggers, who also tend to go above-and-beyond to please a brand.
“It’s better for the brand, especially if they’re new and just trying to get the word out,” said Nazarudin. “As a reader, if you see a brand tagged in say, a Song of Style Instagram, you might not investigate further. But if you see it on the Instagram of five or six bloggers you know and follow, you’re like, ‘I need that bag.’”
Mid-tier bloggers also might offer a more targeted, engaged audience. “If you’re a very, very popular blogger with millions of followers, everyone will follow you,” said Nazarudin. “Whereas people follow mid-level bloggers because they want to—not because they’re popular.”
Having an impressive number of followers is certainly an asset—but who those followers are is just as important. A bikini brand, for instance, might be better off partnering with a mid-tier blogger whose audience aligns with theirs, rather than a world-famous swimsuit model, whose millions of followers probably include a great deal of thirsty dudes.
“Looking at reach isn’t enough [to determine the cost of sponsored post],” said Nord. “We also look at rich engagement, growth rate, how many times they are posting—there are so many variables.” If a blogger’s audience has grown exponentially in the past six months, their endorsement might be more valuable than someone with twice the followers; If someone posts thirty times a month, a sponsored post will be more expensive than someone who posts three hundred times a month.
Sponsored content aside, mid-tier bloggers can also make bank by using their platform to sell products—either through affiliate links (which can generate thousands of dollars each month) or by launching their own line. Kilee Nickels, a mother of four whose blog One Little Momma focuses on lifestyle, DIY, motherhood and style, harnessed her engaged audience to help launch a successful jewelry line, Nickel and Suede. While steeped in DIYs for the blog, Nickels realized that one of her creations—lightweight, leather statement earrings—might sell well on the Etsy store she ran with her husband. “After we started selling them, I talked about it on the blog and it just kind of took off,” she recalled. “Shortly afterwards, we did $2,000 in sales in one day, on Valentine’s Day.” The jewelry line is now her and her husband’s main source of income. “My husband really saw the potential for growth so he quit his full-time job,” she said. “We’ve been doing the line now for three years full-time. Nickel and Suede is our main business, and the blog is now a supplementary business,” she said. According to Nickel, she can make anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 in one month from the blog alone. She did not provide information on income generated by Nickel and Suede—but we can assume is significantly higher than that.
Whether they made the bulk of their income off affiliate links or sponsored content—or some mixture of the two—one thing remained consistent among mid-tier bloggers: None of them were eager to discuss numbers. “Before I even realized I could monetize my blog, I remember being startled by the lack of transparency within the industry,” said Erica Ligenza, a full-time student at the Wharton School of Business whose blog Coming Up Roses, is ranked #1324 on Fohr Card. “It was so hard to find any information on what you could make blogging.”
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Ligenza is part of a growing number of bloggers trying to combat that lack of transparency by publishing monthly income reports. Each month Ligenza details exactly how she made money off her blog, and what her expenses were. In December 2015, for instance, she made $1,412.42 from her blog; in November it was $1,783.27. It’s a fascinating read—especially since Ligenza openly discusses missteps, lessons learned and takeaways. “I try to take the approach of: How can I make this most valuable for the reader, where someone will actually get something out of it instead of me just make money off of it?” she explained, of her decision to share her financial reports. Ligenza doesn’t make a huge income off her blog, she’s a full-time student and hasn’t been able to devote all her time to it, but when she graduates this year, she plans to blog full-time. And she hopes her monthly income reports will show her progress.
Amy Lynn Andrews, who teaches blogging best practices and founded a newsletter called Useletter, keeps track of income reports posted by a variety of bloggers on her Pinterest Board. As you can see, some (like Becky of Your Modern Family) are making roughly $40,000 a month, others (like Monique of Chasing the Stars) are actually losing money each month.
Bloggers willing to openly discuss finances are still the rarity, but as the industry matures there will hopefully be clearer guidelines as to what bloggers can charge. According to Nazarudin and Lambert, many fashion bloggers don’t know their own worth, and aren’t always comfortable negotiating. “A lot of fashion bloggers—which are mostly all women in my experience—are really eager to please and feel they should accept whatever the brand offers,” said Nazarudin, who before blogging full-time served as VP of a division at CitiBank and, later, CEO of a mobile content company. “Some brands can try to take advantage of that.”
Lambert recalled seeing one of her images used in an ad without her consent. “A lot of bloggers get excited when they see that a brand is using their image,” she said. “But it’s not okay for a brand to use someone’s image without a proper written contract and licensing fee. That’s like stealing.” (Lambert contacted the brand and negotiated a deal).
Nazarudin encourages the bloggers she works with to think hard about how much their time, point of view and effort is worth—and then ask for slightly more than that.
Though blogging is clearly big business today, outsiders, brand execs and even the mainstream media can sometimes dismiss fashion bloggers as silly and self-absorbed. It’s an attitude that many of these young women—who are in fact incredibly business-savvy and entrepreneurial—resent.
“I’m not just a girl behind a computer trying to look pretty,” said Lambert. “I have a family. I’m supporting myself and my family with this income.”