How do I start a blog and get free stuff?
This is a question I’m asked a lot. Actually, it’s the question I’m asked the most so it makes sense I write a blog post about it. This also means I can give a more detailed answer than I ever could in a quick email.
Before I go any further, remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I sound like my dad here but honestly, I cannot stress enough how much work goes into blogging and reviewing products. You may call this a freebie but when you think about all the time, effort, equipment and research that goes into a product review, you’ll probably start to wonder if it’s even worth it.
If you’re in the blagging game rather than the blogging game, it definitely isn’t worth it. I’ll save you time and just tell you to quit while you’re ahead!
You cannot set up a blog and expect freebies to start rolling in. Why not? Because you don’t have any kind of influence, that’s why! OK, you may get sent a few tea bags or a pair of socks. Yes, we all love tea and we all love socks but this really isn’t a good reason to set up a blog. (Unless you love socks THAT much. And in that case, who am I to judge?)
I don’t mean for this to seem negative, harsh or unreasonable. This is the truth.
Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to blogging and I am definitely not a fount of all knowledge. Many bloggers will dismiss a newbie who even dares to ask the freebie question but I think it’s better to tell the truth than to sell an eBook about ‘travelling the world for free’ or any such bullshit. It’s not possible, people!
When I say ‘product’ in this post I mean actual physical products as well as travels, flights, hotel stays, experiences, days out, meals. Basically anything you’ve received for free. This post does not just apply to travel bloggers, it applies to all niches. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments too!
1. It takes time
I was blogging for about four years before I received any kind of ‘freebie’. During that time I spent about 25 hours per week on writing, editing, social media and engaging with other bloggers in order to build up a following and a decent amount of pageviews.
That’s about 5,200 hours of work before you get anything ‘for free’.
I found these extra hours by blogging during lunch breaks, writing during my commute, spending a couple of hours each evening on my laptop and I usually spent all day on Sunday blogging. I also blogged while I was travelling and I barely watch TV at all. (You’d be amazed by how much you get done by not watching shit TV.) I was doing this because I loved it and without any intention to ever grow my blog into my career.
If I’d worked those 5,200 hours at a job paying minimum wage I would have earned £33,800. Obviously you’d be taxed extra as it would be a second job but I’m not really sure how to work that out (sorry!)
£33k is A LOT of money!
During that time I also invested in webhosting, a domain name, a decent laptop and a good camera and spent hundreds of pounds in internet cafes while I was travelling. In total, that probably comes in at about £3,000. (Admittedly, I didn’t NEED a Mac or a £300 camera but they both turned out to be great investments.)
If you hadn’t guessed it already, I’m trying to say that you’d be better off getting a part-time job to BUY things than starting a blog to get freebies.
But if you’re still interested, keep reading….
2. Build up a proper following and a decent number of pageviews
No one will send you anything if you don’t have any readers. Simple as.
By ‘proper following’ I mean a community of like-minded people, not just fellow bloggers from #TeamFollowBack. Yes, there might be 10,000 of them out there but they aren’t of any value.
When it comes to pageviews, lots of people will tell you that a niche is more important than high numbers.
Sometimes this is true. For example, if you blog about nothing but red shoes, The Red Shoe Company might send you a pair of red shoes to review. This is beneficial for them because they know you have an audience of red shoe lovers who are likely to purchase the red shoes you reviewed.
But that’s the important thing, having an audience.
You can’t expect to receive anything if you don’t have an audience and therefore, a decent number of pageviews.
3. What’s a good number of pageviews?
It varies and everyone will give you a different answer. Personally (and I know some people will disagree here) I’d say at least 30,000 pageviews per month is ‘decent’.
It’s not really my place to say what a good number of pageviews is because each brand will have their own opinion and I’m not the one sending anyone products to review. Personally, I’d hate to review a product and feel as though my review had absolutely no impact on the blogosphere because barely anyone saw it.
But remember pageviews aren’t everything. You might have 2-3 random posts that receive thousands of hits from Google searches each month but no one reads the rest of your posts.
This is why engagement is also crucial as this shows that people are interested in what you’re writing.
4. Never, ever, call it a freebie
A sure way to piss off a blogger or a brand is to call it a ‘freebie’.
I know I’ve called it a ‘free’ in the title of this blog post but, like a good blogger, I’ve done my keyword research and found that’s what people are searching for.
Let’s say The Red Shoe Blog received a pair of shoes. The blogger will need to set up a photo shoot and photograph the shoes. She’ll then wear them out 2-3 times to make sure they’re good quality so she feels comfortable recommending them to her readers. She’ll then write about them, upload it to her blog, spend some time on formatting and make the post look nice. Once the post is live she’ll spend some time marketing it.
In total, it will probably take at least 5 hours with the photography, writing, editing and promo.
She’ll also spend about 5 hours per week on blog admin, replying to emails, engaging with bloggers and all the other bloggy stuff that takes ages.
So that’s 10 hours work. At least. And those 10 hours don’t come for free. Therefore it’s not a freebie. Again, she would have been better spending that time doing overtime at work or working a second job and buying the shoes herself.
5. Have a professional media kit
If anyone is going to send you a product to review they’re going to want to know what the ROI is. ROI stands for Return on Investment and basically means they’re going to want something in return for investing in you.
Include stats in your media kit such as the click-through rate from your product reviews. You’ll need a link to the product and you can tell how many people are clicking on this link by using a free tool such as Bitly.com. If only a handful of people are clicking on the link then the ROI is low.
If you can prove someone has purchased something because of your review then pop it in your media kit with evidence to back you up.
Sales aren’t always the number 1 priority, particularly with travel as it’s unlikely someone will impulse buy a holiday. Brand and destination awareness are also very important.
Until you can prove you’re influencing people’s decisions, you won’t be receiving any ‘freebies’.
6. Be professional
So you’ve got some professional stats going on and a professional media kit, now it’s time to BE professional.
Make sure you’re producing content everyone is happy with. By everyone I mean you, your readers and the person sending you the product. Send a follow-up email to the brand you’re working with which includes stats and reader feedback and keep them updated a few months down the line.
If you were a dream to work with once, it’s likely they’ll work with you again.
7. Be honest
Believe it or not, you don’t need to pretend a product was amazing even if it wasn’t. Shocking, I know.
If you pretend it is then you’re tricking your readers and they’ll never believe anything you write again.
Before receiving a product, I would let the brand know that you’re 100% honest in your reviews so they’re not expecting a glowing report of their shoddy product.
8. Only review valuable products
(and I don’t mean expensive)
Eeeeek, you’ve been offered your first product to review, how exciting!
But it’s a crap product you neither want or need and, chances are, your readers couldn’t care less.
Just because it’s free you don’t need to take it!
Only ever review products or trips that are relevant to your niche and you think your audience will be interested in. If you wouldn’t pay for a product with your own money, don’t bother reviewing it.
The monetary value of the product shouldn’t matter but the informative value it could bring to your audience should.
(Wow, that’s a profound thought.)
9. Write about what you want to be reviewing
So you want to write about luxury holidays. You know you’d do an awesome job and your blog posts would be amazing. The only problem is, no one will send you on a 5* luxury holiday because you’ve got no evidence you can provide high quality blog posts.
You might know you’re awesome, but unfortunately, no one else does.
The best way to prove how awesome you are is to pay for it yourself. Create loads of awesome blogs and use all the content and stats you produce to form a portfolio of work that you can present to a luxury holiday company as an example of what you can provide.
A fashion blogger once asked me how she could get ‘free holidays’. She has a huge audience but she’s never invited abroad – how unfair is that!? (Sarcasm there in case you missed it) I asked a PR friend of mine and she reiterated what I wrote above. You need to prove you can blog about travel before you can expect any press trip invites. A PR could never justify your invite to her client without any evidence you’d product great blog posts.
10. Getting on the radar of PRs and brands
There are thousands of really good blogs out there so don’t be offended if a brand doesn’t approach you. Get on their radar by being active on social media, use appropriate hashtags on Twitter, go to as many networking events as you can and don’t be afraid to approach them directly if you feel your blog can offer value.
A lot of the PRs in the travel industry will know each other so once you’ve worked with a few and produced great results, you’ll find the ball will be rolling for more opportunities.
11. Never start a blog to get freebies
Top tip: Never write in a bloggers forum ‘how do I get blogging freebies’ because you will get ripped to shreds by the other bloggers. I’ve seen bloggers do this and they’re like a lamb to the slaughter.
People who start blogs purely to get freebies give all bloggers a bad name.
Blog for the love of blogging. Blog because you want to share your thoughts and ideas with the world, not because you want some free shizzle.
If you’re reading this and still thinking that it’s well worth the time and effort involved in blogging then congratulations, you’re obviously a natural blogger!
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Hell no, that sounds like waaaay too much work,’ then maybe you should do some overtime or save your pennies and just buy the product for yourself.
There’s a great article on medium, ‘How to travel the world and get companies to pay for it‘, which is also worth a read. Spoiler alert (sorry), you work your ass off for 10+ years and be amazingly successful and then you might be able to start thinking about it.
Check out The Blogger Course for more tips and blogging advice!