From the perspective of a home decor influencer.
Warning: This is going to feel like a long hopeless rant, but trust me it gets better and has a happy ending. If you are a creator, influencer, or aspiring blogger, please read, I am sure you will take home some good learning. Also, for me, every single experience is an opportunity to learn. So here goes!
I started blogging in 2009 ‘ish, it was something I did to have a creative outlet outside of my busy IT job. I posted random musings, added images that I took from my point-and-shoot camera, and had zero knowledge of photography. One thing I did possess at the time was a sense of curiosity about everything home and decor and a crazy desire to experiment. And who would read or see a blog on the World Wide Web? So I posted what I wanted to post. The fact that I don’t overthink my content and I am not worried about vanity metrics like views and likes comes from the fact that I started very early, even before social media was a thing.
The tale of the freebies!
I got my first request for styling a product and posting in 2017(what is called barter collaboration now) I was thrilled and my spirit dropped as soon as the product arrived. It was a faulty piece that was gotten rid of as a freebie. You can see the white line within the print of the cushion cover.
I printed out a strong letter on my letterhead and returned the product. My thoughts on it: if you are sending your product to someone who has a large following that is full of your potential customers, why will you send out garbage to showcase? Thats self sabotage in a way. The owner of the brand apologized for the mistake, but the excitement was already lost. If I am not enthusiastic about a product or a brand, how can I bring excitement into my work and words?
Anyway, this experience was from 2017, let me tell you about a very recent one, as early as October of 2022. A big brand with a large marketing team and a massive marketing budget sent me a dozen “plastic cloth hangers”, a “plastic” clock, and very modern minimalistic “Plastic” decorative, as a part of their festival campaign. I am not even kidding! This after they asked me to select products from their very wide range, which I did and they did not update me on the status for 2 weeks and then a set of completely unrelated things arrived. When I wrote to the team that the products did not sync with my style of decorating and my aesthetic, I was asked to adjust this one time since the campaign was delayed.
Turns out the marketing team and their PR team did not do any research on what the influencer’s strengths were and simply selected a bunch based on their reach and decided to send them a bunch of random stuff.
What I learned from these two interactions is, that if a brand is sending you things, make it very clear in your contract that it has to align with your style and ethics. And stress the fact that you cannot go against it and have to stay true to your audience and yourself.
Oh, and one other time I was supposed to do an unboxing for a brand that is worth thousands of crores and they asked some dealer to deliver the stuff. I received the stuff in a plastic grocery bag. Naked, unwrapped products in a grocery bag! My life is fun I tell you!
The payment saga!
My pricing strategy has always been straightforward. A fair price with 10 to 15% room for negotiation. I don’t quote exorbitant and then say 50% discount. that’s ridiculous to me. Early on I was sure that I would only work with agencies and brands that will pay fairly. However, 90% of them will want to pay you 50% or less, from what you’ve quoted. For all those, I would politely refuse. My main income did not come from brand collaborations, so it was ok.
For the brands that did agree to pay, I realized the payment terms were ridiculous. Some said 30 days post-work, some 45 and some 90 days. But guess what! In my almost 8 years of experience dealing with hundreds of brands, PR agencies, and product companies, there have been “only two” instances where the payment came as promised. I am a registered company and I had to pay tax on every bill I generate. In many cases, I was not only waiting for my payment endlessly, but also paying the government 18% tax from my pocket, so I didn’t have to pay a penalty for late payment.
What I learned from that experience is, to take 50% advance upfront and the remaining 50% within 30 days of the content going live. Also, mention clear payment terms before finalizing and if someone says our policy is 90 days payment and we don’t pay an advance, I tell them my policy is to take 50% advance and the remaining 50% within 30 days, they can drop me from the campaign because I cannot work on unreasonable terms. Bills have to be paid monthly, GST needs to be paid monthly, so work needs to be paid within 30 days of completion. And a lot of the 90-day guys have agreed to my terms and I get paid after some follow-up.
The communication and documentation.
I was invited to an event in Delhi, and the PR needed blog posts and social media and things like that. The quote was finalized, I received the 50% advance and went for the event, came back, got to work, and sent the drafts for approval. What I received back as approved for publishing was something I had not written a word of. I wrote back to the PR agency and said my blog and my social media were my voice and anything that is not my voice will not do well. The article seemed like it was written by an intern like a product promo. The agency wrote back saying it was ok, that I was what the brand wanted and asked me to publish it.
I made another attempt to educate. As someone who understands my audience, I said the content they had sent me will not work with my audience and I cannot guarantee any views if it was published. I said please rethink this. They replied saying the brand was ok and asked me to publish. I did. It was a disaster in terms of numbers. I had done my part.
When the time came to follow up on the pending payment, I was told the client was very upset and wasn’t paying them coz the campaign bombed and they could not pay me. REALLY! I WARNED YOU! I said I had done my part and the work had already been put in, there was no way I would accept that and I needed to be paid as agreed. Thank God I had all communication via email, I threatened to forward it to the head of marketing of the brand if I didn’t get paid. Did I get paid? Yes! The other decor influencer who was with me was not, because she did not question them and took no for an answer.
I did not burn my fingers with this one, but the learning there was not to communicate on WhatsApp or DM. Always have email records.
I always insist that detailed scope, finalized quotations, and campaign confirmations be sent out only via email only. As recently as Diwali of 2023, I had an agency that was ducking sending the scope by email, sending me a confirmation on WhatsApp. I insisted they email me the scope and the brand lady said she would make a Google doc, which was suspicious for me. Also, the brand representative was making unreasonable demands outside the scope of what was finalized and did not want to put that in writing to cover her backside. Emails cannot be modified after they are sent and can be considered proof of contract and is a legal document.
Do I have good experiences to share? Absolutely. I have met some amazing people and have done some wonderful work. Last year I was at a PR event which was so well organized and everyone was so well taken care of. The experience deserves its own blog post with names of people and brands disclosed. One hint I can give you is that it was an all-women PR team.
Every profession comes with its ups and downs and once you learn the trade, set your boundaries correctly, and build your process, it’s very easy to navigate. Also, not to forget the basic thing of doing good work and staying true to yourself and your audience. Being authentic has brought me so many opportunities to connect with genuine people and brands.
Here I am listing out my do’s and don’ts if it can help build your own.
- I do not promote what I don’t like, don’t use, won’t use, and will not recommend to anyone, even if I get paid for it.
- I do not accept collaborations for cleaning liquids claiming organic blah blah, simply because I do not have the time to research the ingredients.
- I don’t accept barter collaborations. If the brand insists, I send them my media kit and ask them to match the value of the products with what I am currently charging. 95% of the time, they don’t.
- I don’t negotiate costs beyond 15%. If someone wants content for 50% of what I have quoted, I tell them to work with someone else who is quoting cheaper. If I don’t value my work, no one will.
- For a paid collaboration, if products are being sent, I insist they have to be in line with my aesthetic. If not, I am happy to back out of the campaign. I am the kind of media that doesn’t believe in publishing shit just because I am getting paid.
- The collaboration is not confirmed until I get a 50% advance. The script doesn’t go into production until the advance is received.
- I communicate my payment terms upfront, and if it doesn’t work, I don’t go ahead.
After reading this, you must be thinking, do you even get paid promotions? Yes, I do. Instead of doing 10 paid promotions that pay me X amount each, I do 2 that pay 10X. Also, in the time it takes to create one piece of content for a brand, with all the back and forth of sharing drafts for approval, I can create 3 to 5 pieces of content for myself. This means, I am promoting my work, my digital products, and my decorating and styling service, which make me money. And working for myself makes me more money than making content for brands.
So, if you are a creator and want advice, here it is. Get yourself a website or a blog. Make digital products. Give your audience immense value. Your audience will make you the most amount of money. Paid collaboration will be less stressful and you can take only what you want to take. Build your model in such a way that you don’t have to depend on paid collaborations for your income.
P.S. If you have any questions you can either comment on the blog post below or email me at preethi(at)preethiprabhu(dot)com. I make it a point to reply to all meaningful comments and emails.