So you’ve got an indie line and need some swatches or reviews? Or perhaps you’re a blogger who wants to work with indie brands? We’ve asked a heap of bloggers* and brands for their input, so here’s your one stop shop of the do’s and don’t’s from both perspectives.
(*N.B. – “bloggers” here includes swatchers and IG-ers etc.)
Why do brands send products to bloggers?
Not every indie maker has the nails or time to do their own swatching. Plus, reviews from high profile bloggers is great for brands – they get wonderful swatches and almost-free, targeted advertising (especially compared with expensive ads like Facebook and Google). And there’s no better advertisement than a quality endorsement from a trusted blogger, whose audience contains many potential repeat customers.
– Don’t underestimate the power of a blogger’s review. Many bloggers have developed loyal readerships who trust their opinions, and some have diverse followings who may not have an opportunity to hear about you any other way.
– Consider whether your swatches are up to scratch. Are your nails well maintained? Do your photos do your polish justice? For online brands, swatches are the only way to know what you’re buying, so sending polish to an experienced swatcher may be well worth the investment.
– Don’t assume brands are giving out freebies just because they love you (although if you’re lucky, that may be the case!).
– Before you approach a brand, or agree to collaborate, research them – do they have a form for blogger applications? Also make sure they actually ship to your country. Some brands will make a special exception, but you should mention it.
– If you plan on cold-calling a brand, instead of just asking for freebies, or using a generic email, make it clear what you are offering to the brand and why you’ll be a good fit – include a link, and some useful info (follower numbers, pageviews, a media kit etc. – more on this in the next topic). If the brand knows nothing about your blog, your email will most likely go straight in the trash.
– Ask the brand what they have in mind when they offer samples – do they expect a review? Swatches? Is there a timeframe?
– This should go without saying – never, EVER ask an indie brand for polishes to review, receive them then not do the review. And it’s very poor form to sell your press samples – opinion is divided on swapping them after you’ve finished reviewing them.
First, you need to determine what you want from the blogger – are you looking for swatches for your site, or a review to reach a wider audience? Is it one-off or are you looking to work together in an ongoing relationship? Different bloggers have different focuses and different styles, so targeting the right blog(s) needs to be considered.
– Research the bloggers you’re considering – read the “about” page and look through the archives to get a feel for whether it will be a good fit.
– Don’t be afraid to approach bloggers – they will generally have a email address on their website/IG profile. Some bloggers may feel comfortable approaching you, but it doesn’t mean the rest aren’t open to working with you – often they’re just unsure of how to proceed, or even if they’re “good enough”.
– Don’t be afraid to ask for a blogger’s media kit or statistics, but numbers should not be the only consideration when deciding who to work with.
– Keep reliable statistics (e.g. Google Analytics, unfortunately Blogger stats aren’t trustworthy) if you want to work with brands. If you plan to work with multiple brands, think about making a media kit (click for more info) to showcase what your blog is about and what you can offer.
– Sending useful information about your blog will make the brand’s life easier – who you are, where you are, what your blog is about, what you primarily review and how frequently, your stats and so on. This can push you up to the front of the line!
Swatching and reviewing takes time
This is probably the most important point, and causes many misunderstandings between bloggers and brands. Many non-bloggers think that they can throw together a post in 5 minutes – unfortunately that’s not the case, especially if you have high standards.
For the average blogger it takes roughly 15-20 mins to paint 4 nails, then anywhere between 10-20 mins of photography. Each blogger has a preferred photography setup – some like lightboxes and some like natural light, which each have their pros and cons. Catching natural light can be hard, as many bloggers work full time during the day. Sometimes the only chance of catching the sun is on the weekend, especially in winter (this is particularly important to consider for polishes like holos).
Now editing (choosing photos, adjusting brightness, contrast and colour balance, cropping, touchups, watermarking and resizing) will take 30-60 mins depending on the level of editing required. And depending on the blogger, there will also be writing the post and uploading the photos.
This adds up to about 1.5 hours. Most nail bloggers have day jobs or are busy mothers, so blogging has to be scheduled around other responsibilities. An average bottle of indie nail polish costs $8-10. To sum it up, bloggers do it for the love, not just for “free” polish.
– Don’t assume bloggers are just greedy for free products.
– Consider if free product is fair reimbursement for the blogger’s time, or if you should be paying them a fee, especially if you’re actively using the blogger’s work for financial gain or planning to work together on an ongoing basis.
– If your products require sun, don’t expect rapid turnaround.
– Don’t take on more work than you can reasonably handle – this will save a lot of awkwardness and bad relationships in the long run. Your review is a form of advertising, so timing can be important. Check if the brand has a timeframe in mind.
– If you are new to swatching, don’t take too many polishes at once – start slow until you get used to the process.
– Be fair to the products. Don’t just slop it on and post badly lit, unedited photos to save time – your readers don’t want to see that, and the brand won’t be happy, in the end it benefits no one.
Communication is important at all stages of the process. The person on the other end is a person, not a disembodied hand or a polish churning machine! Reply to their emails, even if it’s just a quick ‘Thank you, looks great’. No one likes to be ignored.
Make sure you are both clear on what both of you are willing to do or not, before any products get sent. Communication is also key after the blogger has received the product, and it’s sitting in the swatching queue. Depending on the blogger, timeframes can vary, depending on current workload, level of editing and number of photos preferred. The average turnaround time is 1-3 weeks, although some bloggers like to cover their ass in case something unexpected comes up.
For all written communication (from both bloggers and brands), a quick spell check can do wonders for looking more professional.
– Do your best to answer all queries. There is nothing worse than having to write a blog post with information missing because the brand didn’t reply. Media kits and press releases go both ways – it’s great to receive info on prices, stockists, social media and promotions all in one place, and it’s easier for readers to access (and perhaps impulse buy) your products. After all, you want the exposure to benefit you as much as possible.
– Stick to the timeframe you agreed on. Don’t have unrealistic expectations about how quickly a blogger can work, even if you’re rushing for a new release. Remember that if you’re not paying a reasonable wage, you don’t have a right to make demands.
– Don’t repeatedly hassle a blogger (although follow up emails can be appreciated – sometimes things fall through the cracks). Once a week is usually sufficient.
– If you have a deadline you need to meet, politely ask if the blogger is willing to prioritise your swatches.
– Even if a blogger has swatched for you before, don’t expect it to take the same amount of time, especially if you decide to load her up with a lot more polishes – other commitments (blogging and otherwise) can get in the way.
– It’s polite to thank the blogger for their review after it’s been published.
– Be aware of your workload and how long it will realistically take you to complete the work. Don’t commit to an impossible schedule just to please the brand – chances are you’ll fail, and there’ll be frustration on both sides. Honesty is necessary.
– If your plans have fallen through and you need more time, communicate with the brand and let them know. Don’t be rude and just ignore them.
– If you plan to swatch more polishes in the future and you have found a system that works for you, it may be convenient to write up a swatching agreement outlining your conditions (thanks @strawbrie for this idea!). Of course, it’s ok to have different agreements with different brands – just make sure that you are both clear on how you’re working together.
– It’s polite to send the link to the brand after you’ve published it and thank them for the products.
Bloggers put a lot of time, effort and love into their content for little or no profit, so it’s understandable that they want credit. Most bloggers prefer to watermark each photo, as it’s the easiest way to prevent image theft. But sometimes a store owner may prefer an unbranded image for their site.
– Discuss watermarking with the blogger if you prefer to not have their watermark on your swatches. If they are happy to remove the watermark then great, but if not, then be mindful of why.
– Make it clear to the brand what sorts of images you are willing to provide, and how they can be used, before you proceed.
It can often be hard to say no. Bloggers appreciate the fact that indie brands get inundated with requests for free polish on a regular basis, so it’s only natural that brands may have to say no a lot. But for bloggers it can be a little more difficult because there are far more bloggers than nail polish brands out there, so you don’t get approached everyday, therefore often finding it hard to say no. But sometimes, for your sanity and to avoid blogger burnout, you need to take a step back and regroup.
– Don’t promise everyone free polish then back out when too many people say yes – many bloggers are good friends, and word gets around. It makes for an awkward professional relationship and bloggers will question your business ethics. If you don’t follow through with bloggers, how do you treat your customers?
– Don’t be offended if a blogger says no – they might really love your brand, but they may have already committed to other brands.
– Don’t feel the need to put your hand up for every offer of free product. There will be opportunities to receive free products in the future – think about whether the excitement of free polish is worth the hassle!
– Don’t be offended if a brand won’t give you free samples – remember that there are real people behind indie businesses who are usually home-based, funding everything from their savings and cannot afford to send lots of products out like bigger brands.
Honesty in reviews
One of the reasons readers trust bloggers is because bloggers give honest reviews – if a blogger says a product is amazing and their readers buy a flop, no one wins.
– Don’t assume you will always get a glowing review in return of sending samples to a blogger. See criticism as a chance to improve your product and demonstrate how responsive you are to customer feedback.
– Don’t badmouth bloggers who give you a less than favorable review – this is highly unprofessional.
– Don’t say a product is great if it’s not, just because it was free – usually you’ll be able to find a few good and bad things about a product, but lying will hurt you and your blog in the long run.
– At the same time, don’t just completely trash a brand – again, this does nothing for trust, and what doesn’t work for you may work for someone else. Email the brand first to check if it’s intentional or a problem with a particular batch.
– Most bad products will have good points – was it a good idea, but poorly executed? Was it a good formula in a colour that would only look ok on sunburnt hands? If a brand has made a product, someone out there obviously liked it – try to be fair, and make your criticism constructive.
Some extra points to consider for brands:
This relates back to reaching an agreement with the blogger – don’t simply assume that if someone has swatched for you previously, they will swatch for you again. Let the blogger know before you send them packages, unless it’s a thank you gift that you don’t *need* reviewed. It’s great to have an established relationship, but it’s not so great if the blogger is too busy to review your product.
Would you send a customer a wonky brush, gluggy polish or a lid that’s glued to the bottle with overflowing polish? Bloggers don’t like it either.
The products you send for review should be on par as those you sell to customers. It’s for publicity, and a blogger’s opinion will usually hold more weight and reach more people than those of your regular customers – you don’t want word getting out that your products are low quality.
Also, if you have just converted from mixing in individual bottles to big batches, check your first batches. Sometimes things can go awry – for example, most bloggers will not review very sheer, streaky or lumpy polishes favourably, and it can be highly frustrating to swatch a polish to later find out the measurements were wrong and the work was for nothing.
At the end of the day, a blog is a hobby and very few get paid real dollars to run their blog. A lot of free time goes into maintaining a blog, and for some who can do big posts or multiple posts a day there is a lot involved. At the same time, it takes lots of time, effort and risks to build a successful indie brand. Without bloggers, indie products wouldn’t be so popular, and without amazing products to write about, bloggers would get bored, so it’s really a two way relationship!
This post was compiled by Bec (NailGunXS), Rosemarie (Every Little Polish) and Michelle (Lab Muffin), from our own experiences and the contributions of many bloggers and brands who were kind enough to share. We may be updating this post in the future – if you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.