If there's one thing I've learned about owning a business in the four years I've been running this blog and Alchemy full-time, it's that if you want success, you have to ask for it. Command it. Chase it. Especially if you're a female.
Ever heard of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office? I don't believe you have to be a bitch to get what you want (although I'd be lying if I said I've never had to go that route), but you definitely have to be direct, confident, and persistent. That kind of straight forwardness can be misinterpreted for bitchiness in any industry, especially if you're a female.
You can take every online course on the planet on how to build a successful business but if you don't build your sense of confidence and get comfortable asking for what you deserve and sometimes more, it will be a slow and bumpy road. You will get passed by the people who aren't afraid to call the shots and fearlessly, relentlessly believe in their own success---even when it feels fake or unwarranted. And it often will. Ever heard of fake it till you make it? It works!
You have to go after what you want when there is and especially when there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel, when the people who started at the same time you did are dancing in success and you're struggling to pay rent. You have to ask for it versus waiting for it to come to you, whether it's a partnership with a brand you've been dying to work with or a raise at your day job, and ask again when you're told no. You have to look failure and rejection square in the face and say, "you won't bring me down."
I started this blog in 2011 before Instagram existed, before everyone and their brother had a blog, before there was such thing as a social media "influencer." You weren't a blogger unless you, well, had a blog. And I had a really slow start! I didn't make a real income until 2016, nearly five years into blogging. Hummusapien was nothing more than a hobby until years in when a lightbulb went off and I flipped my mindset to turning this passion into a career.
I'm lucky that from a young age I was not afraid of speaking out for what I believed in. My parents raised me to be a confident woman and to stay true to my gut, my heart, and my ethics. So later on when I had to forage my own way through the blogging world, these intrinsic qualities I'd been sharpening all my life paid off more than ever. Let's talk about how!
I'm no financial expert, but I am a hustler. I've been financially independent for a long time, working multiple jobs for as long as I can remember, raising my credit score 300 points, paying off $90,000 in student loan and credit card debt in four years, and building a six-figure online business while working a full-time job. Read My Story for more details. I hope these tips are helping for you, blogger or not!
Know Your Worth and Charge Accordingly.
A large portion of the income I make on this blog is from sponsored content. That means I feature products in a blog or social post from companies I believe in for financial compensation. Back in the beginning, I accepted product in exchange for a post because barely anyone was reading Hummusapien except my mom. As my page views increased year after year and as I grew my credibility and worth in other ways (there's more that matters to a brand than your page views), I started asking for more. At first it was a hundred dollars, then a few hundred dollars, and it kept growing as I did.
Do I get rejected? Totally! Do I accept a lower rate than I'm comfortable with? Usually no. Being comfortable saying no is just as important as asking in the first place. Put good work into the universe and you will get the rate you deserve out---as long as you ask for it. AIM HIGH. And for all you non-bloggers, the same goes for asking for a raise. I've been in multiple situations where if I hadn't gone out of my way to ask for the raise I felt I deserved, I sure as hell wouldn't have been offered it.
If you're not sure what to charge, phone a friend. The more open us bloggers and biz owners can be with each other, the better. Just yesterday Robyn was asking me what to charge for a certain instagram campaign. I told her she should be doubling if not tripling her current rate and I'm confident she'll get what she asks for. I want my amazingly talented and hardworking friends to get what they're worth!
Negotiate Your Heart Out.
This is a life tactic that goes far beyond working with brands, and it comes down to never accepting the first offer as the final offer. When I signed a new lease on my car, I ended up saving a ton because I wasn't afraid to walk away and stay firm with the salesman. And trust me, as a young female in a car dealership full of men, that ain't easy. When we purchased out first house, we went back and forth with the owners a million times. Exercise your right to negotiate!
When it comes to blogging, I can't tell you how many times a brand told me the max they could offer was X and when I told them my rate was double that, they came around. NEVER ACCEPT THE FIRST OFFER. There is always room to grow, even if what's quoted is a max budget. And again, never be afraid to walk away. I promise it's not worth under-valuing yourself.
If you don't have a media kit (like a resume for your blog) that outlines your rates for things like sponsored Instagram posts, recipes, and videos, get with a graphic designer and make one. Or Google a template. This will make you feel more validated, organized, and professional when you're quoting a project as most rates are clearly set in place.
Learn How to Read a Contract.
Get fluent in the legal jargon of contracts or find a lawyer that can teach you the basics. You'll make back the money you paid the lawyer ten times over from knowing how to charge appropriately and avoiding dangerous legal terms. If you don't know where to start, I recommend my lawyer friend Sam Vander Wielen who has amazing DIY legal templates. Pay special attention to verbiage surrounding ownership of content (a brand should really never own your content).
Be ready to charge extra, sometimes A LOT extra, for anything beyond the scope of what you agreed to, like exclusivity for example. When you read a contract for a beer brand and they want a year of exclusivity in the alcohol space, try limiting it to solely beer, not wine or vodka or bourbon. And if that doesn't work, you better charge monthly to make up for the money you could've been making working with other brands.
If a brand wants full rights for example, that means they can do whatever they want with your content. They could put your recipe on a billboard and not credit you. That should cost a very pretty penny. Or maybe they want an expedited timeline. Or a video to go along with the recipe. Or four additional instagram stories. Or to keep them on your highlights for a month. Or to use your content in media beyond their website and social channels. Or to create an instagram post where you have to not only promote a product, but also develop a recipe. All of those things are beyond the scope and warrant additional charges!
On that note, get a good accountant, one that has experience working with people who have a similar job to you. Mine is virtual. Have him or her set you up on Quickbooks (I used to track invoices in a spreadsheet and it was a NIGHTMARE) and watch your invoicing and tax woes go out the door.
Never Give Away Your Services For Free.
YOUR WORK HAS VALUE. Your time has value. You are valued. Have a brand looking to "hop on a quick call" (and use your expertise) to discuss some product ideas they have with you? That's called consulting. Time is money. Kindly send over your hourly consulting fee. Many of us are health care professionals, bloggers, and influencers. We can't be expected to gain the respect and compensation we deserve if so many of us are giving away valuable services at no cost. Be a team player!
That said, if a cause or local business speaks to my heart and has a mission that means a lot to me, I'll happily do my part to support. Be human and be able to define the difference.
When a brand reaches out to me about sending product, I have a canned email response disclaimer along the lines of, "In order to be fair to brands paying for sponsored space, I don't accept product as compensation for sponsored content." So when a brand sends you peanut butter and asks you to "organically share your love for the product in three instagram posts" that another brand just paid a chunk of change for, you've already set the boundaries.
You wouldn't ask a doctor to "organically" let you know what he thinks about your symptoms. You'd pay the doctor for his or her time because it's a well-known fee for service model. So is blogging, even thought people have a hard time realizing it is. We have bills, too. And they can't be paid in peanut butter.
Create a Network.
If you're not sure if you're being asked to do something that you could be charging for, phone a friend! Or email, not DM, someone in the field you look up to. Everyone has their email listed in their instagram or on their website. In my opinion, direct messages are not a hub for asking for personal or professional advice. When brands or people DM me questions, I ask them to email me 99% of the time because DM's can't be marked as unread and it's way too tough to type long, thoughtful responses on my phone. And please, don't take advantage of emotional labor and ask someone something you could've easily googled!
If you have a group of influencers, health professionals, or biz owners you just jive with, ask them to start a mastermind. Set up a monthly call where you help each other with business questions and share successes and obstacles. It's not what you know, it's who you know.
At the end of the day, don't be afraid to ask for help. If it's not a human, then ask Google (who taught me everything). I had someone from Instagram email me about asking how she should navigate a business trying to publish her recipes in a printed booklet. I was happy to help her and encourage her to charge her worth. Once she realized this was her job, it made sense why she wouldn't give away her copyrighted material for free. Put good into the world, get good out.
Be Credit Card Savvy.
Now it's time for some general financial advice I've learned from experience that anyone can benefit from, blogger or not. As I mentioned earlier, there was a time when my credit was in the 400's. I remember time and time again getting denied when I applied for a new credit card, but I didn't let that stop me. It took years, but I raised my credit score 300 points.
It involved paying down my debt and then once it was manageable and I had a full-time income, getting approved for a new credit card where I could start over. I swore I would never carry a balance on the card and that I would only pay it off in full every month---if I couldn't, I wouldn't use a credit card to pay for it. And I have. I now pay for mostly everything exclusively on my credit card. If you like to travel, I suggest looking into the Chase Reserve card for the travel bonus. I use the points for free flights. I can't remember the last time I paid for a flight, all thanks to utilizing credit card points when I was spending the money anyway.
Now that I'm stable and debt-free, I call the credit card companies every six months or so and ask for a credit limit increase. I also consistently update my income on my online profile since that's a big part of companies approving a credit limit increase request. Having a larger amount of available credit decreases your utilization ratio, which helps boost your credit.
For example, if your balance is $1,500 and you limit is $5,000, you're utilizing 30%. But if your limit is $10,000, you're only utilizing 15%. You want that percentage to be as low as possible which either means decreasing your balance or increasing your limit. If I didn't go out of my way to request an increase that I deserved from paying off my balance in full each month, raising my score would be a much slower process.
Of note, this often means a "hard credit inquiry" (like when you get a car, cell phone, house, etc.) where it'll show up on your credit report and you don't want to rack those up, so always ask if it's a hard inquiry and if it is, do one card at a time over a few months.
If you're drowning in debt and have a bunch of accounts, try consolidating or refinancing them. Same with student loans, which may have interest rates all over the board. SoFi is an example of a company that does this. Fewer accounts means they're easier to manage and you may be able to get one lower rate. Once you pay off your debt, don't increase your spending. Take the money you would've used to pay off debt and save it or better yet, invest it, which is as simple as meeting with a financial advisor who can help you do just that.
Put Money Aside.
I know, the oldest one in the book. It's never too late! They say you should save 20% of your income, but a lot of people understandably aren't in a financial position to do that. If you can't, I recommend tracking every cent and then making a budget. When I started making money from my blog, I paid off my student loans in big chunks since the interest rate was 6%. It felt scary, but I saved thousands in interest. Once all my debt was paid off, that's when I started strategically saving.
If you find yourself in a position where you're able to start saving money, do it NOW. Even if you set aside $50 a week in an online savings account (I use Ally because has a ~2% interest rate, which is more than double what my bank offers), that's $2,400 a year plus $48 extra in interest. When I finished grad school, it was important for me to meet with a financial advisor, which costs nothing, so I could figure out what debt (student loans versus credit cards) to pay off first.
Then, once I was financially able to, he helped me set up a SEP IRA for retirement and also mutual funds for a more aggressive, market-dependent form of savings. I only keep enough to live on for six months in my checking account and put anything extra (after contributing to my SEP and the mutual funds) into my Ally savings account.
Don't Outgrow the Classics.
Don't forget where you came from. Don't forget that any day, an accident could happen. Live with purpose, and be grateful and humble each day. Don't outgrow simple ways to save money. For me, that means buying store brand almond milk and using the Kroger app for coupons. It means shopping at Costco because bulk is so much cheaper. Another way we save money each month? We don't have cable. I spent most of my 20's hustling to make ends meet and I will never be above saving where I can.
I buy clothes on sale and get mostly everything at Target or Nordstrom Rack. I also love to buy gifts for people, go out to eat, and treat myself to a manicure. It's not about being cheap; it's about keeping your values close and being financially responsible. When I have months where I make more money, my life doesn't change. I don't buy a nice purse or plan a trip. Instead of spending more when I make more, I save it or invest more that month. I will never forget what it feels like to not know if I could pay the bills and I live my life accordingly.
If you can find streams of passive income or invest or create a business versus cutting back expenses, GO FOR IT. I know that's not the norm for most people. What we can all do is surround ourselves with people who are more successful than us, who challenge us to think in new ways, who have different ideological views, politics, religions, and values. Diversity will enrich you.
Invest wisely in quality relationships. Ditch business or personal relationships that make you feel like you have to be anything beyond your amazing self. There is no one way to "make it," but channeling your inner badass and knowing your worth may be the first step toward a more fruitful, meaningful future.
Thank you to Megan Leigh Barnard for these amazing photos. I hope this post was helpful for you! Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions. I'd love to hear what you think about this kind of content. Love and appreciate you.