How and Why I work with Brands

I may be more in tune to the discussions about online influencers (for want of a better word – for what it’s worth, I think content creator is a far better description of what us bloggers/instagrammers do) because it’s part of the industry I work in, but every time I see an article (like this recent ‘Most shoppers mistrust influencers’ BBC News piece) that slates the reputation of this relatively new field, I feel a pressing sense of sadness. It paints what I think is an untrue picture.

I thought it was wise, important and somewhat overdue that I make sure it’s clear to all my readers (whether you’re a long time follower, relatively new or just nipped in because you found a blog post of mine on Google) exactly why and how I work with the brands I do – and impress how often I don’t.

I never intended to work with brands

17 Weeks Pregnancy Bump

When I started parenting blogging, it wasn’t to make money. That wasn’t on my radar at all – in fact, I didn’t know that was even possible. I’d on and off written blogs since I was a Lord-of-the-Rings-obsessed teenager, with my first personal domain being appropriately named: Control-Freak.net. When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to document the journey. I originally bought myself a quite-nice-but-overpriced notebook from Waterstones and intended to write all my thoughts, appointments and worries in there… until after a few weeks, I realised every time I wanted to write in it, I never had it with me. I needed somewhere to write that was always to hand – whether I was at home, on my lunch break or out and about. I needed something online. And so, Little Pickle’s Mom was born.

I was incredibly fortunate to stumble across some parenting blogger Facebook groups that were incredibly supportive, informative and knowledgeable. The other bloggers in this group not only had been blogging and working through their blog for longer, but were proper professionals. They weren’t in this game just to make a quick buck or two, they were career minded. As anyone who aspires to build a respected career knows, that means keeping abreast of the latest regulations, the advances in technology and the industry at large. I learned from some of the best. They not only led by example, but they were honest, open and welcoming to those who were also keen to follow best practice like me.

Some blogging friends from Johnson's Baby

In other words, I like to think I ‘grew-up’ as a blogger in the right environment. Good habits were initiated from the off. I honed my writing style and my photography at the same time as I understood the importance of full disclosure. I had a support network I could draw on when I was unsure, and the people I aspired to were operating with integrity. Not everyone has that privilege. If you don’t have a good network within this industry, and you don’t know where to go to keep up to date with the latest guidelines, it’s very easy to operate ignorantly (you don’t know what you don’t know) and end up ultimately – however unintentionally – coming across as deceitful.

My first #Review Item

During one of my weekly pregnancy round up posts, I wrote about how I was already fed up of maternity underwear, with the ones I had leaving me feeling frumpy and grumpy. Someone commented.

You look fabulous – such a neat bump. Have you checked out HotMilk – they do gorgeous maternity and beyond lingeries, plus I have a giveaway on my blog too.

Kara, Chelsea Mamma
Sexy underwear
Oh for the want of a sexy underwear choice!

Before I knew it, an email from HotMilk popped up in my email Inbox asking if I was interesting in reviewing an item of my choice. I’ll be honest – it felt a bit surreal. My blog was not even three months old, and I was being offered something to help resolve an issue I’d written about. Of course, I wanted to test out their maternity range. I remember the package arriving (I had it delivered to my workplace). I remember being excited. Bewildered. And I remember really hoping I liked it, as I didn’t like the idea of having to give a bad review. Luckily, I loved it. My review was short, but suitably giddy and most importantly – had a brief disclosure at the end.

And it just went from there…

As time went by, more companies approached me asking if I was interested in reviewing items (at that point, it was always on a gifting basis). A Trespass backpack followed, some A Very Hungry Caterpillar items and then before I knew it, my first big ticket item: a Kiddy Evoluna i-Size car seat.

During this time, I started to get a little bit more savvy about how the industry worked. Knowing at the time that it was very unlikely that I’d be returning to my old job after my maternity leave ended and with the future of our finances looking stretched to say the least, it was exciting to realise that I could help contribute towards our cashflow not by increasing our income but by reducing our expenses. I was exchanging my time for the things we needed rather than money. And it was working out really well. I began to approach companies directly – pitching for work rather than waiting to see what came into my Inbox.

Kelly Louise Photography
This is a good example of where my blog gave us some benefits – I booked and paid for a baby photoshoot with Kelly Louise Photography as a normal customer, but when I mentioned I had a blog, she offered us additional photos in our package in exchange for sharing the photos on here.

Pitching for Work

It’s not something I’ve done much of recently, but when I was on maternity leave, if there was something we needed or wanted as a family, I’d consider pitching to that company before purchasing (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). Pitching for work has several benefits: it makes sure the items I received were things we genuinely wanted, it was a real cost saving to us as it stopped us having to spend money, and I like to think the subsequent review produced was truly relevant and interesting to my readers who may have been considering the same or similar items for their family.

Beco Gemini Baby Carrier at National Trust, sat down
Our Beco carrier from SlumberRoo has been one of the best items I’ve ever pitched for – it has been much used, much loved and it totally enhanced my parenting experience.

Items are NEVER Free

It’s important to make the clear distinction here that whenever I have received items (whether they are physical items, tickets for events or theatre shows or a service), they are never free. They are given to me in exchange for my time, my photography, my writing skill and my built-up following on social media. It is still a transaction – just bartering with the intangible currency of my expertise rather than cold hard cash.

Portobello mushrooms with gorgeous bread
Our meal at the newly refurbished The Victoria Inn was a lovely experience to review. I’m proud of the photographs I took that evening, and I think the time and effort gone into producing the review matches the value of the meal.

In some situations, it would have been easier and a far better use of time if I had paid for an item rather than reviewing it. By the time I’ve liaised with a company about what they are offering, tested out a product or service over a period of time, photographed it, edited those photos, uploaded photos, written my blog post, shared it and publicised it to my readers, I dread to think about how many hours of work has been clocked up. And it does take me many, many hours. If I worked out my rate per hour it would be shockingly low.

More Fulfilling Partnerships

I am a loyal person. And a creature of habit. I often found myself becoming a regular customer from the companies I had originally worked with (The Essential One is a great example, and my wardrobe is currently bursting at the seams filled with clothes from Oasis). For me, it has always been the most rewarding when I strike up a relationship with a particular company and work with them again, and again. It’s rewarding to know my work is appreciated and valued, and getting to know a company means the work I produce can be more in depth and knowledgeable. My work with Johnson’s Baby is a perfect example of where a longer term partnership has so many benefits: I’ve learned more about this company than I ever thought I would, I’ve met some other incredible bloggers I now feel privileged to call friends and the regular work and income has made a huge difference to our financial security.

Pickle standing outside with a woolly hat on about to eat a Johnson's Baby Biscuiteers biscuit

I don’t work with companies that I don’t trust. I don’t work with brands that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do business with as a customer. And I say no countless times. Every day I get emails from dodgy looking email addresses offering to send me their latest weird product in exchange for a link on my website, and I would never consider this. The things I promote, the products I endorse and the companies I align with become intertwined with my reputation. It’s my face as the logo of Little Pickle’s Mom. I value your trust too highly to put that at risk. It’s why I only choose to review things from sources I trust, and it’s why my reviews are honest. Because I choose carefully, they do tend to be quite positive – but I’ll always ensure they are accurately balanced, pointing out the aspects that are less than perfect too. That’s the whole point. A review is only worthwhile if it’s a true representation.

LPD having fun looking at the menu and trying to decide what to eat at Bar + Block Birmingham
My review of Bar + Block is a good example where I pointed out the parts of our experience we were disappointed with. I shared this draft with the company before posting, so they were aware of our honest review.

Lessons Learned

This blog is now three years old, and I wish I could sit here and say I’ve always behaved impeccably. I haven’t. But that’s not intentional. There are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way. There have been times I’ve over-committed and reviews have been rushed or late (there are some reviews I still have outstanding that are scarily overdue). There are times I’ve published originally having forgotten to disclose, and I’ve had to hurriedly edit the post to add it in. There are times I’ve quickly posted an Instagram story without disclosing we were at an event or attraction for review purposes. In my early days, I’m sure there must have been times I’ve infringed copyright on the use of images but I’m much more knowledgeable now and I need to go through and take out anything that shouldn’t be there.

Thumbs up at Center Parcs with Pickle and Mommy

Valuing your Feedback

Through writing this, there are things I realise I could do better. I’ll be rethinking the best and most transparent ways for me to disclose collaborations going forward, and I’ll be soon sharing that with you too. But in the meantime (and, always, in fact), I value your feedback. However hard it sometimes is to hear criticisms or challenges to the way I do things, ultimately, these are good things to know. They push me. They make me rethink and question. They force me to be a better blogger, and dare I say, a better parent. So if ever you see content of mine and question the integrity of it, or the reasons behind it – ask me. If it’s not abundantly clear, it should be, and I will do my best to address any occasions where I’ve fallen short of achieving this.

Holly at Center Parcs Woburn Forest

So from me to you, thank you for reading. Thank you for all your support, advice and messages. You are always welcome to contact me about anything discussed here.

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