Collaboration

Legally Speaking: What You Need To Know About Collaborations

Legally Speaking: What you need to know about collaborating with bloggers + small business owners. Read this to make sure you're legally covered when it comes to creative collaborations.

I'm excited to welcome my friend Jackie to the blog today – she's a blogger, lawyer, and dog mom to some adorable pugs. When it comes to the legal side of blogging / small business, she knows what she's talking about – so pay attention y'all! 

One of the things I love the most about blogging is the sense of community it creates. You get to meet so many other amazing bloggers and learn from one another. It’s super awesome. But every once in awhile, just like with anything else in life, it can turn sour. Although 99.999999% of the time, working with other bloggers is an amazing beautiful sunshine-y walk in the park, there is sometimes that 0.0000000001% of the time when things are gonna go south. Fast. (These “statistics” are super made up – but you get my point!)

So what do you do when a collaboration with another blogger goes bad? Today I’m discussing what you can do. And, more importantly, what you can do BEFORE working with someone to make sure it never gets to that breaking point.

Types of blogger or business collaborations

First, let’s look at some of the ways that our blogging relationships can go bad…

  • Your joint venture webinar co-host never pays you your share of the bundle proceeds (or she pays you less)
  • Your collaborator in a webinar ends up keeping the entire slideshow presentation and claims it as her own work
  • Your co-host keeps the webinar video but won’t send you a copy for your website or course
  • You write a guest post for another blogger and she never credits you for it – she takes your work and posts to her to blog as if its her own
  • You’ve agreed to be an affiliate for someone and then they never pay you

The list goes on and on, but you can see my point. The main issues here revolve around: money and attribution. The other person has either not paid you for your fair share of the work and/or has failed to give you credit or attribution for your work and is claiming it solely as her own work product. And none of us want to be in these sorts of situations.

What do you “own”?

So first let’s discuss who owns what, when you’re working with another person. This is based on US contract and copyright laws. So, if you are international or working with someone internationally, be aware that the situation may differ.

If you are working for yourself (meaning you aren’t doing the work as part of your work for an employer), you own your own work product. In the US, you don’t need to affirmatively copyright your work in order to own the rights to it (though having an official registered copyright can give you more legal protections, but I won’t be getting into that here). So once you create something, you own the rights to copy it. (Get it, “copyright”?) If you are working for an employer, they likely own that right. But in the blogger / small business owner context, you are probably the copyright holder.

Now the waters get a little muddy when you’re working with someone else (who isn’t an employee or coworker of yours). Whatever that other person creates – she owns THAT. So now who owns that slideshow or ebook or ecourse you co-created? Well, that’s not easy to untangle! It could be argued that you each just own what you created or you both own all of it. It all depends. The law is often retrospective – if a dispute came up, a court would actually look back in time to try to figure out what happened. And this can be a hot mess. And expensive. And time consuming.

You don’t want to get to that point. Instead of letting the court be retrospective, you should be proactive TODAY.

A contract is basically an agreement that is a “meeting of the minds.” It’s where you have all the terms and information regarding your work together laid out. It’s your safeguard IN CASE something goes wrong.Click To Tweet

Protecting yourself before starting a collaboration

Once you’ve decided to work with another blogger, you should lay it all out there. You basically want to look forward into the future to try to foresee any problems that might arise. Is it possible the other person will keep the video of the webinar to sell and never give you a copy? Is it possible she will sell the slideshow or claim it as her own? Etc. Think of every scenario.

In order to safeguard against those nightmare scenarios, we want to have a very clear and detailed contract in place. Now, people get really scared when it comes to that work – contract. It sounds so big and legal and scary. It definitely can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A contract is basically an agreement that is a “meeting of the minds.” It’s where you have all the terms and information regarding your work together laid out. It’s your safeguard IN CASE something goes wrong.

A legally binding contract doesn’t need to be written on fancy paper or in a wordy document by a lawyer. It just needs to have all the info surrounding your working relationship. It doesn’t even need to be one piece of paper – an entire email thread can basically constitute a contract. So the best way to not have issues when doing collaborations is to have all the details ironed out BEFOREHAND. Creating a contract will keep you both accountable for your work and will also lay out how you’ll resolve any disputes. Here are some of the contract terms you should consider when working with someone else:

  • Division of work – who will be doing what
  • Timeframe and deadlines
  • Payment terms – who gets paid, how they get paid, when they get paid, etc.
  • Who owns the work once it’s completed – will you both be able to use the work or not
  • What to do if something bad happens – if someone can’t complete her end of the bargain, what happens?
  • Anything else you can think of that could be an issue. Seriously, anything!

What if a problem comes up?

Now that you have this contract in place, this should help keep you both on task. However, if an issue arises later on, the contract can save you. We all hope to never have to hire an attorney (even me and I am an attorney!), so attempt to resolve any issues directly with your collaborator. If you didn’t have anything written down (perhaps you had come up with your working arrangement via Skype or text messages that are now deleted), then it will be hard for you to say “Hey – you promised to pay me 60% and you only paid me 40%!” Nothing is in writing, so that’s going to be hard to prove.

But if you have your contract in place (which, I mentioned above can be something as casual as your series of emails), you can point that out to her. Everything is in black and white, which will hopefully quickly resolve any disputes.

Your last resort would be to contact an attorney if you can’t get resolution. Even in this situation, your contract will be a huge help since it will be something concrete instead of a “she said/she said” battle.

So there you go. The best way to avoid issues when working with other bloggers or small business owners. I’m so not a sports person, but really this is so true – the best offense is a good defense. Protect yourself before a problem arises and it should be much smoother sailing!

Legal Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. I am not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failures to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jackie is an attorney and a blogger. She helps put the scary legal side of business into easy to understand terms for other bloggers and small business owners. She has built up her blog while working full time and aims to show other bloggers how they can easily do the same (it’s all about that time management!) Visit her (and her two sweet pugs) over on her blog, Jade and OakYou can also find Jackie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

How to Pitch Bloggers For Collaborations

How to Pitch Bloggers For Collaborations - what you need to know as a small biz owner before you reach out to bloggers. Plus a free cheat sheet with 15 collaboration ideas!

In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago I shared tips on how to find bloggers / influencers to collaborate with and now I'm following up with the second part of the series – how to actually connect and pitch bloggers for collaborations!

Know Who You Are Pitching

There's no good excuse to reach out to someone and NOT address then by their name. Like their actual name. It's INSANE how often bloggers get emails that are like “Hi Wonderfelle World blogger” or just “Dear blog editor” or even “Dear Wonderfelle” <– No. My name is Elle and like most bloggers it's clearly noted on my homepage, about page and on my social media accounts. Take the time to find the blogger's actual name and PLEASE spell it right. This is not Starbucks, this is your marketing outreach, and if you want people to actually read your email and respond, you need to address them properly!

Do Your Homework

Many bloggers have a page or section on their blog with information regarding how they collaborate with brands. If they don't, you can take a look around their site to see – do they have ads? Do they do sponsored posts? Do they list products as c/o or gifted? Legally they are supposed to mention when products are gifted or blog posts are sponsored (paid) so these details within their blog posts will give you a clue as to whether they are already working with brands.

Before you reach out to a blogger, it's a good idea to engage with them a bit first. Like and comment on a couple of their Instagram photos or reply to some of their tweets or leave a comment on their blog. Assuming you're not representing a huge company or well known PR firm (otherwise you're probably not reading this post!), you'll want bloggers to recognize your brand/name so they are more likely to read and respond to your email when you reach out!

Optimize Your Outreach 

After you've done your homework, you have my permission to reach out ;) Unless they specify otherwise, I recommend contacting bloggers directly by email. I don't typically suggest reaching out via direct message on social media because not everyone checks their messages (especially if your message gets filtered which happens on instagram / FB when they are not already following you). Also, you will want to include relevant links in your pitch and make it easy to for them to keep track of your message, both of which are easier to do in email vs. a direct message. Beyond that, email is just more professional – and there's a reason why many bloggers have their email listed in their social bios or on their website – they want you to use it!

When it comes to your email, don't forget – your subject matters! Keep it short but include your brand name and a short phrase that will entice them to open the email. Examples could be “Collaboration with XYZ Brand” or “Invitation to partner with XYZ Brand” or “Feature in XYZ Publication” – make the point of your email clear from the start.

There's no good excuse to reach out to someone and NOT address then by their name. Like their actual name. Click To Tweet

Make The Pitch

Obviously your pitch will be different depending on what your goals are, but your email should include a few key elements:
Salutation: use their real name
Introduction: 1 sentence that explains who you are / who you represent
Personal connection: a sentence or two that demonstrates you've actually read their blog and have done your research to determine why you think they are a good fit to partner with
Get to the point: tell them the reason for your email (gifted product? sponsored post? advertising?)
What's in it for them: a successful collaboration will be beneficial for both parties – make sure you are making it clear what the benefits are for the blogger
Include the details: mention if your proposed collaboration has a timeline or any special requirements and link to any relevant pages on your website or blog so it is easy for them to find any specific information
Signature: include links to your website / social media accounts

You Should Also Know

Just because bloggers accept gifted items, that doesn't mean they accept them all. Some bloggers may choose to approve items before they agree to receive them (and hand over their address), and just because you gift a blogger that doesn't necessarily mean they will feature/review your product (unless you are paying for a sponsored post).

Speaking of sponsored posts, it's not a bad idea to have a contract for these. It doesn't have to be complicated, but having a 1 page document that outlines the terms of the sponsored post (required deliverables, due date, compensation) ensures that everyone is one the same page and expectations are clear.

If you want to collaborate with a blogger / influencer but you don't have something specific in mind, ask for their media kit. This will detail their relevant blog / social statistics as well as the ways in which they typically work with brands. If you have ideas for collaboration opportunities beyond what is stated in their media kit, don't be afraid to ask! Most bloggers are open to mutually beneficial collaborations even if they aren't specified in their media kits.

Finally, the more “popular” a blogger is, the more emails she/he probably gets – so you may not get a reply right away (or ever). Bloggers are busy so you may need to send a follow-up message, but I would give them about a week to respond before contacting them again – you don't want to be obnoxious! If you don't hear back after that, I would move on for now (you can potentially reach out again in a few months if you want) – there are plenty of bloggers out there, so don't get discouraged if you don't hear back from everyone!

 

How To Find Bloggers To Collaborate With Your Small Business

How to find bloggers to collaborate with your small business - for new brands who can't afford to hire a PR agency for blogger outreach, this blog post has tips for finding the right bloggers to partner with and other important things your should know when pitching bloggers!

I've answered this question for a few people in my network recently, but after getting wayyy too many “bad” email pitches lately, I figured it was definitely worth writing a whole post (actually a couple) on the topic! As a blogger, I've collaborated with dozens of brands, and as a brand / marketing strategist, I've pitched tons of bloggers / influencers, so I've been on both sides of successful (and not so successful) collaborations. If you're a brand / business owner and want to collaborate with bloggers, you need to know how to find bloggers to collaborate with your small business the right way, since there are a lot of wrong ways. The wrong ways are annoying so just don't go there. Here's what you need to know…

PART 1: How to Find Bloggers / Influencers to Collaborate With (this post)

PART 2: How to Pitch Bloggers / Influencers For Collaborations (coming soon!)

First of all, know your purpose (and your budget)

Why do you want to collaborate with bloggers anyway? “To gain exposure” is vague and not a good answer. Do you want more traffic to your site? More social media followers? More email subscribers? More sales during a specific promotion? For a collaboration to be successful, you need to know what you want out of it. 

You should also know what your willing (or not willing) to pay for the collaboration. Bloggers or influencers with larger followings may require compensation in addition to gifted product to guarantee they will feature your product on their blog or social channels. For some reason this is really surprising to some business owners, but no one likes to work for free. A lot of work goes into building a blog following and styling / reviewing products, so a blogger requesting payment in exchange for advertising your product to their audience is not unreasonable!

Most bloggers have media kits that list the ways in which they are open to working with brands along with their fees for various types of collaborations. If their rates are significantly out of your price range, DO NOT try to negotiate. How would you feel if someone emailed you and said “hey I'd love to buy your product but I only want to pay 50% of the price for it, is that ok with you?” Um, no. 

Know if it's a good fit

Please do not reach out to bloggers whose brand and content is not a good fit for your product or service. It's a waste of time for everyone involved. A style blogger who primarily wears high end clothing is not interested in featuring your $10 t-shirts. A beauty blogger who reviews skincare products is not a good fit for your shoe line. A dog who doesn't have Facebook is not going to promote your jewelry on Facebook. (no joke, a brand actually pitched my dog to promote their jewelry on Facebook…)

Personally, I've only collaborated with brands that sell products or provide services that I would otherwise buy myself, but the truth is there are a lot of bloggers who will sell out compromise for free product or paid promotions. While bloggers will ultimately make the decision whether or not they want to collaborate with you, you should know if your product is a good fit for their brand/aesthetic as well. If a blogger's audience isn't your target audience, why would you want them to advertise your product anyway?

For a collaboration to be successful, you need to know what you want out of it. Click To Tweet

So Where Do You Find Them?

If you have a larger budget, you can work with a PR agency or a more blogger-specific agency like Clever Girls or Collectively who will help connect you with bloggers that fit with your brand.  There are also tech platforms like GroupHigh that can help you find bloggers in a particular niche and also streamline the pitch process, but they also have fees associated with them. Most new / small businesses don't have the budget for agency help, so I'm going to assume that you are trying to find / pitch bloggers on your own!

I suggest starting your search on Instagram because it's a visual platform that will quickly give you a sense of a blogger's brand and aesthetic, and you have a number of search options to find the types of bloggers that are a good fit for your business. I'm not saying you should decide to collaborate with a blogger based solely on their Instagram presence (definitely not!), but it's a good place to start. Obviously the type of product you sell affects the type of bloggers you are looking for, but here are a few types of searches you can run:

Groups: Many bloggers are part of groups (along with similar bloggers) so these are a great place to look! Groups could be based on location (for example, Midwest Bloggers or The Blog Societies) or by type of blogger (like Independent Fashion Bloggers or New Craft Society). Often, active members will be featured on the groups' Instagram accounts, but many of them also have websites where you can find other bloggers in the group or organization.

Networks: Networks are similar to groups, but slightly more specific in that you KNOW the bloggers that belong to these networks are currently monetizing their blogs. These bloggers usually have larger audiences and are the types of bloggers who may require compensation in addition to gifted product. A couple examples are LiketoKnow.it (rewardStyle‘s instagram monetization platform) and Style Coalition.

Hashtags by industry/niche: You can also search by hashtag for bloggers in your industry or niche – this will cast a wider net, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the types of bloggers you are looking for. This strategy requires doing a bit more due diligence, but is a great way to find bloggers who may not be part of specific groups/networks and are still a good fit for your brand! Try to narrow down the type of blogger you are looking for to get more targeted results – for example, instead of #beautyblogger you could search #greenbeautyblogger or #organicbeautyblogger. You can also try variations of hashtags like blog / blogs/ blogger/ bloggers – these may yield different results as not all bloggers use the same hashtags.

Hashtags by geographic location: Another way to search for bloggers is by searching for location-specific bloggers (for example, #nycblogger or #brooklynblogger). This is especially helpful if your business has a physical presence or if you are looking for local bloggers to collaborate with.

Similar / complimentary businesses: Last but not least, you can use instagram to see which bloggers your competitors or related businesses are working with. If you scroll through their feeds, you'll most likely see that they've re-posted photos of bloggers wearing / using their products. The drawback to this strategy is that bloggers who collaborate with your direct competitors may not want to work with you if they are brand loyal, but most bloggers are open to working with a variety of brands so it can't hurt to reach out to them if they're a good fit!

These 5 types of searches will definitely get you a solid list of bloggers to reach out to, but once you start working with bloggers (or if you already are), you can also search for “similar” bloggers by observing who they “hang out with” on social. Most bloggers have blogger friends who regularly interact by commenting / sharing or even hanging out in real life, so if you find a few bloggers who are a good fit for your brand, chances are they have blogger friends who will be a good fit as well!

You should also know

It's a good idea to start a spreadsheet to keep track of the bloggers your are reaching out to. This will help to keep you organized – you want to make sure that you don't reach out to the same person twice by mistake (this happens more than you think!) and also that you are following up with bloggers if you haven't heard back from them in a week or so. You can also use the spreadsheet to keep track of the status or results of a collaboration.

When you are determining which bloggers you want to reach out do, remember to look beyond traffic or follower numbers and pay attention to engagement. A blogger could have 20,000 instagram followers but only get a couple of hundred likes per photo – this is bad and probably means many of her followers are fake or just not that interested. It would be better to collaborate with a blogger with 10,000 followers who has a 5%+ engagement because her followers are more engaged (and more likely to buy your product)!

Also, depending on your niche, its worth reaching out to other social media “influencers” who are not necessarily bloggers. There are plenty of people (and pups) who have build up engaged audiences without having a blog and may be a good fit for your brand!