I turned down more than $30,000 in collaborations last month. Why would someone turn down so much money? Well, I was never someone who thought “I want to be a blogger when I grow up!”, it’s just something that sort of happened. I began using Instagram a few years ago as a place to upload flatlays of my outfits, so I could save time getting dressed in the morning. It was purely an organizational thing for me, because I was wasting literal hours of my life each week (and making a mess in the process) trying to decide what to wear on dates, to class, hanging out with friends, working out, or for work each day.
It was just something I did on the weekends to prep for the week, just as someone would meal prep their food for the week. Plus, it gave me an excuse to take more pictures, which is something I’ve loved doing for more than a decade and wanted to spend more time practicing. One of my friends asked me for my IG username one day during lunch, and she looked through my feed and told me I should add hashtags to my posts so other people could see what I was posting. She had to explain what hashtags were and why people used them, because back then I just didn’t get it.
I didn’t really know why anyone would want to see my outfits, but I figured it might be fun to find other people interested in clothing and travel photography like I was. In less than a week, I went from 28 followers to 100, and in under a month I had 1,000 people following me, just to see my outfit photos. It was so strange to me that anyone cared what I was wearing, let alone that there were 1,000 people who cared about what I was posting. I didn’t even know that many people in real life!
Around the time I’d hit 2,000 followers, I had an Etsy-based boutique reach out to me wanting to send me a custom spirit jersey with my monogram on it to style in one of my outfits. I thought this was really cool, so I accepted their offer and posted about it the same day I received the gorgeous shirt and it was my most liked post to date, and it received dozens of comments asking about fit, color options, softness, etc. The day after I’d posted the photo, I messaged the boutique owner asking her how I should get the shirt back to her, and she told me not only did she want me to keep it, but she wanted to send me more things to style AND pay me, because she had sold more than 50 monogrammed spirit jerseys right around the time I’d posted about mine. That was the day I realized that the people following me actually did care about what I was wearing, and that they took my recommendations seriously enough to go out and spend their hard-earned money on something I had posted about. Looking back on it, it was silly to think they’d want a customized item back, but until that day, I hadn’t grasped how valuable digital marketing was and that that one shirt was nothing compared to the return on investment a photographer and writer could bring to a company.
Since the days of posting outfit flatlays with my wimpy 14mp digital camera (which I’ve since upgraded significantly), I’ve started a blog and YouTube channel, and worked with clothing stores, shoe, accessory, and jewelry companies, beauty brands, and so much more. Sometimes I take photographs for them as part of campaigns and sell the rights for marketing use, other times they send me products and pay me to write about them or feature them in a video or blog post. I’ve been invited on trips and to restaurants or stores, because for them the return on investment of a meal, a few items of clothing at wholesale price, or even a few nights in a hotel room that would otherwise go unused, is well worth what they receive in return. The high-quality images and content I create are used by me and the brands I work with on social media or in marketing campaigns, shown to an interested audience who follows me because they trust me and the things I recommend, and they are exposed to people who may not have heard of them or may have forgotten that they’re out there. I was even invited to fashion week, a number of fashion shows, and a few after-parties because of the content I create.
While I have accepted many collaborations throughout my blogging career, I’ve turned down hundreds and hundreds more. I make decent money blogging, mainly from selling my photos or licensing them to advertising agencies, but it’s not an outrageous amount. It’s hard to turn down hundreds or even thousands of dollars for projects, because who doesn’t want more money? But, I do turn down projects, all the time. In fact, I turned down more than $30,000 in work just last month. I turned down these collaborations because they weren’t products or places I believe in and they weren’t things that felt authentic to me, and some brands even asked me to be dishonest, which is something I’ll never do.
I know my audience trusts me which is why I’ve promised myself I will turn down any projects that aren’t a good fit for me, aren’t things I’d actually use or wear, or that aren’t good quality. Sometimes I’ve had to have awkward conversations with brands after I’ve received products about why I don’t think the products are a good fit and that I would like to return them, which ends in me having to pay for shipping back, losing money, and wasting my time and their time.
I’ll never recommend products to my audience that are poor quality, things that don’t fit right or things that are cheaply made. I was once sent a few stunning cashmere sweaters that I simply adored and that I thought my audience would have loved, but while photographing it for my blog, the first one I put on ripped across the back (it was not tight on me) because the quality was so poor. I examined the others and saw that the seams were a bit crooked, and another one had a hole in the armpit already. I’m careful to never agree contractually to post something, instead, I insist that contracts say I will either post or return the items, for instances such as this. I had to send all of the beautiful sweaters back, and tell the company I was no longer interested in working together after that, because I could never forgive myself if even one person had spent $225 on a sweater only to have it rip. I work hard for my money at my day job and with my blog and photography work, and I know all of you work hard for your money too, and I don’t want you to waste it. I wouldn’t trust someone who recommended something that ripped, and my audience’s trust is far more important to me than pretty sweaters or money will ever be. When I recommend something, you can trust that it’s worth your while, I promise you that.
Last month I was offered $5,000 to post about “adult toys”, and if you search through my blog, that just isn’t something I have ever posted about, nor will I ever post about. A meat delivery company wanted to pay me $5,400 to take a photo of myself eating a burger made with their meats, post a recipe on my blog and photograph the contents of the package they wanted to send me, but I’m a pescatarian and while I’d never want to push my personal beliefs on others, I won’t eat something that feels immoral to me just for some money. After researching the company, they were recently sued because their meat was poorly processed and made people sick, plus people said it didn’t taste good, which only solidified my decision not to promote them.
I was offered a free week at a hotel in a very dangerous city, that upon looking into had a mold issue and had complaints of bed bugs as recently as last week. They wanted me to straight-up lie and say it was one of the greatest places to stay while traveling in that state, and when I refused they offered me $10,000 to come out, stay for a week with my family, photograph the newly remodeled areas, and give them the rights to all of my photos for their marketing campaign. They wanted to pay me to lie to my audience and tell them this sketchy hotel was great, and so I, of course, refused. I couldn’t imagine the disappointment and anger someone would feel if I guided them towards that hotel for a family vacation and they all got sick from the mold or brought bed bugs back home with them! That would be a terrible thing to do to anyone.
A well-known jewelry company that regularly works with celebrities and other bloggers offered me several thousand dollars to post their product on my Instagram account a few times during the next month and to photograph it for them, but I know for a fact that their product is cheaply made and lasts just a bit longer than their return policy does, so I passed on that as well. I passed on a number of other smaller campaigns that asked me to promote products that were either poorly made, weren’t my style, or that wanted me to guarantee I’d post pre-written content to my blog, which I will never do, no matter what.
It would have been nice to have an extra $30k in hand, absolutely! But what would that have cost me in the long run? I would never want to lose my audience’s trust, and I would never want to lie to anyone or misrepresent something. If I post about something or somewhere on my blog, know that it’s always my own opinion and in my own words, even if I am being compensated. No amount of money will make me lie to you or mislead you, I promise.
I’m not the best writer in the world, although I’m always trying to improve, but I will never publish scripted or pre-written material on my blog or social platforms, because I want you to know exactly how I feel, not how someone is paying me to claim to feel. If I don’t like something, I don’t post about it. I have sent back dozens of things and cancelled collaborations once I realized the quality isn’t something I’d want to use myself. Knowing that the people who read my blog can rely on me and trust me when I say something is worth checking out, is worth more than all the money in the world, and I know that there will be more and better opportunities in the future.
Thank you so much for reading and following along with me, it means the world to me!
See some of my favorite travel destinations, here.
Annie, I so respect you for your integrity and honesty. I love reading your blog and I have never seen anyone write something so honest. I know you may not want to mention names but I am so curious what that jewelry company is.
Hi there Margaret, thank you so much for the kind compliments, that means the world to me! I appreciate you taking the time to read what I write more than you know. I don’t want to lambast the brand (or any brand), so please understand why I won’t out them. Just know that if I post about something on my blog, I have thoroughly researched and tested it personally, and I stand behind it! Thank you again for reading!
I wouldn’t expect anything else from you. Thank you for being honest.
Thank you for reading, Nicole!
Wow! I just learned so much reading this!
Jessica Malinowski says
So much respect for you!