Hey guys… happy Hump Day! Assuming it’s Wednesday, these short weeks always throw me off. It doesn’t help that I’m sleeping in a different bed every night.
Wait, that sounded weird, ha! What I mean is, I’ve been back and forth between the hotel and lake house so much recently that I’ve lost track of the day. We’re in the final stretch on the home repairs, so we’re hoping to be back in the house sometime next week. They’re starting the stairs today, so I’m excited to see the transformation. (You can follow the renovation HERE.)
Do you follow me on Instagram or Facebook? I love the conversations and back-and-forth engagement we have over there. I often post question boxes to my Instagram Story, inviting readers to ask me anything… and you never hold back!
Recently, I started a conversation about the business side of this blogging/influencer gig, and you had a lot of questions. Which made me realize not everyone understands that this is a business. I always strive to be honest and transparent with you guys, but to be clear, as much as I love connecting with you every day, Hi Sugarplum is also my full-time job.
I source the best deals and styles for a variety of tastes, needs, and occasions, and the majority of my links are commissionable. Which means if you shop my link, I earn a small commission… again, at no cost to you. Just as if you walked in a store and an associate helped you shop.
However, I never talk about a brand or product that I wouldn’t recommend to my mama. Period. Full stop. And if I happen to have a paid relationship with a brand, I always disclose it. Your trust and faith in me and my word is worth more than any paycheck, and something I’ll never take for granted.
Let’s dive in to some of the other questions you had on the business of blogging…
Q. Do you get credit for things I put on my wish list/add to cart, but then buy later? For example: I put a lot of the things you show during Monday Mail Day on a wish list for later. Please let me know the best way to purchase so you get the credit!
A. I always appreciate when you shop my links! The way things work is that the last link clicked gets the credit for the sale. So if you add something to your cart from my link, but then check out after clicking someone else’s link, they receive the credit.
Links also expire, so if you check out several days later, there’s likely no credit given. This is true for all retailers. If I’ve provided you with a service, and you want to ensure I receive credit, simply return to my blog or social media, and click a link to that retailer (it can be any item) before checking out.
But honestly, it all evens out, and my goal is for life to be made simpler for you through my sourcing.
Q. What is the difference between a paid relationship and a commissionable link?
A. Paid Collaboration: A brand contracts an influencer to talk about YXZ for a flat fee. It could be spreading the word on a sale (like THIS), reviewing a new product (like THIS), or simply styling outfits of our choice (like THIS). FTC requires that we indicate them as an ad, sponsored, or partner.
Commissionable link: A commission is earned from sales generated from a link that’s tracked back to an influencer. These are usually generated through a third-party agency like ShopStyle or RewardStyle. The retailer doesn’t contract those links with individual influencers, and most times has no idea the influencer is promoting their brand.
Q. How many hours a week do you work on average doing this?
A. Being self-employed means you’re never really not working. But there are easily 80-100 (wo)man hours dedicated to HSP every week. I have part-time virtual help, and it still never all gets ‘done.’
Q. Exactly what is the work that you have to do?
A. Hi Sugarplum content is created daily for the blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, the LikeToKnow.It app, and weekly newsletter (subscribe HERE). The blog remains my heart and center, and I’ve written 3-5 posts a week for the last 12 years! (That’s over 2,400 posts!)
Each post requires sourcing, prepping, shooting, linking, and writing. Then it’s promoted across all social channels.
Then there are contracts, messages and emails (100s every day), product testing, style sourcing, returns, etc. Oh! and GxHSP Collections!
Q. About what percentage of product would you say you turn down to sell?
A. Probably 90%!? I get about 10-15 campaign offers a day… granted, many of them are so obscure I wonder if they even know who they emailed.
And 9 times out of 10, the brand doesn’t dictate what to promote… I get to choose which styles or products I love best. For instance: Nordstrom will contract me to promote ‘women’s styles’ or ‘beauty’… not a particular product (like THIS or THIS).
Q. When you do try-ons and hauls, how much of that stuff do you keep? It seems like a lot of stuff!
A. A TON of stuff is returned! And I don’t even share about 50% of what I order and try on! It takes a lot of frogs to find the princes!
If I wore it around the house for a photo, I’ll return it. Unless I reallllyyy love it and have a need for it. If I wear it out of the house, I don’t return.
Once a quarter, I’ll do a big purge of all the ‘sold out’ items I still have (y’all don’t like it when I wear stuff that’s no longer available!) and donate it to friends, family, and my local women’s shelter.
Q. Do you have to negotiate your commissions for each retailer?
A. The majority of commissionable links are generated through ShopStyle or RewardStyle (LTK), so if you’re on their platform, you have access to creating those trackable links.
The actual commission rate is negotiated between the brand and SS/rS, and it ranges from 1% – 20% depending on the retailer. Then SS/rS takes a percentage of the commission earned before paying the influencer.
Q. Do you lose money if I return something that I’ve ordered from one of your links?
A. We aren’t paid commissions for 90-120 days after the sale closes (this also ranges by retailer). So if you buy and keep something from my link, I’ll receive a percentage of the commission 3-4 months later. If you return it, no commission is paid.
The average return rate across all online shopping is 30% – 40%.
Q. How variable is your monthly income? As opposed to a ‘normal’ job with a salary?
A. It totally fluctuates! People shop more at the beginning of a new season and around the holidays, so those months can be higher. Big sales like the Nordstrom Sale (NSale) and Prime Days provide additional revenue to help offset the slower shopping seasons.
Q. Are you able to write off beauty, home, life expenses when they are for the blog?
A. I have a really great CPA and do whatever he tells me to! HSP is an LLC with expenses and costs just like any other business. In fact, just the monthly cost to host my website rivals my mortgage!
Q. What are the FTC guidelines on disclosing ads, sponsored posts, and affiliate links?
A. If a brand contracts you directly to promote them in exchange for money or product, then you are obligated to disclose it as sponsored.
However, contracts have a set number of deliverables included in the paid campaign (for ex: 1 sponsored Facebook post, 1 sponsored Instagram feed post, 5 Story frames, etc.). Any additional content shared outside of those paid deliverables is organic and not part of the sponsorship. Meaning, the brand only paid for one, so only the one is sponsored.
I also keep a legal disclosure on my blog regarding affiliate links. This is my job. It’s a job that I love of course, but a job nonetheless. And I’m paid for the work that I do.
Q. Do you feel a lot of pressure regarding your looks and body image?
A. If I were doing this 20 years ago, yes.
At this stage of my life, I’m comfortable with my body and live for me, not my online presence. That said, I do care about being strong and fit, and looking the best I can while aging gracefully. But that’s because I’m a woman, not because I’m an influencer, ha!
Q. What percentage do you make on each item? If it’s a $30 shirt, how much do you make selling one?
A. It totally ranges by retailer. Some pay literally 1% commission, and that’s before SS and rS take their cut. Others pay close to 20%. I’d say the average commission is probably 8%.
Here’s a snapshot to give you an idea. This will likely drop 30% or more from returns by the time the sale closes and I’m paid.
Q. Is there a way you can see who is buying the most from your links?
A. No ma’am. We can’t see who bought what, we can only see how many items were sold from a link. That info helps us gauge what you like, and therefore helps me be a better resource.
Q. Is it hard to start this type of business?
A. That’s hard to say because I didn’t start HSP as a business… it was a hobby and a way to connect with other women.
I didn’t even know you could monetize a blog for the first couple of years! I remember losing my mind when an Etsy shop would pay me $20 to place a sidebar ad on my blog!
I think if you start a blog solely to make money, it will absolutely be hard. If you start it because you have something to say and ideas to share, it will be amazing. Still lots of work, but amazing.
Q. Since you’re an LLC, did you get a PPP loan?
A. Wow, we are really going there! Since it’s public record, I have no problem telling you that no I did not.
There is no question that the bottom fell out for thousands of businesses last year, and while mine took a hit at first, it also rallied because of the nature of everyone being at home and shopping online.
The thought of taking someone else’s chance at survival when I could still pay my bills didn’t sit well. So I passed.
Q. Is your lake house part of your brand, or is it personal?
A. I’m not sure I understand this question! It is our family’s personal lake house. Sugarplum may be my brand, but it’s also the nickname that my grandfather called me, so Sugarplum is personal, too.
We do operate HSP out of our house, so we take a home office deduction in our taxes.
Q. How come you don’t do Instagram giveaways? Seems like most influencers do them constantly.
A. Unfortunately, social media platforms make it near-impossible to grow organically… so influencers use giveaways to encourage engagement (likes and comments) and grow new followers.
I would just rather have people following me because I add value and joy to their lives, not because they want to win a Peloton… so I steer clear of them. Most new people find me from being referred by their BFF, and I love that!
But that doesn’t mean I don’t love giving back to you, I just find other, quieter ways to do so where it’s needed most.
Q. Do you receive commission from codes you share from brands?
A. For me, the commission still comes from sales from my links only. The discount code is simply to save you money. Codes do increase sales though, because everyone likes a deal, so influencers will try to get them when possible.
Some influencers might have deals with brands where they get paid directly for sales using their code… there are a million ways to structure a campaign and its payment structure.
Q. If someone purchases from your link and becomes a repeat customer, do you get credit again?
A. I’m thrilled if you’ve found a new brand that you love from me! But no, commission is only given when you shop an active link from the window it opens. Once the link expires or you close the window, it severs the connection to the referring influencer.
In fact, it’s estimated that we lose upwards of 50% of credit for sales due to the finicky nature of how links work. Which essentially means that retailers get twice the exposure and sales than what they are paying for.
Q. A lot of times things from one of your posts or swipe-ups are already sold out. How far in advance do you publish?
A. Trust me, inventory issues are just as frustrating for me! They are especially bad after the drop in production from last year.
Unfortunately, we aren’t usually privy to inventory numbers since we don’t work for the retailer… so when we link something, there could be 10 units or 10,000 units.
My social media posts are written same-day, but my blog posts are planned and shot about a week in advance.
Q. Would you ever mentor?
A. Absolutely, I have several new influencers I’m working with now. I’m an open book and pour everything I know into new influencers when we meet. I’m just passionate about people knowing their value and worth, and therefore being treated equally and fairly in this business.
Q. How did you get good at social media/blogging?
A. I’m flattered that you think I’m good at it! But I am honestly just winging it here every day, being myself and sharing what I find and what’s going on in my life.
I don’t worry with the number of likes/comments or growth, but instead focus on connecting with those of you who are here. We are a mighty, passionate bunch!
Would I love more followers? Of course! But I’m not willing to play the game to get there, I just stay in my own lane.
Q. If we add multiple items to our cart from several of your individual links, do you get credit for all of it?
A. You only have to click a single link (to the same retailer) for credit to be given for the entire cart.
So if you had five things already in your cart from someone else’s link, but then clicked one of my links and added one more item before checking out, I’d earn on all of it. That’s what I mean about things ‘evening out.’
Q. Could you start sharing about deals or products you pass on or products that you DON’T love?
A. I’d rather spend my time finding things that are useful for you, rather than sharing stuff I don’t recommend. I also don’t believe in bad-mouthing brands. Just because it’s not a good fit for me doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be great for someone else.
Q. Do you have a W-9? If so, do you send it to every company you are working with? Do you have an agent?
A. We are an LLC and do it all by the books! Every company I work with gets my W-9, and they send me a 1099. I also send a 1099 to all of the freelance contractors (photographer, virtual assistant, etc.) who work with me!
I do not have an agent, but prefer to work closely and develop relationships with the brands I partner with directly.
Q. Were you one of the influencers who was compensated for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine?
A. Nope! I took it willingly, gratefully, and on my own accord on the first available day that I could!
Okay, I think that’s enough for today!! I hope I cleared up some the questions and misconceptions of this online influencer world. Honestly though, I’ve never cared much for the term ‘influencer,’ but rather think of us as friends. I hope you feel the same!
What questions are you dying to know next? Find more You Ask, I Answer posts HERE.