After you’ve been blogging a while, you’re likely to get your first pitch. Followed by many others.
What is a pitch?
I don’t know if there’s a good, working definition of a pitch in the blogosphere, but this is my crack at it:
A pitch, short for “sales pitch,” is an attempt by a company or individual to convince you to buy or promote their product, service, website, etc., or otherwise partner with them in a (hopefully) mutually beneficial way.
In other words, someone wants you to do something for them such as hosting a giveaway, writing about them, writing for them, etc. Generally the idea is that they will do something for you in return, such as providing you with a sample product, a trip, a book deal, monetary compensation, exposure, etc. (although it’s amazing how many will try to get something out of you for nothing).
There are so many companies out there wooing bloggers, and justifiably so given the amount of influence bloggers have.
But how do you know if a pitch is good?
I get a fair number of emails from readers asking if I’ve “heard of such-and-such company and are they legit?”
Usually my reader has found an email in their inbox from a company and wonders if the pitch they received is worth pursuing.
Some are legit, some are not. But how do you sort the good ones from the bad? It’s not an exact science, but here are my tips:
1. Don’t do link exchanges
I’ll just get this one out there from the get-go. I’m not a fan of link exchanges. Back in the day, link exchanges were common. They work like this, someone you generally don’t know emails you and says, “Hey, I’ll put a link to your site on mine, if you’ll put a link to my site on yours.”
Too often these agreements are made casually with vague, arbitrary or non-existent terms (how long do you have keep their link on your site? A month? 10 years?), usually for the sole purpose of building backlinks artificially and often with very little relevance.
To put it bluntly, the search engine gatekeepers frown upon this practice, so steer clear.
Be organic in your link-building. It’s better all the way around. If you like someone, just link to them. If someone likes you, hopefully they’ll link to you.
2. Google them
This may be obvious, but if you haven’t heard of a company but you think it might be a good opportunity, do your research. Check out their site. (How does it look? Is it well done? Is it cheesy?) You can tell a lot about a company by how professional their site is. Search things like “[company] reviews” or “work with [company]” or even, “is [company] legit.”
3. Be skeptical of “cold” emails
If I get a pitch from a company I don’t know, I usually treat it with suspicion initially. I often delete it right away if it looks canned, spammy and if the company is completely unrelated to my niche. Let’s face it, when we’re not dealing in face-to-face interactions, it’s important to be cautious.
Not every company is illegitimate, however. In fact, I got a pitch recently from a company that turned out to be a very good opportunity, but I assumed illegitimacy at first and let my research prove me wrong. Then I could move forward with confidence.
4. If it’s not a good fit, be short and sweet
If I get a pitch from a company that seems legit, but isn’t a good fit for my blog, I’ll shoot off a quick email which says, “Thanks so much for your email. I appreciate you thinking of me, but I don’t feel this is a good fit for my blog. All the best…” That’s it. Short, sweet, to the point and they know I got it (hint: no need to send follow up emails). I’m not interested. Also, there’s no need to burn bridges with legit companies you might have reason to work with in the future; you just never know.
5. Word of mouth is key
The best companies to work with are companies recommended by other bloggers you know (another reason it’s imperative you build relationships with other bloggers). Keep your ears peeled for companies others have had success (or not) with.
6. Always ask for more information
There’s never enough information in an initial email to make an informed decision as far as I’m concerned. If the pitch looks like something I might be interested in, I’ll shoot back an email with more questions. Not only do I get more information, but the more communication I have with them, the more fodder I have to scrutinize and evaluate the legitimacy of their company. (Do they respond in a timely manner? Are they polite? Are they prepared?)
7. Choose your words wisely
If you do request more information, be sure not to commit to anything or sound like you’re committing to anything. Make it clear you are only writing back to get more information. What I say is something like this, “Thanks for your email. I’d like more information so I can decide whether or not this is an opportunity I’d like to pursue.” In other words, I’m not committing to anything at this point, but I’d like to talk more about it.
8. Be specific
At all stages of the info-gathering process, be as specific as possible. What are the exact questions you’d like answered? Spell them out. Don’t be afraid to list them all. One sign that a compay is legit is that they welcome your questions and are happy to answer them.
9. Note their tone
If at any point during your communications you are met with demands, impatience, frustration, disgust or “how can you be so stupid”-type comments, move on. Legit companies treat you like a valued customer. Shady companies are only in it to get what they want.
10. Listen to your gut
If you have a not-so-good feeling about a company, or if something doesn’t seem quite right or doesn’t quite add up, drop it. Trust yourself.
11. Find the win-win
Partnering with a company or an individual should be a win-win. Both parties should benefit (relatively) equally. “Equal” is not always easily defined, but if you feel like it’s imbalanced, don’t be afraid to say so. You don’t have to be pushy or demanding; be kind but firm. And be proactive. Think of creative ways to make it more mutually beneficial. Perhaps you ask them to pay you a bit more or provide their upgraded product instead of their standard product for you to test drive.
One mistake many new bloggers make is to feel honored to be contacted with a pitch at all…and then agree to almost anything. Flattery is nice, but not adequate compensation.
12. Know what’s expected
So you’ve done your homework, come up with a win-win situation and have decided to pursue the opportunity. Be very clear about exactly what is expected of you and them. What will be the requirements you have to fulfill as part of the agreement? What will be the requirements they fulfill? Do you have to mention them in a post? How many posts are they expecting? How much will they pay you? How will you receive payment? When? Make sure it’s all specified. Save all your communications – emails, Skype chat transcripts, whatever. In general, the more details the better, so no one is surprised down the road.
13. Contracts need extra care
Sometimes a company will want you to sign a contract. Sometimes a contract is essential and should not, or cannot, be avoided (like for a book deal). But some companies want you to sign a contract for something less significant. Understand that signing a contract brings things to a whole new level.
Personally, I shy away from many smaller contracts because I simply don’t like being bound by them. For example, I’ve known a fair number of bloggers who have contracted with ad networks only to realize the ads served are really not a good fit for them, but they are stuck in it for a year. Sometimes they aren’t allowed to pursue other ad options while under contract. Sometimes the ads that pop up on their site are not appropriate and they have to contact the ad network to take them down (while the ad remains on their site in the meantime). Sometimes they don’t get paid in a timely fashion.
All that to say, read and understand a contract fully before you sign it. Of course, get everything in writing. Again, take note of the companies others have had trouble with. Consult a lawyer and/or accountant if you’re unsure of what you’re signing.
If you do partner with a company or individual, make sure you adequately disclose that relationship to your readers. I wrote more about that here.
15. Remember, there are other fish in the sea
Hopefully all goes well with any opportunity you pursue. However, things don’t always turn out as you hope. In that case, don’t be discouraged. There is no shortage of great companies and individuals to work with. Opportunity abounds and it’s unlikely turning down one pitch or having one bad experience is going to make or break your blog. Oftentimes, the disappointments make for the best learning.