I’m a blogger who spent four years running my own successful animal-friendly apparel business, so I often receive messages from people requesting marketing advice for their vegan or pro-rescue start-up business. I typically reply with whatever random piece of wisdom pops into my head, but I think it’s about time to actually write some of it out. I truly care about helping animal-friendly businesses succeed, and if my experience can contribute to that in any way, I’ll be happy!
I know many of my regular readers already know my background, but for those of you just stumbling upon this post and wondering who am I to give business advice to strangers, here’s a quick recap of my experience:
In November 2013, on somewhat of a whim, I decided to start a clothing company with t-shirt designs pertaining to animal rights and animal rescue. I had a decent social media following at the time (approximately 10k Instagram followers) and thought it would be a good way to monetize that following while also helping animals. In the four years that followed, I brought in over $500,000 in revenue, shipped apparel to 30+ countries, grew my Instagram following by 60,000+ people, and donated over $50,000 to animal rescue organizations.
When I started to lose passion for the apparel business, I decided to close down the business and transition into full time blogging. That was last November, and I’ve been writing, hustling, and creating content ever since. I desperately wish I could take the lessons I’ve learned through blogging and share them with the 5-years-ago version of myself. Alas, I haven’t yet perfected time travel, so instead I’ll just share them with the budding animal-friendly entrepreneurs of today!
Why do you need bloggers and influencers to post about you?
Paid Facebook advertising only goes so far. Bloggers and influencers tend to know our followers very well, and are thus the perfect people to share products those consumers might like. We also hear specific requests from our followers all the time (“Can you help me find vegan slippers?” (yes, click here), “Do you know of any jewelry brands that give back to animals?” (yes, click here), etc.). We’re basically finding your customers for you, and we’re happy to do it.
We also tend to create a lot of professional content (photos, videos, etc.), which, more often than not, we encourage you to share. In addition to sharing your products with our own followers, our content helps demonstrate to your existing customers how your products fit into our lives. People are much less likely to take your word for how great your products are, as opposed to the word of someone who doesn’t work directly for the company.
I’m always on the lookout for ethical, animal-friendly companies and brands to share with my followers, but there are some surefire ways to climb to the top of my priority list (and, I suspect, the priority lists of countless other bloggers). Here’s what they are:
Tip #1: Launch an Affiliate Program
There’s a reason this tip is first on the list, and that’s because I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much I wish I’d done this. Launch an affiliate program. Launch an affiliate program. Launch an affiliate program. JUST DO IT!
Affiliate programs are basically an internet version of a commission-based sales program. You pay bloggers and influencers either a percent of sales or a flat rate for each order they bring in (tracked through custom links). I know what you’re thinking- “I’m a small business with a tiny budget, I can’t afford to slash my profit margin even more!” I’m here to tell you to stop that thought process right now. If you don’t have an affiliate program, you’re missing out on incalculable amounts of free advertising. Advertising that often goes directly to your target market, by way of bloggers.
Because I’m a blogger with a conscience and a desire to accomplish much more than paying my own bills, I frequently promote products that I make no money from. It’s important to me that my followers trust me and know that I don’t base my recommendations solely on potential profits. However, due to human nature and a need to pay my four rescue dogs’ ridiculous vet bills, I always feel more compelled to post and write more regularly about products that offer me a commission.
I’d NEVER recommend a product I didn’t trust or like just for the payoff, but if I’m choosing between a few products that I like somewhat equally, I’m almost guaranteed to recommend the one that treats me well. If I’m writing a list or a guide, I don’t leave out the other options (again, trust is important, and nearly impossible to earn back once you’ve lost it), but I’ll start with the one that pays. If you want bloggers and influencers to consistently rave about your products, you absolutely must must must have an affiliate program.
Because I unfortunately ignored advice to launch an affiliate program for my own business, I can only speak to things from the blogger’s side of the equation. With that in mind, these are my favorite affiliate programs to work with:
- VigLink: The easiest for bloggers to integrate. It’s the only program that automatically searches your blog posts (with your permission), identifies links that have affiliate relationships with VigLink, and inserts the affiliate link without the blogger needing to do anything.
- ShareASale: ShareASale’s interface is incredibly user friendly. Some of my favorite small businesses use ShareASale, so I presume it’s friendly to the retailer as well.
- Rakuten: Rakuten works with lots of big global brands, but they still have attentive customer service.
- Awin: I primarily use Awin for Etsy, but they work well with all brands.
- Refersion: I find this one to be a little less user-friendly on the affiliate side, but it integrates well for brands that use Shopify for their online sales.
Tip #2: Donate To A Good Cause (and be specific about it)
Fortunately, if you’re running a vegan or pro-rescue business, you’ve already got karma on your side. And you probably get some decent publicity and word-of-mouth advertising as a result. However, you’ll only increase that good will by regularly donating to a worthy non-profit!
It doesn’t matter whether you donate a percent of sales or a flat dollar amount per sale, so long as it’s clear and consistent. From personal experience, I don’t recommend donating a percent of profits, only because that can be tricky for a) you to calculate and b) customers to fully understand. Unless your customers know what your exact costs and profit margins are, it’s hard for them to appreciate the benefit of their purchase. If I know you donate 10% of revenue/sales, and I’m buying a $10 item, I know $1 is going to help animals. On the other hand, if I know you donate 10% of profits, and I’m buying a $10 item…I have no idea how much I’m donating. As a result, I’m much less likely to post about the purchase or to tell friends about it.
As a blogger with a passion for philanthropy, I’m also much more excited to write about businesses with donation programs. Last year, when I was writing my post about Holiday Gifts That Give Back To Animals, I was so frustrated by how many great brands I had to leave out. I couldn’t include most of my favorite vegan fashion companies, because even though I loved their ethical products, they didn’t donate explicitly to any non-profits. There were even some that vaguely mentioned donating to rescue groups, but they didn’t disclose how often or how much, and I can’t really do anything with that.
Bloggers aside, donation programs turn your everyday customers into brand ambassadors who love to rave about your products. It’s human nature to want other people to think we’re good people- if we’re wearing or using something that generated a donation to a worthy cause, we’re going to tell people about it. For example, an average consumer isn’t going to go online and tell all their friends that they just bought a new vacuum cleaner. However, if they bought a Bissell vacuum that generated a donation to the Bissell Pet Foundation, they’re going to want to tell all their fellow animal lovers about it!
If you like the idea of donating to a non-profit, but aren’t sure who to give to, some of my personal favorites are Hand In Paw (a California based rescue for companion animals), Rancho Relaxo (a phenomenal farmed animal sanctuary in New Jersey), and Mercy For Animals (a non-profit organization that educates the public about factory farming).
Tip #3: Provide Descriptive Brand Info and High Quality, Downloadable Images On Your Website
If I’m considering writing about your brand, I’m going to want a wide variety of content options to choose from. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how difficult it can be to pull images from some websites! We want to make you look good, and the easier you make that for us, the more enthusiastic we’ll be about doing the work.
When writing about new brands, I like to give my readers as much detail as possible. Ideally, I’d like to know the founder’s name, where you’re located, how long you’ve been in business, why you started the business, what sets you apart from your competition, and how you plan to grow in the future. Oftentimes, I can’t find any of that!
I encourage you to visit your website and put yourself in the position of a blogger who’s considering writing about you. Try to be as unbiased as possible. How easy is it to quickly understand your business’ mission and story? Are your selling points clear? Do you have engaging content right up front? Can you easily download your own images? If you have a “zoom in” tool on pictures, does that prevent people from getting the image file?
As far as images go, these are some examples of what I’m looking for:
(images are from Grove Collaborative– they’re one of my favorite brands to work with, because they’re so good to bloggers and they provide incredible cruelty-free products!)
- High quality product photos with a white background: These are much easier to use for blog banners or other social media graphics. When I’m creating a banner for a product-related blog post, I’m most likely to feature the products that can easily be added without having to edit out the background.
- High quality product photos that show the product in use or with an attractive/interesting background. These are ideal for working into the body of a post. Think about what kind of image best encompasses your brand’s message- that’s going to be the one I want to include in my post.
Could I take these photos myself? Of course, and I have done so many times for brands I’m passionate about. However, when I’m in a hurry or doing more of a gift guide type post (which typically includes numerous brands), I rely on using the content you put out there.
In my perfect blogger world, you’d have a whole “For Bloggers” page set aside for this kind of content. Copious amounts of high res photos, all the relevant info about your brand (What makes you so special? What do you wish everyone knew about you? What will my followers/readers get excited about?), etc. But, a girl can dream…
Okay fellow bloggers, what did I leave out?? And brand owners, was this helpful? Please let me know in the comments!
Jessica // The Tree Kisser