I would like to preface this post by mentioning that I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had to work with brands, big or small, over the past years. It is not something I expected when I started blogging, and I have learned a lot from it, which is what this post is about.
For those who want the answer immediately, these are the following reasons why I will never again work with cheap Chinese brands (think websites like AliExpress, even though they’re not who I am talking about):
- The clothing quality is usually cheap, and I often donate the clothes afterwards.
- Since the clothes are low quality, this does not justify taking time out of my day to shoot and edit photos and write a blog post for 2-3 clothing items that cost a total of $30 to $50 total.
- The clothes often take a while to ship, requiring me to wait anywhere from three weeks to two months to make my blog post.
- The representatives who contact me often try to make me do additional work I did not agree to so that I receive more clothing for review (hosting giveaways, posting additional links to their pages on my social media).
- A contact/company belittled my blog, was very controlling and attempted to take advantage of the work I had done, which included sabotaging my comments and refusing to pay me for any sales made from my blog.
This is the basic outline of this post, so if you would like to know the details of these reasons and claims, please continue reading. For the sake of privacy, I will not reveal which companies I am going to discuss.
The clothing quality is cheap
This is the most obvious reason for refusing to work with most Chinese companies. I always knew that these clothes would be difficult to sell to readers because they’re cheaply made. I accepted $30 to $50 gift cards to these fast fashion brands because it was a cost effective way to produce new content for my blog without having to spend any of my own money. But after a year of trying on and reviewing thin, ill-fitting clothing, I felt like I was cheapening my blog and my personal style. The clothes I received often ended up recycled, never to be worn again.
My “sponsored” blog posts (if you can call receiving free clothing a sponsorship) were often my least popular posts, and often the most difficult to write. I was never instructed by the company to remain positive in my review, but I still walked on egg shells with what I wrote because I wanted to be someone who could be trusted with promoting a brand. My opinions on this subject have changed, but a year ago I was wrestling with the responsibility of saying nice things about cheap clothes.
The clothes were not worth my time and effort to shoot and write about
Morning Ink is a one woman project, which means I take and edit all my photos. A typical shoot takes 1 to 2 hours, and editing and writing is an additional 2 to 4 hours minimum. For some companies, this was no problem since the cost of the clothing was often great enough to justify the work. But for the cheaper companies, who often demanded these posts within days of me receiving my shipment, and sometimes required separate posts for each item received, it was extremely unjustifiable.
Of course, I could have refused the collaboration offer and saved my time, but back then I was okay with spending my time making these posts. However, I am still being contacted by these types of companies and, as the post says, I refuse to spend any further time on cheap clothes.
The clothes take a while to ship
This reason wouldn’t be such a problem if I had a tracking code so I could know when the clothes would arrive, and if most of the brands didn’t demand a blog post within days of the clothes being delivered. Also, I live in Germany, where they place fees on products ordered outside of the EU, and expect them paid in cash upon delivery. If you don’t have exact change, then the delivery is held at the warehouse for payment and pickup. This isn’t exactly the company’s fault, since I didn’t have this problem in the states, but since I was unsure of when anything would be delivered, I often had to drive to DHL to pay for and pick up my package. Every company I worked with reimbursed the fee, but it was often done through PayPal, and sent as “payment for goods and services” which charged me fees and left me with a couple dollars below the amount I paid to receive my package.
Spontaneous deliveries made it difficult to plan a blogging schedule, which can be difficult when blogging is your hobby in addition to a full-time job or studying. I don’t want this to sound like my life was made “oh so difficult” because of this, especially since I blog by choice, but it was a mild annoyance that contributed to my decision of cutting ties with cheap clothing brands.
The representatives tried to manipulate me into extra work
This wasn’t as malicious as the title suggests, but rather repetitive and annoying. For example, a brand representative would send me an email offering me a gift card to use on their website in exchange for a clothing review. I would agree to their requirements (they often wanted links to their social media and photos of the clothing) and then place my order with the special gift code they gave me. Sometimes I would get an email back thanking me for placing my order, but before they would ship anything, they wanted me to help with a giveaway promotion/make a wishlist post on my blog/promote their sale on my social media/etc.
Getting out of these requests wasn’t a problem. I told them I wasn’t interested and they would usually back away from it after that, but the principle of it bothers me. I see a lot of small bloggers hosting these giveaways on their blogs, so it obviously works, but this game isn’t for me. If I am approached for a clothing review, I don’t automatically assume that I am indebted to this company and need to fulfill all of their requests. I would never contact a YouTuber offering to pay them to promote my channel in a 15 second spot on a video, send them money, and then ask if I can receive a Twitter shout out and a blog banner on their website for no additional cost.
I don’t pay hosting fees so I can display free banners. Get out of here with that.
A company belittled my blog, was very controlling and attempted to sabotage my comments
This is about one company in particular, but I have since learned that it is owned by the same company that owns other smaller websites that I have worked with or been approached by. They were, by far, the most bizarre company to work with and offenders of almost everything I mentioned in this post. I wanted to wait until all ties had been completely cut with them to write this post, and even though I won’t mention them by name, I wanted to include some email evidence of how I was spoken to during and at the end of this “collaboration.”
I worked with this brand last summer, and was approached with the usual offer of free clothing in an exchange for a review. I was looking forward to this project since the clothes were listed at a higher price than I was used to from other Chinese companies. I accepted the offer and went on to write 5+ reviews for this website, and made over $2000 in sales with traffic generated from my blog, and received commission as well as additional ad money from the new visitors.
This collaboration started out really well, and I was happily reviewing items for them and receiving praise from the company for my sales and traffic. However, I started receiving a lot of visitors who left comments on my blog complaining about this company’s customer service, and their dissatisfaction with the quality of the clothes and the shipping tax they had to pay (the tax the EU requires if purchasing from an outside country I mentioned before), all of which I could not help them with. I responded to many of the comments that offered constructive criticism, and deleted ones that were just rude, but could ultimately do nothing about the situation. The Chinese company quickly noticed these negative comments and asked me to delete them, and I did. I didn’t want to ruin the relationship we had so I happily obliged since the company was generating positive revenue and hits for my blog.
This is where I messed up. I should have been more assertive and politely tell them I wouldn’t delete comments, since I support helpful discussion on my blog even if it’s negative. This company suddenly had power over my blog, and I was asked to delete many more comments in the future. I continued to receive a lot more negative comments over things I could not control, but continued to defend the brand and explain why there may have been difficulties with their shipment/order/sizing etc. I even received emails from customers seeking my advice and help with picking their size on the website, since they didn’t understand the conversions. I gladly went beyond what the company and I agreed on, and even forwarded customer concerns to the representative I was in contact with to see if they could help with the person’s order.
Perhaps this overwhelmed them and they were not expecting such a mixed response to my blog posts and their new brand. By the beginning of December 2016, I still hadn’t received a commission payment that was supposed to be paid at the end of November. By the way, I didn’t start receiving a commission until months after I had started reviewing for them. I saw an advertisement for their affiliation program on their website and asked them about it. They decided to add me as an affiliate, and I essentially missed out on sales I made at the beginning of the summer. Anyway.
I asked about my missing November commission payment, and I was told that I would receive it the second week of December, and I did. But my representative told me that this would also be my last payment since I was no longer doing reviews, even though I was told I would make a commission as long as I was generating sales, not just reviews.
Of course I asked about this, and even included a screenshot where the rep told me I would “for sure” receive commission as long as I make sales.
To which they responded:
After months of defending a brand against negative comments, deleting comments, editing my content to their specifications, taking photos and writing careful reviews, generating traffic (which was possible through my SEO marketing of each post) and sales and keeping their banner on my blog past the usual time I allow, they decided I’d received “enough.” Not only this, but this representative had the absolute nerve to make it sound as if THEY did something for ME. I was approached with this collaboration, not the other way around.
I did the only thing I thought was best in response to such an absurd turn of events:
I removed absolutely every affiliate link but kept the posts up, which now receive fewer views than they did before. I was not going to allow them to continue to make money from my blog while I don’t receive anything.
I wish that had been the end of it, but soon after this partnership ended, I started receiving questionable comments on my reviews defending the brand against the negative comments that survived deletion. They were written in poor English and explained how they didn’t blame the company for the taxes paid on their shipment, as well as other defensive remarks in response to the common customer complaints on my blog. I received at least one a day for the next week and deleted as many as I could. Though it is an accusation with weak evidence, I am convinced it was the company trying to manipulate my comments.
Of course this is just my experience. Other bloggers are perhaps better at negotiating with brands and setting their limitations. I wasn’t so particular about who I worked with at the time because I am weak when it comes to being offered free merchandise. I learned that it is better to walk away from something easy and keep working for something greater.
Thank you to anyone who read this far. I wanted to share my experience just in case anyone else is stuck in a similar situation. If you’re feeling taken advantage of in a business deal, don’t tolerate it. Say no, and remember your worth.