Connecting with Brands as a Freelancer vs. Brand Ambassador with Paula Pant of Afford Anything

Once content creators get a bit established, they often feel ready to take their work to the next level. Instead of creating content exclusively for themselves as bloggers or podcasters, they’re ready to work with brands either as a freelancer or a brand ambassador. We sat down with Paula Pant of Afford Anything to discuss the distinction between freelancing and partnering with a brand as an ambassador, and she shares some important words of caution.

How can I freelance with brands as a writer?

There are two different ways to work with brands. Pant suggests separating them into two buckets of thought. This way, it is easy to see the different strategies and approaches to take depending on the relationship being cultivated.  

What does it mean to freelance?

Simply put, a freelancer is someone who trades their time or skill in exchange for direct compensation. Freelancing is a job. In this case, though, someone is selling their own individual time and talents, usually finding work themselves and building their own client base.

Can freelancing be lucrative?

Freelancing pays off. Many more people are trying to make the leap into freelance work, and Pant insists that is can be very lucrative.

After #FinCon12, she actually partnered with two brands, and it catapulted her freelance career. Between those two brands, she pulled in $60,000 a year. One put her on a retainer for $2,000 a month, and the other created one for $3,000. Pant had a smaller audience at that time since she was still building her platform. But she was able to land these gigs by making connections and showing off her writing skills.

What is brand ambassadorship?

Another way to work with brands is through brand ambassadorship. In this situation, someone is still working with brands. However, rather than trading time and talent, they are giving a brand access to their audience. Essentially, the brand’s message and products are pushed to an audience through a platform that the brand ambassador created.

Are there drawbacks to brand ambassadorship?

There’s a lot of talk about being an influencer lately. The lifestyle is glamorized by news outlets and social media alike. But Pant cautions that brand ambassadorship can be tricky. In fact, it can sometimes be self-sabotaging.

She says that content creators definitely need to avoid a “more is better” philosophy. A blogger will spend years growing an audience and cultivating their trust. This sacred and intimate bond should be respected. The wrong kind of partnership can destroy an audience’s trust, which, in Pant’s eyes, is akin to slaying the golden goose.

And she isn’t just talk. Pant sets clear boundaries herself around brand access. With an email list that’s 50,000 addresses long and an open rate of 40%, Pant knows this is invaluable. These people trust her to keep their information safe. They turn to her for knowledge and insight, and she takes that role very seriously.

While it might be tempting to trade that access for a five-figure contract, Pant says that content creators have to think long term. If someone intends to do this for next 10, 20, or even 40 years, there’s nothing more important than an audience.

On the other hand, there’s no conflict of interest when it comes to freelancing. In that role, the content creator isn’t exchanging trust or access. Instead, they’re creating content for a brand separate from their own audience.

How can podcasters work with brands?

What’s the biggest difference between blogs and podcasts? Besides the medium, of course, podcasts also come with commercial breaks. Radio broadcasts and commercials go hand in hand, so Pant thinks that podcasters can adopt a slightly different strategy when partnering with brands.

Because podcasts clearly cut in for commercial breaks, the whole episode isn’t sponsored. Listeners understand that a brand has paid for the bit of access.

She also says that a 60-second break doesn’t affect content. Sponsored blog posts, on the other hand, are an entire piece of content designed around a brand’s message, not the creator’s.

What is radical authenticity?

This is a phrase Pant has been using for years. Radical authenticity is a philosophy, not just a phrase. In essence, it’s a reminder that audiences want to associate with people who are genuine and real both as a freelancer and an ambassador. Pant points out that audiences can see through slanted stories and sales pitches.

Circling back to the idea of brand ambassadorships, sponsorships, and other ways that someone might be paid to alter their platform, Pant asks about the trade-off. While brands pay for this platform, the blogger or content creator is actually giving up content. Audiences pick up on this right away, she says.

How else can content creators monetize?

Make no mistake about it. Pant clearly thinks people should be paid for the hard work that they are doing. She simply thinks content creators need to be thoughtful on how they go about doing this.

For instance, someone might decide to monetize their brand by selling courses, coaching, or even running online challenges with affiliate links. When considering ways to monetize, Pant suggests this litmus test: If it’s not something that a creator would think of or write about naturally, don’t put it out there.

How do creators with smaller audiences make money?

Content creators have to have large audiences to monetize successfully, right? Pant says no. To illustrate her point, she turns to podcasts.

Podcasts that have 5,000-10,000 downloads per episode should be able to pull in an outside sponsor. However, someone with a smaller audience can still monetize. Though they don’t have access to a mass market, they still have the opportunity to sell their own products or services.

She argues that smaller audiences provide value in a unique way. The people who are choosing to listen do so out of loyalty. They like what the podcasters say and trust them. That means that they are very likely to explore any of the products or services, like one-on-one coaching, offered. It’s a way to extend the relationship that already exists. 

What’s the right time move beyond brand partnerships?

Many content creators start out as freelancers but eventually want to scale back working for others in order to ramp up their own blogs and podcasts. But how does someone know when the time is right?

For Pant, she started to notice that she was telling herself things like, “If only I were more efficient.” She was trying to maximize her freelance output and felt like she was consistently putting her own ideas for her site on the back burner.

Eventually, when her email list grew to somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 subscribers, she felt ready to make the switch. Of course, turning off the tap is terrifying. She spent the better part of five years growing her freelance business. Additionally, she was really proud of what she had achieved.

She had, in fact, created a dream job of freelancing. Her business was successful, and it’s something that many people, including her younger self, really aspire to. Still, she was ready to build something scalable and create an asset for herself. Instead of trading her time for money, she wanted to grow her own brand.

Where do business ideas come from?

When she was getting ready to build her own brand, Pant did something different. She looked outside her niche. She says that she looked at examples of people who had blogs and podcasts and were doing things that she wanted to be doing.

Instead of limiting herself to the personal finance niche, she checked out everything from yoga blogs to vegetarian blogs. It can be eye-opening to look beyond the niche verticals.

Combatting the naysayers

Whether someone is cultivating brand partnerships for the first time or they are growing their own brand, Pant says there will always be naysayers. To combat that, she’s developed a mantra. She says, “If I am operating inside of my own integrity and you don’t like it, that’s not my problem.” Staying true to a mission or a mantra is an important part of partnering with brands, either as a freelancer or an ambassador.

To hear the whole interview with Paula Pant, listen to episode 74 of the Money & Media podcast. Plus, listen to a special, podcast-exclusive conversation between hosts Joe Saul-Sehy and Bethany Bayless breaking down and diving deeper into the topics discussed in Pant’s interview.

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About Our Hosts

Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.

Bethany Bayless is a public speaker and emcee who co-hosts the podcast The Money Millhouse.

Join Us for #FinCon19

Want to meet with brands to explore freelancing relationships? Join us for FinCon19 September 4-7 in Washington D.C. Register for your pass today!


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