Last week, a number of people said they wanted to start collaborating with other bloggers, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned working on At the Moment, Across the USA, guest posts when I went on vacation, and guest posts for other bloggers. As mentioned, collaborations are not only a great way to make your content more original, they can also help grow your readership and the readership of the blogger you work with by introducing your readers to each other! The great thing about collaborations is that once you come up with the concept, there isn’t as much work for you content-wise as there is with writing your own post, but the trade off is that it requires planning ahead — these are not the kind of posts you can get done the night before (and you know we’re all guilty of that!).
For a little background for those of you who are new around here, At the Moment was a weekly interview series featuring what each blogger was crushing on, dreaming about, and doing at the moment (I cut it when I went from posting five days a week to three). Across the USA is an ongoing weekly series featuring a different state each Friday with a blogger interview as well as tips and photos from other bloggers (you can learn more about participating here!).
The first time I asked other bloggers to guest post on my blog, I simply said I was going on vacation and needed guest posts. In some cases, I told them which of their regular series I really liked, but for the most part, I left it up to them. While the posts were still good, there was a lot more back and forth figuring out what the post should be about, and there wasn’t anything that really tied the posts together that week so it seemed a little random. The next time I went on vacation, I picked a theme for the week and came up with a few questions and photo guidelines so guest posters would know exactly what I needed from them. That time, I got quick “yes” responses and received the information in plenty of time to put the posts together before I left.
I like to think of it like you’re asking someone to housesit for you — unless they are your best friend, you wouldn’t leave them without at least a few instructions, like who to call in an emergency, how often the dogs should be fed, etc. It’s the same for your blog — whether it’s for your vacation or an ongoing series, you’re asking people to do you a favor, so you should make it as easy as possible for them to give you what you need.
The other great thing about creating guidelines is it allows you to still keep your voice in the post, because you decide just how much input is coming from someone else. For my At the Moment series, this meant that I asked people to provide images for what they were talking about, but I put together the layouts myself for consistency. What you set as the guidelines is up to you — you want to make things clear enough that people understand what you’re looking for, but flexible enough that the guest gets to add their own voice and creativity to make it special.
Set due dates and give plenty of lead time
If you don’t really have an editorial calendar, it can be easy to say you’ll just post the information when you get it back. But again, it’s a lot easier for your guests when they know exactly what to expect — they can give you a definite yes or no, or offer an alternative date if their upcoming schedule is too busy. Set the due date at least 3-4 days before you actually need the information, just in case, and ask people at least 3-4 weeks in advance of the due date so they have plenty of time to work it into their schedule. I have asked people on much shorter notice, but if you’re going to do that, make sure you know the person well enough to ask such a favor, and be willing to return the favor when they need you on a short notice.
For At the Moment, I would usually sit down at the beginning of the month and figure out who I would ask for the following month, and email everyone then. The posts ran on Mondays, and I would set the due date for the Wednesday before. Things come up, and I did have people email me a few times that couldn’t meet the deadline, but because they still had a weekend before the post went live, there was still time for me to get the information.
Now, Across the USA is a whole different ball game, but I thought I would include some details in case you’re interested in starting a larger project. I created a spreadsheet to plot out the order each state would appear (starting with Maine and working my way west), with a column for publish dates, and another column for due dates set one month before the publish date. Then I set up a form with instructions and put out a call for contributors two months before the first post would be published. Now, I just go down the list each week and email the next person a reminder one month before the due date, and I have extra columns to keep track of when I’ve emailed reminders, and when I’ve received the information. I have a notebook in Evernote for the project, with a note for each state to store the information, as well as any travel tips and photos I receive.
Be personal and send all the information they need
When you’re reaching out to bloggers, keep in mind that just because they are your favorite of all time doesn’t mean they actually know who you are. I’m of the opinion that unless you talk to them all the time, through Twitter, comments on each other’s blogs, etc., you should pretend they don’t know you and introduce yourself, and also explain why you would like to work with them. That way it’s not just some random request for them to do you a favor.
I also think the least amount of email is the best — we all have overloaded inboxes, so why send two emails when you can just send one? It may seem like the nice thing to do to ask first and send details later, but it’s just easier to give them all the information at once. I usually say something like: “Is this something you would be interested in? If so, I’m including the details below,” and then include the guidelines, when the post will be published, and when you need the information. I also set up email signatures for this, so all I have to do when reaching out is add a personal note in the beginning and fill in the due date and publish date.
These are just my personal experiences, and I haven’t worked with an ongoing collaboration with another blogger, so please feel free to share your experiences and tips — I’m sure someone out there can benefit from hearing them! And if you have any questions about starting your own collaborations, feel free to leave them below as well!