Tips for Becoming an Online Entrepreneur: Being a Review Blogger

Review Blogging can be fun and games...

Today's "I Want to Be" Series features the editor of 1099 Mom, Linsey Knerl. A full-time freelance writer, blogger, and homeschooler, Linsey has been review blogging since 2007, and provides several weekly reviews -- as well as giveaways and savings opportunities -- on her blog Lille Punkin' Reviews. Her blog has helped her to become a brand ambassador for companies such as WISK, Energizer, and Sharpie, and it is her primary blog for the Walmart Moms program.

How long have you been a review blogger? 

I started in June of 2007, when I found myself with a new baby and lots of purchased products that I fell in love with.

What led you to start or pursue a review blog?  

I kept getting asked by family and friends about the things I was using for my baby, and since I had already been doing a family blog for a few months, I thought it would be fun to start a second one just for reviews.  At the time, I didn't know of any other review blogs, but I knew that I wanted it to be like the product editorial sections of the magazines I was reading.  I also thought it would be a great way to polish my writing skills, as I was determined to get a writing career off the ground over the next 2 years.

Are you full time or part time?  If part-time, do you anticipate switching to full time?  

I write and blog full time, but my work at Lille Punkin' takes up only 5-10 hours per week.  Since it's my primary blog for most of my "mommy blogging" pursuits (I no longer publish my family blog publicly), I make sure to devote a good amount of time each week on its maintenance, marketing, and content.  

How do you market your review blog?  

I practice some of the more traditional methods of promotion, including the Networked blogs feature on Facebook, Tweeting out the more entertaining (but not all) of my posts, and RSS feeds.  I also have a double opt-in newsletter for subscribers to receive a once or twice-monthly update from us, which includes a recap of our best reviews, alerts to product recalls, and a chance to win a subscriber-only prize pack.  You have to be subscribed to win, so it's a fun way to attract new readers and subscribers.
I have also tried many different marketing tools over the years, including Entrecard and Chick Chick Media.  I'm not too quick to adopt these types of tools unless I can see it's a good return on my advertising investment, however, as Lille Punkin' has lower earnings than some of my other blogs, and I want to keep costs low, as well.

What is your favorite part of having a review blog?  

You would think that it is all the packages I receive in the mail, but in reality, each package represents 1-3 hours of work!  I really enjoy the opportunities to work with companies on charitable project.  This Christmas, for example, we were able to donate over 100 Zhu Zhu Pets to the local Toys for Tots program, as well as work with Walmart to provide food and toys to other local charities.  

What one question do you get most from people about your review blog?  

"How do you get so many great opportunities?"

I've been blessed to get offered many fun and valuable products to review over the years, including vacuums, baby gear, restaurant meals, and video game systems.  I answer by reminding them that it took almost a year to get my blog to a point that companies were coming to me to offer product for review.  In an average day, I'll get 7-10 emails asking about a review, and sometimes, I'll get things in the mail in an unsolicited manner (which I highly discourage.)  When I began my blog in 2007, this type of thing didn't happen, so I either wrote about the products that I had purchased myself, or I approached a company very carefully with an offer to review their product.

It's taken over 3 years of careful planning, professionalism, and patience to be where I'm at.  I hope people that get into review blogging understand that it won't happen overnight.

What one myth or misconception do you want to dispel about having a review blog?  

That it pays the bills or it can somehow replace buying what you need/want.

Sure, you sometimes get really cool stuff that can cause your food budget to go down a little each month.  (5 boxes of cereal is cool!)  Since the review business is so fickle, however, you are more likely to get items that need a little help with their marketing and promotion (like a flat iron or a special vitamin), and not those items that you would use every day. Also, since there is such a fine line to walk regarding getting payment for product reviews, there are fewer companies that will actually pay for a review, leaving review bloggers to find other avenues to keep their blogs profitable (or at least earning their expenses each month.) *Note: Linsey doesn't accept payments for the "reviews" on her blog, but does for other promotions and editorial content.

I try to think of my review blog as part of my platform.  It helps me get noticed by brands, publishers, and ad networks, and sometimes introduces me to some pretty nice perks! I wouldn't expect to ever get rich off of review blogging, however.

What advice do you have for others who want to get into a similar opportunity?   

Start writing... today.  I mean it.

Research other review blogs and see what they are doing right (that you like) and what they are doing wrong (that you don't like.) Use this as a loose model for getting started.  You can always tweak your focus later, if need be.

What is the first step?   

Get your blog up and running, and set a schedule to write regularly about products you are already buying and loving.  Be sure it is an item that you can honestly speak about, however, because most people can tell if you've actually used the item.  Keep writing and promoting until you have a nice readership (giveaways help a lot!)  If you have to pony up some prizes from your own pocket at first, it's worth it to build a nice readership.  Also, it helps to keep your review either positive, balanced, or fair in their negativity.  Product pushers (PR peeps) won't want to take the chance on a blogger who seems to be schizophrenic about their reviews -- not knowing if they will get a positive review or damaging feedback.

 Once you feel like you've proven yourself as a blogger (good backlog of content, highly searchable post titles, etc.) you can market and connect with PR companies.  I suggest following smaller companies on Twitter, following their feeds to see if they are looking for reviews.  Facebook is also a nice way to connect.  I would avoid emails asking for product unless you really have a special connection with it (You've been using it for 20 years and named your first child after it) or something similar.  There are a lot of review bloggers asking for product via email right now, and your request could get lost in the noise. 

I would also recommend getting connected with some review blogging groups.  Some of the most notable ones seem to have lots of bloggers, so it may take a while to get your first review opportunity.  The newer, smaller ones will be likely to take a newbie on with less traffic and influence.  Here is a list of ones you can start with: (Note: We are aware of several other programs available to bloggers, some of which charge a fee.  Because we are confident in the offerings of the free programs listed below, we will not be including any paid blogger programs in our list at this time.)

General Mom and Review Blogging Programs
Team Mom
Mom Central
House Party

Book Reviews
Book Sneeze

Other Paid Blogging Sites
Sponsored Reviews

Review Bloggers Clubs and Groups
The Product Review Place

Niche Sites / Misc
Catholic Company Review Program
Growing Tree Toys

What websites or books do you recommend for tips?  

See the above sites for places to start.  I also recommend following some of your favorite review blogger's RSS feeds, and watching how they conduct business.  I'm not talking about being a copycat, just getting a basic feel for industry standards.  And of course, be sure to read up on disclosure!  Those that want to get into review blogging in full force, may want to check out the 2011 Reviewer's Retreat coming up in May.  I'm moderating a panel on the Nuts and Bolts of Review blogging, which is certain to provide some great info!
Want to know more? Check out our 1099 Mom's Review Blog at Lille Punkin' Reviews.  Find her on Twitter and Facebook!  

(Have an idea for our next "I Want to Be" article? Contact us with the work-at-home career that you want to know more about.  Have a great career and want to share?  Tell us about it!)

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  1. You're welcome! And if any of you share additional resources for obtaining review opportunities, share them here!

  2. What a great interview! It definitely helped me out.

  3. Wonderful, Nicole! Glad we could be useful ;)


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