How to Work With Brands and Build Successful Relationships

How to Work With Brands and Build Successful Relationships


Here is the first thing you need to ask yourself: What is my brand? Then we can move forward…

Marla Meridith self portraits

“How do you work with brands?” is one of the most common questions I get asked in emails and at conferences. For those of you who visit here just for recipes please excuse this small diversion of topic. I like to switch things up from time to time. If you are anything like me maybe you want to stick around read this. You never know when you might learn something new.

Before we begin in this journey, please cast your daily votes for my Thai Spiced French Fries. Every vote, every day counts. Really. Be sure to enter my giveaway for a brand new 7 Qt KitchenAid Stand Mixer too.

Man with little boy and girl in white towel. Dad with little brother and sister.

See that photo of my sweethearts? I have that image there so I can keep my priorities in check. The needs and love for my precious family governs everything I do.

The discussion of working with brands comes up often and it is a topic I have been asked to speak on at conferences including TECHmunch and the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Whip attachment for KitchenAid mixer Marla Meridith Photography

Define You

You go way beyond your blog name. Who are you?

What is your story, angle and elevator pitch? Here is mine:

“As the creator of the highly successful lifestyle blog, Marla has great experience in healthy recipe development, food styling, photography, social media and graphic design. She has been published in various print publications, around the web and been on TV. She has an upbeat, fresh style and personality that is captured in her vibrant whole food recipes and lifestyle & travel photograph. Marla is the proud mother of two small children. She delicately balances a life filled with great ambitions, athletics, parenting and lots of travel.”

Before you can work with brands you must define who you are and what you stand for. What are your strengths? You also need to know your weaknesses. Defining your weaknesses will only make you stronger. Do it.

Stay true to you. When other people are all dressed up I would rather be wearing cowboy boots with my Lululemon workout clothes. That is who I am. If you are meant to score the book deal, ambassador program, magazine spread, etc then you will. Brands will believe in you if you believe in you.

Park City Utah Burns Saddley boot store

What is your Brand?

All of our blogs look different and thank goodness for that. When someone lands on our blog homepage we want them to know they are in a special place. How does the look, feel and energy of your blog reflect you? Brands want to get to know you quickly and easily. Think of your blog as one GIANT business card. Make it simple, quick and easy to navigate and be sure it looks spectacular.

Do you blog about health, baking, hunting? Are you vegan, a carnivore or gluten free? What drives you and feeds your soul with life and great passion? Not only should each and every blog post reflect who you are, have an about page that tells people more about you.

I am a cowboy boot wearing, Caffe Americano aficonado, mom of 2 who loves to ski and take beautiful photos of food and life. I eat healthy and cook high energy great for you food. I live in the OC and escape to Telluride, CO as often as possible. I am petite but make up for that with a BIG voice.

San Juan Mountains, Telluride CO skier in pink ski jacket

What is Your Background?

If you want to be treated like a professional then you must present yourself as one. I used to work for Disney, Warner Bros., Scholastic and many huge brands. My job was graphic and textile design. My strengths are visual. These days I have transferred those talents over to my love for food and travel. That love is seen in my photography. I have always seen life through color and light.

Learning photography takes lots of patience and practice, that practice is paying off in a new career…based off my background and history.

Kids walking with dad in a rain storm. Live Life Beyond Your Blog

Take charge of your life and step away from your computer. Go on a walk, take pictures, give your kid a hug. Do yoga, run, lift weights. Go to the movies, call an old friend. Ski the highest mountain you can find. Connect with life.

The more you do the more you will get done. I firmly believe in the idea of the busier you are the more you get done. Greg from Sippity Sup, Marissa from Ridiculously Efficient and I spoke about that concept in our panel on Time Management at the IFBC conference this weekend.

Divert when you need diversions and focus when you need to. Your clients will pick up on your vibe and energy. When in doubt “act as if.”

Marla Meridith travel photography

What are your Strengths?

Embrace and market what you are best at. I love creating healthy whole food recipes. I also love food styling and photography. Blogging and writing is fun too. My passions shine in my blog posts. Make your strengths sparkle. They will set you free and keep you loving what you do.

The photography aspect is turning into something bigger and larger than life as time goes on.

Baked oatmeal breakfast with pomegranate seeds, nuts and mint leaf. Seek Help When You Need It

Are you a wonderful graphic designer? Great, then you can design your own blog. Do you need help with that kind of thing? Not a problem. There are many resources out there that can help get you started. You can spend a lot or a little. Look at the blogs you love the most and ask those folks who designed it. Often they have this information in their side bar or the footer of their blog.

Think of your blog as your home. If you are looking to invite readers and brands into your virtual home you might want to tidy up before they arrive. Also,answer your virtual doorbell quickly. What I mean by that is, make sure everything works well behind the hood, your loading time, navigation, etc. Make things clean and easy.

We designed all aspects of ourselves. Thankfully my admin is also the father of my children. family photo

Maintain Your Image Both Online and For Reals

The longer you blog them more you will come in contact with brands at conferences and events. Dress nice, look your best and *smile* Be the best you can be. If you are having a telephone meeting have as few distractions as possible in your path. Remember this is business and you are a professional.

Also remember that Twitter and Facebook are public forums. You probably don’t know all of the people who follow you. Be careful what you say and how you say it. Have fun with it, but be mindful.

Man hiking in Telluride CO

Define Your Personal and Business Goals

Do you have kids, pets, a mortgage, real life expenses? I bet you have at least 2 of those in your life. Face it life costs money. The more you want to do the more money it will take to do it. As unique individuals we are willing to accept many different kinds of offers. Calculate the offers you accept carefully. I have built relationships in many different ways. Know what you want and go for it in the way that works for you. Please remember though:

  • A free cheese stick does not pay the rent.
  • A free bottle of olive oil does not pay for a season ski pass.
  • 50 cent coupons do not pay for your health insurance.
  • Life costs money.
  • The PR person on the other side of the phone and the people at the corporate offices are all getting paid. They do not work for free nor should you.
My kids goals are to eat as much ice cream as possible…
Little kids eating big ice cream waffle cones

Read All Contracts Completely

Always remember that contracts are legal documents. Once you sign them you are bound for a term. The term can be 60 days or a lifetime.

Read every single word of those contracts…

I cannot stress that enough. Sometimes the beginning of the contract is harmless. Once you get to page 2 or 3 things can get nitty gritty. If you do not have the time or understanding to read your own contracts be sure that you can have someone else do it. Depending on the complexities and money involved you might even need to hire a lawyer. *gasp*

That is Lola. I met her this summer in Telluride. She takes no bull..

Boxer dog in Telluride Colorado

Recently I received a contract that went like this: Brand X wants me to develop recipes with photos for them. Yes, they are paying me for this. On page 3 of the contract it states that they will have exclusive rights to the recipe and all of my photography from those posts. Um NOT.

It would cost them a fortune to have those photos taken in house or anywhere for that matter. I am having that contract re-written with my terms. I granted a non-exclusive use for my work. Anything above and beyond the terms we set will require them to pay me more. Your contract needs to state how and when clients can use your material. Clearly. Find yourself an agent if needed, they can negotiate this stuff for you.

Do not do work for hire. That means you have given up all rights to your photos and other material. I would never do this.

Vegan gluten free, sugar free pear sauce with carrots yogurt parfait

Media Statistics & Rate Sheet

Have all important information in one place so you can work on pitches quickly and efficiently. Set up some PDF’s with all the info that a potential client or sponsor could ever need. When they come calling all you need to do is attach those documents in your email. While you are at it keep a signed 1099 tax form available.

Remember you are running a business and must behave like one.

Telluride, CO Town Park. Mom with kids in park. Do Not Settle

Be true to yourself, your mission and your greater needs. You are your own boss and you manage your own destiny. Do what works for you. Never let anyone talk you into things that you know in your heart might not be the best fit. Remember those mouths you have to feed and the roof over your head. The right opportunities will happen.

Silly kids plate with herbs and micro greens

Be Picky, Mindful and Have FUN

I do not settle for mediocrity. I am a go BIG or go home kinda gal. When I choose ingredients I want the best. Travel time is precious and I make the most out of that too. I am on this earth for one go around and I want to make a BIG splash. Mindful behaviors will set you free. Choose clients and brand partners that make you shine. Then make them shine too.

No matter what, try to have fun. Put a smile on your face even when you don’t want to. Act goofy. Goofy is good.

Little boy lying down on a street acting like a dog

Respect and Integrity Goes Both Ways

If you make promises be sure to keep them and the same goes for the brands you choose to work with. Leap with careful and mindful intent….

Little girl jumping up to reach a Swiss flag in Telluride CO

If it Feels Weird Don’t Do It

Recently a guy from an appliances company (he calls himself the Fairy Hobmother, go figure) contacted me to run a text link for Bosch appliances. He sent me an gift card and promised to award one of my readers the same in a giveaway. I happily emailed Ian the winner. The email bounced back 3 times. Ian cannot be found. I then contacted Appliances Online and they never responded (see below). Lookout for Fraud. Just sayin’

The $50.00 gift card ended up coming out of my pocket. My brand is true, strong and honest. Others do not have such good intentions. I was just about to report them to the Better Business Bureau when…

Great news! The blog community comes together quickly. Bloggers were horrified about that fairy tale gone wrong. They too had been contacted by the Fairy Hobmother and had only positive reviews. What I have come to find out was that Ian left the company without reporting our open ended deal. Alex has taken over and will be putting the money back into my account. This situation can be filed under: Seek Help When You Need It

Little boy in blue spider man shirt with big smile on his face.

Be True, Honest and Follow Your Dreams

Do what feels right and best for you. Ultimately at the end of the you need to *smile* BIG.

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96 Responses to How to Work With Brands and Build Successful Relationships

  1. Haha, your son is pretending to be a dog in that one picture, isn’t he?! Speaking of your kids, I think I have the same goals as them… eating as much ice cream as I can 😉

    I love when you do “breather” sort of posts here and share great advice on blogging! Your advice is always straightforward and I appreciate that.

    • Hi Liz…YAY! You are the first commenter on this post. I hope it is well received. It is always interesting to put this stuff out there.
      Yes, my son is acting like a dog. At first we were telling him to get up off the ground as we were not sure what the heck he was doing. When we realized all the fun he was having we were all giggles. So happy I captured that moment in photos.
      Glad you like this “breather” post :) xo

  2. this is an awesome post, Marla – thank you!

    I have two contracts I am currently reading and deciding on – your experience and advice REALLY help me here – I am bookmarking this and will be taking the time tomorrow to reread the contracts and gather my thoughts about them.

    I appreciate this – I love when people teach and support in this community – and I appreciate you!

    • Kris, glad I could help you out. Remember that you have all of the time you need on those contracts. No one should ever rush you into signing them. Sometimes I have to read them over and over to understand the language. Also be sure to take notes on anything you have questions about. If they really want to work with you then they will graciously take the time to settle on terms that work for both of you. Never assume anything and always ask questions. Also, review contracts at your sharpest time of the day, which for me is the morning. Best of luck and I hope you get to sign a contract that works for you.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! It gives me a lot to mull over. I share all of your convictions and philosophy about being true to yourself and your brand.

    How do you handle the business/tax end of blogging? Are you a set up as a small business? I’ve started to ask around a bit and everyone seems to be doing different things.

    • Natalie, we do have an LLC. Most of my business we run as a sole proprietorship It is important to keep all of your pay stubs and mark what is income and which are expenses. Keep receipts too. It can be tricky as a freelancer and a good tax accountant can help with all the nitty gritty.

  4. Marla, amazing post. A gem. I know you put major time into this post and it encompasses so much of what I think and believe, and touches on things we’ve talked about and things that everyone should be mindful of and has such great insight.

    Love this part:

    ” A free cheese stick does not pay the rent.
    A free bottle of olive oil does not pay for a season ski pass.
    50 cent coupons do not pay for your health insurance.
    Life costs money.
    The PR person on the other side of the phone and the people at the corporate offices are all getting paid. They do not work for free nor should you.”

    Amen sista!

    And I wish I woulda been able to see you (And Matt!) in Santa Monica this weekend but we’ve got our bases covered for some catch up time….soon :)

    • Averie, this post touches on exactly the things that you and I discuss all the time. It is so important that our voices and concerns get heard. I believe that together as a team we will all succeed….if we stay true to our own needs, desires and passions. See you soon girl! Can’t wait :) xxoo

  5. This is such a wonderful post. I’m so glad that you share your experiences and knowledge with your readers. I really learn a lot from this post, and from your other blog posts as I always do. I started blogging for more than a year now….and I had my fair shares of “mistakes” along the way. hahaha…this post would have save me from a few for sure. 😉 So, thank you for sharing, from the bottom of my heart. Love your quote, “Be True, Honest and Follow Your Dreams”.

    • Hi Leanne, glad I could help you feel great about your decision. We all need to help each other out with this stuff from time to time :) Happy you did not settle. The more we all band together on our values as our own brands should help us to succeed. Companies will eventually come around to learn they need to pay us good money to work with them. Some thankfully have all ready gotten to that point.

  6. WOW!

    As a complete newbie, I hadn’t thought about a lot of these things. I’ve been blogging a few months, but I do want to build a brand and a future. This is fantastic! Definitely pinning this for continually reference. :-)

    Thank you for all of this great roadmap. And I agree with Kitchen Belleicious, you are an inspiration!!! :-)

  7. Omg on the Appliance Guy! WTH?! I refuse to accept gift cards as any sort of payment. Just seems sketchy to me. All good points Marla! Il. Bet you’d give away exclusive rights to a recipe & photograph if the offer to develop them were awesome. I’ve done it as part of a contract before. I figure that it’s more of the recipe development aspect of my biz instead of my blog.

  8. Thank you for an informative and well written post. Along with the importance of reading a contract, it is equally important to be willing to negotiate in order to get the changes that you want in a contract.

  9. Such a great post, Marla. My favorite part was where you talk about staying true to yourself. I think so many people (bloggers or otherwise) tend to change over time based on what they think is expected of them, or what will make them more money in the end. I love your outlook!

  10. Great post and advice! As a newbie, I appreciate your advice! And what’s up with the appliance guy??!! So sorry that happened to you. That’s my fear of dealing with people I don’t know. Hard not to be trusting but having to pay things out of your own pocket is so unfair. Glad you included his name in your post so we can all stay away!! I’m sure karma will get him… :)

  11. I reaaaally appreciate this. I still consider myself pretty new to things and it can be so overwhelming and downright scary sometimes. It really helps to see all these down in writing. Thank you for taking the time and writing some of your own experiences into this post as well 😀

  12. Fabulous post, Marla. I found myself nodding and mm-hmm’ing through every word, and I too learned a lot from your wisdom! Thanks so much for taking the time to put this all forward–you are quite remarkable, but, then again, I think we knew that already. xo

  13. Marvelous post! I am just treading the surface with PR firms and brands. Thank you so much for your advice. I’m sure I’ll refer back to this post as time goes by. Thanks, Marla!

  14. Hey Marla- what a great and very generous post. “Go big or go home” – I think that every single day! You are an inspiration for working moms everywhere. You seem to have struck the perfect balance of work and family-congratulations, obligations and dreams!

  15. Great tips Marla. I have gotten some crazy offers, things I personally think are ridic, but others would probably thank their lucky stars if they got the same offers. And I really don’t want to think down to others that take those offers, they’re just not for me. Although I’m with you and want to shake people who work for what I consider to be peanuts. I think it brings down our whole “industry” if you can call it that. But in a few years I am sure, or at least I hope, I will look at the stuff I am doing now and think what the heck was I thinking? So I guess there’s perspective too, that completely depends on each individual’s financial situation and long term goals.

    • Angie…me too: “in a few years I am sure, or at least I hope, I will look at the stuff I am doing now and think what the heck was I thinking?” I know lots will change in our biz that will benefit us greatly! We just need to always do what is best for us & in our best interests. Only we can decide that on a case by case basis.

  16. What a great post. I don’t have a blog, but your advice is applicable to life in so many ways other than blogging, so Thank you for that!
    Love the quote below!
    “No matter what, try to have fun. Put a smile on your face even when you don’t want to. Act goofy. Goofy is good.”

    Sometimes I need to be reminded of that :)

  17. What a great post! I have been contacted (several times) by the Hobmother guy but have always ignored the email. Now I’m glad I did!

    While I’m still little in the eyes of the blog world it’s still great to hear how others are running their blog…or in your case, your business. I have been self employed for years so I’m familiar with how 1099’s work but it I’m amazed at how many bloggers I speak with have no idea. Getting free products, trips and monies all have to be reported. It’s not just a blog, it’s a business.

  18. Thank you for this post! I am learning more and more to be true to myself and what I want Jem of the South to be. So many are trying to define me, but I’m learning how to keep my focus as to why I started my blog. Thanks for the insight into working with brands as well. I’ve had a couple of opportunites and some totally didn’t fit me, but I felt like I needed to take them to get my name out there. I’m learning that it’s okay to say no. Like you said, the right opportunities will come. :-)

  19. Marla, thank you for sharing your experiences in a factual and honest manner. Each of us has a different gift, and defining who we are as bloggers evolves over time. Your reminder that we should not sell ourselves cheap, but make sure we get what we want and deserve is so true. Although I started my blog without any idea where it would lead business wise, I am at a cross road on where to go next, as it is a lot of work with no monetary reward. So, I take to heart every word in this post and thank you my friend for being so generous with your advice.

  20. Great post Marla and fabulous tips for bloggers and other types of business’s out there too. I love the pictures and links, plus all of the thought and passion you put into this one. All so true! I just spoke recently on this topic to an entrepreneurial group. I could have added some of these into my talk… xoxoxo

  21. As always – Chapeau – you rock the world of blogging and it’s so great to hear all this super useful advice – my fav bit is about the cheese stick not paying the mortgage and people for big companies being paid so why shouldn’t you – so so important – my new moto – work less get paid more! Just sayin!

  22. “Take charge of your life and step away from your computer.” Bravo! Agreed!…I feel like so many people these days are confusing ”living their lives” with living ON THE COMPUTER. The world is so incredible and it’s constantly changing, so I agree, get out, make your memories…and then come back and share :)

  23. Marla, You must have been excited, exhilarated and a little nervous creating this blog and hitting post. Your heart and soul are so visible, bold and unapologetically beautifully in it! It’s so you and it’s so AMAZING! Everybody loves this post because it is so full of everything you are and everything stand for through and through. Bravo! I don’t know how you get deeper and even better but you continue to amaze and inspire me (and apparently so many others). This is great relevant advice for everybody, not just the bloggers.

    Your pictures are so BEAUTIFUL! There is so much beautiful art that people are exposed to these days. Yours also happens to be emotionally moving to motivate people to take some kind of action. See things differently, do things differently, feel differently.

    Love seeing all of the pictures of you. My favorites are the cowboy boots, self portraits, Ross hugging the kids in blankets, your little gal jumping for the flag, your happiness skiing and all of the rest of them too. :-))

    Inspired and moved,
    xxoo, your friend, andrea

    • Andrea, gosh not sure I know what to say. You are amazing. I love when you stop by my friend. It thrills me that I can help to inspire friends & people I know who are not bloggers. I was hoping this message would touch the hearts of everyone who reads it. We can all take something away from these principles. I love hearing the experiences you all
      share too. We can always grow….& learn. xxoo

    • Ashley, I recently posted an update to this situation. As it turns out Ian (the Fairy Hobmother) left the company and did not share my account with his team. Thankfully a few bloggers responded to this and got me in touch with the new contact over there. This issue has now been reconciled and Appliances Online has paid what they promised. This never would have happened had I not made the issue public as AI did not reply to my emails…

  24. This post is amazing, Marla. I have been blogging nearly six years but have only been working with brands for the past eighteen months. Everything in your post is all “common sense” stuff when it comes to blogging and working with brands, but when you are very young in the blog/brand world, these are all points you don’t stop to consider at first.

    Thanks so much for this…. Given me lots to think about and reconsider when it comes to my blog and work.

    — Rachel

    • Rachel, girl you are so right. This stuff is such common sense. For me sometimes I need the obvious thrown in my path in order to take it seriously! Thanks for the taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment :)

    • Katrina, I agree. With the help from you and a few other great blogger pals the situation with the “Fairy Hobmother” worked itself out :) LOVE our generous, fun & honest community of like-minded friends. We have each others backs that is for sure!

  25. One of the things I enjoy most about your blog is that the business side of it is an afterthought to me as a reader. I enjoy the content, not the giveaways. Well…I’d like that 7qt KitchenAid as much as the next commenter, but I’m here for the content. Thanks for all you have to offer.

  26. Dear Marla, thank you for the fantastic “free” advice interspersed with your gorgeous pics. I know that this advice did not come free to you. As a business owner who works with many start-ups I believe that sharing information is key but drawing the line at some point is necessary too. Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving, Amy B.

  27. You are the best Marla. Really you are. I look forward to the day I get to meet you in person. This post is fantastic. Questions that rumble through my head daily are now crystal clear. Well, almost. Thank you so much for this post. I love bloggers who share their wisdom!!!


    • Heather, I look forward to meeting you someday soon too! It is fun and frustrating to figure all of this stuff out. Sometimes things are “crystal clear” other times not so much. When they confuse me I head out on a walk & get some exercise to clear my mind :) Better yet… I ski. When I can 😉

  28. Wonderful advice, Marla. This is a great list for newcomers in business, as well as for those who are more established. It’s always important to be reminded of what is important. Beautiful photos too, as always.

    • Thanks Georgia, I think it important that we remind each other of essential business practices no matter how seasoned we are in the biz. I learn from you guys all the time!

  29. Thanks Marla! This is such a wonderful resource for bloggers (or really anyone) looking to work with brands & companies. It’s so important to know who you are first and foremost and to never settle. So glad you stated that.

    Also, now I want to skiing.

  30. Excellent information and tips here Marla! Thank you. This post is so useful especially for bloggers who have just started working or getting approached by companies..I am extremely careful now with everything as I had a rather negative experience in the past with doing some free reviews – just because the same product is endorsed by other bloggers does not mean it’s ‘safe’ :). Due diligence is always needed!

  31. This was a really good read for me, especially right now. I am finding that my blog is more and more in demand for PR opportunities. While it’s exciting, it’s also overwhelming and I have to pick and choose. I am not always good at it, I hate turning people down! But I do, especially when the product isn’t right for my blog.
    Your part about reading a contract and setting some of your own terms was helpful.
    I will say this…sometimes the opportunity doesn’t pay much…or anything. But if I know it to be a good product, I still think it’s worthy of working with them. it really depends, but I think it can build relationships that may become financial in the future.

    • D, back at you girl. I will always remember how much fun I had with you in Mexico. Wish I could get to know you better…. I know we would have loads to catch up on :) I am so glad you like this post & the sincerity behind it. xxoo

  32. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post! While I already know most of the points you mention, and am continuously working on them, I definitely need reminders! Excellent tips and wording, not to mention gorgeous photos!

    “A free cheese stick does not pay the rent.” made me laugh out loud :)

  33. Marla, you’re posts are always from the heart, authentic and have a unique twist, and that, my friend, is why you are a success in the world of blogging. There are plenty of bloggers out there that hold onto all of their insight, tips and tricks but those like you, who share, are the success stories, the bloggers who earn their credibility and with hard work, but true voice, earn their readers and respect from fellow bloggers. Thanks for sharing so many insights and thoughts with all of us, can’t wait to check out all of your suggested links. XOXO & Happy New Year to you and the fam.

    • Heidi, thanks so much for this. Coming from you these observations mean a whole lot. From what I gather, you have been around the professional creative world for quite some time like me. I have always known that hard work, honesty and commitment pays off big time. No matter what field of life you are in. Thanks for inspiring me to keep on keeping on :) xo

  34. This is such an amazing article and is still relevant two years later. Three years later I’m just finding myself in my blog, and despite my country where people don’t take it seriously and are happy to pay me with loads of food and no cash, I want to break out of that. The free cheese stick thing is serious! I got sent packs of food to cook recipes with (that I would still own) and instead of a free dinner each week they sent 4 packs one time, three of which were spoilt by the time I could make them. I’m so happy that food bloggers are finally being taken seriously in several parts of the world and you’re article has convinced me not to make my country’s limits be my limits.

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