Founder of MamaBake Michelle Shearer and blog partner Karen Swan.
Founder of MamaBake Michelle Shearer and blog partner Karen Swan.

Mummy bloggers making money by telling it like it is

NO DOUBT you have read them, those often hilarious accounts of family life and invaluable how-to guides that not only add meaning to the mundane but also act as a lifeline to all of us caught up in the squalls of parenthood.

The number of blogs by mums, new ones and old, has grown astronomically in the past decade giving a voice both to those mothers trying to make sense of the changes the little people bring and the women who feel empowered by reading them.

They started innocuously enough, just little stories written by women in milk-stained pyjamas and ratty hair, reaching out to the outside world while their babies napped. For some, it was a way of keeping a family journal, a way of articulating the juggle of modern motherhood.

For others, who had enjoyed promising careers before the arrivals of their life-changing bundles, blogs became a vehicle to keep the brain sharp, an opportunity for self-expression during a time when you often feel unheard.

But words can make an impact and these certainly did. Suddenly, here were people telling you that you were not alone; their babies were crying too, that they too hadn't done the laundry or cleaned the house. The shared experiences, good and bad, created communities with mums talking and listening in a space that never really sleeps and with it came the online phenomenon that is mummy blogging.

"When I started writing my blog Sticky Fingers in 2008 it was as a sort of online diary for my family," says Tara Cain, the top blogger in the United Kingdom. "I wanted to remember the highs, the lows and the quite frankly bizarre things that are so easy to forget as the kids grow up. I love being able to chart what we're going through as a family and interacting with other bloggers.

"When I write that my five-year-old is tear-your-hair-out infuriating sometimes and that I feel the whole weight of Mother Guilt on my shoulders for even thinking it, a whole community of others come along and yell: 'Us too, us too' and I don't feel so alone."

True, the term mummy blogger itself can be problematic as often it is used in a tone that implies that these are writers without any significance or intelligence, almost an implicit dismissal of women and their voices as if being a mother is an insult to one's identity.

Yet these women blog about so much more than being a mother, their influence is real and it did not take long for advertisers to recognise their commercial worth.

The digital world has changed the way in which we do business and has made it possible for people to explore their entrepreneurial savvy outside rigid company structures. And that is what these women are doing, using their creativity, knowledge and resilience, the very fabric of their lives even to maximise their earning potential.

As blogs become more influential, attracting thousands of visitors each week, brands are sitting up and taking note, finding unique ways in which to partner with bloggers, and in so doing, open up their offerings to a new audience.

Marketing firms spruiking products ranging from toothbrushes and clothing to electronic gadgets, family holidays, even cars have come knocking in droves. In fact, most popular bloggers are so inundated with requests by public relations firms that they have hired agents to sort through the offers.

It is hardly surprising, though, given there are more than four million mummy bloggers on the web, each with a substantial network that can be leveraged by corporate and social media. Australians spend more time visiting blog sites every week than their counterparts in the US and United Kingdom, which gives some indication of why companies here are eager to use the pull of mummy bloggers.

Research by blogging network Nuffnang shows that 89% of readers are swayed by a blogger's review of a product or service and would try it on that basis while 92% have used a search engine to find out more about a brand after reading about it on a blog post.

Bloggers can make money in a number of different ways. Aside from actual on-site advertising and free samples or holidays, they can also be paid for sponsored posts, reviews and product placement. For the really successful among that number, there is the lucrative speaking circuit, consulting partnerships and book deals.

For some commentators this brings up the question of whether readers are being exploited for commercial gain, and while this is a grey area in terms of the law, most mummy bloggers are adamant that authenticity is in fact their greatest asset, saying they only endorse products they believe in and go to great lengths to ensure followers know when a post is paid.

Mrs Woog, author of celebrated Sydney blog Woogsworld, says the money received from marketers helps fund her writing.

"But am I selling out? No. Selling out to what?," she has said. "I have to think about my community first and the rest comes second. You have to be discerning about who you accept. It's a case-by-case basis. You have to have an awareness of what is going to work."

Susanna Scott, the founder of British Mummy Bloggers, agrees saying there has to be transparency and integrity.

"I tried out a vacuum cleaner. I loved it, and I wrote about it - but I do write and say that this is a sponsored post," she said.

"If a blogger is working with a brand, you need to tell people. I think people have a right to know. I've sent things back before that I didn't think were appropriate. I sent back a spud gun once. I said 'sorry, I can't do a review on this'."

Michelle Shearer:

mambake.com

Blogging success came accidentally to Michelle Shearer, too, the former high-flying marketing executive finding her community courtesy of a dish of lasagne. Her Mamabake site is more like a social community than a blog with groups of mums around the country getting together to cook and share food and generally lighten the burden. Michelle and her blog partner Karen Swan facilitate the process by helping people get in touch with each other and providing recipes and resources.

"My son was around six-months-old and I was struggling with lack of sleep and had gone up to my daughter's school to pick her up and there at the gate was a this friend of mine with a beautiful lasagne for me," she recalls. "It was just out of the blue and I took it home and felt so free that I didn't have to worry about dinner. I even went for a surf. I thought how can we gift this time and this feeling to other mums because we all carry this burden of the constant thinking and prepping and cooking.

"Also, I had been given something and wanted to reciprocate immediately which is what a lot of mothers feel. So I thought let's do this for each other, we have to look after each other to ease the burden and become a collective of sorts. I threw it out there to a few friends and we had our first cooking get-together and had such a blast. "

Those friends told others and in a few weeks some 32 women were showing up for the cook-up, travelling from the hinterland to the North Coast town of New South Wales where Michelle lives. "It just went ballistic," Michelle says. "To make it easier, we thought of growing groups in other neighbourhoods and towns and we had to get organised pretty quickly to keep up with the demand."

Founder of MamaBake Michelle Shearer.
Founder of MamaBake Michelle Shearer.

But even more than that, Michelle's idea has served as the platform for the formation for some beautiful supportive friendships making a lasting impact on people's lives and helping new mums overcome those feelings of isolation and disconnect that are not uncommon when you have a baby.

Mamabake has not gone the route of sponsored posts and product placement, instead opting for premium membership packages to bring in funds. Michelle and Karen have also just put out their first book filled with recipes and weekly cooking plans.

"Look, I believe if women can make blogging work for them and earn a living, why not?" says Michelle. "The internet is just great in being able to create jobs and offer women a voice in this way. The community owns Mamabake and this generally dictates the direction in which we go. Yes, this is a job, but it is more important for us to encourage women to get out there and make life different for themselves and others.

"There is some remuneration but we are not rolling in money; it pays the bills and for a chef to do the meal plans and it allows us to do something we love. We are having to look at things like sponsored posts and a little kitchen shop because we have to evolve to grow. I think for us though the social enterprise side of Mamabake is what really matters."

Jody Allen:

Stayathomemum.com.au

Jody Allen is an inspiring example of what can really happen when necessity shapes your reality. Just five years ago, the Gympie mum was struggling to keep things together for her young family, looking for a way to stretch the family budget. Today she runs the most successful mummy blogging site in Australia with one million unique hits a month and employs 16 stay-at-home mums.

"This blog was never supposed to be a business," she admits openly. "I had been made redundant and had had two babies in 12 months. We were living on $50 a month to be able to afford our house and I was looking for ways to save money so I decided to start a Facebook group asking other people for their tips for saving money. It just took off from there and now we have six million page views a month and I get to write what I want. It is hard work but I get to help women. It's now not just a money-saving blog, it's about all issues that women face - childcare, domestic violence - all the important stuff."

Stay At Home Mum founder Jody Allen.
Stay At Home Mum founder Jody Allen.

Jody is instantly likeable and much of her appeal lies in the fact that people can identify with her life. Here, is a woman after all, who has thrown up on national television and makes a living out of her imperfections. On the day we speak, she has just come back from the school run wearing two different coloured shoes. Certainly, the former local council minutes clerk who exchanged writing about potholes for things she actually loves, is firmly planted in reality.

"For a long time I asked myself why my blog was successful but when I really think about it when I looked around at the other blogs on offer at the time they were all experts telling mums how it should be," she says. "My baby cried 16 hours a day and it wasn't helping me or making me feel good about myself. I hadn't got out of my pyjamas for four days and I was willing to share those things about my life and I think that's what resonated with people - there was someone out there who was telling them they didn't have to be perfect.

"My life is crazy; I still struggle to get out the house like every other mother, I still have to do the clean-up, I still have to make lunches, my life isn't different from anyone else, and that's what I want to get across to people too - that it's okay to sometimes be a mess."

Jody's how-to blogs offering practical solutions for everything from space-saving tips, to stopping jeans from fading, to helping your child learn sight words and maximising tax returns has made her blog a firm favourite, giving her followers invaluable advice for busy lives. She has managed to turn blogging into a job with the commercial benefits that implies and is not coy about broaching the subject. She's also a columnist in this magazine.

"It is hard work and it was three years before I made any money," she says. "People that think you get rich overnight are so wrong … and I am not rich, it certainly gives me a good life and pays the bills. But it is hard work because websites make money in so many different ways and you have to perfect it all. There are so many expenses like staff and insurances and the website itself so you can't do it unless you absolutely love it and I do.

"I only used advertisers of products I love and use already. I probably knock back 70% of the advertisers who approach me because the people that read you get to know you and they know when you are full of bulls**t."

Want more?

WE'VE pulled together a bunch of everyday mums to bring you a six-week series on everything to do with being a mum. Madam Butterfly Susie O'Neill will head the troupe and lead discussion on various topics each week from smacking and technology to heading back to work. Plus, don't miss the weekly video episodes. The series will feature in your Weekend magazine from June 11. Find more online at heymumma.com.au or get involved on our Hey Mumma Facebook page.



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