“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
I actually surprised myself when I went through my blog post archive and found that the only remotely similar content, I’d produced was advice on how to land a collaboration over one year ago. The fact there’s been so many new readers who might have missed that, and that I’ve had so many more experiences of collaborations that have taught me so much more; has meant that I thought I’d go ahead with the blog post which will be a complete jumble of absolutely everything you should know about collaborations…
CONSIDERATION & BLOGGING
I’d like to think that whether you’re a new or old reader, you wouldn’t think of me as a hypocrite in any way. So, when I thought that my first piece of advice around collaborations would be to put in some careful consideration, I couldn’t help but remember the fact that this is something I haven’t always done myself. Particularly in the very beginning of my blogging career…
I remember having a really productive 1:1 with my Key Nurse where I agreed to start writing about the abuse I’d experienced and allow the staff to read it. When I got back to my hospital bedroom my laptop was lying on the bed and I just had this belief that the plan to write things down about the trauma and actually let other people read about it, was a huge step forward in my mental health – it felt like a step towards recovery. And it came into my head that I really wanted to document the journey I believed I was about to embark on, and writing a word document felt kind of insignificant… I thought that if I’m going to let the staff who were pretty much strangers read about the most vulnerable time in my life, then why should my loved ones be kept in the dark?
I really wanted to provide my loved ones with better insight into what I was going through in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from them. No one had stopped supporting me or passed any sort of judgment/stigma; so, it was just my belief that if I didn’t talk about my thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and experiences, people would actually really struggle to appreciate and understand. And that could go onto mental health in general, because whilst I hate the thought of someone going through anything even remotely similar to what I have, I hoped that in having the courage to talk about my own mental health it would encourage others to speak up and get help too.
And so, with that passionate goal in mind, I’m NOT Disordered was born!
I’ve obviously been very fortunate in that my impulsive decision to start blogging has been extremely beneficial and is absolutely never regrettable; but it could have very easily gone the opposite way. I mean, over the last nine years of blogging, I’ve definitely experienced some very hard and challenging lessons that each had the potential to leave me quitting and throwing in the towel. So, it was with the thought of those possible outcomes that I decided to give doing collaborations some serious thought and consideration.
Aside from the worry that not carefully deciding before collaborating with others could leave me reluctant to continue blogging, I was also mindful of the impact it might have on a collaboration partner. I mean, if I hadn’t put any thought into it and then still committed to some joint content and then found I wasn’t good at it or didn’t enjoy it, I would really be at risk of letting down the other person/organisation and destroying any sort of reputation they or I/I’m NOT Disordered had.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OTHER BLOGGERS
In making a decision around something like this (collaborating) I think it’s only natural to sort of look to some sort of peer for inspiration, guidance, or influence. But there were really only three well known mental health blogs in 2013 and none of them were ran by a current psychiatric hospital inpatient (one blog was by an ex mental health service user, another was by a Policeman interested in mental health and the other one was by a psychiatric nurse). And whilst I’m quite grateful for this fact because it immediately provided me with the perfect little niche for, I’m NOT Disordered; it also meant that I didn’t feel as though there was really any guidance available. No one to turn to who already had the experience and could give me a ‘heads up’ or some kind of warning.
I think it was the lack of mental health blogs/bloggers that really led to me looking to other bloggers of different themes for inspiration and to form thoughts from their experiences. The two I’ve found the most useful and beneficial for myself and my content have been Zoe Sugg aka Zoella and Victoria Magrath aka InTheFrow.
Zoe started off doing a lot of beauty content and some fashion and then seemed to slowly and gradually move into a more generally theme of ‘lifestyle’ with vlogs of her day-to-day life and events etc and then the beginning of some mental health content around her diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder and experiences of panic attacks. The inspiration I took from her around collaborations in particular was that no matter how ‘large’ or ‘high up’ and ‘important’ the brand/company/organisation/person you’re collaborating with is; stay grounded. Never lose sight of who you are and where you/your blog began. Stay true to yourself and keep all the qualities your blog has.
My most current inspiration has been Victoria Magrath who primarily creates fashion and beauty related content, though she also features some general lifestyle and travel pieces. The way she inspired my thoughts and decisions around collaborations was in never stopping. Never thinking ‘I’ve done that, and I can’t do any better.’ Victoria always seems to strive for bigger and better content and collaborations. She doesn’t rest back on her laurels and become complacent with her success and her blog’s popularity; she continues to work hard and with bucket loads of passion and dedication.
Lacking in inspiration from mental health bloggers when it came to considering whether to begin doing collaborations on, I’m NOT Disordered, Zoe and Victoria very quickly became my sort of… trail blazers! And probably the best thing about neither of them being fully-fledged mental health bloggers, their inspiration demanded my creativity.
I mean, if I were a blogger in their industries, it’d be straight forward to see one of them blog for ASOS or a beauty brand and try to contact the company’s PR to work with them myself. Without this common theme though, I would see Victoria collaborate with Dior and Valentino and actually think; ‘what’s the mental health equivalent to that?’ And it led me to begin forming some sort of bucket list of organisations that I thought were the most monumental or influential in the mental health world. But I knew from seeing Victoria’s content that I couldn’t just expect such high-profile organisations to work with me and my blog straight away. I needed to build a reputation, a profile, popularity, and experience. And that would need to begin with smaller Trusts and charities who were really just as important and respectable, but who had less power and influence in the grand scheme of things.
PROS & CONS
The most predictable and relatable means of considering whether to begin featuring collaborations on your blog is probably to create some sort of list of pros and cons – whether that’s just in your head or on paper or on the screen – it’s basic but can actually prove to be really valuable. Which is why I thought about this part quite a lot… I mean the most obvious thing to do here would be to list my own pros and cons – the ones I’d genuinely thought of when making this decision – but you should know by now that I don’t always do things the predictable way!
When I put thought into featuring my pros and cons on here, the argument not to do that was mainly around the worry that my lists would make up your mind for you. I mean a post like this is always going to have influential aspects to it, but I felt that to list all the reasons why I chose to do collaborations and all the things that almost stopped me from doing them, could be seen more as pressure than influence. I also hate the thought that I might name something you hadn’t thought of that could end up being the deciding factor for your decision. And that wouldn’t feel right.
However, when I talked before about how an absence of mental health bloggers meant I learnt a lot of things ‘the hard way,’ that’s obviously not something I want others to go through if I can help it. So, if I can provide some sort of education and insight that might help someone in their thoughts around collaborations, then I want to do that…
So, with contradicting thoughts and feelings around this part of the post, and the worry that listing my pros and cons would possibly lead to some judgment on their validity and my own priorities; I just thought I’d advise you thinking up some reasons for and against collaborations; and to consider how important and essential they are for you. I mean, you could say that a con would be that a collaboration can take up additional time from your schedule, and a pro could be financial gain. Do either outweigh the other? And if you then thought of another con of being set deadlines by the collaboration partner, would that be any worse/more powerful at putting you off?
Think things through.
And when you’ve made your decision… think things through again!
FIVE WAYS TO COPE WITH DECISION-MAKING
I don’t know about anyone else, but I go from like… nought to sixty when it comes to making a decision – like I can either be really impulsive and just ‘go’ for something, or I can mull it over for so long that the opportunity has actually passed!
Now, a lot of professionals would likely see that I had a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and fully credit the illness for this erratic and unpredictable trait of mine. Which is just an example of how something completely unrelated can suddenly become a ‘symptom’ or just deemed to be generally ‘significant’ once someone has heard you’ve had a mental health diagnosis. But, if you can find me someone who has never struggled – not even once – to make a decision, let me know! It’s a perfectly typical difficulty!
Whilst struggling to make the decision isn’t a sign of mental illness, it can definitely and very obviously impact your mental health in terms of stress and frustration etc. So, here are a few essentials to maintaining good mental health whilst decision-making:
RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH
In all honesty, I used to find research a dull, monotonous task that just felt like a really boring way to spend my time. That attitude and mindset was really challenged though when I began featuring collaborations on, I’m NOT Disordered and very quickly learnt that research was actually really useful to it. I think it was similar to the pros and cons kind of thing where it was important for me to consider whether continuing to do collaborations was worth having to find some sort of interest or passion for research. Obviously, I decided that it was and then, in finding this motivation to do research, I felt encouraged to find a passion for it.
The two things I’ve found most essential to research when considering/pitching a collaboration are the organisations previous press campaigns and any collaborations with other bloggers, and their guidelines for pitches e.g., the form they’d like it in and the contact details for the most appropriate person or department.
Firstly – researching previous campaigns etc – so, I once submitted an article for a magazine and the feedback was that it wouldn’t be published purely because they’d featured a very similar piece about mental health not that long before. In all honesty, I felt a bit stupid and when someone said, “how were you meant to know they’d already published things like yours?” I was like “because I should’ve read other issues of it and done my research!” The stupidity evolved from that notion that had I just spent a little bit of time looking through their archives, I could have either written the article from a different angle, or just not submitted it at all. And having that basic knowledge that wouldn’t have taken much time or effort to gain, would have saved me from the embarrassment and the worry that there’d be no point every submitting anything again because I’d ruined any thoughts or impression, they might have had of me.
Being aware of other pieces published by whoever you want to collaborate with, isn’t just about making sure your pitch is appropriate, it’s also for you and your blog’s benefit too. Doing that research will give you some sort of information on the standard of work they can collaborate on producing. In addition to that, this research can also provide you with advanced insight into the popularity and general response their work tends to get from the general public and the press/media.
Researching how who you want to collaborate with prefers the way in which you pitch your idea to them and who it’s best to send it to; can be fundamental in landing the collaboration. Again, they’re things which take such little time to research and establish but knowing the method of pitch can ultimately result in your idea not being immediately scrapped because it’s an email and not a word document. And pitching to the right person can ensure there’s no chance of it landing in the wrong inbox and requiring time for it to be forwarded around to eventually reach the right one; by which point the idea might be ‘old news.’
There’s a mind map below of some of the other areas I believe are important to research in collaborations:
THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR FIRST COLLABORATION
So, my first collaboration on I’m NOT Disordered was with YoungMinds – who are a UK charity that focus on children and young people’s mental health. In all honesty, I can’t remember how it really came about, but I was actually still a psychiatric inpatient when I met with one of the staff from the charity in a hospital visiting room and I don’t have amazing memories from that time…
I remember being nervous though, and just really unsure on exactly what to do in the meeting… I mean, should I have a notebook and pen, or should I be typing up the notes onto my laptop? Should I lead the way and really navigate the meeting, or was that up to the collaboration partner? I mean, to say I had no idea what I was doing would feel like a massive understatement. And that – not knowing what was expected of me and what I could expect from the situation and others in it – was definitely a feeling I struggled with back then. There had been so many occasions in my mental health journey where I had felt certain that something would happen, and the exact opposite would occur. And it would throw me completely off balance and leave me questioning everything else in my life.
One thing I did know was that a collaboration with such a well-known and important charity would be a really defining moment for I’m NOT Disordered’s future. If it went well and I managed to do all the right things in that first meeting, then it could be huge! It could really put my blog on the map, and it could pave the way for future collaborations because people would hear how professional I had been and how amazing my ideas were! And in the media industry we all know how helpful word-of-mouth publicity is – especially in the blogging world.
Aside from helping to build your blog’s reputation, your first collaboration can also provide you with experience that could be used as inspiration for future content and collaborations. I mean, after my first few pieces for my YoungMinds collaboration and before I had even finished my work with them, I had found such a passion and felt so eager to do more work with others, that I contacted Time To Change (a campaign to reduce mental health stigma and discrimination). My YoungMinds work had already given me so much confidence and interest in collaborating that I ended up volunteering to do my very first event with Time To Change!
That new-found confidence from my first collaboration not only inspired me to seek out other opportunities and more collaborations; it also helped me to create better content for my blog in general. The YoungMinds collaboration was centred around their new campaign which would seek to confront the most challenging aspects of life for children and young people; and I made the decision to create multiple pieces of content that discussed each of the five challenges the charity had chosen to target in their ‘YoungMinds Vs’ campaign. Doing the collaboration this way, really inspired me to consider creating my own series of blog posts around one topic, and this spurred me on to begin doing ‘Blogmas’ and other Christmassy series’. These series ended up being some of my most popular content and attracted a whole host of new readers!
To see the beginning of my first collaboration pieces with YoungMinds:
And to read about that first event with Time To Change:
ALL THE BITS AND PIECES FOR YOUR FIRST COLLABORATION
Apple iPad: £319.00
iPad keyboard case: £28.04
Sigel Notebook: £21.67
Paper Mate Ballpoint: £6.00
iPad Tray: £31.18
THINGS TO INCLUDE WHEN PITCHING A COLLABORATION
Note: Remember to research your prospective collaboration partner’s preferences for pitches
1. Illustrate that you have knowledge of their previous content/media campaigns etc to show a dedication and interest in their work
2. Creativity in your collaboration idea and the way it is presented in your pitch to evidence that you can ‘think outside the box’ and be trusted to come up with original, appealing ideas
3. The level/gravity of your following and popularity on your social media and blog to provide encouragement and confidence that a collaboration will be beneficial for both parties
4. Don’t be afraid to sing your own praises and do a little ‘bragging’ by trying to subtly mention any achievements and milestones you and your blog have celebrated
5. Always be clear on your expectations of the prospective collaboration partner to avoid any miscommunication or heated debates later on
COPING WITH THE PRESSURE
Collaborations can come with a number of different pressures that might vary from maintaining your collaboration partner’s reputation to sticking to any deadlines.
Before my blogging career kicked off, I was historically incredibly unhealthy in coping with pressure – particularly in instances where I had no control over being asked for lots of details on my mental health e.g., Mental Health Act assessments and Capacity Act assessments. Me being very passionate about control in so many different aspects of life and at so many different levels of importance, is probably a big reason for my intolerance of pressure. Since pressure seems to be a problem when I’m not in control of a situation, I used to cope with this difficult emotion and the thoughts it led to through becoming withdrawn or irritable and at its worst, self-harm.
Now that I’m in recovery with my mental health and the unhealthy coping mechanisms I developed through my illness have become completely unappealing and virtually useless; I’ve learnt a lot of healthy, safe, and helpful methods for coping when there’s pressure in my blogging life – and in my life in general!
THE TRICK TO STAYING PROUD – EVEN WHEN IT GOES ‘WRONG’
A while ago, a previous collaboration partner of mine made a very public statement on a controversial issue that I didn’t agree with. To the point where I immediately wanted to completely distance myself and my blog from their name, their staff, and their new reputation which had been built from the responses their statement was receiving from so many people. Initially and almost automatically, I saw my work with them as regrettable and panicked that the drama they were causing was going to completely demolish all of the very hard work I’d put into building the reputation I’m NOT Disordered had in the mental health community.
My determination to not want anyone to believe that I – or my blog – was even remotely associated with this other organisation, motivated me to remove my work with them from social media, but during the deleting, I had a bit of a light-bulb moment…
Since the start of my mental health deteriorating in 2009, I’ve almost inevitably and understandably thought a lot about regret and made the decision not to have any! I mean, the recognition of what I was putting my loved ones through with my self-harm and four suicide attempts, was pretty unbearable and I felt almost compelled to regret my behaviours for that very reason. But I had the realisation that if I regretted all those instances that had upset people, it would mean they’d all been for nothing. That I’d gained nothing from them and had put my loved ones through it all for no reason. And that was even more unbearable.
I also thought it was important to acknowledge that life really is too short for regrets, and they don’t get you anywhere in life. So, I made a few desperate attempts to find some sort of positive in everything I’d done and finally decided on the fact that I could safely say I’ve learnt so much from all of it. And recognising a lesson you can take from something negative is really the key to staying proud and content, even when someone else would declare that everything had ‘gone wrong.’
DECIDING TO BE LOYAL
I recently got in touch with Cats Protection to pitch a new collaboration idea for Mother’s Day (which proved to be VERY successful!) and they said thank you for thinking of them, and I remember thinking ‘of course!’ Like, why would I not remember/think of such a special organisation who mean so much to me and my blog? Who have had such a huge impact on the level of my following and who have provided me with so many fun experiences that have ranged from attending the premier for their Christmas animation advert, to meeting some of the cute and needy cats in my local Cats Protection Adoption Centre!
I think that my ‘treat-others-how-you-want-to-be-treat’ attitude has been a really important influence in my loyalty towards collaboration partners because I like to return the favour. I mean, if a brand or charity etc have really helped to propel my blog forward and are helping me to reach the milestones I’ve been striving for, then why wouldn’t I aim to repay the favour? Why wouldn’t I do whatever I can to help them in some way too?
In the early days of doing collaborations, it felt very much like a one-way street in that I couldn’t see how working with me, and I’m NOT Disordered would have any benefit on my collaboration partner. I mean, I was averaging at ten to twenty views a day and had no special connections that I could call on. This meant that when YoungMinds and Time To Change agreed to be those first two collaboration partners, it felt like a huge vote of confidence and a massive honour. It was like an illustration that they believed in my abilities and in the potential of my blog. And feel that same way with any organisations that I collaborate with. And I have no idea how else to say thank you for that other than to remain loyal and dedicated to their work and how we can work together to achieve more.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING GROUNDED
I think that this cycle – landing a collaboration, being grateful and staying loyal – became an asset to I’m NOT Disordered and was a huge reason why, as time went by and the blogs following began to excel, organisations began coming to me and pitching their ideas and requests to work with me/my blog. And initially, this was fairly surreal because I had become so used to it being the other way around and for me, becoming familiar with something and then it changes, can be really hard on my mental health. Because this was obviously an amazing change and an achievement, I didn’t struggle, but it did take a decent sized period of time to adjust and become comfortable with it.
Something which I really had to adjust to was a sense of… maybe becoming a bit cocky. I mean, I don’t think I ever was, I just think that I became conscious that was something I could all too easily fall into if I didn’t put the effort in to avoid that happening. And I think that my genuine and unlimited gratitude to collaboration partners is probably some of the largest reasons why, despite organisations now approaching me with some incredible opportunities, I’m able to stay grounded.
Some people might disagree with this and say that I am a bit braggy because I’m very aware of the level of I’m NOT Disordered’s following. I watch the numbers and I care about them. Not because I want my blog to be more popular than anyone else’s. Not because I want a reason to draw attention to it. But because of what those numbers mean to me… For me, the popularity of my blog is a hugely rewarding measure and evidence of the time and effort I put into it. I mean, surely if my content wasn’t helpful or appealing in some way then no one would be reading it?
It also feels like I can look to all those people who thought my blog wouldn’t last long or that it wouldn’t amount to much, and say “well, you were wrong.” And people say all the time to do things for yourself and not because you’re in any way thinking of someone else; but sometimes, the thought of others can be a really useful and powerful motivation and drive to propel you to work harder for something. And I just happen to find proving people wrong a hugely ideal goal!
Another aspect which gives me the inclination to focus on my blogs number of readers and which actually also keeps me grounded is the thought of just how many people my content might be helping… I mean, when my mental health first deteriorated and after I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I really genuinely wish there’d been as much mental health content online as there is these days.
When I became poorly, mental illness wasn’t talked about, and I can’t remember ever even seeing anything in the media about it. Having only heard horror stories about my local psychiatric hospital and with my lack of knowledge and understanding on mental health, I was terrified when I began experiencing hallucinations and became suicidal. With that fear and non-existent education on the subject, I was so reluctant to ask for help that I struggled for ten days before finally attempting suicide (and even then, it wasn’t until I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act that I opened up about the voices).
If I was in that same situation – just starting to hear voices and feeling suicidal – I think I would feel so much less alone and scared. I mean hallucinating can very obviously and understandably leave you feeling pretty isolated because you’re literally experiencing something that no one else can. How could you not start feeling as though no one will ever understand you or appreciate what you’re going through? So, if I were able to read blogs or follow some hashtag chats on Twitter etc. that would provide me with the essential comfort and reassurance that no matter how much I felt like it, I actually wasn’t alone; maybe I wouldn’t have even gotten to the suicidal part…
So, remembering that my collaborations can lead to me producing content that’s of great help for someone feeling that alone and overwhelmed, is fundamental in keeping my grounded.
WHO GETS WHAT CREDIT?
Whilst I’m NOT Disordered has had many collaborations, I think it’d be safe to say that the majority of its content is solely written and created by me and that’s meant I’ve had ample opportunity to become used to being responsible for the response my posts get from their readers. And having refused to take responsibility for my actions for a good few years whilst my mental health was at it’s most poorly, being able to do it with my content is actually a pretty huge deal!
I almost instantly learnt that if I was going to accept the positive feedback on my blog then I would also need to equally take on any negative comments and criticisms of my content. So, I found the balance and figured out that rather than feeling personally insulted, it was more productive to see the negativity from others as a learning point and something which I could use to inspire improvement and change. In doing this though, I did with only myself as the creator of the content so, no matter, how on point I was on the whole responsibility thing, it was all up in the air again as soon as I brought someone else in to put posts together.
Initially, with collaborations, I figured that responsibility should just go 50/50 and we each take a portion of responsibility that is reasonable for the amount of time and effort we’d put into the content. However, as time went by and my experiences in collaborations increased, I felt myself slowly develop a more one-sided responsibility as I recognised that ultimately, I was the one responsible for what was, or wasn’t, published on I’m NOT Disordered. I may not have written every word of a post, but I was definitely responsible for reading it, editing it where necessary, and then putting it out there for everyone to see/read.
That ethos only really applied to negative feedback though, because if I received lovely comments on collaborations then I would always let the partner of the piece know and almost completely credit them for it. I mean, I say ‘almost’ because there are instances where I really like to recognise when the collaboration has been my idea and where I have put the majority of the work in. Otherwise though, I totally accept that being able to add the name of well-known and important organisations can make a blog post extra attractive and appealing, so they should be credited accordingly. It’s only fair. And, wanting to demand all of the credit for one collaboration, won’t leave you with many more offers of opportunities in the future!
TOP FIVE COLLABORATIONS
1. Cats Protection
Of course, I would pick Cats Protection as a favourite collaboration partner! Working with the charity had left me feeling very warm and comforted in the knowledge that I’m doing what I can to promote the benefits having a pet can have on your mental health.
Two favourite posts with them:
Whilst I think I’ve done a total of three or four collaboration posts with the railway company LNER (London North Eastern Railway), I really rate those pieces because I truly felt a lot closer to the bloggers I look up to e.g. Zoe Sugg and Victoria Magrath.
Two favourite posts with them:
3. St Oswald’s Hospice
When I applied for yet another voluntary job in 2019 to be a Digital Volunteer with St Oswald’s Hospice, I would have never imagined to still be with them three years later and to have been given two paid contracts as staff. The charity have had a huge impact on me and my mental health and the Communication team have left me feeling like I’ve found another family!
Two favourite posts with them:
I'm NOT Disordered: VOLUNTEER’S WEEK | TIPS TO GET A VOLUNTARY JOB, WAYS TO THANK YOUR VOLUNTEERS, HOW ST OSWALDS SUPPORT THEIR VOLUNTEERS, & MORE! | IN COLLABORATION WITH ST OSWALD’S HOSPICE | AD (imnotdisordered.co.uk)
4. Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW)
Another obvious (in my opinion) choice, is the Trust that have genuinely saved my life a number of times because collaborating with them, gives me a hope that I’m showing them the gratitude I can’t seem to do justice with words!
Two favourite posts with them:
I'm NOT Disordered: THE INS AND OUTS OF GIVING A SPEECH | MY EXPERIENCES, TIPS, & RESOURCES | IN COLLABORATION WITH CUMBRIA, NORTHUMBERLAND, TYNE, AND WEAR NHS FOUNDATION TRUST (imnotdisordered.co.uk)
5. Oliver Bonas
Working with this brand was another instance where I felt closer to my blogging idols because they’re a company more relevant to their fashion theme. This also left me feeling quite proud at the thought that I had managed to make them appropriate to a mental health blog too!
Two favourite posts with them:
COLLABORATIONS TO COME…
So, let’s just say I’ve had a few meetings with the North East Ambulance Service…