“Those who do not understand the power of collaboration always struggle for growth”
In June, I took a trip to Edinburgh and decided to go on one of the Edinburgh Bus Tour routes (the Majestic option) and I enjoyed it so much we’ve decided to collaborate again (you can read our first collaboration here). So, whilst this piece is inspired by my recent visit back up there and the photos are from my experience of another of their routes; I’ll be chatting more about the fact this is our second time working together. So, here’s my thoughts on the fact that landing collaborations can be a ‘learn-as-you-go’ kind of process…
If you’ve read, I’m NOT Disordered for a while then you’ll have either seen me say this before, or you won’t be at all surprised that I’m starting this post with a bit of a disclaimer… I’m one of those people who feels uncomfortable blowing their own trumpet or appearing to believe they know enough about something – anything – to advise others on it. I worried that this post would seem cocky and arrogant, so I just wanted to start off by saying that it really isn’t meant that way…
When I first started blogging in 2013, I had hopes that it would help me by providing an outlet for pent up frustrations that were arising as a direct result of being a psychiatric hospital inpatient. I also intended for I’m NOT Disordered to be a more efficient and effective means of keeping my friends and family up to date in a more detailed way whilst I was in the hospital which was over 100 miles away from all of them. However, even though I had these two expectations of blogging being beneficial for me and my mental health, I was still incredibly amazed to discover just how enormously helpful it has been for my life in general/on a whole. I mean, I could have never imagined that I’d still be doing this almost ten years later nor that I’d come to class it as utterly and completely lifesaving.
Upon recognising these huge benefits I’m NOT Disordered has on my life – and on my mental health recovery specifically – I’m obviously now very eager to encourage others to try their hand at blogging because I really, genuinely hope that it will help them in the ways it has helped me. I mean, when my mental health was at its most poorly, there was no one I could look to who could say “I was where you are, and I got through it!” So, I’d like to think that if anyone is struggling with their mental health, they can look to my blog and me and see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel – and that blogging can help you reach that.
Some people think it’s strange for me to encourage new bloggers because there are a lot of established bloggers out there who see this as a competitive industry and where other blogs should be treat as rivals, rather than inspiration. I, on the other hand, prioritise the positive affect blogging can have on that new-comer more so than how it might impact me and/or I’m NOT Disordered and its statistics/popularity etc. In having this priority, I want to tell people all the things I’ve learnt in blogging – especially those things which I’ve learnt the hard way – in the hope that this will also encourage and promote them to give it a go. And so, I thought I’d use this post as an opportunity to do just that – to give you the tips that I’ve learnt and developed which have really contributed to my ability to secure collaborations with organisations that have ranged from Cats Protection to Northumbria Police… and everything in between! And I hope that in recognising the gravity of my blog’s following (over 1.1 million readers), it will instil a sense of confidence and a willing to try out my tips.
When I first began collaborating with organisations, the blogging industry was really only just taking off and starting to thrive. So, one of the more recent areas of development in blogging during that time, was around featuring guest posts, advertorials, promotions, collaborations, and gifted items/products/experiences. Seeing other bloggers do this, I was immediately drawn to the concept because I really enjoy working in a team and a lot of people don’t really realise this, but blogging can actually be kind of isolating and lonely. And I think that the majority of that – for me – was mostly because (back then) I had no one in my life who blogged, and that meant that when I was facing challenges or needing to make decisions with I’m NOT Disordered, I had no one to turn to who I felt would really, properly understand. Experiencing that sense of loneliness has been really key to my huge appreciation for my friendship with Martin Baker of www.gumonmyshoe.com. Finally having someone who meant a great deal to me and who could fully comprehend what had become one of the most important things in my life, was so comforting and relieving.
In being drawn to working with others through collaborations, I began making a list of organisations and people I’d like to create content with. From the offset, I got the sense of this element of blogging being a lot like an average job in that you have to sort of ‘work your way up.’ Like, I knew I couldn’t just contact a huge, national, and really well-known organisation and expect them to give me the thumbs up and work with me/I’m NOT Disordered. And so, I began making steps to start featuring collaborations on a smaller scale and in a much less formal way by volunteering with Time To Change (a campaign to end the stigma surrounding mental health). When I first volunteered, I spent the entire event handing out leaflets in a huge shopping mall; and a few years later (when I had worked my way up the ladder), my collaborations with Time To Change became more instrumental and included writing an article for their website and managing their social media in London during a particular Awareness Date.
Volunteering at the events meant that I managed to build my connections with other organisations and various individuals who held hugely senior positions with other mental health charities, companies, and services etc. This was so useful because blogging – fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it – is one of those industries and careers where who you know, can be a whole lot more important and helpful to your progress and growth than what you know. And upon realising this – basically that it helped to name drop(!) – I recognised this hinted that more ‘superficial’ details can make a difference. So, through this, I came to learn that talking about my blog’s popularity and general statistics could actually be a make-or-break element with a collaboration pitch!
In this respect, I’ve been quite fortunate because – for so many other reasons – I was already hanging a lot of importance and appreciation on my reader count. I have always been aware of this seeming to make me superficial and that I have mis-aligned my priorities… I was actually asked outright once; “why do you care so much about the numbers?” And, whilst I initially sort of shrunk back inside myself and felt as though I’d been viewed as bragging or showing off, it actually did make me think more about my motivation behind caring so much about my amount of readers. It made me want to be able to have a good answer if I were to be asked again. An answer which would make the person asking me feel less sure that I was being arrogant or that I was blogging for all the wrong reasons.
My answer became about two separate elements: Firstly, I recognised that the higher my reader count, the more likely my content was helping someone. I mean, I’m not stupid; I know that out of over 1.1 million readers, not every single one of those people will have loved I’m NOT Disordered and enjoyed or found the content I create beneficial in some way. But, as the statistics rise, the chance I’ve helped someone becomes more realistically likely. Then, secondly, I’m aware that the higher my blog’s audience is, the larger chance I have at landing amazing collaborations and having so many incredible experiences and opportunities arise. Having this awareness makes me even more appreciative of each and every single one of the blog’s readers, I recognise that without them, me/I’m NOT Disordered, wouldn’t be where we are today.
In gaining so much confidence from the reader count, I found myself feeling more than capable of contacting people/organisations to pitch a collaboration idea. I also recognised this as a really rewarding experience because it meant that if I was successful in securing a partnership, I could be confident in the knowledge – or belief – that I had worked hard to earn that (and any gifts/freebies that might arise). Having been raised by my Mum to have a really good work ethic, I so enjoy knowing that I’ve truly earnt and deserved something and that I haven’t just waited for it to drop into my lap or be handed to me on a silver plate (something/an attitude that I’ve seen some bloggers actually do/have).
My first pitches for collaborations were mostly just emails detailing my blog’s current reader count, how I’d come about the organisation I was pitching to and why I thought them perfect, and a really brief description/detailing of my collaboration idea. In all honesty, whilst I always got a “yes,” this definitely isn’t the method or template I would advise you use or trial in pitching a collaboration concept to your prospective partner!
In line with the notion of ‘working your way up,’ as the years have gone by, I’ve found myself collaborating with bigger, more influential organisations. Taking this into consideration and in addition to that, the fact that there are so many more blogs out there who are all clambering for a collaboration, I’ve found myself recognising that I needed to ‘up my game’ when it came to pitching collaboration ideas to these more well-known organisations. And so, I did some research and looked for advice from other bloggers and checked whether those I was pitching to have their own guidelines too; and slowly, I developed a bit of a checklist and a format – which, I won’t lie, I’ve found needs some editing depending upon the organisation I’m pitching to and the actual idea I’ve thought of.
Putting a lot of time and effort into your collaboration pitches can be a really good way to illustrate your work ethic and dedication to the idea which can really help the organisations to see your work ethics and to form a good, positive opinion of you before even agreeing to work together. And, personally, I also find that when I’ve put more care and thought into a pitch, I benefit too because it leaves me with the notion and confidence that I’ve tried my best and put my all into it. This means that no matter whether the pitch is successful or not, I still have a sense of accomplishment.
In a bid to spread the knowledge I’ve gained in the past almost ten years of my blogging career, I’ve put this little graphic together:
I’ve also created a short activity sheet to help you to ensure you’ve included all of the necessary and essential elements of a collaboration pitch which can enhance your chance of a positive and hopefully successful result:
I saw a tweet a little while ago asking people to list the best pieces of advice they’d received in relation to their mental health and coping with it in a healthier and safer way. Now, having struggled with a mental illness for around fifteen years, I have very obviously been given a number of amazing pieces of advice which have ultimately, been life-saving for me in influencing me not to make any more suicide attempts. The piece I picked out, however, and which I think actually also applies here is something my local Crisis Team taught me: it’s not a mistake if you’ve learnt something from it.
Before this little nugget of advice, I was definitely someone who mulled a lot over terrible things and who spent a huge amount of time feeling regretful. Considering just how poorly my mental health was though, I feel that it’s understandable for me to have spent a huge amount of time worrying that I had made so many mistakes in my life… And I think that all started because for so many reasons, I didn’t report the abuse I experienced as soon as it started; and that meant it continued for six months. Keeping quiet has meant that I’ll probably always wonder just how long or how bad things would have gotten – or not gotten – if I’d reported it sooner. Similarly to this, I listened to the auditory hallucinations for ten days before finally telling someone about them and so I always wonder whether it would have gotten to the point of me making a suicide attempt had I told someone straight away.
Then, in the three years proceeding the hallucinations appearing and my first suicide attempt, I gradually began to self-harm more and more often. It was to the point where I’d do something one day, be hospitalised for a few days to treat what I had done, and once I was home I’d do it all over again. To get a concept of this; apparently my records show I was hospitalised over 60 times during those three years. And as poorly as I was, and as much as I had complete tunnel vision when it came to self-harming, every minute that I was able to think reasonably straight; I was full of regret and frustration. I struggled with the notion that the person self-harming, running away, being restrained, being sedated, being hospitalised, feeling suicidal… that this person could – nor even would – never be me.
In having Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) as a psychiatric hospital inpatient over the course of two and a half years and being put on medication, I finally found myself able to look at things in a much more balanced and safe way. I recognised that what’s done is done. That no matter how much you may want, or even just wish, something hadn’t happened, you can’t turn back time and do it all differently. So, to spend all of your time/future completely overwhelmed with regret, is truly a waste of your future – a future which could be spent taking so many different actions to turn everything around.
Now, in blogging, because it’s an industry that is forever evolving and growing, there are so many things within it which can be about ‘trial and error’; and that means it’s almost inevitable – or at least predictable – that you’ll experience something you could then, completely understandably, deem to be a mistake. I mean, it wasn’t for a few years after creating I’m NOT Disordered that I found myself recognising these ‘mistakes’ to be positive experiences. I developed the belief and conviction that a ‘mistake’ would be not learning anything from what you’ve done. To have done something terrible and be incapable of finding a silver lining? Well, that’s where actual Depression can come in. And so, I’ve chosen a few of my favourite collaborations that have featured on I’m NOT Disordered and picked out one lesson I’ve learnt from each of them…
This recent collaboration with my local Ambulance Service; NEAS, was the first where I’ve actually had a ‘photoshoot’ to create the images used in the piece. Even though this wasn’t the first photoshoot I’ve ever had (I had one when I featured in the Chronicle newspaper) I still learnt from it this time too…
Now, I’ve talked before about confidence and how reaching over 1.1 million readers has enhanced my ability to talk publicly and to not be embarrassed or reluctant to do a little self-promotion; but the photoshoot was an instance where I actually didn’t exhibit or even feel that new, evolving confidence. I found myself feeling like a newbie to the process/industry all over again! To be fair, though, I think a lot of that comes from my low body confidence rather than anything else. Having put weight on as a result of my psychiatric medication, I’ve become a lot more conscious of finding and using flattering poses; and it’s incredibly hard to get this across on a professional photoshoot, you know? Like, I didn’t feel that I could turn around to the photographer or the Communications Director overseeing everything and ask them to change the angle of the camera!
When I think about it all though, I really could have done that. I could have harnessed my confidence and focused on the idea of how many people read my blog to feel entitled to being able to speak up when I was uncomfortable. In fairness, too, I was confident that the NEAS staff I was working with that day would have actually been really understanding and completely appreciative of my thoughts and feelings. But, in all honesty, I was only really wishing I had spoken up because when I’d been sent the photos, I was struggling to find any that I felt 100% happy with, and that meant gritting my teeth as I posted the few that I was least embarrassed by!
So, my lesson? To not be afraid to speak up when you’re not comfortable with something the collaboration partner is doing/has done because it’s very likely that they would tell you if it was the other way round.
In 2019, I had been speaking to LNER Communications team and they gifted me two first class tickets for any destination on their route up and down the country. Initially, I was thinking of places I wanted to go that I hadn’t been to before; but then, the fact that I’d done so many collaborations around that time which had resulted in a lot of free products and complimentary experiences/opportunities, had me wondering how I could use this gift to benefit someone else too… so I took a best friend with me!
In the blogging industry, one of the biggest – and most incorrect – assumptions people make about it/those of us in it, is that once you’ve got going, you just automatically receive freebies. Like they’re handed to you on a plate. And whilst there are a lot of bloggers who sit back and hope for that to happen, I’ve never been one of those people. I often get offered opportunities and people will ask how I’m benefiting from them; like do I get paid or gifted something? And even if my answer has been ‘yes,’ I still always point out that I don’t do what I do for that. I’m not – and never have been – a blogger for the gifts and discount codes etc. I do this because I love it and because I’m helping others. To me, the amount of emails I get daily from readers describing how my content has been useful for them and their mental health, is more than enough of a ‘reward.’ And it certainly means more to me than any amount of money.
So, in recognising that I enjoy and feel more proud from those comments than I would if I was paying a cheque in, I think it’s quite obvious that when I am offered free items or gifted experiences e.g. hotel stays and free travel, I always want to share them with others. Like, for Blogmas this year (the graphic for it is actually being revealed in a week or so!), I’m teaming up with a number of lovely, different, organisations/companies who have each very kindly offered me some incredible gifts, but with everything, I’ve done all that I could to share them or to edit them in a way that will make them of benefit to others. And part of my reason for doing this has been that I completely recognise that I and my blog wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for others (including and especially, all of you!); and I’d like to think that I do regularly thank them in some way. And sometimes this is challenging because I often feel that no amount of words/blog posts will be adequate enough to illustrate just how grateful I really am; and this makes me hopeful that other methods to exhibit my gratitude will be more effective!
My lesson from this collaboration? Do all that you can to ensure that you illustrate your gratitude for, and that it is recognised by, those who have shaped your life – and your blog’s life – the most.
With I’m NOT Disordered definitely falling into the ‘mental health’ category when it comes to the content’s primary theme; it means I mostly spend my time writing and creating some really intense and emotional posts. I mean, even when they’re around something fun or exciting like an event or some sort of achievement, they always seem to turn into writing about something that is relevant but also which is overwhelming and, often; sad.
Now, to be fair, I completely recognise that writing about mental health has 100% been my own decision, and so how can I moan about creating content around it? Also, if the mental health content is proving to be popular and successful, why would I want to – or even just consider – changing I’m NOT Disordered to be about a completely different topic? However, it is kind of similar to when people (so many people) have commented on their confusion and surprise as to why I don’t want to work in the mental health industry as a Support Worker or Nurse etc… I always try to explain that having had a mental illness for so long, it can sometimes leave me with the feeling that my entire life revolves around it. And, with the intention behind the title of my blog is an attempt to get across the message that a person is not ‘just’ their diagnosis; they’re still a person. A person who shouldn’t be defined by their illness. So, this notion of being surrounded by all things mental health, has really instilled me with a confidence that to then work in the industry too, would be so overwhelming.
So, keeping this fear in mind of becoming lost in the challenging, upsetting, triggering industry that is mental health, I do really enjoy when I can create more fun, light-hearted content and write more humorous, exciting, easy-to-read blog posts. It’s kind of like my equivalent to what others may class as taking a ‘break’ or a ‘holiday.’ And so, working with the local Operatic Society to blog about their Legally Blonde show, was a welcome distraction from the intense mental health themed content I was used to creating.
One of the many lessons I took from this collaboration? Your content is whatever you make it – whatever you decide it to be. You need to be in control of your blog and whilst it’s important to appreciate and consider the views of your readers, you have to recognise yourself as being fully responsible for any decisions made. So, you determine what you write about and the content you create, and don’t shrink away from the consequences (whether they be good or bad) of that.
Finally, I’ve put this little activity sheet together (using Canva) which I’ve used to incorporate advice I’d give and the opportunity for you to record your thoughts on that:
Locations of featured photographs:
Edinburgh Bus Tours links…