Jenny Barnett Rohrs has been teaching arts and craft workshops for over ten years. Three years ago she began reviewing the craft products she uses as well.
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We’ve asked Jenny to share her experience with product reviews since many artists with successful blogs are approached by companies to talk about their products. (Not to mention that posting reviews is a great way to grow the readership of your blog in the first place.)
Alyice: What prompted you to start reviewing craft supplies?
Jenny: I would buy new craft products and think, “You know? This is harder than it looks.” or “Geez! This is the best glue EVER!” And I’d want to share what I’ve discovered with others.
I realized that it doesn’t matter whether you spend a dollar on a glue stick or $400 on a die-cutting machine, it helps to know more about the product from someone who has already used it.
Alyice: Reviewing products can be an expensive endeavor, especially in the beginning when you’re building an audience. How did you afford the cost of supplies?
Jenny: I started out by reviewing products I already had in my studio. I also reviewed new products that I needed to buy anyway. Rarely would I purchase something JUST to review it.
Usually it’s more like, “Hmm, I need some new clay blades, I wonder how these will work?” And then I try them out and write up my thoughts about it.
I will say, however, that product reviewing has challenged my concept on brand loyalty. I now try out different products just because I think it would be interesting to compare what I usually buy with what else is out there.
Alyice: I understand that you do not believe in seeking out companies for the sole purpose of reviewing their product. Yet you are often approached by companies. How did this happen?
Jenny: Aside from reviewing products on my own site, I also write reviews for another company. It took time to build a presence online but once I built an audience and brand, companies (and designers) started recognizing me—or at least the name of my blog—at tradeshows.
Now I have a professional relationship with a national, on-line craft company and can request to try anything in their product line. It’s like being a kid in a candy store.
I think if you are approaching a company just for “free stuff” you are missing the point. It’s more important to start writing about what you know, the brands you use, and the products you like.
Once you build your stage, so to speak, companies will want a relationship with you because you add value. If you can’t add value by way of an audience or search rankings, companies won’t be that into you.
Alyice: Do you ever decline requests and why would you do so?
Jenny: I won’t take or review anything that’s outside the scope of what I do. It’s pretty clear that my niche is crafts and I stick to it. It provides me with a certain amount of authenticity and transparency.
I do this because I love to do it, not to make a quick buck. I need to stick to this philosophy, too, because me readers trust me! My reputation is built on it.
Alyice: Why would a company seek out popular arts and crafts bloggers to review their products?
Jenny: Two reasons. Google rankings and targeted audience.
When bloggers rank well for “craft product reviews” and already drive traffic for a number of related keyword search terms, asking them to review the company’s products means their reviews will rank higher than other “advertised” spots. That brings the company’s name and/or brand up higher in the search engines and it provides external links back to their company site.
Alyice: How do craft reviews help the crafting community as a whole?
Jenny: Well, it flies in the face of Caveat Emptor, or “buyer, beware.” It’s like having a trusted friend give you the “real deal” before you go plunk down your cash.
Instead of buying something and being frustrated, crafters can read unbiased reviews and decide if the product is worth the money spent, if the product is worth going through the learning curve necessary to use it, or if product X is great for this, but product Y is better for that.
And if companies are savvy, they are reading the reviews too, and seeing where they can improve the quality or design of their items.
Alyice: Can you share five of your best tips for writing a strong review?
Jenny: Sure. My five tips are:
1. Actually use the products. Take time to really try the products out. If you fake it, folks can smell a phony a mile away.
2. Don’t be afraid to fail and let others know where you messed up. You can really help others out by sharing your mistakes.
3. Be honest about your opinion. There are going to pros and cons to every product, and don’t be afraid to spell it out. People value honesty and authenticity.
4. Document and visualize. Take good photos/videos to help your readers see exactly what you are talking about.
5. Be yourself. Find your own writing style and go with it. As I said before, folks can smell a phony a mile away.
To learn more about the pros and cons of craft supplies, or to see what a good review looks like, stop by Jenny Barnett Rohrs’ website at CraftTestDummies.com.