How To Start Working With Brands – Even If You Don’t Have a Big Following
When I fist started my instagram, I had no idea what I was doing, but as I grew my following, I started getting more questions about what I was wearing, where I was staying, and overall how I was doing everything we were posting about. This is when I decided to start working with brands. I did not have a big following at the time, but I knew I had some value to offer as my audience was constantly asking questions about the brands I was showing constantly.
Having worked on the other side of marketing (the brand’s perspective) I know brands mostly care about one thing: ROI aka return on their investment, so I made sure this was something I could offer before I ventured off reaching out to them.
I also tried a few of the “influencer” platforms that connect brands with influencers, but found them lacking. This is when I decided to take matters into my own hands, face my fear of rejection, and get to work!
How To Start Working With Brands?
First of all let me say you do not need a big following. In 2020 nano influencers and micro influencers still have a big pull. As I write this blog, I have a bit less than 20K followers on my instagram and I’ve been partnering with brands for years.
What brands care about is what you’re able to offer them as an influencer. What kind of exposure you can give them is what an influencer is there for. A lot of brands seem to be jumping into the affiliate sales bandwagon, and this is great for some influencers. However, as a content creator your job is not to sell, but to highlight and expose a brand to your audience. If they purchase, even better. If you can make extra money from the sales you make, then the deal gets sweeter.
What if you don’t have a big following?
Let me start by saying there is no magic number. The reason for this is that if you have 500 engaged followers who trust and support you, this will go as far as someone who has 2000 followers out of which only 1% engages.
The value you bring to a brand is entirely depending on your own platform and how you do business.
With that being said, I did not reach out to brands until I was well into my thousands, but this is mostly because I wanted to make sure my audience did not feel like I was bombarding them with brands and I myself was not clear on what kind of brands I wanted to partner with.
I tried partnering with small brands on a few occasions and found they did not align at all with my brand, so I ended up feeling like I was somehow cheating my audience. In this case, it’s better to hold off until you have an opportunity with a brand that truly resonates with your following.
The difference between product exchange and paid partnership
A lot of micro influencers are afraid to ask for pay because of their following size or other reasons. In my opinion, you should always get compensated for your work. To put it simply, every content you curate saves the brand tons of money on their end, as they would have to hire photographers, models etc. And this is not even considering the creativity to come up with what you came up with!
However, I have done many product exchange partnerships, especially with companies I highly resonate with. If a company is small, but I love what they stand for and think my followers will like it, doing a product review will give me the chance to taste the product. It also allows me to see how my audience responds to it, and allows the brand to see the quality of my work. Especially in the travel industry, having the opportunity to stay at a hotel or go on a tour in exchange for content is a great way to see what the company is all about and opening your doors for future collaborations.
There is no way of knowing if an influencer is being paid or gifted on a post with a brand, mostly because the FTC only requires you to showcase that the post is an ad, but not wether it’s paid or not.
Usually if you see the hashtags #gifted, #ad, or #sponsored this means the campaign is paid or sponsored in some way.
What to do if a brand contacts you
As I write this in 2020, there are many scams going on regarding this. Many drop shipping companies use influencers wanting to collaborate with brands as an opportunity to sell their products.
If a brand contacts you saying “we’d love to offer you XX discount” or “you only have to pay for shipping” this is not a partnership. Unfortunately it is happening more often these days, but just keep an eye out. Brands wanting to work with you will never ask you to pay for anything. This is true especially if the partnership or collaboration is a gift or product in exchange for review/content.
When a brand contacts you always ask what they have in mind. Some brands expect lots of content in exchange for a small gift. Keep in mind the rate you would charge for a sponsored post, and then see if this makes sense for you. If a brand contacts you though, it is a sure sign that you’re ready to work with other brands. They are seeing value in your content, so it is time to get out there and look for more partnerships!
How to respond to brand’s contacting you
Sometimes brands will contact you with specifics of what they want. A blog post, social media post, or story unboxing etc. Some other times, brands won’t be specific and just mention they’re interested in a possible partnership.
When this happens, I usually respond with a simple “I think my audience would love your product, what did you have in mind?”
A brand contacting you is nice, because you don’t have to worry if you’re a good fit for them. It’s also a good opportunity for you to work on your negotiation skills. If you have a blog and a strong social media presence, this is worth a lot more than just a social media post in exchange for a gift. Of course it all depends on what you’re willing to do. Just keep in mind that a blog post requires much more work than just a photo with a captivating caption.
How to research who the brand is sponsoring
It’s good to know who the brand works with, to have an idea of what to expect. It’s also good to get ideas and inspiration, but mostly, it’s important to know if they would even be open to a collaboration with you.
Go to google and type in “brand name + collaboration” or “sponsored post”. This should give you a good idea of who the brand has worked with. If you research the brand’s hashtag or name on Instagram you will also see who the brand has worked with. This should give you a clear idea of how large their following is, wether they work with someone in your market, and what they look for in an influencer.
My first Pitch
The first time I wrote to a brand I did not know how to pitch, or even what a pitch was.
My niche was travel and I was contacting tour companies, hotels and restaurants in a destination I had never been to. I decided to do this because I realized I had a strong enough following. However, I had never done this before and had no idea how to do it.
After a bit of research I tried putting myself in the shoes of the person receiving the email.
My first email went something like this: “Hello __, I’m Marae from BravefreeTravel and I would love to show your ___ to my audience. I have an instagram following of ___ and a blog (link the blog) and I think your ___(product/service) would be well received by my audience. Please let me know if this is something that would interest you”
Not idea, but it was short and sweet, and it let them know who I was, who my following was, I linked my blog and social media outlet, and I showed I knew what they had to offer.
The Brand – Influencer relationship
The brand – influencer relationship us a two way street, and just like any other relationship there is no standard. Every relationship will be different, and it’s up to you to create and harvest that as well.
If you feel you have something to offer, I say go for it. Don’t wait to be noticed. Take matters into your own hands, and start reaching out to brands.
You might be surprised of the value you have to offer.
The most important thing to remember when you reach out to brands is what value can you offer them. Lead with that!
They don’t need to know every detail about you. A lot of your information can be seen in your work. However, they will want to know how you can help THEM!
Have you had a good experience pitching to brands? Or has most of your work come from brands reaching out to you?
What’s holding you back from partnering with brands?