How to work with brands as an Influencer

As a social media influencer, one of the primary ways to make money is via brand collaboration. Whether you’re new to the game or you’re just trying to level up, you may be wondering how to get more “ins” with the people in charge of making the deals. Luckily, I’m here to tell you all the best secrets about..

How to Collaborate with Brands as an Influencer checklist

WHY should the brand want to partner with you?

This isn’t a question I ask to be mean or to trigger your Imposter’s Syndrome. Rather, this is a valid question you need to ask yourself so you’re prepared to SELL YOURSELF.

In order to be considered by a brand as a potential brand ambassador, you need to be an expert authority on something. What is that thing? It could be fashion, interior design, food and cooking, pop culture, or really anything under the sun. 

But the question remains: What are you all about? Who are you and why on earth should people follow or like your stuff? What value do you (and your social media coverage) bring to the world? Make sure you have a clear stance and that you’re able to articulate your opinions (about relevant subject matter) clearly.

You still with me? K, great. Now that we’ve got that clear,

The 4 types of Influencers

To put it bluntly, there needs to be a good reason a brand wants to partner with you. The fact is that it comes down to your numbers, i.e. your follower size and your engagement. 

We all know the social media algorithm is a friggin’ beast. We know how it likes to hide content, do its own thing, and overall act like a moody teenager. 

There are 4 types of influencers: nano influencers, micro influencers, mid tier influencers and mega or celebrity influencers. The definition for each is dependent on the follower count. Typically, and don’t quote me on this, the below stats are how each type of influencer is identified. 

  • Nano influencers (1K–10K followers)
  • Micro influencers (10K–100K followers)
  • Macro influencers (100K–1M followers)
  • Mega or celebrity influencers (1M+ followers)
4 types of influencers
4 types of influencers

The way brands look at the equation is this: hopefully, the more followers you have, the more eyeballs the brand can get in front of if/when they partner with you. So yes, you do need some numbers on the scoreboard (so to speak) before you will be interesting to brands. 

Don’t think that just because you have a “small” audience (it’s all relative) you will be overlooked for brand partner opportunities. Oftentimes smaller audiences have a more engaged following, meaning more of their audience sees and participates (likes, comments, shares) in their content.

Now let’s talk about your content.

As you build your brand, take the opportunity to figure out your process in regards to photography and creating content. How do you edit photos or video? Do you have someone proofread your content? What are you outsourcing? 

BTW, there’s no shame in hiring help. In fact, we STRONGLY encourage it. You can’t do all the things well nor is that a sustainable approach. As Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

We’re not built to be awesome at everything, so figure out YOUR zone of genius (i.e. wordsmithery, photography, or having an excellent sense of style), then hire people who can help fill in your gaps. As they say, we go further together.

Your portfolio (i.e. your social channels) should be clean, tight, and aligned with your personal brand. This will help ensure that when a brand hires you, you’re as professional and elevated of a brand partner as possible. 

Don’t walk in giving off “anyone can do this” vibes. Be prepared to be as professional as they expect you to be — and then some. In case you hadn’t noticed lately, there’s a lot of competition out there. 

As Germany Kent said, “ If you want to be successful in your career, strive to be a well-versed professional with high esthetic standards and a passion for excellence.”

So, now that your content, audience, and personal pitch are ready, it’s time to work on how to get noticed by brands you want to partner with. Let’s start with one of the questions I’m asked about the most:

How do you get noticed by brands as an influencer?

Influencers connect with brands and get noticed in many different ways. Here are my top 3 favorites:

#1 – Flirt with brands. You read that right — flirt! Everyone wants to be wanted, so make sure you’re going out of your way to make the brand feel special. Tag them in your stories. Mention them in an IG reel or a blog post. Write about your personal connection and story to them. And, for goodness’ sakes, MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THEM. And don’t stop there — like, comment on, and share their posts. 

#2 – Make a move. Slide into their DMs, say hi, & introduce yourself. When you reach out, tell them all the reasons why you love their brand and how you’ve been a follower for a long time. Mention why you’d be a great brand ambassador and why your followers are their ideal target audience. (Again, make sure you’re ready with your numbers!) Don’t forget to ask for a contact name and email for the person who manages their brand partnerships. 

#3 – Show off your work. Create a profile on different influencer marketing platforms that share about individual instagram collaborations or other brand awareness opportunities. It’s a fantastic way to not only get noticed, but also find and apply for campaigns that interest you. The platforms outline each specific campaign, the offered budget, desired influencer content requirements, and a place for you to apply.

#4 – Create a relationship with agency reps, or the people who source talent for, manage, and run the campaigns you want to be a part of. Find out if the brands you want to work with outsource Influencer relationship management to agencies. Start by checking the rosters of Influencer Marketing agencies to see the companies they partner with. Use the Google. Ask your peers and in industry groups.

#5 – Ask around, or find contacts via Linked in and reach out to connect. Pretend you’re Enola Holmes and do some good ol’ fashioned sleuthing. Search for people who work for the brand and are part of their marketing department. Look to your own network to get you the connects you need. And, as always, be courteous, kind, and direct with your asks. Nobody’s got time to dilly dally! 

Alright, friends. That’s the whole shebang. At the end of the day, remember:

The thing about the influencer industry is, it’s not rocket science

In other words, what multi-six- and seven-figure content creators are doing to pitch themselves and negotiate campaigns isn’t any different than what you’re doing to start your business and build your portfolio. They are just doing it with more experience, a deeper portfolio and at a higher level. 

Once you’ve established some contacts, don’t ghost them. Stay in touch. Don’t be needy or self centered in your emails. Compliment them on successful campaigns. Plan ahead. Ask what’s on their horizon 2 quarters down the calendar (not for next month). 

Ask how you can be considered, what info they’d need from you, and their preferred method of communication (i.e. email, slack, text message, snail mail, fax).  Track your outreach and follow up. Make connections. Be helpful. Engage in their content and share it on your channels. 

And for goodness’ sake, get some help. Whether that means hiring someone to do your photography or videography, hiring a talent agent to help field calls and make negotiations on your behalf, or even just hiring someone to watch the kids and clean the house while you grind, just remember you can’t do everything.

Kiana Tom did a great job of summing it up — “When I meet successful people I ask 100 questions as to what they attribute their success to. It is usually the same: persistence, hard work, and hiring good people.” Simple stuff, but difficult to do. I’m cheering for you!

how to work with brands checklist
how to work with brands checklist

Pro tip : If you’ve loved this article, I highly recommend you sign up for my weekly newsletter HERE. It’s full of industry insights, brand negotiation tips and scripts, events I’m attending, perspective on how to grow your Influencer business and more. I keep it pretty scrappy and real – would love you to join us over there! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP.

How to work with brands FAQs

How do you collaborate with a brand?

You can collaborate with a brand in a couple of different ways. The first way is for trade. This means they offer you a product or a service in exchange for content— no money is exchanged. This is often how influencers get started and build up their social media marketing skills and portfolio. [Before you get huffy about the idea of trade, be sure to read my post on Things Not To Turn Your Nose Up At As An Influencer.]

The second way is for a brand to  hire you as an affiliate marketer. In this instance, you are paid via commission. You earn a percentage of each sale or new client sign up that you make to their company, usually by having a specific link that takes your audience to a sales page. 

Finally, you can also have the brand pay you a flat fee, or an agreed upon amount for each deliverable (IG reel, blog post or youtube video etc) that you create as part of their marketing campaign. 

How do you contact a brand?

If you don’t have a name and email for someone who works at the brand, I recommend searching on Linkedin. It might take some digging but between looking at people’s network + using the Google, there’s a good chance you can come up with something. 

Another option is to slide into their DMs on a social media platform, introduce yourself, and ask who to get in contact with — after explaining what you’re hoping to do and that you’d like to be a potential influencer for them. 

I’d also use the Google to see if the brand works with an agency that handles their influencer marketing. You must be willing to ask questions, search for answers, and be relentless in your pursuit of partnerships. This is NOT easy and a big part of why not everyone is cut out to be a successful entrepreneur.

As the sled dog racer Susan Butcher once said, “ “I do not know the word ‘quit.’ Either I never did, or I have abolished it.” Take note, people.

How do you respond to a brand that wants to collaborate?

When a brand reaches out to you for an influencer marketing campaign, congrats! That’s great to be recognized and wanted by a brand. It goes without saying that you first need to know if you want to do it and, more importantly, does it make sense for your brand?

Next up, it’s time to put on your negotiating pants. Here’s a great place to start.

What do brands mean when they say “collaborate?”

When brands say “collaborate,” they mean they’d like to join forces and have you be a spokesperson for their brand. This can be done in a variety of different ways. They might send you product in exchange for sharing your thoughts on social. Or maybe they pay you money in exchange for your time, labor, and creations. Alternatively they may set you up as an affiliate, whereby you earn a commission for each sale that you send them.

What do you say when reaching out to brands? How do you pitch yourself to a brand?

When reaching out to brands, you want to highlight YOU. Why are YOU the best partner for them? Why should they be interested in partnering with you? What unique story or new perspective can you offer? Make sure to include that your followers are their target audience — exactly who the brand is trying to reach and connect with. 

It goes without saying, but always be polite, to the point, and be clear about how you’re adding value. Yes, you’re sharing info about yourself, but it all comes back to the brand and how you’d be a great addition to their influencer marketing strategy.

How do you DM brands for collaborations?

You DM brands for a collaboration to pitch yourself as a potential influencer for their company. If you’re considering doing this, good for you! It’s hard to put yourself out there & toot your own horn! Here are a couple things to keep in mind when you reach out.  

  • Be polite and professional. First impressions go a long way. 
  • Give a quick high level view on what your brand is about.
  • Share a personal experience, story, or connection to the brand
  • Ask if they are seeking new instagram influencers for upcoming campaigns. If so, ask for the best contact name and email to share your information. 
  • Thank them. Add in a personal comment about a recent campaign you liked and sign off. 

If you want a deeper dive on how to go about being the most swoonworthy influencer for brands, check out the 5 best habits of successful influencers.

How do influencers get paid by brands?

Influencers get paid either by receiving a flat rate for creating sponsored content (e.g. Instagram reels, a blog post or TikTok) or they get paid via affiliate marketing. (This is when the influencer makes a certain % of selling a brand’s product or service.) 

How do you ask brands to send you stuff?

Very nicely. Just kidding, although there is definitely some truth to that! In my experience working with established influencers, more often than not, the reverse happens. You don’t ask a brand. A brand will reach out to the Influencer and offer to send free product. 

If/when this happens to you, I strongly encourage you to ask what their expectations are in exchange for receiving that product. It isn’t necessarily clear but brands usually expect — or at the very least, strongly hope — that you’ll create content in return.

If there are brands that you want to work with or try out a new product of theirs, you can absolutely reach out to them and ask. I encourage you to include your personal story and why you would be the right influencer for them to send the product to. Brands get pitched all day long so including your personal story, what you bring to the table, and how you’ll use the product will help you stand out from all the other requests of people asking for free stuff from them. 

Should I work with an influencer marketing agency as an influencer?

If you’re starting off your career as an influencer, you shouldn’t work with an influencer marketing agency. From my experience, influencer marketing agencies work with brands who want to partner with influencers, not the influencers themselves. 

What you can do to get noticed by brands is sign up for an influencer marketing platform such as LTK, Aspire, Izea & Social Fabric. This will help you be seen and considered for an influencer collaboration. 

A brand deal can also come direct to you from the company usually thru an email on your website or a DM on your social media.

How many followers do you need to collab with brands?

Honestly, there’s no ONE right answer. It’s up to each brand to decide. I’m aware of brands that won’t consider an influencer with a following below 10k. Others have a minimum limit of 5k, while still others want your following into the hundreds of thousands. Yet, I also know people who are paid for their content (not a lot of $, but they are paid) with less than 5k followers. As is often said in business school, “it depends.” 

How often are you sharing sponsored content?

This depends on your contractual obligations. You’re sharing sponsored content as often as you are required to. That said, when you partner on a brand collaboration, you are allowed to influence the dates when your content goes live. 

In fact, you should speak up and say something if the suggested dates don’t work for you. The timing of the content is a great question to ask in your initial rounds of negotiating with a brand. (It’s best to get all that information up front to make sure you’re 100% able to work within their timeline. You’re also well within your rights to ask for a rush fee if their timeline is short!) 

Oftentimes a brand will include stipulations that they don’t want any other sponsored content going up 24-48 hours before or after your branded content with them. 

Based on how often you say yes to branded influencer campaigns will determine the cadence of how often you’re posting sponsored content

How can I promote myself as an influencer?

You can promote yourself as an influencer by acting as if each piece of content you share on any social media platforms (including a blog post!) is a sponsored, paid piece of work. The photography should be stunning, eye-catching, and professional. Your copy should be flawless, creative, witty, and full of your personality. 

Find ways to creatively do a mix of both product showcasing and personality in your content. Brands want to know what you’re all about — your story, the reason you write about parenting hacks or travel tips for gluten-free adventures. 

Seriously, do YOU boo-boo! There are millions of social media influencer options out there for the brand to choose from, so make the case on why you’re a great partner by showing them, not telling them. Ya feel me?

How to find brand collaborations on instagram?

In order to find brand collaborations on Instagram, keep your eyes and inbox open. Many times, when you see a brand collaboration on any social media platform or you see a sponsored blog post, the campaign is already over. 

Start by building relations and connections with the agencies who run the influencer marketing campaigns for the brands that you love and want to partner with. Google top influencer marketing agencies, follow them on social, send your media kit to the info email listed on their website and ask about upcoming brand collaboration opportunities. 

Ask who works on that part of the business, and, if they don’t share contact info, find it on Linkedin once you’ve got their name. Or message that person on Linkedin and ask for a call to learn more about future collaborations. 

Join instagram influencer facebook groups to learn what projects and agencies people are talking about. Go to the social media pages of the brands you want to work with and look through their tagged in part from social media. Research who tags them using a paid partnership mention or #ad in the content. Reach out to that person and ask about the brand and their relationship to them. 

Be creative. Think outside of the box. You’re hungry. I know you want this. It will take some work and digging so be relentless, persistent and resilient in the face of a lot of doors slamming in your face. 

As Jen Alvares so gracefully put it, “ “You have to be prepared that some opportunities will work out and others won’t, and that’s ok. You can’t win everywhere. The more opportunities you get, the more rejections you will receive. It’s simply a numbers game.”

How many followers do you need to be an influencer?

This is a fantastic question. Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Is it the number of followers that make you an Influencer? How do you define an Influencer? The way I see it, an influencer is someone who has the ability to impact you at some level on a particular topic. 

Let’s get super meta for a second. If Oprah had 27 followers on Instagram, is she still an influencer? Yes. Why? Because we know her for her career that she has built outside of social media (not just because it didn’t exist back then). We turn to her for her journalistic skills, her inspirational messages, & book club ideas. 

To me an influencer is someone who is an expert in something. Just because you have a lot of followers (10k, 100k, 1M) on Tik Tok doesn’t — nor should it, IMHO — automatically make you an Influencer. 

Take Leigh Steinberg’s advice: “Very narrow areas of expertise can be very productive. Develop your own profile. Develop your own niche.” Whether that niche is getting your toddler to eat her veggies or the best makeup brands for aging skin, do the work to become an expert. 

How do you get brands to notice you on instagram?

We’ve covered this above, but here is a quick breakdown of my previous points:

  • Flirt with them! 
  • Tag them! 
  • Say hi on socials by responding to their content, an instagram story or posts. 
  • Create content in which you mention them. 
  • Share your personal story and connection to the brand. 
  • Google influencer marketing agencies & reach out to those agencies to ask if they have your favorite brand as a client. 
  • See who of your followers or friends has worked with them and ask for an introduction. 
  • Slide into the DMs of the brand you want to work with to tell them why you’d be a great brand ambassador for them. 
how to work with brands as an influencer
How to work with brands as an influencer

How do you get a Nike collaboration?

Not to sound like a broken record here, but the process is the same whether you’re trying to land a partnership with Nike or a smaller niche brand. Reach out to them directly via social media. Google to find out which agencies work with them. Find connections via Linkedin. Flirt with them by tagging them on social. Be relentless. Follow up more times than you can count. Find a way to get linked up to someone who works on their influencer campaigns. 

Should I start a podcast, youtube channel or blog?

You should only start a podcast or youtube channel if it makes sense for you. Some questions to ask yourself to help you decide are: do I enjoy creating video or audio content? How would this improve how I serve my audience? What’s the point of me launching a youtube channel or podcast? Am I financially ready and aware of the time and financial investment?

That said, I do believe everyone should have a blog. It’s your digital home, a place to build a following that you own, not one of the social media platforms like youtube, Instagram or TikTok. You can have a newsletter that allows you to communicate with your audience whenever you want, about whatever you choose. 

Remember all those times when Instagram goes down, or your account suddenly gets suspended for no reason, or the algorithm changes and your numbers tank, or have you already forgotten?? Having a blog or website means you can continue to build your brand regardless of whatever tantrums the social media platforms decide to do on a random Tuesday. 

Should you charge a brand based on your subscriber size? How do successful influencers decide what to charge for your work?

You should charge a brand based on a few things, including (but not limited to) your subscriber size and engagement. Your engagement is a number that reflects the percentage of your followers that sees your content and engages with you, meaning likes, saves, comments or shares your posts.

You should also consider what the cost is to you to create the content. What are your expenses? Do you work with a photographer, videographer, editor or food stylist? Do you have to hire a space for the photoshoot? Do you need to purchase expensive ingredients? Those costs need to be factored into your rate. 

How much do beginner influencers make?

Beginner influencers might start out making nothing. Beginner influencers may only be offered free product or trade opportunities to start out. (That will continue to happen throughout your career as an Influencer. Those free opportunities never stop coming. Before you turn your nose up at trades, read this post on why it’s often actually a good thing.)

A content creator who is new on the scene may only be able to charge a couple hundred dollars for a collaboration based on their following, which means the size of their audience. Or, even if you have a small following, your photography or videography skills might far outweigh your social presence and help you command a higher price. Again, it all depends. 🤷‍♀️

How do small influencers get paid?

Small influencers, or those with a lower number of followers, usually don’t get financially compensated right away for posting content to their feed. More often than not, their initial brand collaborations are for trade, meaning you get the product for free. The reason for this is the brand is looking to get in front of as many new eyeballs of their target audience as possible. 

Can you make a million dollars being an influencer?

Yes, you sure can. It takes a lot of work, time, blood, sweat, and tears, along with a strategic plan and showing up consistently day in and day out. But yes, it is doable. See [name], [name], and [name], just to name a few.

How much does 1k instagram followers cost?

In monetary terms, nothing. Do not under any circumstances purchase followers. That said, it takes time, effort, and consistency to get to your first 1k.

How much does 1k followers on instagram pay?

Honestly, probably not that much, assuming you’re referring to any brand deals with big companies. There’s a much stronger possibility that you’re paid in free product or trade opportunities than money for your sponsored post.

How to work with brands
How to work with brands