This post is by far my most highly requested blog post of all time. I get a handful of emails every day asking for info on everything from How to Make a Living Online, to requesting contact details for the companies I work with. This post has been on my invisible "to do list" for some time. (you know the one we keep in our mind but oftentimes gets pushed to the back by things like buy milk and take the cat to the vet.)
To be honest another reason I've held off so long on writing this post is that there is no right answer to every one of your questions. We all have different stories, different goals, and different business's we are running so it's pretty hard to come up with generic answers that will apply to absolutely everyone who ever asks me a question about branding. I would have to look at your website, conduct a full interview with you, look at your imagery, and hear your full story to really be able to guide each of you through the branding process. But I'm going to try my best to guide you a bit here, but keep in mind while reading this YOUR journey and YOUR goals as they are likely quite different from my own. For example, if you put a pool of 100 creators together and ask us all "How did you grow your following" I guarantee you we will all have combination of different answers. I see a lot of growth programs online that claim there's a particular formulation that everyone can follow to grow your brand and I'm here to say that they're probably wrong. Why? Because just like every person is different, so is every account on Instagram, it may not look like it on the outside. But they are. But with that being said, there's some general guidelines you should follow and be mindful of when looking to collaborate with brands, and i'm more than happy to extend my knowledge to you.
First lets talk about YOU. You should know 5 things about your brand before you EVER reach out to another brand to inquire about a collaboration. It doesn't matter if you're a fashion blogger looking to collaborate with a shoe company or a lifestyle blogger looking to collaborate with a company that sells bedding, this applies to everyone in all cases.
You should know;
1.) What is the niche of your brand.This is your whole reason for being in this space. It can be one thing, or a few but I would always narrow down as much as possible. This will help you grow a targeted audience, and reach out to brands who will want to work with you. If you have an Instagram account about cooking for example, you wouldn't want to reach out to a brand the sells jackets. Your niche would be cooking, and brands that sell cooking equipment, goods for baking, or even kitchen decor or accessories would probably love to work with you. But, narrow it down as far as possible so your audience is on board with what you're doing. If your whole page is about cooking but you work with a company that sells tires that would likely confuse and potentially annoy your audience who came to you to learn new cooking recipes, catch my drift?
I've branded myself as a fashion & Lifestyle Blogger which allows for me to potentially work with quite a range of companies, from clothing companies to bedding companies when I'm initially deciding if a brand is a potential fit for a partnership with me, a lot of different companies can pass the initial test of "is it in my niche”, I use the next few factors to really focus in on my ideal partnerships from there.
2.) What do you have to offer the brand? This is the most important question you'll ask yourself when thinking about potential collaborations. You absolutely cannot go seeking a collaboration expecting the receiving party you already recognize your potential value to their brand. You need to tell them. Present them with statistics and analytics, with testimonials from past clients, and speak surly and confidently about what you bring to the table. It is NOT the brand's job to go hunting through your account to see your value, it is your job to present them with it up front, so that they can factor in everything you have to offer and decide if a partnership with you makes sense for the growth of their brand as well. Which brings me to...
3.) What does the brand have to offer you? If you're getting "Pitch crazy" and just sending your pitch off to anyone without really asking yourself these questions you can really end up in a rut. No one wants to work for a company that doesn't serve you or your audience. So this question is also crucial in weeding out potential partnerships. Some followup questions you should ask yourself when assessing a brand's offerings could include. What does the brand sell? Do they sell something that my audience will like seeing/hearing about? What is cool or unique about the brand. A side note; it is ALWAYS okay to message a brand that reaches out to you and ask for further information about their brand. If you feel that you don't know the brand well enough to answer this question ASK. Communication is Key in any brand relationship. The brand will appreciate you asking more about their mission, and your audience will appreciate that you're really narrowing down who you work with to include their wants/needs as well.
I should also add that you should NEVER answer this question with "money." And this is not to say that you shouldn't work with brands for a fee. You absolutely should and it's crucial to the industry that you do, but don't let the "money factor" lead your other reasoning.
4.) What do you want out of this partnership? This question is a counterpart of the "what does the brand have to offer you?" question. But here we actually are talking about payment. And I can't emphasize this enough, that BEFORE you ever hit the send button on a pitch, you have to be fully aware of your worth. Instagram Marketing is huge right now, and let me briefly tell you why. 10 years ago, when we wanted to buy something, we would look on TV or in a magazine. So companies would be smart to invest in ads there. Now, present day if we want to buy something, want an honest review on it, or want to know how a garment looks on an actual person, we go online. Instagram is a one-click shopping mall, whether everyone has realized it or not. And it's the smartest form of marketing when brands work with influecners on social media to get their products recognized. 10 years ago, a brand would have had to hire a digital designer, a stylist, a makeup artist, a photographer, a director, and an editor to create a proper ad, now, all they have to do is hire one person- a creator and we do it all. Saving brands time, and money too, but not without a great deal of effort on our part, and we deserve to be appropriately compensated for it.
When determining your worth, please keep in mind a few things. Do not purchase or curate an audience that isn't real. "Growth programs" or sites that sell followers will NOT help you gain traction in this industry, brands and other influencers alike will be able to tell and you will essentially be attempting to scam the industry itself and the brands you try to work with, if you do so. 1000 real, engaged followers, are worth more than 100k inauthentic ones. And also, produce QUALITY content. Now, i'm not saying you need to go out today and buy a 3,000 camera to be successful in this industry but be mindful of what goes into a quality image. Look for good lighting, good scenery, purchase a fun preset and maintain a nice aesthetic. The more time you put into the quality of your content the more brand deals, and followers you will acquire. Content is king, after all.
I know this is getting lengthy, but this #4 is probably the most misused question by other influecners, and i'd really like to change that. Typical influencer marketing is one cent per follower. You can give discounts and negotiate all you want, but keep in mine your worth all the time, and never be afraid of loosing a deal because you wont accept an offer that under values you. YOU WORK HARD! Fomo is huge in this industry, and I get it. But never have the state of mind that you're missing out if someone wont compensate you what you're asking for. Remember, you are working for this person. Just because X, Y and Z worked with this company doesn't mean that you have to if the deal doesn't fairly pay you for your time. Maybe X, Y, and Z didn't think of their value going into that brand deal and ended up doing a ton of work for free, then who's the real winner there?
Bottom line, always walk away if it's not worth your time. As much as you may align with the company as creators a lot of work goes into everything we do, and you need to recognize that. If you're a content creator reading this, you're a marketer, a photographer, an editor, a digital creator, a model, makeup artist, hair stylist, stylist, and writer. And you are AWESOME, let brands know that.
And finally, the final thing you have to ask before you send that pitch is....
What am I going to create for this company? It should never be the brand's job to come up with content creation ideas. Oftentimes they will have requests or guidelines to be mindful of, but try to come into the first communication with them with some kind of direction for what product you may want to use, where you may what to shoot for it, what kind of feel you want the photo to have, these important details will strike interest with the brand, and also help you to create the content when the collaboration gets set into motion.
So there you have it, the 5 things you should ask yourself before sending out that first pitch. I hope this helped answer some of your burning questions, i'll be sure to include more blog posts on branding, working with brands, and making a living as an influencer in the near future.