Anyone starting out on their Instagram journey dreams of a day when they can start charging for their posts. While that time is ultimately different for every influencer, many agree that you can start charging for your posts with 1,000 followers (and sometimes even less!).
Paid sponsorships are not only great for some extra cash in your pocket (and can even turn into a full-time job), they’re also a great external validation and motivator to put more work into your Instagram, creating higher-quality content and being able to purchase more tools of the trade to scale your page. At any other time, I would absolutely say, “Know your worth, then add tax.” But as this is being written, times are not normal. And that is why I think it’s really important to be building relationships, not transactions, with brands right now as we rebuild from COVID-19.
A Cautionary Tale
I was recently made aware of a blogger with a not-insignificant number of followers (in the tens of thousands), who posted in an influencer discussion group that they were tired of posting restaurant photos for free, and were seeking advice on how to go about asking restaurants to pay them for posting their food on Instagram. Most US-based restaurants, especially the ones in big cities like New York, are struggling to keep their doors open and are operating on razor thin budgets – or even taking losses – in this new environment. Many don’t even have the overhead to do an in-kind media collaboration, much less pay for something.
While group members quickly explained circumstances to the blogger, it was already too late. In the Internet world, when you post something – even in a closed message group – that message can get out. A restaurant owner found out about the message, shared it with a group of 50 reputable restaurants in the blogger’s area, and the blogger was blacklisted.
So, What Should We Do Instead?
It’s absolutely understandable to want to be compensated for your work, especially when sponsorships are (part of) your livelihood. Here are some thoughts I have about reaching out to brands for partnerships right now:
- Be willing to invest in the relationship at the beginning. Just like brands remember when someone bad-mouths them or is difficult to work with, they also remember when someone goes above and beyond, especially in a time of need. If you’re at the beginning of the relationship, throw in some extra promotion for free. There is no out-of-pocket cost for posting another photo on Instagram. While you should do it without expecting reciprocity, that extra effort could be the difference in the client choosing you over another influencer when business picks up or it might even mean larger projects in the future.
- Shoutout brands that you already use and love! A quick way to get accepted into an ambassador or sponsorship position is to already be a loyal user of that company’s product. By showing them some authentic love, un-prompted, you up the chances of them discovering you and turning it into something more.
- Be willing to take “No” for an answer. Another recent story involved an influencer arguing with a small business, demanding they send free product in exchange for posting. Not only is actively arguing disrespectful, it can also kill opportunities for collaboration later on, because you’ve shown that you don’t respect boundaries. Just like the restaurant example, this type of incident can also make the rounds and kill your prospects. Just do a quick web search of “influencer free wedding photos.” Showing respect and a little patience can go a long way. I’ve politely accepted a “no” on initial contact, only to have the brand reach out later, asking me to work with them because they were now ready to proceed. Don’t burn your bridges.
If You Must Take Paid Partnerships
If you cannot afford to do anything but paid partnerships for the time being, that’s okay, but you definitely need to be careful. Here are some ideas for what to do if you’re still looking for paid partnerships:
- Check out influencer marketplaces. Brands pay good money to have their influencer campaigns featured on marketplaces, and the benefit of finding companies on influencer marketplaces is that you know they are actively searching for influencers! Some of my favorite influencer marketplaces to get collaborations from are: influence.co, Popular Pays, and Heartbeat.
- If you must reach out to brands outside of marketplaces, do your research. Make sure that the brands you reach out to aren’t significantly hurting at this time. For example, mom and pop bakeries may not be the best idea right now, but a franchised fast food joint may be more likely to do an influencer partnership with you, simply because they have more earning power. Now is also a great time to look at what kinds of brands are doing well. Tech companies specializing in work-from-home, non-perishable goods, and delivery services are booming right now, meaning the likelihood of them having partnership availability is much higher.
If you’re a blogger or influencer, are you reaching out to brands for paid partnerships right now? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you.