Working with brands – it’s something everyone wants to do, but most don’t know where to start
“How do you work with brands?”/”How do you get PR?” are two of the most popular questions I get in both my DMs and stories. Sometimes I question why people are coming to me for this kind of advice. I have a small account in comparison to many of my skinsta community friends with just 2.5k followers.
However, even with my small numbers, I have had opportunities to work with a few big-name brands. In the year and a half that I’ve had my account, I’ve developed my photography skills (including my favorite type of shot, Texture Tuesdays) and have implemented certain strategies learned from other Instagram accounts to grow my own. Recently, I started to land paid collaborations. Since the beginning of this summer, I have been interning with a small skincare brand and have gotten to see influencer strategy from the other side. So while I’m a small account, I have varied and useful experience in the realm of influencer marketing.
If you’re just starting out with your skincare account, I recommend reading this blog post first. Once you’ve gotten your page off the ground, then you can think about how you want to work with brands.
I won’t tell you how to get your account to 10K followers or land thousand-dollar brand deals. Since I haven’t hit those milestones yet, I can’t give helpful advice on those topics; anything I say would just be a stab in the dark. This advice is for small content creators. If you have somewhere in between 0 to 5000 followers and you’re wondering how to dip your toes into working with brands, you’re in the right place.
Let’s get into it!
First, don’t start your account with the goal of getting free stuff. It’s never really free.
I talk about this in my article about starting a skincare instagram. It can be great to set goals of working with particular brands.- I’d always dreamed of working with Briogeo and Sand & Sky, and when I did it felt amazing. But setting out with the hope of drowning in PR and working with every brand on the sun won’t make you a successful influencer. You want to create a captivated audience, who engage with you and support you, with strong visual storytelling skills. Then the right brand offers will come.
Don’t get sucked into the comparison game.
Along the way, you may see accounts with less followers than you getting incredible brand deals. Don’t get me wrong, this can definitely cause the green-eyed monster to rear its ugly head. But when it does, remember this: what is right for you will. find. you. You should celebrate your peer’s wins and cheer them on; When you land your dream collabs, they will do the same for you.
You don’t always know what a brand is looking for. Brands have certain things they want or need out of campaigns: to target a certain demographic (which is why knowing your stats is so important – more on this later!), or a certain desired aesthetic. The brand side of influencer marketing can be complicated to figure out when you aren’t in the room where decisions are made, so make peace with the fact that you won’t be involved with every PR drop and skincare release. The opportunities that are meant for you will find you.
You don’t have to accept every PR offer you get.
When you do start getting offers from brands, you don’t have to accept the first one that comes. Deciding to work with a brand involves evaluating whether they align with your values. You should also consider whether the collab will bring value to your audience. Remember – it isn’t just about you when you’re an influencer. You also need to remember your followers. Create content that will help them. This can be reviews on products they want to try, stunning product photography to look at, or informational posts that teach them something new.
Be picky. If you think a product wouldn’t work for you, or you aren’t super into the brand, you can respectfully decline. You should only work with brands that align with your skin type, your values, and your audience’s interests. An added bonus to declining offers that just aren’t the right fit is that doing so may open the door for another influencer to work with the brand – and they might be absolutely obsessed with them!
You can charge when working with brands! Know your worth.
Even as a small content creator, you can ask to be paid for your work. Influencers provide a great service to brands; You are essentially a one-stop marketing shop. Think about it: brainstorming content, photo/video creation, product testing, review writing & editing, sharing to a (hopefully) engaged audience, and the added potential of usage rights … you’re bringing a lot to the table! Although your audience may be small, it can still be impactful. Don’t let brands get away only gifting you product if you don’t feel it’s sufficient payment for the work they are asking for. Make sure working with brands doesn’t involve letting yourself get taken advantage of. You may not always land the paid collab, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
One caveat: Ambassador and/or affiliate programs are almost never sufficient payment. Let’s dig into this a little more.
Ambassador versus Affiliate Programs
Brands that ask you to become an “ambassador” are often scams. They ask you to pay for the product yourself (sometimes with a discount). Amazon sellers will offer to reimburse you to scam their way into getting “authentic” reviews. Products from these companies are cheap, sold at a high markup, and low quality. Any of those spammy companies (such as femme beauty) should go straight to the trash bin.
Affiliate programs are a little different. Brands will sometimes ask fans to become an affiliate. You earn a commission on each sale you generate, either through a unique code you can share to your audience or a unique link. These are great – when used sparingly. No one likes to see an influencer with hundreds of affiliate links who will promote anything they get paid to talk about. Choose your affiliate programs wisely, and only become an affiliate for brands you use and love. Whenever a brand comes out of the gate asking me to be an affiliate, I always turn them down – earning money from a brand I haven’t even tested yet would be disingenuous.
I am an affiliate for two companies, one of which is Grow & Glow (you can join through my referral link here, and I do earn a small commission if you do). I chose to become an affiliate with them because I use their products (podcasts, learning bundles, and blog posts) almost everyday and I’ve seen amazing growth using their social media strategies. So far, I am not an affiliate for any skincare companies.
But sometimes the product alone is worth it (emphasis on sometimes)
Sometimes, a brand will come into your inbox that you are just dying to work with. For me, this was Sand & Sky. When I got the offer to participate in their Secret Squad and test out a product for a few weeks before it launched, I couldn’t pass it up! This is an opportunity I wasn’t paid for, but it was so worth it. There have been a few other brands that I’ve worked with for free; With some, it was because I didn’t know enough to charge. With others, it was because I thought asking for payment would lead to losing the opportunity – and I was more interested in the product & collab than in getting paid for it.
It is more than acceptable when working with brands to accept product in exchange for a post/review. But always remember: nothing is free, and the product comes with strings. It’s up to you if those strings are worth it.
When working with brands, be prepared with your stats.
Knowing how to read & interpret your Insights page is critical to demonstrating your value to brands. More than just your following, they want to know if your audience will care about their product. What are their ages, gender, location? Which day of the week are they most active? What is your engagement rate? Remember: when working with brands, the company wants to know that you are going to provide some value to them. How will you help them market their product?
A quick note on engagement rates for small creators
As a small content creator, it’s very likely you have a high engagement rate. This is a big selling point! Emphasize this when negotiating – it can help you stand out to big brands, especially as many influencers with tens of thousands of followers have tiny (2-3% engagement rates). You can calculate your engagement rate with https://www.tanke.fr/en/instagram-engagement-rate-calculator-2/.
Now back to insights in general.
For your own knowledge, it’s also important to evaluate what type of content gets you the most likes, the most saves, the most comments. If a certain shot or category of post gets your audience super engaged, you’ll want to repeat that!
I have created a complete 23-page guide to finding, interpreting and sharing your Instagram insights with brands. It’s available here for $3.
As you start to get more offers, it’s a great idea to compile the information from insights into an easy to read PDF, also known as a media kit. Responding to an offer with a professional looking media kit will make you stand out among a sea of influencers. I made mine on Canva. To help you all out I’ve created a free template to design your media kit. It’s customizable so you can input your own information. Access it here.
Once you click the link and go to Canva, you can edit the text and template to make it work for you. Black text is stuff you’re meant to delete (like the bits saying “insert photo here”) and white/grey/pink is part of the template. You will need an account to edit it, but Canva is free! It’s super useful so I recommend making one and playing around with it after using the media kit template. Maybe I’ll do a blog post in a few weeks on how I use Canva if that sounds like it would be useful!
The best collaborations arise out of long-term, meaningful relationships; Focus on developing those.
One-shot brand deals are not very meaningful for you, the brand in question, or your audience. They are common, but it is better to work with a smaller number of brands many times over months and years, than it is to jump from brand partnership to brand partnership. Long-term relationships make you more trustworthy to your audience and more impactful for the brand. How do you build these connections?
Feature brands organically and show you already love their products, their values and/or their message.
A few of my favorite brand partnerships have developed with brands I already use. Why is this so awesome? A few things:
- I already knew I loved the brand, so I was genuinely excited to try whatever product they were sending my way.
- My audience already knew I supported the brand with my own dollar, making my endorsement of a PR product more meaningful. If someone only talks about a brand when they’re gifted, it can cause followers to take pause. Sometimes this is because products are insanely expensive and the only way a blogger can afford them is to get them through PR – that isn’t the type of situation I’m talking about. But if you run ads with a company, yet never talk about them organically, are you just in it for the money?
- The brand knows I already love them. This is perhaps the most important point. In addition to the labor of love that is my skincare account, I also intern with a small skincare startup. In my internship I focus on influencer strategy and social media growth. One of the things I look for when identifying influencers to potentially partner with is – are they already interested in us? If I’m going to take a chance on sending out product (that could otherwise be earmarked for a paying customer), I want to know I’m going to get some return on that investment in the form of social media love. Seeing the products featured organically on your feed can be a big boost in the brand’s eyes.
If you want to get on brands’ radar (and it’s financially possible for you), purchase some of their products and feature them in your feed. It could lead to a nice comment, a repost, or even a collaboration!
Do high quality work for brands and they’ll keep coming back to you.
When you do get the opportunity to work with a brand, you want to ensure you’re giving them a high quality return on their investment.
Take your time with stories & posts – don’t just snap a quick iPhone photo and upload it unedited to Instagram with a three-second review. Consider how to show off the product(s) in the best light, be creative, edit it in your unique style, and create a useful review that will get your audience interested in the brand. Of course, scale this level of work to the compensation you are getting, but in general high quality work will lead to more offers and maintaining relationships longterm.
Don’t lie about a product in order to make a brand happy.
This is so so SO important! I’ve definitely felt the pressure to talk positively about products that I’ve been sent as PR. One brand in particular (D**** E*******) has been known to kick people off their PR list if you don’t praise their products. This does an immense disservice to your audience.
Part of working with brands is knowing not every product will work for you – even if you love the brand itself. There is, of course, a way to constructively criticize the brand without being excessively harsh; but a good brand will not be opposed to negative reviews so long as they are well-founded and explained.
Don’t lie about a product to make a brand happy. Doing so will torpedo your credibility with your followers – and they’re the ones who matter.
Lastly, and most importantly, focus on creating beautiful content that speaks to you and your audience.
The offers will come in due time. It can seem like working with brands is out of your reach. But by developing your unique style and photography skills, educating yourself about skincare so you can provide valuable information to your followers, and positioning yourself as a good resource for your audience, you will catch the right brand’s eye. Don’t get hung up on PR or paid sponsorships. Trust me, they will come. And when they do, they’ll be the right fit.
I hope this article is helpful as you work towards landing your dream brand collabs. More questions? Feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. And as always, my DMs on instagram are always open. I hope to see all of you landing your dream collabs!