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Working with Brands 101: A Crash Course for Beginner Bloggers & Influencers

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Influencer marketing has seriously evolved in recent years, presenting micro-influencers with increased opportunities to collaborate with brands and enhance their credibility.

Brands and companies are often prioritizing social reach over number of followers, which is good news for bloggers who don’t have a massive following but do receive consistent and genuine engagement.

As exciting as this shift is, it can also be confusing and overwhelming. A prospective opportunity can involve ambiguity around appropriate rates, validity, and even ethics.

While that #sponsored post may look simple and fun to the outside spectator, us bloggers and influencers know that it’s never black-and-white.

So if you’re just starting out in the collaboration space, there’s a good chance that you have some questions. And I’m here to provide some much-needed clarity.

Before we start, full discretion: I do not consider myself an “influencer.” In fact, I low-key loathe that word entirely.

I have around 4,000 Instagram followers, a little over 1,000 Facebook likes, and about 1,500 followers on Twitter.

My numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, but I do receive brand inquiries on a pretty frequent basis. As a writer published in well-known publications, I also have a bit of a leg up since I’m often added to PR companies’ media lists.

Since I’ve learned a lot about best practices and big no-no’s over time, I want to help you navigate the confusion and start accepting opportunities like a pro. Let’s dive in:

1. Remember that every “opportunity” isn’t always what it seems.

    When you first start gaining a presence on Instagram, you’re likely to get quite a few scams in your DMs.

    Of course, these scams are masked as “exciting opportunities.” The message will probably start with “hey gorgeous” and end with a request to join their “brand ambassador program.”

    The brand may offer you 30% or 40% off a product in exchange for a post on Instagram. They may also ask you to join their affiliate program, where you are granted a percentage of the sales.

    While not all brand ambassador programs are bullshit, many of them are. However, it ultimately comes down to how you feel about the product.

    If you truly love the product and want to accept the discount or sign up as an affiliate, go for it. Just know that there are brands that will offer you a free product, and even payment.

    While your first set of brand opportunities can be exciting, remember to know your worth. You might not be a big-time influencer, but you should never be taken advantage of.

    Personally, I ignore all discount offers. Why would I pay for a product I’m promoting? That’s essentially giving the brand free advertising AND money.

    I mostly only agree to paid promotions now, unless the free product is something I’m especially interested in. And that brings me to my next point.

    2. To work for free or not to work for free?

      Let’s cut to the chase – I get offered a lot of free shit. These can be sent directly from brands on Instagram, or through a PR company requesting reviews for their client.

      And don’t get me started on the amount of free books I receive. (If anyone is selling a book shelf, hit me up. Seriously.)

      However, the game changes when it comes to guaranteed promotion. Many of these free products are for “consideration,” and I’m not obligated to post about them. I typically do, but it’s up to my discretion.

      When a brand offers to send me a product for free in exchange for an Instagram post or review on my blog, it’s a proposition – and I’m left with two choices.

      One, I can accept the free product and post about it. I’ve done this in the past with SheClub’s monthly subscription box, as this company is targeted toward female entrepreneurs.

      Since the product was especially relevant to my audience and content, I had no problem accepting the offer and posting a picture on Instagram.

      Two, I can turn a product post into a paid post. And yes, it’s possible. An example is below, and I credit Jenny Melrose for her insight on wording.

      Hi X -

      Thanks so much for reaching out! This product looks fantastic, and I think it would really resonate with my followers. In order to keep the integrity of my platform to my followers and the brands I've previously worked with, I only work on compensated content. I'd be happy to pass along my media kit with my rates, if you are interested.

      Look forward to hearing from you!



      It’s simple, and to the point. The brand can then pay you for your time, or move on to their other mass pitches and find someone who will do it for free. (Harsh, but often true.)

      The result is always dependent on the brand, and there’s no “secret” to consistently getting paid for your work.

      Bloggers are often hesitant to push back on a brand in this way, as they worry they’ll ruin a potential relationship or miss out on opportunities.

      Once again, remember that paid collaborations are out there and very possible. So don’t settle for less.

      3. Highlight your best attributes with a media kit.

        Creating a media kit can be initially daunting, so here’s how to take the pressure off. Don’t think of it as a fancy portfolio that showcases your skills. Think of it as a simple display of your relevant stats.

        So identify your most impressive numbers, and bring them front-and-center. What platform do you have the most followers on? Do you have a significant amount of monthly blog views? Have you worked with any notable brands?

        On the first page of my media kit, I first highlight my number of followers on each platform. This allows brands to easily observe how many people I can “influence” by promoting their product.

        While Instagram is often the top choice for sponsored posts, keep in mind that brands often seek promotions on YouTube or Twitter. They may also ask for posts on a few platforms, so your collective reach is important.

        Also on my first page, I highlight my demographics using information from my Instagram Business insights.

        This is an important component to include, yet many bloggers miss it. Brands are often looking to target a specific audience, so your primary gender and age range is important to them.

        Finally, I highlight the brands that I’ve worked with and the media I’ve been featured in. It’s helpful for companies to see what brands you’ve worked with in the past, so that they can gauge your experience level and relevancy.

        By including media features, it helps me stand out. While my social following itself may not be astonishing, my voice has been featured in publications with millions of readers – and that can be an attention-grabber.

        So when you’re creating your media kit, think about what makes you unique and show it off. Numbers are important, but personality makes you shine.

        Not a graphic design whiz? Me neither. Contact Stacey if you’re interested in a customized media kit.

        4. When it comes to determining your rate, there’s no firm answer.

          Determining your rate is often the biggest stressor of all, and conflicting advice can make things even more difficult.

          Many influencers rely on Social BlueBook to calculate their appropriate rates based on their following, myself included. You can also use Influencer Marketing Hub’s Sponsored Post Calculator.

          However, some people will challenge fixed rates and argue that theirs should be higher. You might even come across heated arguments in Facebook groups about this.

          While I ultimately stick to the “standards,” it’s also important to note that some brands will offer you more money right off-the-bat. For instance, I usually charge $50 per Instagram post. However, I recently received an offer for $90.

          Of course, it can go the other way and you’ll be offered less than your standard rate. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

          Instagram started as a series of pretty photos with over-saturated filters, and has now become a platform for business.

          If you’re going to overhaul your profile and use it to showcase your brand, why not revamp your money mindset while you’re at it? I know I have. 

          19 Comments Add a Comment?



          Posted on Jan. 26, 2019, 10:45 p.m.

          Great post! I have often wondered how brand collaborations work so this has given me some useful insights.??


          Vansh Tiwari

          Posted on Jan. 27, 2019, 4:14 a.m.

          Thank you very much for the info ??.



          Posted on Jan. 27, 2019, 7:58 p.m.

          Thanks for the info. Just getting into this and your post helps!



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 1:55 p.m.

          Just the blog post I was looking for! A great read, thank you!



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 2:01 p.m.

          Another awesome post, Sara! This one is particularly timely for me as I’m working to get my own blog up and running. Hope all is well!



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 2:09 p.m.

          There are some really great thoughts here. I really liked your message that you send back to brands - I've always wondered how to word it but I think I'll take a leaf out of your book!



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 6:40 p.m.

          Thank you for an example on how to turn product post to paid post, I haven't even thought about that! I also use SocialBlueBook, it's great :D



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 7:27 p.m.

          This was super helpful! I have done a little bit of collaboration, some for free products and a few that already had set prices. I like your suggestion for an email response though about getting paid, I was wondering how I should go about that, so that is super helpful! Thanks for all the tips, I will be using them :)



          Kristal Molina

          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 7:28 p.m.

          This is a great post with great tips. It is also encouraging that you don’t have to have huge numbers to work with brands.



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 8:10 p.m.

          This was very helpful and informative! I'm just starting out myself so this is exactly the post I needed to read!



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 10:02 p.m.

          Very interesting! And lots of useful information. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be saving this for future reference’



          Posted on Jan. 28, 2019, 11:50 p.m.

          OMG! Great info!! I have such a hard time with wording and I'm still working on my media kit but this gives me a good basis!

          Kristen | kristenabroad.com


          Leah | A Relaxed Gal

          Posted on Jan. 29, 2019, 1:10 a.m.

          This is great info! I totally agree about passing on "offers" that are for a discount to buy their product. I see no point in paying to promote them.

          I also need to get better at pushing back a bit more when these free product offers are presented.


          Natalie Rose

          Posted on Jan. 29, 2019, 8:36 a.m.

          Great info, and very helpful. Going to use these tips.


          Deborah Kos

          Posted on Jan. 29, 2019, 5:31 p.m.

          Love your post on brands 101. I love your honestly on the ins and outs of working with brands for free products and getting paid too.


          Kat Nelson

          Posted on Jan. 30, 2019, 3:52 p.m.

          This is the kind of thing that every new blogger (and even experienced ones) should see! I'm especially here for the "don't settle for less" attitude.




          Posted on Jan. 30, 2019, 6:09 p.m.

          Instagram seems to be a popular platform for promotions. I haven't an Instagram account yet, but after reading this, I think it is time I do.



          Posted on Feb. 1, 2019, 12:58 p.m.

          This is such a great introduction to brands for beginners. I've often wondered how bloggers go about teaming up with them. Thanks for the tips!



          Posted on Feb. 1, 2019, 1:33 p.m.

          I’m definitely bookmarking this! This was very helpful! :)

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