A few weeks ago, I made a big decision. No, I'm not pregnant, and no, we're not moving. (Those are the two questions we get most whenever I'm mysterious about something, which are hilarious.) I decided that I would only be working on paid collaborations in the future! If you aren't familiar with the Instagram influencer world, you're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about. I'll start from the beginning.
When I started my Instagram back in 2010, I had no intention of monetizing it. One, I was in high school, and two, I was using Instagram as a place to play with filters and share snapshots of my life. It wasn't exactly riveting content, if we're being honest — check out this post that got a whopping three likes (although look at that cutie on guitar)!
As most of you know, I relaunched my blog in 2017 and decided to use Instagram to build my blog audience with the eventual goal of making money from it. I had no idea how long it'd take to get paid sponsorships, but I assumed I'd need at least 10,000 followers — maybe more — before brands were willing to work with me.
I have around 5,100 Instagram followers right now, and I'm able to turn down unpaid collaborations because my editorial calendar is too full. I've been getting collaborations since I had around 2,000 followers as well. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it's totally possible to make a profit even if you aren't a superstar.
Like any good rule, there are exceptions here. For example, a brand recently offered me prescription glasses in exchange for a post. I can't function without my glasses or contacts, so I said ABSOLUTELY. It saves me money when brands provide clothing, food and other things that I'd be buying anyway! And I have a soft spot for small businesses, so if I have the time and resources, I'll probably always view those collaborations differently.
It feels so pompous and arrogant to say that I'm only accepting paid collabs when I'm not a big blogger, and I would've been hesitant to say it a few months ago. I heard an amazing expression that I'll share here: Know your worth. Then add tax. I feel like it's so easy to undervalue yourself when you're in a creative field. I experience this all the time as a freelancer. When people offer exposure in exchange for work, it's tempting.
But when you're producing good content, you need to value your time and creative energy.
My first ever sponsored post wasn't good. I'm going to be candid with y'all so you don't think people just wake up and are able to make money on Instagram without any effort. I got such little engagement that I thought my followers hated sponsored content and I'd lose them if I continued to accept partnerships. I quickly realized that I failed when I first tried sponsored content because I tried to create an advertisement instead of taking pictures like I usually do and incorporating the item being advertised. Compare the below photos, taken with the same camera and same lens three months apart.
In the first picture, I'm very obviously telling my audience to buy a hair serum. In the second picture, I'm at my favorite coffee shop and enjoying myself — and it looks like I just happen to be wearing the watch I'm advertising. So here's a very short answer to what I posed in today's blog title: PRODUCE GOOD CONTENT. The rest will follow. Here are some other practical tips, though.
1. Reach Out To Brands
If you love a brand and want to work with them, there's no harm in asking! I usually reach out via Instagram DM and ask for their influencer marketing contact if I can't find it online. Instead of just saying, "Hey, I want you to pay me," you need to figure out what you're offering and WHY a brand should pick you over the dozens of other influencers in their inboxes asking for a collaboration.
2. Follow Your City's Blogging Hashtags
When we back moved to Tampa, I had ZERO contacts and no idea how to really start. I started following the #TampaBlogger and #TampaFashionBlogger hashtags on Instagram, and I've found so many partnership opportunities this way. When I see another blogger partnering with a brand, I'll reach out to them and kindly ask their experience working with the brand + how they got plugged in! Hint: Bloggers don't bite, and most of us love helping fellow bloggers out. You can find so many small businesses, boutiques and restaurants this way.
3. If You're Not Getting Paid, Know What You Are Getting
This is a controversial tip, so know that this shouldn't be taken as gospel. I know a ton of bloggers who say to never work for free, but obviously, people are still doing unpaid collabs all of the time, and it's not exactly easy to go to a brand when you have 1,000 followers and ask for payment. If a company doesn't have the budget to pay you, get compensated in other ways. Will they repost your image or promote it so you can actually gain followers from the partnership? Are they okay with you dedicating less time to the campaign because you aren't being paid?
4. Join Influencer Networks
Last but not least, JOIN INFLUENCER NETWORKS! It's the easiest way to partner with brands without having to do much work on your end. My favorite influencer networks that have consistently paid me are Revfluence, Ambassadher, and Heartbeat (although Heartbeat's pay rate is pretty low, they usually provide really awesome products). This is seriously the best way to get paid for your work without having to email a ton of brands because you can apply for so many opportunities at once!
I hope this post has helped you — and even if you aren't landing paid brand deals yet, you'll get there. There's no reason to rush the process. Once you're putting in the work, growing your following and improving your content, the rest will come naturally.