How to work with businesses/brands as an influencer (written by a marketer who hires influencers)

Influencer marketing is a touchy subject and a lot of the press around influencers can be negative. Are they only after freebies? Will there be any point in paying them? Are they just obnoxious young people who need to get proper jobs?

With the help of The Sheffield Hallam University psychology class, I researched how bloggers and influencers actually feel about working with businesses. We found that far from being egomaniacs who just want something for nothing, bloggers and influencers were really passionate about the topic they specialised in, and they were reluctant to reach out to businesses for collaboration because they didn’t feel comfortable asking for things. You’re investing so much time into your Instagram or blog that the payment and freebies you do get hardly give you a luxury income. You have a passion project on your hands, but it would be nice to get some perks here and there instead of promoting products and businesses for nothing. While you slog away working hard on your content, someone who appears to have lower-quality material and fake followers is getting all the brand collaborations – why?

How can you increase your brand collabs? Well, as someone who works with food influencers on behalf of two products sold in supermarkets, let me share what I’ve learned from the other side.

We don’t know you exist

We are in the business of selling our product not buying it. We may not be super into the blogger community that we are representing. Out of the 5 other people who work on one of my clients projects directly, not one of us is a food blogger or reads food blogs for enjoyment. We aren’t hired to know about food, we’re hired to know about marketing. You’ll find the same types of people working in fashion and beauty. They might adore beauty and appreciate the freebies they get from their boss, but they may not have the inclination to go home and watch a bunch of beauty YouTubers for fun. When you’re within a business creating the sheen that other people see, it doesn’t look so shiny from the inside and the excitement can wear off. This is our work. It might seem weird that we care more about marketing and PR than food, fashion, cars or beauty – but some of us really do!

So which food bloggers do I know about? The ones that regularly comment on our posts, tag us, enter our contests and otherwise make themselves known. Sure, there are others I will have come across when I’m searching through hashtags, but they’re the ones that come to mind.

If you want a brand to know who you are, follow them. Tag them. Comment on their posts. You don’t need to suck up, just be present.

You don’t know we exist

Sure there are businesses who are owned by billionaires, who have marketing budgets that have hundreds of thousands to spend on influencers. You know who they are, I know who they are. They’ll be able to pick the very best influencers and celebrities and send them the full range of their newest products, as well as 2k to promote it.

But what about the businesses who have more modest budgets? Say 2-10k per month (and most of that goes on graphic designers, analytics and social media managers). The smaller profiles, who have money to spend but aren’t sure where to spend it. There is a massive business opportunity there for influencers, but they’re too busy stressing about getting on Missguided’s PR list.

Whenever I use a new product, I’ll look them up on Instagram and see what their marketing is like (because I’m a marketing nerd). My baby’s bum cream, my favourite jam, my walking boots – who made these and how are they marketing? You’ll find that these businesses usually have smaller marketing presences than the ones that would spring to mind if you had to name x10 brands. But you’ll see that they usually have active social media profiles 1-20k followers and are paying a marketing agency to handle it.

You’re already using the product, so you’re already the type of customer they want to market to.

Look through all the products and services you already use, and give their brand Instagram account a follow.

Use a different strategy for small businesses vs large ones

Large businesses have marketing teams, we have advertising budgets, we have permissions to send out free samples or pay influencers. Small businesses do not. To a small business, it may be very expensive to send out influencer packages and they will need to build trust with you. They’ll want to know that you are the right person to use, that you actually like their products and aren’t looking to make a buck.

I find that most of the time, influencers approach me as if I am a small business owner. They’ll tell me that they really love the product, that they would love to work with me, that they have been a customer for years. But, we really don’t care. I am a marketer. My job is to make people more money and I do that by making trend lines and numbers rise. Incidentally, I do use one of the food products I send out in influencer packages but had never heard of the other before I started working for them. If I didn’t actually like the products it would make no difference to my work. So, you really don’t need to blow smoke up marketers asses, we’d prefer to see what we really love – numbers. Show us some charts of your impressions and engagement.

If you’re on the cusp of being an influencer. If you have a smallish audience but your content is quite good. If you aren’t a huge name, you may think it will be easier to get packages and work with small businesses. You might think bigger businesses will have massive expectations. This is a mistake people who are new to business make whatever they are selling. I will remake the point I started with – influencer packages are expensive to small businesses. To a business who spends 10k on a supermarket magazine ad, your request is very small and they won’t have super high expectations. To an Etsy seller – a free product and the p+p is a lot to them and they will expect more from you.

Don’t assume that small businesses will be more obtainable to work for than large ones, they have smaller budgets.

Learn how to price like a professional

Another mistake people who are new to business make is this – they have no idea what to charge so what do they do? They charge what everyone else is charging.

It’s true that competing on price isn’t the best idea, don’t just try and get work because you’re the cheapest, but be realistic.

When I was approaching a food influencer to work with on an on-going basis I wanted to see if I could get a smaller influencer (someone making good quality recipes) to work with us for cheaper than our current influencer (who had 50k followers and an extremely large following on her blog). I figured we could save some money and spend it on ads instead, which is a better use of our budget. We weren’t getting any followers from the food blogger we were using, but we enjoyed using her recipes on our page.

She charged us £300 for one blog and one post on her page. Grand.

Guess what every.single.other.infuencer I contacted, whether they had 100 followers or 100k followers charged? £300.

There isn’t a set industry wage for creative work. Some people wont get out of bed for less than £500. Some people will work all week to earn £500.

Here is how I personally charge somewhere inbetween:

  • High enough to feel valued and treat my clients with care and respect. If I charge too low, I will resent them for not paying me enough and start to prefer other clients who do.
  • Low enough that I don’t feel like I’m conning anyone out of their money and don’t feel anxious that I can’t live up to their expectations.

Charging too much, or too little makes for an extremely stressful life. Managing to secure work you have priced incorrectly is the best case scenario. In many cases, they will just overlook you and go elsewhere to someone who is either better or cheaper.

If you don’t have much work on at all, consider lowering your prices.

If you have a lot of clients and it’s becoming competitive to be your client, raise your prices.

It may seem counterintuitive that there is no set way of pricing like a pro, and that pricing is more of a spiritual, personal thing. But there we are.

You can’t make lots of money with high prices if you don’t get any work. Be realistic about your pricing. But remember if you undercharge you will produce poor work and resent the client.

You probably aren’t our priority (so stop worrying)

You know how many influencers we marketers have to deal with? Lots. And on top of that, we have colleague emails to respond to, multiple clients to service and salespeople knocking down our door. If someone doesn’t respond to your email or you had an email thread going with us and we stopped responding, it’s likely we just forgot about you so don’t feel bad about sending us a reminder of the work is important to you.

On top of this, some agencies have revolving doors and it’s common for staff to come and go all the time. So if you were working with one PR and they’ve stopped messaging you, it’s okay to reach out to the agency and see who is the person you should message about influencer campaigns.

If someone doesn’t message you back, don’t take it as a rejection. They probably just forgot about you.

If you get lots of rejections just improve your work and try again.

There’s lots of “know your worth” related motivational content out there, and it’s true you should learn your worth. Unfortunately, sometimes your posts aren’t worth much. I do some influencer campaigns on my personal account. I’ve had a few businesses ask me to promote their product for £20, some larger companies have sent me gift packages of outfits for me and my kids and I occasionally get a free sample of the product. I’m quite happy with this as it’s not in my interest to have influencing as one of my main incomes, I just use the Instagram to connect with people and nurture relationships – a few freebies are an incredible bonus. But what if you’re at the level I’m at but you want the big campaigns – the latest product range delivered to your door every season. The £300 per post prices or even the £2,000 per campaign fees? Just work at it. Work on getting better at photography, narrow down into your content and your audience. Run contests. Get inspired. Put effort in. It’s going to be hard work, you’ll need to take a good hard look at your Instagram and wonder how you can improve it. But the good news is that you can improve it.

One influencer messaged me to ask for paid work but I declined, instead sending her a goody box. She got to work on improving her Instagram and now every other post is a paid campaign with a huge family brand. It’s taken her a year but she has done it. If it’s something you really want, go for it!

Don’t give up before you’ve tried to make your work better.

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