Over the past 2 years, I’ve been incredibly lucky and honored to partner with some amazing brands. No matter if you started your Instagram account as a hobby, a job, or found yourself getting opportunities you never even dreamed of, working with brands is one of the (many) perks of the job!
It’s also a great way of making this crazy Instagram thing a job (you know, a thing you get paid for) if that’s your goal! From small, independent one-woman (or man) businesses that make a product you’ve loved for a long time and get to introduce to your audience, to massive brands that want you to tell your followers about the launch of a new product, working with influencers is one of the best ways for a brand to advertise.
But, if you’ve never had to communicate with professionals, send emails, negotiate terms, ask for money, or maybe you’ve been away raising babies, traveling the world, or just been absent from the business world for a hot minute, working with brands can be daunting.
How do you know what to say? What’s allowed? Is it ok to just send a casual DM? Should you be proactive and reach out or just wait for someone to discover you and the offers to roll in?
The questions are endless but these are the exact questions I had to find answers to as I transitioned my account from a journal/personal account to a full-time gig! There is a lot of information and full-disclosure: I’m still learning. But I’ve broken it into a few parts and today I’m writing about being proactive and reaching out to brands and what I’ve had success with.
Some people choose to focus on the growth of their following and prefer to wait for brands to reach out to them. I am not some people. When I took my account public in 2017, the immediate response from my audience was really positive. Within a few weeks of this, I was getting collaboration offers from companies but they more often than not weren’t a great fit! Due to these offers, I knew I could get collaborations with just a few thousand followers but if I wanted to work with brands I love, I had to do the legwork and reach out to them.
And in case you’re thinking you need x-amount of followers before you can collaborate or do a giveaway, you’re dead wrong. It’s not all about the follower count. Brands look at a # of factors when deciding to partner with an influencer, which I’ll go into in a bit.
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Make it easy
Agencies, managers, and social media teams are busy. Super busy. If you want to work with a brand – particularly the larger, more established ones – then you can guarantee that 1000+ other bloggers do, too. And some of those other bloggers may have bigger followings, better images, and way more engagement than you do. It’s bound to happen. On the flip side, however, you could be exactly what the brand is looking for. Imagine being a brand manager and you get an email from an influencer that speaks your brand’s language and has an idea for a collab that makes it so you have to do very little work! This is why sending the right pitch is SO IMPORTANT!!!
Your pitch could be so perfect that it saves them from having to search for the right influencer, come up with a concept, and then coming up with their own pitch! It can go either way, but you won’t know until you make the first move.
On the flip side, there is a chance you could send out ten emails and not receive any responses. It happens. But sending out emails gets your name out there. And that manager may keep you in their “future collab” folder. I’ve even had some write back and tell me that I’m not a good fit right now but I may be in the future.
Nowhere does it say you need a certain amount of followers to reach out to brands. But be smart. A brand like Tiffany’s is less likely to work with someone with 2,000 followers than a local jewelry maker might be. But if you believe yourself to be a great fit for a brand – tell them!
Where to Start
Once you’ve considered your numbers and what you can offer any prospective companies, write a list of your dream collaborations. Whether you dare to reach out to them yet is irrelevant, think of this as your collaboration vision board. These are companies, at some point in your career, that you’d like to work with. Once your dream team is written down, write down a list of brands that you believe would be a good fit for you and your account now. Who do you think you could really shine for? Don’t be too scared to think big! I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of brands that people told me I needed at least 250,000 followers to work with – anything is possible!
Bonus Tip: Start tagging brands and companies in your posts and stories. I have had companies reach out to me because I posted about them, tagged them, and caused a bump in their traffic and sales. Because they’re able to see that I tagged them, they have been able to see that I was the sole cause for the bump – and they know I’m a sure bet! This has happened quite a bit and it helps get you on their radar!
Contacting The Right Person
All those years of Facebook stalking and Instagram detective work are about to pay off! When reaching out to brands, you need to make sure you’re connecting with the right person. If you send all your emails to email@example.com, the chance that you’ll ever hear from anybody are slim to none. And, it shows a lack of initiative and laziness. You need to find the person who manages the department you’re trying to connect with! You’re looking for job titles like:
- Social Media Manager
- Influencer Manager
- PR contact
- Press Team
- Talent & Brand Agent
Start by visiting the company website. It’s EXTREMELY rare, but some do list their PR contact clearly on there. Next, try Googling ‘PR contact for…..,Social Media Manager for…..’. LinkedIn will usually suggest various candidates for you, but always check their current job title and employment dates – quite often they may have moved on from the role and the brand in question. If you manage to uncover a name, but not an email address, you can return to the company website and use the emails listed on there to determine what the company’s emails sign off with –firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc. This takes time, effort and some serious digging, but if as a result, you do reach the relevant people, then it proves to them that you’re determined and willing to do the leg-work.
While this isn’t always appropriate, I’ve even sent a quick DM via Instagram that says:
“Hi XYZ Company! I love _____ and have an idea regarding a collaboration I’d love to talk to you about! What’s the best email address to reach out to? – Tara”
This has been really successful as well and if they give me an email address, it usually means I can expect a response! If this does work for you, reach out ASAP! Don’t wait more than 24 hours. You’ve gotten their attention – you don’t want to lose it now!
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Putting Together An Email
Once you have your list and your contacts, you now need to write a killer email. Keeping in mind the two earlier points – social media managers are busy, and you won’t be the only one pitching. You need to stand out; you need them to notice you. My first pitches to brands weren’t stellar:
Classy? Who am I, my mother? Haha
Not the worst email but I’ve improved considerably and so has my response rate from brands. If you’re sending out a pitch to a brand, you want to make sure you’re sending information that is going to help them make an informed decision. It’s called a pitch for a reason – you need practice so the moment it’s sent, it’s a home run. Here’s what I include today:
A short description of myself including links to my website and my Instagram feed. I am on a few other platforms: Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. But I don’t bring these to attention because they aren’t my biggest platforms. If you’ve got a respectable following on additional platforms, feel free to include them.
Why I’m contacting the brand in question. Why I think my account and the brand work well together, and it doesn’t hurt to tell them how much you admire the work that they do. This is never a stretch for me because I’m always reaching out to brands I love and trust. It’s easy to gush when it’s real. I also take the opportunity to describe my following, give them a bit of info about my engagement (this is an important thing to know about your following), and how crazy my audience is about their brand.
Bonus: If I’ve promoted something similar in the past and have analytics/screenshots/engagement to prove the success of my previous share I will also include it here.
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If you’re reaching out to brands but asking them to come up with a concept or a way to work with you, you’re doing this all wrong. They’re busy and this is asking too much of their time. Give them a narrative behind your vision, explain to them what the collaboration looks like to you. This doesn’t mean creating a shopping list of all the products you hope to receive as I did above. But you need to paint a picture for them. (Super simple to do when you’re keeping a content calendar.
For example, when I was planning my Small Business Saturday blog post, I selected a number of suitable small, local businesses that I wanted to promote and then I followed the above steps. I had worked with some of these businesses before and some had been on my wish list. Within my email I explained to them what I planned to do:
“I am looking to highlight 10-12 local businesses that make products I own and love, and that I feel would make the perfect Christmas gift this holiday season!”
My email explained that I would love to include their business, which would result in a feature in my Small Business Saturday Gift Guide, my Instagram Stories, and on my Instagram feed. I also asked that they offer an exclusive discount code for my followers. It’s a win/win because my followers got to shop local for unique gifts that feel more personalized.
By detailing the full story, you reduce the amount of back and forth, and the number of email conversations between you both which is a bonus for them. They don’t need to think of a collaboration concept; you did the work for them.
Attaching A Media Kit (optional)
This part is down to personal preference. I no longer include a media kit in my initial outreach. From experience, it’s more difficult to discuss payment when I’m the one reaching out vs them just giving a product. As I said, this is totally up to you. And by being proactive you’ve put the ball in their court. They’ll instantly know that you want to work with them, and they haven’t and don’t have to offer you the world to achieve this result. It also allows you to escape the discomfort or unpracticed art of discussing money. Attaching a media kit also shows the brand that you are serious, have taken the time to lay out your analytics and rates.
Even if you’re comfortable accepting product only, a media kit shows a brand what your services would usually cost. This helps them understand your worth. While I never send one on my initial contact, I do have one and will send it out on a case-by-case basis.
My Note About Sending Media Kits: I don’t send one initially because I have found that when I send out pricing right out of the gate, I take away my negotiating power. But this is something I got good at over time and don’t recommend this if you’re just starting out. I will often ask a brand what they have seen the most success with in terms of deliverables. I then will shoot over my proposed pricing for the deliverables they see the most success with.
- Signing Off
I always let the brand know, whatever their decision, that I would love to hear back from them. I’m not afraid of rejection. I instead thank the brand for their time and to please keep me in mind for future collaborations. It’s also important to leave correspondence on a positive note. You may want to pitch the brand again on a future collaboration. People remember polite people. This business is so much about relationships and networking.
Attaching Screenshots (optional)
This is one of my favorite things to do especially as my following has grown and my engagement increased. At the end of some of my emails, I will attach screenshots. Instagram Story views, swipe up analytics, some of my best performing posts, and my most recent blog analytics. This way, brands can see that my reach and engagement are the real deal!
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And that’s it! Click the send button. Do it! You may hear something back, you may not. But you’ll get your name out there. You’ll start to get brand awareness. Both of which are positive steps when growing your business. Good luck!