Working with Brands 101: Tips for New Bloggers & Micro Influencers

August 9, 2020

Collab/shopping event with Ann Taylor

I was actually inspired to write this post by a DM I recently received. A new blogger had reached out to me asking for advice because a company commented on one of her posts about collabing (red flag, #1. We'll get into this later). I was able to steer her away from potentially being scammed and it got me thinking: what if there are others out there that need to hear this? I wish someone had given me a rundown of how things worked when I was first starting out!

I have actually worked with quite a few brands, but let me preface this by saying I am by no means an expert on the subject, and the number of brands I have worked with pales in comparison to some of my blogger friends (sidenote: all of the photos on this post are pulled from brand collabs I did). I merely wanted to share what I have learned thus far as a "micro influencer" (more like nano influencer, and honestly, I don't even really like the term "influencer" but it is what it is. I just consider myself a blogger, first and foremost.) Anyone can be an "influencer." If you have followers, you have "influence" and by that, I just mean that clearly there are people out there that care about you and what you have to offer & share with the world.

Collab with R+Co

As such, I feel a certain responsibility to my fellow bloggers & aspiring "influencers" to share with them what I have learned along the way, because it is so so so important to SUPPORT EACH OTHER! I had quite a few people leave me on "seen" when I reached out via DM to them early on, asking for simple advice. Some bloggers think that by sharing their knowledge or spilling "secrets" on how they got to where they are is in some way going to take away from their following, or hurt them in some form by giving tips to others. Other bloggers might just see small/new bloggers reaching out as "annoying" and just don't feel like giving them the time of day. But for every selfish blogger out there, there are 500 great ones, all wanting to share what they know to build up the rest of the community! It should always be collaboration over competition. There's room for everyone here. Now...climbing down from my soapbox...let's jump in!

If you are just starting out with a small following and just a handful of posts on your feed, I suggest first focusing on building your personal brand. Think of your feed as a snapshot of who you are. You want to convey, in the first few rows of your feed, what you clearly are all about & what your style is. Having a cohesive feed with a similar style throughout lets brands quickly know if you are a good match. Now that you've got your feed in order, it's time to nail down that first collab!

Collab with Goodie Girl Cookies

1. Scoring a Brand Deal
In the beginning, you will have to do the legwork. Just because you don't have a huge following doesn't mean you can't land a collab. Don't be scared to reach out to brands yourself and pitch your idea - just be mindful of who you're pitching to. If you only have a few hundred followers and pitch to an enormous world-renowned company, don't be shocked when you don't hear back, so I suggest starting with smaller companies, especially local! Working with local businesses in your area has 2 benefits: 1) it's a smaller niche, so you'll stand out more & 2) you already have something huge in common with the brand, especially if majority of your followers are their target audience...local! If you can, research the company and try to dig up a contact in their marketing or social media dept. to reach out to directly over email. DM works too, but honestly if you can directly email, it is much more professional.

2. Know what you are endorsing
Do your due diligence! To protect your authenticity and brand, you want to make sure you know what kind of product you are endorsing and what kind of company you're promoting. Look up reviews on the product and the company. Look and see what other bloggers/influencers have tagged them and said about them (you could even reach out to some of these people and see if they had a good experience working with them).

3. Don't accept every collab that comes your way
I've declined lots of proposals because the product or service either didn't align with my own personal brand or it just wasn't something I was interested in promoting. For example, I'm not really a "health & fitness" type of account, so when a brand reached out to me about promoting their all natural super crunchy earth-mama type vitamins & supplements, I passed on it. It's nothing against the brand - it just wasn't something I wanted to put the time & effort into promoting at the time. Point being, it's totally OK to turn down companies if it isn't the right fit. Plus, making every single post on your feed a promo post seems a little spammy to me and can actually turn a lot of your followers off.

Collab with Ruby Sunshine restaurant

4. Be wary of companies looking to collab via your comments
We've all seen em, those spammy comments on posts like, "Hey babe! We love your feed! DM us to collab *insert kissyface emoji here*"  Um, EW, DAVID. A legitimate company will not conduct business this way or make you DM them if they are truly interested in working with you. They will take the time to reach out to you directly and pitch their idea. "Companies" that leave spammy comments like these tend to target smaller accounts and newer influencers to take advantage of them. Avoid companies that leave spammy comments and move on.

5. Don't pay a cent
Another telltale sign of a scam is if the company says they will send you XYZ but you "just have to pay for shipping." A legitimate business will send your free product and cover the shipping costs; companies that ask you to pay for shipping are just trying to make money off you, and often, never even send the product. Additionally, companies may want to offer you an "ambassador" role but then turn around & ask that you make a purchase from their site with your own "special discount code." That's not a collab - that's just a discount. True collabs will either pay you for your time & effort, or they will send you free product in exchange for the post. Period.

6. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
I once got a DM for a collab that said they needed product photos. They said they paid $100 per photo and they needed 5 photos (ok, you have my attention). Once we got into the details, they wanted me to cover the cost of shipping (red flag #1 - see above). I gave them the benefit of the doubt and dug into the company a little bit more. I couldn't find anything online about them - no reviews, no one talking about them on YouTube or other blogs, nothing (red flag #2). Their website seemed pretty legit though so I dug some more. They didn't have anyone tagging them in photos, which seemed odd, because as a brand selling product, that's exactly what you want (red flag #3). They also had a super fishy engagement-to-follower ratio, meaning they had thousands & thousands of followers, but were averaging like 50-100 likes per photo so a lot of those followers were probably fake (red flag #4). The final straw was when I did a reverse image search for their products: supposedly "high end" $150 backpacks, which I found splashed all across AliExpress for around $10-$15. No thanks - hard pass. This all circles back to doing your research. Just take the time to know who you're going to be working with & weed out all those scammy businesses.

Collab with Westin Chattanooga

7. Know your worth
In the beginning, you'll probably only be doing "free product" type collabs, which is great! But as you grow and gain experience, you can start charging for your work. You put time and effort into your posts (& nothing is ever as simple as "just taking a picture" or "just posting") so you deserve to get paid for that work! Build a media kit and submit that when brands approach you. Don't be afraid to ask for compensation for your work if your engagement rate and following is there to back up that claim (or if you just take amazing photos & they want to pay you for that alone). However, not all brands pay influencers and bloggers to share their product. Just because someone is doing a promotial or sponsored post, doesn't necessarily mean they are getting paid.

8. Follow through
Once you've actually landed a brand deal and have the product in hand, don't let them down! This company is invested in you! I have actually been on the brand side of this with my Etsy shop and let me tell you, it really sucks when you invest in someone, send them free product, and then A) you never get photos, B) they never post, C) they finally post a half-assed low quality photo like 3 months later or D) all of the above. Who would want to work with someone like that!? Not me! So be professional. If you agree to work with a brand, stick to your end of the bargain. Really serious big-time collabs will make you actually sign a contract, legally binding you to the terms of the agreement (been there!). Most brands will just give you a whole slew of guidelines and deadlines to adhere to. Just know what you are agreeing to & follow through when you accept the collab.

9. Bring your "A" game
I love going above & beyond for my collabs because I truly enjoy what I do. I love getting creative, taking lots of photos, and aiming for the goal of impressing the client/business. A collab that goes well will lead to more & more, so put all your effort into what you post. If the company has given examples of what they don't want like an overly suggestive photo of yourself simply holding out the product, then please don't submit that type of content. Pay attention to what they want (or don't want), make the content your own to match your personal style/brand, and be proud of your work!

Collab with Belk

10. If you don't like it, don't promote it!
The one caveat to this is if you signed some sort of contract that binds you to the terms of posting/promoting, but most collabs that are product-for-post are just sending you a product to try out & then want you to tell your followers about it. If you truly don't like the product, don't ruin your authenticity by spewing BS to your followers for a product you don't even believe in. Just politely reach back out to the company, thank them for sending it, but let them know you can't post about it because XYZ reason. Your feedback might even help them improve their product!

I hope that some of these tips have helped you and allowed for some insight into the world of collabs. I've only briefly touched on this, but I hope to share more tips & blogging tricks in the future. As always, if you need more advice or have any questions about anything I've shared here, please reach out to me over Instagram on @cakeaftermidnight. I won't leave you on read.  :)


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