You’ve built a small-but-mighty community online and you’re consistently putting out incredible content, but when it comes to monetizing… You’re a bit lost. You’d love to start working with companies, but don’t know where to start. Maybe brands are already emailing you, but you somehow just end up taking unpaid gig after unpaid gig. This guide breaks down exactly how to negotiate with brands so that you can finally land your first (or next) big campaign.
How To Negotiate With Brands As An Influencer
Before we dive into the negotiation process, the first thing to understand is the various types of ways you can work with a brand as an influencer and content creator.
Types of collaborations:
IN-KIND PRODUCT GIFTING:
This type of collaboration is when a brand gives you their product or service in exchange for an agreed-upon number of Instagram posts. This kind of collaboration can extend to many types of products and services across many different industries and typically these kinds of collaborations will be the first ones you’ll do!
For example, you might receive a dress from a brand in return for 2 posts on Instagram tagging the brand. Or you might get a 2-night hotel stay in return for 3 posts on Instagram tagging the hotel.
PAID PRODUCT COLLABORATION:
This is the same concept as an in-kind product gifting, except that there is additional payment involved. A brand will provide you with their product or service AND monetary compensation in exchange for an agreed-upon number of Instagram posts.
For example, at 20,000 followers, you could receive a dress and $400 in return for 2 posts on Instagram tagging the brand. Or at 50,000 followers, you might receive the 2-night hotel stay and $1,000 in return for 3 posts on Instagram tagging the hotel.
A press trip is a trip organized by a brand where they hire you to create content promoting the brand, destination or hotel. These can be individual trips or group press trips with other influencers, photographers or journalists. These can be paid or unpaid.
An example of a paid press trip might look something like this: the Tourism Board of Colorado might invite you on an influencer press trip to the state for 6 days. Your airfare, accommodations, food and activities are covered for the trip, and the tourism board is paying you $3,000. You have 100,000 followers and you are expected to upload 6 Instagram posts and 10 Instagram Stories, tagging the tourism board.
This is a collaboration between an influencer and a brand, where the brand gives away their item or experience to one (or more) of your followers. The goal for the brand is to gain followers and brand awareness. Depending on the size of the influencer, the influencer will be compensated with free product and/or with monetary compensation.
An example of this might be if a clothing brand partners with a fashion influencer with 40,000 followers for a giveaway. The brand will be giving away 3 dresses to 1 winner, and is compensating the influencer by gifting her 4 dresses. The fashion influencer posts an image of her wearing one of the dresses on her page and in the caption announces:
“I’m partnering with [brand] to give away 3 dresses to one of you! To enter, just like this post, tag a friend in the comments, and follow [brand]. Winners will be announced on Friday, June 21 at 5 pm EST. Good luck!“
Now, if you want to position yourself to be able to land brand collaborations like these, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Focus on quality
Brands would rather work with an influencer with 10k followers and high-quality content than an influencer with 500k followers and blurry, low-quality iPhone images.
There are many reasons for this, but primarily this is because a brand wants to work with someone whose content will represent them in a positive, quality way. In addition, brands oftentimes like to use the content produced by influencers for their own social media or online marketing.
So, keep quality of your content top-of mind by capturing images with the right equipment and focusing on improving image composition & editing.
Post content that aligns with the brands you’re trying to attract
My students often come to me with the same complaint: “Ugh, Christina! I’m a travel blogger, but no travel brands are approaching me. What am I doing wrong?” Sometimes it’s a matter of them needing to do more networking with potential brand partners. But more often than not, they aren’t posting high-quality travel content on their page.
Instead of waiting to work with brands in order to create content in your niche, you need to create content in your niche in order to attract brands. For example, if you are a luxury travel influencer and want to work with brands like Ritz-Carlton and Rimowa, you already need to be producing luxury travel content and promoting luxury travel brands. Otherwise, these types of brands won’t see your platforms as a good fit for their promotional goals.
Ensure the brands you’re working with align with your niche & values
A big mistake influencers make (particularly when they are just starting out) is accepting any & all collaborations that come their way as opposed to negotiating with brands. Which I get – when that first brand reaches out, it’s exciting!
But when a brand approaches you, you need to ask yourself…
- Will my followers be interested in this brand and potentially make a purchase with them?
- Does this brand fit my niche?
- Do I personally support this brand and love its products?
- Do this brand’s values fit with mine?
- Are they working with a diverse group of influencers? (Reference this blog post I wrote about how we can hold brands accountable in their anti-racist work)
If the answer to ALL those questions is a yes, go ahead with the collaboration. But if the answer to any of them is a no, the bottom line is that you need to turn down the opportunity.
It can be hard to walk away from a collaboration (especially when there is money involved). But you do not want to be that influencer that takes every opportunity that comes their way regardless of whether it’s a good fit or not.
I’ve had to turn down well-paid opportunities because I didn’t feel that the brand fit my niche. I’ve also made the mistake of working with a company that didn’t fit my niche. And then saw firsthand how it negatively impacted my engagement and followers’ trust on Instagram.
Now let’s dive into the 8-step process to properly negotiate with brands.
Step 1: Always ask for compensation
When a brand reaches out to you to be part of their influencer marketing campaign, they may not mention payment or sponsored content in their first email. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have budget to pay. I can’t even count the number of paid brand collaborations I’ve had that didn’t start with an email mentioning payment – probably 80% of them.
So if you’ve determined (using the questions above) that the brand will be a good fit for your platform & audience, ask if they have budget! I usually reply with something like, “Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I think this campaign would be a perfect fit for my audience. Does [BRAND] have a budget for this?” I usually also attach my media kit to this email as well, so that they can learn more about me and my brand.
If the brand replies saying that they don’t have a budget, it’s then up to you whether you’d like to continue with an in-kind collaboration. Creating content takes a lot of time, so sometimes it just isn’t worth it. As I mentioned above, an in-kind collaboration is when you receive the product, hotel stay or experience for free, but without additional payment.
Step 2: Nail down deliverables
Once you know that the brand has a budget to pay, you’ll need to determine what deliverables they are looking for from you. This could be a few sponsored posts on IG, a single blog post, or a combination of IG posts & blog content.
Step 3: Determine your rates
Now that you know the deliverables they are looking for, this is where you’ll be starting negotiations. When you negotiate with brands you’ll need to determine a rate to present them with. Here are some formulas to help you find yours.
- Instagram post: $100 per 10,000 followers
- Instagram Story: 20 – 30% of your rate for an IG post
- Giveaway: 20 – 30% more than your rate for an IG post
- Press trip: The best way to figure out how much to charge for a press trip is by figuring out what deliverables the brand wants and add those rates together.
Note that these calculations can be impacted depending on a few factors:
- Engagement rate: If you have a higher-than-average engagement rate, you can raise your rates a bit!
- Exclusivity: Let’s say you are partnering with a shampoo brand and they want exclusivity rights for the 6 months following your partnership, meaning that you cannot work with other shampoo brands in that time frame. This is a potential loss of income, so you can charge the brand more for exclusivity terms.
- Rights to content: Oftentimes, brands want the right to use the content created in the campaign on their social media, website, or other marketing materials without credit. Be wary of companies trying to sneak these terms into contracts without your noticing because it’s something you can charge extra for!
Step 4: Pitch package options
A package rate is a rate you give for multiple deliverables that is reduced just enough to make the brand feel like you’re giving them a deal. You will only need to determine a package rate if the collaboration involves multiple posts. A collaboration that only involves 1 Instagram post, for example, would not require a package rate.
Here’s an example, so you can see how you would set rates, adjust them based on possible factors, and come up with a package rate to present to the brand:
Let’s say you have 30,000 followers and a brand wants you to do 3 Instagram posts and 5 Instagram Stories. You would use the formulas from the previous lesson to determine that your total rate for 3 Instagram posts and 5 Instagram Stories would be (POSTS: 3 x $300 = $900) + (STORIES: 5 x $90 = $450) = $1,350.
The brand says they don’t want brand exclusivity, but they do want rights to the 3 images. There is no exact science to charging for rights to content So I would base this on your level of experience with photography. If you consider yourself a photography newbie, charge around $100 per photo. If you consider yourself a professional, well, you likely already know your rate for rights to images. Let’s go with $100/photo. $100 x 3 = $300. $300 + $1,350 = $1,650. To present your package rate, break down that the 3 IG posts, 5 IG Stories and rights to the images would cost $1,650, but that you’re offering them a package rate of $1,500.
That would be package #1 for $1,500.
Package option #2 for $2,000 would include everything from Package #1 PLUS a blog post.
Package option #3 for $2,300 would include everything from Package #2 PLUS an additional IG post and 2 IG stories.
So, you would bullet out what is included in each package, making the highest priced package the most desirable by including “the most bang for their buck.”
Step 5: Present creative ideas and make your value-add clear.
When you present your package options for the collaboration, include a couple of creative ideas you have and make it clear what the brand will get from working with you. This will make you stand out from the rest of the influencers that the brand is considering.
Some examples of this:
- Include images from previous campaigns you’ve done to give them an idea of what they can expect
- Present a creative idea for Instagram content you have
- Show results from a previous campaign and how your audience responded to give them an idea of how your audience will react to their brand
I talk to Emily Shearburn (of Hawkins International Public Relations) about how to stand out as an influencer in this episode of Her Life By Design.
Step 6: Don’t be afraid to negotiate
Negotiation to settle on a price is normal. Sometimes I go back-and-forth with a brand 4-5 times before agreeing on a rate.
Usually it goes something like this:
- Initial pitch email
- Your reply expressing interest and asking if there is budget
- Their reply confirming (or denying!) and asking how much you would charge for a certain package of deliverables
- Your email giving them the package rate
- Their reply telling you a lower number
- Your reply offering an in-between number
Step 7: Aim for a long-term collaboration
The benefits of a long-term collaboration vs. a one-off Instagram post are many. When you post about a brand once, the campaign is far less effective for the brand. The average consumer needs to see a product multiple times before even considering purchases.
When pitching a long-term campaign, explain that to the brand. It’s not just beneficial because you’ll be paid more, it’s mutually beneficial to them as well because their ROI from the partnership will be noticeably higher.
Step 8: Incorporate other platforms
Whenever possible, incorporate other platforms into the campaign. Benefit to you is that the collaboration will be larger and you can charge more. The benefit to the brand is, again, a higher ROI and the advantage of having their company talked about in a number of different places.
For example, if you have a blog, suggest adding a blog post to the campaign in addition to Instagram content. Through organic search and Pinterest (if you’re using that as a blog growth strategy!), the blog post can be found for years, adding incredible value to the brand long-term.
If you want more tips on growing as an influencer on Instagram, check out the free 1-hour class I’m running online called The 3 Steps to Grow Your Instagram Following & Land Your First Paid Brand Collab. In the class, you’ll learn how to use the algorithm to your advantage, how to write captions that drive engagement, and how to actually grow on the ‘gram these days.
Here are some Her Life By Design episodes about working with brands that you will also find useful:
- How to Work with Hotels as an Influencer w/ Marc Babin of Westin Hotels
- Negotiate Brand Deals Like a Pro w/ My Manager, Josh Watson
- How to Land Press Trips as a Travel Blogger
- Why PR Agencies are the Key to Your Next Big Brand Deal w/ Emily Shearburn of Hawkins PR