Working With Brands // The Biz of Blogging // Part Two

This is part two of a series in which I am sharing my story as an Instagrammer/blogger. Last week I wrote a blog post titled “How I Started My Instagram“. The post shared tips about things I think you can do to have a great Instagram account.

Today’s Question

“How Can I work with Brands to earn free product and/or get paid?”

When I first started on Instagram I had no idea working with brands was an option. I just thought that you posted your own photos, grew your account and enjoyed daily inspiration from all of the amazing home decor posts. But soon I started seeing some of my favorite Instagrammers sharing products they loved on their feeds and I realized someday there might be a fun opportunity to work with brands. 

Influencer Marketing, which is the official phrase for working with brands, is one of the hottest trends happening right now. By definition, “influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential customers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers”. If you compare what a brand pays to advertise in a magazine, with what they can pay an influencer to promote their brand on their feed, it’s a lot less money. Yet the income to the influencer is substantial, so you can see why it is a win-win for everybody.

So What Do You Need to be Able to Work With Brands?

There isn’t a single answer to this question. There are multiple answers! First, you need to make sure your Instagram account looks as good as you can possibly make it. Edit your photos (read this post for tips) to make sure they are bright and sharp and clear. Archive the posts that just don’t look great (I do this every month.) Engage with your audience (see my post with lots of tips about this) by answering comments and asking a question in your posts to encourage a response. Don’t just post to post. Make sure you have something interesting to say. (And trust me, you all have something interesting to share twice a day on Instagram.)

Having a blog is a big plus for brands. Why? Because a blog allows you to tell your story and share a lot of photos. So if you are thinking about starting a blog, I would go ahead and do it. Do you have to have a blog to work with brands? Absolutely not. So don’t start a blog unless you want one. I love my blog and I am so thankful I started it last year.

Having a lot of followers is certainly a factor that brands consider when selecting who they want to partner with. If a brand is going to send you free product or send you product and a fee, then they obviously want to get the most “bang for their buck”. If you are early in your Instagram career, just be sure to set your expectations. There are plenty of brands that want to work with smaller Instagram accounts. Just don’t expect that you will get a brand with millions of followers to collaborate with you when you are first starting out. It could happen, but just be realistic.

If you are first starting out, focus on your Instagram account and building followers before you worry about working with brands. But here are some tips of things you can do to make it happen sooner than later.

How Many Followers do You Need to Work With Brands?

It depends. Before you even think of working with brands, you should identify about twenty brands that you love. Make a list and make sure you include small, medium-sized and large brands. We all have brands that we love and this will likely be a pretty easy task to do. Make sure you are following all twenty of these brands and turn on your Post Notifications (see how to do that here) so that you will see their posts. Then, show them tons of instalove. Follow, like, comment and love the brand! You already like their brand, so let them know it! There is a good chance they will notice you. 

(I should add that I have been following and liking and commenting @potterybarn but they have yet to respond to any of my efforts to reach out to them. But, I have been liking their account for about a year and a half, so I keep thinking someday they will want to work with me! I also follow two of my local PB stores and when I go in there they always comment about how much they like my feed. So my fingers are crossed …) 

I got my first collaboration with a brand when I had about 2500 followers. They offered me free product and I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Truthfully, I think I could have worked with a brand earlier had I been more aware the opportunity existed. It is a lot easier to work with a brand for free product (than cash) and it’s a good way to get started working with brands. But as your account grows, you should get paid. 

What is Involved with a Sponsored Post?

Sponsored posts are really hard. Why? Because every time you work with a brand you need to try your absolute hardest to blow them away. I think I sometimes overdo it but that is just the way my brain thinks. For my first paid post (it was for Christmas), the brand suggested I feature one area of a room on my blog post. I did two complete rooms. I did a post a few weeks ago where I went to two different grocery stores looking for bottles of beer that matched the copper barrel they would be featured in. For an upcoming collaborated post, with one of my favorite retailers, I spent two days creating an outdoor room for the post. Why do I do this? Because I want to work with them again and again!

At a minimum, you need to take great pictures. (This may require you to shoot photos more than once.) Not only will it show off the product in a good way but the brand will be happy and they may likely share the photos on their social media. Also, for most paid posts the brands require you to send over your photos, videos, and all of your written posts (for your Instagram post, Instagram stories, and blog post) in advance for approval. And often they have edits. Sometimes they change direction and you have to redo it. As in the entire post.

So, now you know why Instagrammers should be paid for posts. They are a lot of work. But I absolutely think they are worth it.

What About FTC Guidelines?

Whenever I endorse a brand and receive free, discounted, or paid items, it is considered a “sponsored” post.  The FTC requires that you use the term “#ad” or “#sponsored” at the beginning of your Instagram or blog post when you are endorsing a product. This helps the reader know there was some incentive given to the author of the post. I have yet to write a scathing post for a brand I didn’t like which is based on the fact I don’t work with brands I don’t like. I think if I ever had a bad experience I would likely just let the brand know and return the product.

I can’t say for sure that you will get in a lot of trouble if you don’t follow the FTC guidelines. I do know that the brand is often the one that gets penalized so that is why most brands are very strict about following the FTC guidelines. Don’t ever disobey the brand requirements as it is likely they will never work with you again.

There is nothing wrong with letting your followers know you are being compensated for endorsing a brand. So don’t feel bad or guilty for adding #ad or #sponsored on your post. You should be proud that you get to work with a brand! You can read more about this here.

How Do You Know Which Brands to Reach Out To?

About a year ago when I started seeing collaborated posts on my Instagram feed, I came up with an idea. On my Instagram account, I created a “collection” called Sponsored and anytime I saw a sponsored post I saved it in my “Sponsored” collection. I figured this would be a great way to know which brands are already working with bloggers. I now have hundreds of posts saved in this collection and it’s a great reference list! You might want to start doing this right away.

Do Brands Reach Out to Me or Do I Contact Brands?

The answer is both. Every week I try to reach out to five brands that I would love to work with. I usually DM them and introduce my brand and tell them why I would love to work with them. I then ask who I should follow up with. You should know that most of the best collaborations I have done were with brands I reach out to. 

I am very lucky that brands also reach out to me. I have to politely decline many of them as I don’t think they are a good fit with my brand. But every time I get an email, I still jump for joy! It is just so exciting to me that these awesome brands want to work with me!

I also should mention that I work with a lot of Influencer Marketing companies. These are companies that match brands with influencers for sponsored posts. They are basically an ad agency for social media sponsored posts. I promise to provide more details about how that works in a later post.

To sum it up, my best advice is to always have fun with your social media. Spend most of your time on Instagram feed posting and engaging with your followers. Always make sure everything you post is true to you and looks the best it possibly can. Be patient but know there is an opportunity out there to work with brands. Just be patient. Find your favorite brands and show them some Instalove and someday you just might be able to work with them.

I hope you enjoyed this post. There is so much to share and I will be addressing this topic every week. Don’t forget to sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss a future post. My posts will arrive in your email box so it’s pretty easy to find them. 

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  1. Thank you for sharing! I enjoy your direct honest writing and encouragement for your followers ????

  2. How do you navigate your taxes, as far as the income/ free good you receive from working with brands?

  3. Hi, I started my blog and Instagram @retirementpleasures in Jan. of this year and wonder if my organic growth is slower than usual. I have 115 posts and about 100 followers. Is this normal? What could one expect?
    PS thanks for the all the info that I have wondered about, love your IG

  4. Thank you for posting this information. Lots to process. Can you talk more about Blogs, types, how and which are more successful for you and how to boost you IG followers.
    Love your IG

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