How to collaborate with brands on Instagram. Find the right brands to work with. Pros and cons of brand work. Your Instagram collaboration questions answered.
Are you an Influencer on Instagram? Or do you have your sights set on becoming an Influencer? Then this post is for you. We are going to show you how to engage and negotiate with brands to put your influence to work. Even if you aren’t there yet these insider tips will help guide you on your journey. Our insights will empower you to negotiate with confidence and succeed at the art of Instagram collaboration.
Instagram collaboration is how you turn your IG passion from a hobby into a job–even a career! It’s when all your hard work can really pay off, literally. Jodie and I put in thousands of unpaid hours before we began working with brands. We enjoyed the many intrinsic rewards up until then. We honed our skills, such as our decorating and photography, and we built relationships. The journey to creating something that brands regard as valuable was a labor of love, full of hard work but also joy.
However, time is a valuable commodity. If you put 1000’s of hours into anything you should be able to turn it into something that provides an income. For Jodie and me, and most people, our time needs to contribute to our family’s bottom line. Time spent on Instagram is time you could spend at another job.
Time to Take Your Instagram to the Next Level
We’ve written many blog posts about all aspects of Instagram, Instagram Help is Here! A Round-Up Just For You! and covered the basics like etiquette, Instagram Etiquette and how to create a successful account Instagram Success Checklist | Are You Making the Most of IG? We’ve talked plenty about how to grow your account, How I Grew Over 100K Instagram followers, how to increase engagement, How to Create Instagram Posts that Go Viral! and how to create your own brand. We have over 45 Instagram related posts that address a full range of topics. In this post we are focusing on turning your Instagram into a business. Specifically, we are talking about working with brands as an Influencer.
What is an “Influencer”?
Stated simply, an Influencer is someone with influence, someone with the power to influence many. In this case, we are talking social media power. Brands value an Instagram account because of the market reach. An account’s reach is determined by how many people follow, but even more importantly, how many people actively engage, i.e. liking, commenting, and sharing on a regular basis. Engagement is even more valuable with the new algorithm than the actual size of your following. Brands want to see an active, growing audience. This is something that cannot be faked or bought and represents real market reach.
If you are reading this post you are somewhere along your path. Maybe you are contemplating starting an IG account and wondering what it’s all about. Maybe you’ve begun and are wondering if it’s all worth your while. More likely, you are in the midst of developing your brand and wondering what the next steps look like. And some of you are in the trenches trying to negotiate and looking for answers.
The good news is this post is for all of you. The bad news is that we can only provide guidelines. A lot will be left up to you. While we have a plenty of combined experience and lots to tell you there is no set formula, and very few hard and fast rules. These are topics and questions that are tough to answer and tough to navigate. All that being said we will teach you the pitfalls to avoid and give you a solid plan so you feel more confident every step of the way.
How Large Do I Need to be Before Working with Brands?
You don’t have to have huge numbers to begin working with brands. An interesting and positive change brought on by the new Instagram algorithm is that it has done some “leveling of the playing field”. It used to be that small accounts couldn’t possibly compete with the large ones. For example, in the past you would never see a small feed listed on the Explore page. However, the new algorithm rewards percentages of engagement, allowing small to compete with large.
This explains why on the explore page and top nine listing for hashtags you’ll see photos with 3,000 likes and another for 400 likes side by side listed as “top posts.” They are top percentage-wise not actual numbers. This shows how much Instagram is valuing and rewarding engagement.
So, When Can I Start Collaborating with Brands?
Basically, it’s up to you, but it’s a very good idea to have the following in place:
- Over 1,000 followers (this is a guideline only but shows you’ve started to build)
- Have a consistent track record over time, minimally 6 months. Before that you really need to focus on creating and building your feed. Collaborating too early will distract you from creating something of value.
- Small businesses start approaching you (a good sign)
- Your photos are winning recognition
- You appear on “top posts”
So, obviously, this will look different for everyone. Every account grows at a different pace. And every account is as unique as the individual who creates it. If you start your journey as a talented photographer your skill set alone gives you a huge edge. However, if you are just starting to take photographs you will have a longer learning/growth curve. When you come to IG as a professional decorator or stylist you have a huge edge over those who don’t, and so on. Being totally committed, working hard, and spending plenty of time posting purposefully and interacting authentically will grow your feed faster than someone who spends less time and effort.
Personal History of Collaboration
Jodie and I started collaborating for small product at around 20K which was late. We didn’t start as professional photographers, so it took a while for us to improve in this area. But we were really focused on building something of value, and creating authentic relationships, all which has served us well.
Can I Approach a Brand for an Instagram Collaboration?
Yes, absolutely. This was Jodie’s and my biggest missed opportunity. We simply didn’t realize that we didn’t have to wait for brands to find us and seek us out. We could go to them.
It’s a lesson in life: Being proactive is almost always a good idea.
If you find a company who is a great fit for you approach them. Tell them all about how you see a great fit. Tell them genuinely what you love and how you can work for them. But you need to be ready for rejection. Even if they aren’t ready to collaborate now, they may put you are their radar and look for future collaborations. Honestly, some of our best collaborations we initiated ourselves because we knew we authentically loved them and their products.
Pro Collaboration Tip
Wondering the best way to contact a compay? You can contact via DM, but we have found a more powerful way to connect is to email the Public Relations Manager.
How do we find this person? It’s easier than you think. Simply google the company name plus “press release.” At the bottom of the most recent press release you’ll find the name of the PR Manager and their email.
What Do Early Collaborations Look Like?
Most early collaborations are with small companies with little to no marketing budgets. This makes sense. Why would a company choose someone with small influence? Because the price tag matches. That’s ok. This is how you gain experience. These early collaborations are extremely important. t’s about so much more than the small product received. This is how you show the world (and every future collaborator) how you photograph, style, feature, and authentically present a product. his is your highly visible, active portfolio for all prospective clients to view.
Characteristics of early Instagram collaboration:
- usually for product only
- usually with small, growing companies
- simple collaboration requirements, i.e. receive a product in exchange for a feature story and post
- no written contract
- intimate and personal
- groundwork for future collabs with same company
- showcasing your skills/integrity for other companies
Working for product: Pros & Cons
- can be wonderful “free” items that you enjoy
- maybe you receive items that you would never spend your own money on but feel so luxurious to own
- products can be useful and enhance your living
- can provide content for your feed, i.e. decor account has new decor to feature, fashion account has new fashion to feature, etc.
- building relationships with the company for potential future paying collabs
- demonstrating skills
- creating a track record
- products may be items you don’t need
- they may be items you don’t want
- products can pile up
- you have to pay taxes on everything you receive, so it’s not “free”
- companies think they can pay you in product, so the product which you have to pay taxes on and which you may not even need or want is given to you INSTEAD of payment
As you begin collaborating, working for product is a great place to start. It is an important part of your training ground. Plus, it’s fun and it can be a win-win if well chosen and well done. As you develop as an Influencer you will eventually want to grow away from being compensated by free product. Imagine having a career in any field and trying to pay the bills with candles, signs and socks.
Rules of Thumb for Instagram Collaboration
These are good rules of thumb no matter the size or complexity of the Instagram collaboration.
- Understand all requirements before you agree.
- Get it in writing so there is no misunderstanding. Also helps prevent changes in requests midstream.
- Once you begin a collaboration (receive product) you are in a precarious place if a list of requirements arrives that you didn’t expect.
- Two things could happen: you end up doing a lot more work than you anticipated or if you refuse, you could end up ruining any potential future collaborations with this company.
- You want to do a good job and make sure the company is happy. You can’t make them happy unless you fully understand all expectations.
- Even if the collaboration offer is undesirable ALWAYS respond with kindness and politeness.
- Always be professional. This means communicate in a timely fashion, and follow through on all agreements.
Personal Note: We’ve learned the hard way. We’ve agreed to collaborations that seemed straight forward but because nothing was in writing later learned that we were on different pages. Spell it out clearly so you avoid problems.
How Do You Decide Who to Collaborate With?
Remember this: Every post has the power to help or hurt your feed.
Your authenticity/integrity/trust is on the line with every Instagram collaboration. You need to manage your collaborations very carefully and listen to your gut. It can be tempting to accept a lucrative contract, but what if you lose your followers’ trust in the process. That’s a huge price to pay.
Factors that Influence Your Instagram Collaboration Decisions?
- Does the company/product fall in line with your particular niche, within your style and complement your aesthetic? Don’t underestimate the importance of this point. If it is in line then you will have a win/win for you, your followers and the company. If not, it can come across as pure advertisement, you can lose followers, and it can fail for the company as well.
- What is your “cost”? Evaluate how much work will go into the collaboration. Time is money. Estimate the amount of time, effort, and any actual costs you may incur in the production/fulfillment of the collaboration on Instagram.
- Weigh the actual benefits: product, monetary compensation, exposure. While exposure is sometimes worthwhile, exposure does not pay the bills.
- Weigh potential future benefits. Sometimes an early Instagram collaboration can build a bridge to an ongoing lucrative relationship. So the benefits include potential for future work. This is obviously harder to determine because it’s based on unknowns and hope. Nonetheless, if you find a company that is your “dream company” and the perfect fit for you, you might be willing to be generous in order to create a relationship and good will toward each other. Sometimes with big companies you might want to agree to collaborate just to get on their radar.
- Consider your current situation with regard to time. This will change week to week and month to month. Don’t overextend yourself and pay the price in quality of fulfillment or stress level.
How Much Should I Charge for an Instagram Collaboration?
This is always the elephant in the room, so here we go. This is also when people get frustrated because they want a cut and dried answer, and there is none. In the end you have to decide what you are willing to work for. This is going to depend on the amount of time you have available to do the job, how many jobs are coming in, what it’s worth to you, etc. etc. And every week your situation will be different. Jodie and I evaluate every element for each potential collaboration separately and uniquely. All that being said, there are guidelines to help.
How much is a post on your feed worth?
There is a general rule of thumb that a post on Instagram is worth roughly $5-$10 for every 1000 followers. So, for example, a feed of 100,000 should command between $500-$1000/per post. Now if you’re negotiating with a company who says they don’t have a marketing budget available at this time and they would like to give you some pillows instead of paying you obviously this is way below what you should be valued at. It will be completely up to you to decide if it’s worthwhile.
Socialbluebook.com is an online site where you can create a free account. It will calculate at any given time the estimated value for a post on your feed. Jodie and I use it to help give us confidence in our negotiations and credibility as well. You can take the estimate of your posting value and email it directly to companies you are negotiating with.
Should I Ever Collaborate for Free?
It’s up to you, but we say yes. There are definitely situations when you might consider working for free. Here are some reasons:
- build a bridge with a “dream brand”
- pay it forward, pro bono work for charities you support or good will causes
- exposure with a high-profile brand/company, i.e. a magazine
Negotiating is an art and a skill. It’s about compromise. Ask yourself, how much do you want to work with this company? If you really want to work with them then you may be willing to compromise. If you aren’t really feeling it then hold steady and/or politely decline. We’ve walked away from plenty of negotiations, and you will too.
Bend when you want to bend. Know yourself and your brand, understand what comes at too great of a cost, and you won’t struggle as much. Your time and efforts are limited so choose carefully. Hopefully you walk away from the ones that aren’t a great fit, and figure out a way to collaborate when it feels right.
Winning Strategies for Negotiating Instagram Collaboration
- Don’t be the first to throw out numbers.
- Ask for their budget.
- Offer two to three options, with the final option being the most value.
- Keep emotions in check.
- Listen and always be positive and respectful.
- If they can’t meet your price don’t automatically think you have no bargaining power. Take one or more deliverables off the table to reach a compromise.
- Be willing to walk away.
Sell Your Photos/Photography/Styling Skills
We want to address the other commodity of potential value: Your Photos
If you have honed your skills for decorating, styling, and photography then you can sell these skills to companies separately from your marketing reach on your feed. We have talked about this before, but your Instagram feed is also your portfolio. Companies need professional pictures of their products and often turn to influencers for more than marketing power.
You can be hired to style and photograph for companies. These photos alone can command a good price, depending on the company and your skill level. Some famous photographers command $10,000 a photo. Jodie and I are no where in that realm, but we have received $100/per photo, 10 shots for $1,000, and it felt like a nice day’s work. We often sell one photo for $250.
This is something to keep in mind and can motivate you to really focus on your personal development as a photographer. Take that photography class, buy that digital camera, and set your sights higher.
Instagram Collaboration on Stories
Wondering where your Instagram Stories fall in all of this? Good. You should be. Stories are increasing in influence and therefore value with every passing day. In fact, it is the wave of the next chapter on Instagram. This is such a big and exciting topic that the link to our blog post above is focused entirely on stories, how to use them to build your reach, increase your engagement, and how to parlay their value with brands.
Final Thoughts on Instagram Collaboration
We always say, each Instagram collaboration is its unique animal. As you travel this path, you will gain insights and learn from your mistakes. You’ll determine your own priorities and perimeters (which will be constantly evolving, by the way). Maybe you love the small companies. Jodie and I sure do. Working with bigger companies does not always spell a pay check. Sometimes the biggest companies are so big they get all the free advertising they need and will never pay influencers. We’ve found mid-size companies who need our exposure and have marketing budgets to be a sweet spot.
Once you have a feed of influence on Instagram collaboration opportunities will become a common occurrence. It is also time consuming. In the end, collaboration on Instagram is a sea of opportunity, but it can be challenging to navigate. These are rough and unpredicatble waters. Who you agree to work with and what you agree to work for is entirely up to you. How you choose to proceed will be as unique as you are. Be true to yourself, be kind in your negotiations, and trust your gut. That’s our best advice.