I first started making money as a micro/nano influencer in 2020, when I went from getting paid $0 to $10k in brand sponsorships despite having less than 10k followers on Instagram. And I’ve since jumped to making 70k, which gave me the confidence to quit my day job and take it full time. I’m here to share how I got so many paid brand deals, as well as some of my best tips for getting work with brands on Instagram.
For a bit of a reality check before we dive in. If you are wondering “how much does an influencer make?” the answer wildly varies.
Some micro-influencers with less than ten thousand followers get paid WAY more in brand deals, while other small content creators are struggling to figure out how to level up from getting free/gifting partnerships or collaborations.
This blog post is really for the latter. The micro-influencers who haven’t yet hit a yearly income of 5 figures in brand sponsorship income.
So we’re about to get into all the details, but first there’s something I want you to lock into your brain:
As a micro or nano influencer, you are valuable to brands!
A lot of content creators think that they will only be able to ask for paid compensation once they hit a certain follower count. Some people wait for 10k followers because they think that “k” in their bio will make them feel more official. (That is, after all, the point when the swipe-up feature gets unlocked).
Related Post: The Secret to Making Money as a Content Creator
But here’s the thing: brands are actively looking to work with micro influencers (considered to be those with fewer than 50k Instagram followers), and nano influencers (those with less than 10k).
This is because statistically, smaller influencers usually have higher engagement, their communities are small but invested. Their audiences trust them more.
Most brands know that they’re going to get a good bang for their buck when they work with smaller creators. (Or let’s say, most large brands know this.)
I started getting paid at around 5-6k followers, but I could have been working with brands and getting sponsorships earlier if I had taken the right steps.
So without further ado…
5 things that helped me get paid brand deals as an Instagram influencer:
You can watch all the details in video format, and catch a written version below!
Okay, so the first one was completely out of my control, but I feel like it would be disingenuous to cover it…
1. Black Lives Matter Happened
Like I said, this isn’t something you can or would want to replicate, but June 2020, we saw it everywhere.
Brands were stepping up making “declarations” that they were going to be promoting diversity. We saw black squares popping up everywhere (*side eyes*).
A lot of brands became hyper-aware of what type of influencers they were reaching out to on Instagram, and what types of content creators they had been conveniently missing up until that point.
And the reality is, I’m a Black blogger. I’m a Black creator. And so I was hit up by a lot of brands that were suddenly looking to fill their diversity quota.
It honestly left me feeling conflicted. I had to hyper-analyze every brand that pitched me, trying to discern if they really liked me and my content, or if they were just using me as a checkbox for diversity.
I took a lot of sponsorship opportunities, but I also turned a lot of brands down. (This is a topic for another day, because do I ever have some stories to share).
That being said, I was actually getting brand deals this year prior to June, but it’s undeniable that the increased awareness on BLM amplified the amount of attention I was getting from brands in 2020.
But it was also pretty short-lived. As quickly as the attention came, it also seemed to disappear. In fact, I addressed that topic in this Instagram post:
Okay, now we are on to the controllables. These steps will help you figure out how to get brand deals on Instagram.
2. I Got Serious
In 2020, I started approaching my blog and my content creation as a business. Going into this year I knew that I didn’t want to just be a hobby-creator anymore.
I set time aside to build a media kit, set my rates, and build out income and expense spreadsheets. I even sought advice from an accountant.
This year, I went into things saying “I am going to make money, and so I am going to do everything I need to do to position myself as a business person.”
And you can call that manifesting, or putting it out into the universe, or whatever you would like, but I think there’s really some incredible in changing your mindset about something.
Every decision I made in 2020 was guided by the intention of taking what I did in the content creator space seriously. And I genuinely believe that was my first step towards beginning to work with brands.
3. I began pursuing opportunities (I.e. pitching brands)
So as I mentioned, I changed my mindset. I knew I wanted to start making money, and I knew couldn’t wait for brands and sponsorship opportunities to come to me.
So I decided that I needed to begin actively pursuing them. I needed to start pitching brands.
Once I made this decision, I started doing a ton of research on how to pitch brands, how to find their PR contacts, how to formulate the proper email.
I bookmarked this blog post on pitching brands (by Naturally Madisen), and used the templates over and over again when I approached brands for collaboration.
Sometimes I received radio-silence, but many times my pitches successfully ended in a paid partnerships on Instagram and my blog!
If there is a brand that you want to collaborate with, don’t be afraid to pitch them.
Before pitching a company for a collaboration, make sure you are very clear on:
- the overall value you are adding to their brand
- your stats (i.e. your reach)
- who your audience is
- what type of content you hope to create for them
That will set you apart from other people who are in their inboxes just looking for free stuff.
4. I stopped settling for gifted exchanges
If you’re wondering how to work with brands, or get brand deals on Instagram, this tip is honestly pivotal.
Prior to 2020, I was getting approached by brands saying “we love your content, can we send you gifted products in exchange for a post?”.
And I used to be so honoured by the request, that it was an automatic yes.
But this year it hit me that brands are sending you gifted in return for free advertising.
They are hoping (or maybe flat out asking), that you post content featuring their products so that they can tap into your audience.
They want to get their products in front of your followers. Therefore you are valuable to them.
And the truth is, it takes…
- time to create content
- gear to create content
- work to build an engaged following. Even if that’s a following of 1000.
So when a brand would approach me with a gifted campaign, I started responding with:
“Thank you so much for reaching out! Your products look incredible, I would love the opportunity to partner. Would you happen to have a budget for content creation? I’m happy to send over my media kit and discuss rates if you are interested!”
That alone has turned so many gifted opportunities with brands into paid ones.
A couple of other responses I’ve used are:
“At this time, I’m only able to fit paid collaborations into my calendar, would you happen to have a budget for content creation?”
“I would love the chance to work with you, my standard rate for an IG post is XXX. Is this something that fits within your budget?”
There’s always going to be brands that say they don’t have a budget. And from there that’s up to you to decide on how you’d like to proceed.
But I think it’s really important to recognize that in posting a brand’s products, they are getting free advertising off your labour. So know your worth.
But don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a time and place for gifted collaborations. In fact, many gifted opportunities later turned into paid ones once brands saw my work.
Example of a gifted collaboration that opened doors for paid ones:
But if a brand is asking for specific deliverables, asking to approve your content, and especially if they are asking you to sign a contract, I personally recommend not taking the opportunity.
5. I began attracting brands (and therefore sponsorships)
Okay, so we highlighted the importance of pitching when it comes to wanting to work with brands on Instagram. But the last half of this year, I haven’t pitched once, and I have been so busy with brand collaborations that came to me.
So how did I begin attracting said partnerships and collaborations? Well…
A) I diversified my Instagram feed
If you want to work with brands on Instagram. You have to show them your potential.
In my earlier days of content creation, you’ll see I was not showcasing anything other than selfies.
I was shooting the same angles, a lot of natural hair looks, and not much else. There was little variety when it came to my visuals.
So while a couple of natural hair companies did reach out to me, I wasn’t really attracting brand deals or sponsorships on Instagram. My page didn’t really look like the profile, or the calling card, of a content creator.
So when I say I diversified my feed, I did it in a couple different ways. I started including:
- full-length body shots
- product shots
- different angles
- outdoor shots
- shots in different parts of my home
- video content
I wanted to ensure that when a brand or agency scrolled through my they weren’t seeing the same thing over and over again.
And in diversifying my feed in that way, my Instagram profile became a look-book for brands. They were able to see my full potential of the different types of content I could create.
B) I began using a consistent preset
To make my feed look cohesive and intentional, I invested time into choosing a preset that I felt represented my brand.
If you’re not familiar with presets, they are a pre-set configuration of photo editing settings. For example, changes in saturation, hue, shadows, and more.
These changes help give your photos a particular vibe or aesthetic. And when all your photos in your feed have this same consistent look, your profile looks more intentional.
The image on my left is a screenshot of my feed before, the right is after.
It’s subtle, but my preset has very faint magenta highlights (to match my brand colour), and consistent colour and light settings, which make my feed look put together.
And since making this change, I have seen an increase in brands reaching out to me for partnerships.
I suspect this is because they can look at my page and see “this girl is intentional. She knows what her aesthetic is, and she knows what her brand is.”
The last thing I did that helped me begin attracting work with brands was: change up my hashtag strategy.
I sincerely feel like this is my ultimate secret. Pairing it with the previous tips, I feel as though I unlocked how to get brand deals on Instagram.
So yes, as an influencer or content creator, we know it’s really important to include hashtags in our posts that will help us reach a wider audience, and hopefully get more engagement.
But, here’s the thing.
I started to get some high-paying brand deals when I began using hashtags that brands were looking for. And these hashtags aren’t really going to help you with reach.
These aren’t hashtags that your target audience is really using, so while you’ll want to definitely include them in your strategy, do so in moderation.
I started using hashtags like:
These hashtags don’t always have a ton of reach, but they’re hashtags that I suspect brands might use to search for new content creators to work with on Instagram.
To come up with your own, experiment with taking characteristic words that are relevant to you, and pairing them up with different creator words.
Then do some research to see how competitive these are and if it’s something that you think brands are following.
Here are some ideas to get those gears turning:
Because some of these combinations might be less-competitive, you have a higher chance of getting to the “top” spot in the hashtag search. This further increases the likelihood of catching a brand’s attention.
For more on getting a brand’s attention, check out this post on how to attract paid partnerships on Instagram and beyond!
Final thoughts on how to get brand deals on Instagram
If your goal this year is to figure out how to work with brands or get brand sponsorship on Instagram, I hope this post was helpful!
If you change your mindset, begin pitching, recognize your worth, and do the work to grab a brand’s attention, you will be making money as an influencer in no time!
And I do have just some final tips of advice for today!
Take the time to connect with other people in the social media space that you occupy.
Uplift people who want to be at the level you’re at, and seek advice from the people who are where you want to be. Take the time to genuinely foster relationships with people!
Again, if you’re an influencer with a small following, I hope this post and/or video helped you out! Now that you know how to level up level up your mindset and your content, you’re set to start getting brand deals and sponsorship on Instagram.
Comment any questions below, and keep me posted on your progress!!