The Dos and Don'ts of Landing Your First Collaboration
Google Dictionary defines it as “the capacity or power of a person to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, or opinions, of others.”
In other words, it’s the power to change the way people think. That’s a pretty amazing superpower that, despite your inner critic talking, you possess.
Despite not knowing step one, despite feeling like you’re not good enough, despite not knowing your metrics, you can land your first sponsored post. It’s not scary when you have your ducks in a row & learn the ins and outs of working with brands to meet (and even exceed) their expectations. I’m going to break it down for you so you can go forth with confidence and find those soul-level collabs that are out there waiting for you.
The Science of a Sponsored Post
First off, let’s define what a “sponsored post” is. A sponsorship, or collaboration, is the process of a brand/company hiring you to promote their product or service. They’ll pay you to launch a campaign on your own social media platform that highlights their goods + their brand goals.
They’re always mutually beneficial. The brand/company gets exposure, and you get paid. $$$
You don’t have to be a self-named “influencer” to land sponsored posts, either. Companies are starting to allocate more and more of their marketing budgets toward influencer marketing, and they understand the many niches and industries that do business on social media platforms. Don’t get hung up on that terminology; instead, remember that brands will want to work with you because you’re reaching the exact people they want to reach, regardless of scope or follower count.
To land your first sponsored posts, there are a few non-negotiables you’re going to need to set up for yourself. There are also some pretty big things to avoid. You’re going to want to read up before you get started.
DO Prepare a Media Kit
I don’t care if you have ten followers on Instagram-- you should always have a media kit ready to go. You never know who’s going to come along and ask to collaborate with you, so you want to have a one-sheet handy to let them know what you’re all about.
What’s a media kit, you ask?
It’s essentially an on-brand graphic or PDF that tells potential collaborators who you are, what your message is, and what your metrics are (we’ll get into this later). For the lowdown on media kits, check out episode #14 of Boss Talk TV in my Facebook group full of passion-driven creative entrepreneurs (it’s free to join!). There, I break down the key components every media kit needs to have.
DO give yourself plenty of time
When you land a collaboration, you’re launching an entire campaign for that brand. Companies don’t always understand all the time that goes into these things. They don’t always know how long it takes to come up with the perfect concept, do a photoshoot, edit, write copy for the caption, and then actually launch and promote the post.
If they ask you to deliver in a few days, you need to let them know it takes longer than that to deliver quality campaigns. You don’t want to be scrambling around in two or three days to pull together a half-assed promotion. They’re investing in you-- show that you take that investment seriously by providing yourself with the time and resources needed to deliver (and even overdeliver).
DO Track Your Results
This is as much for your current sponsor as it is for your next sponsor. Being able to show that your past collaborations have produced strong results will make it easier to land more collabs down the line.
There are tons of programs out there for tracking your results across different social media platforms. Buffer is a great one for Instagram-- it keeps track of post interactions and measures metrics like reposts, likes, and comments.
Some companies will ask you to use their preferred software, and that’s okay. They’ll usually give you links to work with. If you do use another company or brand’s software, just be sure to keep your own data as well-- the key is to be able to use it in the future!
DO Use a Contract
I knew someone once who landed a collaboration with a big beauty company. She was so excited-- she did the whole campaign, spent hours and hours on the photography and copy, and posted and promoted the hell out of them, and guess what happened?
They didn’t pay her.
This huge, super established company didn’t pay her because they weren’t legally obligated to. She assumed everything would go smoothly just because the company was so big. When she followed up, she had no grounds for insisting that they pay her, because there was no contract.
There’s more than one lesson to learn here. First, most brands are looking out for themselves, not you (there are exceptions-- more on that later). I’ve had brands turn down potentially awesome collaborations for them with my clients because they didn’t want to sign a contract. That’s sketchy as hell to me and shows bad intentions before the partnership starts. If you’ve ever had a contract refused, I promise you that it’s their loss. It would have been yours if you proceeded to work without a contract. Avoid that mess altogether. If my client does a collaboration without a contract, I will straight up fire them because I don’t have time for that shit (and neither do you).
Second, it’s to respect your business. Respect your time. Demand that others do so as well (that’s where your contract comes in). Find a freebie sample contract in my resource library and put it to work, stat!
DO Respect Yourself & Your Business
Contracts are the first step to creating a foundation of respect for yourself and your business, but you need to follow through. I’m talking about knowing your worth and refusing to budge on it.
I don’t care if you have a single metric statistic to show to brands. If a brand/company is asking you to come down on your prices (or worse-- promote their product for free), they’re essentially letting you know that they don’t respect your time as much as you do. Do you want to work with someone who values you lower than you value yourself?
The key here is to determine your own worth and then stick to that. If you’re okay with partnering with brands just for the exposure, then that’s fine, because you chose that. Just make sure you’re not selling yourself short according to what a company says you’re worth because they’re not allowed to dictate that. That’s all you, babe.
DON’T Worry About Follower Count
I remember when I first got into this industry, I thought you needed a million followers before brands would want to work with you. I knew I had advice to give, I knew I wanted to promote products I believed in to all my readers, but didn’t know anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. I was dead wrong.
I learned that your follower count doesn’t matter, and I landed my first collaboration with 488 followers. Yes, you read that right. I remember the number exactly because I was so amazed.
Here’s the secret: your follower count doesn’t matter, your engagement does.
Engagement metrics include:
Commenting on others’ posts
Replying to comments on your own posts
Creating and interacting with Stories
Engagement metrics don’t include:
Take that information and run with it, girl. Take the time to respond personally to all the comments you receive on your posts. Not only will that add to your engagement metrics, but it will increase loyalty in your following, which is exactly what brands want to see.
Follower count used to matter more. Once Instagram noticed that users were buying followers to dupe brands into believing they had a wider audience than they really did, the metrics changed. Now, it’s all about your engagement, so don’t even stress if you have less than a thousand followers.
DON’T Be Afraid to Reach Out
One of my clients just quit her day job to be an influencer full time, and guess what? 80% of her collaborations she initiated.
There’s no shame in reaching out to a brand if you want to collaborate them. Seriously, the worst they can say is no. If you find a brand or company who you think your audience would love, by all means, reach out to them with a little pitch explaining how a partnership could benefit them!
This is especially true for products you already use, too. If you’re in love with a product, tell them, and ask if they’d be interested in sponsoring you for a post or two, or even a brand ambassadorship.
If you’re into travel or beauty, I know for a fact that brands are literally looking for you to promote their products. These are two huge niches who allot tons of their marketing budget toward influencers. Prep your media kit and get pitching.
Keep in mind that it’s okay if you don’t have any metrics to boast yet, too. A personal pitch can be just as effective. Make sure you tell them who you are, what your mission is, and specifically why you think a partnership could benefit them. Words and intention are even more powerful in selling yourself than numbers are-- after all, it’s a person just like you on the other side of that screen.
DON’T Work With Brands You’re not Aligned With
When I first started taking collaborations, I would work with anyone and everyone who reached out to me. Any brand--regardless of my clients, my audience, my followers, or my values--was a yes for me.
You’d think I was growing, right? Wrong. I started losing followers & people started leaving my community, and I had no idea why.
Then I realized: they were confused. I was walking a different walk than I talked. It’s the equivalent of a health guru promoting Hot Cheetos. Of course, that audience is going to scratch their heads-- and start to mistrust her.
That’s the key takeaway here. The minute you start pushing products you don’t believe in, you’ve lost your audience. They can smell that shit from a mile away.
When your audience trusts you, brands see that. They see your engagement, they see you interacting with your audience in a truly authentic way. They understand that the value of a really trusted recommendation to 500 people is much more significant than a half-assed pitch to 1,000 people. Because once those 500 raving fans of yours go out and buy that product, they’re going to tell 500 other people. That’s 1,000 sales instead of a shot in the dark.
Landing Your First Collaboration
Alright, you’ve read up on everything you need to know about the science behind sponsored posts. Here’s a quick recap of the process so you can get started.
1. Get your media kit in order.
2. Reach out to the brand (or they’ll reach out to you).
3. Draw up a contract detailing what’s expected of both parties.
4. Create that campaign and then,
5. Launch that campaign!
6. Track your progress. Add your engagement stats to your media kit as you measure them.
7. Follow up with the brand/company to say thanks. This is just good business. It also fosters the potential for a long-term partnership or brand ambassadorship, which are amazing opportunities!
8. The final step: let me know how it goes! I want to hear your success story!
For sample contracts, media kits, and more resourced on collaborations, check out my free resource library for all the goodies you need!