How to work with brand influencers when you don’t have a budget

Follow the leaders

So you’ve spotted a popular Instagrammer with a beautiful feed that’s a perfect fit for your brand. You reach out with a pitch to get them to promote your product, only to get this reply: “What’s your budget?” Gulp. It seems like every business wants to know how to work with brand influencers right now.

To help build trust in our companies, we business owners turn to individual bloggers with a healthy Instagram, YouTube or other social media following to spread the word about our products or services. A survey commissioned by Olapic found that one-third of the 4,000 social media consumers who participated had purchased something because of an influencer’s post. Another survey by gen.video of 1,000 consumers found that participants trusted influencers more than their own friends and family!

But as small business owners, we often don’t have the cash to spend on thousand-dollar influencer campaigns. As someone who’s been on both sides of the table — as a blogger receiving pitches from brands and as a marketer sending pitches to influencers — I’ve seen the give-and-take that needs to happen for this to work out.

How to work with brand influencers: 5 tips

Here are my five best tips for learning how to work with brand influencers, even if you don’t have a budget:

  1. Build relationships before outreach.

  2. Offer free products and lots of promotion.

  3. Personalize and nail the pitch.

  4. Think long term.

  5. Don’t underestimate micro-influencers.

Let’s look at each tip in more detail.

1. Build relationships before outreach

You’d be amazed at how getting to know people before asking them for something can completely change their response. Brand influencers are small business owners, too. They know what it’s like to struggle to get their name out there, to hustle to make those dollars. Many are willing to give back to brands they truly believe in, but you have to show that you’re a brand worth believing in.

So before you email them your pitch:

  • Follow them on social media.
  • Engage with their posts.
  • Share their content on your social media.
  • Get familiar with their style, interests and followers.

By doing these small acts, you show that you’re a fan of their content and that you’re willing to support them.

2. Offer free products and lots of promotion

How To Work With Brand Influencers Package

The next best thing to cash is free stuff. That’s not to say that brand influencers are just moochers—the IRS does require that they report gifts from brands as income.

If you can’t afford to pay a brand influencer $500 for a sponsored post about you, then offer to give them $500 worth of product.

Be sure to state the value of your product, and be sure it’s something they’d actually want.

 

And yes, I have had plenty of clients who didn’t pay their influencers with cash at all, but instead offered free products to influencers in exchange for review posts and social media shoutouts. You’d be surprised at how many will say yes. And often, these are the influencers who are most enthusiastic about your brand because they truly love your products. This is why, as you’re figuring out how to work with brand influencers, it is essential to do your research and ensure the influencer is aligned with your brand; it makes the offer of free product much more enticing when it’s the right fit.

3. Personalize and nail the pitch

Again, remember to be a person behind the brand and treat the brand influencers as people, too. It’s easy to tell when something is a template that’s been sent a hundred times.

As a blogger whose inbox is loaded with generic pitches, the second I sense a copy-paste job in the text, I send that email to archive.

Here are some tips on how to write a compelling pitch to a brand influencer:

Get their name right. It makes brands look incredibly bad when they fail to include the influencer’s first name, don’t know the name of the influencer’s blog, or spell either name wrong.

Add a genuine compliment about their content. Read their blog posts, scour their Instagram feeds, and be specific about what you liked about something they created. Comments like “Love your blog!” or “You have a beautiful Instagram feed!” are too easy to write off as generic.

Understand their niche. Pitches often go wrong when they’re misaligned with the type of content a brand influencer creates. For example, let’s say your business sells beef jerky and you want to reach out to a food blogger for a collaboration. But, when you take a closer look, you find that this food blogger writes specifically about vegan food. That obviously wouldn’t be a right fit, and if you reach out to this blogger, it’s going to be obvious you didn’t do your research.

Acknowledge the compensation question. As a business owner, be humble and acknowledge that while you can’t compensate with cash right now, you are willing to compensate with free product and promotion. I think it’s good to even mention that you know a lot of work goes into the influencer’s content creation, and you believe they should be fairly compensated. That way, you don’t come off as an ungenerous brand that undervalues the influencer’s work.

Let them know you’re open to negotiation. I like to close my pitches to brand influencers with something like, “I’m open to other ideas, so please let me know if you have suggestions!”

4. Think long term

If you can show that you’re willing to work with a brand influencer long term and that there will be more projects to come in the future if this first collaboration goes well, you’re much more likely to get a yes.

Brand influencers are much more willing to work with a small business that promises more work in the future (and potential paid opportunities later on down the road), than one that just wants this one project and will disappear after.

How To Work With Brand Influencers Phone

5. Don’t underestimate micro-influencers

While you might dream of hitting it big with Instagram shoutouts from Kim Kardashian (US Weekly reports that will cost you $500,000, by the way), don’t underestimate the power of micro-influencers. A micro-influencer is someone with a smaller following, but they can pack a lot of punch. Why?

Because they’re lesser-known, they haven’t yet been inundated with brand requests, and their followers tend to trust them more and feel a closer connection.

On top of that, micro-influencers tend to charge less and might be easier to work with.

How to work with brand influencers today to grow your small business

Excited to work get started? You should be! To recap, here’s how to work with brand influencers today, even if you don’t have a budget:

  • Build relationships with brand influencers before you ask them to collaborate.
  • Personalize your pitch for each influencer, and show them you’re familiar with their content.
  • If you can’t pay with cash, offer free products and promotion.
  • Offer long-term collaborations, rather than just a one-off project.
  • Leverage the micro-influencers who have a smaller following, but higher engagement.

Once you incorporate these five tips into your influencer marketing strategy, you’ll find that the “budget question” no longer has to be a dealbreaker.

Amy Rigby
Amy Rigby is a writer and marketing consultant for startups and small businesses. An avid traveler, she has visited Machu Picchu twice, run across the world’s widest avenue in Buenos Aires, and eaten her fill of gourmet cheese in Paris. Amy founded WhereverWriter.com to share travel and business advice for entrepreneurs who want to live a location-independent life. Follow her adventures on Twitter.