When I first started a travel Instagram in 2017, it was mainly a way for my friends and family to keep up with my backpacking trip around the world.
But I’d be lying if I said the idea of staying in beautiful hotels for free and getting paid to work with brands didn’t excite me. As I started investing more time into travel photography and creating content for Instagram, I realized that learning how to collaborate with brands could be hugely beneficial in more ways than one.
First, I could use the extra income to fund my travels. Second, creating content for brands on a professional level would push me to become a better photographer. And lastly, I’d be creating valuable relationships with brands I care about — which would hopefully lead to bigger and better deals down the line.
If you’re anything like me two years ago, though, you may have no idea where to start!
In this guide I’ll go over the different ways in which I have collaborated with brands, how to find brands to work with on Instagram, the best influencer platforms, and how to approach brands for a collaboration.
How To Collaborate With Brands: The Different Types Of Collaborations
There are many ways influencers and bloggers can work with brands. Here is a breakdown of the most common types of collaborations — including gifting campaigns, sponsored posts, sponsored hotel stays and press trips.
A gifting collaboration is when a brand offers you free product in exchange for social media exposure on your Instagram or blog. This is an unpaid product-exchange collaboration.
For example, a clothing brand will send you one or more pieces to style on your Instagram account. You’ll post a photo wearing the brand and tag them in the photo. The caption will typically include a shout out to the brand thanking it for the piece(s).
Gifting campaigns are very common when you’re first starting out as a blogger or influencer. In an ideal world, no one should have to produce content for free. Yet many brands are still hesitant to work with micro-influencers, especially if those influencers don’t have anything to show for their previous work.
Gifting collaborations are a good way to begin building an initial portfolio of brand work, which you can then use to land paid collaborations in the future.
A sponsored post can be an Instagram post, story or blog post that’s sponsored by a brand, meaning the company is paying you to promote its product and/or service. The brand will send you the product and/or service for free, as well as pay you to post about it on your social accounts.
The brand is essentially paying you for social media exposure. In return, you’re sharing content with your audience that explicitly promotes the brand.
An example would be a luggage company sending you their newest carry-on and paying you “x” amount to post one photo on your Instagram feed. The caption would focus on why you love the carry-on and incentivize your followers to buy it.
In an ideal world, every collaboration would be a paid sponsored post.
Unfortunately, many brands still try to get away with gifting influencers free product and asking for tons of deliverables in return. I find that really unfair, as they probably wouldn’t hire a photographer to shoot their product and then refuse to pay them. Free products don’t pay the bills.
Read More: How To Choose The Best Blogging Camera
Sponsored Hotel Stays
A sponsored hotel stay is when a hotel gives an influencer or blogger a free stay in exchange for a series of deliverables, which can include social media posts, blog posts and professional photos.
Sponsored hotel stays can be both paid and unpaid. The comped stays typically last between one to three nights.
To be completely transparent, I’ve found it difficult to secure payment on top of the free stay. That being said, I’ve always had a lovely time working with hotel properties, especially since the money I would’ve spent on accommodation can then be used for different experiences.
See an example of a blog post deliverable for a sponsored hotel stay here: Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Press trips are free trips offered by a tourism board, hotel or travel company in exchange for positive social media exposure. These trips can be paid or unpaid, depending on the client’s budget.
Typically everything from airfare to food and entertainment is covered.
Press trips can be arranged for an individual influencer or blogger, or for multiple bloggers, influencers and journalists at a time.
Content creation campaigns mean you’re creating content — typically photos or videos — for a brand’s use on its social and marketing channels. This kind of work should always be paid.
This is different from sponsored posts because you don’t need to post the photos on your own channels. The brand is paying for your photography skills, as well as the right to share your photo (“usage rights”) across its social media pages and other marketing materials.
Should you ever accept free products?
As I mentioned earlier, participating in product-exchange collaborations is sometimes the only way to build up your portfolio when you’re first starting out.
Put yourself in a company’s position: If you’re looking to pay an influencer to promote your product, will you hire someone who has a resume of brand work to show or someone who’s never worked with a brand before?
That being said, I recommend you always ask if a brand has a budget, even if they are reaching out about a gifting campaign. If you never ask, you may be missing out on your very first paid brand collaboration!
If the brand says yes, then you can reply back with your rates. Then the negotiation process begins.
Personally, I’ll only accept product-exchange collaborations if it’s from a brand I love and something I would’ve purchased anyway. Sometimes brands will also send free products with no strings attached, meaning I can post about it organically if I want to.
In the age of COVID, however, finding paid campaigns has gotten trickier. I understand that many companies are currently struggling with limited marketing budgets, and I’ve made a few exceptions for brands I value creating long-term relationships with. In doing so, I know that I’ll be top-of-mind for future paid campaigns when business returns to “normal.”
How To Find Brands To Work With on Instagram
There are a few ways I find brands to work with on Instagram. One of those ways is via Instagram itself.
Every time I come across a brand I feel is a good fit for my niche and audience, I’ll save one of its Instagram photos to a “collaboration ideas” folder. I’ll also look at the brands that other travel bloggers are working with and save those into the same folder.
I always take one day out of my work week to introduce myself to each of the brands I saved in that folder.
Another great way to find brands to work with is to look at the products and services you already use in your everyday life. This is the easiest way to organically begin a partnership with a brand. You can reach out to the brand saying you already love and use their product, and that you’d like to work with them to promote it to your audience.
Odds are your audience has already seen you use this product or service in the past, which will make the sponsored post feel really natural. These are the most successful types of campaigns!
A third way to find brands to work with is by connecting with the right PR companies.
Introducing yourself and your online brand to a PR company is a wonderful way to hop onto their radar for future collaborations. PR companies often have a mighty roster of clients that work with influencers. By sending them an introductory email with your media kit, they’ll keep your information on file and reach out if you’re a good fit for future collaborations.
The fourth way I find brands to work with is through influencer platforms. These platforms allow influencers to apply for different brand campaigns online.
Below, find a list of the best influencer platforms I’ve used to work with brands.
The Best Influencer Platforms
Influencer platforms act as a middleman between you and a company. They’re essentially tasked with finding influencers for both paid and unpaid campaigns.
Once accepted into the platforms, you can apply for these campaigns yourself.
I began consistently closing paid collaborations when I joined these platforms last year. A small portion of my paid work today still comes from these platforms, while the rest comes from working through a PR company or with a brand directly.
Sign up for the following influencer platforms and begin landing paid collaborations today:
How To Approach Brands For Collaborations
The downfall in using influencer platforms is that there’s often not much room for price negotiation. Plus, your main contact is usually someone that works for the platform rather than the brand itself, which makes it more difficult to establish a relationship with the brand outside this one collaboration.
My favorite way of working with brands is to approach them myself. Sending an idea-rich collaboration pitch allows me to connect with the brand directly and tell them why they should work with me.
It also helps establish a more personal relationship with the brand — hopefully one that will lead to multiple collaborations in the future.
If you’re wondering how to approach a brand for a collaboration, the answer is simple: I’ve created free pitch email templates for you! You can use these templates to reach out to brands and hotels you want to work with.
Who to send the pitch to?
The first step in pitching a brand is finding the correct contact.
To do this, I usually DM the company on Instagram saying something along the lines of, “Hi! My name is Carla, and I’m a travel blogger based in NYC. I’m interested in working with [BRAND] and would love to send over a collaboration proposal to your marketing team. Would you mind sending the correct email contact? Thank you!”
Smaller brands will typically respond within one to three days, but I sometimes never hear back from larger brands.
At that point, I’ll head over to LinkedIn. I’ll search for keywords like “[BRAND] social media coordinator” or “[BRAND] marketing director.”
Once I find the correct contact, I use a software called Hunter to hunt the web for their email address.
If all else fails, I’ll send my pitch to the general email the brand has on its Instagram profile or website. FYI: I haven’t seen much success this way, so I recommend always trying to find an actual contact.
Additional Questions About Working With Brands
Below, see my answers to a few questions I received from you via Instagram. I’ll continue adding to this list as future questions come up!
What is a media kit for bloggers?
Your media kit is essentially a resume of all the brand work you’ve done as a blogger, influencer or content creator. It should be visual with plenty of photos that display your photography style and the past work you’ve done. It should also include some background on who you are, what services you offer, the social platforms you’re most active on, and your audience demographics.
How much should I charge for a brand collaboration?
This is a complicated question that I’d love to answer in an in-depth blog — but here’s the gist of it. Longtime industry standards say to charge $100 for every 10,000 followers. I recommend starting with this but by no means cap yourself at that. If you have incredible engagement, for example, you should increase your rate.
The more work you do, the more you’ll understand the time and effort it takes to create each and every post. Always shoot higher than you think your post is “worth” because in reality, it’s probably worth a lot more!
Don’t be afraid to negotiate, either. If it’s a brand you really want to work with even if they don’t meet your rate, you can always let them know you’re happy to create a package tailored to the budget they’re most comfortable with.
It takes time and a whole lot of effort to build a social media following. That deserves to be financially recognized.
When should I follow up with a brand?
I usually follow up within seven days of sending an email. In my follow-up email, I’ll gently remind the brand of what I‘m offering and how excited I am about the possibility of working together. I’ll usually only follow up once if I don’t get an answer.
Download My Free Email Pitch Templates