It’s a question I get asked a lot. How did you start working with brands on Instagram? And while I have touched on it in blog posts before I’ve never sat and written it all out. I also asked my Instagram followers if they had any questions so I’ve popped them below too. Hopefully, this will be a good guide you can use as a way to start working with brands.
So I guess we should start at the beginning. I have had Instagram since it launched and I’ve had my blog since 2012. Back then blogs were only just starting to be monetised and making money on Instagram wasn’t a thing. It was literally somewhere to share your lunch with a ton of crappy filters. No algorithm, no “need” to grow. It was literally just a fun social media tool to stay int ouch with friends.
Then in 2017, after settling into motherhood and self-employment I started to take my Instagram a little more seriously. The content was of higher quality. Clearer images and well-composed photographs. In the summer of 2017, I discovered I was pregnant with Norah. I knew that weddings and family photography would have to take a bit of a back seat so I decided that I would try and make my blog a bit more professional and try to monetise it. I had a paid post for Betty’s but that was about it. I really wasn’t earning anything from it. At that point, my income was through family photoshoots which I just didn’t love as much as I did creating my own content.
Fast forward to Autumn. I found a Facebook money-making page, I was desperate to make more money because my monthly income was around £500. And my bills came to that. We had so much debt and I just needed a way to make money while staying at home with Edie and my ever-growing bump. On the site, I saw someone mention an app called Tribe. It said you needed 3k followers and then you could apply for campaigns. They were making money by doing that. At the time I didn’t have enough followers. But after launching my first ever #autumnhashtagchallenge my account had grown. By November 2017 I had enough followers to submit campaigns on Tribe.
I applied for my first Tribe campaign in November 2017. Tribe is an app where brands post the campaign, you have to request to join, they assess your account and if it’s suitable you can then join up. You, as the creator, then apply for campaigns. Some of the time the brands will send you the product (for higher paid items) but most of the time you have to buy the product to advertise. For this reason, I only applied for campaigns where the product was cheap to buy or something I already had. If the campaign was one where the brand will send you the product then you submit a mock-up image and then they say yes or no and then send you the product if successful.
It got rejected. I didn’t include the packaging and my moral high horse, I thought maybe this isn’t for me. I can be one of those people that literally hold the product with no storytelling behind it (no shade to those people, but it wasn’t for me, photographs tell stories and that’s what I wanted my work to be). I gave up a little disheartened. We moved into our house in December 2017 (with a whole heap more debt!) and I tried again. This time for Celebrations. I included the packaging in the shot and I made it as creative as I could back then (looking at it now it makes me cringe a little, but we all start somewhere hey!). I had around 3.5k followers and for my first Tribe post, I was paid £50. I then went on to do two more ads before Christmas. Each paying £50. I’m so glad I didn’t give up. I had so many submissions rejected but I kept going and honestly I that’s what’s key to this kind of work.
At the start of 2018 a few months away from having Norah, I worked on more ads through Tribe. Still being paid £50. My blog had a few campaigns too. So I was starting to make a little bit of money. It wasn’t a lot but it was certainly more than before. As my account grew I started to charge a little more. £75 for ads when I had around 5k followers. For most of 2018, my paid work came through Tribe. I didn’t have many campaigns come to me.
In January 2019 I hit the golden 10k followers. Having the swipe up link meant that my workload increased and meant I could charge more. I starting charging £100 – £125 per post on Tribe. I then signed up for a few more apps. Vamp and Takumi. I got campaigns through those. Although the prices were set on those and sometimes you earnt a lot less than setting your own price. My account grew slowly through 2019, but I had a lot (understatement of the year) going on that year. I did however manage a steady flow of work. I was starting to get brands to approach me directly for campaigns and Christmas 2019 was so busy!
Just before Christmas, I had an email from Hannah at Influencer. They were an agency who themselves have a platform for content creators finding work. They had just started their talent management and asked if we could arrange a call. I was a little bit in shock, huge imposter syndrome hit. I had around 14k followers and I was like, guys are you sure you want me? I spoke with Hannah and she explained that they would find me campaigns from inhouse as well as reaching out to brands on my behalf. They would take care of all email admin and take a commission from my work (that’s how all talent agencies work).
I took the whole of Christmas to think about it. It was hard for me because while I knew it was a fantastic opportunity I had never let anyone else be a part of Little Paper Swans. It was my little empire I had grown. In the end, I decided to go for it. To begin with, it was a trial period to see how we got on. It’s safe to say we got on well as a year later I am proudly still part of Influencer. Now I don’t use apps to find work.
Work comes to me via emails and outreach. Outreach is a huge part of my job but before I had Influencer I didn’t have time to do it. I couldn’t juggle everything I needed. Now I have an amazing team who can do that for me. I no longer have to pretend I understand everything in contracts, I no longer have to chase invoices. I am really happy with where I am in my work.
2020 was a weird one, obviously. I still had campaigns but it was so much quieter. Even Christmas was quieter than before. But that’s understandable with what is going on with the world. But still, I earnt enough to pay bills. I had paid off all my debt at the end of 2019, so I had more than enough to live off and pay bills.
And right now I’m super happy 2021 has been busy already. January and February are normally really quiet but I have already worked on 5 posted campaigns and one ready to go live this week. I’m excited about what 2021 has in store workwise. I honestly love creating content for brands. Being able to get creative with a brief and create magical content. That’s my favourite.
Just a little word of advice the apps tend to pay lower than when a brand comes to you directly. But apps can be a great starting point to start with.
Timeline of events:
November 2017 – I hit 3k
November 2017 – My first ad rejected.
December 2017 – My first 3 paid ads. 3k followers – £50
2018 – All paid work through Tribe.
January 2019 – 10k followers
2019 – Work through Tribe, Takumi, Vamp, Buzzole and a few direct campaigns.
January 2020 – 15k followers – Signed with Influencer
2020 – Slow and steady paid work.
February 2021 – 22.4k followers – Gratefully busy with content creation. Yay!
When did you feel it’s the right time to charge for collabs? Is there a threshold?
I started on the apps at 3k followers. Back in 2017 that was the minimum you needed on Tribe. I honestly think you can charge at any stage if your content is good enough. You wouldn’t ask a plumber who had only been working for a year to work for free, would you? They would still need to be paid. I honestly think if you are clear that your work is good enough you can charge. Of course, some brands want bigger follower numbers. But on some of the apps, there is content only campaigns. This is where you take the photograph and the brand buys it from you, you don’t have to post it on your channels.
How did you make the change from gifted to AD?
Gifted is rarely a gift. If the brand has sent it to you because they want content then that’s not a gift that’s an AD and you should ask to be paid. If brand contacts you simply say “Can I ask if you have any budget in mind for this campaign?” They will either say yes send me your rates or no sorry we don’t. You can then make the decision of whether you want to work for the product. Asking for a budget is a simple way of standing your ground. Pr’s won’t be offended or cross you off a list because you asked. What’s the worst that can happen? So I made the change simply by asking and saying no to things that were not suitable!
How do you ask for payment?
“Can I ask if you have any budget in mind for this campaign?”
Do you approach brands or do they approach you?
I used to use the apps so I would actively be looking for work. Now my talent agency takes care of it for me. However, there is no reason why you can approach brands. Think of the brands you use in your life, start tagging them in things, build a genuine relationship (not a begging, send me things for free relationship) and then when you feel like the time is right to reach out to them.
What kind of following and engagement did you have when you started?
3k followers. I did have a good engagement rate. My photos would have around 200 to 300 likes. I used to get a lot fewer comments however only between 10-20 a post.
How would you approach a brand?
Like I said above build a relationship with the brand first. Be genuine. And then approach them with ideas, previous work and a buzzy approach. A copy and paste email won’t cut it!
What equipment/programmes did you use back when you started your first campaigns?
Always Lightroom and my same camera, Nikon d750. You can read all about my equipment list here. I don’t think you need an amazing camera to start out though. You can clear and beautiful photographs on your phone!
Have you ever had a campaign go wrong? Have you produced something the brand didn’t want?
Not really with the images. I have reshot things once or twice but I know creating the content is my strong point. My captions sometimes will need to be amended but that’s expected. I send it all over to my agency and they then send it to the brands and they then feedback on their thoughts. I have had brands want to change lead images on carousels, but if I’m not happy to I do stand my ground because I know my audience best and I’m always right. Which is win-win because it means the post does really well for the brand and for me.
Do you have rates per post?
I don’t have set rates because it varies from campaign to campaign. For example, a video requires more work so the rate for that would be higher. We consider how much work the campaign is and what the brands budget is.
Is being a brand ambassador worth it or gimmicky?
If you mean a brand rep? Then no. It’s not worth it. Especially when you have to buy the items. I have been an ambassador for a brand before but that was paid, with a 2-year contract etc. Bein a brand rep unless you truly love the products and would buy them anyway isn’t worth your time.
Is it ever okay to work for exposure?
Yes. Sometimes brands don’t have a budget. Firstly ask, if they say no budget then say I can mention the product on my stories marked ad-pr product. But if you truly love the brand and you really want to take the opportunity then go for it. I worked with a toy brand recently on an AD Pr Product because Norah absolutely loves the toys and it felt right for me. Honestly go with your gut and always ask for the budget first.
How do you plan the work you do with brands?
The process goes:
The email comes in or we reach out.
I get to say yes or no.
I then receive a full brief.
Sometimes the brand wants to sign off the idea. I send over a mood board or previous photos etc so they can get a feel for what I create. They then approve the idea.
I then shoot and edit (normally at weekends as that’s my work time until Norah starts nursery in April!).
I then submit the edited image, stories, videos etc with captions.
The brand then sends feedback or approves. I then send back amends if needed.
I then publish at the approved time.
I hope that answers all your questions. It can feel like such a minefield when you start out but honestly if you want to do it my top advice is:
Clear and high-quality content.
A genuinely engaged following.
Use apps and approach brands.
And keep going!!! Not everything happens over night. It’s taken me 4 years to get to the point I’m at!
You’ve got this!
Also, read Why Your Ad’s suck.