The ultimate Creator guide to landing better brand deals
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Great news: You don’t need millions of followers to make a living as a content Creator. Most people who land brand sponsorships have fewer followers than you think.
Micro-influencers—accounts with less than 25,000 followers—make up a large portion of brand sponsorships. This is because micro-influencers—and even nano-influencers (<10,000 followers)—often see higher engagement rates than macro-influencers, which means they’re part of an authentic, tight-knit community.
As influencer marketing continues to ✨blossom✨ brand sponsorships are becoming less about follower count, and more about:
- Knowing how to build a great community
- Straight up business knowledge and work ethic
- Understanding your value to brands—and how to express it
With this in mind, we’ve created an easy, step-by-step guide on how you can land more—and better—brand sponsorships. Keep reading to learn how to:
- Know what brands are looking for
- Know how brands find Creators
- Reach important business milestones
- Build your niche as a Creator
- Find and pitch brands that are a great fit
- Maximize payment and compensation with brands
- Increase your value as a Creator after you’re established
What brands look for in Creator sponsorships
Broke: Brands that only care about eyeballs and follower counts.
Woke: Brands that care about authenticity and engagement.
While some brands still prioritize follower counts first and foremost, they may not be the brands you want to work with. Brands that have more experience with creator marketing understand that authenticity is key to a good sponsorship deal.
When brands look for Creators to partner with, they’re typically looking for three things:
- Content quality: Do your photos and videos look professional? Are you showing off your creativity in your feed?
- Brand fit and authenticity: Does your niche line up with their niche?
- Engagement rate: Do you have a solid community of followers who share and comment on your posts? Is your engagement rate remaining strong as your follower count grows?
Stefan Warecka, tech blogger and gamer, has “only” 17.4k followers on Instagram, but he was able to score a brand deal with tech behemoth Huawei based on a perfect-fit niche.
How brands find Creators to sponsor
According to Creator Growth Manager David Kaufman, brands typically find Creators one of three ways:
- Direct through social media platforms: If you’ve ever received a message asking for a collab, you know what we’re talking about.
- Creator agencies: Brands will often work with agencies when they’re scaling their Creator marketing efforts and need to outsource their search.
- Creator platforms: Similar to leveraging an agency, brands will leverage creator platforms to perform searches based on category, niche, engagement, and follower count.
To make sure your account is discoverable and visible to brands, David has some tips:
- List your social accounts with a creator platform.
- Build your niche (more on that below) by creating focused content, following other accounts in your category, and using the right hashtags.
- Prepare a standard pitch (more on that below) that you can customize for why you’d be a great fit for brand sponsorships in your category.
Business milestones to hit as a successful content Creator
Broke: Thinking of yourself as an influencer.
Woke: Thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur.
One of the most important things you can do for your career as a Creator is to shift your mindset from “I’m an influencer” to “I’m a business owner.”
Consider your role as an influencer and Creator as living underneath the umbrella of your business. That means creating content is an important part of your job—the most important—but it’s not everything.
Content Creators are tempted to think broadly about content because they’re creative and have a lot of ideas. Entrepreneurs know how to find their niche and prioritize content that helps them achieve their financial goals.
Here are some important milestones to hit as an entrepreneur-Creator:
- Find your niche: Be as specific as possible when defining your niche, and make sure 80% of your content fits within your category. When you’re diligent about specificity, brands will know right away, at a glance, whether you’re a good fit for them.
- Grow your following: Focus on creating relevant, shareable content, and follow other accounts within your niche category. Your follower count isn’t the only indicator of your value, but some brands do look for certain follower count thresholds.
- Engage with your community: Carve out time every day to respond to DMs and comments, and comment on other people’s posts. Consistency here will improve your engagement rate, which will show up on Creator platform listings.
- Develop your fundamental processes: Think through every step of a brand sponsorship, from pitching, negotiation, agreement, and content development. Where can you use templates? And after each partnership, note what went well and what didn’t, so you can improve your processes each time.
- Get comfortable with creative briefs: Whether you develop your own creative brief for brands to fill out or gain access to one through your brand sponsorship, make sure you understand the details before you start the work—creative direction, timelines, tasks, rounds of revision, and approvals.
- Write a list of standard questions for brands: What do you need to know before you start the work? It’s always better to seek clarification right away for anything that seems ambiguous. The last thing you want is to spend too much time and effort creating content that’s not meeting expectations.
- Learn some basic contract language: Two things you’ll want to watch for as a content Creator—exclusivity and perpetual use. You don’t necessarily want to avoid these types of sponsorships, but they do affect how much you can charge (hint: it’s higher).
- Get an invoicing and payment platform: Most established brands have payment processes that require invoicing and credit card payment. Make sure you’re set up to fit into those processes, so you’re easy to work with.
Building your niche as a content Creator
We’ve devoted a lot of real estate in this article to emphasizing the importance of building your niche as a Creator—but what does that actually look like?
“Niche content is content that helps you reach a specific long-term goal.”—David Kaufman, Creator Growth Manager, #paid
Choosing a niche can feel uncomfortable. When you’re committing to a niche, you may feel:
- Anxious about alienating audiences that don’t fit within your niche
- Scared to miss out on opportunities that fall outside your niche
- Limited in your creativity as a content Creator
While all of these hesitations are valid, the benefits of choosing a niche are worth it:
- You’ll gain a sense of clarity about your long-term goals.
- Brands looking for Creators in your niche will see right away that you’re a great fit.
- Your pitches for brand sponsorships will practically create themselves.
Building your niche is an ongoing process—you’ll always be tweaking and improving your focus. But here’s where you can start in four steps:
- List the characteristics of your passion: You know you’re passionate about a topic when you can talk about it non-stop without any preparation. If you’re into yoga, for instance, take stock of all the content you’ve created about yoga and list common characteristics. You’ll start to see patterns and anchor points that can help you generate similar (and better) content.
- List audience pain points: After you’ve committed to a topic, make a list of problems people like you face within your category. For every problem, list a possible solution. This is the beginning of your content calendar.
- Research niche competitors and hashtags: Extend your knowledge of your own space by following similar Creators and hashtags. They may technically be your “competitors” in a business sense, but in a human sense, they’re also your community.
- Test and commit to your niche content: This is the hard part—now that you know your niche, you need to commit to it with consistent content that fits. That means discarding ideas that don’t fit and spending time only on the ones that do. A great rule to follow is the 80/20 rule—80% of your content should fit within your niche, while 20% can branch out a little to show you’re a well-rounded human being.
Examples of Creators with crystal-clear niches:
Jeff Nippard is a fitness Creator with 640k+ followers—and it’s immediately obvious from his profile picture, bio, stories, and first few posts that he’s devoted to fitness.
Nippard shows the value of simplicity with the brevity of his bio, unpolished workout videos, and limited story highlights—proof that creating a niche doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to be clear.
Jasmine Briones is a vegan Creator with 265k+ followers who demonstrates niche expertise through her post, stories, and a link to her book. She takes it one step further with her dog account, @berryandlouie, which is an extension of her vegan brand because her dog is vegan, too!
Pitching brands for sponsorship deals
“Build it and they will come” is only half the story for content Creators.
Yes, if you focus on building your community and your personal brand, you may reach a point where brands are approaching you with some great sponsorship opportunities. But until then, you’ll likely have to hustle and pitch brands you want to work with.
Crafting a great pitch is actually a two-step process:
- Choosing the right brands
- Creating the actual (bespoke) pitch
Too many Creators don’t spend enough time on the first step, and the result is almost always a miss. But if you spent enough time on defining and building your niche, choosing the right brands will be easy.
How to choose the right brands to pitch
“The number one thing to remember is that brands get pitched a lot. If you're going to put the time and effort into pitching brands, start with ones you’re a very obvious fit for.” —David Kaufman, Creator Growth Manager, #paid
Perfect-fit brands aren’t difficult to find because they’re the brands you love in the first place. Here’s where you can start and expand your search:
- Search your own purchases: Remember—brands care about authenticity above all else. When you approach brands you genuinely love, your passion will show in your pitch. Bonus points if you’ve posted about that brand before and can show them how much you appreciate their product.
- Search for sponsored posts within your own community: If Creators similar to you are scoring brand deals with certain companies, that shows a brand is investing in Creator marketing.
- Search for relevant keywords + funding rounds on Crunchbase: A great way to expand your search is to look for relevant keywords, then cross-reference the company names with funding announcements listed on Crunchbase. While not a perfect indicator of marketing budgets by a long shot, recent funding rounds signal a general injection of cash that could be spent on brand sponsorships for Creators.
How to craft your pitch
“It's important to remember that a pitch isn't always going to result in a yes or no immediately. Make room for discussion about what your collaboration would look like.” —David Kaufman, Creator Growth Manager, #paid
Odds are, if you’re excited to work with a brand, other Creators are, too. Assume the brands you love are getting a lot of pitches and answer the following fundamental questions right away in your pitch:
- Who are you and why are you an obvious choice for sponsorship?
- Who is your audience?
- Why do you want to collaborate?
And don’t assume a pitch needs to be written! To stand out, consider packaging your pitch in the following ways:
- An Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/etc. portfolio of content relevant for that brand
- A Loom video that shows of your charming, camera-friendly personality
- An Instagram highlights reel with relevant content and/or other sponsored posts
However you choose to pitch yourself to a brand, the most important things to remember are:
- Show, don’t tell: Take every opportunity to show brands why you’re a great fit, rather than just telling them.
- Make it easy: Never make a brand sift through your content to find out who you are. Create a curated portfolio with a smaller amount of pieces to make everyone’s life easier.
Creator rates and compensation
Not sure what to charge? Before you read on, check out our 2021 Creator Pricing Guide.
Rates are what you charge, but compensation can come in many forms:
- Actual money
- Product value (gifts)
- Collaboration value (brand exposure)
- Audience exchange (access to a brand’s audience)
Important note: People from marginalized communities often report lower rates and more requests to create content in exchange for small gifts or brand exposure. For more information on how to push back against this, visit F*** You Pay Me’s website and Instagram page. They’re a great resource for Creators looking for rate transparency and fair pay.
Every Creator has a different set of priorities at different points in their journey as an entrepreneur. The key to satisfaction about compensation is to define what’s important to you and base your value exchange on that. Here’s where you can start:
- Determine your standard rates: Develop a rate sheet you can send to brands who want to work with you. See 2021 standard rates, based on 18 months of data, here.
- Keep track of your time: While you won’t charge brands by the hour, you should know for your own business economics how much time it takes to create each piece of content, so you can know how much your time is worth.
- Make a list of value-add items: Value-add items are points of negotiation. You may take a reduced rate to work with a large brand that will give you access to their large audience. On the other hand, you may charge more for brands that want to use your content in ad campaigns on other channels or for a longer period of time.
There are nine main factors that influence Creator pricing. See what they are here.
“Your rates absolutely don't have to be static for every project. As a Creator you're running your business and you need to determine what your time is worth to you—which will of course change over time.”—David Kaufman, Creator Growth Manager, #paid
How to negotiate compensation with brands
Your negotiation process will be different for every brand, but there are some standard items you’ll want to consider as leverage and/or watch for.
- Multi-channel use: It’s one thing to post one piece of whitelisted content on your feed, but if a brand also wants posts for their own feeds and their website and in emails, those are additional pieces of content that will start to move your rates away from your standard.
- Exclusivity: If a brand doesn’t want you to work with their competitors, that cuts off potential opportunities for you—which means you can charge more.
- Perpetual or long-term use of your likeness: If a brand wants you to be a spokesperson for them on a long-term basis or if they want to reserve your likeness forever, your rates should increase.
- Content packages: Multiple pieces of content cost more, as do additional tasks like storyboarding or collaborating with other Creators.
- Audience sharing: If a massive brand like Nike is offering to tag you on their accounts, you may consider a lower rate in exchange for what will likely be more engaged followers. Just make sure the brand fits your niche.
- Expensive products: If a brand can’t offer payment but they can offer a product of extreme monetary value, you may want to consider it—just make sure the value lines up with what your time is worth.
How to increase your value to brands when you want to level up
If you’ve been at this a while and feel like you want to level up, there are three main ways you can grow and ultimately charge more for your services.
- Upskilling: Take courses that will help you create better content, like photography, videography, and video editing. You likely already know how to do these things, but advanced courses can help you take your skills to a new level.
- Learning new skills: Determine some ideal next steps in your career and learn new skills that will help you reach your goals. If you want to become a television host, for example, you may want to take some broadcast journalism courses.
- Affiliate marketing: If you want to develop more long-term partnerships with brands, consider setting up an affiliate channel for product reviews.
Think of all these investments as additional points of negotiation when you’re crafting brand partnerships. When you can point to concrete actions that show why you’re an expert, you’re much more likely to see success in raising your rates.
Final thoughts on creating predictable income
Don’t underestimate the importance of being easy to work with.
Behind every brand there’s a team of people who want Creator partnerships to run smoothly. If you can make sure this happens, you’re setting yourself up for a competitive advantage.
Here’s what being easy to work with means:
- Clear communication: You’re not a burden when you ask questions or make clarifying statements. As long as you’re tactful and thoughtful, clear communication is how great work gets done—and marketing teams know this.
- Delivering on expectations: When you say you’re going to do something, do it. Underpromise and overdeliver when you can, and prove you’re a person who can be trusted.
- Have fun: Know the difference between what’s appropriate and what’s not, but don’t be afraid to have fun with the people you’re working with! We gravitate toward people who make us feel good, and there’s no need to be serious 100% of the time.
The easier you are to work with, the more a brand will work with you again and again. This is what creates predictable income … which creates the stability most Creators are seeking. ❤️