Brand collaborations: paid and gifted. This is something I have been doing since the end of 2018. As of the autumn of 2020 being on Instagram has become my main job.
I’ve been meaning to write this blogpost for the longest time and share with you some of my experiences to help you understand how it all works. I have worked with over 180 brands, maybe even 200. I’ve stopped counting.
You may find this article on brand collaborations useful if you are curious on how these things work on Insta or if you are planning to become an influencer who gets paid to promote brands on Instagram.
Freebies? I don’t think so.
Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as a freebie when it comes to posting on Instagram. There’s always an exchange: the product for your time.
Time is one of most valuable commodities we have, if not the most valuable. We can’t buy more of the time we are given. Time passes without pausing and when it’s passed, there’s no turning it back. No opportunity to rewind.
Think about it. Anything we do whether to better something or to rectify a mistake just claws off more of our time. We’re on a forward trajectory, never backward with time expenditure.
Your time creating content whether that be DIY, styling, posting, engaging, or promoting a brand is most certainly not free. You are spending time. Always.
Perhaps the question to ask is why? Why are you hacking into your time? There could be a myriad of answers, many of which are legitimate, for example:
…volunteering, helping others, working for yourself, getting compensation, for enjoyment purposes, it’s a hobby, making a living, opportunity to create new content… just to name a few.
That said, let me open a little of my world to you.
Creating content for brands
Most days of the week I am creating content for brands. As it’s now my main job, I am focused on paid partnerships but I also sometimes agree to gifting collaborations.
This depends on whether I really like the product, I want to support the business and if I feel that the gifting exchange is worth all my time and effort. So whenever I do a collaboration whether gifted or paid, I always think of my purpose in doing so.
Having a purpose makes all the difference because a lot of effort and focus are required when working for brands especially where a contractual agreement is in place. There also has to be a sense of fairness in the exchange, in my opinion.
Collaborations based on a gifting exchange for posts may or may not require written contracts. It depends on the brand you are working with. Sometimes an email exchange is enough.
Paid collaborations on the other hand always require a written contract or agreement or at the very least written terms and conditions. An example of the latter is when you are registered with an agency. More on this further down in this blog post.
Here is an example of a recent gifting collaboration where a mutual agreement between myself and the brand was reached via email and telephone conversations detailing deliverables and schedules.
I agreed to work with The Way We Live London as a gifting collaboration. They specialise in unique and unusual basins from rustic designs to floral beauties like the ones pictured below. I chose the Gracie basin – a botanical blue beauty, as it makes my bathroom one of a kind – it feels like this basin is made for it. I also wanted to support The Way We live London which Sarah, the owner, started last year right in the middle of a global pandemic.
But honestly and truly, who could turn down a basin as beautiful and unique as this? If you were given the opportunity to have something as ordinary and functional as a bathroom basin become a thing of utter beauty, a work of art, wouldn’t you take it up?
Sarah mentioned the possibility of installing this basin DIY which meant I wouldn’t need to shell out for a plumber. In this case, paying a tradesman is quite an important consideration given that it’s something that I didn’t need but wanted as well as being a purely gifting exchange.
Hiring a plumber would have meant paying for the plumber myself on something that I didn’t really need to do (and would also mean justifying the cost to the oh!).
In case you’re wondering, I did install this new basin DIY. It was a matter of removing the old basin, drilling a new hole on the vanity next to the old hole as the Gracie basin is slightly bigger, getting a new basin waste for it and replacing the pipe underneath. Totally possible to do without a plumber.
In fact, this plumbing experience has empowered me as I have always hired a plumber for the smallest leak in the house! What a revelation that I could do some of these little jobs myself!
Gifting collaborations, just like paid ones, can take hours to days to weeks to months. Just because it’s gifting doesn’t mean I put less effort in creating content. Great content is paramount in my line of work, regardless of whether the product to be promoted is paid or gifted.
There are other brands involved in this bathroom project, namely wallpaper and paint. I worked with the brands directly on them as well: 17 Patterns who designed this Dream Proteas in Pink wallpaper also sell their wallpaper via Wallpaper Direct and not just through their own website.
The contract and agreement came from the Wallpaper Direct and I also made sure I mentioned 17 Patterns as the designer in my posts. I agreed to a gifted collaboration with them as there really is no wallpaper like this one!
I promoted each brand separately starting with the space outside my bathroom using the wallpaper, which by the way comes in other gorgeous colourways, before moving on to the work inside the bathroom which involved other brands.
I painted the ceiling and door frame with Craig and Rose Alhambra Stone – this was left-over paint from a paid collaboration with them about two years ago. I’m not actually required to mention this anymore as it’s over a year ago but it’s a a product I used in this makeover so I thought I’d include it here.
How much work do collaborations require?
The time frame for collaborations depends on the following:
1. Type of project
DIY projects take longer in general. So consider this when agreeing to collaborate especially if it’s a gifted collaboration. Ask yourself how much time that DIY will take, do you really want to do it, how will it benefit your life.
Styling is usually quicker than DIY because all you need to do is style. BUT, the work doesn’t start there. It starts in the prep. Getting ready for for styling takes an enormous amount of time especially when it involves tidying up a part of the house for a shoot.
A perfect example of tidying for styling is my kitchen-diner. Whenever I have to promote a brand where I need to style the product in my kitchen-diner, I need to put aside an entire day just to tidy up. Smack in the middle of my kitchen diner is a desk space that is being used in the week as my husband’s office.
Picture a few computer screens and keyboards on top of the daily unInstagrammable mess. All these take me hours to move away prior to cleaning and tidying the space. Plus I can only do this at the weekends too. So planning and scheduling are a must before anything happens!
When you get to the actual product styling, that can take longer than you expect too as you have to try various things that work best. The amount of times I’ve had to reshoot because a label is sticking out, I can see wires behind, a rogue child’s hairbrush is visible, the hoover is in the shot…
In comparison, photographing is usually quite quick once everything is in place and all the imperfections removed. But it’s not over! There’s editing to do and this can be fairly time-consuming as well.
If you have read my book InstaMADE: How to grow your Instagram from 0 to 100k even if you’re unknown, you’d know that I believe in editing photos. In the book I talk about why I always edit all my photos as part of my commitment to only push out quality content on my page.
This is not to say non-edited photos are not quality! What I’m saying is that editing is a key part of my workflow that I tend not to deviate from and forms part of my commitment to produce content that I am satisfied with and makes me happy.
If you think having created your great content is the enough, think again. When you’ve got content you’re happy to publish, there’s posting and engaging on the platform to do. These take a lot of our precious commodity that is time.
Preparing captions, tags and hashtags according to the brand’s brief can take time to get right. Take your time though as when you hit that publish “post”, it’s difficult to go back.
Yes you can go back and edit your mistakes or add to your caption but there are repercussions. After having already gained some traction, editing your post sends it back to the start line all over again. So think twice, three times before you hit publish.
If you have to edit something that is really important, then bite the bullet and do it. Otherwise, I’d wait several days when the post has already run it’s visibility course.
It’s really crucial we learn to manage our time on these social media platforms as it can be all consuming to the detriment of our personal life, family life and mental health. If we’re not careful, we’d be letting time run away without realising it until it’s too late.
2. Amount of content agreed
What have you agreed to deliver to the brand? Grid posts, stories, reels, IGTV, Insta take-overs, high res and press-ready images for the brand’s use, stories Q&As, Live Q&As, Blog posts?
In case you’re wondering, blog posts are not to be looked down on. They take a huge amount of time: writing copy, researching facts and details, preparing and optimising web images, making sure SEO is in place, links to other sites and platforms like Facebook and Pinterest… It’s a job in itself.
How many have you agreed to do or are required under the contract you have entered into? When you agreed to these deliverables, have you considered the amount of time it takes to complete the entire campaign from prep to invoicing? More importantly, have you estimated the number of hours or days it will take you to produce all this work at a quality you are happy with and are proud of?
3. Anticipate time spent on engagement
On top of creating content, have you taken into consideration the amount of time you need to spend posting and engaging for each piece of content?
Why is engagement so important, I hear you ask? Did you know that the algorithm is all about engagement? Unless you pay for your posts to be promoted by Insta, if there’s no engagement or activity on your post, the algorithm will remember that and factor that in when it decides on which posts to push and not to push.
Without activity on your page, what do you think the algorithm will remember about you? Do you think it’ll favour your content and push them out?
The algorithm is supposedly Insta’s “intelligent” guess at the activity around posts based on behaviours they have tracked in the past from you and and that of your followers – how they respond to your posts and shares and interactions the post gets. The algorithm makes connections and calculations which form the basis of whether it will push your post or not.
Insta admit they don’t always get it right hence their constant tweaks to make things “better” and make Insta a more pleasurable experience for app users.
Of course since the announcement that Insta is no longer a square photo sharing app, the algorithm will favour videos more moving forward. It also takes into consideration not only the known and calculated behaviours mentioned above but also what Insta now specifically want to push – entertaining videos, regardless of whether this is something of interest to you.
Insta has more than just one algorithm. There’s an algorithm for each type of content that tracks still images, videos, stories, reels and IGTV. These algorithms make the decisions on how much reach your content gets according to type.
I one had a peaceful disagreement with a friend on here who has a huge number of followers. This friend maintains that engagement does not matter, Insta hides you anyway. There may be some truth to that I concede. But I’m convinced too that engagement is a key factor to the growth of my account. It’s all organic growth for me so far. There are various factors to growth and engagement is most definitely one of them.
But then this friend tells me that their account only grows because of paid ads. That explains why for them there was no need to engage. Promoting posts on Insta is something I had not done personally and have no insight on really.
It is another surefire way to grow- just pay Instagram to push your posts and gain you followers and then you don’t have to worry about engagement and the algorithm. You can bypass all that by paying Insta to promote your posts.
This is something I have always advised small businesses to do as part of their marketing. But not something I have actively recommended personal accounts and interiors enthusiasts on here in the past as I have always pushed for organic growth. I’m putting this here as it’s food for thought. It’s an option to consider and there is nothing wrong with promoting your posts. It’s all part of Insta business.
Is pre-approval required by the brand before you can publish any content? Some brands require this, others lets you get on with it as long as you stick to the brief and T&Cs.
There could be edits to make, content to be remade so that tags and hashtags are live when they are posted, text overlays or voice-overs to add, brand music to incorporate and so on…
Recently, I’ve had to remake a video completely even though it had already been approved by the brand a while back. This was because the brand spotted a misprint on the brochure they gave me which I had based my content on.
They corrected their facts and asked me to also reflect that amendment on my video. This meant additional time spent on remaking the video that I thought has already been finished. I had to re-edit and re-record the entire piece.
One could argue that as it wasn’t my mistake, I could have charged the brand more in fees. But, as you know, sometimes things are not always as straightforward and that’s to be expected from time to time.
Decisions like these are always finely balanced with other factors to consider such as maintaining a good relationship with the brand and not just compensation.
Some brands can be very specific with their guidelines for example providing you with a storyboard to follow. Of course the content will be original to you and authentic but there’s a clear guide on what you have to do on which day and what type of content, and what call-to-action to include. This is common with paid partnerships but not so with gifted collaborations.
For gifted collaborations, I’m usually given a lot of creative freedom and there’s very rarely pre-approvals needed.
Are you required to submit performance results or insights? Often these are numerous screenshots of all the content you made for the brand – screenshots of both the actual content and the stats for each piece of content!
You would need to collate this content which means going back to your archives and digging up everything relating to the campaign then screen-shotting each one and sending all the files over to the brand, especially if the campaign involves DIY being completed over several weeks. You guessed it – additional time spent.
Some brands have a tracking platform they use to gather all the data but you would need to agree to sign up with for it first. This save you the hassle of screen-shotting and sending them the insights.
All the above I’ve so far mentions don’t even include the initial communication, negotiation with brands, and sending and chasing invoices.
If you consider this as a hobby, that’s an inordinate amount of time to spend on one. It might be fun to begin with but one day you might feel like you want something in return.
But considered as a job or a side hustle, then perhaps the amount of work makes more sense and justifies the time spent in some ways. You might even feel that the monetary compensation won’t make you begrudge the work you’ve put in for a collaboration and that’s it’s better than not getting anything in return at all.
Who do you liaise with?
I am always asked if brands contact me or if I approach them. Most of the time brands contact me via DM or email about collaborations and partnerships.
Sometimes I contact brands I am interested in working with especially when I need something. Let’s face it, every little thing helps! Besides, I know in good conscience I am not only receiving things, I am working hard for them to deliver my side of the deal well.
Sometimes brands contact influencers via influencer platforms which these brands pay for. These platforms act as the brands agencies. You can join these platforms and apply for campaigns. Some brands contact influencers via their PR agencies or their in-house social media managers.
So this contact whichever way they happen is really where the process starts.
Some contacts are a go and some don’t happen at all. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get the green light or have not been successful in your application. It’s part and parcel of doing business.
Sometimes you’re the best fit, other times other people are a better fit. It’s all good. It’s also important to bear in mind that some brands especially bigger ones have campaign schedules throughout the year that they work within. So it could be that the timing isn’t right for that moment.
In any case, you must celebrate your wins! And as to those potential collaborations that don’t materialise, don’t worry about them. Just move on.
Many small businesses are run by their owners. It’s often a one-person band with the owner wearing different hats. In cases like these, I liaise directly with the owner via DM or email. This is the case with The Way We Live London I mentioned above. I liaised directly with Sarah and although she does have her own social media PR who manages her posts, she deals with this side of things directly.
Most brands I have worked with have their own PR or social media manager who is in charge with their campaigns, promotions and working with influencers. They are responsible for drawing up contracts and agreements of deliverables that both parties have mutually entered into. Payment comes from the brand directly.
Some brands, especially bigger ones, use Agencies which are similar to influencer platforms although many of these agencies find you rather than you applying to join the.
These Agencies are responsible for finding the right influencers for the brand and dealing with all the contracts and agreements for their campaigns. Payment is made via the Agency as well. They act as middlemen between you and the brand which could make the process longer sometimes as often they have to wait for the brand to respond before responding to you.
This means there is no direct communication between you and the brand at all other than via the Agency, unless the Agency organises this contact.
I have worked with a few agencies with very different styles of working. Some agencies want to have 100% control of every post going out and for all publishing timings for each piece of content. They provide you with relevant links for swipe-ups and other trackable stats.
They keep a sharp eye on performance indicators, stats and insights. Some agencies and brands ask you to register with an app or a platform that analyses data as I’ve mentioned above that they use to gather these insights so they can keep track of each piece of content in detail.
Others agencies are much more relaxed. They set out the terms and conditions, give you plenty of creative freedom within the brief, review the post, make some tweaks if necessary and it’s a go. And some don’t even ask for insights! This takes a lot of pressure off as with Insta, you can really only do your best to make sure you are leveraging everything you know that would help your content succeed.
But after that, it’s out of your hands and you won’t be able to predict how well it does most of the time especially with Insta constantly tweaking the app.
Most brands I’ve worked with require an invoice before payment is processed. Payment takes between 30 – 60 days on receipt of the invoice so as soon as you finish the deliverables, send them asap as many brands often needed chasing up!
Yesterday I sent an invoice for a partnership I finished a couple of months ago – simply because I had forgotten! I wondered why they hadn’t paid me but then I remembered I hadn’t sent an invoice! They didn’t chase me for one either. So it’s important to keep track of all your work.
I have an dedicated Instagram calendar called InstaCAL that I use to plan everything that goes out on my feed whether personal, paid or gifted. It lays out clearly what I will post over the next weeks and months so I balance all my ad posts along with my personal posts. It’s an electronic one that works on a PDF reader for all computers so it’s so easy to cut and paste changes in schedules. I’d be completely lost without it! It’s available free with my book.
This particular invoice was missed because it was the second campaign with the same brand that I ran within a short space of time. I had in my mind I’d already sent them an invoice, which I had done but only for the first campaign.
A few brands especially the smaller ones pay promptly, some even before the start of the project but after the contracts have been signed.
The only exception to sending invoices from my experience is when you’ve registered with a platform or app that the brand uses and you get paid via the platform or app directly once the campaign is complete.
As the term suggests, paid partnerships mean that you get paid for the promotional work you do for the brand, often on top of the product they want you to promote. As a matter of choice, I only promote content that I have created myself.
I know that other people promote third party images styled by the brand themselves or other agencies. Sometimes I include a brand’s own image/s to supplement content that I have created for the brand but never to use as a front image. This is one of the boundaries I have made for myself – to only promote my own original content as the main image on my feed.
Where monies are exchanged, there has to be a method of payment agreed or specified. These could be via bank transfer, via an app that the brand uses which may require your IBAN and BIC numbers or even via Paypal. In these cases where there is a monetary exchange, these fees are subject to tax. This means that you are legally obliged to declare this as income on your tax return.
This bathroom project also has a paid partnership element. I worked with Rust-Oleum to transform this bathroom using paint. I liaised with their social media manager for everything I needed – timescales, captions, post etc. It was all done in-house so that their dedicated social media team handled everything and made the necessary connections within their other company departments such as warehouse ordering, PO raising, delivery and invoicing.
Rust-Oleum provided the products I used to paint the radiator (Stove & BBQ Paint), chrome taps (Surface Primer, Universal All-Surface Paint Metallic, Crystal Clear Sealer), tiles (Chalky Finish Furniture Paint and Furniture Lacquer which I decided to use instead of paint tiles), and vanity paint with their new Matt Furniture Paint that doesn’t require priming nor sealing.
The entire bathroom project took months in planning, execution and completion and I had to post separate content for each brand exclusively not tagging other brands on the relevant posts. After the deliverables were completed for each brand, I am then able to tag all other brands involved together in my posts moving forward.
Are contracts necessary?
I’d say yes most definitely, if not, an agreement of deliverables laid out in black and white at the very least. Where there is an agreement between two parties, both parties are accountable for the deliverables they have signed up to.
Your part is creating content and promoting the brand and their part is providing you with what you need and paying you if it’s a paid partnership. All these must be crystal clear to all parties. Save yourself future hassle by asking for a contract or a written agreement at the very least.
Contracts can be as long as 20 pages of legal speak sections and paragraphs (true story) or as short as a 1 pager of a simple written note of the agreed details by both parties.
Contracts lay out some important details that need to be heeded to avoid any breaches. Some brands ask for exclusivity whereby you would not be able to work with other direct competitors for a time. Think carefully if agreeing to exclusivity is worth the possible loss of opportunities or income for you.
There are timeframes that need to be considered carefully. I once landed in hot water for not looking at the dates carefully. I was working on a project (let’s call it Project A) which took a couple of months to complete.
This timeframe overlapped with another similar project (let’s call it Project B) which wasn’t due to start after Project A was completed. There was no exclusivity clause for Project A so I wasn’t concerned about any breaches.
However, I signed the contract with Project B before I completed Project A. At this point, all I have done was sign the contract. Project B had not even started and won’t be starting for weeks yet.
But Project B has an exclusivity clause which I mistakenly thought started after my first post on the project was published which wasn’t to be for weeks yet. How wrong was I? The exclusivity clause started from the moment I signed the contract!
This was not a great situation to be in, albeit it was an honest mistake. Amendments on the contract were made as a result as well as changes in the fees which are not in my favour. Live and learn!
How about fees? How much should you charge?
I am often asked about fees and advice on how much to charge brands. Well, there are many factors to consider!
From my experience, it’s all different with brands. Some brands already have a specific budget in mind to pay the influencer for their campaign and they will put this budget to you up front. It’s up to you what to do with that offer. Others ask for a media kit and rate sheet or your fees for the pieces of content they have in mind.
Some brands offer rates based on your recent performance. They may ask you to provide them specific stats beforehand like story views, reach over the past 7 days or 14 days, type of audience you have and their distribution by country. There’s not really a one size fits all!
Brands take into consideration not just your follower numbers but how engaged you are with your tribe. This is really important. Brands are watching and looking for those they can trust to do a fair job and not just take gifting or payment without commitment to producing decent content for them and spending fair time to actually promote and engage.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking that only follower numbers matter!
Ultimately it’s your decision on whether to accept a gifted collaboration or choose to only work with paid partnerships or do a bit of both.
I teach a course on Branding and Instagram called From Bland to Brand. This has an entire section dedicated to Instagram and also a separate entire lesson purely on Brand Partnerships and Collaborations. This course teaches my students how to work and connect with brands, where to find brands that pay, what to say to them so that you have a higher chance of getting a reply, how much to charge, which collaborations to say yes to and no to, how to turn gifted collaborations into paid partnerships and so on.
Since the autumn of last year, my main income has come from Instagram and has completely outgrown and overtaken my wedding photography income which was crushed by the pandemic. I’m really thankful for this app which allowed me to carry on working during this time. I work hard for the brands I promote and for all the students on my course that I support and mentor.
If there’s anything you should remember from this post, remember these:
1. Collaborations are never ever free.
2. Consider your time; it’s your most valuable commodity.
3. Community and engagement matter more than numbers.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope there were some things that you gleaned from this post on brand collaborations paid and gifted that you could use going forward in your plans. Any questions just ask in the comments below, email me or via DM on my Insta page Layered.Home.