How to work with brands on Instagram

We hear it often enough community over competition, right? But are we appyling this mantra to the content we create as Influencers? The honest answer is probably not. We can easily get caught up in the sense of competition among our fellow Influencers. Competing for jobs, brand deals and even followers. But what if I told you that there was another way? What if I showed you exactly how to work with brands on Instagram? That instead of competing with each other we could HELP each other and build a community. That community over competition really is the way and that by comparing yourself to other Influencers, bloggers and content creators you really are only hurting yourself and making a big mistake and affecting your chances of brand collaborations! Here, I want to talk about the 5 mistakes that you are making as an Influencer and show you the right way to work with brands on Instagram.

Woman leaning against some street art on the streets of Belfast. A great instagram spot Belfast

Mistake 1: Not focusing on or building your community

Perhaps the biggest mistake that I see Influencers making is choosing the competition route over building a strong community. I often see Influencers feel that in order to win that prize job or brand deal that they need to compete with others in a negative way. Now don’t get me wrong, not all competition is a bad thing. In fact competition leads to innovation. What I am talking about here is the negative and often nasty sense of competition that can be seen on social media.

I’ve done it myself! Driven myself crazy by comparing myself to other accounts. Why did that brand not ask to work with me? How many likes did my content get compared to other Influencers. I even started getting personal with myself and comparing my looks and body shape. That was when I knew that this comparison mindset was a mistake. I shouldn’t have been looking to compete with my peers on social media but that I should be looking to them for support.

Woman twirling in her white dress at The Bullitt Hotel Belfast

With millions of people on social media every day, Instagram alone has over 500 million monthly users, there is honestly enough room for everyone to grow. No two Influencers will ever be the same. We all have one thing that makes us unique, our VOICE, our way of creating content and telling our story. So instead of competing with each other we should shift our focus to building a strong community.

A community where every single Influencer, content creator, and blogger comes together to support, motivate, work, encourage and even become real friends. Focusing on building a community and not making everything a competition pays off in the long run. A community becomes like a family who will always be there for you.

You can form your own community by reaching out and engaging with others in your niche. Find ways to collaborate together whether it be simply shouting each other out, taking a trip together, being photographer’s for each other, or even just starting a group chat to bounce ideas off of each other.

Don’t forget your audience

When building your community it is also important not to forget the backbone of your community, your audience. My community have supported and motivated me through my darkest days of Lyme disease. I feel comfortable sharing my insecurities with them and they boost me up if I am feeling low and they encourage me to create and to follow my dreams. In turn I offer them the same level of support and inspiration and I bring value to them with the content that I create. My audience enjoys engaging with me, as I enjoy engaging with them and it is so refreshing to feel real connections.

Woman in a bookstore in Romania teaching people how to work with brands on Instagram
Working for Experience Romania

My community, or RosaLilla tribe, means everything to me! I am under no illusion and I fully recognise that I simply would not be here without them. They make me push my creative boundaries and continue to learn in the hopes of inspiring them. I am an open book with my tribe because authentic connection is so important to me. It is important to me that my audience feels like they are seeing the real me and that they trust me. Trust with my audience is a priority for me so that when I refer something my audience knows that it is because I genuinely LOVE IT!.

I answer every DM and try to reply to every comment left on both my blog and my Instagram because genuine engagement is so important to me. I have met many of my followers in real life and formed heartfelt connections. My community honestly means everything to me and I respect them.

Mistake 2: Thinking that numbers are the only thing that count

What do you think of when it comes to social media influencers? Is it the Kim Kardashians of the world with millions of followers or is it someone much more approachable and relatable, with a smaller, yet immensely dedicated and fully engaged following? Please don’t underestimate the power of being a micro-influencer.

Thinking that numbers are the only thing that count is a big mistake that many Influencer’s make. On the surface, it may seem as though an Influencer’s total following is the only thing that matters. While overall following numbers do of course draw attention, engagement is the key factor in an Influencer’s ultimate success when it comes to making money online.

Woman drinking red wine in a bubble bath while using Dermalogica products. An example of how to work with brands on Instagram
Working for Dermalogica

These days, brands and marketers are more focused on the interaction between the Influencer and their audience. Engagement is measured by likes, genuine comments and ultimately the trust that followers have in the Influencers that they are following. Accounts with a smaller number of followers often have a higher engagement rate and therefore more influence with their followers than bigger accounts. So believing that only follower count matters when it comes to being an Influencer is a HUGE mistake.

Brands are actively looking for micro-influencers because they have already built the audience that the brand is looking for, and they have an established trust with them. The one thing that you can never under-estimate as an Influencer is the importance of telling a story, rather than just a blatant sales pitch to your audience. Influencers have established relationships with their followers through their stories. My audience has followed my journey and my story since the beginning and they are invested in it. When I now share a brand’s story my followers know that I am trustworthy and they are ready to listen.

Man reaching his hand into a bowl of popcorn while wearing a Jord wood watch on his wrist.
Working with Jord Wood Watches

Now that you can see the value that you can provide to a brand please don’t get tricked by a PR company to provide your content for free. Which leads me nicely on to mistake number three.

Mistake 3: Not knowing your worth as an Influencer

This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see Influencers making, especially newer Influencers. Knowing your worth as an Influencer is so important. As the Influencer industry grows so too does the number of PR agencies willing to take advantage of that.

Influencers too aren’t helping themselves, especially when starting out. They often aren’t confident in the value that they can provide to a brand and accept jobs for free. You have to value yourself, your skills and your audience. Don’t take a brand deal just to take a deal. You will only lose trust in your followers.

I mean, I get it! Nothing is more exciting than when a brand reaches out and wants to work with you. But, what you have to bear in mind is that brands, who used to have to pay thousands for advertising in newspapers, magazines, television or radio, have now found a way to get “FREE” advertising in exchange for product.

Woman lying on her bed in a hotel room in County Clare Ireland
Working with The Armada Spanish Point Hotel

While that can work some of the time, especially if the product is valuable and something that you really want, if you only accept free product it undermines your worth and the worth of other Influencers trying to make a career. Full time Influencers rely on consistent brand collaborations and partnerships to make money and pay their bills. There can’t be any growth in your career if you are continously offering your services for free.

You may not even be aware that you are under charging or under valueing yourself. It is worth educating yourself on what is standard industry pay. I mean in any other career we know what to expect with the standard rate of pay. You expect to pay about €60 to see a doctor. You don’t look to see if you can get a doctor’s visit for like €10, and if you did, would you trust the diagnosis? The honest answer is no. So it is ok to expect to be paid well for the services that you provide.

How much should I charge?

A good rule of thumb is to charge about 1% of your following so if you have 10,000 followers you would charge about €100 per Instagram post and if you have 200,000 followers you should €2,000 per Instagram post but there are other factors that come into play. Engagement rates, location and your niche all come into play.

Building relationships with brands is also key so that they will continue to want to work with you. Show the brand that you truly love their product and that you are willing to authentically, naturally and organically share it with your audience. This is why I only choose to work with brands that I already love. I am already using their products so it is a no brainer for me to want to share them with my audience. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to value yourself, your skills and your followers.

Women working with the Gaston Luga brand on Instagram
Working with Gaston Luga

By accepting free work you are just adding to the problem of competition. How can another Influencer compete or try to make an income when there are those offering their work for free! PR companies are getting used to bloggers starting out just wanting to make a name for themselves and know that they can get away with having them advertise for free. The worst thing is that you don’t even realise that you are adding to the problem. So stop undercutting! As I said, you may not even be aware that you are doing it. You are undercutting by taking brand deals for free. But, when you value yourself, you value others aswell.

Mistake 4: You are comparing yourself to others

In my opinion the best thing that Instagram did was remove the visibility of likes that a photograph gets. I was recently asked my opinion on Instagram removing likes by one of my favourite bloggers Helene in Between and you can read all about it there.

I mean it is natural to compare but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. We often aren’t even comparing like for like because there are so many outside influences involved. When I hit around 10,000 followers on Instagram I too felt the pressure of numbers and likes. I was upset that other people on Instagram were getting more likes on their photos than I was without considering all the differing factors between accounts, such as geographical location and audience. It made me feel inadequate and that my account wasn’t good enough when that wasn’t the case at all. The account that I initially felt so proud of now wasn’t good enough in my eyes and that was WRONG!

Stop asking yourself “Why not me?” Instead of looking at what others are doing, take a good look at your own audience and how you can provide value to them. There is a lot of negativity on social media these days and it is easy to leave an unkind comment or hide behind our phones and keyboards. Things will only get worse, unless we try to collectively, be better, as a community. Without trying to sound mushy, if you think of other creators as fellow employees or even friends you will be happy for them when they nail that job or write a bloody brilliant blog post. You will be happy for them instead of just seeing them as competition and it makes for a much happier and more healthy experience on social media.

Woman with a long red flowy kimono walking along the cobbled streets of Sighisoara Romania
Working with Experience Romania

Follow accounts that you love and inspire you. It is totally ok to hit unfollow if someone just keeps bringing you down . Stop comparing yourself and find ways to make your social media experience a positive one and to keep a positive mindset. I started the hashtag #sparkthepositive so that my audience can share anything positive that happened to them that day and I will share it on my stories to spread the joy! It is a really nice and positive way for me to feel connected to my audience.

Mistake 5: You are not diversifying your income stream

Did you know that experts recommend that you have at least four different income streams? I have to admit that until recently I did not!! My idea on life as a child was that you grew up went to college and got a job. And that is what I did. I am a qualified medical scientist and never in my life did I ever think that I would be sitting down writing this article about being an “Influencer”.

You see I got into blogging by accident. I was happy in my job, I had a mortgage and was very comfortable moneywise and was content traveling the world with my son. But in an instant I went from earning €85,000 a year to €0 with all of the same bills to pay. I became sick, like very sick and couldn’t work. I won’t bore you with the details but if you are interested you can read all about it in my Lyme story.

How to successfully work with brands as an influencer
Working for Galgorm Spa & Golf resort

I started my blog as an outlet to express myself and to keep my mind ticking over when I was completely bedbound and couldn’t leave my room. I never even thought about the possibilty of making money from it. I kept being true to myself and finding my voice and my audience naturally grew. I found out that I must have inherited my Dad’s journalism gene and that I was a pretty good storyteller.

And then I realised that it is possible to make an income by having an online influence. I started to see ad revenue from my blog and brands had started to reach out to me on Instagram. But unlike a regular 9-5 job where your employer pays your wage you need to diversify your income streams to earn closer to a full-time wage as a content creator.

If you are only on Instagram, consider also starting a blog. You don’t have to be on every platform but pick 2-3 of your favourites and do them well. If videos are your thing consider expanding out to YouTube or TikTok. If you enjoy lengthy chats or have a tight niche then consider starting a Facebook group or page to build a community on there.

Woman standing among the tea plantations in Munnar on the Kerala Blog Express
Working with the Kerala Blog Express

If you have a following on multiple platforms you will be more attractive and have more to offer brands. Instead of just offering an Instagram post and story , you could add a blog post or a YouTube video too. By using your talents to diversify your platforms, it allows you to create a package deal and earn more from brand collaborations. If you don’t think that you have other skills, start looking for skills that you find interesting and learn something new.

Apart from brand collabs there are other ways to diversify. When I first got sick I panicked. As I previously mentioned I went from a very good salary to absolutely no salary and still had all of my bills plus now the added medical expenses. I had to find a way to contribute to my family and also keep my mind sane so I started an Etsy shop for digital prints called RosaLilla. So consider products that you could sell. Is there a skill that you have that you could teach others in a course? Maybe people love your photo edits and you could sell your presets. Or maybe you could even create a physical product like bags or a clothing line. An influencer that does this really well is @alyssaya with Hiptipico.

In my case, when I became well enough to go back to working in the lab, I did, because I truly love it. I will never be 100% healthwise and I am determined to do what truly makes me happy in life after spending so long ill, so I only committed myself to 3 days a week in the hospital. I will also continue to keep my other revenue streams open because you just never know when the rug could be pulled out from one of them suddenly again! It is so important to protect yourself financially.

Woman wearing a white dress as she flicks her skirt in front of Belfast City Hall showing you how to work with brands on Instagram
Working with Discover Northern Ireland

There are tons of talented influencers out there. Hopefully by showing you the most common mistakes that Influencers make we can all start to make a conscious effort to be more supportive and learn to collaborate with our peers rather than fear giving them an edge with the competition. Find people who are on a similar path to you and bounce ideas off of each other. Don’t be afraid to support your fellow Influencers.

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Image with text overlay how to work with brands on Instagram and 5 big Influencer mistakes
Image with text overlay how to work with brands on Instagram and 5 big influencer mistakes
Image with text overlay how to work with brands on Instagram and 5 big influencer mistakes
Image with text overlay how to work with brands on Instagram and 5 big influencer mistakes