For the first three years of blogging and Instagram, I only did gifted collaborations. I had no idea how to ask to be paid for a brand collaboration or how much to charge for. It took me 3 years and hitting 10,000 followers on Instagram to give me the courage to ask to be paid.

Even though I wish I had started charging for brand collaborations much earlier in my blogging/Instagram journey, I’m grateful for all the gifted brand collaborations I did. I learned so much about how to work with brands, produce content, and negotiate deliverables and exchanges through gifted blogger campaigns. I know I wouldn’t be the blogger I am today if I hadn’t accepted gifted collaborations.

Gifted Brand Collaborations - blogger collaborations - tips on working with brands - blogger collaboration tips

While I’m a huge advocate for getting paid for your work, I also see the value of accepting gifted brand collaborations. So today I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned from gifted brand collaborations and how they might help you as an aspiring blogger.

When should you accept gifted brand campaigns?

I recommend accepting gifted brand collaborations if:

The brand aligns with your brand – if you and the brand have a similar mission, I would definitely consider working with the brand.

The product or service the brand offers fits into your lifestyle – if you’re already using the brand’s product or service in your life, working with the brand will be easier.

Your audience aligns with the brand – if you’re audience is the right market for the brand, I would also consider accepting a gifted brand campaign.

You want to build a long term partnership with the brand – if you’re a fan of the brand and want to build a long term partnership with them, I would highly recommend accepting a gifted brand collaboration. You’ll get to know the people working for the brand and hopefully you can start to build a relationship with them.

If you’re just starting out on your blog and Instagram, I would advise to start out with gifted brand collaborations.

Here are the 5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Gifted Brand Collaborations:

Gifted Brand Collaborations - blogger collaborations - tips on working with brands - blogger collaboration tips

1. Gifted brand campaigns gave me the experience to work with brands:

When I first started accepting brand campaigns, I was so
excited but also nervous to work with brands. With each brand collaboration I
completed, I learned little by little
what brands were looking for in brand campaigns.
Some brands solely wanted sales, which meant these brands saw campaign
success as sales. Some brands wanted to raise awareness in the Seattle
market, which meant they used likes, impressions, and reach as the success

 I also learned the
back and forth process of working with brands. For the more extensive brand
campaigns, I learned that email exchanges could go on for a whole week before
your content is approved. If you’re curious about what goes into a
collaboration, you can check out: 10
Steps of a Brand and Blogger Collaboration

2. Taking on gifted brand campaigns gave me the credibility to work with bigger brands

It took me a while to
realize that as a blogger, I’m in the client-service industry.
Brands want
to know that you’ll deliver on your promise (Instagram posts, blog posts,
videos, in-person events, etc.) if they hire you.   In return for products and compensation,
bloggers create those deliverables based on the schedule and accept payment

By working on smaller gifted brand campaigns, I was able to build credibility as a blogger. Completing one gifted blogger and brand collaboration after the next showed my future brand partners that I had follow through on my commitments.

Gifted Brand Collaborations - blogger collaborations - tips on working with brands - blogger collaboration tips

3. Gifted brand campaigns gave me the confidence to pitch brands

With experience came my confidence. The more brands I worked
with, the more I realized that my voice, content, and audience was valued by
brands. I realized that I could turn around and start to pitch brands.

I started pitching previous brands I had worked with for past campaigns at first. Since I had a working relationship with those brands, I knew it would be easier to pitch them for future campaigns. Then I started pitching brands I hadn’t worked with before – like ThirdLove and Alaska Airlines. Since I had spent the last few years learning what brands looked for in blogger campaigns, I had the confidence to reach out to those brands.

4. I turned gifted brand campaigns into paid campaigns.

One of the biggest benefits I saw taking on gifted campaigns was that some of them turned into paid campaigns. By taking on gifted brand collaborations, I was able to build a relationship with brands. I also got to learn what was most important to those brands and could cater my content to make sure they saw success. For instance, I was a brand ambassador for American Eagle Outfitters for 2016-2017. Then in 2018-2019, my AEO campaigns have been paid collaborations.

Gifted Brand Collaborations - blogger collaborations - tips on working with brands - blogger collaboration tips

5. Gifted brand campaigns gave me exposure to new audiences and helped my audience grow.

One of my most successful brand collaborations was with T.J.
Maxx for the Maxx50 Challenge. I was given a $50 gift card and asked by the
brand to show T.J. Maxx’s audience what you could buy for $50 in stores. Other
than the gift card, I wasn’t paid for the collaboration but I was put on the
T.J. Maxx Instagram stories.

Instagram stories had recently been rolled out by Instagram
at the time. So there weren’t a ton of users creating stories, but there were a
ton of users consuming stories. That Instagram takeover grew by audience by
400+ in 24 hours. I couldn’t believe how quickly my audience grew with one
brand collaboration.

If you’re still taking on gifted campaigns, I would
encourage you to ask your collaborating brand partners if they can reshare your
content on Instagram stories or their feed. These brands have asked to work
with you for exposure so don’t be afraid to ask for exposure back.

What have you learned from gifted brand collaborations?

Gifted Brand Collaborations - blogger collaborations - tips on working with brands - blogger collaboration tips

For more blog tips, check out:

7 Things You Need to Include in Your Next Email Pitch

How to Reach Out Collaborate With Brands as a Blogger

4 Things Brands Look for in a Blogger Collaboration

Ask Emma: How do you increase traffic to your blog?

Thank you for reading!