How to Use Influencer Marketing to Grow Your Online Business

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Are you a product-based business owner wanting to partner with influencers to grow your brand and gain exposure? If you answered yes to that long-winded question, then this post is for you!

**PS — there’s a free strategy plan I created for you to help you through this process — if you want to skip to the download before you read, you can find that here.**

When I had my product-based business and was trying to figure out how to market my brand online, I went straight to Instagram to search for influencers who could help me promote my products. With such a large market in the online business world, using influencers to promote your product is crucial and necessary way to market your brand and gain exposure. Getting your product into the right hands can make a massive difference in your business, so it’s important you’re getting your name out there.

I’ve learned a lot during this process, and often see many other creative entrepreneurs asking for advice when it comes to partnering with influencers, so I figured I’d give you the 411 on what I learned:

Clearly state your expectations

There can be a lot of grey area when it comes to promoting products on social media, so if you don’t know what you want to receive in exchange for sending out product, you need to make sure you know what you want in return. I can’t tell you how many times I was disappointed to only see a quick story (that disappeared 24 hours later), or a less-than-ideal post on a feed featuring my product. I quickly learned the importance of clearly stating expectations for the influencer. Do you want them to:

  • Post a styled photo to their feed?

  • Provide you with images/content to use on your website and socials?

  • Post a photo or video of them using your product?

  • Promote your product in a story?

  • Feature your product in a blog post?

  • Review your product in a YouTube video or IGTV episode?

  • Promote your brand using a combination of the above?

  • Do you want them to complete the promotion by a certain date?

The clearer and more specific you can be, the better. Even if you’re a smaller company, you could create a contract of some sort so you and the influencer know and understand the process moving forward. Before you start reaching out to anyone, have your expectations clearly defined so you can send them more information when the time is right.

Do your research

Make sure you know your brand inside and out prior to getting in touch with influencers. If you haven’t done a deep dive into your brand yet, I highly recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who is your ideal customer? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What are their likes/dislikes?

  • What age range are you selling to?

  • Why do they need your product?

  • What type of lifestyle are you promoting with your brand?

  • How does your product solve a problem or fill a need in their life?

  • Who would benefit from using your products?

Make sure you find influencers who align with your ideal customer avatar and would get excited about using and promoting your product. 

Look at engagement, not just follower count

There are so many incredible influencers out there that have a smaller, yet more engaged audience than someone with thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of followers. That’s not to say larger followings always have low engagement; just know that the number of followers doesn’t always dictate high engagement. When you’re researching potential influencers, take a good, hard look at their profile.

First of all, make sure they (and some of their followers) align with your ideal customer avatar. Then browse through some of their posts — look at the number of likes and comments on their photos. If they already have photos of featuring promotional products, pay close attention to the likes and comments of those images as well. If those numbers are high and they fit within your target market, then consider reaching out to that influencer. This will take some extra time to dig through various accounts, but it is well worth spending the extra time it takes to analyze their social media.

When I was running my product-based business, I always kept a running list of potential influencers in a spreadsheet; if they were a good fit, I added their handle, their niche, a possible discount code, and their contact information to this list; I then dedicated some time each week to reaching out to them via email or direct message. If they said yes, I would add their shipping information to the spreadsheet and send them a document that clearly outlined my expectations.

I also made sure to send their promotional package in a timely manner. As a micro-influencer myself, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to secure a sponsorship and never receive the actual product, or receive it months down the road. This goes back to what I mentioned when I recommended outlining your expectations above — consider having a time frame for your promotion and ensure each influencer receives your products on time, with plenty of cushion for them to test out the product and create honest, promotional content. After all, these influencers are you doing you and your business a massive favor, so be kind, courteous and punctual.

**Keep in mind that you will eventually have influencers reaching out to you. Before you even think about sending them promotional items, go back and do your research. It’s okay to say no if you find they aren’t a good fit, just find a way to kindly turn down the offer for partnership. This is your business and it’s your money you are spending to market your products, so choose wisely.

Decide if you’re willing to pay

Some influencers are more than happy to promote your brand in exchange for free product, while others will only post if you pay them to promote. If you're not willing to pay, make sure it is clear to them that you are only providing free product/shipping in exchange for the type of promotion you're looking for. Please don’t ever ask an influencer to pay any portion of the product (even if it’s just shipping), or offer a significant discount, requiring them to still spend money. As a micro-influencer myself, this is a huge turn-off! They are doing you a favor by promoting your brand and shouldn’t have to pay to promote you. YOU need to cover those costs. If they insist on purchasing from you, then certainly offer a discount — but otherwise do not require them to pay anything. If the influencer is the right fit for your brand and they have a highly engaged, loyal following, you could easily make back the money you spent to make and ship your product.

If you are willing to pay for promotion, ask for media kits or rates. Their rates may vary according to their audience size, type of promotion (single post, story, blog post, YouTube video, etc.), so just be aware of that.

Either way, it’s helpful to come up with a monthly budget for marketing and promotional packages. Maybe you only want to account for five promotional packages a month, or maybe you want to account for ten or more. Once you reach your promotional quota for the month, wait to reach out or send out products until the following month. This is another reason why keeping a running list of influencers is so helpful.

Consider offering discount codes, giveaways or ambassador/affiliate programs

When you are finally ready to ship your products to influencers, always provide them with a unique discount code to share with their followers. Not only does this work as an incentive for new potential customers to make a purchase from your shop, but it also allows you to track where your sales are coming from. By offering a unique discount code to the influencers I partnered with, I was able to determine how many customers were coming to my store from their posts.

You may also want to consider partnering with influencers to host a giveaway with you in addition to offering the discount code. This will help with exposure and ensure the promotion goes beyond just a post on their feed, an Instagram story, or blog content. The two of you can decide on the terms of the giveaway together; you’ll decide what product(s) you want to giveaway and most likely take care of getting the prize to the winner.

Another option here is creating an ambassador or affiliate program for your brand. An ambassador of your brand typically receives a lifetime discount on your products and promotes your brand often via social media. An affiliate of your brand earns a small commission on all sales that are made from a customer who purchases from your store through a unique link or code. These two options do take a bit of time to organize; I personally never used an ambassador or affiliate program for my business, but know plenty of online business owners who have, and saw it as beneficial for their brands.

Know that not everyone will follow through

I learned this one the hard way in the beginning; I sent out countless products to people who said they were seriously interested in trying and promoting my products, and then never received a post in exchange. When I tried to reach out and ask about the content they never posted, they went silent. Everyone gets busy and forgets from time to time, but again — this is your business and your money! Looking back I would've established some terms or a contract much sooner, to ensure I received what I was promised in return. But you know what else I learned? These people didn’t fall within my target market anyway. Had I done more research, I would’ve realized this sooner, and saved myself a lot of time, money and disappointment. It’s not always possible to work around this part — just be aware this may happen from time to time, and try to plan accordingly.

Final thoughts

If you run an online business, working with influencers is one of the best ways you can start getting your brand out there. Be prepared, thoughtful, and selective in who you choose to promote your products, and don’t be afraid to contact people who would be a great fit! Don’t simply choose someone just because they volunteered or have a massive following— do your research and make sure you have a designated budget for promotional material. Know your brand inside and out, and make sure whoever you partner with would be excited to share your products with their audience. To map out your promotion plan, don’t forget to grab the free guide I’ve created for you!

Have more questions about working with influencers? Leave them below or feel free to send me an email at