Episode 31: How To Work With Your Dream Brands w/ Sarah LouWho

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Get ready for the most transparent conversation about brand deals on the internet. In this episode of Hair Love Radio, beauty influencer Sarah LouWho and Elizabeth give away all their knowledge and tips for building professional relationships with your dream brands. If you are interested in getting brand partnerships, you do not want to skip over this episode.

2:45 - Social media is like the wild, wild west

Everyone is trying to figure it out, there’s no set rulebook, things are changing all the time, and different strategies work for different audiences.

3:20 - How it all began for Sarah

Sarah started out thinking just getting free products from brands was a huge win. The first time she got a box for PR, she says she was “shook”, especially since she was paying so much for makeup already. She remembers thinking “I’ve made it! This is it!”

Sarah and Elizabeth both reminisce about experiencing a little imposter syndrome when brands would send them stuff, because at the time they weren’t seasoned, hugely successful, professional artists. They were both happy to just be getting products, and still are. But in reality - brands need all types of influencers to get press coverage for their products, and it isn’t that expensive for them to ship things out, so it is a win-win for everybody - especially if your audience is a niche market.

6:32 - A win-win-win situation

The real reason brands want to send you products is that they want to make more sales - obviously! The minute you give yourself permission to be ok with that, the sooner you can start serving your audience better, and building valuable relationships with brands you like. As long as you are keeping it super real with your audience and only promoting products that actually work and align with your values, everybody wins.

7:14 - The end goal

The goal at the end of the day is to only accept brand deals from the ones you absolutely LOVE. The dream is to work with your dream brands, do what you’re good at, and help educate your audience. But how in the hell do you even get there?

7:42 - How to get started

Once you get your first PR box and others start to trickle in, what comes next? Sarah remembers when she started getting more and more product review boxes and feeling overwhelmed with all the stuff that she was quickly running out of room for.

8:58 - Major key alert

Sarah says that the major key to brand partnerships is that you can love the brand, but if you don’t love the people behind the brand it just isn’t going to work out. She says all of her best brand partnerships is because she loves the people that work for that business.

10:02 - One of Sarah’s rules

One of Sarah’s rules is that before she accepts any deal from a brand, she has to try the actual product she is selling first - even if it is a brand she is familiar with. No exceptions. That is how you maintain trust with your audience. It is unethical to promote something you don’t genuinely love.

10:47 - Mistakes are inevitable

Sarah says she has taken brand deals that she regrets. Not because she didn’t love the brand or the product, but because they asked for too much & overworked her for the amount she was getting out of the deal. She says it was a bad decision on her end and that she didn’t negotiate for enough. And that’s ok - mistakes happen and ultimately they are successes because you learn from that experience. Just use your intuition, read your contracts, and don’t let brands exploit you.

13:53 - Advice about contracts

Sarah only recently got a manager to help her with brand partnerships. Her manager will read contracts with her, introduce her to brands, and assist with the negotiations. She always has the freedom to say no if it doesn’t feel right with her, and gives her freedom to focus on what she loves to do! Plus - she says it helps to have someone play the bad cop if she has to ask for more money or decides to decline an offer.

Elizabeth says to ALWAYS read over every contract, even if you have a manager who read it over too. If you don’t have a manager, you are capable to do it yourself too. There are also other resources if you want professional help like a local law office or paralegal to look over things. She says an agent should just be there to help you expand your reach, and help you with the parts that aren’t as fun.

Sarah says that if you get offered a contract that is longer than a year, take it to a professional and go through it with a fine-toothed comb, or else you might be stuck with something for a long time that doesn’t serve you. Contracts also don’t need to be rushed. If you get a contract that requires you to sign it by the end of the day, that is a HUGE red flag.

It’s OK to say no! If you don’t want to do something, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. Doing something that isn’t a win for you will probably lead so some resentfulness - and nobody wants that!

21:14 - Start small, work hard & be patient

The most valuable asset you have is the brands you already work with and love. Sarah says that in order to work with businesses she would consider her “dream brands” it started out really small! She worked for free at first, and that relationship slowly grew over time as they kept establishing trust. It’s like any person to person relationship.

How are you supposed to prove your value to a brand if you aren’t able to get your foot in the door first? Promoting them for free & showing love at the beginning is exactly how to start that relationship, and Sarah says that is how some of her most lucrative, happiest brand partnerships have come from.

Elizabeth was promoting Redken’s products for years before they even knew about her, and now Redken is one of Elizabeth’s biggest supporting brands. It takes time to build that trust, and even get noticed. That is why it is so important to only promote products and companies that you love, because it often takes a lot of sacrifice and hard work to even get there.

26:14 - If you want it, get your butt into gear

If you want to play the game, you have to be self-driven. It is 100% up to you what time you start working, how much content you produce, which relationships you nurture. You really have to be willing to break down the barriers keeping you from what you want to get out of it.

We ALL have brands that we absolutely love. It’s OK to put that out there. A lot of people think that sharing the brands you love can seem salesy and insincere, but if their mission and values align with yours as an individual, then other people will probably love them as well.

Sarah says that even though she’s considered a beauty influencer, she still has to fly places, brush her teeth, and buy clothes - so why not share which things she loves in other corners of her life? She says people follow you not just for what you specialize in, but for who you are as a person.

29:00 - Online word of mouth is BIG

People buy because of online referrals more than any other kind of marketing. Think about the products in your bathroom right now. How many of them are products that someone online told you about?

Most of what social marketing is, is brand recognition. The more often you see something, the more likely you are to consider buying it. Influencers can’t control exactly how many sales happen because of the work they do, because they don’t control people’s wallets.

32:00 - What to do when you get a product you don’t like

Sometimes brands will send Sarah products, and she and her manager have to make it clear to the brand that getting a product does not guarantee she will give it exposure on any of her channels. If she gets a product that she doesn’t like, instead of bad mouthing and complaining online, she simply doesn’t give it a platform at all. When it comes to poor customer service, she says that she does feel a responsibility to raise awareness so a company can change and get better.

33:30 - Wrap it up

The #1 big takeaway from this episode: support people authentically without getting paid. It is a real life relationship you are building. Before asking to get paid, reach out and introduce yourself and offer your support!

#2: It only takes one interaction to change your entire life. Be willing to hop on an airplane. You get so much value from meeting the people behind the brand in a face-to-face environment. It is worth it, and will help you get where you want to be faster.

#3: Figure out what people get paid for when it comes to brand partnerships. Sarah remembers feeling clueless when brands started asking her what her rate was. Reach out to other supportive influencers who are willing to share the deets with you. Don’t risk underselling yourself, because once you know better it can spoil a second-round sponsorship.

37:56 - Let’s talk money

Influencing is such a new thing in the hair industry. A lot of creatives in the hair industry are just starting to learn and get up to speed with other niches when it comes to influencer marketing.

Unless it is simply a trade of value or collaboration, any in-feed post or reoccurring content should be charged for.

When it comes to negotiating deals for sponsored content in the IG feed, Sarah recommends taking your follower count and dividing it by 100. In general, that is how much you should be asking. She says it also depends on the brand you are working with, and if you are using a video or an image. You can also ask for more if your following is a very niche audience.

Always stay true to yourself. If you love a brand and are even a little bit influential online, post for the brands and followers you want to attract. Your IG feed is your digital resume. Even if you only have 10,000 followers, if your audience is extremely specific, you are the influencer some brands absolutely want to work with you because of the people who you trust you and watch you.

43:45 - Try out this tool

If you want to get started as an influencer with brand deals, Sarah highly recommends signing up for a tool called Fohr. Basically it is a platform for influencers and brands to meet. It is free to sign up if you are an influencer, that makes it easy for natural-fit brands to find and hire you.

45:04 - Setting your rates for video

There is going to be so much video happening in 2019. When it comes to pricing YouTube videos differently than regular posts on social media, Sarah recommends charging 10%-20% more for video. Keep in mind that it is very rare for a brand to only request one post. Often times it is a package deal, and Sarah says you should always go for a package deal.

46:45 - Are you a micro-influencer? Pay attention.

Sarah’s advice for people between 2,000 and 40,000 followers: you don’t need a manager or agency, but make a media kit! If a brand reaches out to you about doing a project, Sarah recommends ALWAYS try to get them to say a number first. Make them say it first, and then work with that. Also get lots of context. Ask them these questions: What is the scope of the project? Do you have a budget in mind?

If you have under 100k followers and great engagement, you should stick to your guns when it comes to the divide by 100 rule Sarah mentioned earlier, because when you are that small you are pretty niche, and have a more authentic influence over your followers.

50:02 - One last lesson

One particular conversation has helped teach Sarah a valuable lesson about sticking to her guns. At the time she was charging for less than what she was worth, and someone told her, “Don’t ruin it for the rest of us!”. Charging below your value is skewing the scale for everyone else, and setting brands expectations too low. Set your rate and stick to it, or do the work for free. That way you aren’t put in an awkward position of having to raise your rate for the same brand. If you do it for free, it is a gift and brands will be more thankful next time it comes to negotiate.

Did you love this conversation with Sarah? Follow her here on Instagram.

You can also listen to Sarah’s podcast, Work Hard, Slay Hard, here.

Elizabeth Manuele