Influencer Tips

How to Turn a Gifted Collab Into a Paid Partnership

Aug 8, 2022

Your Influencer Coach & Fellow Content Creator

I'm an Instagram influencer coach and lifestyle content creator based in Arizona. I help others live out extraordinary lives through my influencer career advice, travel guides, and life hacks.

I'm Dani!

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“Oh, hey there! We would love to send you this free bottle of mascara in exchange for a TikTok review on your page!” 

Ever receive emails like these and find yourself annoyed by all the gifted brand emails you’re getting?

Today I want to talk about how to turn a gifted collaboration into a paid partnership.

We all have it—the dreaded free work that lands in everyyyyy influencer’s inbox.

I mean, I’ve been a full-time influencer for 5+ years, and I still get asked to do work for free.

Truthfully, influencers shouldn’t be working for free—ever. But before I get into why and how to turn that around, I want to explore some situations where you might consider taking a free product.

Because, in all honesty, nothing in the influencer industry is black and white. Depending on where you are in your journey, free collabs might be right for you.

Let’s discuss this! When you’re done reading this blog, go ahead and check out my other posts:

Written by influencer coach Dani The Explorer

Why You Shouldn’t Work for Free

Take a look at a recent free collaboration email I received:

Can you see that? The brand is reminding me to join their “influencer program,” where I’ll get the AMAZING perk of having a free headlamp once I complete a TikTok review—wooohoo!

That was more sarcasm lmao.

Look, I completely understand that something like a free headlamp could mean a lot to a person, but here’s the point of me completely grilling this email:


Sure, a free headlamp, mascara, book, workout set, food subscription box, you name it, sounds really nice in the short term but…

Those items don’t pay the bills. And COUNTLESS brands are willing to pay influencers, regardless of follower count.

For example, one of my Instagram influencer course students, Maddy, landed a paid deal with around 4,000 followers:

But as I said before, there could be instances where you would work for free. 

Before we cover that, let’s get into why sometimes brands expect influencers to work for free.

Why are Influencers Expected to Work for Free? 

Here’s my take:

  1. Some brands, specifically small businesses, want the exposure that influencers offer but don’t have the budget for it.
  2. Sometimes, brands (and most of society) think the whole concept of an influencer is a big joke. People assume influencers just take selfies all day, post pretty pics for fun, then spend the rest of the day scrolling.
  3. Small influencers are typically nervous to ask for a payment, don’t know they can get paid, don’t know how much to charge, or take free work to build up their portfolio.

And I completely get it. When I began my influencer journey, I had no idea how much money I was leaving on the table—so I took free gigs left and right.

Again, I’m not saying you should never work for free, but how do we decide when it is and is not appropriate?

P.S. I have an awesome free influencer rate calculator you should check out to see how much you should be charging for your next paid gig.

When is it Okay for Influencers to Work for Free?

Here are three scenarios where you may want to consider working for free:

Doing the Partnership Will Give Your Media Kit a Boost

This typically applies to large, reputable name brands that will boost your influencer media kit template significantly. For example, you’ve been dreaming of working with a car brand, and Ford wants to partner with you for free.

Even then, you have to ask yourself if this is “okay.” Usually, large brand name = large influencer budget—not ALWAYS, but most times.

The Free Partnership Has the Potential to Turn into a Paid Relationship

Some brands like to do test runs with influencers. If a brand is unsure that you can drive results or your audience cares about their products, they might want to do an unpaid partnership.

In this scenario, they’ll ask you to post about a product. The brand may move forward with a paid collab if your audience receives it well.

Grab This: 17 Influencer Email Brand Pitch Templates—Fill-in-the-blank email templates for pitching your dream sponsors. Save time writing pitches from scratch and stop guessing what to say!

influencer brand pitch email templates

You Love the Product

Maybe a brand offers you a free pair of sandals. You’re a fashion influencer, and you’d probably wear the sandals from this particular brand anyways, so you don’t mind taking them and posting about them organically to your audience.

I would use this as an opportunity to get an affiliate commission.

Read Next: How to Get a Paid Instagram Sponsorship

But Here’s the Catch 

The important thing to remember here is that none of this is guaranteed. For example, a free partnership can have no impact on your portfolio or can never turn into something paid.

Brands are NEVER obligated to pay you unless you agree on payment and sign a contract.

Ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you!

But these still pose the question: “Well, how do I turn this into a paid gig?”

Read Next: How to Make Money as a Content Creator Even with Under 5,000 Followers

instagram influencer media kit template

How to Turn a Gifted Collaboration Into a Paid Partnership

Here’s how to turn a gifted influencer collaboration into a paid partnership:

  1. Use free work as social proof
  2. Use your numbers from previous posts to pitch
  3. Be a fan of the brand from the start

Let’s discuss these a bit more! 

#1 Use Free Work as Social Proof with your Media Kit

You can use a free job as social proof to pitch to brands—easy!

You can use a good media kit to highlight your social proof and sell brands on your services.

When you create a media kit just right, it can do most of the selling for you.

Rather than try to craft a media kit from scratch, get a proven template that has landed me and my clients brand deals with Mazda, Adobe, Marriott, and more!

You’ll want to grab my 6-page influencer media kit template (click here)!

#2 Use Numbers From Previous Posts to Pitch

Let’s say you took a free job in the hopes that you could eventually start getting paid by the brand.

As you post for free, keep track of every single analytic. For example, how many views, likes, etc., did the free content get?

And if you’re a good communicator with the brand, they’ll already know how easy it is to work with you and may want to continue the relationship.

Next, using your analytics as proof that you’re worth the investment, craft a pitch to the brand!

You can pitch to the brand using case studies, a media kit, and a rock-solid brand pitch email.

Read Next: How to Beat the Instagram Algorithm

influencer media kit template

#3 Be a Fan of the Brand from the Start

Let’s say you LOVE the brand and have been wanting to partner forever, so you’re willing to take a free gig.

Be the brand’s biggest damn fan girl to increase your chances of getting paid. Tag them, post about their products, and eventually slide into their DMs.

From here, you can start to take your DM convo to email, where you can pitch them and ask for money.

Read Next: 6 Reasons Brands Aren’t Paying You

What Else to Consider with Free Work

Now here’s the thing to remember: you have the power to decide how you turn free work into paid work.

I always tell my influencer coaching clients that while free work can have some benefits, asking for money is OKAY.

When you consider the time and effort that goes into creating content, you have to ask yourself what value you ultimately place on your time.

And I can guarantee that you wouldn’t say $0.

Read Next: How to Pitch to Brands

influencer brand pitch email templates

Must-Have Tools

What if you could have the brand pitch email templates successful influencers use to land their dream collabs?

You can! Rather than guess what to say to brands (especially if you’re not a writer and not a “salesy” person) you can have fill-in-the-blank templates that use can use to pitch 4 and 5-figure deals/

>>Check out my Influencer Pitch Vault<<

The Pitch Vault is a bundle of brand pitch and negotiation email scripts, all in a fill-in-the-blank format you can customize to pitch your dream brands.

My clients and I use these scripts to land paid deals with companies like Adobe, American Express, Marriott, and Alaska airlines!


So all this is to say: should influencers work for free in the end?

My answer: nothing is ever free.

And companies know this. When they ask you to post about the workout set that cost them $11 to manufacture, they’re banking that you don’t value your time, engagement, social media community, and skills for more.

Think about it this way, if a brand is reaching out to you and asking if you’ll post about their products for free, YOU HAVE SOMETHING THEY WANT.

Brands don’t just come out of the woodwork for everyone with a social media channel. If that were the case, our mothers, grandmas, and creepy uncles we only see at Thanksgiving who all have a Facebook would also be influencers. LOL.

So, I encourage you and empower you to PLEASE ask brands for money the next time they reach out to you!

You’d be surprised how often you can squeeze money out of a brand when you ask and craft the correct pitch.

So I hope you found this post helpful! If you liked this post, you’ll definitely like my other influencer tips:

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!