The two answers I hear the most when I ask aspiring influencers what they struggle with are “How can I grow my follower count?” and “Where can I find brands to partner with?”

With the rising importance of engagement rates and the rapidly growing interest from brands within the industry, influencers and content creators have realized that there’s more to it than simply growing their Instagram followers.

While a large audience will help you get noticed and does provide you with social proof that you likely do have a level influence, it doesn’t guarantee you long-term sponsorship deals by premium quality (& paying) brands.

Those spammy “Hey, we love your page lovely! Can you Instagram DM us, we’d love to collaborate!” automated comments from dropshipping brands are abundant. It’s difficult to attract the right sponsors who can actually afford to pay you and gift you free product.

Truth is, almost all aspiring influencers, ambassadors, and content creators are taking the wrong approach early on in their journey. Yet, they really want to know how to become an influencer on Instagram, so that’s why I’ve put together a list of five ways you can find your next collaboration.

  1. Cold, by strategized outreach

Likely the most obvious one on the list is simply contacting brands you’re interested in via Instagram direct message or email. Start by finding a brand within your niche and then click the down arrow to see the similar accounts. Put these leads into a Google Sheet and reach out to them through your email, Instagram Direct Message, or Flume (for Mac users).

Brands will often have a page on their website that allows ambassadors to apply to collaborate. This should be something you check out before contacting the brand. Although, it’s best to fill out the application and follow up with them immediately through Direct Message or email to let them know you’ve applied and look forward to hearing from them.

You may be wondering what you should actually say to brands when you contact them. Focus on what you can do for them and how your experience and interests align with what they offer as a product or service. Include information about your audience demographics and interests, along with your engagement rate. Try not to sell yourself too hard, just make it clear that you’re genuinely interested in their products. If you push too hard, it’ll come across as a red flag.

The rest of my tips are equally (if not more) effective, so I don’t want to sidetrack you by giving you this treat yet, but later in this article I will provide you with a link to where you can download five free brand outreach templates. It’s desert, but I want you to finish your vegetables first.

2. Contacting influencer and modelling agencies

While you may not already have large networks of potential brand sponsors looking for influencers, agencies do. If you contact a dozen agencies, each with dozens of clients, you’ll open the doors to a ton of opportunity.

Simply search Google for influencer marketing and modelling (if you’re into modelling or fashion) agencies and connect with them by asking if they're looking to bring on more influencers and content creators. Make sure you include information about your interests, experience, and audience demographics.

You’ll have more success with this if you have a curated Instagram grid as agencies prefer influencers who have the ability to create high quality content. If you don’t already have strong content, you should start here first as it’s the basis for everything – without good content, you’ll have lower engagement rates, less followers, and fewer brands knocking on your door.

If you’d like to learn how to create content like social media’s top influencers, you should consider taking the How To Become An Expert & Sought After Influencer course.

3. Joining influencer marketplaces

Influencer marketplaces are becoming increasingly popular, where it seems a new one is popping up every day. These can be good, but certainly have their downfalls.

Do a Google search for top influencer marketing marketplaces and platforms that allow influencers to sign up. A couple you could start with are Influence.co and TRIBE.

Reduce your risk by not spending a ton of time on the platform unless it’s providing you with opportunities.

Not to be confused with influencer marketing platforms, which use Instagram’s API to essentially automatically add influencers to their database and gather the Instagram analytics. Marketplaces are more self-serve for both content creators and brands.

4. Contacting local companies

If I were just starting out as an influencer, this is where I’d begin. I’ve yet to hear any influencer tell me they’re already doing this when I suggest it to them (by the way, I’ve consulted thousands of influencers on stuff like this), but yet it’s a gold mine.

Start locally. I bet you’d like to earn a few hundred dollars per month, per sponsor, right? Over time, you can easily work with a dozen different small businesses at a time, each paying you a $100-$1,000 per month to promote their products and create content for them.

Let’s say you have a passion for food, you can approach local restaurant owners in-person, or via phone or email. Pitch them by giving them a quick synopsis of what influencers are, what they can do, and how it works. Then focus on how you can provide value to them – primarily increased sales and brand awareness. You’re the gateway to thousands of their potential customers, which is worth a couple hundred dollars per month.

Offer to post about their restaurant on your Instagram Stories and personal feed, or even go live in IGTV. Do it a few times a month in exchange for free meals and some cash.

Perhaps you love landscaping and you're in the outdoors and adventure niche. You may offer to create content for landscaping companies that they can repurpose on their own social media channels. Stop by the job sites once in a while and take photos and do Instagram Stories, in exchange for payment (and maybe free services).

The opportunities to promote local brands is widely untapped, though holds incredible upside. Small businesses make up a very large portion of the overall economy, yet everyone focuses on the eCommerce brands who have pioneered influencer marketing. Local, small businesses are the future of the influencer industry.

5. Facebook groups

My last tip for you today is Facebook groups. Simply search within Facebook for pages relating to:

  • Influencers
  • Instagram
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Small business
  • eCommerce
  • Social media

You’ll have the most success within groups that are actual communities composed of people who know what they’re doing. Many groups allow too much self-promotion and spammy clickbait. “Influencer Marketing” is one of my favorite groups (you’ll find me active in there, feel free to connect).

While networking with other influencers is important and can be done within Facebook groups, you want to find groups that attract brands and marketers. If your goal is to find brands to sponsor you, there’s not much use in being in a group only composed of other influencers also in your situation.

It may take a bit of trial and error before you find some solid groups, but they’ll keep you topped up long-term.

Alright, that’s it folks. Those are five places for you to find your next brand collaboration. I want to remind you of something before you go though – you need to create good content. Without good content, you’ll have an incredibly difficult time growing your follower count, increasing your engagement rate, and attracting brands.

Anyone can create good content. I’m very much in the camp that artistic and creativity abilities are practiced and learned, not something you’re either born with or you’re not. The easiest way to learn is by following other successful influencers who have the ability to create good content so that you can copy and imitate them. If you haven’t already read my article on “6 ways to increase your engagement rate on Instagram,”, I do lay out exactly how you can do this there.

If you’re serious about learning how to become an influencer and believe that I’d already taught you some things you didn’t know, I have 100+ lectures available in our course on Influencer Marketing Courses.com, How To Become An Expert & Sought After Influencer. Consider checking it out, there's also a few lectures you can preview for free.