3 Steps to Successful Small Business Owner Influencer Partnerships

  • Small business owner Molly Fedick and consulting owner Alexandra Shadrow discuss influencer marketing.
  • They discuss strategies for affordable influencer partnerships.
  • Building influencer relationships and staying at prices that are comfortable for the business are top tips.
  • This article is part of the “Marketing for Small Business” series, a series that explores the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to win new customers and grow their business.

In a world where mega-influencers can be paid tens of thousands of dollars to post on social media, influencer marketing can feel out of reach for small business owners on smaller budgets. But working with influencers can be a convenient marketing channel to get your brand in front of an aligned audience, build trust and even acquire new customers in a cost-effective way.

Molly Fedick Headshot

Molly Fedick founder of Buzzkill Wines

Molly Fedick

Molly Fedick, founder of soft drink company Buzzkill Wines, saw her direct-to-consumer sales increase 327% when she began investing heavily in influencer marketing. That didn’t surprise her, she told Insider, since she learned the value of enabling a niche community of influencers in her latest role as creative director at Hinge.

Alexandra Shadrow, founder of Trailblaze Consulting, said she relies heavily on influencer marketing for a recent client, live resale app Jamble.

“We could build our own community from scratch one by one, or we could leverage communities that already exist to build a much larger community much faster,” he said. With over 10 years of experience in influencer marketing and an influencer herself, Shadrow works with over 600 influencers a month to help grow their user base on both the seller and buyer side.

Shadrow and Fedick shared with Insider the best practices they’ve used to ensure their influencer partnerships are successful — while staying within a small business budget.

1. Focus on engagement and fit more than follower size

Instead of looking for the biggest influencers in your industry, Shadrow recommended taking a step back and making a checklist of criteria for your ideal influencer.

For her, the No. 1 thing she looks for, even with a large audience size, is a strong engagement rate.

“Think about this: An influencer with 10,000 followers and 20% engagement has an active audience size of about 2,000 people. Compare that to an influencer with 100,000 followers and 1% engagement — only 1,000 people,” Shadrow said.

This can allow small business owners to target more accessible micro-influencers who have small but powerful audiences. It uses the free Chrome extension UpDog to measure the engagement rate of the influencers it thinks about and looks for people with at least 5% total engagement on their pages.

It also ensures that the influencers they choose are industry and value appropriate. For Jamble, that means a focus on economy and sustainability — and that their page isn’t oversaturated with brand name deals. “If one person is willing to promote every brand under the sun, you’re very likely to get lost in the gravy of all the other partnerships they’re doing,” Shadrow said.

2. Understand the different ways you can deliver value — and stay under budget

When it comes to paying influencers, there are many ways to make this approach more budget-friendly.

Depending on the community they’re targeting and the product they’re offering, business owners may be able to get away with simply offering free products in exchange for promotion, Fedick said. She primarily targets influencers who are considering non-alcoholic beverage options or making mocktails and offers to ship the free product (which only costs her about $35 with shipping).

“I’ll tell them I’m a small, one-woman show with virtually no budget to spend, but what I can do is send you product, and I can send you as much as you want,” she said. Fedick estimates that this strategy has helped her achieve over 2 million impressions on other people’s TikTok channels, based on data reported to her by the influencers she works with.

If you’re entering the world of paid influencers, Shadrow told Insider that small businesses can save money by avoiding influencers who have managers (which will automatically increase costs) and being consistent with their budget. “Don’t just pay the asking price for an influencer,” he said.

Alexandra Shadow Headshot

Alexandra Shadrow influencer and founder of Trailblaze Consulting

Alexandra Shadow

Shadrow said she successfully negotiated the influencers down from their original cost to something that felt more comfortable for the brand. “I also share that – if all goes well – there will be more opportunities for a higher budget in the future. The right influencers will see the value of your brand and want to grow with you.”

There are other ways to offer compensation even if you don’t have the money. For example, you could offer an affiliate link where influencers receive a percentage of the sales they help achieve. Fedick is taking it a step further for a major partnership she has in the works, offering a small amount of equity in exchange for the promotion.

“They don’t get paid cash upfront, but they have a clear reason to want to promote the product as much as possible,” he said.

3. Create an ongoing, two-way relationship

Fedick recommends focusing your time on building legitimate relationships with influencers. For example, she always works with the influencers she works with to figure out what would be exciting for their audience, such as a coupon code, free shipping, or other perks that will engage their community.

Fedick also lets the influencer guide the content they create, since they know their audience better than she does. And Shadow, who works on paid partnerships, takes a similar approach. He even provides a short Google document with dos and don’ts and example content, which he believes most influencers appreciate to help guide them.

Once influencers post, Fedick recommends business owners participate by liking, commenting and reposting. This not only shows appreciation, but also gives brands great content to complement their own channels. “We’re all interested in the same topic, so there’s no reason not to promote these influencers to my audience as well,” Fedick said.

Finally, instead of sending out hundreds of influencer packages, Fedick recommends focusing on building deeper relationships with 20 to 50 people. “I don’t believe in short-term, one-off posting – I believe in long-term partnerships,” he said.

Fedick plans to send a new product he has in development to existing influencers instead of focusing on reaching many new ones. “You’ll only get that kind of exposure if you have a real relationship with the influencer,” he said.

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