Work with Influencers with No Budget: A Complete Small Business Guide

Any bootstrapping small business has probably asked themselves at one point or another: “Can I work with influencers without a budget?” And while we’re also believers in making sure everyone is paid fairly—including content creators—we also understand that not every business has a big budget to work with social media influencers at the rates these creators might want.

That’s why we’ve got this blog post for you. Inside, we show you whether or not you can work with influencers even without a budget. And then we take things one step further by giving you a complete guide to influencer marketing as a small business that might not be able to afford big influencers.

Can you work with influencers without a budget?

Let’s first answer the question: is it even possible to work with influencers if you don’t have a budget to pay them for their posts?

The answer, simply, is yes—but it depends.

Later on in the post, we’ll help you get on the road to identifying some of the best influencers for your small business who may be more willing to work with you without a budget, but for now, know that it’s very much possible to strike up meaningful partnerships without paying for it.

Did you know that, as of 2022, over half of ecommerce shop owners use influencer marketing to grow their business? (Image source: Influencer Marketing Hub)

How to Collaborate with Influencers for Free: Influencer Marketing for Small Businesses

To make your influencer marketing efforts worth it, it’s important to have an influencer marketing strategy for your small business. And because you’ll be limited in resources, i.e. money to pay influencers, part of your strategy should be to make things a win-win with the influencers who do want to partner with you.

That’s the exact influencer marketing strategy we want to show you in this post. Read on to see our step by step guide to collaborating with influencers for free. 

Manage your influencer expectations

First of all, if you don’t have a budget, don’t expect that you’ll be reeling in social media superstars. We’re talking about big names that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands and even millions, of people know.

Many companies reported having influencer marketing budgets between 10%-30% of their entire marketing fund, with some allocating as high as 40% of their marketing budget to the strategy.

Don’t let this statistic tell you that you’re supposed to be spending on influencer partnerships—instead, it should make it clear that many creators and influencers are being wooed by several companies who are able to pay.

This means you’ve got some stiff competition, especially over bigger influencers whose names are out there.

So because of the competition to get big influencers in your corner, don’t expect that these social media stars will be willing to do a post about your business. Yes, even if you’re offering them free products or services.

What you should focus on instead is working with micro-influencers, or those with anywhere between 2,000-10,000 followers. 

It might not seem like much, but these micro-influencers are more likely to have an engaged community—a community that’s perfect for your business.

Benefits of working with micro-influencers

  • Micro-influencers are more likely to want to partner up with small businesses and brands. Like you, they’re trying to build an audience from scratch, and working with any relevant partner is a step in the right direction.
  • They’re most likely to have an engaged community of people who are following them for their content. As some influencers grow, they start to get noticed by ghost followers, or people who follow but never engage with their content for any reason.
  • Micro-influencers are creative and collaborative. They’ll be more willing to think outside the box to promote your business than a quick mention.

Find the right influencers

So we’ve established that the best way to approach your influencer marketing program as a small business is to leverage influencers with a micro but engaged following, it’s now time to learn how to actually find these people.

After all, it’s simple to find big names in your industry; you can probably think of mega influencers you’d love to partner up with right now!

So if the goal is to work with micro influencers—who don’t have the brand awareness compared to someone with celebrity status—how do you actually find them?

We list down three easy things you can try.

Use hashtags

Hashtags are some of the best ways to discover some up and coming influencers to partner up with. Whether these are Instagram hashtags or TikTok hashtags, you’ll find many micro-influencers using these on their posts.

To implement this strategy, find some very niche hashtags that would be relevant for your business, as well as around micro-influencers and your location or city. 

Note that these niche hashtags don’t have to be hashtags on your industry. You can very well think of hashtags that you believe the type of influencer who’d be perfect for your business might be using.

Here’s an example. If you’re selling stationery supplies, you might think to look at hashtags about stationery, notebooks, to-do lists, and the like. But what if you looked for influencers in the studying or student space? 

Here’s an example of a sponsored post that a headphone company did with a “studygrammer” (Image source: @dearfuturecielly on Instagram)

These influencers are the most likely users of stationery products that you want to sell. And it’d be easy to get your products featured on their accounts.

See who related brands are working with

Another great way to find micro-influencers for your small business is to check who some other small businesses in your niche are already working with. 

Take some time to look for related competitors with a relatively similar audience size, then check who’s mentioning or tagging them. You might just find your next lot of influencers from a couple competitors.

Search videos in your niche on YouTube

Finally, one cool way to find influencers for your small business is looking at YouTube videos. YouTube is a video search engine chock full of influencers and thought leaders. If you can find micro-influencers creating content around your niche, they might be perfect to work with.

Millions of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day—and one of them just might be from your next influencer partner.

Here’s an example. Say you’re selling homemade, artsy bar soaps. One kind of YouTube creator you might try to tap as an influencer, even if it isn’t obvious why, could be in the travel space.

You could work together to create a sponsored mention in a packing vlog, especially since your bar soaps are better for travel than, say, heavy bottles of liquid soap.

Consider giving them special coupons and discounts

Now that you’re starting your influencer marketing program, it’s time to think about the mechanics. 

While most small businesses would be happy to get just a shoutout, we think you should try to think outside the box.

One way to reel in influencers and their audience is to give them something so exclusive that they can’t think to say no.

A great example of this exclusive deal is offering their followers a branded coupon code that gives a discount on your shop. 

Creating a branded coupon code for your online business takes 2 steps with Cococart.

Micro-influencers would love to get something this personalized as it makes them seem like a real partner for a business. And their followers will be more likely to purchase from your brand because they’re getting something, i.e. a discount, out of the deal.

While you’re thinking of ways to get those influencers to say yes, also think about what you might want from their end: Instagram feed posts? TikTok video series? Be very clear about what you might expect!

Learn more:

How to Increase Sales Using Coupon Codes for Customers

Draft a partnership pitch they can’t resist

Now that you’ve rounded out how your influencer marketing program is going to go with your micro-influencers, it’s time to actually get in touch.

Even if micro-influencers’ inboxes won’t be as flooded as a mega-influencer’s, you still need to perfect your pitch.

Here are some tips to nail that partnership pitch before hitting Send:

Make it personal

Take time to establish that you’ve done your homework about the influencer. Briefly mention any of the recent content they’ve done that your business absolutely loved, and be sure to call these influencers by name.

Get right to the point

Sometimes when pitching a partnership with an influencer, a business might take too long to get to the point. They might have paragraphs and paragraphs about their business, their mission, and the problems they solve for customers, and one line about a partnership offer.

While it’s definitely important to talk about your business to introduce yourself, there’s a better way to write your pitch.

Here are some guidelines when writing your pitch:

  • Establish rapport first. (See above tip about getting personal!)
  • Succinctly introduce your business. Just a couple sentences should do!
  • Dive right into the partnership offer you had for them. Detail what you want to offer for them or their followers, and make it clear what you’re asking for right at the get go.
Here’s an example of a successful influencer pitch we tried here at Cococart. We found some great Sydney food blogs to partner with and wooed them with a feature we did on them.

Find the best place to get in touch

And finally, part of nailing your pitch is actually getting it seen.

Most businesses might think to contact influencers via DMs, but remember that direct messaging is sometimes 1) unavailable unless you’re following one another (especially on TikTok), or 2) easy to get lost in a Requests folder.

You might be able to get in touch with some influencers only through DMs, and that’s okay. But we encourage you to try contacting them via other means.

For instance, if an influencer has their email address listed on their social media accounts, get in touch with them there. It’s just another way to get their attention versus the DMs they might be getting on a daily basis.

Use successful influencer partnerships to score bigger influencers

Finally, as you add some influencer partnerships to your belt and rack up some cool social proof and posts, don’t stop there.

Use these successful campaigns to work your way up the ladder. Compile screenshots of influencer posts and mentions about you, then use these when you’re pitching to bigger and bigger influencers down the road.

And remember that if these bigger influencers don’t notice or respond to your pitch right away, that’s okay. It’s best to still try your luck at scoring these bigger deals than not trying at all.

How will you work with influencers for your small business?

Did you get some new ideas about making an irresistible influencer marketing program for your small business? It might take some time before you perfect your pitches and score bigger partners to work with, but consider it time and energy worth it for the awareness and social proof you get.

Also, we understand that running your own influencer marketing program can take up a lot of your time—valuable time that you might currently be spending managing orders for your business.

Skip the hassle of order management in the DMs. Create your online store for free with Cococart, and start selling in minutes.

Want to keep the learning going? Check out these guides next:

The Ultimate Guide to Grow Your Home Business on Instagram

How to Increase Sales Using Coupon Codes for Customers

Make More Sales Even with Fewer Customers: A Small Business Guide

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