Creator Engagement

Use this guide to strike deals with influencers without giving cash upfront [Cheatsheet Inside]

I call it "no money upfront" dealmaking.
Posted on
March 15, 2022
4 minute read
Yash Chavan
Founder at SARAL

I am highly against the idea of paying influencers to post about your product.

This doesn’t mean I don’t recognise the value of the audience that they’ve built and the time that goes into creating content. I do. As marketers, we know how hard it is to create a social media following from scratch. I also believe everyone must be fairly compensated for their work.

That being said, as a business owner, you likely don’t want to spend too much on an influencer only to have the campaign fall flat. Everyone demanding a flat upfront fee for posts may also create friction in the decision making process, meaning you may end up not doing influencer marketing ever. In this case, the influencer gets paid $0, and you lose out on creating another profitable growth channel for your business.

With the premise set, here’s how to navigate this situation and create win-win deals with influencers.

Start Small

When you’re building out an influencer program, it’s tempting to go after popularity. That is, chase people with the most number of followers.

I’m here to tell you that influence has nothing to do with the number of followers. Larger influencers are also more likely to ask for payments upfront, which means you’ll see more rejections right out the gate.

So don’t fall into this trap.

Start small. I recommend anything below 50-100K followers depending on how mature your niche is. If there are a lot of big creators, 100K and lower is a good limit. If there aren’t many creators in your space, 50K and lower is a good bet.

How to structure the deal

This is the meat of this post. I recommend starting off with an affiliate-only offer and seeing how the market (influencers in your niche) react to it. You will receive mixed responses.

Ball Rolling True Fans

One type of creator would say, “Let’s do it!”

These are your true fans and will hep you get the ball rolling. They will promote your products every time you send them a package and every time they find it useful, without you even asking.

Just get their shipping address and keep sending them products on a regular basis. For just the cost of your goods (COGS), you get an influential person talking about you, and you only have to pay them when they send you buyers. Isn’t that fucking awesome?

For the first few weeks of your program, focus solely on getting these types of influencers onboard. You’ll see why later in this post. Keep reading.

Not So Fast

Another type of response you’d get from creators that say, sometimes angrily, “I don’t work for free!”

In this case, explain that you didn’t mean to extract free work out of them, and are instead willing to explore paying a flat fee to compensate. Ask for their media kit and rate chart.

At this point, you better be well-equipped to counter their quoted rates with stats and data. This gets easier with time as you have more and more affiliate-only influencers onboard. This is why I said you need to focus on getting affiliate-only creators onboard for the first few weeks. You can also use Saral's built-in fair fee calculator.

Once you have their rates, see if they make sense and are reasonable. Something like $100-$150 every 10,000 followers is a good ballpark, depending on their engagement rate.

Fair price quoted

If it’s something lower or close to what your ambassadors make, write back to them with real estimates of how much creators their size are making with your ambassador program - see if they’re interested now. Show them all the perks of your ambassador program (free products, early access, etc.). Assuming they’re in your niche and have brand alignment, they should agree.

High price quoted

If the prices are too high, negotiate them down and try to do a flat fee + affiliate deal. Show them the simple math of how many sales they’d have to drive to surpass their quoted amount. Demonstrate with data from other similar sized creators how easy it would be to drive those numbers.

Tell them it doesn’t have to be dedicated content to start, say you’re fine with just a couple of casual stories of them using the product on-the-go. This tells them that there won’t be huge creation costs and that they have nothing to lose AND they get free product AND commissions. Make sure you convey this.

Usually, with these steps, you convince all the reasonable creators to work with your brand.

Despite all this, if an influencer does not want to work with you and desperately needs a flat fee, drop them. They usually are not a good fit and know that they likely won't be able to drive sales for you, which is why they want to milk you as much as possible before they deliver piss poor results.

Here's a neat cheat-sheet I made:


Have a bias for commission-based partnerships

At the core of all this is having a bias for working with creators who want to do commission-only posts or create content for a small flat fee with commissions on top. It is fair to compensate for the time and effort it goes into creating a reel or a TikTok video. It is not fair to pay too much upfront without any proof or guarantee of results.

When negotiating, know that the pool of creators is larger than you think. Rejecting one creator who adamantly demands a huge flat fee doesn’t mean you’ll run out of influencers or sabotage your program. In fact, weeding out creators that are not a fit for your growth equation right now is only going to work in your favour.

Creators who would create content only for a fee also create inauthentic content and tend to endorse products they don’t necessarily like or use. You don’t want to fall into this category. You want to be endorsed by influencers who love your brand and use your products.

Pro Tip: For the fee + commission based partnerships, offer a lower commission. This is so you stay fair to your commission-only ambassadors and also don’t risk overpaying if they don’t drive enough sales for you to be ROI-positive.

Sweeten the Deal

There are many ways you can sweeten the affiliate deals to make it more lucrative for your ambassadors. The goal here really is to help them make more money than they usually quote, while being profitable yourself.

Offer milestone-based boosts

Create deals such that when they drive a certain number of sales per month, their commission increases from (say) 15% to 20%.

This increases their payout and creates incentives for great performance.

Offer free products

Send them gifts on hitting certain milestones. Maybe something that’s available in limited quantities, or personalized just for them. This helps build their loyalty to your brand, making them more likely to post about you in the future. It also goes a long way in building a relationship with them, which is what you want to do.

Offer Early Rewards

SaaS products have an easier time doing this. You can pay a commission per free sign up and offer a heavy commission every time one of their referral’s upgrades to a paid plan.

Ecommerce companies can also do this, but you need to know your mid-funnel metrics. How much is an email subscriber worth to your business? You may choose to pay them for email subscribers too!

Give their audience discounts

All great creators care more about their audience more than how much they get paid each month. They also are usually get paid the highest as they have their priorities straight.

Giving exclusive offers just for their audience will make them and their fans build a special connection with your brand.

I hope you liked reading this post and took away lots of actionable tips from it on how to strike good deals with creators to promote your brand. If you found this useful, you should consider getting on our weekly Influence Marketing Newsletter.