Dani from Dani The Explorer standing in the road in front of beautiful mountains in the background.

How To Make Money With Brand Deals As A Blogger or Influencer

If you’ve been eager to partner with your favorite companies through brand sponsorships, this interview is a great place to start.

Recently, I sat down with my friend, Dani from Dani The Explorer. She spent years creating a full-time income through brand deals as an influencer, and has since gone on to teach and manage other creators’ brand sponsorships.

In this interview, Dani shares:

  • Her background with brand deals and how she got started
  • How she transitioned to manage other influencers’ brand sponsorships
  • How much you could make from brand deals
  • What are brand sponsorships?
  • How big of an audience you need to start getting brand deals
  • Are brand deals lucrative for bloggers, too?
  • Tips for securing brand deals
  • A free media kit checklist

You can find our conversation below, or you can watch the interview on Youtube here:

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    Tell us about yourself and how you got started with brand deals.

    My name is Dani Rodriguez; people know me as Dani The Explorer, which is my travel blog. It’s also the name of my Instagram, which is where I started getting into paid brand deals and doing the whole full-time influencer thing.

    I got my start after I was fired from my 9 to 5 job.

    Long story long, I was working at a marketing agency at the time, and I actually despised social media. This was in college and I thought it was really stupid that people were posting on Instagram.

    At the time, you would take selfies and use all of the really terrible Instagram filters. You’d post it and YAY your friends would like it. I thought it was really silly.

    But when I went to this marketing agency, it was a whole new world. They said, “hey you’re young, why don’t you do social media for our clients?” And I said okay.

    Being the person that was so anti-social media, I didn’t know what to expect. Once I started learning more about it and started to see the really cool things you could do, especially for businesses, that’s when I started getting more into it.

    I fell in love; I started taking everything that I was learning and applying it to my own social accounts. At the time I was doing weekend hikes, adventures, and travels with my boyfriend, and I would post photos that we would take along the way.

    When I eventually got let go from that marketing agency job, I naturally wanted to see if I could make money from this.

    I had also built up so many other skills that I didn’t expect like photography, talking to the camera, etc. and it ended up helping me because I used those skills to pitch brands and sell my services for content creation.

    This is now called UGC (user generated content). I would tell brands I’m a professional photographer, I can do these product photos for you, I can make these social posts, etc.

    It took a long time; I’m really shortening the timeline, but eventually when I started to get a few yeses, I was able to build up a portfolio and turn that into a full-time business.

    This journey started in 2017, and it took me until maybe 2019 to really start seeing traction from things. It took a while for brands to understand what influencers could do for them; it was a very new space.

    But eventually, it turned into a full-time business. I was able to work with REI, Mazda, Adobe, American Express, lots of different tourism boards, and they would pay me to create posts on my Instagram account, Dani The Explorer.

    Tell us how that turned into managing other influencers’ brand deals

    I started managing other people and their brand sponsorships in 2023.

    In 2019, my boyfriend and I lived in a camper van and we were on the road full-time. We were constantly doing brand deals, but when the pandemic hit I was forced to stop.

    I thought, “what do I do now? I’ll teach other people how to do the influencer thing.” I had so much downtime on my hands because we weren’t traveling.

    So from 2019 to 2020, I went into coaching and started to grow a student base teaching others how to do it. I started to hone my craft and learn how to teach people from other niches to do paid brand deals, too.

    Little did I know that this would become very important later because influencers that I knew from the space started to reach out to me. They were impressed with how much I knew about paid brand deals and asked if I had ever thought of managing other influencers and creators.

    I hadn’t thought about this, but I was open to it. I had a conversation with one particular creator about this and they became my first client. I started managing their brand deals in October of 2023.

    From there, I started getting other clients. And now managing brand deals for creators is primarily what I do in my business.

    How much can someone make from brand deals?

    It can be very lucrative and you do not need many followers to do it. I’ll explain this more later.

    But to give you a range, I have clients with around 18,000 – 20,000 followers all the way up to 800,000+ followers. These clients make anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000+ per month from brand deals.

    This will all depend on seasonality, your audience, engagement, how much you’re prioritizing certain deals, etc.

    The creators that land $30,000 brand deals have likely been nurturing this relationship over time; that brand trusts them to do things over multiple months. There’s a lot that goes init and it can be very lucrative as long as you strategize make it a priority.

    What are brand sponsorships? What do brand sponsorships entail?

    In my world, a brand deal is when a company pays you as a creator to post about their products on your page. That could be a carousel post, it could be a reel, it could be a story set, it could be one photo, it could be a link in your bio, etc. You are giving brands ad space.

    So, if you were to think of your social media accounts, and this can be:

    • Threads
    • Twitter or X
    • Instagram
    • YouTube
    • An email list

    … you are basically turning your space into a billboard and giving them ad space.

    Brands will pay for things like the rights to be able to use your content afterwards on their own marketing channels.

    For example, a big term in the creator space is “boosting” or “whitelisting,” and that is when a brand goes into the backend of your Facebook account and puts ad spend behind the content that you create for them. When a user is scrolling through socials, the ad that pops up comes from your page, so it looks more organic.

    It’s almost like you’re giving a celebrity endorsement to a brand if that helps you think about what it is.

    What do you like about managing others’ brand sponsorships?

    I love negotiating. I love talking money with brands. I love the haggling aspect and seeing what I could get for my clients. So I guess I really love making my clients money.

    I come from a service-based career background. My first job was at Starbucks where you prioritize the guest experience by making sure your customers have their third working space.

    I even worked at Disney World, and it was amazing being able to see how your attitude and the actions you took had a direct impact on people’s experiences at the park. This is a vacation they would save up for to take their family on and it’s cool when you get to make a family’s day and give them something memorable to take back home.

    When I started doing my own influencer work, I loved it because I love social media itself, but I didn’t get that same sort of spark. I just became a billboard for brands, which is not a bad thing, but for someone with my personality, I was missing that feeling of impacting others.

    When I was able to start providing services for other creators, I got to hear my clients say, “wow, thank you Dani, this is awesome! I didn’t even think I could get this brand deal” or “thanks for doing XYZ, that means a lot to me,” and it’s transformed the direction of my career.

    How big of an audience does someone need to start doing brand sponsorships? Is this something that’s ONLY for large Instagram influencers? Can bloggers do brand deals?

    Earlier I mentioned that I have clients with anywhere from 18,000 – 20,000 followers all the way up to nearly 1 million followers. They’re all making full-time salaries from being influencers.

    But, to take a step back, a lot of my course students have a few thousand followers and will start working with brands, and that’s because you don’t always need to do really big sponsorships to make something lucrative.

    I would consider the UGC space to be brand work as well and you can make a serious income from that. You don’t need a giant following, but you at least need to have the skills to be able to market your services and explain to brands the benefits of UGC.

    I know creators that hit $10,000 months from doing UGC because they have mastered the art of being able to demonstrate to a brand, “hey, it’s not really my following that you want to pay attention to, but I have this whole portfolio of work and I can create something similar for you that would transform your brand.”

    So, you don’t need a big following, but at some point you will want to step out of that UGC space because sponsorships can be so much more money. You can get a brand deal that includes a reel you post on your Instagram feed, you can include different add-ons like giving them the rights to content that they can boost, etc, and it can be an $18,000 job.

    Whereas UGC content might take a few clients to accumulate a deal like that.

    Is this lucrative for bloggers as well?

    My biggest brand deals have always had some sort of blog integration with a sponsorship.

    I hear bloggers say that brands don’t see the value in blogs. They definitely do, but it’s all about your approach. There’s a lot of different ways to work with brands in a blog capacity; you don’t always need to give them a blog post on your site, but you can use your skills as a blogger and as a writer to give them something for their website.

    A lot with tourism boards want to grow their own blog presence; they don’t necessarily want to pay for space on your blog. Instead, you can offer to write them a post.

    And where a lot of the money comes is if you’re adding images to the post. You can give them the rights to those images, which starts to add line items to your invoice.

    My biggest brand deals have always come from a mixture of social media posts and a blog post. Then I try to integrate a strategy where the Instagram post drives traffic to the blog post. From there, the blog post might lead to affiliate sales.

    I have a lot of clients who don’t even have the biggest blog presence, maybe around 50,000 to 100,000 sessions per month, and they’ll do a combination of a reel, a story set, and a blog post on a brand’s website for around $5,000 to $8,000.

    And a lot of that money is attributed to the blog post itself because you have to write the post, research, and then licensing your images.

    Where I see a lot of issues with bloggers is they try to tell brands something like: “hey, I’m going to write a blog on this Arizona-Utah road trip. I researched this keyword and it is easy to rank for. I’ll give your product that I used on my road trip the top spot and it’s going to get all kinds of traffic.”

    This isn’t entirely wrong, but you always have to think about the goal of the brand and the user intent of the blog post. If someone comes to this blog post, they are probably looking for an itinerary. They’re not going on a shopping spree, so already that product integration doesn’t make the most sense.

    Additionally, the brand’s focus could be on affiliate conversions and they might want to get a lot of sales. So again, your proposal might not match their goal.

    Unfortunately, when a brand doesn’t get the results they were hoping for, that will start to deter them from working with bloggers.

    Before you pitch your ideas, ask about the brand’s focus and goals. If they say they want to grow their own blog traffic, you’ll need to shift your proposal to match their goal.

    They’re looking for you to be a partner, almost an advisor or a marketing consultant, and you need to tell brands what’s best and why. Show them proof and make sure that you’re goal matching so your partnership makes sense for everyone.

    I did this with REI. They had reached out to me and wanted one Instagram post and I did the post, but when I got this brand deal I thought, “REI for me is the cream of the crop. As Dani The Explorer, adventure, hiker, 2000-girl, I want them to be a partner.”

    So I went all out. I made sure I shared all my ideas with them. I sent them concepts and a mood board for what I wanted to do for this Instagram post, etc. This helped establish myself as that consultant/partner from the get-go.

    Then after the post, I sent them a KPI report (like a campaign report) with a rundown of how the post did, comments my audience made, and I told them I would love to keep in touch.

    Months went by and I followed up just to say, “hey, I have some travels coming up and I have ideas I want to explore with you. Let me know when you’re ready to have that conversation.”

    All the while, I was following up by nurturing this relationship, liking their posts on Instagram, interacting with their stuff, etc. I wasn’t just saying, “pay me, pay me!” Instead, I was showing that I care.

    Finally, when they had more budget, they offered me a long-term multi-tiered brand deal and asked me to share my ideas again.

    We had phone calls and I even met them at their offices, which a lot of people forget about when being in this virtual space. In-person interactions can really set you apart from other creators.

    This later turned into another partnership for the holidays. In the span of a year, REI was one of my prime partners and it started by me being that consultant.

    What additional tips do you have for those looking to get started with brand sponsorships or want to get more consistent brand deals?

    I can’t take credit for this one because I heard it on a Clubhouse. It’s called massaging the brand. That’s what I alluded to with the REI example. Granted, they had reached out to me, but I nurtured that relationship.

    Here’s what I mean: when I would post things about my adventures, I would tag REI. I joined their affiliate program and posted about their products, even if my followers weren’t always buying. I was doing a lot of slow burn buildup for a while.

    I would naturally integrate them into my blogs, and it was all with the intention that if I post about them enough organically, eventually they’ll see it. If not, I can turn that into something that I can use to reach out to them and show them proof points.

    A lot of creators these days almost refuse to talk about a brand and mention them if they’re not getting paid for it. I’ve even seen some influencers and creators go as far as to say I’m not even going to talk about these hiking boots that I love because they don’t have an affiliate program and I can’t get paid to do it.

    I think that’s small thinking. I used to think that way as well.

    At some point a brand is going to ask what you’ve done, what your portfolio looks like, etc. And if you’ve always stayed away from talking about services and products that you are genuinely excited about, you’re not going to have a lot of proof points to show them.

    There’s something really different about the way we talk about the lip balm that we use every single day versus the one that I’m just showing you on my story because I have an affiliate for it.

    You might even see me using said lip balm in my stories without me ever mentioning it because it’s just a part of my everyday life. If you want to start getting paid by brands, you need to add that element back into your content.

    Not everything has to be a money-making opportunity. It can be that slow burn.

    Again going back to my REI example: there are countless posts on my account where I’m wearing leggings, a sweater, and boots that I got from REI. I paid for them with my own money, and I didn’t get paid at all for mentioning them.

    At the time, I wasn’t even part of their affiliate program. I was just sharing it because these are the products that I use and enjoy. I’m not just going to put on a sweater that I have stored in my backpack because I’m an affiliate and I’ve never worn it before.

    I shared about things I genuinely loved. Your audience appreciates that and it nurtures the relationship. Then you can take those natural integrations and turn them into a case study.

    You can accumulate all the times you’ve ever mentioned your favorite lip balm, all the times you’ve ever mentioned that favorite sweater, and see the insights. How many shares did those posts get? How many likes? Did you get anybody asking about the products?

    Make these things into testimonials and case studies, and when the time comes, you can send those to them. You can show them you’ve been doing this natural buildup. From there, tell them that putting money behind your efforts and making it into a paid campaign could go really well.

    This is true for bloggers, too. If there are things you genuinely recommend, love, and enjoy, and you’re not going to make a dime from it, please share it anyway.

    Keep track of the clicks and analytics you think would be helpful for companies because at some point, it can pay off. You might not see the results right away, but being authentic is very important and can help you get brand deals in the future.

    Any additional tips?

    My favorite tip for people just getting started, and this is true for people that are already in this space, too: your connections will go a really long way.

    I always suggest to sign up for every single influencer platform like:

    … because there are real humans behind those platforms that will see your profile and potentially reach out to you.

    You can also take your favorite brand and the plus sign on Google press release and you can search for any time that your favorite brand, tourism board, etc. has been in the media. It’s a great way to find a contact for their company.

    When you get these contacts, send them your media kit without the intention of pitching them a big campaign. Instead, just a “hey, if you’re ever looking to cast creators for a campaign, here’s my information. I’d love to be considered in the future.”

    Start putting your name out there as many times as you can with those PR agencies and influencer platforms. Networking events are great for this, too. If you can, go to travel summits. You’ll be surprised how many PR agencies and influencer managers end up reaching out to you later to cast you for opportunities because of these events.

    It’s not always cold pitching these companies that’s going to get you somewhere. It’s sending them links to your profiles and hoping they’ll reach out to you in the future.

    Tell us about your free media kit checklist

    I have a free media kit checklist that includes 20 things that I believe need to be on a media kit based on my 8 years of experience. That checklist is free to download, so if someone’s looking to create a media kit, this is an especially helpful resource:

    >> Click here to grab Dani’s free media kit checklist!

    Tell us about your brand sponsorship course

    My course, #SponsoredBootcamp is my baby. I can talk about brand deals and nurturing relationships all day long, and the whole goal with my course is to help new and even experienced creators land paid brand deals consistently and make it a dialed-in part of their income stream.

    This is for people that are looking to acquire brand deals as full-time or part-time income. I have students that do both.

    #SponsoredBootcamp is an 8 module course that you’ll gain lifetime access to. It includes everything from:

    • How to successfully niche down
    • How to grow your account
    • Massaging the brand
    • How to write a pitch
    • What to charge
    • How to build packages and upsell them
    • How to negotiate (including emails from my own negotiations)
    • Tons of different templates and resources
    • Community spaces for students to connect

    #SponsoredBootcamp is my most tailored resource if you want to land paid brand deals.

    ➡️ Learn more and join Dani’s course here >> #SponsoredBootcamp

    A HUGE thank you to my friend, Dani, for all of the strategies and tips that she shared with us about landing paid brand deals.