How to be a successful influencer without 10K followers

When we start navigating the waters of influencing, it seems like getting to 10,000 Instagram followers is that milestone every influencer sets out to achieve. (For the sake of ease – when I say “influencer” I am grouping bloggers into the category as one collective meaning.)

I’ll be honest, that was my goal too. I mean Instagram doesn’t even allow you to have that nifty “swipe up!” feature until you have the 10k badge. A lot of brands and collaborations require “10k plus followers” to even apply to campaigns. When I was first starting out – and I started with 3 followers in February of 2018 – I joined all the collaboration sites I could find, only realizing that collaborations and getting paid for any real influencing would be a goal for the future. I had to obtain the status of 10k first. Let me be really honest about something too. I grew fast in the beginning, I was over 1,000 followers in just a few weeks, however I felt like in my first year of Instagramming I was watching everyone else sky rocket while I just inched.

I was moving, always forward, but it seemed everyone else around me was hitting 5,000..10,000…20,000 and here I was pouring my heart and soul into everything I did. Every picture I took I tried my hardest, every caption I wrote and rewrote. I studied the algorithm, I took courses, I engaged with true heart and intention. I grew, just slowly. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when you believe the lie that “nothing really matters before you hit 10,000”.

The lie that we believe.

I remember taking an Instagram course early on in my influencer journey and the “guru” told us that you can’t even charge until you have at least 10,000 followers because brands won’t take you seriously. At first I was disappointed because that number was far off for me. Then I quickly said “nope, I’m not going to play by those rules.” First, who made that rule? Is it really written anywhere or it is just “what people believe” like many of the ominous Instagram rules. I wasn’t going to wait until I had 10,000 followers and the swipe up to start being a “real” influencer and earning money and making a name for myself. I didn’t wait..and a year later I’m still not at 10k followers. However that doesn’t determine my worth, and I didn’t let brands determine that either. Also, I’ve completed over 18 sponsored campaigns in the last year..all while being well under 10,000 followers so if you’re doubting yourself, you need to reconsider! So maybe you’re thinking…great, I can earn money and get collaborations before I hit 10,000 followers but how?

First, get your mission straight.

My mission has evolved so much over that last year and a half since I established My Eclectic Grace. At first it was purely a DIY blog, but as my blog grew, so did my voice. I honed in on my niche which is showcasing + inspiring real life DIY’s and makeovers. I also am a vocal environmental + feminism advocate and throw that into my message because those things mean something to me. You may not know you entire message at first – trust me it will change as your grow – but having a general idea of what you stand for, what you want to influence and who you want to inspire is essential. Evolve, be true to you, and find your voice. There are a million “influencers” out there and many copy each other’s voices. Sure it will get them some likes, follows an collabs, but they will nonetheless plateau because people follow people…not robots.

Did you know…81% of influencers are actually considered microinfluencersMicroinfluencers are a great marketing choice for small businesses because they have a more dedicated following than macro-influencers, which is demonstrated through their high engagement rate

Engaging audience + quality work is more valuable than inauthenticity and rushed content!

Prove yourself.

You may want to start getting collaborations right out of the gate. Maybe you want to get paid instantly..but that’s not how it works. You need an audience..and a real one. Connecting with people in your niche and people outside is essential to building a group that supports you and even more importantly you support. You have to build up some type of trust, an Instagram feed that is somewhat consistent (if you scroll back to the beginning of my account you’ll see that my pictures were not cohesive until I started using presets and posting at the same time every day) and a following that is involved in your mission and actively engaging with you. If you have that, followers don’t really matter (ok you should probably have more than 10..).

If you are still searching for your “tribe” I encourage you to reach out to other people in your niche and connect. They will know other people and that is how you network. Get involved with engagement/support pods on Instagram or Facebook (but don’t rely on these solely), participate in some follow trains and do not be afraid to REACH OUT and talk to people. In the beginning I fearlessly reached out to accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers in my niche just introducing myself, letting them know I looked up to them and was inspired by their journey and work. Every single person wrote back to me with appreciation, words of encouragement..and guess what? Most of them even followed me. Sometimes we put these huge influencers up on a pedestal and forget they are just human beings with the same daily needs as we are. Don’t be afraid to reach out..the worst that can happen is you get no response. Best case, you make a new connection and friend!

Start small, and give it your all.

Chances are that when you first started walking as a young child you walked a little different than you walk today. You probably couldn’t walk in a straight line, let alone run. This is no different than being a successful influencer. Sure, it helps to observe what other “successful” accounts are doing, how they are styling shoots, posing, and writing caption. It’s great to be able to see what someone else is doing that is “working” for them. But the KEY you must never forget is that it what works for THEM. They do not have the same exact followers as you have. They don’t have the same journey, voice or life. If you act like you are them, you are going to get nowhere. You will only ever get somewhere if you are you and no one else. A brand wants you to be authentic. I speak from experience here…and this was not an easy lesson to learn.

So how do you start small when you don’t have 10,000 followers…maybe you don’t even have 1,000 yet? (news flash..everyone started with ZERO. Everyone.) You build your way post, story and share at a time.

Before paid collaborations are possible…

Maybe you aren’t sure how to get them (don’t worry that is coming later in this post) or maybe you just don’t know how you’d go about posting about a product. Start small..start with your OWN brand. Let me explain what I mean.

To build up your “portfolio” in a sense and hone in on your caption skills, you have to practice. Start by posting about a product you love (genuinely love). For instance, if you are a beauty blogger and you love a product you use (say it’s your favorite brand and would be your DREAM collaboration) post about the product. Talk about why you love it, why you think your followers would love it, do a story about the product and tag the company. They may see it, they may not. Best case scenario; they see it and maybe they reach out to you or even share it on their page which would expose your account to more people in your niche. The worst case – they don’t acknowledge it, but you gain your audience’s trust and you start to become more comfortable in your own “influence”.

I can’t count how many times I’ve purely just shared my enthusiasm for a product (usually home decor!) and the company has either reached out to me just to thank me – opening up a line of communication – or has reposted my images which exposes me to to my target audience. There is no way this can hurt your account or influencer credentials, and is the best way to start when you are just starting out. PS – don’t stop this habit even when you’re a large account. Even once you start getting paid to promote and collaborate, talking about items and services that you’re not being paid for will keep things genuine. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes a sales pitch. People DO like being educated about quality items that will improve their life however – just remember that.

Free product collaborations!

Some influencers will turn their head up at this saying “free products are nice but they don’t pay the bills!” This is true…but it’s also true that you don’t walk into a company demanding to be the CEO when you only have intern-level skills. It’s the same with being an influencer. Many of us start with receiving free product in exchange for posts and shares.

Of course you don’t want to just receive free product forever and eventually you will be able to to start charging for your time – however getting the experience in and learning how to do sponsored posts is worth that free product.

Free products + collabs

Other than following the rules with #ad and #sponsored and disclosing that something is a collaboration, you also need to serve the brands well who are trusting you to advertise on their behalf. They chose YOU because they want you to put your spin on things [while following their guidelines too of course.]

I have received products ranging from flowers, wine, coffee all the way to awnings for my yard and a wool rug shipped to me from Turkey. I didn’t get paid for most of those sponsored posts, but I did gain a few key things that will help in the long run:

  • I gained experience + confidence in my posting skills of sponsored content and how to creatively showcase brands
  • I got awesome products – all of which I loves and actually wanted/needed
  • I gained exposure because I put a ton of effort in and the brands saw that and appreciated it. I got shared on Instagram accounts + blogs with thousands more views than I had which helped me grow.
  • I added to my portfolio aka my Media Kit.

If you don’t have a Media Kit, or even know what one is – you can start here at Zine. You can create a free media kit and learn all about them! Click here to get started on your Media Kit from Zine today! [not sponsored, I just love Zine!]

My list of go-to collaboration networks:

Pitching is still my favorite way to approach a collaboration, but when I was just starting out I was scared sh*tless of pitching. I didn’t understand it and I wanted someone to just hold my hand. That’s when I found HeartBeat. HeartBeat is a network that you can join for free. They connect influencers with top brands and it’s as easy as pie! I have completed several campaigns (sponsored posts) through HeartBeat and they helped me gain the confidence I needed to get out there and pitch myself to companies.

Working with HeartBeat is great in the beginning (I still work with them when I come across a campaign that really gels with my mission) because they walk you through how to create a successful sponsored post, how to get brands attention, and they pay you. You know that lie that you can’t charge for collaborations until you’ve reached the 10,000 follower title? Heartbeat values mirco-influencers and see’s the worth in loyal and engaging small audiences and will pay you for your job well done.

I did my first collaboration through the HeartBeat network at 600 followers. I received a bouquet of roses in the mail to style, I took horribly lit photos and had some cheesy caption with probably the most generic hashtags..and I made $10 on top of that. Cringe right? It was the best thing i’ve done. It launched me into understanding how HARD it is to be a content creator. I realized this was no joke and that it takes time and A LOT of creativity to be a serious influence making serious money. And even though it was just $10, I was and am still really proud that I put myself out there and earned that $10.

Go-to list for influencer collaborations:

These are just a few that i’ve personally been a part of!

The scary part – pitching!

When I first started this blog in June of 2018, I had no idea I would be doing anything other than showcasing my cute little DIY projects. When I learned about all the potential my blog and Instagram account held, I was truly overwhelmed. It is a lot to understand and navigate and many many people try and give up. Many people succeed too. One thing about success have to be willing to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that has been thrown out there a lot recently. It means something slightly different to everyone, because we all in fact have different ways of being vulnerable. If you haven’t already watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special, then go do that right now. You can thank me later.

Pitching is simply defined one of many ways by Google as “Simply defined, it’s a line of talk that is designed to persuade someone, such as a presentation to sell a product or service. But it can also be about selling yourself, to gain new clients or to promote your business.” As an influencer you are selling yourself. To brands. And that means you are opening yourself up to a lot of rejection. If you aren’t ok with hearing a bunch of no’s…or even worse for me is just silence…then you are not in the right game my friend. Being an influencer is not a linear smooth journey. There are going to be a lot of no’s and rejection but it will all make it worth it for that one YES. That one yes will erase the sting of the no’s.

How do I pitch myself..and to whom?

I want to say one thing – I am not an expert. I am a novice at best with pitching myself to brands. Before I even go further, I want to say that I learned a lot from podcasts about pitching – namely Jules Soloman’s podcast “The Influencer Podcast”. Her podcast is so sweet and simple and has helped me navigate the scary waters. You can listen here!

When you “pitch yourself” you are just selling yourself to a company or brand or person that you want to collaborate with. You may just want to open the lines of communication – if influencing was an actual “job” than pitching would be “getting your foot in the door”.

For example, I wanted to work with a company that supplied a product that I was planning on using in my upcoming renovation. I had a plan for how I was going to use the product, how I would talk about it and photograph it, and I really admired the company. I had been following them on Instagram for some time and engaged with their content. I wrote them a formal “pitch” which is simply just a letter explaining your purpose. I emailed it to their social media rep who’s contact info I found on their website. I didn’t hear anything for a week. Then I received an email back, and it was a kindly worded exchange, but alas a “no”. I was slightly disappointment..however I still purchased their product and talked about it. I still showcased it and told my followers about it, and guess what? They reached back out to me, offering a collaboration the next time I wanted to use their products in a makeover. A no isn’t always a no – it might just be a “not right now!” And even if it doesn’t result in anything down the line, every time you send that scary pitch to a company, it will get less and less intimidating, so think of it as practice.

What goes in a pitch letter?

A pitch should be about two things: Who you are and what you can do FOR the company. It should never be about what you want/what the company can do for you/ why the brand should work with YOU. A good pitch will showcase how the influencer can HELP the brands mission – not the other way around.

Elevator Pitch Elements:

+ Who you are
+ What you offer
+ How it serves others
+ Why it’s important

My super simplified pitch template:

“Hello so and so,

My name is ____ and I [admire/love/am a fan/subscriber, etc] of brand/company name.

Tell them how you found them, how long you’ve been a loyal customer, and why you admire what they are doing. Mention a current event or new project they have. Show initiative that you’ve done your research in a way that connects to your own mission.

Mention something they do that you want to support them in. IE: “I admire the work you’ve done to campaign for shelter adoptions in the recent years. Being that I just adopted my dog Spot from our local shelter, this is a cause near and dear to my heart. I’d love to know how I can support you in this mission!”

Tell them in a simple and to the point way how you could help/idea you have.

Would this be something that aligns with your mission? I would love to work with you on this, please let me know how I can help!

Thank you,
your name + your social handles so they can see what you’re all about!

Don’t get discouraged.

It may seem everyone is running past you into the finish line while you are chugging along. Life will always seem this way if you focus on everyone else! Focus on your mission, being the best influencer you can be and really honing in on your own voice and messgae. There is no rule book, so you have to do what feels right for you. It’s ok to say no to opportunities if they are not right, but don’t say no just because you’re scared or think you’re better than that “free product” or small amount of money.

After I started collaborating, things got easier. It wasn’t so scary, and truthfully I have to turn away half of the opportunities that come my way because I just don’t have the bandwidth to do them all. I still reach out to companies, and still am at about 70/30 as far as paid collaborations go. 70% are product exchange and 30% are paid. However when I do hit that golden 10,000 follower mark, I will be that much more prepared and my portfolio of sponsored posts will be that much heftier. So do not wait around!

influencer collaboration
One of my favorite sponsored collaborations which I incorporated with a room makeover for the most impact!

Tips to working with brands:

  • Make sure brands KNOW you’re open to working with them. Either have something in your Instagram bio about collaborating (I have a simple but to the point “Collabs” with an arrow pointing to my email in my Instagram bio letting brands know they can email me if they want to work with me) *See what i’m talking about here*
  • Create a cohesive feed with pictures that flow and styles that make sense to your niche. It can take some playing around to get this right.
  • Be clear about who you are and what you offer. Your bio on Instagram and your blog shouldn’t be a mystery – it should be somewhat clear about what you bring to the table.
  • Be kind and clear. Be kind to the people who work with you and always be transparent. Also a simple follow up thank you email or letter goes a long way!
  • Don’t delete your posts right away. I archive old Instagram posts to keep things clean, and most brands will ask you to keep posts up for a certain amount of time. Even if they don’t, keep it up for a bit to honor the work you did!
  • It’s ok to say no. If something doesn’t mesh with you, politely decline the offer. It’s ok and will not hurt you in the future if you are honest and explain that it’s not the right time/fit for you.

I could talk about this topic all day! If you have more questions for me or just want to say hi please connect with me over on Instagram @

And remember sharing is caring! If this blog post helped you in anyway, would you pass on the favor and share it? Thank you so much!

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