Becoming a bona fide “influencer” is a little like becoming famous; it’s a fun and common goal, but it’s not usually something we just decide to do and it magically happens. It takes effort, strategy, and luck to build an online following large enough to draw the attention of brands hoping to ride the wake of your success and good name. And of the three, effort and strategy are the only two that fall within your control. Here’s a key tip that can help with both: Start building relationships with your favorite brands BEFORE you reach your target of 1,000, 100,000 or a million followers.  

Brands (most of them anyway) have a lot to gain and little to lose by connecting with influencers. This form of advertising can be cheap (for the company), lucrative (for the influencer) and harmless fun for both parties if the partnership goes well. But for a brand to pursue and partner with an influencer, she or he has to offer something that can genuinely help boost the brand’s image with its target market demographic.  

The best and easiest option for you as a rising internet star is simple: post content so compelling that you rocket to the center of global attention immediately and then wait for brand representatives to knock on your door. But since that’s not always realistic, start by asking yourself a few honest questions. 1) Which brands are most relevant to what you’re doing on your account? 2) Of those, which do you admire most and would most like to have associated with your name? 3) Which do you think your followers will connect with? And 4) instead of waiting for those companies to come to you, how can you reach out to them and encourage them to check out your profile?  

Recognize that brands are using the same strategy in reverse. They’re asking themselves which influencers are most relevant to their product, which ones they want associated with their name, and which ones can offer the most high-value partnership. The only difference is, you’re already familiar with those brands, and they probably (as of now, anyway) have never heard of you.  

Most large companies are eager and well equipped to respond to queries from customers and the general public, so almost anyone with praise or complaints can usually find a way to reach a company representative by email, phone, or online form. Simply contact the company and make your request. Do some research on your own to get a sense of the company’s target market demographic and advertising strategy. Does your content reflect that strategy and that market? If so, point this out in your message and make sure any company representative you can connect with can clearly see the overlap that you are pointing out. Visual aids such as video clips and pictures as well as graphic artwork aids like Venn diagrams and Pie charts are good examples that are usually readily discernible by company representatives. 

Once you’re in the spotlight (or at the very least, once your name is known) you’ll have a relationship that you can strengthen as time goes by. Eventually, your ongoing goodwill—and growing follower counts—might lead to a monetary contract.