How to Turn Gifts Into Paid Partnerships with Food Brands

When you begin putting your amazing food & drink content out there, you’ll most likely start getting approached by companies wanting to send you gifts. First, congratulations! If brands are beginning to take notice of you, this means you’re doing something right. But over time when you’re working your butt off and your inbox is still full of offers for gifts or exchanges not paid partnerships, it can get discouraging.

One of the most common frustrations I hear from our students and other creators is that they are always getting low-balled by brands or are only offered gifts instead of paid collaborations. 

I totally get the frustration and I have good news. It is totally possible to turn gifted offers into paid partnerships. I’ve learned a lot from collaborating with some of my favorite brands like Crate & Barrel, C&H Sugar , Lulus, and Bubly to name a few. What I’ve found are that there are some simple talking points that you can use to shift the conversation toward discussing paid collaborations with food brands you love.

Why Getting Offered Gifts is a Good Thing

When I was starting out and was offered gifts, I assumed it meant I wasn’t “ready” to get paid. Like I thought that once I hit a certain follower number, the inbox full of gifts would suddenly turn into paid offers. I was so wrong.

I started asking around and paying attention as my audience continued to grow. And I realized that offers for gifts come at every level. And it didn’t mean that I wasn’t ready, it just meant that brands were offering me gifts.

Now instead of being discouraged, I think of offers for gifts as an amazing opportunity to create a relationship with a brand.

Is it Time to Stop Settling for Gifts?

Promoting gifts can be a good way to build your portfolio and show other brands how you feature products/brands in your content when you’re starting out. And if you’ve been working hard and brands haven’t approached you yet, I highly recommend focusing on focusing on taking really amazing food photos. I go deeper into what might be going wrong in this post – 5 Reasons Your Food Photos Suck.

But if brands approach you regularly and you’re ready to turn this from a hobby to a business, it’s time to ditch the gifts. Here are a few reasons why I decided to stop accepting the majority of gifted products I’m offered:

  1. Featuring gifts sets a precedent. If you feature gifted products on your Instagram or blog, you’re required to disclose that it was gifted. This means other brands will see that you’ll post in exchange for a gift. This can lead them to offering you a gift instead of approaching you with a paid campaign. Plus, if you already have paid partners and they see you promoting gifted products, it can make your promotion seem less valuable.
  2. Spending time on gifted brands takes away from paid partners. There is only so much time in a day. So saying yes to promoting a gift means you’re saying no to something else. I care a TON about the quality of our partnership content and I realized that by ditching the gifts, I have more energy for promoting the brands I have paid relationships with.
  3. Food and drink content is valuable. It requires time, experience and money to create high-quality food & drink content. And this is valuable! Most of the time, the value of the gift doesn’t even cover the cost of ingredients to create content. Which means you’re actually paying to work with a brand. So in most circumstances, this doesn’t make sense. 

I’ll be honest and say that it did take me some time to gain the confidence to start bringing up paid collaborations when asked about gifts. But when I did, it wasn’t as scary as I thought. There are definitely a lot of nos but there are also yeses!

How to Turn a Gift into a Paid Partnership

Sweet Crimson Citrus Cocktail

Tip #1: Don’t make any assumptions

Example: A brand reaches out and says they want to send you a gift

When a brand reaches out offering a gift, I never assume that this means that they don’t have a budget. Unless the brand specifically says something like “I would like to send you a gift in exchange for you promoting on your Instagram,” I always assume that there may be a budget available. In this case, here’s what you can say to get more clarity and shift the conversation toward discussing paid collaborations:

“Thank you so much for the gift! This sounds amazing and I know my audience will love it. Do you have a budget available for this collaboration?” 

Tip #2: Communicate that you’re focusing on paid partnerships

Example: A brand reaches out and says they want to send you a gift in exchange for promoting on your Instagram

When a brand specifically mentions that they would like specific deliverables in exchange for the gift, tell the brand brand that you are focused on paid partnerships and tell them why. Make sure to communicate the value that a paid partnership with you can bring to the brand. Mention high quality photos, dedicated promotion, etc. To communicate this, you can say something like:

“Your product sounds like a perfect fit for my audience! I’m focusing on paid collaborations so I can give my full attention to my brand partners. I’d love the opportunity to create some high quality images custom for your brand. Are you interested in this type of collaboration?”

Tip #3:  Don’t be afraid to ask

The final tip is just ask! I know sometimes asking can be scary but really the worst thing that can happen is getting a no (which you will sometimes). You can use these lines to bring up getting paid:

“Do you have any paid campaigns I can participate in?”

“Can I send over my media kit with my partnership packages?”

If you want to set yourself up for 4-figure collaborations and get paid to work with the brands you love, it’s important to be direct. You won’t know until you ask!

If you haven’t been attracting your dream brands, my biggest recommendation is to work on your food Ready to take your food photography to the next level? Discover how to take drool-worthy food photos 📸 🍔  that generate an income (without investing tons in fancy equipment) in this FREE workshop 👉 5 Secrets to High-End Food (& Drink) Photography That Makes You More Money

I hope you found this helpful! If you have any questions or comments, make sure to leave a comment below!

  1. Shelby Khan says:

    Thank you for this information and advice! These are the tricky topics to approach- and this article gives great ideas on how to respond with confidence!

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