Collaborations, Influencers, and Reps: What I Look For and How to Request to Work with a Shop

I’ve been running Novelly Yours for over three years now and I constantly get messages requesting to work with me as a shop, review items, or become a product rep so I thought I would share in more detail a little bit more of the messages I receive and how I handle them!

NOTE: The opinions expressed here are my own opinions as a shop owner and they will DEFINITELY vary from shop to shop. If you are requesting to work with another shop/shop owner, please familiarize yourself with their rules, requirements, and preferences. This is just more of a sharing from a business standpoint of how a shop owner might approach these situations!

REPS/BRAND REPRESENTATIVES

Especially if you’re on Instagram, I’m sure you seen the word “rep” floating around and shops holding “rep searches”. If you aren’t familiar, this has become a common way, at least in the bookish shop industry (I can’t speak for other industries as I only know this one), for businesses to work with (mostly) Instagrammers to get their brand name out in the community! Shops choose accounts to work with and send them their products to be featured in photos. Often times these accounts are given unique coupon codes for customers to use to draw in sales for the shop as well. They become brand representatives or “reps” and are usually required to share a certain amount of photos of the shop items, often sent to them for free for the exchange of being shared/promoted on their accounts, based on the shop’s terms and guidelines.

Each shop has its own requirements for reps and their own way of finding accounts to work with. A lot of shops, myself included, will or have hosted “rep searches”, where they ask people to apply for the position by sharing a post with their intent and therefore also sharing with their followers that the shop is hosting a search, spreading the word even more. Some shops choose to hand-pick their reps and not hold a search and then others don’t use reps at all. It all depends on a shop’s budget and how successful their work with reps has been or may be.

WHAT DOES NOVELLY YOURS LOOK FOR IN A REP?

Most of my reps have been selected through rep searches. When I’m looking for someone to work with, I’m looking for a good fit for my company, personality-wise and style-wise. I often state that follower and like counts aren’t the only think I look for in a rep but I have to admit, as a shop owner, they really do still matter. I need my representatives to have a good following so I know that their photos of my product are reaching a good and varied audience. I need to see that most of their photos are getting a decent amount of likes so I know that their followers are seeing the posts and engaging with them. Sending out free items costs a lot of money so shop owners need to know that they’re getting the best audience possible for this money spent.

I consider all of the money I spend sending candles out to reps as advertising money, since that’s really what it comes down to, so even if it’s not directly paying for a piece of advertisement like say, purchasing an ad, it is still money geared toward marketing. Because of this, I often limit myself on how many reps I can choose and where those reps are located. Usually my searches are geared toward US residents since I’m in the US and I can send rep packages for $7 – $10 in shipping costs (depending on the size of the box). Boxes to Canada can cost $15 – $40 and international packages cost minimum $25 to ship if I sent one candle. Multiple candles cost me $35 – $50 in shipping alone much less the cost of the candle, so sadly I’ve found that sending things for free internationally just doesn’t fit my budget of what I can spend for advertising and marketing with reps, so even though it feels like I’m leaving out potential for international reps, it’s just not cost-effective for me to spend that much money in shipping costs alone!

FOLLOWERS AND LIKES | So what do I look for in terms of followers and likes? I’ll admit, I do have an arbitrary number in mind based on my personal experience as a shop owner and my experience having my own blog and bookstagram account. I prefer for reps to have at least 1000 followers so I know they have a decent sized audience and I’d prefer for them to be receiving around average of 200 likes per photo with some ranges of likes going upward. Again, these are my personal preferences for minimums and this will vary from shop to shop. Don’t meet these criteria? Apply anyway! An account with a great feed will always catch my eye and I’ve made exceptions based on quality of photos and interactions with commenters if I think that person would be a good fit.

PHOTO QUALITY, STYLE, AND CONTENT | I don’t have any specific photo style in mind when looking for someone to work with. I love having reps how have different styles and different audiences and it’s great to see my product in many different styles and set-ups! One thing I do look for is the quality. Blurry photos or yellow/poor lighting definitely is a turn-off for me. I’m expecting a rep to be keeping my business in mind when working with me and I’m looking for photos to look neat, clean, and professional, meaning that they incorporate some photography aspects like good lighting and something that was cleanly edited or touched-up if necessary. I don’t have a preference of close-ups, wide shots, or flat-lays but I do want someone who will feature my candle in the spotlight in select photos so people can see what the item is and how the label reads. Dark? Light? Doesn’t matter to me! I love all different styles. I just look for a clean, consistent feed.

CAPTIONS & COMMENTS | What needs to be included in a caption? Well, for posts that are specifically rep posts, I ask for the shop to be mentioned (with the @), tagged, and for the rep to display their coupon code that they’ve been assigned. I don’t have a specific place in the caption that I require this info but the caption content does matter to a certain extent. If you read a caption where someone complained about their day or a book, would that make you want to buy the product that’s mentioned at the end? Probably not. I don’t require posts to keep anything negative out, but I do look through potential accounts to see the tone of their captions and if things are consistently negative, it’s not really a good fit for that person to be advertising a product. I also like to see if that person is interacting with the commenters and replying back to people. Interaction makes a big difference so I know that person is engaging with the audience and making relationships, not just posting into the void.

DO THEY ALREADY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH ME OR MY PRODUCT? | Do you ever feel like shops pick their friends as their reps? It’s not favoritism (at least not for me!) — it’s because a lot of people that we’ve gotten to know while owning this business have been loyal customers who we already know enjoy our products and support our business. They’re people we can trust to do a great job as a rep because we already know their enthusiasm for the product and already want to spread the word! If I see someone who has my candles in their photos already, it immediately makes them more likely to get chosen because I already know they want to work with me because they like the candles. If someone hasn’t tried one of my items before, how do I know that they’ll even like them? How do they know they want to work with me and my items if they don’t even know what they’re all about? They may have candles from other shops but it makes me feel more confident in my selections if I see that someone already loves what I do! I always try to pick a variety of accounts and people but I’ve come to know so many people because they’re fans of my candles and that makes a big difference! Anyone who is already tagging me a lot in their photos just naturally becomes someone I talk to since I try to reply to every comment or tag (or at least like the photo) so it’s natural for our relationship to be noticeable.

INFLUENCERS

I’ve recently added the “influencer” position as an option for my shop which follows the same set of guidelines as the rep position with a few differences. An influencer position shares posts about Novelly Yours and still contains a unique coupon code, except the influencer gets to pick whatever candles they’d like to share of their own current collection or stock. I don’t send complimentary candles to influencers (meaning I’m not sending free items), but rather influencers receive a coupon code with a very significant discount where they can purchase any candles in the shop to use in their posts. This helps my budget since I’m not sending items for free but allows me to still work with people who are excited to share about Novelly Yours and they still are able to use perks like a big discount for items I know they already love and enjoy. Influencers are chosen with the same or similar mindset in regarding follower and like accounts, but can be more fluid since I’m not sending items to them on my dime.

I request that influencers still post with the same things in mind as I’ve asked for reps in terms of tagging, content, and frequency, but it’s a little bit more fluid and laid back! I’m already pretty hands-off after those guidelines but being an influencer means you’re not tied to sharing specific candles and you can post whenever you want to with whatever candles you already have and aren’t required to purchase anything either.

COLLABORATIONS & ASKING TO WORK WITH A SHOP

I get a lot of requests for “collaborations” and what the heck does that mean? The problem for me as a shop is that it can really mean just about anything in terms of working together. For some people, that’s essentially the definition of a rep. For others, it’s receiving a product for review. For others, it’s an interview or giveaway.

IF YOU’RE REQUESTING TO WORK WITH A SHOP:

  • Please make it clear what you’re asking of them! A collaboration can mean a lot of things, so if you’re going to use that word, please elaborate on what you’re asking of that shop. A lot of shops are super busy and having to go back and ask what exactly you mean takes time and energy and frankly, receiving a vague request makes me not want to accept it. I’ll often turn down requests for “collaborations” because I don’t know that requires of me and it’s easier to say no than it is to ask what exactly you mean (also because most likely this means getting free stuff, which I’m not offering to random solicitors anyway since I find my reps through searches).
  • Do a little research on that shop beforehand! Does this shop hold rep searches? Do they even use reps? Would you be a good fit for their requirements and brand? (I get a lot of requests from random accounts — lifestyle, makeup, models (!?!) that I’ll just flat-out decline because they clearly haven’t even taken the time to look at my brand.) Do they send out free items? I usually don’t send out any free items except for the reps I’ve already selected. I can’t afford to donate items to giveaways (unless it’s a VERY big account or a collaboration with another shop) because I receive so many requests for donations. I don’t pick reps at random from solicitations but other shops might! I don’t send out items for review because I’m established and already have a great set of customers and people who leave reviews after their purchases, so I’m not really in need of sending out something for free for a review. That might be a better request for a shop that’s just starting up!
  • Share a little bit on why you might be a good fit. Tell the shop how much you love their products, use specifics if you can! Telling me “I love your X candle so much!” and I can see that you have it makes a personal connection.
  • Establish a relationship before you request something from a shop. I have to admit, random strangers requesting things of me, even if they’re bookish and in the book community, doesn’t really make me want to work with them. If I have no idea who you are, I won’t respond well to a sort of “cold call” request. It just makes me think you want free things from me and not because you care about my shop or my items. That’s a little bit different for a rep search — that’s more of an open invitation so I want anyone and everyone to try for the position if they think they’ll be a good fit! Randomly messaging me and requesting things, not so much.
  • Find out what that shop’s preference is for a form of contact. Shops get a LOT of DMs on Instagram and may not be on Facebook much as far as messages and PMs go. I generally prefer emails because I can take the time to answer them at my leisure and don’t feel like I have to drop everything to answer. I also won’t forget to reply to something in my email inbox whereas I might see an Instagram DM and then forget to come back to it. If you’re making a serious request about working with a shop, it might be better to take the time to send an email with a detailed request — including links!! I make it a point to answer all Instagram DMs and Facebook PMs (unless they’re totally not relevant to me whatsoever), but if we need to have a conversation or you need to include detailed info about yourself for these kinds of requests, consider sending an email!
  • Be yourself but also professional. I love to see someone’s personality but remember, when you’re asking to work with a shop, you’re asking them to spend their time or money on you, both of which are pretty valuable for small shops. We have budgets we need to adhere to and can’t just send out items willy nilly like a big corporation. If you’re requesting something from me, typos, poor grammar, lack of information — those are all turn-offs. You don’t have to be cold and calculating to be professional but I do want to see a put-together request and not something that’s quickly sent off to many accounts. Especially if you’re sending something via email, send links! I want to see who you are and what you do. I want to see why it’s a good idea for me to invest my money in working with you. Your account is your account and it SHOULD be personal but anything representing me needs to put a good foot forward and posts featuring my products reflect on my brand and my shop.

I think that’s about everything! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email!