When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

When an Influencer Asks for Free Wedding Photos

When an influencer asks for free wedding photos or starts eluding to how the “credit they give you” will help with your exposure, how should you respond? Should you take them up on the offer and spend all your money on their magic beans? Or is this a truly groundbreaking opportunity to have your inbox blow up with referrals? What’s a wedding photography to do when an influencer asks for free photos?

…. you think outside the box and make them put their money where their mouth is.

Why I’m qualified to talk about this

I’m a wedding photographer so I an absolutely speak to that side of things – but I’m also an influencer. Actually I should clarify – my cat is an influencer. He has ~50k on Instagram and ~1/4-million on TikTok and he’s been featured in a Netflix documentary called Cats the Mewvie. He’s a big deal. Not as big as Kylie Jenner but he’s made quite the impact in the social world for only having paws and not being able to type any of his own captions. We work with brands quite often and have a thorough understanding of what it means to be an influencer and we see how our fans interact with our branded content vs. our authentic content. So before anyone comes at me for being out of my lane; BOTH these lanes are actually mine.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

Why am I talking about this now?

COVID has all but destroyed the wedding industry. In Canada, where I live, we’re still not back to pre-pandemic normal yet although things are trending for the positive. Unfortunately for industries like weddings and tourism, until complete normal returns, we’re still going to be struggling as the world continues to adapt to what it’s like to live with the virus as we try to eradicate it. Wedding vendors are absolutely not in a position to negotiate prices right now and certainly are not in a position to heavily discount or completely discount our services yet the number of inquiries from “influencers” seems to be increasing. When an influencer asks for free wedding photos, everybody involves needs to stop and pause and think of how gravely the wedding industry has been affected by the pandemic and reflect on the actual risk that this proposition has to the small business owner..

The REAL problem with “Credit” and “Exposure”

We all know that credit and exposure doesn’t pay the bills. I can’t go to my bank and say “Here’s a list of all the people who have shared my IG photos this month, can we put this towards my mortgage?” but that’s kind of oversimplifying things and making light of a situation that is actually more complex. The problem with credit/exposure is that you need a way of tracking the conversions. You need a way to know that new inquiuiries are a direct result of that exposure.

When an influencer asks for free wedding photos, they can’t just expect to give you “shoutouts” and have those shoutouts convert into bookings. Exposure that isn’t measurable isn’t exposure at all so the influencer and business owner need to be willing to put a method in place to track the impact of that exposure.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

Discount codes, special links and ROI tracking

When you’re a business choosing to work with an influencer who wants free wedding photos, you need to be able to measure your return on investment; the simplified translation – you need a way to measure and prove that you’re getting your money’s worth.

An influencer cannot simply post a “credit” to you in a caption and then assume that it will generate you business. If they think that this is how being an influencer works, they’re just in it for free stuff for themselves and they don’t actually value the marketing strategies behind true influencer marketing.

When an influencer is asking for free wedding photos they absolutely need to be open to being in a situation where their ROI is tracked. If an influencer is not open to having ROI tracked, that’s a REALLY BIG RED FLAG that they aren’t actually influencers and they’re just entitled folks wanting something for free. Real influencers understanding that metrics is part of the game. This is why it’s exceptionally common for influencers to have very specific web-links that they ask their followers to use when they’re working with a company. You’ve probably heard this when you listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos or even see social media sponsored posts…. “use the link in my bio” or “go to www.NameOfCompany.com/InfluencerName”. Discount codes or referral codes that are unique to that influencer are another way to track ROI from that influencer.

Sometimes the ROI can be measured through the use of discount code analytics if that’s the particular arrangement that you’ve made with the company.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos
Ten·2·Ten Photography ©2017

Understanding the limitations of Service Referrals

Another huge problem that arises when an influencer is asking for free wedding photos as opposed to a free product from a product-based company is that wedding photographers are service-based companies. Service based providers can typically only service 1 client a day. So it doesn’t matter if 20 or 20,000 people learn about my services, if my weekends are mostly booked up for the next 18 months, the referrals mean nothing if I’m not available to take on the clients.

A referral is only valuable if the business has the ability to provide service and generate profit from the majority of those referrals. If their service calendar is already booked, those referrals are meaningless.

We do not have a warehouse of product to sell, this is a totally different game.

If an influencer doesn’t understand the limitations to asking a service-based business for free work in exchange for referrals/credit/exposure, that’s another BIG RED FLAG. Add to that, if an influencer does understand that but is still choosing to approach you because they assume your business isn’t booked up, it can be a wee bit predatory. The wedding industry has been through a lot and small businesses, those that have survived, have suffered greatly. The majority of us are not in a position to just give away services without a safety net added into the situation just incase the referrals/credit/exposure doesn’t pan out.

Note: it’s still super shitty to expect free product without any measure of ROI or measure of influence to the business, but a product-based company can sell hundreds of products per day, where a service based company if often only limited to 1-person a day. It’s apples and oranges.

Rate Sheets + Audience Stats

A true influencer will have a rate sheet prepared. If you don’t know what a rate sheet is, it’s a 1-2 page PDF summary page that outlines their social profiles and a brief overview of what kind of content they post. It also includes stats about their audience including average ages and geographic locations. Finally, it should items which kinds of posts they offer as a part of influencer marketing and what the rate is.

A rate sheet is important because it gives information to the business owner about whether or not this is an influencer that they want to work with.

For example, as a service-based business (wedding photographer), I work in Ontario Canada. About 2/3 of the folks who reach out to me identify as female; others as male, non-binary or choose not to disclose. The average age of folks who reach out to be is about 25-31. This means that when I’m looking to work with an influencer, I want them to have an audience that mimics what my needs are. If I’m looking for folks that are ~25-31 years old and the influencers rate sheet and audience stats shows that 50% of their audience is BELOW 25, then that’s not an audience that is going to care about my services or necessarily want to purchase them. Ditto for location; if an influencers audience is 80% in the USA but I’m based in Ontario, Canada, then their audience isn’t going to necessarily want to buy my services.

A rate sheet is also helpful when negiating the value of their shout-outs/sponsored posts that they’re offering you. If they charge $300 per sponsored post, but they’re wanting a $5,000 wedding package for free, then they need to be prepared to offer:

  • 17 separate sponsored posts
  • The content of the sponsored posts need to be exclusive to your services only (no other combined shout-outs)
  • They need to be focused on selling YOUR service (ie: the credit isn’t just an afterthought on an otherwise different post)

If they can’t give you a rate sheet then you’ve got another BIG RED FLAG and you’re not working with an “influencer”, you’re working with an entitled person who just wants stuff for free. If they do give you a rate sheet and the numbers seem astronomical, do some quick google research to see what average rates are.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

What is the average conversion rate for influencer marketing?

Once all of the above is considered, we need to factor in influencer marketing conversion rates. Data has been analyzed and on average, the conversion rate for influencer marketing is 2.5%. This means that for every 1,000 people that see the post, 25 will be interested in the product.

Here’s the problem though: we don’t offer products – we offer services. So of the 25 people who are potentially interested does not mean 25 new contracts signed.

First, are those interested people even engaged and needing our services? A lot of people love looking at beautiful wedding photos but they aren’t in a position in their life yet to actually plan a wedding and hire a vendor. If they are in a position to be needing our services, are we in the same geographic area? Not all photographers shoot destination weddings and some destinations (like a Canadian shooting in the US) is extremely tricky and difficult to do legally. If they are in the same region as us, does their partner also like our style and approach and wants to work with us? If a person shows our work to their partner and doesn’t get the same love as they felt, that person will likely never inquire because their partner isn’t interested. Finally, if their partner is interested then the big question is: are we actually available on that day?

Factoring in the above anecdotal information, I think it’s fair to say that a 2.5% conversion rate is a gross over-estimation for the unique relationship between an influencer and a wedding photographer. This is important to keep in mind as a business owner when analyzing ROI and deciding if marketing through this influencer is a good business decision.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

Let’s do an exercise to show the likely conversion rate:

  • So you have an influencer that wants free wedding photos and they have 100,000 followers
  • 82% identify as female – you know that the majority of your inquiries come from individuals identifying as female – now you have potentially 82,000 people
  • You’re an Ontario (Canada) based business, so you look at how much of their audience is from Canada – only 15% is. That’s only 12,300 people.
  • Of those 12,300 people, you’re looking for the 25-34 age group, 36% of their audience is from that age group. That’s 4,428 people.
  • Assuming that there’s an equal chance of the audience being: single, engaged and already married, you can safely assume 1/3 may even be in need of your service. That’s 1,476 people.
  • Now, back to demographics – you were given country demographics only but you shoot in Ontario and market to Ontario. Ontario makes up 40% of Canada’s population, so you you can assume that 40% of those 1,476 people are in Ontario. That’s 590 people.
  • Of those 590, you can assume a relatively event split of those that WOULD need your services and those that WOULDN’T (ie: already have a vendor hired. That brings it down to 295 people.
  • Now you need to start factoring in your normal business factors:
    • Do they like your style? (295 divided by 2 = 147)
    • Does their partner also like your style? (147 divided by 2 = 73)
    • Do you offer the services they’re looking for? (73 divided by 2 = 36)
    • Are you within their budget? (36 divided by 2 = 18)
    • Are you available on their wedding date? (18 divided by 2 = 9)
    • Do your personalities vibe together once you meet? (9 divided by 2 = 4.5)
  • Assuming that for each one of those questions you have 50/50 odds for it working in your favour, it gets down to just over 4 people.
  • This means that of 100,000 people, you may get 4 confirmed bookings by the time the plethora of factors that a niche service-based business needs to consider are factored in.
    • This is why it’s SO much more risky for niche service-based businesses, like wedding photographers, to accept influencer marketing as a means of bartering for service exchange.
  • Oh and let’s not forget that this entire example was done with the assumption that 100% of their audience will see their post – in reality, we know that only 10-20% of audiences even see posts. That makes this exercise much more grim for the service provider!
When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

How to respond when an influencer asks for free wedding photos

I truly believe that every small business should be operating this way when an influencer asks for free wedding photos. All too often newer or vulnerable small businesses are taken advantage of with the “promise” of countless referrals without a plan for how to ensure the process benefits the small business. It’s important for the small business owner to approach situations like this as any regular marketing endeavor and analyze the data accordingly to decide if it’s a reasonable risk.

Step #1:

First, you need to determine if the influencer wants to use the photos for monetary gain or if they’re wanting photos for personal reasons. If the influencer is wanting to use any of the photos you take as part of their content, then your normal wedding photography pricing doesn’t apply. This now becomes a commercial contract and is priced accordingly.

Remember, a wedding photographers prices are based on a personal use image license. If an influencer doesn’t understand the difference between personal use pricing and commercial use pricing, that’s another big red flag that they aren’t really influencers.

Step #2:

Second, the amount that your influencer will “earn back” per conversion is going to be exclusive to your unique business and based on your individual finances, but here’s how mine works and how I determined my number.

My package structure is generally:

  • 30% gets put aside for taxes
  • 30% gets put aside to invest back into the business and pay for business expenses
  • 40% is my profit

I can devote up to 30% of my package costs back into my business: that includes marketing. But if I’m going to give the influencer any more than that 30%, then I’m giving them my profit and frankly, that’s dumb. I’m not here to work for free and you shouldn’t be either. So right there, it’s not reasonable for an influencer to expect everything for free because if they are, they’re asking you to also forfeit your profit.

Under normal circumstances, you’d only spend 30% of your package price on marketing, so why should an influencer also expect you to give away your profit in addition to your marketing budget?

The only reason I can see in terms of making an exception to this is if you’re dealing with a MAJOR influencer and you’ve looked at their analytics and you know their audience matches your target audience and you’ve done the math and you know that you absolutely can fill up your calendar for the next 2 wedding seasons from working with them.

Step 3:

Once you know your max amount of money that you can reasonably discount your package, you need to look at their stats and audience and figure out just how much of their audience likely needs your service in the first place. Remember how in our example above we started with 100,000 followers and it boiled down to potentially 4 confirmed bookings? You need to look at their following and do the math to try to reasonably estimate what your ROI can be. If your math indicates that maaaaaaybe you’d get 1 booking out of it, you have to ask yourself:

“…am I willing to discount ${insert amount} for the chance to get 1 referral? Is that a good return on my investment?”

Step 4:

Now that you’ve got a plan and know that you need to do your homework, let’s start the conversation!

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

How to have the conversation with an influencer

This is the script I generally use when discussing the situation with influencers. Usually the educational material I create is a part of my wedding photography mentoring services and online courses for photographers, but this is a bit different. I think there’s more value in making this public than selling it as a course.

Step #1 Example:

“So before we continue our conversation, I just want to understand if you plan on also using the images on your social channels. Our wedding photography packages include only a personal image use license, so if you’re planning on using the images as well as wanting to discuss influencer marketing, we need to figure out if we need to add a commercial use license to your quote.”

This right here will stop about half the “influencers” in their tracks.

Step #2 Example:

If they’re cool with understanding that a commercial use license also needs to be purchased, this how how we continue the conversation:

“Fabulous! Do you have a rate sheet and audience analytics that we can see? As with any advertising, I need to make sure that the audience that you reach is one that would actually be receptive to buying or purchasing our services. I’m sure you understand that referrals don’t really mean anything if I can’t convert them into sales! Service based industries typically have a much lower conversion rate for influencer marketing because our audiences are very niche. The rate sheet will also help us figure out how many posts or what kinds of posts have the same value as the services you’re asking for/discount you’re asking for so we can do a proper exchange of services. Can you please send that to us to review?”

This is going to stop about another 90% of the remaining people in their tracks – in my 13 years as a wedding photographer, I’ve only received less than a dozen rate sheets from people upon request. If they don’t want to give you a rate sheet and disclosure audience information and if they don’t understand why this is crucial when creating a partnership, they’re either trying to hide something or they’re starting to realize that they probably can’t give you the value of “exposure” that they’re trying to get from you for free.

If they don’t have a rate sheet or want to disclose audience information, you simply say:

“I’m sorry, but as with any marketing endeavor, I need to ensure that I’m making a sound business decision and choosing marketing options that I know have an audience that is actually in need of my services. Without audience analytics and a rate sheet to compare values, I can’t offer any kind of discount or enter into an influencer marketing agreement with you. If you want to go ahead and book our services because you love our work we would be delighted to work with you but it would be as a personal use transactions just like any other inquiring couple.”

Now, if you’ve found yourself in the awesome position that a person is happy to pay for appropriate licenses, has provided you with audience analytics and a rate sheet and still wants to move ahead, this is how you navigate things:

“That’s so fantastic, I’m happy to continue moving ahead. I’ll take a look at your audience statistics and compare them to some of our previous marketing endeavors and let you know if this is something that we would be open to based on the analytics you’ve shared. I’ll get back to you in 12-24 hours after we thoroughly review the information.

Step 3 Help:

Step 3 if the ‘homework’ stage. If math and marketing strategy isn’t exactly your strong point, you have a few options:

  • Do a quick “guess-timate” based on the example above. In that example, 100,000 followers = 4 bookings. If they have half that amount, you’ll likely get half the bookings. One quarter the amount = one quarter the bookings, etc.
  • Opt for a coaching session where we can help you devise your marketing strategy and influencer plan!

Step 4 Example: Declining their offer

“Thank you for your patience while we took a look at the relevant data. Factoring in your audience size, demographics and geographic location combined with the unique niche-based considerations we have to include as a service-based business, I can’t say that I’m confident that your audience reach would include people who are in a position to complete a booking with our company and use our services. Service-based industries, especially niche ones like wedding photography, are so unique and we require a very specific audience reach. I’m not confident that your audience matches our needs and I have to decline your offer for influencer marketing.

If you’d like to book our services on a personal contract, the way any other inquiring couple would, we would be delighted to work with you. Please let me know and I’ll generate a contract for you.”

Step 4: Accepting their offer

If you think it’s reasonable that you may be able to get a handful of bookings, you need to them go back to the client and tell them what your conditions are. When an influencer asks for free wedding photos, it’s a very bold move on their part. You’re more than entitled to be equally as bold in stating what your conditions are.

“I took a look at your analytics and given that you have a substantially large following primarily in the age range and geographic area that I work in, I think it’s reasonable to move ahead with a discount of ${amount} in exchange for {amount} of posts in the timeframe between {insert time frame}. I’ve attached an influencer marketing contract for you to review.

I’ll be creating a unique contact form on a unique URL that you’ll use with instructions to have your audience inquire through that link; this way we can track our conversion rates to determine how successful this campaign is. If the campaign is successful, we can absolutely continue to invest in your services up to a maximum of what your package price was, but if the campaign is not successful, we will still keep a safety net of not having given away our entire profit.

The way we do this is that your services will be paid in full as any normal couple would, and then we’ll pay you for your marketing efforts. The deposit for the marketing services will be after your final payment is due (which is when the marketing campaign will start) and the remaining balance will be paid out to you 30 days after the marketing campaign starts.

It’s wise to keep both contracts separate; if they aren’t kept separate then the only fair way to go about things would be to put a portion of money into a trust and that can complicate things a bit more.

Let me know if you’d like to proceed and I’ll ensure all the proper documents are generated for us!”

This, my friends, will

How to answer questions you get when an influencer asks for free photos

It’s inevitable that you’ll end up in a step #5 situation – the influencer coming back with questions trying one last chance to make the deal work. Here’s my quick, off-the-cuff answers for them.

Q: Can we write up the influencer marketing contract for 100% of the cost of the wedding services? Why is the discount limited to {insert amount here}?

A: I’m absolutely open to that, but not right away. As I’ve said before, service based businesses – especially those in niche markets like myself – typically have extremely low conversion rates. I’m willing to do {amount} discount now and give you a unique link to have your clients use so that we can track just how many conversions are coming from you, and if the data shows that actual booked clients are happening as a direct result of your marketing efforts I’m absolutely willing to extend the marketing contract and add more value to it. But until I can start to get data on how successful this marketing campaign would be, I’m not willing to go in with 100% of my profit.

Q: I want the following sections of the contract changed, I’m not comfortable with x,y,a.

A: I’m sorry, but our contracts are non-negotiable. We’ve invested heavily into the creation of hair and balanced contracts with our lawyers and these are the conditions we’re willing to work with. We don’t ammend contract.

This is a huge red flag; if the “influencer” wants to start negotiating contracts, it’s another sign that they’re in it only for themselves and they want total control of the situation. Run.

Q: What happens if my audience doesn’t use the URL you provide me?

A: Then I can’t assume that my inquiries are from your audience. I trust that you’re influential enough to get your audience to use the proper URL, just make your messaging strong.

Q: What if I continue referring you after our marketing contract is done? Can I earn more money back?

A: If you want to keep referring us after our marketing contract is done, that’s fab! Most of our couples will refer us for years. If that’s not happening under a marketing contract though, you can’t earn credit for it – you’d be doing it out of the goodness of your heart like all our other couples do.

When An Influencer Asks For Free Wedding Photos

A final note to the influencers who want free photos…

Let’s be honest, COVID has left the wedding industry in absolute shambles and those businesses who were lucky enough to survive have done so by using up all their savings. These businesses now have to start building it all back up from the very bottom. Small businesses are by no means in a position to offer free services or discounted services to “influencers” who cannot be willing to agree to some kind of safety net – like asking for analytics and setting a cap on a discount – for the business who has already lost so much. You may be accustomed to trying to get free stuff because of your social influence, but when you’re working with a wedding photographer – it’s not free stuff – it’s free labour. That’s someones heart, soul and spirit that you’re asking for for free and we have different boundaries with that kind of stuff and we will absolutely hold you to a higher standard to prove that your audience actually would purchase our services.

When an influencer asks for free wedding photos, you absolutely need to put them in a position where they have to put their money where their mouth is. If they are hesitant to do that, it means that they know the reality of you getting any future bookings as a direct result of their marketing is slim to none.

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