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By Brian McKay

For a small business with big ideas, one of the hardest challenges is getting your name known. You may have an innovative product, a strong fledgling brand, and a whole raft of clever ideas, but unless you have the audience to support them, they may remain just pipe dreams. As traditional marketing continues to be turned on its head but the digital world, working with influencers is emerging as a key channel to drive brand awareness. The great thing about it is, you don’t have to have a corporate budget to do it. Influencer marketing is very do-able for micro-enterprises and can bring huge gains.

Who and What Are Influencers?

The term ‘influencer’ has sprung up to describe individuals creating content on platforms such as blogs and Instagram. These people already have large audiences that trust their opinion and actively seek their recommendations – which can be gold dust for businesses that want to work with them. Previously, only celebrities and politicians commanded a share of voice in traditional media, which some have used to espouse local business interests, like Mike Crapo and Small Business Saturday. With new forms of media, regular individuals have the chance to be heard and build a number of followers – and it is these people you need to work with.

How Do I Work With Them?

The key to a great partnership with an influencer is to be authentic. You need to find the right person, who will really appreciate your brand’s mission and has the right interests. Then their audience in turn will be receptive to hearing about your business, and it won’t seem out of place. Practically speaking, you have several options. Either you can approach the influencer to create a post and social media about your company for placement on their own channels, you can interview them or get them to appear in content you create for your own site, or you can invite them to ‘takeover’ your channels and make content for you. Every influencer works in different ways, so begin with an honest conversation about what could work for both of you.

How Do I Find Them?

Consider the outcome you want your activity to achieve – starting with a clear goal in mind, whether it be sales, raising awareness or more hits on your website, will help you to select the right influencer match. There are many online tools to help you find the prominent individuals that can get you seen – Klout, BuzzSumo, LittleBird and OutreachNinja will help you identify who is who. Don’t just concentrate on their number of followers, but take the time to narrow it down to influencers who have great engagement with their audiences and who will genuinely be a great fit for what you’re promoting. And set a decent budget. This may be more cost effective than a billboard, but you shouldn’t expect it to come free. Some will have set rates and media pack, while other smaller influencers may do a review in exchange for a free sample or service. But never expect anyone to work for free. Use their expertise to help guide the content you create, and focus on slowly building a long term relationship rather than going in for the quick win.

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