Let's talk about negotiating a $75 brand deal into $200+. Over the summer, I was approached by a popular food brand that wanted to partner with me. If you're a food photographer, you know there is some excitement when a brand approaches you. You also know there can be anxiety surrounding whether or not the brand has a budget for the partnership, or if they're expecting you to work for free.
Let's talk about this right away. As a food photographer, I do not work for free, for product, or "for exposure." Period. And you should never work for free, either. Why? Because your work is worth more than free product or any sort of "exposure" that a brand promises you. Let's cut the crap, shall we?
brands have marketing budgets to spend
It's true. Brands have entire marketing teams dedicated to budgeting. A certain amount of money is set aside for marketing purposes each quarter, which very much includes paying you as a photographer. Why? Because your content helps market their product. There is a KEY relationship there!
The entire idea that photographers, bloggers, or "influencers" should create content for free is absolutely crazy. Think about it. What other job do you know of that people accept products as payment for work? I mean, I can't expect a personal trainer to accept dumbells as payment, or a landscaper to accept a shovel. Just because these products might relate to their job doesn't mean it's payment for their hard work, time, knowledge, and experience.
That isn't considered normal. Receiving a bag of flour, a set of knives, or a few backdrops shouldn't be considered as normal payment for a food photographer, either. Can I get an AMEN?!
You're not being greedy by asking for payment. Your Instagram is not "too small" to charge for a sponsored post (yes--even if you have 100 followers). I don't recommend accepting free partnerships as a way to build a portfolio when you're new. There is value in your work, and brands WILL pay for it. You just have to know your worth as a creator.
the brand's partnership offer
Okay, now that you understand you should never work for free, we can get on with the actual topic of this post: negotiating a $75 brand deal into $200+. I mean, that's why you're here, right? I got you. Let's talk about the actual partnership offer.
The brand initially reached out to me on Instagram, and we continued the conversation over email. They were launching a new product in a few weeks and wanted to partner with me to promote the product on Instagram. By the way, at this time I only had around 1,450 Instagram followers. You do not need a huge following to charge for sponsored posts. I am proof of that.
Let's break down exactly what the brand wanted:
- Two photos featuring their product
- 1 in-feed Instagram post on my page (@savorthespoonful)
- 2 Instagram stories on my page
- Content delivered within 10 DAYS
- Full copyright ownership of the content, in perpetuity
WOAH, HOLD ON! RED FLAG! The last bullet point should have made you stop dead in your tracks (maybe even the second-to-last point as well). As photographers, we should never give away ownership of our images all willy-nilly. That's a HUGE deal. If I did this, I would not own that image anymore. I could not use it in my portfolio. I could not share it without the brand's written permission. And worst of all, the brand could use this photo (that I created) FOREVER and continue making money from it long after this partnership ended. So, no thanks!!
Now let's talk about what the brand offered as compensation for this project:
- The product to use in the content (if you count that)
If you're an established food photographer, you probably just rolled your eyes (or maybe cursed under your breath). But if you're new to this, $75 might sound like a lot of money. You might be thinking "Woah, I can get $75 for a post on my tiny Instagram?" I get it, it's exciting.
BUT. There is a big but. For the deliverables the brand wants, combined with the SUPER quick turnaround time required AND the requested usage rights (full ownership), $75 is about equal to $1 here. Maybe not even that.
$75 is a low rate for this project BEFORE taking into account the turnaround time and copyright requests. With those extra requirements, $75 is frankly a ridiculous number to offer. I knew this, but if a brand sent this to you, you might not have raised an eyebrow. That's why I'm talking about it.
With a turnaround of less than 2 (or maybe 3) weeks, you can easily double your rate. And if you're going to give up the copyright of your work, that increases the rate by AT LEAST 50%. Or more. Seriously. Signing away your content should be avoided in many cases, but if you decide to do it, you need to charge WAY way higher.
Ok, so, how did I turn that $75 into over $200? Keep reading.
responding to the brand's initial offer
I'll preface this by saying this brand and its products aligned with my values and personal lifestyle, which is what prompted me to continue discussing the partnership. When it comes to sponsored content, it is of utmost importance to only promote products that you genuinely use or would recommend. In this case, the product was something I was already using every single day, so it was a good fit. Always think of this before accepting a sponsored content partnership. Authenticity is so important. Your audience can tell when you do something that isn't genuine, so don't lose their trust!
After the brand outlined the deliverables they needed, offered $75 in compensation, and requested full copyright ownership, I had to follow up with some questions.
First, I clarified whether or not they truly wanted full copyright ownership. Sometimes, brands are uneducated about the concept of image licensing and assume they need to own the content in order to use it. But that is not correct. Image licensing exists, allowing the creator to maintain ownership while granting legal permissions to the brand, allowing them to use the content in specified ways.
Licensing is a beautiful thing, isn't it?
Second, I kindly educated them on what licensing means and how it benefits us both. I explained the difference between licensing and copyright transfer and let them know the rate for the project would be significantly increased in the instance they actually do require copyright transfer.
Third, I thanked them for being transparent with their budget. As frustrating as it can be to receive a low offer with such high demands, it does no good to come back as snarky, passive-aggressive, or sarcastic. Don't do that. Please. Be professional ALWAYS. I explained to them that my rates for a project like theirs start at $200 and increase depending on factors like turnaround time and usage rights. I said, "Once I have clarification about the rights you need, I can provide a detailed quote."
That is a literal sentence from my response. As a general rule, I don't have set rates that I blindly send to interested clients. I price each project individually based on the client's needs and the scope of work. Do you see how things could've been drastically different if the brand asked "what are your rates," and I responded with "X rate" BEFORE knowing they want to own the content AND have it within 10 days?? I would've drastically under-charged them.
Communicating with a potential client and asking strategic questions to understand their needs allows you to provide an accurate quote, based on the scope of work, and fair to you as the creator.
consider reducing deliverables
Fourth, I demonstrated respect for their budget and explained that the deliverables could be reduced to better accommodate their budget if necessary. Once you set a rate (as I set a starting rate of $200), do not reduce that rate for the same deliverables. However, if the client cannot meet your rate, you can consider reducing the deliverables to better accommodate their budget.
What the heck does that mean??
Well, instead of asking for 1 image, 1 in-feed post, and 2 stories as deliverables, the brand could ask for just 1 image (no sponsored content), or just the Instagram stories and not the in-feed post. These are just a few examples.
Reducing deliverables generally means less work on your end and therefore you could present a slightly lower rate to accommodate them. But I'm not talking about reducing all the way down to $75; even with fewer deliverables, this project is worth more than that to me. You have to consider for yourself what your time, skills, and knowledge is worth in order to set a fair rate that covers your cost of doing business, and gets you excited for the project. The numbers here are just my personal examples; your rates could be much different.
At this point, I sent the email off to the brand, and crossed my fingers they'd be receptive to my rate and licensing requests.
They were... sort of.
negotiating a $75 brand deal into $200+
The brand kindly responded, telling me that they're fine with me using the image in my portfolio, but still wanted full ownership of content. They attached a copy of their standard rights agreement, which basically said they'd own the content in perpetuity, as discussed above.
This was not okay with me. I was not willing to give up image copyright, and I fought them on it. I thanked them for sending over the agreement, but stated that I was not comfortable with giving up full image rights in perpetuity.
THEN-- and this is key-- I asked, "Is there any room for negotiation on content rights?"
stand your ground on important things
AHA! We are finally getting to the negotiation part of this post. It's important to recognize that if the brand is unwilling to compromise on this, I would kindly dismiss the project and not work with them. Content ownership is that important to me, and I encourage you to stand your ground if you're in a similar situation and don't want to lose content ownership, either.
Luckily, in this case, the brand asked a few follow-up questions about what my licensing entails, then ultimately agreed to image licensing instead of ownership. This is a BIG win! Celebrate! Not only that, but they said they'd be happy to meet me at $150 compensation if that works.
This was great! The brand showed compromise on its copyright requirement and demonstrated a willingness to increase compensation. But negotiation was not over yet. Previously in the conversation, I stated my minimum rate was $200. And I told you not to reduce your rate UNLESS the deliverables are reduced, right?
RIGHT. So I didn't accept $150 for the project, even though it was double their original offer. Do you think I'm crazy?? Maybe you do, or maybe you're impressed.
I responded with a quote above $200, explaining the deliverables it included on Instagram as well as accounting for the quick turnaround time of the project. They happily agreed.
I'm not making this stuff up! From that point, I sent over my contract (ALWAYS work with a contract... that's a big topic for another day), and we continued planning the partnership details.
WHEW. Did you just take a sigh of relief like I did?
know your worth as a creator
Many things can be learned from this experience. It's hugely important to recognize your worth as a creator and stand your ground when faced with tricky conversations like these. I was persistent in my requests for content ownership and stayed true to my rates.
Did I risk losing the partnership offer by demanding a higher rate? Yes, absolutely. But I knew my worth as a creator, and knew I wasn't willing to work for the compensation they were offering me. And if they didn't accept it, or didn't want to work with me? That's okay. It happens! My time is genuinely better spent working with another client or working on my blog.
At the end of the day, if a certain rate doesn't get you excited about a project, it's probably not worth it. If you're not passionate about a project or the compensation you're getting, it will show in the quality of your work.
don't settle for meager offers
It shows immense professionalism and maturity to a brand when you stick to your word and demonstrate value in yourself. It would've been easy to accept their initial partnership offer of $75, and even easier to accept $150. But I knew my work was worth more, I offered more value than that, and I wasn't willing to settle.
Do you see how it paid off? The brand accepted my rate without a blink of an eye, and we quickly moved along with working together. You deserve to be compensated fairly for your work. Don't be afraid to charge a rate that makes you a little nervous. Don't feel greedy when you propose an amount that you feel accurately reflects the effort required of a project. Don't settle for meager offers, especially unpaid ones. If a brand doesn't value your work enough to pay you a reasonable wage, you are much better off saying no to working with them.
I'm telling you, your content is worth it. If you're waiting for someone to tell you to start charging for your work, this is it. This is me telling you-- shouting at you-- to charge your worth! Do not work for free.
don't take follower count too seriously
Remember, this all happened when I had less than 1,500 Instagram followers. This was a sponsored content partnership and demonstrates proof that you don't have to have a large following to charge a fair rate for your work. Please don't fall into that limiting belief!
As a note, however, if you have a following larger than mine, please consider charging more than I did! The numbers used in this post are just one example from one specific partnership and should not be construed as what you should charge. Determining your rates is only something you can do after determining your own cost of doing business and skills as a photographer.
If I leave you with one thing, it's this:
Don't work for free. Know your value as a creator. Charge your worth.
more food photography resources
I have some VERY exciting news to share. I am launching an intensive course in summer 2022 to teach aspiring food photographers how to grow a profitable business in the food photography industry. We're covering everything from how to find clients, what to charge, media kits, licensing and contracts, negotiating, and ultimately how to have successful partnerships that make you a lot of money! Sound like something you want to be a part of? Sign up for my email list to be the first to know when it officially goes live.
In the meantime, you might be interested in signing up for one-on-one coaching with me, which allows me to help you immediately. You might find these food photography resources helpful, too! Check them out:
If you enjoyed this post and learned from it, please let me know in the comments, because I'd love to continue the conversation. Topics like these are so important in the photography industry, and I hope this gave you more insight into negotiating a brand deal. Feel free to reach out anytime with questions about food photography, and be sure to keep up with me on Instagram for more food photography advice.