Any small business or startup owner knows how difficult it can be to start building an online audience. Many startups turn to influencer marketing to jump-start their following. Having an industry influencer advocate for your brand can be a game-changer.

Here are a few stats that paint a picture of just how critical influencer marketing has become:

Unfortunately getting an influencer to agree to promote your business is often easier said than done – especially when you don’t have a huge marketing budget to throw around. To get an influencer on board with mentioning your product they have to like you, or receive something in return. To get them to even hear your pitch, you’ll have to spend some time building relationships.

Here are a few tips for building genuine relationships with influencers within your industry.  

Put Together a List of Industry Influencers

Finding the influencers is the easy part. If you spend a lot of time reading blogs and interacting with people within your industry, you should have a pretty good idea of who some of the big names are.

Start by making a list of every influencer within your industry that you can find, even if they aren’t the perfect candidate.

Here are a few tools to help you out:

Keep in mind that some influencers have more engaged followings than others and that audience size isn’t everything when it comes to influencer marketing.

Trim the List Down to Ten Ideal Influencers

Now that you’ve got a long list of industry influencers, it’s time to cut the fat. Go through your list one by one and remove any person or brand that you don’t think would be an excellent fit for your business.

It’s okay to be picky. You won’t have enough time to build genuine relationships with more than a handful of people within your industry.  

Try to narrow your list down to only influencers that meet these criteria:

Try to narrow your list down to around 10 influencers, and continue narrowing your list as you go.

Learn about Them and Their Business

It’s easier to build a relationship with someone when you know quite a bit about them. It might seem weird to spend so much time learning about someone you’ve never met, but influencers are public figures. A lot of the information that you’ll find about them has been put out there by them in blogs, interviews, and on social media.

Start by identifying where your influencers spend their time online. Research them the same way that you would research any company before pitching to them. Get to know their likes, dislikes, and general demeanor. If they seem like someone you could be friends with in day-to-day life, building rapport comes naturally.

Ultimately, you’ll have to find their email in order to pitch to them, which is not always easy. Sure, you could direct message (DM) them on Twitter, but influencers with huge followings often receive hundreds of DMs every day, and yours is likely to get lost in the shuffle.

There are a few ways you can go about it. Once you’ve built some trust, simply asking them if you can email them a pitch can be effective, but does carry the risk of being rejected before getting the chance to actually pitch.

One awesome tool for finding email addresses is Email Hunter, which scrapes email addresses that are listed around the web, or makes a guess as to what someone’s email might be, based on the naming conventions used by the company.

Become an Advocate and Student

The best way to build a relationship with someone who has influence in your industry is simple – build trust and familiarity by interacting with them in a genuine way.

Comment on the things that they share on Twitter. Retweet and share their content with your own following. Answer questions that they pose. Ask them questions. Give them opportunities to share their experience.

Your goal should be to get your name in front of them on a regular basis, leading up to your eventual pitch. Even when someone has tens of thousands of followers, they will notice when someone within their audience regularly interacts with them and gives them opportunities to share.

At the same time, it’s important that you find the right balance. You don’t want to bombard them with questions, or retweet everything that they post. Pick and choose. Identify opportunities for them to offer meaningful insight. Influencers interact with many people on a daily basis, and quality interactions will help you stand out.

Pitch a More Professional Connection

Now that you’ve built some rapport, it’s time to pitch!

It should be clear when you’ve reached the point where you can pitch to them with confidence. They’re no longer some influencer out there in the Twitterverse – they’re a business acquaintance who you interact with regularly.

Some signs that you’ve reached this level might come when they start following you, or including you in conversations. They might respond to your tweets, or comment on something that you’ve shared.

What was once a one-way street has become two-way. You’ve earned their respect, or at the very least you’ve earned their attention, which is enough to get your foot in the door.

When you do decide to hit the “send” button on that email pitch, think it through. Make sure your offer is as valuable to them as it is to you. You don’t want to destroy a business relationship that you’ve spent a lot of time cultivating by asking for a favor or making a one-sided pitch.

Now Rinse-and-Repeat

At its core, influencer marketing is nothing more than digital networking. You get to know people, you become friendly, and you engage in business that helps each other out.

It’s important to remember that influencers are just people, like anyone else. And they’re more likely to help someone they have a genuine connection with than Joe Schmoe with a great pitch.

grasshopper customer community