As a thought leader, you want to spread your ideas and help others along the way. Sometimes your work goes unnoticed, and sometimes it goes unpaid. You know other influencers who seem to have a paid gig going with a new brand every week. How can you get the connections necessary to make that happen for yourself?

To answer this and a few other key questions about influencer marketing, I reached out to Ricky Ray Butler of Branded Entertainment Network (BEN). He’s an expert in the field and one of the pioneers of influencer marketing. The good news is, he’s the marketer. We sometimes hear about “what I did to get four paid collaborations in 30 days” from the influencer’s point of view. But, I thought it would be interesting to talk to the marketers to see what advice they might have for you who are looking to build connections and grow marketing opportunities.

Before we get too far, though, I want to make clear that I consider Ricky Ray one of the best. His advice is coming from what some might call the “pinnacle” of the influencer marketing world. This means a few things: First, it means that he and his company are likely to only work with the big names in social influence—unless you’re able to strike a chord with a personal interest. Second, it means that the advice and suggestions he gives are most relevant to the biggest influencers. Pro tip: That means there’s wriggle room and opportunity out there with other brands and groups that might be a great fit for you, even if you’re not the biggest name in your field. So, get out there. Hustle.

Alright, we’ve got that taken care of, so let’s get back to the interesting stuff.

There are a few questions that every would-be influencer wants to know when it comes to getting marketing deals.

Get In Front of the Right People

The biggest one is, “How do I meet the people that can get me a marketing deal?” The quickest and easiest way to get in touch is, of course, online. Facebook, Instagram, Email, LinkedIn, etc. But, as you might have already guessed, quick and easy isn’t always best. When I asked this question, Butler replied: “I prefer to meet them in-person at industry events. While you can use platforms to meet influencers online and work together, talking in person gives us a chance to get to know each other and figure out if the influencer is a good fit for the brand.”

It’s a valid point. If you’re out looking for influencers to market a product that your followers know you dread or hate, or just isn’t “you”, it’s best to get that out of the way quickly so no one wastes anyone else’s time. Agreements for influencer marketing deals are often called collaborations—there’s a reason for that. Working with each other is the key. Don’t try to force something that just isn’t going to work.

This isn’t to say you can’t do all of this without travel. Get creative and do what you can. Skype, phone calls, and maybe even emails can work, depending on the situation. The overriding rule is: do what works.

Prepare Your Pitch

So, let’s say you’re at an event and you meet someone from a marketing agency. You did your homework beforehand. You knew they would be here and you even researched the brands they represent. You’ve identified three brands they work with that you already use and you know the brands’ values and messaging. You’re a rockstar. You have a pleasant conversation about how you might be able to increase the reach of that brand through your channels and how your followers would feel the pairing is natural between you and the brand.

What next? Butler says, “While you are the Creative Director of all content that you create, it is important to be flexible and offer creative solutions that make you, the brand, and the audience happy.” Be a team player. Cooperate as much as possible without sacrificing your personal brand or forcing an unnatural fit.

Avoid These Pitfalls

You’ve got your pitch ready, your flight is booked, and you’re ready to go… you think. Before you do, take another look at your selected brands and ask yourself if they truly are good fits for you and your audience. Ricky Ray’s response was to the point, “Don’t come off as desperate, and only accept projects you know you can be passionate about. It is important to stay true to your brand. This means saying no to the opportunities that may not be the best fit. When considering product integrations and brand sponsorships, make sure that the brand’s objectives are in line with your vision and audience expectations. Your audience can tell when money is involved or if the project is not exciting to you and that can affect the performance of the campaign.”

Parting Thoughts for Aspiring Influencers

I’ll leave this to Ricky Ray: “Keep uploading content regularly to build your audience. Not only does this help build your audience, it also allows you to establish a cadence of content that your audience can expect and get excited about. Build your portfolio of sponsored integration with brands whose messaging is a good fit for you. Having that portfolio will help you move towards working with your ideal brands. Let brands contact you, but also reach out on your own.”

It’s okay to start with smaller brands. You have to start somewhere, right? You’ll gain experience and you’ll learn to be very selective about the brands you work with based on what you’re comfortable with and what your audience expects. Keep producing content, make some contacts, collaborate on some integrations, repeat.

I hope this is helpful to you in building your personal brand and adding value for your audience. When you find a new product or tool that really makes your life easier in some way, or more fulfilling, you’ve found a great potential integration.

Best of luck!

P.S. How was your first collaboration? Was it a success? How did you define success beforehand? Tell me on Twitter @matthewnielsen.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Matthew Nielsen comes from a working-class home where he learned the value of perseverance. After ten years of undergrad work, and rising through the ranks from salesman to Board Director in the publishing industry, he graduated with honors as the first university graduate in his family. Matthew now holds a Master’s degree (another first) and operates a consulting firm, and a startup called ‘pushpyns’ in Phoenix, Arizona.