I’m Stef, a Visual Brand Consultant and Art Director based in San Francisco, CA.

I created my brand Ink and Pulp out of an impulse to apply my knowledge and intuition about effective online storytelling, and to essentially see what would happen.

Three years later, my community has grown to over 50k followers on Instagram alone and I’ve worked on creative projects with companies like J.Crew, Everlane, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, and most recently, Nespresso USA. I’ve built two creative businesses, designed and led a weekend wellness retreat, and I host workshops centred around helping professional women reignite their creativity.

My best advice for finding and sustaining meaningful collaborations is:

Be genuine. A collaboration is only successful if there is natural alignment between the two people or brands and if they genuinely support each other’s mission.

My mindset as an undergrad Art History major was that I’d go on to earn my MA, then my PhD, and then pursue a career in academia. But while in my MA programme, I rediscovered my love for creating art beyond just writing about it; the future suddenly opened up into this horizon of unknown possibilities.

It was 2012 and I was in my last quarter of grad school, so I started my blog as a personal project, a space where I could create art and write about it within the context of other artists and movements. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I began seriously applying strategies to the growth of Ink and Pulp as a brand.

I always recommend identifying your favourite social platform and interacting with like-minded communities within that space.

You might find these communities through hashtags or through influencers who lead these communities, and the key is to listen, learn, and support. You’d be amazed by what you discover about other people when you are genuinely listening.

I only collaborate with brands that are already aligned with my aesthetic and whose work I genuinely believe in supporting.

If there’s not already a fit, then I don’t accept those proposals. An example of a successful alignment would be when I collaborated with J.Crew on one of their spring campaigns. It made sense because their aesthetic is colourful and their brand was led for many years by a creative professional I admire, Jenna Lyons. So when it came to creating the content, I was able to stay true to my brand aesthetic while incorporating the colourful pop that is characteristic of their branding.

When it comes to collaborations, you need to be clear about your expectations.

I am always clear about expectations upfront and part of that means creating an agreement that both parties sign. If the brand sends me their version of a contract, I always make sure to read through every line because often they’re just using old, outdated templates that they haven’t read through. Sometimes I’ll catch a line that incorrectly states the terms of ownership or photo attribution and I’ll bring it to my contact’s attention, which they 100% of the time modify. It really comes down to communication and setting clear expectations from the beginning. Then, once that part is taken care of, I’m free to create!

The reason why influencer marketing is successful in the first place is because it is honest and expressed in the unique creative voice of the influencer.

It is very clear to me from the beginning which brands understand the core concept of influencer marketing and which don’t, so I just make sure to work with those who approach our partnership with knowledge and respect.

Viewers turn to influencers because they are often tired of just being advertised to.

Someone is influential because people trust their recommendations as they would a friend. So if the brand partnership is forced, it’ll most likely feel forced and inauthentic, which defeats the whole purpose of collaborating in the first place.

I make this very clear in my communication with brands who reach out to me and I even include this kind of transparency on my website FAQ page, where I’ve written, “I will most likely turn down your request if: you are too lazy to properly address me by my name, you don’t have a strategic reason for partnering beyond my number of followers, you are making requests for specific posts and I haven’t even tried your product.”

My personal brand’s bottom line is always to stay true to my voice and my community, so if a potential partnership seems to conflict with this, I intuitively know where I stand and where my boundaries are. Honestly, saying no is only difficult if you’re unsure about your bottom line.

I’m in the process of creating a mastermind programme for business owners struggling to both develop a cohesive visual brand story and build a loyal online community.

I love face-to-face interactions and building relationships with my clients, so this kind of work is incredibly fulfilling for me at this point in my career. I’m interested in the group format so that I can help multiple people at once in a more structured way, as well as connect them with each other.

For more of my creative work, visit my Instagram @inkandpulp or you can connect with me via my website: www.inkandpulp.com