May 1, 2020

Cake with: Lars and Timo

In the “Cake with” series, we chat over some cake, with influencers and creators about life and the influencer industry.

This time, we chat with entrepreneurs Lars and Timo about greeting cards, chips, and pitching to brands.

The weather is incredibly hot when Lars and Timo visit the Influo offices to share some cake. Luckily, there is refreshing ice tea, and Timo and Lars are waving fresh air with their hand-held fans.

The flamboyant entrepreneur couple enjoys brownies with M&M’s in all colors and very Instagrammable unicorn cupcakes.

You have your own business, Kaart Blanche, that makes greeting cards with unique illustrations. You also make custom gifs and design on-demand, and you’ve also made face filters for Instagram. We saw they were used by the Kardashians and Victoria Beckham. That’s amazing!
What do you answer to the question, “What do you do?”

Lars: I answer that I have my own business with greeting cards and that I’m responsible for the creative side. I also do freelance graphic design jobs, and I do social media.

Timo: I say that I have a creative agency with my partner, for which I take care of the commercial side.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Lars: Every day is different for us. Right now, I’m working on the graphic design of a book. Earlier this week, we received a big order, so we spent all day prepping the order and packaging greeting cards.

One of the perks of being an entrepreneur is that we can choose our schedules.

Timo: And our own working hours! When I used to work for a company, I had to wake up every day at 6:30 AM. I’m not a morning person, so that was hard. Now, I get to sleep until 8 AM.

The downside of having your own business is that you’re always working. We no longer have weekends. But we try to compensate by doing something fun whenever we can.

How does being an influencer fit with your business? Do they overlap or reinforce each other?

Timo: Well, we don’t really like to call ourselves “influencers”, but we can use that word for now. (laughs) We get a lot of extra work for our business because we are influencers. As an influencer, you can build a big network. And if you play your cards right, that network will help you with your business.

We come in contact with a lot of cool brands and progressive marketers. And those are precisely the people that might be interested in our greeting card business or our work as a creative agency!

I also use every opportunity I get to talk about our business. When we are at influencer events, and people ask about us, I always mention our company, Kaart Blanche. That helps with spreading the word and getting our brand out there.

Sometimes, the cross-pollination is also more direct. For example, we are the pride ambassadors for Levi’s for the second year in a row. As part of the deal, we got to design our t-shirts for Levi’s through Kaart Blanche.

Lars: Since so much of our time goes to our business, my influencer work comes in the second place. The payments I get through my influencer work represent only a small part of my income. And I like it that way. It makes me feel safe and takes the pressure off. If Instagram is down for a couple of hours, it’s not the end of the world.

Do you promote your business to your followers?

Lars: My personal feed also has stuff about Kaart Blanche. Especially in my stories, I promote Kaart Blanche and let my followers know if I designed a new greeting card, for example.

Timo: But it’s a hard balance to find. You want to make sure the followers of your personal account don’t get tired of seeing content about your business. On the other hand, you also want to promote your business as much as you can.

Lars: At the same time, the Kardashians also post the same stuff all the time. And I cannot get enough of it. (laughs) So maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about it.

How did your social media adventure start?

Lars: I downloaded Instagram back in 2010. The platform existed only for a couple of months yet. None of my friends had it, so it was quite boring. And I quit.

I came back when I broke up with my ex, and I wanted to show how amazing my life was. I was posting under the motto, “Look at what I’m doing without you.” (laughs) And that’s how it all started.

Timo: For me, it started when I bought my first iPhone in 2014. I was fascinated by how to make my iPhone pictures look good. Influencing began when I met Lars, as I was his plus one to many influencer events.

What does your content creation process look like?

Lars: It depends a bit. Some posts can be quite spontaneous. But for others, I prepare for the shoot: I check my feed to see what colors I’ve been working with lately, to make sure the shot will fit in my feed. On top of that, I research cool locations, backdrops, and think about how I want the shoot to look.

And then we go out to take pictures. Sometimes shooting can go quickly, and we have the winner shot after taking ten pictures. Other days, it can take 100 or 200 photos before I’m satisfied. And once in a while, it’s just not my day, and whatever I try just doesn’t work. I don’t necessarily need the picture to look perfect, but the styling needs to be on point, and the whole vibe needs to work.

Where do you find inspiration?

Lars: Most of my shots are fashion-focused, so very often, I just take my inspiration from my outfit.

For the rest, I get a lot of inspiration from other Instagrammers. I also spend time on Pinterest – I always get very inspired by what I see there.

Who takes your pictures?

Lars: Timo almost always takes my pictures. I love it because then I can boss him around. When I work with photographers, that’s harder, as then you have to hand over control to them and let them express their creativity. But then sometimes I don’t get what I want, or I would have done things differently.

Timo: For me, most of the time, it’s Lars. Sometimes I also ask friends to do it. For couple shots, we work with a tripod.

Instagram strategy

Let’s talk about hashtags. What is your hashtag strategy?

Lars: I usually only use 3 or 4 hashtags. That’s it. Some people use 30 hashtags for every post, but I don’t see the point. I don’t think it will get you more followers.

Timo: If you use specific hashtags, like #hoscos, for example, you will get 100 or 200 likes more than you would typically get. But those extra likes don’t translate into new followers, though.

Lars: What I do instead of using hashtags is tagging pages. Whenever I post something that could be relevant to a page, I tag them. For example, when we are in Amsterdam, I will tag Amsterdam travel pages in my post. They will probably like my post and maybe even repost it.

Which content works best for you?

Timo: I noticed that when Lars posts a picture with his face on it, he will get more likes than if he just posts a picture of a building or a landscape.

Lars: That is true. But I don’t care. When I look at my feed, I want to have a mix of pictures, some with, some without me.

Even when I know on forehand that I will get fewer likes, I still post those pictures that don’t have my face on it, just because it’s important to me. I feel like it reflects more of my personality and tells more of a story. I like to shift between selfies, outfit posts, scenery or food pics because just like everything in life, balance is important.

When is the best time for you to post? Have you analyzed it?

Lars: Yes, we’ve noticed that Friday evenings are terrible. They don’t work for both of us. Or when it’s beautiful weather, like today, and everyone is out in the swimming pool.

Sunday or Monday evenings work well for me. But I think that depends on your following. You can check when your followers are online in your Instagram stats. That might give you a good idea about when are the best times to post.

I used to pay a lot of attention to when I posted. But lately, I’ve been trying to let go a bit more, and I post whenever I feel like it.

The only exception is when I do brand collaborations. Then I still make sure to post it at the right moment, so I can ensure the post gets maximum engagement.

What do you think about the Instagram algorithm?

Lars: It can be frustrating to get so little likes. I used to get many more likes than now, and that’s because of the algorithm. It’s a bit demotivating at times.

Timo: I have the feeling you miss a lot of posts. Sometimes I realize I didn’t see 3 or 4 posts in a row from people I like. And that’s a pity.

Lars: Also, there are so many stories now. For a very long time, I would watch all my stories. It gave me such a satisfying feeling. But now there are so many, and I cannot keep up. So, often I swipe after I’ve looked at a couple.

The guy with the chips

Are you picky about brand collaborations? Do you sometimes say no to a brand proposal?

Timo: For me, the main criteria is that they have to be fun. I don’t want them to feel like work. And I only accept collaborations of brands that I believe in.

As this is not my main job, I have the luxury only to pick those brand collabs that I feel like collaborating with.

Lars: (laughing) I have no problem with selling myself.

I’m pretty easy-going and say yes to a lot of collabs. But I do think it’s important to keep a balance and not become too commercial.

The other day a chips brand asked me for a collaboration. But it was the third chips brand in a row that contacted me, and I had already accepted collaborations with the first two brands. So I had to say no. Even though I love chips, and I love a lot of different brands of chips, I don’t want to become “the guy with the chips” on Instagram.

But Timo is much stricter than me in those things.

Timo: True. I sometimes tell you to say no. I think you should position yourself more as a fashion influencer and only do high-value collabs. I think you should stay away from cheap giveaways for a random brand or brands you don’t have a connection with.

How do you negotiate your rates with brands?

Lars: I have a fixed rate per Instagram post. I asked some influencers I know what their rates are, and I based my rate on their prices. But not everyone wants to talk about their rates. It’s very taboo.

Timo: Even when you have a fixed rate, many brands try to negotiate, though, and get a lower price. They will say things like: “There’s not enough budget,” or they ask if there’s any wiggle room. Some brands also ask if they can pay you in products instead of cash.

I think we shouldn’t give in to those requests. You have to value yourself.

You have the same problem when you do freelance work. People will always ask for discounts, but you have to set a minimum price for yourself and never sell your services cheaper than that price.

What do you like less about collaborating with brands?

Lars: There’s one agency we work with that makes us sign contracts for every collaboration and asks for exclusivity. I understand that they ask for that, but at the same time, it’s a bit creepy to have to sign a lengthy contract.

It’s also surprisingly difficult to make sure you don’t break those exclusivity contracts. It’s so easy to post something on Instagram that sometimes you don’t even realize there’s a product of the wrong brand on there.

One time, a brand noticed that I posted a picture showing a product of the wrong brand, and they asked me to remove the post. I didn’t do it on purpose; I just didn’t realize there was a brand in the picture. We’re surrounded by branded objects all the time, so sometimes, you just don’t see the brands anymore.

Timo: I think brands will ask contracts more and more often. You can tell that the influencer marketing industry is getting more serious and that brands are paying more attention.

Maybe we should also make our contracts as influencers and ask brands to sign them. That way, at least it would be clear who has the copyright on pictures, for example.

Do you take the first step and pitch to brands? Or do you wait until they come to you?

Lars: We have a lot of brands asking us for collaborations, so we haven’t seen the need to pitch ourselves.

Timo: Plus, it’s weird to go to a brand and propose a collaboration. My family always taught me that you shouldn’t ask for something if you don’t give something first. And that’s why I find it very hard to ask things from brands if we don’t know each other yet.

Recently we’ve been thinking about doing it, however. We want to buy a car, and as that’s a big investment, we thought we could use our influencer status to get a better deal.

Of course, we’re not asking for a free car. I think that would be a bit too much.

At the same time, brands would get value back from sponsoring us. I made a whole business case for brands on what they would get out of it, not only online but also offline.

We already contacted a few brands, and there’s interest. But it’s hard. When brands come to you, it’s easy, as they already know you. But when you take the first step, it’s hard, as you have to start by convincing them that you’re not a random weirdo.

How can influencers that are just starting get more brand collaborations?

Timo: Find influencer friends or starting dating an influencer. It’s the easiest way to join the influencer world! (laughs)

No, seriously, joining influencer events as a plus one opens a lot of doors. I would strongly recommend it.

Lars: If you are good at networking, then events are indeed the easiest way to build relationships with brands and agencies. And those relationships are very important.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Lars: We are both passionate about our business. My big dream is to see our greeting cards in a shop in New York. I would also like to expand our product line and turn it into a complete stationery brand with journals and notebooks.

Timo: I see it bigger and broader. I want our business to become a creative agency that can help customers with developing logos and visual identities and conceptualizing and executing ad campaigns.

Lars: For our influencer work, we don’t have goals. Of course, we want more followers and likes. But we will just see where that journey takes us.

Timo: I would like to reach the magic number of 10K followers. I’ve been very close for a long time now. But somehow, I’ve plateaued, and I don’t manage to reach 10K.

I’m afraid that the only way to do it will be to enter a reality tv show like ‘Temptation Island.’ (laughs)

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