In today’s day and age, the term “influencer” is more frequently used than the term “celebrity”. People are turning to their favorite influencers to look for a more personal and instant connection–someone they can actually relate to, trust, and build a social media “friendship” with, so to say. Influencers are known for their relatable content and often are well trusted because they are there to be themselves and influence by being everyday people, just like their followers. But, as time goes on, I’m noticing that more and more people are interested in becoming influencers not to build a brand for themselves while being genuine. Instead, people are focused on being “social media famous”, which is far from the reasons I believe influencers developed their own space in the first place.
I feel like the new thing is to “be an entrepreneur” or a social media “influencer”. It’s become almost like a trend to not work at a 9-to-5 job and sit in an office cubicle. While having my own career as an influencer is a blessing that I’m truly grateful for, it’s not nearly as “luxurious” or as easy as it seems. Most people looking at my instagram assume I make thousands of dollars a day, can travel wherever I want, and work with any brands I want to work with. So let’s break down the truth – because this is far from it.
The truth is, a prosperous career path does not come easy to anyone. You can be given certain tools or leverage, for example, coming from a wealthy background or having a famous parent, but if you don’t have the passion, the work ethic, and the skill set, the tools you are provided with are pretty much useless. In fact, I’m so thankful I didn’t have any sort of leverage to begin with because it taught me how to work my ass off and be strong mentally in the business world.
I spent all 4 years of my college life building my following on social media without a dime in my pocket from it. At the time (about 6 years ago now), Instagram was still extremely “new” to brands, and they would laugh if you asked them to pay you for a post. The influencer space did just not exist yet. On top of going to the gym at 5 AM, attending 7 AM classes until 3 PM in the afternoon, completing all of my assignments which usually took up most of my night, and going to practice for the a-cappella group I was a part of, I spent the remaining few hours I had left in the day marketing my brand and building a following for myself. I gave up my social life for my phone, which a lot of people thought was an “addiction”, but to me it was my future business. I was pushing out content on my Instagram daily and working as much as I could allow myself to without getting burned out.
Since I was not making any money from social media yet, I didn’t have money to spend on anything really other than college related things like my meal plan and books. I didn’t spend much on food, let alone travel (I actually rarely ever traveled, I don’t even remember if I did at all). My parents never ever spoiled me with money like some of the other people at my school. A lot of kids my age growing up had their parents’ money to spend on drinking, going out, driving nice cars, looking fashionable, etc. My family didn’t have that type of money, which actually taught me a lot about how to have a strong business mindset. I was by no means poor, I always had a bed to sleep in, food on my table, and a great education throughout my life, but I didn’t have parents to be financially dependent on. That, to some people, can be seen as unfortunate–but to me that was such a blessing because it TAUGHT me how to become a business woman and make money for myself doing what I’m sincerely passionate about!
So how did I start and BECOME an influencer? This is no easy question to answer, and there’s really no short version of this story. Building a social media brand for myself took me over 6 years, tons of patience, hard work, lack of sleep, and sacrificing the “fun” in my college years. While most people spent their nights going out to the college bars, I was in my dorm room working on my instagram page, looking at trends, researching how to grow my audience on social, and networking with other content creators who were building their accounts just like I was.
For the first few years I was working on my instagram, I received nothing more than a few free boxes of yogurt from a food brand and some free workout clothes (which at the time was extremely cool to me!) But after a market started to develop, fitness companies were reaching out to me, asking me to promote their products for $100-$400 per post, depending on what it was. Fitness companies took advantage of the instagram market the earliest, and were paying creators like me daily to promote their companies. After years of working hard to build an audience for myself, I was getting paid up to $400 per day to promote products, which was awesome at the time, and I was able to save a lot of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the value of my brand because the whole influencer space was SO new. I don’t think any creators at the time (at least that I knew of) really understood how much value we had. IF I HAD KNOWN THE VALUE, I wouldn’t have promoted these companies. We were just doing this because we loved it and were having fun building our platforms, and I was finally making money while doing it!
As more time went on, I learned a ton about the social media market and the power of digital advertising. It was then that I decided to create my own fitness guides and sell a product I actually believed in and knew was effective. I was super nervous to release my own program, but it felt right at the time because it was something I actually was passionate about. I always kept it super real with my followers, and I was as connected as I could be to them. I was always interactive with people who engaged with me, and I felt that the power of a social media community was only going to become stronger and more powerful as time went on. I was so excited that I was able to help people become healthier while also creating a brand for myself. I went on to sell my own products for about 2 years, using instagram as my main marketing tool, until my life and my brand took a turn into a brand new direction.
After meeting my boyfriend Meir after college, we decided to team up and work together. We spent time marketing my products through social media together, but over time, I realized I wanted to venture into more of a lifestyle and travel brand and not be tied down as a “fitness” influencer. Everyone knew me as the “fitness” girl, and to me, it put so much pressure on me because I feel like I’m so much more than just a girl who works out in the gym and sells fitness guides. I never wanted to be limited to a category, I wanted to just be myself and be free from that title. I was so torn on how to transition my brand into something different, especially because I didn’t want to disappoint or let down my followers who were so loyal to me and my fitness image. At some point, I decided I’d have to make that leap into the lifestyle / travel space if I wanted to be happy, and those who loved me for me would stick around and understand.
It took me over a year to transition my brand into something much bigger than just fitness. I spent months strategizing how to incorporate more of my travels and everyday life without scaring my audience away. I know a lot of people definitely unfollowed me, but I know some of them eventually came back and re-followed me too. I answered every message I had from girls who looked to me for fitness inspiration and were distraught that I decided to change my image. I made sure I was still making an effort to show people I’m exactly the same that I was before, but I’m just showing more of what makes me truly happy. That was all I could do. And it was the best decision I ever made for myself.
Meir helped me re-focus my brand and my goals, and I am forever thankful that he walked into my life. He was always super passionate about photography, and when we decided to work together, I knew we were going to make an incredible team. He has such an amazing eye, and is so naturally gifted with the camera. We strategized how we were going to push out content and change everything in an authentic and personable way, and after almost 2 years now, we have achieved more than I could have ever imagined! We have been fortunate enough to travel often, live in New York together, work with some of our favorite brands, and most importantly do what we LOVE! 🙂
Despite the fact that our job is such a blessing and all I could ever want in a career, there is a huge misconception that it just “happened”, that I got “lucky”, or that we, as influencers, don’t work hard. We just snap pretty pictures and call it a day. But this couldn’t be more far from the truth. Influencers are some of the hardest workers I know. They built a personal brand with a loyal following that LISTEN to what they say, which is pretty incredible in itself. Most of the influencers I know have also spent years building their following. There are a tiny percentage of people who blow up overnight from the internet, but 99% of the time, people don’t become overnight sensations. They work HARD to get to the top in their field. Influencers spend hours a day planning their shoots: from their outfits, to their hair, to the location, to finding the right photographer, to collaborating with other people, to finding the right brands to work with, and the list goes on and on. Yes, we are a fairly “new” community, but we are powerful business men and women who take our jobs just as seriously as any other business people would. So yes, we deserve to make money from our platforms because it is our line of work.
TRUE OR FALSE INFLUENCER EDITION
- Brands approach us first and want to pay us immediately to get promoted on our page. The truth is, it’s more of me taking my time to pitch brands, reach out to brands, set up personal meetings with brands, and email brands. Sometimes brands don’t have that much money to spend, or they take months to choose their influencers. Brand partnerships actually take a LOT of organizing, planning, time, patience and contracts before proceeding. It rarely happens quickly.
- Influencers make thousands of dollars per post. This depends on each individual influencer and what they offer in terms of exposure, return on investment, and uniqueness. Some influencers do make this type of money, but some influencers do posts for free and pretend they’re getting paid (yes, that’s true). I don’t discourage smaller-tier influencers promoting brands for free, simply because it builds a resume and can show brands that you have experience creating good content for companies like them. It builds trust and credibility in the long-run.
- Influencers have stylists, managers, and people who do and plan everything for them. In some cases, yes this is true. Large-scale influencers sometimes have a team of people assisting them with brand deals, styling, photoshoots, blog posts, etc. which to me, is amazing and inspiring. Having a team means your business is growing, which is always a positive thing. However, most influencers I know (even the big ones) do not have a team helping them out at all times. They usually have a photographer helping with their shoots, but most of the work is done by the influencer themselves.
- We get everything for free – travel, clothes, makeup, you name it. While a lot of brands love gifting us influencers, I would say 80% of the products I own and experiences I’ve had are on my own budget and paid out of my own pocket. I always appreciate gifts from brands, but I typically prefer choosing my own things, planning my own trips and styling myself the way I want. I like investing my own money back into my brand. I think this goes for a lot of influencers as well.
- We take pictures for a living. Yes, we do, but it is SO much more than that. Being a digital content creator is a strategic job. It’s knowing what to post, where to be, what to say, when to post, being relevant, connecting with people, and communicating your message through a screen. It’s a full time job to say the least.
The next time you scroll through your feed, which will most likely be right after reading this article, I want you to consider the amount of work that really goes into building a social media presence. It may seem like a lot of fun (and it is), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it takes time, patience, and a ton of execution. It was definitely not an easy or short journey for me to get to where I am today, but I couldn’t be more grateful for all that this process has taught me.