The Truth of Being a Full-Time Influencer
You hear the term every single day, “Influencer” — I never dreamed that this would be my job. Social media and technology has changed so much of the world we live in and the kinds of opportunities that creatives can have. I now hear kids saying “I want to be a Youtuber" or “I want to be a Blogger when I grow up” and it’s not as crazy of an idea as it was just a couple of years ago.
As I round out my 2nd year as a full-time social media influencer and blogger, (my title will take a small shift in the coming weeks) I wanted to do a recap and talk about the truth of what it has been like for me. I am going to cover everything: from the anxiety, $$$, what kind of growth I’ve seen, how it’s changed my mindset on the future, what I did to get where I am, and what’s next!
My story on getting started is something that is a little bit different than some in my industry. Many go into it hoping to be a blogger, or sadly, the free stuff. My start on this journey stemmed from the business side, rather than the blogging side. The account that is now my full-time job was once a collage of all of my iPhone pictures of things around me that always had to be white to fit my minimalist feed and I would never dare step in front of the camera. Following high school, I worked with a ton of businesses in my town that were looking for a creative director to handle a lot of the things I had grown up doing (photography, social media, design, branding, etc) and I took many of them on. I took photos of my work and what I was doing to simply share what I was up to. I started to see more and more people following along on my journey (I believe primarily because I was so young and doing quite the opposite of the kids going off to school were doing) and wanting to see more of my creations.
THE WORK WEEK
When you are self-employed and in this industry, you are always ON. That is the truth. To be honest though, I think I was born with a continuous on switch. From being a kid and Every. Single. Day. asking my mom “what fun thing are we doing today” to not letting myself go to sleep at night, my senior year in high school, until I got all the tasks accomplished that day for the side hustle I was working on. I never cared for partying or doing much of the typical teen life.
The work week is a work life. I am constantly looking for things that better my business. My “down time” is looking on Pinterest for inspiration for the next week’s Instagram posts or quotes to use for captions. I work from when I wake up to when I go to bed. The thing is, for me working doesn’t feel like working. Every single thing I do, I do because I am passionate about it. So the hard stuff is fun, the everyday tasks are thrilling, because I truly feel like I am living the dream.
However, I have many times where I am filled with being overwhelmed or when I can’t even see straight because I’m so burnt out on work and I don’t have other hobbies to do! When others take a work hiatus they like to garden or work on DIY projects or play tennis. For me, I look at my life and my work consumes it so much so that I don’t have anything besides it. I will be looking to find more balance, I think, for the rest of my life. But just trust me when people say you are always on, they mean it.
HOW I MAKE $$$
No matter what business you are starting, it’s hard to get money flowing. The last two years haven’t been the easiest. I jumped into this job full-time at less than 20k Instagram followers (Instagram being my main revenue stream until MaddyCorbin.com really started up) because I knew I would make it work. It was everything I had ever wanted and it was going to happen.
There are 4 ways that you can make money as an Influencer:
01. Selling “#ad” space
This means letting a brand or product be promoted on your channels (social and blog) for a set amount. These negotiations are made through a Media Kit that the influencer puts together and pitches to brands. The final product of these partnerships should always end in #ad on Instagram or be denoted on a blog post or Youtube video as “this post/video is sponsored by…”
For many it is their entire business model. For me, I don’t like putting all of my eggs in one basket and I like to have multiple streams to rely on. My #ad space averages about 45% of my businesses income. The more you grow that # on Instagram, the more you can charge for partnerships and it can become a major revenue stream. Due to our growth as a business and limited time, I no longer pitch for these. Instead, we have a steady stream of partnerships we receive where I can be more selective and work with brands that are true to my lifestyle and brand. That has definitely been a plus in the last year!
02. Digital goods
Meet the other 45% of my income, digital goods. These products can range from presets, to ebooks, online courses and more. These are popular from the standpoint that you typically don’t have to involve a lot of people to start digital shops.
I personally started my digital shop with #MaddyCorbinPresets in late 2017, which in terms of presets was early on. Doing so allowed me to learn how to make the process of digital editing easier for myself and my customers. I will be adding a new product, aside from the presets, in the coming months and I am very excited!
03. Affiliate Links
Affiliate links round out the last 5% of my business income. They are a great way to make some extra cash when you share your favorite items, but I don’t think you should base your entire business model on these links. Recently, I launched Weekly Faves with my Mom (who is my Editor + Monetization Coordinator) — it is a weekly list of my current favorite products, some I already own and others that are on my wishlist to get. Alongside this, when I get asked about certain items I link them in my story or blog posts. That is where my use of the links ends.
Influencers build personal brands. When you grow an audience, you then introduce them to other brands through partnerships or a new brand of your own! I’ve owned a few businesses prior to going in hard on Maddy Corbin and while it wasn’t impossible to get a following going or get people interested, it is a hell of a lot easier once you have really established yourself.
While I am not going to chat too much about this yet, this is where that shift in my title that I was talking about earlier happens. Bryce and I are 50/50 launching a whole new brand in the next month and I am so excited for you all to hear about it. The numbers that I’ve stated in this blog post will shift when it happens as my entire business will be 50% Maddy Corbin and 50% this new brand.
Growing that # above your name
And so we are here. How to grow your following number? This was probably the most asked question the past two years. Here’s the tea: You will never know.
I can sit here and tell you to use the right hashtags, or to post this certain photo, or shoot in this certain way, OR GO TO THE RIGHT EVENTS. No matter what, there is no right way or certain way that this goes. Here is one thing that I do know. Around November-December I decided to make some new fun Instagram story templates. I wanted to do them in a different way, like if certain TV characters called you, which would you pick up first? I am talking 5 hours + per set of templates. I remember one day a girl posted it to her story, then I saw all of her friends post it and then I saw the spiderweb of people posting them grow bigger and bigger. Over the course of the next 10 days I would gain almost 10,000 followers. 10 freaking k! It was something I’d never experienced before. Here’s the funny part of the story though: I then did more templates after the New Year and maybe 5 people used them. It was the right kind of templates at the right time, and it wasn’t going to be recreated. Through all of it though, I continued to post content I loved, shared on Instagram and the blog and showed these new followers who I was and what they would get while following me. That is all you can do. Every. Single. Day. Show up, show the world who you are, what you genuinely love to do, and what they would get if they followed you. Be authentic and continue no matter what. The growth will come, it will come on its own time and it will be slow. But you will look back and be so proud of the audience you have built by just sharing yourself with the world!
Also ps. just don’t use apps cause that is so not cool and so damn obvious.
I asked my Instagram followers what they were interested to know about this journey and wow I got so many amazing questions, so let’s do a fun little Q+A!
Q: How long did it take you to partner with brands or make money to be full-time?
A: I actually partnered with my first brand back in 2016, it was one of those things that just flowed into the work that I was doing. This continued on and off for 2016-2017. In 2018 I partnered up with around 60 different brands. When I went full time in May of 2017 I think it was a bit early. I didn’t have much under my belt with brand partnerships or my digital shop, but it all depends on who you are and what you need to live off of. Living at home, I had a little bit more flexibility.
Q: What camera/lens do you use? / is best for working with brands?
A: Your equipment does not = your success. That is the first thing that you need to know. There are influencers out there that shoot solely on iPhone and they make triple the one that shoots on the top of the line setup (and vise versa). I am someone who has always had an interest in sharp and quality images, that is just me! We shoot on a 6d Mark ii with a 16-35mm lens. We used to shoot on a 35mm that I love as well and I want to get it back!!
Q: How do you choose what to charge?
A: The standard is 1% of your following. So having 40,000 followers, 1 Instagram post would be $400. I use this idea as a starting point. You need to look at your own account: the quality of your images, the engagement you get (which is huge right now and can set you apart) and how your audience compares to the audience the brand is looking to reach. Because of the style of our shoots and how much work goes into posting them, my audience size, my 2.5k minimum like average, I start at $500 as a minimum for one partnered Instagram post. The idea here is to start small, see how you feel about how much you’ve been paid vs how much work you put in and then move accordingly.
Q: Do I need to claim every single collab on taxes or only over $600?
A: Did you know that for self-employed individuals you have to claim once your income reaches over $400!? Crazy! Yes, claim everything. This year was the first year I have ever worked with an accountant and boy did it change everything. Here’s the thing: you have to keep really good records no matter what. We have different spreadsheets and ways we organize everything that I could go into at a later date. But at minimum keep the brand name, the amount you got paid, when you got paid, and keep it all in a bank account separate from yours. It is a weird transition but it makes the whole documenting and taxes situation go so much smoother.
Q: How much money do you typically earn in a month? Thank you for allowing such honest questions!!!
A: Whew. Taking a deep breath here because I have never ever talked about $, but why? Why do we all hide what we make in this industry and pretend like no one can know? So we look cooler? So people don’t know what an actual struggle it can be trying to grow? From the model above with how much $ I make 45% would be my partnership which has gone up the last couple months to more than ever before, in March we were able to pull on $7,000 just in partnerships (and yes I am still trying to wrap my mind around this). Prior months would look more like $2,500 income in collaborations and $1,500 in preset orders averaging around $4,000 a month. From 2017 to 2018 I doubled my income as a business and we just ended Q1 tripling 2018’s so I am interested to see how things grow this year (ps. keep in mind we have a ton of expenses as a business and I currently have 3 people working with me).
Q: How many hours do you work on a typical day?
Q: Have you ever purchased followers in the beginning or at one point?
A: Never have, never will. Social media can be a dirty game but it doesn’t mean you have to play it!
Q: Was it hard for companies to take you seriously when starting out so young?
A: Yes, but this was more apparent in my earlier years rather than my social media work. When I was in high school and just graduating I felt like sometimes people thought I just wanted a quick job, not believing it was what I was passionate about and wanted to prove what I could do. With social media it was different because most of the time you don’t know how old people are. Now being that I turned 21 this year, over the last 2 years I have had my fair share of partnerships tank or back out because I wasn’t old enough.
Q: Do you hire a photographer?
A: No, Bryce is my Collaboration Manager + Photographer so it is a part of his job to make me look good! ;)
Q: Is it lonely?
A: I don’t think so! Even when it was just me doing it and sitting at my desk for hours I felt so much passion for the work I was doing I never truly worried about being alone. Now I have an amazing group of supportive people and I get to talk with and meet new people everyday!
Q: For you, what is the worst part of this job?
A: Oh wow, I’ve never really sat down to think about this one. I think that there are days I don’t feel like creating content at all and I “hate it” or other days I hate feeling like I have to put so much work in and don’t have a clear path to where I want to be. But that is the same for any job in this industry or entrepreneurs in general. I love what I do, but just like everyone else there are days when I really just don’t feel like it!
Q: Intense question: do you ever have a fear of losing your mojo for what you and Bryce do?
A: Here’s the thing about what I do, it changes every single day. Most days I wake up and I’m like I wonder what is going to happen or change today. Being someone who doesn’t like doing the same thing for long, while creating content has stayed the same, I challenge us every time to get more creative with outfits, locations, techniques. I launched a digital goods shop, we are launching new products, and a new brand. So much changes and has changed in the last 2 years that I don’t see myself ever losing mojo because it constantly feels new!
Q: How do you draw the line between taking pictures and “enjoying the moment”
A: The way Bryce and I do it is work on and off. When work is on we do things for work. We go to the bowling alley for work, less for play. We go get ice-cream but for work not for sitting and chatting for hours. Instead we go and have dates and times when we don’t bring the camera at all and don’t feel pressure. We have only ever traveled for work so we are used to taking in new experiences while documenting them, but I am excited for a trip we are doing next month because it will be the first time we don’t have work and can shoot and relax as little or as much as we want!
Q: What you do is a lot of work. How often do you cry from being overwhelmed.
A: I truly believe I would not be where I am without the people by my side doing it with me. I used to be really good about not getting overwhelmed but the last year has been hard, really hard, and it gets to me quite often. I am a cryer, I cry a lot, at least 1-2 times a day for silly things. When it comes to getting overwhelmed it normally comes on really fast for me. I’ll be doing great, working a shit ton, getting so much done and then the next day I crash realizing that I haven’t kept up on eating well, or keeping my spaces clean and I haven’t taken the time to just be with the people I love in my life, and then on top of all of that I start to realize that all the work I have done is only a dent in the amount I still have to go, and I fall apart. This normally happens 1-2 times a month when I need a few days off from the pressure. But it’s funny because I remember the day I put the question tab up on my Instagram story and I had totally cried like an hour earlier from being overwhelmed and I laughed at that.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post and that it possibly helps you navigate your future journeys. Thank you for taking the time to read it. It was long but I really wanted it to cover everything I have done and felt in the last two years. It’s hard work, a lot of work, and some of the time I’ve thought I couldn’t do it or make it to where I am right now. Posting your life on social media is a weird concept to understand and I’ve worked my hardest to ensure I portray the best and most real version of myself along the way. Next month we will launch the biggest project we’ve ever worked on and I am so excited to share it and see where it takes all of this next. Cheers!