How This Woman Turned Her Social Media Presence Into a Lucrative Side Gig

A woman takes photos of her food.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017.

In fall 2014, I was stuck in a career rut. I was well on my way to becoming a researcher, studying neuroscience and working at a lab, but I could no longer see myself pursuing that path. The limited creative freedom and lack of social interactions in the field pushed me to consider other options. 

A few soul-searching conversations later, I realized there was one thing I really care about: storytelling. In fact, writing was always the activity that made me lose a sense of time. 

I had also always been interested in fashion — when I was 9, I started sketching and recreating my favorite street-style looks — but it wasn’t something I thought I could turn into a career. 

But I was wrong — and I’ve developed those interests into a paying gig as a social media influencer. Here’s what I did, and how I make money from Instagram.

How to make money from instagram
Photo courtesy of Shelcy Joseph

How I Became a Successful Social Media Influencer

While in school, I took on internships in fashion blogging to get as much experience as possible, and I signed up for writing classes to hone my craft. 

I discovered new social media platforms that made it possible to share my love for writing and connect with people. That’s how I came to create mini blog posts, or “captions,” on Instagram. I really love photography, and Instagram became my experimentation ground.

Around the same time, in August 2014, my sister and I decided to launch a fashion and lifestyle YouTube channel. We also created an Instagram account to document our personal styles and adventures in New York City. 

By the summer of 2016, we were taking our project more seriously and treating it as a part-time job on top of our main focuses as an international business student (my sister) and a full-time freelance social media consultant and writer (me). 

We now dedicate our entire weekends and five hours during the week to editing our videos, capturing content at live events, modeling, scheduling our posts on social media, pitching brands and bloggers for potential collaborations, along with other related activities. 

Our brand now aims to empower women to live up to their potential and do it all in style. We invest in the production of high-quality images and videos — purchasing editing software, working with photographers, booking studio space, directing shoots — to tell stories that delight our audience.

I never imagined this project would allow me to follow my dreams. I went from creating images and writing quirky captions to having real influence on people’s decisions about what to wear, where to shop, what to do and where to go.

How to make money from instagram
Photo courtesy of Shelcy Joseph

How to Make Money From Instagram

If you thought you couldn’t make money from your social media accounts, think again! Since July 2016, I’ve earned an average of $1,600 per month — just from our Instagram account. And yes, that’s after my sister gets her share.

How do I do it? The answer is in having different income streams.

Here are a few streams I suggest tapping into if you want to be a successful influencer.

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In Haiti, people will ask about your family faster than they will about what you do. They’ll welcome you to their home, feed you a good meal and dive into the stuff they care about the most: your relationship with your parents, how well you get along with your siblings, the way you live and who you live with. It was an early lesson in not defining people by what they do. I’ve always found it interesting how, in New York, conversations will start with questions about your job and where you live. I’ve even done it too. But as I’m approaching ten years of living in this city, I find myself going back to the values I learned while growing up in Haiti. Remembering that people are more than what they do and going beyond surface level to meaningfully connect. 📸: @patriziamessineophoto

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1. Create Sponsored Posts

It’s not always about your follower count, but the number of people who engage with your content and look forward to each one of your posts. A lot of brands are moving away from working with major digital influencers to leveraging smaller bloggers’ audiences. 

When you start, reaching out to brands is a great way to secure a few collaborations. As you gain traction, brands will discover you and email you about different opportunities. 

Every company has its specific rules for sponsorship, so do not use a one-size-fits-all approach when reaching out. Do your research and interact with them on social before initiating contact. 

The key is to associate only with brands that fit your aesthetic. That way, your readers perceive every collaboration as authentic and buy into what you’re trying to sell to them.

Within six months of launching our platform on YouTube and Instagram, we received our first sponsorship opportunity. A jewelry box subscription company found us through a hashtag and reached out. Its reps offered to send us complimentary pieces every month in exchange for a few Instagram features. 

We have since received products from Coach, TOMS Shoes, Pura Vida Bracelets and other clothing and accessories brands. 

FTC guidelines require you to identify your sponsored posts. We usually include a branded hashtag in our captions (for example, when we collaborated with Coach, it was #CoachHoliday) in addition to the required ones like #ad or #sponsored. 

We typically charge at least $75 per sponsored post, but we don’t get paid for all collaborations. Sponsored posts add up to about $600 of our income every month, which we split evenly. 

Some brands send their products as gifts; to date, we’ve received $3,000 in merchandise. Because we receive most of our accessories for free from brands, we’ve been able to cut our shopping budgets in half, saving us a combined $500 a month.

2. Sign Up for YouTube Advertising

Monetizing your videos on YouTube can earn you a passive income stream. There’s even a bonus if these ads convert! You are allowed to monetize your videos once Youtube accepts you into its Partner Program

We’ve only made about $50 from YouTube ads so far, but the more your numbers grow, the higher your income goes. 

3. Offer Private Social Media Consultations

Don’t underestimate the skills you can acquire from a side project. Creating content and growing my social media following helped me learn how to edit with Final Cut Pro and Photoshop, how to create marketing materials like brochures using graphic design tools, and how to advertise on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

I then monetized these skills by offering my services to local business owners and startups. I posted ads on Craigslist, gave out business cards at networking events, leveraged LinkedIn to generate leads and marketed myself in niche Facebook groups.  

I eventually landed a consistent gig last summer with a small business owner. I support her handbag company’s social media efforts with content production (creating images and videos) and marketing (running ads on each platform). This gig pays about $1,200 a month. 

I also occasionally help other entrepreneurs manage their social media accounts and become more visible online. My rate starts at $40 per hour, and I’ve made about $500 in the three months since I started offering the service.

How to make money from instagram
Photo courtesy of Shelcy Joseph

What’s Next?

I never set out to be an influencer. I just always loved connecting with people and bonding over common interests, like fashion, traveling and eating. 

I married my love for writing with my passion for capturing moments to create this lifestyle brand. In the future, I can see it growing into a digital media magazine that will also offer a line of products and services.

How’s that for getting paid to do what I love?

Shelcy Joseph is a freelance writer and the founder of A Millennial’s Guide to Life, a career blog where she helps multi-passionate creatives (aka multipotentialites) make a living by doing all the things they love.