If you’re wondering how to make money on Instagram, welcome to the club. With everyone talking about the “gig economy” and getting rid of the dreaded 9-to-5, more people are turning to the social media juggernaut, Instagram, to be their ticket to financial freedom. After all, if Kylie Jenner can make $1 million for simply holding a bag of FitTea, there’s no reason why you can’t get in on the action, too.
Although you might think you need a Kardashian-like following to make the dream a reality, you can actually start monetizing your account with only a few thousand followers. But, in case you’re clueless on what to do, here’s a nitty-gritty guide to getting started.
You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t have loyal followers on your Instagram account. Give yourself time to build your following and create a unique voice that relates to you and whatever you’re passionate about. For Jeremy Jacobowitz, that voice was his obsession with food. When he started his Instagram account, @brunchboys, he had no intention of monetizing it. A passionate food and brunch lover, Jeremy started posting pictures of scrumptious meals just for fun. Before he knew it, he had thousands of followers. Today, he has more than 455,000 followers and generates enough income to run his account full time.
“I really don’t think I had that many followers, maybe 20 to 30 thousand,” he told Knew Money about when brands first started reaching out to him. “It came down to me being distinctive, being different and [brands] wanting to work with me — not just how many followers I had.”
Sure, having a lot of eyes on your page is important, but what makes Instagram pages valuable is the engagement. If people are engaging with your content — from liking pictures to leaving comments — it proves that you have a following that trusts you and respects your unique viewpoint.
If you’re wondering what your unique brand is, try focusing on the thing you’re passionate about. That’s what Katie Rodgers did when she started her account, @PaperFashion, to show off her art. Today, she has more than 640,000 followers and makes more than enough money from Instagram to support herself without having to hold a 9-to-5 job on the side.
“I think Instagram has served as an incredible platform to open up the world for artists to share their own voices, without having to go through some sort of gatekeeper,” she told Knew Money. “It has also allowed artists to share the creation and process of art that was never seen on such a wide scale previously, which is fascinating to me.”
Now that millennials don’t watch cable anymore, turning to things like Netflix and other streaming services, brands are desperate to reach that demogrpahic via the mediums they actually use, like social media. Last year, brands spent $1.6 billion on influencer marketing, but the days of brands throwing money at the accounts with the most followers are over. Currently, advertisers are more interested in “micro-influencers,” Instagram accounts with only a few thousand followers who get tons of engagement.
If you don’t want to wait around for brands to reach out to you first, you can get the monetization ball rolling by getting your name on influencer lists. Places like Shoutcart or Grapevine allow you to add your account to a database where brands can find you. However, not all brand partnerships are the same. The two major types are affiliate marketing and sponsored content. With affiliate marketing, you partner with brands to sell their products for a commission. Becoming an affiliate is an easy way to start making money on Instagram if you don’t have a ton of followers, but it’s going to be a little extra side cash, at best. You can start by using services like ClickBank, or even Amazon’s Affiliate Program.
With sponsored content, you’re collaborating with a brand by sharing their product on your account. Although there are plenty of influencers who simply copy and paste whatever caption the brand sends them, it’s better to tailor the content so that it fits your brand and voice. Accepting too many sponsored posts that seem off-brand might tarnish your reputation and hurt your engagement.
“I probably turn down more deals than I accept,” Jeremy said. “If I just put my name and my face on every brand that ever emailed me, I would lose my voice and people wouldn’t trust me.”
But, if sorting through unappealing offers isn’t your cup of tea, you can also take the more proactive approach and reach out directly to brands you want to work with by pitching them your collaboration ideas. And, if all this negotiation talk sounds overwhelming, you can also just leave it all up to someone else.
“I work with a manager who runs this side of things,” Katie said about her brand partnerships. “I like to focus as much time as I can on the creative side.”
If making a living on Instagram is your end-all goal, you should be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. For one, it’s not easy. Although influencers make their lives appear to be perfect on Instagram, they’re not actually eating and shopping all day. The reality is that there’s a lot of unglamorous work that’s not photo-worthy, like sitting through business meetings, writing and replying to emails and sending out invoices.
“The majority of my day is spent just editing photos and videos and emails,” Jeremy said. “I can just sit and work all night. It’s just an endless edit. It never, ever ends.”
Although everyone loves to hate the dreaded 9-to-5, the corporate world does have its fair share of perks, namely a benefits package that includes health insurance and a steady paycheck. Switching from full-time work to making a living on Instagram can be a huge mental hurdle to overcome. And, even if you’re willing to deal with the risks, there’s the fact that Instagram is merely a platform. Basing your entire income stream and business on just Instagram might leave you burned and regretting the decision later. After all, remember “Vine stars”?
“I think it’s unwise to become so dependent on a single platform as a means to earn a living,” Katie said. “Instagram is their own company and they can change the rules whenever they wish, which can impose a lot of downsides (for instance, the algorithm changes). Another platform could come around and make Instagram insignificant, too. It’s good to keep those things in mind.”
If you’re looking to take advantage of the platform and make money on Instagram, just remember that authenticity is key. If you have a genuine passion and you have a brand voice that’s unique to you, people will support you regardless of what platform you’re on. “It’s all authenticity,” Jeremy said. “At the end of the day, you can’t fake it.”
Lead image via Getty
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