Full disclosure: I'm an Instagram influencer. Over the past four years, I was able to build myself a stable side income while getting my second degree. Building an influencer business wasn't easy, but it's also far from impossible—and it shouldn't be a secret. It doesn't help anyone when insiders gate-keep information about ways to succeed within any industry, and social media is just that: a booming industry.
So if you're already in the beginning stages of learning how to monetize your Instagram account, or are just plain interested in doing so, here are some steps you can take to build your platform, establish your brand, and grow your following so you can make money on Instagram as an influencer. All you need to start is WiFi.
Building your brand
Before you even begin to think about monetizing your social media platform, ask yourself: Why do I want to break into the influencer marketing industry? What do I intend on doing with the community that I grow? If you get clear on this, you can come up with a concise approach to curating your page.
Your IG feed is a curation of snapshots into your world or brand. It tells the viewers coming to your page about the things you align yourself with and support (or don't). But growing on Instagram is not just about making a pretty feed; it's about building something that is relatable to others. And it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Researching the niche that you want to promote is a great step in the right direction, but taking initiative to get started is even better.
Because, remember: There will never be a "right" time to start; you will fail, and make mistakes. That's honestly a huge part of social media, because on it you are always under public scrutiny and there will always be room to learn. The best way to begin to grow your business or brand (especially since there are plenty of opportunities to go viral every day) is simply to start.
Aim for monetization and multi-platform
Brainstorm ways to monetize. Do you love, say, plants? Share photos and videos of your in-home greenery. Each time you post on Instagram, showcase teasers for your blog posts and urge your community to head over to that platform as well. The same goes for sending followers from your Instagram to your TikTok and back. Once you have a following of folks who expect you to post beautiful and informative houseplant how-tos and recommendations, you can start reaching out to plant brands you love to see if they're interested in a partnership.
But: Think before you partner
After all, it's easy to take a picture with a product and call it an #ad; it's not always as easy to fit a product into your Instagram feed in a genuine way. This is where upholding your personal brand pillars before partnering with a brand is essential. Even if the pay is good, you would not want to support something that is completely out of line with your brand.
Regardless of the payment structure, you will be representing the brand you're promoting—and, inherently, incorporating their values into your content. So before you agree to a partnership, think back to why you started your platform, and remember your ideal consumer. Would she be into this content? Would it feel authentic to her? Would it inspire her? Asking yourself these questions will help you figure out what brands you'll want to work with—and which are better left for someone else.
Partnerships broken down
So you want to start working with brands, but aren't sure how to even begin contacting them. Here are a few pointers to get you started.
Search the company site and socials
First, do a quick review of their website, including under their "contact" section. Many websites have a social media or partnership contact to whom you can reach out to to pitch a partnership. If that doesn't work, go over to Instagram and see if the brand has an "email" or "contact" button—or just DM them asking if they have a PR contact to whom you can send a pitch.
Craft your pitch
When it comes to pitching, an influencer will typically have a template that they'll slightly customize for each brand they send it to. To take it a step further, you can also include a custom deck of what you imagine working with the brand will look like. If you already have partnerships on your resume, you can send through your media kit with insights and brands that you've previously worked with.
When pitching, make sure you have a goal in mind as to whether you want to make this type of work an occasional source of side income, or are hoping to gear up to doing it full-time. If you're hoping to transition to full-time social media work, think about a variety of different kinds of income that you can accumulate; that can mean offering courses or consultant services in addition to brand partnerships, and more.
Brand ambassador roles
Working with brands is a lot more work than just holding up a product and smiling with it. There are a lot of guides about different ways to price yourself, but one way to approach it is to break your fees into hourly wages; how long is it going to take you to negotiate with the brand, prepare for the shoot, and actually produce the content to be posted (including editing)? Then add a fee for incorporating that into your feed as well.
Starting with multiple brand ambassador roles is a great way to transition towards working in social media full-time. These programs are a great way to build either extra residual income or a steady, ongoing side hustle. They can work in a few different ways of payment, including:
Product exchanged for posting
This is when the brand either sends you an item for free, or provides you with a service such as a hotel room or trip, in exchange for a set number of Instagram posts and/or Stories. Then, there's also the potential to gain compensation through an affiliate link—if you post about that hotel and share an affiliate link for your followers to book their own stay, you'll earn commission when they do. Typically, smaller companies work with this kind of brand ambassador structure, but verified brands sometimes use it as well.
Flat fee or hourly rate
The other payment modes frequently used by brands are: paying a flat fee weekly for the work you do; or calculating your time worked and paying per hour. Choose which you're more comfortable with based on your own schedule and the amount of work you anticipate you'll be putting into the partnership.
Where to look
Where can you find a legitimate Brand Ambassador role? Brands work with agencies that help organize communication and logistics with each BA, since these programs are typically nationwide. If you think you are right for a BA role, the best sites to find them are agencies' job boards: Archrival Agency, Campus Commandos, Campus Collaborative, Fuse Marketing, Her Campus Media, and Riddle & Bloom. Some BA roles are run in-house and listed directly on the brand's website or job page—Beachwaver, Kendra Scott, and Redbull are just a few.
Consistency and momentum
There truly is no "right" amount that you should be posting on Instagram. That said, the more you post, the more opportunities arise for you to work with brands. And as you grow your following and become an expert in your field, you may want to consider building some kind of residual income as mentioned earlier—whether that's through affiliate codes or by building an online course, ebook, blog, or coaching business.
Once you see initial success with the growth of your account, it is important to stay consistent with posting, innovating, and interacting with your audience. You may have heard the saying that "you need to complete 10,000 hours to master a skill." Well, the only way that you will get there on Instagram is by continuing to create. The biggest thing that comes out of that creation? The momentum you achieve by creating and posting consistently and authentically.
Cultivating a community
As for me, I found a passion for helping others through our shared experiences—talking about body image, struggling with chronic illness, and more. Through my Instagram platform, I have been able to inspire and lead people as they overcome their own struggles. I have found ways to partner with brands organically that promote things like body confidence and sustainable living. I have become very picky about the brands I work with, and while I've grown and diversified my partnership portfolio as an influencer, I have also stayed true to my values.
If you begin to take partnerships that don't reflect your brand, your community will pick up on this—and it's likely they will engage less. A paycheck is nice, but a community that constantly supports the work you do is even nicer.
Getting the help and training you need
Building a brand does not happen overnight; it requires a significant amount of dedication as well as an openness to pivot and implement new strategies. And for many creators who begin to see more of the momentum I mentioned above? Suddenly, they need help. And that's totally normal. Hire the coach and the accountant, pay for the online course, take the webinar or workshop, staff up, do whatever it is you need to help your brand thrive.
If you want to be a conscious creator, you should always be holding yourself accountable with the content that you produce—while also investing into educating yourself on ways to be better. Working as an influencer is actually a very comprehensive and diverse job. It requires negotiating, ideating, styling, shooting, editing, curating, scheduling, and more.
And learning how to do everything necessary to start—and continue—making money on Instagram requires research, constant shifting, and committing to being more inclusive. There is always something new you can learn, some way you can improve. And as a creator and influencer, you should be actively be pursuing that—for the betterment of your brand, and because your community deserves it.