Behind the Screens: Influencer Business Part 2

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The question that I’m asked over and over and over again is “how do you make money?” and also “how much money do you make?”.

This Influencer industry is one of those that doesn’t have a “typical” or predictable annual salary like some other career fields or jobs. Like many creative industries, the income potential varies dramatically.

There is a lot to cover here so I’m just going to dive right into my 2 main streams of revenue: Contracts and Affiliate earnings.

Since signing with an agency in 2015, my contract breakdown is about 90% provided by my agency, and 10% self-pursued. A contract with a brand can vary widely and can be as simple as a few Instagram stories for a flat rate or can be an ongoing long-term contract with a variety of deliverables for a flat rate.

A birds-eye view of what the contract process looks like (again, this is shared from my perspective as a creator, and I’m sure a marketing professional would have a more thorough take on this):

A brand wants to pursue an Influencer marketing opportunity. Brand hires an agency to run the influencer marketing program. Agency reaches out to talent management agencies or directly to the influencer. Talent management vets talent to create an ideal partnership between brand and influencer. Influencer agrees (or if it’s not the right fit, declines) and the contract is developed. The influencer creates content and sends it to the agency for legal approval. Marketing agency running program requests edits or approves the content. Approved content goes live on a predetermined date. 

Again, this is a birds-eye view here but that is most commonly how a contract gets off the ground. In some cases, a brand will contract an influencer directly, and in some cases, an influencer will contact a brand directly to pursue a partnership. There are so many different ways to connect and partner with brands, and each influencer and brand has their preferred way of doing this.

In the case of contacting a brand directly, it seems that the most common way to reach out these days is via Instagram DM. I’ve certainly done that, and have also been contacted that way as well. Instagram is the King of content and contacts right now.

At any given time I could have 8-15 contracts underway at the same time, but all with varying deliverables and time commitments/post dates. This number fluctuates in seasons as well. Some contracts are quick turnaround, like Billie Razors for example. Others, like my Sephora Squad deliverables, take weeks or months to fully flesh out from conception to publishing.

In my experience, contracts are most often a flat-rate fee in exchange for deliverables. So, it would be like $X dollars for 5 Instagram stories with a trackable swipe-up link. Or it could be a larger fee in exchange for a year-long contract that includes exclusivity, travel (now a thing of the past), educational opportunities, etc. Each contract is organized by the brand and marketing team, so they vary quite dramatically.

It should come as no surprise that I love long-term contracts. Not only for the stability it provides for my income and family, but also it gives me a chance to really settle in on a brand as a true ambassador. I’ve had an ongoing year-long contract with Home Chef, for example, and love it because 1.) is something I would buy on my own and 2.) I get to naturally and seamlessly talk about it monthly, instead of at sporadic times during the year. This method doesn’t work for every brand, but it’s definitely my preferred route.

Another revenue stream is using affiliate links. Affiliate links are trackable links that when used, allows me to earn a percentage of the sale. The percentage varies quite a bit from retailer to retailer but what makes it so simple is that it doesn’t come with any commitments or obligations from the brand. You earn as much as you want/can based on how many affiliate links you use*.

RewardStyle and Amazon are my two most used affiliate link providers. There are many other options as well, but since these are the two I’m most familiar with I’ve chosen to focus on them. Here is a very simple way to explain how Rewardstyle works:

Rewardstyle houses over 5k retailers in their network. Loft is one of those retailers, so I’ll use Loft as an example.

If I want to share a great sweater from Loft on my blog or social, I will use a plug-in on my computer, or the app on my phone, to go to Loft’s website and get my RewardStyle affiliate link. I copy and paste it into wherever I’m sharing about the item, most commonly in the “swipe-up” on Instagram Stories. If anyone clicks on or swipes up on that specific link and ends up making a purchase, I will earn a percentage from that sale. This doesn’t affect the price that the consumer pays. It’s essentially a way to get paid by the brand for trying and/or recommending an item. Think of it as marketing or advertising.

Affiliate earnings only work if someone makes a purchase from the link itself, so it is a bit more unpredictable than a flat-rate contract. After doing this job for a long time, I’ve been able to learn what works and what doesn’t work for me when it comes to using affiliate links. Like most things, every influencer has their own take on how to use them.

Personally, I try my best to use affiliate links on things I own or would happily purchase. I feel best when I’m using an affiliate link for something I’ve purchased and can recommend from personal experience. When creating gift guides or providing links to similar items at different price points, I try to make a point to read reviews and do my best to provide a helpful resource when using an affiliate link.

There are certainly other ways to earn revenue in this field, but those are my two main channels. Co-branding products, consulting, creating and selling your own products, etc. are just a few of the other ways to earn an income as well.

A few common Q&A’s:

One. What is the breakdown of your annual revenue? What percentage are affiliate and what percentage are contracts? Ballpark is about 60/40 contracts to affiliate links.

Two. Does Instagram pay you? No.

Three. What is an average salary? This is impossible to answer! There is a huge range of income potential and a ton of things factor into it. Monthly income can range anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands, meaning the annual revenue can vary dramatically as well. For my family, when my business was earning more than what my husband made at his job in engineering, we felt it was the right time to shift gears and pivot to my business being our primary income for our family. Many, many other factors played into this but I’m just touching on the financial part for the sake of this post.

Four. Can you make real money? No monopoly money here, so yes 😉

Five. Do you pay for advertising? Occasionally, and I mean like 3-5 times a year, I’ll pay to “boost” a post on Instagram or Facebook. In general, though, I much prefer organic “word of mouth” advertising.

Six. What platform do you earn the most on? And which do you earn the least on? Right now, Instagram is the highest priority for sponsored posts as that is where the majority of my reach is. Websites, YouTube, and other platforms (Podcasting these days) are also very important places to create content and keep growing. It’s unwise to build your house on rented land, and Instagram is rented land. One algorithm change and your reach and conversion rate can be dramatically altered! I’ve recently noticed a shift back to blogs which I’m happy to see! Instagram is still the preferred platform for many because it offers quick, engaging content that grabs the viewer, but a website offers the chance to provide more information in one place. Plus, you own it so everything is yours and you control it.

In terms of “earning the least” Twitter is really of no value to me anymore, so that would be how I would answer the latter half of that question.

I hope this post was interesting and taught you something you didn’t know about the financial side of this business. While I primarily focused on income potential and revenue streams, it seems important to also mention the cost of running a business like this.

Like I said earlier, nearly every influencer runs their business differently. Some outsource as much as possible while others try to do a lot of the work themselves. I know of influencers without agents that are doing extremely well, and others with agents that are doing extremely well. It truly varies so much from person/business to person/business.

Some of my business expenses include website hosting, design, security, equipment (lighting, camera, computers, etc), office rental, materials, and more. I also have a salaried employee and contractors (design, photography, video) that work for me as well.

Given the fast-moving nature of my job, there is a constant need to stay ahead of trends in social media. I enjoy this challenge, and I think that is what keeps it fun. For a short while, it seemed important for everyone to have a TikTok presence, and then the introduction of Reels to Instagram suddenly became more important, and so on. From a technical point of view: it is digital content creation mixed in with marketing and advertising. And from my point of view as someone who has been doing this for 10 years: it’s the coolest opportunity in the world to be able to create and share digital content, partner with brands I love, and take deep satisfaction in knowing that some of you who follow along have learned something from what I’ve shared.

I originally created this website as a place for me to share “small things” in my life that I enjoyed. And 10 years ago that started as sharing a fun new lipstick or a funny story about my cats. 10 years later, there is still cat and lipstick content, but I’ve also gotten to share so much more of my life, family, and love of all things beauty with you which has been a lot of fun.

*affiliate earnings vary from retailer to retailer, and the total cost of the item affects the earning potential as well. If a customer buys and then returns an item from an affiliate link, the earning is adjusted accordingly.

Care to read part 1? Click here.

Leave a Comment

Comments (25)

  1. Britt says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    I understand if this is too personal to answer, but I’m wondering what the typical fee percentage that a talent management agency collects? Thank you if you’re able to answer!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 17, 2021

      Seems like in general it’s about 10-20%

  2. Sherry says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    It is so interesting to read how things work for you in the background. I always hate to see when people tell you they get tired of seeing you post things that are “sponsered”……it’s your business and how you make money. Thank you for sharing and creating content !!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 17, 2021

      Thanks Sherry!

  3. Lori says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    How can it be trusted that the product you are promoting is really something that truly works or does what it says based on knowing that you are giving positive feedback for money?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 17, 2021

      Well, personally I only partner with brands whose products I actually use. I want there to be no difference between something I would recommend on my blog versus something I would recommend to a friend.

      • Lori says
        Posted March 17, 2021

        That’s awesome! I have always been curious to ask you and since you posted this I thought I would. I am a huge fan and I always love everything you suggest! l hope you didn’t take it the wrong way. I have been following your blogs and post since 2010 or before! I live in NC too! You inspired me to go see Jordan at DCS and have been going to him for a few years now! My hair is so much healthier since going to him! Thank you for your honesty!

        • Kate says
          Posted March 17, 2021

          Awesome!

  4. Jamie says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Very insightful – thanks for posting! I clicked the link on your Twitter to read this 🙂

  5. Andrea says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Fantastic post. Very informative and transparent. Thank you.

  6. Posted March 17, 2021

    This series is so interesting and helpful! Thanks for sharing, Kate! ❤️✨

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  7. Michele says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Thanks for breaking this down! Being a teacher who has had to spend a lot of time working remotely due to Covid, I often heard my husband say he had no idea what really goes into my job (as he’s in a very different field) so I’ve been seeking to learn more about how different careers work. I read your blog daily and appreciate that you took the time to explain it to the influencer layperson!

    One thing I was curious about, and often am when I read your blog, is how you reach out to brands to seek a partnership. Is it “hmm, I really like this mascara, let’s see if I can partner with them” or is there something more to it? Do you have products/brands you want to try and see if they’ll help you do that through a partnership?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 17, 2021

      It’s nice to let people in a bit to understand all that goes into it! For the most part if I feel really strongly that I would be a great fit for a brand to partner with, I’ll reach out and explain why I think we should work together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have two instances in the pipeline where it worked and hopefully will be able to share more soon 😉

  8. Jennifer says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve been following you for a while now and enjoy your content! I’ve been a contributor on many of your affiliated links because you have great taste!!😂 Thanks for always being positive and inspiring!!

  9. Jules says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Do you ever feel guilty if someone clicks on a link, doesn’t buy the item you recommended, but buys something else from the same retailer a few weeks later and you get commission?
    This is my main concern with the cookies that are placed by RStyle.
    I have no problem with an influencer making money on something they recommended, but I do wonder about them making money off of unrelated items.

    • Kate says
      Posted March 17, 2021

      I understand this question for sure! I guess the way I look at it is from the original reference to an item in the first place? And also, it doesn’t cost the consumer anything extra!

  10. Melissa says
    Posted March 17, 2021

    Thank you for giving some insight into a field which many of us are unfamiliar with. I have bought several items you have recommended but it definitely helps to know how you get credit for doing the product demo and research for me. Keep up the great work 😊

  11. Natasha says
    Posted March 18, 2021

    Wow! That’s a lot of information! Lol! But thank you for explaining it all! It’s sounds like a lot of work, and you always have to be on top of things, trends etc… something I could never do! 😂 I am just too lazy for that! Haha!
    But you are pretty good at it and honestly very realistic. I follow other influencers and they kinda seem fake and not very engaging. So thank you for been real!!!

  12. Stephanie says
    Posted March 18, 2021

    Thanks for sharing, this was very insightful and interesting! I first found you many years ago (before you had kids) on Pinterest. Does Pinterest play a roll in revenue for influencers?

  13. Mary says
    Posted March 19, 2021

    I found you on pinterest circa 2012 and have really enjoyed seeing your content expand and reach so many! Thanks for letting us in on the behind the scenes.

  14. Jen says
    Posted March 21, 2021

    Do you know who purchased a particular item from your affiliated links? Or is it Anonymous?
    This is such a great topic, thank you for explaining it more. I love watching your videos and seeing what you recommend!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 21, 2021

      always totally anonymous 🙂

  15. Posted March 26, 2021

    This is so interesting, I’ve never heard all of this explained so plainly before. I didn’t even know agencies existed! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. Becca says
    Posted March 29, 2021

    Very interesting! Thanks for the informative read! You’re awesome!