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.