I spend a lot of time researching the world of influencers and trying to identify new, up-and-coming accounts. Given how rare it is to find a true unique voice, I have to tell you, sometimes it’s a pain in the ass. But the thrill of finding someone new who is still relatively under-the-radar with 100k followers or less is what keeps me going. This happened a few weeks ago when I discovered a blogger from New Zealand with all of her fairy-tale worthy, wanderlust pictures. When this magical moment happens, I know that all the research is worth it.
Carmen Huter is an Austrian freelance writer and photographer based in New Zealand. She finished university last year and started her Instagram account last March. Six months later she got her first sponsorship deal, and since then she’s been making a living as an influencer with her Instagram account and website. I spoke to her about some of her tips and advice for running a successful Instagram account.
1. Have something else in your life, too!
One thing Carmen does that I love is that she continues to work with outside clients running their social media and websites on the side. “I love what I do, so taking some of these skills and utilizing them for freelance clients is a win-win. Plus, no matter where in the world I am, my laptop is always by my side.“ That’s amazing, because this way she can get her mind out of her other projects. Sometimes you need to step away in order to get a fresh perspective. That’s something you should try, too – this way in the beginning you will always have the money you need, and you don’t need to stress if your Instagram brings you income or not.
2. Instant mentors
Carmen admits that it’s sometimes difficult finding a mentor as an influencer, because you do most of your work in isolation. “You do everything alone, you don’t have a team. It’s not like I have a mentor I can call to inspire me.” But Carmen discovered other ways to learn more and grow professionally. Carmen explains, “I listen to tons of podcasts, I love to get perspectives from many people from different areas. You only feel stuck when you don’t develop yourself. It’s all about making progress and moving forward.” You have to find your own mentor or inspiration and learn from them. For me this person is Entrepreneur, author, and investor Gary Vaynerchuck, but I also turn to sources like the Entrepreneur magazine, the Collective magazine, and of course, podcasts.
3. Target your voice!
“There’s something unique in your voice, which at the end of the day will be translated through the uniqueness of your followers and engagement that comes with those.” – I love this sentence, it’s so true. If you know what is unique about your voice and what kind of people are listening to it, it’s so much easier to target them! Why would you be like anyone else when you can be yourself? Stop comparing yourself to the girl with XX thousand followers who posts sexy selfies, or photos of her beach body if you are nothing like her. Everyone has a different story and different people can connect to their story. Your audience will be different than hers – so why would you want to copy her?
4. Why are they following you?
It’s a question most influencers don’t think about, but it’s super important to find out how your followers perceive you and what unique value you bring to their daily lives.
For Carmen, this fact was made crystal clear when she started being recognized on the street.
“Last year was the first time someone came up to me saying, ‘I think I know you. My boyfriend and my friend also follow you. Your pictures make me feel like I can escape my daily life, and I feel like I can travel even if I can’t do it in the moment.” People always want an escape from their daily lives, or an inspiration to achieve more, travel more, and, ultimately, become a better version of themselves. Most of them are busy working, some of them are even depressed, and a picture like this can help them to get out of their reality for a while. But whatever the reason people follow you, it’s important to know what that reason is so you can stay close to your audience.
5. No labels
Being an influencer is a lot of pressure, since as soon as you become well known you are essentially labeled as this or that type of blogger, and people may expect you to follow that storyline forever. That’s not sustainable. Carmen recognizes this pressure. She says, “It’s dangerous, because as a human that’s not who we are anyway. I am definitely not the person who I was last year. I grow on a personal and professional level. And so do my followers.” This is what is so different about building a personal brand as opposed to say, a brand. A brand can be labeled and will more or less stay the same, but when you work on a personal brand, it’s impossible to pin yourself to just one label because you will always be changing. You can start out as a lifestyle blogger, then turn into a self-help blogger, then later a foodie. That’s why it’s important to build an audience around your personality, because this way it doesn’t matter what you do, people will follow you. For Carmen, Instagram led her to focus more on her photography and writing, two things she now pursues alongside her blogging career.
6. Don’t stress about it
Most influencers ask me the same question: How do I grow? Some of them are desperate to earn money with Instagram, and probably that’s one of the reasons why they never grow. They tag 25 brands in their pictures, using 200 hash tags, and people just get turned off by it. For her, during the last several months her Instagram has started to grow fast, and it’s probably because she has remained focused on enjoying what she does instead of stressing about the numbers.
“The truth is that nowadays I am less stressed about it. In the past wanting to be an influencer brought so much emotion and responsibility, even though at the end of the day I only had 200 followers. I was always checking for new follows, un-follows, I would just spend so much time on my phone. The moment your life starts to revolve around numbers the quality of your work goes down as well. You think about it differently. As I began to travel more often this year, my priorities shifted. I share on how I live. I don’t live to share. Because of this, I started getting reposted by a few big travel accounts, once that happens the Instagram community take you more seriously.”
When I advise influencers it’s always the same process: 80% talking about their personal life, their problems, what stops them, and 20% about how to build their brand. The thing is: if you don’t trust yourself, or if you are not ready, nothing is ever going to happen.
Carmen has struggled with this as well. “Self trust is super tricky. Most of the time I have it, but when I work a lot and don’t get enough sleep or I just don’t get much exercise then it’s really hard work to maintain. It can be lonely, since I don’t have a team surrounding me – yet! But I need to always remember that this thing doesn’t control me, and I can’t control it either.”
But sometimes you lose control. You don’t see your friends, you don’t even go out, and one day you wake up and all you feel is exhausted. That’s one of the side effects of being an influencer. As one of my clients says, “it’s funny that an influencer’s work is about being social, but when there’s an event, they are only on their phones, not talking to each other.” That happens when you let this whole lifestyle control you instead striving to have a nice balance in your life.
8. Don’t sell yourself!
There are two types of influencers: the ones who do this for fun, and only for the free stuff, and the others who want to earn money and progress professionally. If you are the previous type of person, stop working with brands for free! “There’s no such a thing as a free lunch. People don’t get something just because. You have to be so careful that you don’t fall into this trap. Of course if you do this as a hobby and you want to get free stuff. But for me it’s more than a hobby now, this is my profession, my love. ”
Talking to Carmen made all of my research seem worthwhile. Hopefully this post is useful to any of you who strive to make a living off Instagram or blogging.