I'm a social media influencer, and I make more money each year than the U.S. president.
This isn't a political statement, or a boast: It's just the answer to one of the most common questions I get asked: "How much money do you actually make being a social media influencer?"
While I'm sure my accountant prefers that I don't disclose my exact income, I can say that the U.S. president earns an annual salary of $400,000 — and my company @NatalieZfat, Inc., founded in 2010, does better than that. My team of freelancers and I make a living by creating content, events, and experiences for some of the largest brands in the world, including Samsung, Sotheby's Home, and Ford (the car company, not the president).
I earn a mid-six-figure salary that allows me to pursue the projects I care about, make investments I believe in, and take time off when I need to. And while a career in social media involves a constant state of learning (and unlearning), I'm proud to say that business is good.
Here's how I keep the dollars flowing in.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared with Grow the story of how my company gifted 32 emoji pinatas to our 32 clients in 2017. What I didn't share was the response when Instagram stories of my 32 clients swatting pinatas emerged. First: "Natalie, it's so on-brand that your holiday gifts triggered social media posts." But then: "32 clients?! What a good year you must have had!"
While I can't complain about our 2017 (we out-earned our 2016 revenue by 59%), what most people don't realize is, in the business of influence, "32 clients" doesn't really tell you how well someone is doing. Some of my 32 clients may only hire my company once a year, while other clients end up hiring an in-house social media manager because of how much growth we've helped them achieve, rendering our services obsolete.
A more consistent client — a technology company that I filmed with two days a month in 2017 — signed in May and paid us a monthly retainer of $10,000 through December.
And on the other end, a top movie studio hired me twice over those same 12 months — at $2,500 a pop — to host two movie screenings, one with less than a week's notice.
See where I'm going with this? The number of clients we have doesn't necessarily indicate how much we will earn from said clients.
And while my company does have some longer contract clients, it can be risky to scale the business because we don't always have visibility into the next six months (or six days). Especially since I have a good amount of expenses.
How can someone confidently hire an employee, or rent an office, when they don't know if they're going to have 12 clients next month or two? Especially if it's unclear if a first-time client will be responsible for 2% of your total revenue or 20%?
The way I've made my business grow — and generate a consistent revenue stream — is to treat every client with the same amount of enthusiasm and commitment. I've seen this pay dividends when the client who only hires me once or twice in a year recommends me to another brand because of how professional and reliable they find me to be.
There's an unfortunate stereotype in my industry that influencers who reach out to brands are considered desperate for work (or, in internet speak, "thirsty"). People seem to forget that bloggers are business people. And what kind of business would you be running if you didn't pursue the clients you want?
To create more visibility into my business's pipeline (and perhaps to combat the above stereotype), I changed my client outreach strategy over the past few years and started pitching brands consistently. And while we haven't won every client we've pitched (or even half) over the last two years, my business has evolved from less than 5% won business to nearly 20%.
In some cases, I go back to a brand who first approached me with a new idea. I have found this is the easiest way to land a deal — likely because the brand has already "vetted" me and knows my work ethic.
Other times, we have reached out to new companies — like 1-800-Flowers, who we cold-emailed for a Valentine's Day event this year. A few months after a job well done, they again signed on the dotted line for a Mother's Day event.
Signing deals where I determine the timeline for deliverables — such as social media posts and blog content — has given me the security to rent a small office space, give team members bonuses for jobs well done, and hire our first full-time employee.
Here's to the next four years.
Natalie Zfat is a social media entrepreneur who was recently honored by WeWork for having "cracked the code of the freelance economy." Follow her on Instagram @nataliezfat.
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