In December 2017, a freelancer at my social media company ordered, stuffed, and shipped out 32 emoji-shaped pinatas — one to every client we worked with that year — as a holiday present.
Within 24 hours, you could watch on Instagram Stories as the marketing teams at WeWork, Food Network, and Samsung beat the you-know-what out of the aforementioned pinatas. Candy, Purell, and ChapStick flew everywhere. (Winter was coming. Give the people what they need, I say.)
When you work in the business of social media influence, this scene is just another day at the office.
The $3,500 we spent on the gifts, including the pinatas, the delivery, and the cost of labor, came to less than 1% of our annual revenue — and counted as our only marketing expense of the calendar year. But as a social media entrepreneur, I see it as more of an investment.
My social media company, @NatalieZfat, Inc., founded in 2010, brings in mid-six figures annually. We create content for some of the largest brands in the world, including Samsung, LinkedIn, and Ford.
At 33 years old, I earn a living (with the help of five freelancers) by providing content for our 30-something clients — and once-a-year holiday gifts. Here are some of the financial pros and cons of running a social media business.
As a person who gets hired to post about hotels and airlines and technology products, I'll be the first to admit: I save a lot of money on everyday expenses. I haven't purchased a computer, phone, or technology device in recent years, since technology brands are my biggest client base.
I rarely pay for clothing, since companies often offer me items to wear on-air. And I take at least three trips a year where I don't have to pull out my wallet, though it's worth mentioning that these are often work trips where I'm expected to post to social media, with a few extra days built in for sightseeing.
In the last year, I can estimate that I've received $5,000 in gratis tech, including phones, $8,000 in clothing, and $20,000 in trips including travel, hotel, and other perks.
But before you quit your day job to become an influencer, it's worth noting that there are a lot of areas I do invest in that most people over the course of their lifetimes will never have to.
As with any small business owner, staff, health care, and office costs top the list of my expenses. But as a content creator, I also shell out thousands per month on photography, advertising, and glam. On a recent vacation to Park City, I hired a photographer for $500 (including a $75 rush fee) so that I could produce one Instagram carousel post the next day.
Five hundred dollars for one Instagram might seem steep, but I publish about 300 posts yearly, and because social media essentially functions as my resume, Instagram is one of my most important investments.
If I'm working on a project where I want to get more eyeballs than the few hundred thousand people who follow me, I might also pay $200 or more for advertising for a single post.
And at least one day per week, I can be found running between hair appointments, makeup applications, and manicures, because when Samsung Mobile is your biggest client, hand close-ups are a thing.
As with any business, the only way to make a social media business work for 10 years is to get the numbers to add up. Last year, my company was able to save 29% of what we earned. And as of October 1, we will use part of those savings make our first full-time hire: a brand manager who has been freelancing for us for five years.
Running a social media business can be 24/7, but if you're willing to put in the time, find great people to help you manage clients, and think outside the pinata, I'll be the first to say: It's worth it.
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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