Part of me hates that I am about to write this but here we go, y’all! Long before the term influencer was ever coined, I got my start in the social media marketing game. Back then, we had no idea what to call ourselves. On Twitter, where I started out, we threw around the terms publisher, social media marketer, and twitter-preneur. Thankfully, the term twitter-preneur never made a real splash. The term influencer definitely sounds a bit sleeker and more glamorous. Unfortunately, these days, the term influencer has gained a somewhat negative connotation.
Nowadays, when you hear someone use the word influencer, you probably think of a snobby, self-obsessed airhead who tries to get by on freebies and booty pics. The ease of sharing everything online has led to an oversaturation of people who call themselves influencers. A lot of people associate negative things with influencers. And it’s fair. Some people who managed to amass large followings have done so in less than reputable ways. Cheap marketing stunts, attention-seeking YouTubers, endless booty pics… Yeah, the criticism is fair.
But let’s get one thing straight. Everyone is different and the world of social media and influencer marketing is a massive industry and growing by the minute. The Internet has changed the marketing landscape forever. It is unfair to generalize an entire industry of mostly quiet, humble, and hard-working people. Most of us are unassuming people who simply jumped at an opportunity to live a different lifestyle and chase a unique career path.
It also doesn’t take into account the amount of work that most of us put in in order to reap the benefits of our hard work. Trust me, I have met some awful influencers that have made me want to quit Instagram forever. I know where that stereotype comes from. I went to a beach clean-up once in Bali. If you are familiar with Bali’s overwhelming influencer culture… Let’s just say that I should have known that there would be more drone photoshoots than actual cleaning up.
On the flip side, I have met some incredible influencers who live their lives to the fullest long before they even think about what will constitute a good Instagram picture. I consider myself to fall in the latter. Or at least I desperately hope I do.
This brings me to my first and most important point. It sounds corny as all hell but hey.
My least favorite thing about influencer culture is just how fake it can be sometimes. Photoshopped pictures, photoshopped humans, exaggerated stories, hell, completely fabricated stories, etc. Even the real and untouched pictures often don’t tell the entire story. Whenever I’m traveling and stumble into a popular Instagram location, it baffles me just how many people wait in line to strike a pose for three seconds just so they can throw up a pic on Instagram showing them having way more fun than they are actually having in real life.
My first rule of being a social media influencer is simply: don’t be fake. It is better for all of us that way, especially you.
Some people put up a faux persona on social media to portray a seemingly better, more luxurious lifestyle than they actually live. If you can’t afford to go on luxury vacations all the time, then building your entire online persona over the three weeks of vacation you get per year probably isn’t the smartest thing to do. And that doesn’t just go for travel. If you brand yourself as a restaurateur but can’t afford to eat out all that often, it’s not going to work out. If you post booty pics and talk about booty gains nonstop but photoshop all of your pics, a lot of people are going to be very confused when you don’t live up to who you are.
Don’t be fake.
Stick to who you are and what you are capable of
Don’t set the bar so high that you can’t actually deliver. It’s easy to start out when you have a backlog of amazing travel pics saved up from the year that you studied abroad. Once you start running out of content because you don’t actually travel all that much, it becomes a problem. I’m not saying that it’s hopeless to start a travel page if you can’t travel full-time. Most travel influencers I know have regular jobs that they focus on 90% of the time. From retail workers to cashiers to Lyft drivers, most of us hustle in real life. If you want to start a travel page, absolutely go for it.
But just be realistic.
The most important thing is to focus on who you are and what you are actually capable of. Take me for example. I love to travel and I love to have a good time. I also can’t afford 5-star resorts and bottle service at the clubs. Yes, in the beginning, I thought it might be sexier and more exciting to portray myself as a world-traveling, wealthy badass who splurges like no other. I quickly realized that that was not me. What I lack in wealth and fame, I made up for in snark and self-deprecation.
Flexing is good for the short-term. Being who you are will take you much farther in the long run.
Instead of trying to portray a lavish lifestyle that I couldn’t possibly maintain, I decided to focus on things that were within my realm of expertise and capabilities. Mainly, the ins and outs of backpacker lifestyle, targeted towards solo travelers, youth travelers, and budget travelers. Through that, I grew an audience of like-minded adventurers. My audience might be completely different had I gone another route but I’m more than happy with the community I’ve become a part of today.
Be who you are and let your personality shine. Your Instagram pictures might woo potential followers but you need to deliver the knockout punch through your personality. Everyone is witty, clever, and charismatic in their own ways. Just find what works for you and roll with it. Captions and Instagram stories are a great way to let your audience get to know you beyond just the highlights of your life. It is also much easier to do this day-in and day-out without losing interest if your job is literally just being yourself. It only starts taking a lot of effort when you have to force yourself to be something that you’re not.
Step number two.
Figure Out Your Audience
Who is it exactly that you want to appeal to? Since this is a travel blog and my audience is mainly travelers, then you know the answer for me. You stumbled onto this blog because I knew my audience. I knew what information they wanted to seek out and which platforms they would use to find it. Y’all are the people that immediately whip out Google as soon as they need to know something. Backpackers, solo travelers, uni holidayers, gap year kids, and so on. My fellow millennials, ya feel?
And I’m writing this for you, knowing that you want something quick and easily digestible. You don’t want walls of information textbook-style otherwise you would be in your local Barnes and Nobles scoping out the latest issue of Frommer’s or Lonely Planet.
Figure out who exactly you want to appeal to and why exactly they would want to follow you. What do you offer that other travel bloggers can’t? When I got started, there were no other travel bloggers out there that gave as much attention and focus to the social side of traveling like I did. I’m out here answering the hard-hitting questions like “how can I get cocaine in Colombia” or “is it advisable to pull an all-nighter at a rave in an abandoned swimming pool right before you go on a multi-day trek up one of the most grueling volcanoes in the Americas?”
For bloggers, that means don’t repeat the same old stuff that everyone else has been repeating. If you write a blog about ten things to do in Paris, prepare for literally no one to ever read it because every travel blogger has been there, done that. For a popular destination like that, you are going to want to go real specific and real unique. For example, for a blog like mine, it could be something like “seven nightclubs in Paris to hit up on a Thursday.” Think about the niche of your blog and work with it. Feel free to write about anything and everything you want. Just know that SEO-wise, generic blog posts will get eaten up unless they are truly something special.
For Instagrammers, oh boy. You might want to check out my dissertation on this. I mean, it’s not actually a dissertation but I wrote up over ten pages on how to get more Instagram followers for a travel account a couple of years ago. Although Instagram has changed a little, the principles still remain (mostly) the same. Long story short, find your niche, target your audience, and perfect your profile. It’s all in the profile. You get maybe 5 seconds of someone’s time for them to decide whether or not they want to follow you. A name like @thepartyingtraveler stands out immediately. A bio filled to the brim with puns and one-liners gives off the vibe that I ain’t your typical wanderlusty twenty-something travel chick. Pictures? Knock ’em out of the park.
Actually, I’ve kind of backtracked on the importance of pictures. I used to think pictures were the most crucial part of gaining Instagram followers but if you could see how awful my pictures were even just a year ago, you would wonder how I had any followers at all. Actually, you can see how terrible they are. Those over-saturated abominations are still all on my profile. But underneath those abominations? A mixture of witty captions, memorable anecdotes, and honest experiences. My Instagram identity overruled the flaws I had elsewhere. People forgave my mediocre photography because I was someone they could relate to and someone they could trust when it came to travel advice and genuine experiences.
Build Your Audience
I know what you’re saying. No shit, Eli. Isn’t having an audience what being an influencer is all about? Well… Yes and no. You can’t be an influencer if you have no one to influence. But also, being an influencer does not require you to have millions of followers.
I’ve only got about fifty thousand followers on Intagram. In the grand scheme of things, that is a tiny fraction of what the big shots pull. However, being among the biggest in my niche is more valuable than having a million followers as one of thousands in your niche. I remember meeting a guy who ran a hookah page that had about 1,500 followers. With that, he was getting deals for way more than I was getting at the time. On the other hand, I could get paid more than someone with five million followers whose only talent is sticking their butt out next to a container of whey protein. It is not just about followers.
Having a highly-engaged and loyal audience who cares about what you have to say is much more important than having a ton of followers who wouldn’t even notice if you stopped posting. I may not have the biggest follower-base but having a smaller audience that you have genuine relationships with are, again, much more important.
This is way easier said than done. The best advice I can give you is to take it slow and set attainable goals at first. The reason most people want to become influencers in the first place is because it gives them more freedom and seems like a lot more fun than a typical 9 to 5 job. Keep that in mind. Have fun with it first and celebrate each small victory. Use social media as a platform to make friends and the rest will follow.
For concrete tips on building an audience that you can start on literally right now, here’s that massive guide again that I wrote up on how to get more Instagram followers.
Learn How To Market Yourself
Okay great. Now you’ve got Instagram followers. When does the being rich and famous stuff start? Do you just wait for brands to reach out to you? Do you just hope for businesses to start noticing you?
Eh. With the over-saturation of the influencer market and a few rotten apples making a bad name for the rest of influencers, you have to be much more proactive now. Most of the time, you will have to be the hunter. The best deals will not just magically appear in front of you. At the start of your influencer journey, you will personally have to seek them out and hunt them down. It is not always easy but your future self will thank you later.
Take for example, one of my favorite projects I have ever done. I was in South Africa at a bit of a crossroads. I had a flight already booked to leave South Africa but I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. I decided to miss my flight and wing it in South Africa for as long as I could. No itinerary, no plans, and no idea what I was doing. I checked my emails the night of my flight and saw that Baz Bus had replied to an inquiry I sent a few days prior. It was about an overland tour through Africa that I had considered as a possible option for a route to take if I decided to stay. They told me that tour was actually ran by a separate company and they would pass along my proposal, but that in the meantime, they would love to work with me in South Africa. They would not have had noticed me otherwise had I not shot my shot a few days earlier.
Consider it like this. Everything you do now, all of the hard work that you put in, and the hours of grit and grind and hustle that seems to lead nowhere… That’s what gets you places. The results may not happen for a while. This goes for everything you’re doing. You might write a killer blog post that gets no views. You might send out twenty marketing pitches and not get a single response back. Shit, this goes for everything. You can hit the gym every day for a month and not see results for weeks afterwards.
Trust the grind and stay true to the process. Once the results start pouring in, it’s like a Christmas present from your past self to your future self. I couldn’t describe my happiness when I got that email from Baz Bus. I trusted the universe and the universe delivered. But it wasn’t from luck or sheer chance. If I had not reached out and detailed my pitch, then I would have never received that gift from the universe. Everything that happens to you is because of something that you did in the past. Hustle, yo.
Tangible Things You Need To Market Yourself
Aside from your character and work ethic, there are a few tangible ways you can market yourself. As an influencer, you are going to want a press kit, a portfolio of previous work, testimonials, and a clean track record.
This is pretty much something that you send out to companies that you work with or make publicly available for brands that are seeking you out. It showcases who you are and what you can do. It’s almost like an online resume that you have all of the freedom in the world to individualize to yourself. Here is mine, although it is constantly evolving as I grow, learn, and add projects under my belt.
Portfolio of Previous Work
Get together things that you have done in the past and have them readily available and easily accessible for people wanting to know more about what you can do. Even if you are just starting out, find anything you can that shows off your talents. Your best pictures, your best blog posts, your engagement statistics, whatever.
This isn’t important to start off with but you should definitely have a plan to eventually use a few of these to market yourself. After every project, ask them what they thought and if it would be okay to grab a quote from them about your collaboration or project. I do this all the time regardless, just to make sure that the client is happy, and if they aren’t, what I can do to improve and how to bridge the gap between expectations and reality.
Clean Track Record
Kind of like a background check, this just means that you shouldn’t have anything bad about you online or within influencer and brand networks. Basically, if you agree to do work, then actually do it to the best of your ability. People talk and brands notice which people follow through on their promises. The higher the standard you set for yourself, the more people will start to notice.
Once you’ve got all of this together, figure out what type of companies fit well with your audience and niche. You should already have an idea by the time you’re finished with your media kit. As a travel influencer, you have a wide variety of options. Hotels, hostels, tour companies, apparel, and many more can fit easily with a travel influencer. I’ve stumbled into other influencer communities and it can be vastly different. Like who knew baby food and trash cans and toothpaste needed influencers to market for them? Stick to what your audience likes and what can fit organically with your brand.
Prepare for a lot of rejection.
A lot of people are going to say no when you first start reaching out.
Take the time to adjust every pitch individually. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sealing the deal with a brand or business. Sending out a generic email with just your media kit attached is a surefire way of getting your pitch ignored. Even something as simple as showing that you did the research to find out the name of the company’s marketing director can go a long way. It shows that you are willing to truly dedicate yourself to a project instead of simply copy and pasting a pitch and spraying wildly to hundreds of companies.
The more effort you put into each individual pitch, the less rejections you will get and the more success you will find.
Build Relationships With Companies and Businesses
Once you find work with a brand, don’t just approach it with the mindset to get it done and cash out. I have worked on the influencer outreach side of things before and was shocked at how many influencers lacked business savvy or professionalism. Every person, brand, business, and so on that you communicate with is a potential bridge to new opportunities. Even if you have no interest in working with someone, it is an opportunity to spark a relationship that pays off in the future.
How To Reach Out To Brands and Businesses
Be real. Be respectful. Be relentless.
Be honest with what you can do for the company that you are reaching out to. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep because that will reflect poorly on you in future campaigns. Understand that in most situations, you are the one asking for the opportunity. There will be the occasional time when a brand puts out a casting call for influencer opportunities but for the most part, you are the one reaching out. You are the one asking for the opportunity. It is your duty to not only grab their attention but to completely turn their heads and seal the deal. In short, you are the one that needs to sell yourself and try to convince the company to meet you halfway.
Be humble and respectful. A lot of companies are going to say no. Don’t make a fool of yourself by taking rejection poorly. Understand that not everyone is looking to work with influencers all the time. Understand that many brands and businesses still don’t realize the value of influencer marketing.
After every rejection, take a look at your pitch and think about how you can improve. Nitpick every detail. Make minor tweaks. Make complete overhauls. You grow and learn through every rejection. Every failure comes with a learning opportunity.
Put Your Best Effort Into Every Project
When you finally get those deals to come in, over-deliver every time. When you work on a project with someone, go above and beyond. If you put your best work forward every time, then your work will only get better from there. If they want you to do an Instagram post and it doesn’t go as well as planned, make up for it and show your hard-working character and willingness to learn and improve. Show that you truly care about every project that you work on. I pride myself on the fact that every single company that I have worked with has let me know that they would be happy to work with me on future projects.
I did one social media campaign with a travel app that initially consisted of a blog post and an Instagram post. Rather than just post it and be done with it, I followed up the campaign immediately with charts, statistics, analyses, and a write-up on what I can do to improve and advice I had on what they could change on future campaigns with other influencers.
Less than a month later, I was called back to be their community manager, eventually evolving into much bigger roles within the company. A one-time social media campaign turned into fifteen months of working with the company with a consistent monthly pay. As an influencer just starting out, getting consistent paychecks are the hardest part. Some months you can make five figures. Most months you’d be happy if you broke four figures. It becomes a lot easier to keep a few long-term clients than to go through the process of reaching out to new companies over and over and over again.
You can learn to live with rejection but take care of those that give you a chance. Show them how much you appreciate that chance and don’t waste it. Same goes for other projects that I’ve worked on. With Find Your PACK, I started out as a participant in their Bali program. The CEO took note of how I was what she called, “the ideal influencer.” I was invited to Cape Town at a discounted rate in exchange for handling their social media for the month. Immediately after, I was asked to return to Bali as the trip photographer for six weeks. I had only just gotten my first camera four months before the trip actually began, but I beat out other much more qualified candidates because my work ethic, reliability, and dedication to the projects made up for my shortcomings.
Don’t waste a single opportunity to show yourself off.
Live The Flippin’ Dream
It’s a grind. Not many people are willing to put in the time and work. Not many people are willing to keep working even when there are no results in sight. I got my start in social media in November 2011. I made my first sale in June 2013, a whopping $90. Later that summer, I got my social media accounts hacked and had to start entirely from scratch. In September 2013, I interviewed for a job at Domino’s as a delivery driver. I turned it down, and to this day, it remains the only job I was ever accepted for. In October 2013, I created my first website as a platform for others in social media marketing to earn money. A few months later, my company earned $90,000 in revenue in a single month.
The last eight years have been ups and downs with little consistency. The industries will change and opportunities will come and go but hard work will always stay relevant. I could have quit when I saw no results for the first two years. I could have quit when my social media accounts got hacked. I could have quit when the opportunity of a stable income arose. I could have quit over and over and over again through dozens and dozens of career-changing and industry-changing blows. But when you are passionate enough about turning a dream into reality, you don’t quit.
This guide barely begins to scratch the surface. You will undoubtedly learn much more on your own as you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. No two people are ever going to have the same path in life, so always do what you think works best for you. Everyone is bound to make mistakes and suffer through minor and major setbacks. It’s about pushing through and adapting to those setbacks.
Hopefully this guide gives you an idea of what it takes to truly follow your dreams and live without boundaries. I see people charging $50-100 for guides like this, or even thousands of dollars for one-on-one individualized help sessions. I kind of get it. There’s no price one can put on living a fulfilled life. But there’s also no price one can put on helping others out so here’s mine completely free of charge. Buuut, I will admit, if you found this guide even the least bit helpful, you can Venmo me (@Elijah-Solidum) $5 towards a beer that I’ll drink in your honor.
And hit that follow button on Instagram.
touched down in Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 not even 8 hours here yet and I can already tell this will be a far different adventure than the last few months of relatively comfortable travels 😂 beyond hyped tho 🤙🏽 thanks for the roller coaster of a six weeks Bali, I’ll see ya soon enough I’m sure 🤪
A post shared by Eli 📍 USA 🇺🇸 (@thepartyingtraveler) on Apr 3, 2019 at 6:29pm PDT