The Business of Influencing

By Katrina Simyab | Photo courtesy Chloe Homan

With one study showing that 57% of Gen Zers would pursue a career as an influencer if given the opportunity, chasing internet fame is more popular than ever. Less widely understood is how to monetize influencing, which involves posting content on various social media platforms to generate revenue.

Mercury Stardust, also known as The Trans Handy Ma’am (and 2023 BRAVA Woman to Watch), has built a large community as a virtual maintenance technician, speaker and author. When it comes to making a career out of influencing, she says, “there are such a boatload of paths. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure career for content creators.”

GETTING PAID TO PURCHASE

One common revenue generator for influencers is earning commissions from affiliate links. First, an influencer will partner up or register with a company’s affiliate program. By promoting links to items (which can be anything — clothing, home goods and more), “you can get paid on the product that people purchase [through your links],” explains Chloe Homan, content creator and founder of Frizz and Frillzz and Curlfriend Collective.

It’s worth noting these commissions can start at 1% per item sold and go up from there, depending on the influencer’s reach and the product. But if the influencer has a solid reach and gets enough clicks, those affiliate links can add up to much more. This can be a great introduction to monetization for aspiring content creators and influencers who don’t have a large following.

Popular affiliate programs include LTK, the TikTok Shop or through Amazon.

IT’S ALL ABOUT BRANDING

Paid partnerships are another way influencers make money. Brands offer a fee in exchange for a content creator to post promotional videos or images on their platform.

A long-term paid partnership with Ulta Beauty Collective as well as a steady stream of income from multiple sources led Kelsie Corbett of Kelsie Kristine to finally take the leap into full-time influencing. Starting off as a beauty influencer, Corbett shifted her focus to mom-friendly, affordable fashion content.

“It was a 12-month collaboration. I had a nice chunk [of money] coming in, and I was like ‘all right, I can do this.’”

Another type of partnership called user-generated content has also risen in popularity, but is typically less profitable. Creators don’t make content to post on their own platforms, but instead create ad content for a brand or for their social media accounts.

“If you can create good quality content … there are ways to get paid and potentially make a full-time living for those with a smaller following or no following at all,” says Homan.

BIGGER DEALS, MORE MONEY

If an influencer cultivates a strong following, opportunities for larger deals can open up.

At the start of her career, Stardust tried brand sponsorships and affiliate links to support her growing platform, but quickly realized “that wasn’t for me,” she says. Wanting to find something that better fit her personality and passions, she started booking speaking engagements.

“I talked about my journey as a queer kid in northern Wisconsin,” she explains.

Stardust has been able to turn her platform into a thriving company with contract, part-time and full-time employees. In addition to her speaking engagements, she sells branded merchandise, released a book (her first book, “Safe and Sound: A Renter-Friendly Guide to Home Repair,” was a New York Times Bestseller) and has monthly subscribers on Patreon, an exclusive content subscription platform.

Homan has cultivated success with 100-plus brand partnerships over the years (Ulta, Walgreens, Target, Briogeo, among others) and her own line of silk hair accessories called Curlfriend Collective.

WHAT TO CONSIDER

While it may seem easy and glamorous, being a full-time influencer has its challenges.

Most people don’t realize the amount of time and work that goes into creating even short pieces of quality content, such as Instagram Reels and TikTok videos. There’s a constant need to stay up to date on ever-changing platform features and new social media apps (such as when TikTok emerged within the last few years). And, churning out large volumes of content can be exhausting.

“I’ve done a really good job of setting some boundaries over the past couple of years,” says Corbett, who tries to stick with a limit of two hours on Instagram per day. I also have quiet mode on at night,” she says.

Getting paid by brands can also take time. Affiliate commissions can take weeks to get deposited, and some brand deals may not pay out for several months after signing a contract.

“Creators don’t get paid for a long time. It can definitely be difficult,” says Homan. “Every month you don’t necessarily know what’s coming in.”

As an influencer, it’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing, which Stardust says she is.

“It’s so detrimental to your mental health to view this like it’s all about marketing and branding. We have to maintain the humanness of this,” she says. “It really is about finding out what makes you not want to burn out. I want to do this for as long as possible.”

Meet the Influencers

Mercury Stardust

@mercurystardusttopz, mercurystardust.com
Instagram: 855K followers
TikTok: 2.5M followers
YouTube: 207K subscribers

Kelsie Kristine Corbett

@kelsiekristine, kelsiekristine.com
Instagram: 116K followers
TikTok: 27.6K followers
Pinterest: 641.7K monthly views

Chloe Homan

@frizzandfrillzz, frizzandfrillzz.com & curlfriendcollective.com
Instagram: 194K followers
TikTok: 294.1K followers
YouTube: 60.2K subscribers

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