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It takes more work than meets the eye.

Jillian Kramer
January 25, 2018

The average person spends one hour and 40 minutes each day on social media platforms. That’s a lot of time—and some resourceful individuals have turned that time into money.

They’re called Instagram influencers, platform users who boast a large number of followers and who can influence those followers into purchasing or doing things. Their services fetch a high fee—think: around $1,000 per 100,000 followers—so it’s no wonder the idea of becoming an Instagram influencer sounds like a dream job for many other Instagram users.

But it’s not an easy job to acquire because competition is steep (who doesn't want to make money from posting on Instagram?), and it takes more work than meets the eye. 

“In the first few months after we started our Instagram account, we quickly realized that throwing a photo a day out into the world of social media in hopes that someone grabbed onto it wasn’t going to be enough,” admits Holly Erickson, cofounder of The Modern Proper, whose Instagram account has amassed 91,000 followers.

Luckily, if you have your heart set on becoming an Instagram influencer—and specifically, a food influencer—the duo behind The Modern Proper and three other popular food-focused Instagram accounts are here to dish out the secrets to Instagram-influencer stardom.

1. Pick a catchy name. What’s in an Instagram name? Everything, according to influencer Sarah Phillips, who wisely snatched up the handle @food years before being an Instagram influencer was the cool thing to do. “When Instagram started in 2011, I quickly registered @food, later followed by @UglyProduceIsBeautiful,” says Phillips. “Because I was so early in Instagram’s history, [they were] available, along with other premiere names.” Some of the best handles may already be taken, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something catchy. “Pick an easy-to-remember name or one that easily explains who you are,” Phillips says. Here’s a free tool you can use to find out what Instagram handles are already taken.

2. Know your brand. Fact: “The digital space is more saturated than ever, so creating your own niche and voice is super important,” says Alexa Mehraban, whose Instagram account @eatingNYC boasts nearly 300,000 followers. In other words, your Instagram account must serve a specific purpose to be successful. To define your brand, Mehraban suggests that you ask yourself questions such as, “What is my mission,” and “How is my brand different from others?” Then, she adds, “from there, think about the style of your brand, the types of posts you’ll share, and the voice behind your account.” Once you have defined your brand, “stick to it, and don’t get distracted by sponsored content that distracts from your core, because it’s challenging to build something that will work for the long-term that way,” advises Ella Mills, founder of @DeliciouslyElla, an Instagram account with some 1.2 million followers.

3. Take a photography class. It goes without saying that Instagram is a visually-oriented social media platform, and you can’t attract an audience—or clients willing to pay you—without showcasing gorgeous imagery. So, “take classes in photography,” Mehraban urges.  “You don’t need to take expensive ones. There are beginner classes online [you can take.] Then, just practice, practice, and practice.” Even with practice, it may take you time to build a portfolio of gorgeous images—and if that’s the case, Mehraban encourages you not avoid posting so-so pictures just to get something up on Instagram every single day. “As a rule of thumb,” she says, “if you don’t have something great to share, then don’t share it.”

4. Make friends. When the women behind The Modern Proper, a recipe blog site, wanted to expand to Instagram, they knew “we needed to make friends,” says cofounder Natalie Mortimer. So, “we found other bloggers that were similar in style and began commenting, direct messaging, and building real relationships with them.” (Mortimer and her cofounder Erickson even went on retreats with their new social-media friends.) With those new friendships, “their followers began to follow us too,” says Mortimer. They quickly gained 10,000 followers—with their friends’ help, and with their continued engagement online—and now, The Modern Proper has more than 91,000 followers on its Instagram account.

5. Consider that you may have to work for less. According to Phillips, “Instagram is now changing and it’s harder and harder to get good influencer deals because so many [people] have offered their photos for free in the past six to seven years and have, in essence, driven the market value and the profession down.” That doesn’t mean that you can no longer earn a paycheck as an Instagram influencer. But it may mean that, in some instances, you accept goods—in place of cold, hard cash—for your influencer services. “Brands know that they can get great deals for themselves, many times for free or for merchandise trades,” explains Phillips. “To start, that may be the path to go with.” But, Phillips adds, “as you go on and gain followers—and if you have a genuine message to share—you can definitely succeed, especially if you have a mind for sales and business, and have good negotiation skills.”

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