How To Make Money As An Influencer

By: Alyssa Jorgensen

@frankiehildebrand | model: Bean McLean for Urban Outfitters

@frankiehildebrand | model: Bean McLean for Urban Outfitters

Three years ago, Frankie Hildebrand was an 18-year-old barista taking orders at the local dig in his one-horse hometown of Placerville, California. Today, he lives how a Seventeen campaign looks: Los Angeles has embraced him as one of its most noted creators, and he has constructed a reality in which he pays his rent by shooting for the likes of Urban Outfitters, Jack Wills, and Aéropostale with models (literally) out of a Brandy Melville catalogue. 

At only 21 years old, Hildebrand has transformed his social media presence into a carefully-curated, aesthetically-pleasing ticket to entrepreneurship. As an influencer, he has turned his personal image and style of content creation into a brand in and of itself — a brand that other brands are excited to work with. Hildebrand sat down with Influencer News to share how he has utilized his influencer status to not simply become financially independent, but to lead a life where he is his own boss, guided purely by his passions.

"Good things happen to those who hustle."

There are certain environments where good things do come to those who wait: vineyards, the lines at Disneyland, or, when we're lucky, the DMV. The influencer space is not one of them. Hildebrand learned early on that waiting for brands to approach him for business was the financial equivalent of roaming alone through the badlands, waiting for rain to fall. 

"There’s this thought that when you reach ten thousand followers on Instagram, you become this 'chosen one' who brands are suddenly going to throw themselves onto," Hildebrand said. "The reality is, though, that there are 15-year-olds on YouTube who have ten million followers. There are so many people doing this, so you have to chase the brands you want to work with. You can’t wait for people come to you."

Moral of the story: just because you garner a huge social media following does not mean that it's going to monetize itself.

Strengthen your email game: scraper tools, mergers, and the right voice are your best friends. 

You've n0w digested one of life's most important intangibles: go out and get what you want. Now let's explore the tangibles: how should an influencer pitch their services to a brand? 

"A quality email pitch is one of the most important aspects of landing a brand deal," Hildebrand said. "My goal in a cold email to a brand is to strike the perfect balance between keeping it concise — they have tons of emails to sort through — while also minimizing the back and forth that needs to happen when you have to sell your value. Type the way you speak, because you want to be yourself and not too spammy, always include a link to your portfolio or a deck of photo samples, paint a picture of the ideas you could generate for them, but keep it short and to the point."

Further, becoming well acquainted with scraper tools and email mergers for contacting large amounts of brands at once will dramatically expedite your time while also increasing your chances of landing a brand deal.

@frankiehildebrand | model: Bean McLean for Playa Viva

@frankiehildebrand | model: Bean McLean for Playa Viva

"I will regularly stay up until 2 a.m. scraping emails from web domains and sending out around two thousand emails at a time," Hildebrand said. "You eventually have around twenty interested clients. But when it’s all said and done, some of those slip through the cracks, so you’ll end up with two new clients. When you think about all the work that just went into acquiring two clients, you really realize that if you're sitting around and waiting, you're going to come up empty-handed."

Sell yourself as a brand, not as a profession. 

Just like any business collaboration you want to successfully execute, you must first show your value to the other party. As a photographer in particular, Hildebrand understands that his value extends further beyond his ability to photograph: "There are tons of people out there who can take quality photos, but there are not tons of people who are their own brand." 

"My value is that I can offer a brand my own personal style because it already aligns with the aesthetic they want to create,"  Hildebrand continued. "I don't sell myself as 'Frankie The Photographer' but as 'Frankie The Brand': the combination of my look, my aesthetic, and my presets that come together to create a whole entity. You can create magic when you can get that to mold around someone else’s brand." 

Being a successful influencer is a team sport.

One of the most important aspects of the social media space is its distinction from other marketing platforms: influencers are people, not ad space. Influencers succeed through investing their time with others in their community, an effort that normally manifests in wonderful new collaborations and creative growth for an individual influencer. 

"My best work comes from being around other creative people," Hildebrand said. "What I’m selling to brands is not as much my photography as it is my group of friends. I’ve been so blessed to be dropped in this amazing group of people who are all super innovative and who share similar goals as me. We can all go on a trip to Palm Springs and have a great time together, but we just happen to be shooting photos for a bunch of brands. I'm basically getting paid to hang out with my friends and to document that fun."