Meet Caley Dimmock, a one-woman marketing and creative agency and online educator helping others build their personal brand on Instagram. Based in Vancouver, BC, Caley quit her corporate job as a brand and marketing manager earlier this year to pursue an online business. Within just a few months, she was earning double her previous monthly income by leveraging the power of social media – specifically Instagram – to acquire clients, sell her course, and collaborate with brands.
As someone who has also leveraged Instagram to grow my personal brand and strengthen my brand coaching business, I’m always fascinated to learn the various different ways that people tap into social media to make a decent income. Throughout my travels around the world this past year, I’ve repeatedly witnessed that corporate is not the only route to financial success — there is also a lot of money to be made from online-only businesses.
Caley shares how she was able to double her income in just a few months, as well as tips for those aspiring to build their income through an online business:
Celinne Da Costa: Tell us about your background.
Caley Dimmock: I grew up in the countryside of Nova Scotia, Canada and briefly studied commerce before deciding to leave university. I always knew I wanted to work for myself, and I couldn’t justify going into huge debt to get a degree I wasn’t convinced I needed.
At 19, I moved to Vancouver and spent years pursuing acting and working odd jobs while teaching myself design and marketing skills on the side. After getting sick of the acting industry, I enrolled into a part-time certificate program at a local polytechnic institution to explore a marketing career and took entrepreneurship classes to get back into the mindset of working for myself.
I knew that in order to build the lifestyle I wanted, I’d have to establish a successful online and location-independent income stream. After working a string of marketing jobs, I finally ventured into full-time self-employment and began monetizing my Instagram.
Da Costa: What were the biggest challenges of transitioning from a steady 9-5 job to an online business?
Dimmock: The single biggest challenge was having the courage to leave my full-time job. I thought I’d feel fantastic after handing in my notice, but I was a total mess inside. I had no idea what working for myself was going to actually look like, and whether I’d do alright financially or regret my decision.
Despite the doubt, I knew that I had to go through with this decision. I had little to lose: I had the necessary experience and skills, I didn’t have a mortgage or children to tie me back, and the worst-case scenario was that I’d “fail” and have to get another day job.
I started consulting and doing brand collaborations on the side well before I left my 9-5, so I had an idea of the market and what I could charge (I highly recommend to anyone thinking of leaving their job to first pursue work on the side to test the market). I was already receiving client inquiries before quitting, and seeing demand for my services gave me the confidence I needed to take the leap.
Just a week after announcing my self-employment, I had secured enough work to last me a whole month. Within two months of leaving my job, I doubled my salary.
By charging significantly more than my hourly rate at my previous job, yet still lower than what an agency would charge for the same services, I increased my income while remaining competitive in the market. Thanks to the client inquiries I receive on Instagram, I’ve been continuously booked, so there hasn’t been stress associated with finding work.
Da Costa: How did you turn Instagram into a full-time career?
Dimmock: I started to take my Instagram account seriously in the beginning of 2016, after I realized that people were making money from it. I developed a content strategy and began carefully curating my content, trading in the selfies and oversimplified emoji captions for highly visual and professional images that involved travel, lifestyle, and design, as well as captions that focused on storytelling. Visual cohesion and a compelling tone of voice are extremely important when it comes to creating a successful Instagram account.
I built my personal brand by positioning myself as a marketing and brand strategist, photographer, and graphic designer. As my Instagram grew, I began to get inquiries via email and Direct Message from companies who found me through the platform or my blog and were interested in my work. Clients also found me through my use of hashtags, geotags, user recommendations, the Explore page, comments on similar user’s pages, and interaction with their content.
Potential clients reached out to me for many different reasons, including: product photography services, social media consulting, help with branding. A lot of times, the inquiries were quite vague, so I would set up a quick phone call to discuss their goals and see how I could help them. If they were located nearby, I arranged face-to-face meetings to strengthen the relationship. Then, I followed up with a proposal containing an explanation of recommended services and costs based on the help I thought they needed. I close approximately 85% of these deals once they reach the proposal stage.
Da Costa: What is the secret to making money on Instagram?
Dimmock: It’s tough for people to make a decent living off brand collaborations alone without a following of +200,000 and a niche audience who has an active interest in buying the types of products being promoted.
The key to monetizing Instagram is to pair the platform with another venture. For me, it’s my marketing and design services. Instagram is a great platform for self-branding and getting in front of your target audience and brands – from there, you can upsell your services and products. Having a well-trafficked blog is also a huge asset towards getting paid brand collaborations. I know some Instagrammers with followings of around 20,000 who are able to make a living from their blog or YouTube channel. Contrary to popular perception, having a massive following is not necessary for earning income on Instagram.
I make my income in three different ways:
Marketing and creative services. Either I seek clients out, or they discover me on Instagram. I’d say 90% of my client leads come through Instagram. One of my best clients found me after one of my images was featured as one of the top posts for the hotel he was staying in Bali. His company just so happened to be based in Vancouver, BC, and he was looking for someone with my skillset to do marketing and design work for them. He contacted me, I put together a proposal, and we’ve been working on a retainer basis ever since.
Brand collaborations. I promote brands and products in exchange for compensation, and I only accept opportunities that mesh well with my personal brand. I generally get a ton of creative freedom with these partnerships, so I ensure the content is tailored to my audience’s interests and my account’s look and feel. Rates in the industry are fluid, but mostly determined by factors such as how big your following is, audience engagement, quality of content, etc. In my direct experience with running influencer campaigns for my clients (as well as quotes given by industry publications such as Digiday), the current market rates for a sponsored Instagram post range anywhere from $5-$15 per every 1,000 followers a person has.
An online course. I’ve built an online course that walks students through creating an effective personal brand on Instagram. I love teaching, so it’s been a great experience to share my knowledge and see others grow from it.
The wonderful thing about building online courses is that while it may take a lot of time and effort to create, it becomes an asset you can continually market and sell. You still have to manage your students, community, course updates, and to market and sell the course itself, but the time investment after creating it becomes minimal in comparison.
Da Costa: What are some tips for those who wish to build an online-centric business?
Polish your skills. If you’re building a services-oriented business, your skills become your product. You want to feel confident in what you’re selling, so if you’re not overly experienced, take some time to become more developed in the skills and services you plan on offering.
You can teach yourself almost anything these days, so don’t feel like you have to get a degree to be successful. For me personally, a degree didn’t make sense because I didn’t want debt and I was motivated to teach myself different types of skills that pair well together. For example, I style and photograph content for one of my client’s social media while also running a public relations program for them. Clients like dealing with the same person for multiple services because it streamlines their communications and processes.
Start building your social media presence. Even if you are not planning to work for yourself anytime soon, building a presence and audience can allow this to happen sooner than it might have otherwise. Having an audience you can reach at the push of a button is an invaluable asset when you’re trying to network and sell a product or service.
Building a presence on too many platforms can become overwhelming, so focus on the platforms that make the most sense for your industry. For example, Instagram works really well for me since I’m a marketer, designer, and photographer. If you are an SEO specialist, LinkedIn might be a better fit since it’s less visually focused and full of business owners and decision makers.
Be patient! When I was in my early twenties, I wanted everything to come together quickly. I put so much pressure on myself to become successful at a young age. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to keep working hard and learning like I was, but also to take time to chill out. It was all going to come together in an amazing way, so there was no point in beating myself up or living in the future. So long as you’re putting in the hard work, you have to trust the journey will take you to where you need to be.
Originally published on Forbes.