Let’s get ready to learn more about creating and selling your own handicrafts —NOT on Etsy— but on Instagram. I never would have thought of this, but it makes sense. Go where the eyeballs are! That’s exactly what my guest Candace Hatch did. Candace, welcome to Easy Money!
Candace, tell us the name of your company and what you sell on Instagram.
My company is called LiliLane. I was planning on only selling girls headbands. When I first started, I told my husband, I will get tired in a week, but it snowballed. After a bit, I wanted to challenge myself. So I started doing skirts for little girls and then it has just grown. Now I do all sorts of clothing including pants, swimsuits, etc.
And to prove that anyone can do this: Candace, what kind of sewing skills did you have when you got started?
I had no idea how to sew when I started! My husband had to thread the sewing machine for me for the longest time because I didn’t know how to do it. I sew in a room in my house.
OK… so, I have to ask: what possessed you to start a handcrafted sewing company when you didn’t know how to sew?!
When I started, it was more about needing to feel valued financially in our family. I felt like my husband, Cliff, was the only one to work. I felt in a rut. I have always been very self-sufficient, and I thought even if I only made $20 a month… I needed to say I was contributing money to the family. Plus being in the military and moving a lot, it can be hard to stay in one job.
I think when people think of selling handmade items online, they think of Etsy. Why Instagram?
You shouldn’t necessarily go where everyone is going. Some people have great success on Etsy but I didn’t like the fees they charge and I wanted my own website. Went on Instagram instead which has been amazing. They are awesome for small businesses. You can do sponsored ads through them and there is a huge following for small shops. It’s mostly trendy moms between 18 and 35 and they love it. I now have about 25,000 Instagram followers.
No that you’ve been at it for more than 2 years, do you find the work easy or hard?
I would say it is hard work, but if you work it the right way it is easy — and so enjoyable. It is still fun. I love doing what I do. It lets me be creative. There are days I want to throw my sewing machine at the wall but 9 out of 10 days it is still fun.
What kind of hours do you have to put in?
I work about 8 hours a day, so pretty much a full time job. But you can make it fit your lifestyle. I take the kids to the zoo or the aquarium and then stay up late at night. I sew whenever the kids are asleep. I have 2 young children. A lot of times I stay up ’til 2 am. It takes about 3 weeks from the time orders are placed to the time they ship.
Have you made any mistakes that our listeners can learn from?
Don’t over stock. I have spent too much on fabric a million times – especially holiday fabric. Fabric I use is from amazing company in Durham and they make amazing prints with all water based inks. But the fabric is $30/yard which is expensive. Definitely have to be careful. I would be embarrassed to show you my wall of fabric now.
Now tell us about some of your biggest triumphs. I understand some well-known people have purchased your kids’ clothes?
The first time it happened to me it was a reality star. They are great promoters for your brand. A very famous football player’s wife purchases my items for full price and daughter wears them. That is a real thrill. Later, I was asked to include my clothes in gift bags at the Oscars and I was featured in Glamour UK!
Wow! And now you’ve hired other seamstresses and your clothing is in some brick and mortar stores as well. How did that come about?
Need answer about how this came about and which stores!
LiliLane sounds like a smash success. So Candace, I have to ask an impolite question I ask all my guests: what kind of money are you making at it?
I think my first year I made about $12,000 which I was very excited with, considering it was just fun money. This year I made $30,000 and it is going up every month. I now make about XX a month. I did not call myself money-savvy 2 years ago but I am now!
What has this additional income meant for your family?
It is huge. We are looking at buying a new house and I will be able to pay half the mortgage. It’s done so much for us. We aren’t millionaires but the financial help it has given us is beyond anything I imagined. The other day my daughter had to tell school why mom was special and she said because I make clothes that other girls wear. That tells me she notices what I am doing for the family and that makes me proud.
Time for some advice for people who might want to do what you do. First, you say don’t take everything to heart. What do you mean?
I would say anyone going into small shop community especially in clothing or tshirts – small shops are amazing but also very catty and cliquey so make sure you don’t take everything to heart. And if you have a bad experience with a customer just grow from it. You can’t let people tear you down. Let it go off your back.
On the other hand, you say that other people can be very helpful. Tell me about the Facebook groups that have helped you.
There are tons of groups on FB of mom bosses which is what we call ourselves and they have been very helpful. I would look up You Tube videos and ‘makers and mom bosses’ on Facebook. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot.
And, finally, you say, make sure to put money away.
It’s easy to get into situations when you are first starting out and getting a bunch of orders and making money and go out and blow it all on craziness. It’s definitely a struggle to make sure you are putting away money for taxes and paying yourself. You can’t look at it all as extra money. You need to put money away for supplies. You learn as you go.
Find out what it takes —and what you can make— as a social media influencer. Yes, if you have thousands of followers —especially Instagram followers— companies will pay you to reach that audience and advertise their brands. Alicia Chew, a style and food influencer who runs the lifestyle blog Alicia Tenise and has 15,000 followers on Instagram and is giving us her success story.
Alicia, this is an accidental career for you, right? How did you get started?
I randomly started a blog in my dorm room. I had interned in NY at Michael Kors the previous summer. I transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University and started a fashion blog to keep connected to the fashion industry. I just started for fun. I never realized I could make money doing it or that I could make it my career. But now I am celebrating my 6th anniversary of blogging.
In fact, when you graduated, you took a full-time job in marketing, but kept blogging on the side, right?
Yes, I was still blogging and working a full time job for a few years before it was too time consuming to do both. Over time I invested in good photography, telling a story and connecting to the audience. Brands started approaching me and it blew up. I got laid off from my full time job in December 2016. I looked at my finances and realized I was making more off of the blog than the full time job! So I decided to make it a full time job.
What did your friends and family think of this leap of faith you were making?
I talked to all of my family and friends and especially my mom. I told my mom if I didn’t make it in 3 months I would get a full time job. My mom totally supported me. She knew I had a talent and passion for it. She did ask me legitimate business questions. Are you going to make this an LLC? And what will you do for taxes and insurance? She asked me grown-up adult questions and helped me through those things and all of the accounting and business aspects.
Was there a tense time when you wondered if it was going to work, or did it click right away?
It worked! Since I was able to start doing this full time, I tripled my income in the first 3 months because I was able to really focus on it without the distraction of a 40 hour work week elsewhere. I really ramped up what I was making and I don’t have plans to go back to a conventional job.
It is working as a full time job. Since I was able to start doing this full time I tripled my income in the first 3 months because I was able to really focus on it without the distraction of a 40 hour work. I really ramped up what I was making.
You’re 27-years-old and you work for yourself. Will you ever go back to a regular job?
I don’t have plans to go back to a conventional job. I never would have thought at my age that I would be my own boss and create my own schedule and dictate my day and decide what clients I want to take on or not. It’s the best job I could have ever asked for and it’s the dream job I never knew I could have.
So let’s get specific about what you do as a social media influencer. First, what are your venues where you reach out to people?
I consider myself a content creator. I am doing whatever I need to do to create content on a multitude of channels. My blog. Social media is a big part of that. I’m creating content and solutions for brands. My blog and Instagram are more curated as a first impression.
I also use Instagram Stories and Snapchat. That is how I show them that I am a real person. I chat with no makeup on and in yoga pants. I want to show that I don’t always have perfect hair and a perfect outfit and perfect makeup. I can be more candid. I have marble contact paper instead of actual marble. I show people that and they think it is so funny. People get a kick out of the behind the scenes stuff.
So those are your social media “properties.” Now, describe the 4 ways you make a living through them.
- Companies pay a flat fee for a sponsored blog post or Instagram post. I create visuals and concepts to advertise their product. That brings in the most money.
- Affiliate networks. If you see something I wear, I have affiliate links to it and if people click through my post and purchase it, then I get a commission.
- More occasionally I host events – every 2 months or so. I will host and promote an event like a boutique trunk show.
- And finally, companies gift me products, which is another form of value. Although now I only accept gifts if there is no pressure to post anything because that can be a difficult situation.
Give us some examples of companies that have hired you to do sponsored posts and WHAT you did for them.
Banana Republic, Rent the Runway, Pepsi, Brita and Enterprise CarShare, The Ritz Carlton and Visit New Orleans for a sponsored trip to New Orleans. What I do is curate a photo shoot around the product and show how I incorporate the product in my real life. I partner with a photographer and do the shoot and that usually inspires the text I write.
Do you try to keep a balance of your own personal posts and the sponsored posts so that your followers don’t get worn out?
I try not to have a overwhelming amount of sponsored content. My goal is to have about 25% sponsored content.
Do you go after brands you like? Or do they always approach you?
In the beginning I got my work through media groups. You enter a bio and social media channels and they match you up with brands that are doing collaborations. Some other media networks have projects already ready to apply to and you have to make a pitch. I had to pitch a lot at first, but that has evolved. If I have a dream brand I will send a thoughtful, curated pitch to them. But lately I haven’t had as much time to pitch. I’ve gotten contacted by a lot of different companies.
What happens when it’s not a good fit? Awkward!
I have had some interesting requests and if I can’t think of an authentic post to go with it, I have to decline it. I have had some weird requests from agriculture departments and oil companies. Why would I talk about that when I do fashion, food and travel? My readers are female between 25 and 34. They don’t care about agriculture or oil, so I have to stay focused on what my reader wants to read.
Authenticity is crucial, right?
You have to be very careful about sponsored campaigns. Your audience might not respond. You cant appear like you are money hungry. I have to make sure whoever I partner with is true to my brand and won’t throw my readers off.
What is the most fun part of your job?
There’s a lot of travel I have been exposed to because of this career path. I do some travel blogging. I work with tourism boards and have been able to do domestic travel. I just went to Phoenix, New Orleans and Memphis and NC. I’m excited to explore these places in America. I am an only child. My mom is a single parent. There was only so much we could do when I was a kid.
What is the hardest part of the job?
Most of my day isn’t glamorous. I have to look at brands, communicate professionally, convince brands they should pay me, read contracts. When people look at what I do it all looks glamorous but I do my own accounting and book keeping a lot of business stuff. I am self employed and pay taxes on everything I earn so I have to keep track of my expenses and income. You have to be able to do that too.
How do you decide how much to charge?
I have a figure in my head I want to make a month. I can’t lowball myself and I have to go for the highest payment that I possible can. Some companies will say no, but some will say yes. With what I do it’s better to take less sponsors at a higher rate than taking lots at lower rates and creating all that work for myself without as much money. I can negotiate a lot better deals.
I know you don’t like to say how much you make —because you’re classy that way —but tell us, in general, how much successful social media influencers can make.
There are influencers who make six and seven figures a year. I make significantly more than I did in my job in marketing. What I do makes me pretty comfortable. But I get paid on a project by project basis. Sometimes five times a week or every two weeks.
People listening are going to be intrigued, so I want to share some of your best advice for being a successful social media influencer. First, you say figure out what makes you different. Explain.
When I show my personality I knew that was what differentiated me. People see me as a person rather than someone always in perfect clothes. I am personable. My readers will email and feel they can talk with me. It’s like I’m their friend. They feel they can shoot me an email or message. Making yourself seem like a person and not a persona takes your brand to the next level.
Second, you say, you need to be a good written and visual communicator.
I am a writer and went to school for communication. Need strong writing skills and to tell a story. I am also a photographer and use a professional grade camera. If it is a shot of me I hire a photographer but I take other pictures myself.
Third: know how to read contracts.
You have to know how to read contracts. Brands will try to slip things in, so you have to really understand what you are agreeing to. A lawyer helped me write a contract that works for me and she helped me know what to look out for in a blog contract to see if something is there that wouldn’t be in my favor.
Fourth tip: learn to save money.
Have to learn to save because it’s an inconsistent pay schedule. There are times when I can splurge and other times when I have to budget because it’s an inconsistent pay schedule. Not having a paycheck every 2 weeks has made me way more savvy financially than in the past.
And finally, you say, do it for love not money.
My biggest piece of advice is do if because you love it. Don’t do it thinking you will make a lot of money overnight. I didn’t make a dime the first year and a half I blogged but I loved what I did and loved working on my craft.
Alicia Tenise Chew, thank you so much for the great content. And, lucky us, Alicia has written a guest blog post with advice for you on how to turn your social media brand into a full time job.