The Influencer Business Model (for Instagrammers, YouTubers and Creators)

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Call them what you want – influencers, creators, Instagrammers, YouTubers – these are all people who make a living on social media and the people every 13 to 30-year-old wants to be. But we are approaching a new era for ‘creators’ (the blanket term we will use to describe the above professions). Creators are maturing. They’re getting older. And they want different things. 

In the way of these more stable goals in one big roadblock: the business model. Or lack thereof.

Umm…okay. But why should I care?

Most creators amass thousands to millions of followers, but never evolve their business beyond sponsored posts (AKA advertising) and affiliate links (AKA a commission). The negative consequences of failing to scale into a business are beginning to show: burnout, mental illness, and distrust towards the social media gatekeepers. Many seek a way to maintain creative freedom AND bring in a stable income.

The answer is to scale influence into a business. But few creators make this leap.


What does ‘scalable’ mean?

A scalable business is a venture that can handle larger and larger market demands. You can sign-up customers in your sleep. Scalable business are built around products that can include things like mobile apps, web apps, books, ebooks, physical products, and digital products. There are many more ways to scale, these are just a few.

Conversely, services like videography, hair & makeup, consulting, modeling, and coaching (yes, life coaches, this includes you) -based businesses are not easy to scale on their own. There is a limit on how many clients or sponsors a single person can take on and signing up more clients is done by a sales team (or the creator herself) that can only work so many hours a day.

When a creator starts selling merch, it’s a blaring sign that they’ve given up trying to figure out how to make money.

Not to hate on merch - there’s nothing wrong with printing logos on tees and stickers – even though it’s a physical product it’s generally not a sustainable way of bringing in revenue because the creators controls so little of the supply chain and the products provide limited value.  

Does this happen to everyone?


Not all creators have gotten stuck on the sponsorship/affiliate hamster wheel. Jillian Michaels, Aspyn Ovard, Casey Neistat, Kylie Jenner, Justin Anderson, Gary Vaynerchuck, Allegra Shaw, Shelby Church, and Kayla Itsines, to name a few have built scalable businesses based on their influence. Jillian Michaels has books, apps, workout videos and was on to scalaling her influence before social media was a thing. Aspyn Ovard and Allegra Shaw have clothing stores, Luca and Grae and Uncle Studios respectively. Casey Neistat created and sold the video app Beme, Gary Vaynerchuck concurrently built his agency VaynerMedia, Kylie Jenner has an oft-sold out lipkit line, Justin Anderson has hair products under the brand dpHUE. Kayla Itsines has a fitness app that other fitness influencers can join to offer workout programs and Shelby Church has Shuttr, a digital marketplace to connect influencers to freelancers. They’ve all built business bigger than themselves and as a result are not slaves to the Instagram algorithm or the whims of YouTube suggested to land deals and generate revenue.

So why don’t more creators do this?

First, for a lot of creative people, business does not come naturally. Creatives care about art and vision. Things like P&Ls and corporate entity structure sound nauseating. Second, creators don’t want to build a business off the back of their social media success for fear of being labelled a sellout. To an entrepreneur, this notion is ludicrous and to quote creator Casey Neistat:

“Sellout is a term invented by jealous quitters.”

Third, the best bosses and CEOs make sure their company can run day-to-day on its own without them, even if only for a few weeks a time. They delegate, systemize and automate. Creators often take the opposite approach to their business. They ARE the product, brand, and talent and the idea of removing themselves from the equation is unnatural.  I’ve heard time and time again how painful creators find the concept of outsourcing things like video editing and photography, even though doing so would 10x their capabilities.

So, what now?

Simple! Distill your influence and creative energy down to it’s purest form and built a scalable business around that. Easy, right?

Not exactly, and it may be the hardest thing a creator can do. The counter-intuitive nature of building businesses in the current social media landscape keeps many creators, who have already put in the hustle and hard work, from evolving. Instagram and YouTube are not there to build a sustainable business for you – it’s not in their role and they’ve made that pretty clear. But still, creators get angry when their video gets demonetized or their Instagram posts doesn’t get the usual engagement. It’s also insanely stressful to have your living dependent on the likes and watch time of others. It’s something that can mess with your mind and has proven to have real world health implications.

It’s far from a perfect system (we’re working on making it better over here), but these platforms are a great place to launch from. Just don’t forget to do the homework and actually launch.

If you are a creator who wants to scale their influence into a business but doesn’t know where to start we can help, book a session now and take the first step building your empire.