From left: Jeanne Grey, Sai de Silva, and Krystal Bick.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • Business Insider sat down with three social media influencers, Jeanne Grey, Sai de Silva and Krystal Bick, to talk about what it takes to be an influencer. 
  • They all started blogging and influencing as a side hustle while working 9-to-5 jobs and now make up to six figures promoting brands on Instagram.
  • Grey, de Silva, and Bick all agree: Patience is the No. 1 quality it takes to become a successful influencer. They also said it's important to remain authentic.

Reaching a million followers on Instagram doesn't happen overnight. Influencers have to build an audience over time to stand out and eventually — hopefully — make money.

Business Insider recently sat down with three influencers, Jeanne Grey, Sai de Silva, and Krystal Bick, to talk about what it takes making a living promoting products and brands on social media. Each of them started blogging and influencing as a side hustle while they worked 9-to-5 jobs — Bick previously worked at Google — and now they earn anywhere between four and six figures for single posts on Instagram, campaigns, and brand ambassadorships.

"Patience is my No. 1 thing to tell someone. This is no overnight success unless you happen to go viral, and that's very hard to do," said de Silva, who had 318,000 followers at time of publication. De Silva said being an influencer is a slow and steady climb, "especially if you are starting out and you want to make money, please don't expect to see money for one to three years into it".

She added: "It needs to be something you're truly passionate about. Something you enjoy doing, and [you're] not just after a dollar."

READ: South African 'influencers' get paid between R500 and R10,000 per Instagram post - here’s how

Grey agreed, saying it takes a lot of patience and passion before brand dollars come into play. "I think there's no patience if you don't like [influencing] in the beginning. So you have to really like it. I think a lot of us here started as a hobby and we all loved doing it and it became a dollar," Grey said.

Jeanne Grey from New York City with roughly 500,000 Instagram followers (Instagram, @thegreylayers)

Bick said the key to monetising is to stay the course and be professional. "I think a big determining factor is how much you treat yourself like a business and how much you take yourself seriously, and I think a lot of that comes down to building a business model and being patient with it and setting goals for yourself and trying to track against them."

Bick continued: "Obviously not expecting overnight success, but at least knowing how to visualise what success looks like and how to set out a roadmap to work towards it — because if you don't treat yourself as a business, business isn't going to treat you as a business."

READ: These are the top Instagram influencers in South Africa right now

It's important to be patient and build a loyal audience, because follower count and audience engagement factors in to how influencers get paid, according to Brittany Hennessy, Hearst Digital Media's senior director of influencer strategy. Hennessy works with social media influencers to promote Hearst's digital brands, like Harper's Bazaar and Cosmopolitan. She projects the influencer market will be worth between $5 billion (R71 billion) and $10 billion (R143 billion) by 2020.

"I think the power of influencer marketing is the inherent trust that I think we all built with the people who follow and read our blogs," said Bick, who has 126,000 followers at time of publication. "And the minute that's compromised — whether that's a brand partnership, if this doesn't fit aesthetic wise, or just doesn't ladder up to your overall brand vision — people, readers specifically, are very attuned to that because I think they see."

Influencer Krystal Bick (Instagram, @krystal_bick)

When developing a following, authenticity is key and followers will call out influencers if they stray from their brand, Grey said, who has 490,000 followers at time of publication. She said it's crucial to know your audience.

"I think it's really important because at the end of the day, they are the ones double tapping, they are the ones who are going to give you the sale, who are going to give your brands the sale," Grey said. "When there's an influencer who's just doing it for the dollar, and then there's a setback, and that's why people don't make it and that's when they get filtered out."

READ: Get famous on Instagram – for just R90 a week

Grey, de Silva, and Bick all said they would turn down a campaign if a product did not align with their brand.

"I think for all of us, we've all built such a following based off of us being authentic to our audience so ... there are definitely campaigns that we won't take on," de Silva said.

"As long as it aligns with you authentically, I think you're going to be on the right path," Grey said.

Bick said followers often feel personally connected with an influencer. "People can sense that passion and they can also sense when it leaves."

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