How to Use Your Instagram to Create a Lucrative Career

Influencer Luke Bakhuizen breaks down the ways he turned his photography profile into a thriving business.

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There are just short of 1.5 million accounts on Instagram that boast more than 15,000 followers. According to one study, 39 percent of these qualify as active "influencers." For brands looking to invest in influencer marketing, that’s a lot of choices. For influencers, that translates to competition. While there’s a wealth of information on how to grow an authentic following, there’s little on helping those who already have a following leverage it into a lucrative career. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favourite influencers, Luke Bakhuizen, a South African-born commercial pilot-turned-influencer, on how to turn your Instagram following into a steady living.

Early on, Bakhuizen posted photos and short travel films to his few followers. As a keen paraglider, scuba diver and pilot, he’d share his travels to exotic destinations, which were driven by his passion for adventure sport. He quickly set himself apart from the rest of peoples newsfeeds, though he admits it took a lot of effort to elevate his twin loves of photography and travel into something people paid for him to document. 

In our far-ranging conversation, he offered these three key tips to make Instagram more than just a social-networking tool.

Related: 4 Influencer Marketing Secrets

1. Put yourself in front of brands already working with influencers.

In Bakhuizen's case, he would frequently tag Tourism Australia, with its 3.9 million followers, in his photos. They took note of the quality of his content and eventually reached out to him, offering him the opportunity to travel around Australia creating content to promote the Commonwealth Games. He accepted, beginning his career as an influencer, which would eventually lead to him working with companies like Sony, DJI, Subaru, Corona, Superdry and Sta Travel. 

For the hesitant influencer, Bakhuizen comments that it’s not about your equipment, experience or even total number of followers; it’s the way you present yourself as a content creator. “Shoot good content, build a good looking media kit, pitch your services to as many brands as possible and start to create a portfolio of clients," he recommends. Brands are looking for valuable content that they can repurpose, which doesn’t always mean that you need hundreds of thousands of followers to produce for them.

2. Always over-deliver.

After signing your first contract with a brand, there’s a steep learning curve. “Clients provide you with a brief for every campaign," explains Bakhuizen. "These can be strict and will outline some of their brand values, everything from what clothing is acceptable to what words to use. I have had to go back and re-edit photos or videos to ensure it fits within these guidelines before. Generally, clients are open to receiving your comments on how you would like the campaign can be adjusted to fit your audience and ensure it’s received well, and that's when I try my best to make the campaign as natural as possible without it looking too much like an advertisement.” As with any client, in any business, Bakhuizen suggests you always over-deliver, since repeat business is a huge part of ensuring you can sustain your career and lifestyle. 

Related: 'Influencer Fraud' Costs Companies Millions of Dollars

3. Consider partnering with a talent agency.

The second major inflexion point for Bakhuizen was being signed to a talent agency representing influencers. Once you’ve built up a portfolio, pitching agencies to represent you will go a long way toward accelerating your career. As Bakhuizen puts it, “It’s one of the best things I ever did.” He was assigned some of his biggest contracts through his agency, as they’ll often have contacts with PR firms already searching for influencers. “They charge a small percentage of the rate I receive," he concedes. "However, they are excellent in negotiating rates, so it pays off. I also remember reaching out to brands like DJI in the past and never received a response back, but after my agency approached them, they were very keen to work with me.”

For the aspiring influencer, competition is tough. Bakhuizen’s experiences remind us that, like many things in life, being overly proactive and relentless is key. Put yourself in front of as many brands as you can, showcasing your art and presenting yourself as an innovative and exciting content creator. When starting out, don’t worry too much about pricing as much as building a portfolio. And once you have one, leverage it. The world of influencer marketing is competitive and cutthroat, but for those who chase it and succeed, it can lead to incredible opportunities to travel the world, partner with leading brands and connect with thousands of people. 

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