Why Beauty Hack Guru Huda Kattan Turned Down a $185,000 Instagram Sponsored Post Deal
The makeup artist grew her audience by helping people overcome their beauty issues.
In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
When Huda Kattan gave up her nascent finance career to become a makeup artist in 2010, she immediately noticed a disconnect between two worlds. Celebrities and people with money could hire professional help to pin them up or teach them beauty tricks, but the average person didn’t have the knowledge or resources to replicate those flawless looks.
She decided to start a blog to teach the masses how makeup artists were using beauty products behind the scenes.
“People [don't] really realize how much they could transform with makeup,” Kattan tells Entrepreneur. “Celebrities have beautiful skin -- a lot of them do, but some put foundation on their legs, and you can do that too, as a consumer.”
From boob contouring to face shaving, Kattan sometimes receives feedback from her audience that she went too far. But she knows there's an audience who might find themselves with a once-in-a-lifetime event on their calendars, such as their wedding day, and want to use those tricks to achieve their desired appearance.
Kattan began using Instagram in 2012, in conjunction with her blog and other social media channels. Her Instagram account, @hudabeauty, now has 24.8 million followers worldwide. Kattan was born and raised in the U.S., but she moved to Dubai after college. In 2013, she launched a business, Huda Beauty, which sells a variety of cosmetic products.
Social media and blogging have helped more and more people become beauty experts, Kattan explains. “It used to be, you would know when somebody was really important by how good their brows were,” Kattan says, “and now everywhere I go, everybody has amazing brows.”
People have more access to information today, which also means, Kattan notes, that they’re “paranoid” that others are trying to sell things to them regardless of the product’s quality. In turn, people’s expectations of beauty brands and influencers are high -- rightly so, according to Kattan. She refrains from monetizing her Instagram account with sponsored posts, instead using it more as a community hub for beauty lovers and fans of her brand to relate to one another’s beauty issues and passions.
Kattan says her favorite thing about Instagram is the volume of information users can consume on the platform, given the number of posts they can view on their screens at one time.
“It’s an overload of content, which is great for millennials and the next generations to come, because we’re so content hungry,” Kattan says.
Read on to learn how Kattan sees the potential for that “content overload” to become a financial opportunity for all users, rather than a mere feed of beauty and fashion inspiration, in the near future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. How did you get your start with Instagram?
When Instagram came around, it became a constant way to share, multiple times a day, through pictures. I thought that was really genius, because you could get so much, so much faster. You could see things so quickly and get a glimpse of a person’s aesthetic and opinions.
I became obsessed with Instagram and started posting daily. In the beginning, everyone was trying to figure out Instagram, so I would be like, this is what I’m eating, this is where I’m going. It started to change as Instagram became more popular in the beauty community, and it became more informational. People had to learn or gain something by coming to you.
2. How much of your time do you spend on a post and what does that entail?
When it comes to the original content that we do, I have a big involvement in that. Videos take us the longest. Sometimes I do them with my husband, who’s a character in them, or sometimes with a colleague. Many times, I’ll direct, then sit down with our video editor. Last time, I edited the entire thing with them. When I’m traveling and we’re trying to edit a video, sometimes it doesn’t come out the best, because I’m not able to sit there and be like, “dim it here,” “cut that frame by 0.1 of a second.” I try to get as clear on the concept as possible, because that makes it a lot easier in post. It could take six hours, minimum, in shooting and editing.
People probably don’t know the extent that it takes to do all these things. We’re running a company, there’s so much going on, there’s product development. At the moment, our team is around 150 people, so it’s a good size, but for a makeup brand and content brand in one, it’s smaller.
3. What's your content strategy? How do you decide what and when to post?
For some reason, I don't really get the ideas in the office. Maybe I'm just too busy. So, usually when I’m at home and I have alone time, whether I’m in the bubble bath, or if I’m in my closet rearranging things or cleaning my makeup brushes, I get weird ideas then. It’s whenever I get that moment to reflect that everything comes in.
One day, I was in the bubble bath, and I took coconut oil and I rubbed it on my skin when I was getting out of the bath. I was like, oh my gosh, this could be a “lazy girl hack,” my sister Alya would love this. So we made a lazy girls’ guide on our blog. A lot of times, ideas come from real issues that we’re having. I have a lot of beauty issues. They all came to me for a reason, so I could overcome them and help people overcome theirs.
I don’t like to force content. If it doesn’t feel right, there’s no way in hell I’m going to do it. If it’s fake, you’re going to know it in my face. If I don’t really have a certain beauty concern, I’m going to be lying, and it just won’t work.
4. How do you leverage your Instagram account and to what extent do you monetize it?
Personally, right now, I’m not looking to directly monetize our Instagram. Directly being able to do shoppable links -- when that happens, sure, why not? But now, I don’t want it to feel like it’s not real. At that time, everybody’s going to be promoting whatever they’re wearing. And I think it’s going to be fine. Why not give support to brands? And also, I don’t think you should feel shame making money off that, as long as you’re doing it really naturally as opposed to something that is forced.
Once, I got offered $185,000 to do one post, and I was so close to doing it -- I genuinely loved the product. We were just about to post it, and my team was like, “This is the caption,” with “#ad.” I just couldn’t do it. I had been looking at a car I was ready to buy, but I ended up turning it down. It was painful for me and my husband to reject it, because it was a lot of money. I know you have to identify it as an ad, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. I thought about Oprah. I was like, would Oprah do that? No, she wouldn’t. Luckily, my husband was able to support our family financially, so we didn’t have to.
5. What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
It's really important to know who you are and to own who you are. There are times where people will come to me and say, “you should do more of this, you should do more of that.” And I say to them, quite frankly, it's important to own your area and to own your audience. When you get messy, you start to lose your DNA. You don't need to be cookie-cutter like every other person. I always say, “I’m cake face.” I wear a lot of makeup. I’m not ashamed of it. A lot of times, people like to wear a lot of makeup, but they don’t want to look like it. You might be wearing layers of foundation, but your skin looks bare.
Be who you are. Don’t be apologetic, don’t be ashamed by it. If people say, “You’re crazy and weird,” say, “Yeah, I am crazy and weird.” If people say, “Oh my gosh, that was a little rude that you did that,” be like, “Oh, was it?” Don’t be so closed off. Own who you are, but still be open to the right criticism. You want to improve with the community. The community’s moving so fast. If you’re sitting idle and you want to stay the person you are forever, it might be really interesting right now, it might be really interesting in six months, but in a year, it might be less interesting, because there are going to be so many other interesting things. Listen to the community and be open to them while still being comfortable in your own skin -- it’s all about balancing.
6. What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
One of them definitely is that if somebody gives you a shout out, you're obviously going to be Insta-famous. That's just not how it works. Even if you are Insta-famous for a day or two, life goes on. I love Instagram. It's transformed my life, it's transformed my business. But I mean, you don't get a shout out from an influencer and all of a sudden you sell so many products. You need to have strategies in place with regards to all of those things.
Click through the slideshow to see five of @hudabeauty’s favorite posts.Related video: How to Become a Beauty Influencer
Crowdsourcing from the community
“I was blown away by the response we got on this post! We love to get our social family involved with the creation of our products, so it was so heartwarming to see so many people sharing their suggestions for what we should name our new foundation. Our community really and truly helps with the creation of Huda Beauty products -- more than they probably realize!”
HELP! ? Our #HudaBeautyFoundation needs a name!! You guys know we've been working on this for a while and I really wanna get you all involved! Comment on this post and give us your name suggestions! This pic is me wearing ONLY the Foundation (no concealer & color corrector) & it hasn't been edited (raw image)!
A post shared by Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty) on Apr 4, 2017 at 7:24am PDT
Reflecting on the early days
“This throwback to when we moved into our very first office is one of my favorite posts. It’s a reminder of where we started and how far we’ve come. Anything is possible with hard work, grit and an amazing support network!”
Wow! Found this photo from 2013/14 when we just launched our lashes and finally had enough money to get an office! A lot of people don't know this, but I use to physically pack the lashes myself in the beginning--with my family and assistant! Yep! You were buying lashes hand packed with love! The beginning was tough at times, but I think rolling up your sleeves and getting things done, no matter how small makes your successes taste so much sweeter once you get there! Do the small things and always remember, small things can have great ways of paying you back! ?????????
A post shared by Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty) on Dec 6, 2017 at 5:28am PST
Cherishing time together
“My daughter, Nour, and I love to dress up and be silly together, so this is definitely one of my favorite photos! I am a working mom, which can be really difficult, especially when I am traveling, so I love looking back at photos like this one.”
Getting ready for bed
“We love to create funny videos that poke fun at the struggle of loving beauty products! This nighttime routine is literally every single one of our followers’, which is why they engaged with it so well. Every beauty lover can relate to this video to some degree.”
A post shared by Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty) on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:46am PST
Connecting one family to another
“It’s no secret that my sisters are my best friends -- Huda Beauty would not exist if it weren’t for them. At the core, we are a family-run business, which our social family really appreciates and respects. We work hard, but we play hard, too. I love this shot of Mona, Alya and me in Los Angeles last summer -- it was such a fun photoshoot that really shows our personalities!”