Becoming an “Influencer” takes more than you think…

The Instagram account of fashion and lifestyle blog Color Me Courtney posts about four to five times a day to 141k followers. Ranging from outfit ideas and anecdotes about positive body image, to documenting 25-year-old Courtney Quinn’s travels – she recently took a trip to Bermuda, which anyone can follow on the account – the feed, and its parent blog, is colorful, vibrant, and very upbeat, much like its founder and sole curator.

Courtney Quinn, founder and writer of the fashion and lifestyle blog “Color Me Courtney,” didn’t necessarily know that her professional fate would lie in blogging about her daily life. Never mind the fact that she’d be sharing it all to more than 100k followers on social media. Actually, the only thing that has been pretty typical during her personal brand’s rise to “influencer” status, has been Quinn’s love for style. It’s what inspired her to first start a blog to share with family in Arizona, and then eventually what inspired a move from San Francisco to New York City, upon finishing business school, to work for Coach. But as juggling her full time position at Coach began to interfere with the attention and time that “Color Me Courtney” demanded, Quinn made the choice to become a full time blogger four years ago.

Blogging has made its transition from “career of the moment” to established industry. From fashion and travel, to interior design and beauty, the idea is that when you pair good taste with likability, you could be the next Chiara Ferragni, a.k.a. bring in over $2.5 million in yearly income. In reality, those odds are as great as graduating from business school and expecting to become the next Jeff Bezos, but the possibility is there, and that’s enough to entice the growing presence of hopeful bloggers trying to become the next online celebrities. Because of its accessibility, potential to bring in handsome incomes, and its overall ability to offer a new lane for creativity, lifestyle blogging has become an established and dream worthy career for a generation that’s already in love with posting to social media, but what is less talked about is the reality of breaking into the industry. Blogging might be the most inclusive job industry yet – with no set degree requirement and free platforms like social media – but it might actually be one of the more exclusive industries to succeed in. So what is the key to success in this paradox of an industry? The first might be consistency: full time or part time may affect your yearly salary, but breaking into the blogging world means constant updating and curation.

Like Courtney Quinn, Christine Buzan experienced a similar pull to New York to follow her dreams, and started her blog, “Madame Ostrich,” as a creative outlet for her passions for fashion, music, and feminism as well as a way to inspire other plus-size fashionista. After graduating from University of Washington in 2011 and arriving in New York to complete an internship at Marie Claire magazine, the native Californian never left the city. Quite the opposite really, Buzan embraced her new life in New York and went on to start a career in PR, and is now a digital manager for L’Occitane. But the vital difference between the two bloggers lies in Buzan’s decision to maintain her full time job, while also building her blog as Madame Ostrich. iBlogMagazine’s report found that only 12% of bloggers make the jump to full time, that number, CEO and Co-Founder of Swerve.com Rohit Vashisht noted, in his expert input, “might be skewed” because of bloggers’ move away from religiously posting on their websites and shifting that attention towards their social accounts. And this is exactly the case with Buzan. Her Instagram feed is updated at least once a day, give or take outlier weeks, while her web blog is updated about a quarter as much. The outcome of this, though, is still quite impressive. Just recently Buzan was featured on the cover of the Harper’s Bazaar April issue, along with other bloggers who embrace their natural beauty, and it has everything to do with her online presence. Although she differs from Courtney Quinn in that she doesn’t blog full time, the monetary gains are still largely at play. It’s what drives bloggers like Madame Ostrich to keep an active online presence as a “side hustle,” or in more formal terms, a source for extra money. The more consistent they are with their posts, the more tangible benefits they reap.

The numbers seem quite low when comparing iBlogMagazine’s 2015 “Women’s Blogging Industry & Business Annual Report” and their estimated average of a $5,000 annual income for bloggers, especially when comparing that up against the income of some of the industry’s top bloggers, but the trends are the same. Bloggers stand to make the most money when working directly with brands, which is something that iBlogMagazine’s report found, and the proof is really in the pudding. Take for instance one of fashion’s top bloggers, Aimee Song, who just announced last month that she had accepted an offer to partner with beauty powerhouse brand, Laura Mercier. Although the exact number has yet to be confirmed by Song herself, the deal has reportedly scored the blogger a seven-figure contract. This isn’t anything surprising, though; a brand’s’ strategy to hire bloggers as brand ambassadors, just as they would with the hottest A-list actress, is no new tactic.

Because Courtney Quinn blogs full time, and devotes this time to establishing brand partnerships, she can sustain a lifestyle in New York City based on her salary as a blogger. Other than working with brands like Rent The Runway and InStyle Magazine, has made it priority to establish real, organic relationships with brands that match her “vibe” and “style.” She knows it’s all part of longevity in this industry, especially after receiving her business degree and learning these exact skills from the University of San Francisco. iBlogMagazine’s report even found that 69% of bloggers have a bachelor’s degrees or higher level of education. “That’s the thing that people don’t really consider. I get a lot of people who think all I do is go on photoshoots and post my work to social media, but that’s basically a quarter – probably even less – of everything that goes into keeping up with Color Me Courtney.”

Consistently posting to her social media accounts, which start at a minimum of 20k followers, maintaining a readership of about 2,000 monthly subscribers, and juggling about 300 new emails every day from them is just the beginning. Quinn also sets aside a good amount of time for the dozens of correspondence that she receives from brands and companies that want to work with her, mainly because she’s savvy to its importance, but also because it’s what pays the bills “Yes it’s crazy at times, but it’s better than the alternative,” she said mid-interview, while her phone happened to go off, “getting paid by brands makes so much sense because I’m basically telling my readers, who trust my taste, that she should buy what I buy. It has to be natural and organic to my brand. If it isn’t you can see right through that.”

If you’re looking at the creative side of blogging, one reason for both Buzan’s and Quinn’s success could be their commitment to their respective “niches.” For Buzan, her brand speaks to plus size fashionistas who love rock n’ roll. For Quinn, her blog attracts girls who’s bright and bold style may not necessarily fit in with today’s trends of neutrals. Self-expression is a huge reason why bloggers blog, and why readers read blogs. Lifestyle blogging can connect a blogger with like minded individuals, and when you’re blogging about things like fashion, interior design, and lifestyle, you’re letting your creativity guide your platform. You’re showing people how you lead your life, and like in Courtney Quinn’s case, people are inspired by it. Quinn explains, “I want younger girls to see someone who isn’t necessarily a size 2 in clothing that’s maybe a little out there. I want to share how I like to decorate my apartment or how I would go about throwing a party so that other people can maybe learn something or just have fun reading about it.”

A blogger is “a blogger” once they’ve created their platform; there’s no certification process to achieve this sometimes self-proclaimed title. The accessibility for everyone and anyone to become a blogger is a significant factor in the industry’s popularity, but that doesn’t mean it’s quite that simple. There are, attached with the potential of high earnings, highly technical skills essential to becoming successful in the field. Like the iBlogMagazine study concludes, “there is a learning curve in the lifetime of a blogger which [begins] with sponsored posts, affiliate links and evolves later as the size and strength of their blogs evolve. Brand ambassadorships, national projects and selling products, books and tutorials usually arise later in the blogger business life cycle.” For a blog to really break into the industry, the creator needs to be business savvy and committed; for an industry that’s groundbreaking in its inclusiveness, success isn’t as attainable as one would think.