The Influencer Business | An Honest Look Behind the Scenes

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
woman in animal print dress leaning against a stair railing in front of an office building

Have you always wondered what the influencer business is really like? I get it! I’m always curious about how other people’s businesses work too! I’ve had lots of requests for this post, and it was fun for me to write.

I started working on this post while I was in Idaho, but then I stepped back a bit and decided to focus more on enjoying the time with our daughter. I know you understand that! Then, when I got back I had to catch up on everything. (Read that: packages, mail, email, and LAUNDRY!) Once I got myself semi-together ????????, I picked it back up! I know I’ve promised you this post for several weeks, and I’m grateful for your sweet understanding! ????

Like most businesses, the best ones are mission-driven. Mine is no different! I’ve said it many times, but when I created Empty Nest Blessed nearly five years ago, I set out to bless, encourage, and inspire empty nesters. That mission hasn’t changed! I’ve always wanted Empty Nest Blessed to reflect our lives as women: multi-faceted, complex, and, most of all, heart-driven. As women, we care deeply about our kids, grandkids, and extended families. Yet we also want to know how to stay healthy and fit so we can keep up with them, and how to look stylish and beautiful doing it!

I’m right there with you, believe me! That’s why I cover everything from health & fitness and beauty to parenting adult children and fashion. I’m curious, love to discover new things, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take you along with me! Your trust in me is what I hold most dear, and, as I’ve told you many times, I take my commitment to you very seriously.

At Empty Nest Blessed, my goal has never been to make money. As a newbie, I wanted to break even, pay the costs associated with having good photography, a high-quality website, and a branded email address. But it soon became clear to me (thanks to you all!) that just writing a blog was not enough. If I talked about something, you wanted to know where to learn more. If I wore something, you wanted to know where I got it. If I made a recipe, you wanted to know where to buy my slow cooker. It soon became clear that if I was going to share my life with you, I was going to need to resource you as well.

So you could say I backed into the influencer business! At the same time I was sharing more and more of my life with you, the influencer business was ramping up and growing at an unprecedented pace. Six months after I started, I was asked to join rewardStyle as (at the time) one of about 10K influencers world-wide.

A lot has changed since then, and today, I’m pulling back the curtain, and giving you an honest look at the business side of what I do.

The Influencer Business: How It All Began

With the advent of the digital age, media has gradually shifted in the past 25 years. Businesses that used to promote products through traditional avenues like magazines, newspapers, TV, and radio, have shifted. When it comes to promotional spending, for many marketing departments, influencers are at the top. So how did we get here?

The influencer business started about 15 years ago, but the onset of what you see today really started about nine years ago. At that time, personal shopper, jewelry maker, and fashion blogger Amber Venz and her then-boyfriend, Baxter Box, started talking about creating a way that fashion bloggers and social media influencers could monetize their posts. In 2011, the Boxes got married, rewardStyle was born, and they pulled in $60 million in their first year. It’s no cliche to say that the rest is history.

Today, rewardStyle drives $1B in annual retail sales by uniting over 5K retailers, 70K influencers, and 700 million consumers through the power of original content created by people like me. As a rewardStyle influencer, I have access to tools, retail partners, and individualized consulting services—all designed to help me create better content.

In 2017, rewardStyle launched the LiketoKnow.it app (aka, the LTK app), a primarily mobile (although it is also available on desktop) shopping app that provides searchable and immediately shoppable content to consumers. (To follow me on the LTK app, click HERE on your mobile device and tap “FOLLOW.”)

Fast forward to March 2020. (Thanks, COVID!) Business experts estimate that the past six months has done the equivalent of advancing business six years. (That’s one year for every month! ????) When physical storefronts shut down in March, e-commerce jumped from 10% to 99% of all sales.

In the first half of 2020, consumers purchased more than $1 billion worth of products from rewardStyle influencer content, and are projected to purchase nearly $2.5 billion by the end of 2020. Today, the LIKEtoKNOW.it shopping app is responsible for driving 50 percent of that, with sales across blogs and other social platforms contributing to the balance. 

And it wasn’t just clothes.

As physical shopping outlets shut down, social media use greatly increased, and influencers became consumers “window to the world,” in a sense, with followers relying not just on influencers for clothes, but for everyday goods as well. Here at Empty Nest Blessed, I saw a huge spike in not only my email subscriber list, but also in my followers on social media, and their interactions with me.

As for me, although I never set out to make money, the industry grew and changed, and I realized that I was going to have to evolve (at least somewhat), in order to stay relevant. I will never stop writing about topics like What Your 20-Something Wants to Tell You (and Needs to Hear From You) or A Step-by-Step Plan For Finding Your Purpose in the Empty Nest. But at the same time, many of you have told me how much you appreciate everything from my fashion and beauty content to my relationship with my adult kids.

I want to provide you with content that meets your needs, is easily accessible, and makes the shopping process efficient. I’ve pledged to you that I will only promote products that I use myself, love, and recommend. I’m not here to get rich, support a family, or talk you into buying products, clothing, or anything else that you do not want or need.????

woman in animal print dress leaning against a stair railing in front of an office building

The Influencer Business: The Foundation

In some respects, the influencer business is no different from any other business! These things ring true, no matter what business you’re talking about:

  • Things are more complex than they look at first glance.
  • The more work that goes on behind the scenes, the more things look effortless on the surface.
  • Things usually take longer than you probably think. (For example, did you know my weekend posts take between 7-8 hours to put together, link, and write?)

The Influencer Business: Answering Your Questions

A few weeks ago, I asked you here, as well as on my Instastory, to submit your questions about the influencer business. Here they are, along with my honest answers.

How did you become an Influencer?

That’s a long, funny story! I’ve answered it previously in several places. Here are some relevant links:

  • Click HERE for my interview in Voyage Dallas Magazine.
  • Click HERE for my interview on the How’d She Do That? podcast.
  • Click HERE for a post where I answered your questions about me and how Empty Nest Blessed came to be.

How many hours do you work a week on average?

I work seven days a week, between 60 and 70 hours a week. My job doesn’t quite look like a “normal” job! My work includes things like:

  • Shopping online, unboxing, and boxing for returns.
  • Steaming outfits and taking photos.
  • Emailing and negotiating with brands. (Thanks to Bob who loves to run the numbers on things like this, I can tell you that I turn down 98% of the collaborations that are offered to me!)
  • Responding to emails, blog comments, Facebook, and Instagram comments and direct messages.
  • Creating Instagram and Facebook posts, InstaStories, Facebook Stories, IGTV, LiketoKnow.it, and YouTube videos.
  • Writing blog posts.
  • Looking at analytics to see what you’re most interested in and help me plan for the future.
  • “Shopping” for unique ideas for my Holiday Gift Guides. (Yes, we’ve already started!)
woman in animal print dress leaning against a stair railing in front of an office building

What do you do with all the products and clothes you feature?

That is a great question! First of all, I don’t order anything that I don’t really love and want to wear. Also, if you watch my Instagram closely, you’ll see that I do re-wear things and post about them more than once. Once they’re out of stores, I keep them if:

The rest either goes to a family member, I donate it, or I sell it on ThredUp.com.

screenshot of @emptynestblessed Instagram profile page

How do you build followers?

I don’t want to oversimplify things, but I honestly think it’s creating content that is helpful, interesting, and relevant. I also think consistency and authenticity are key. If you meet me, you’ll find that when I talk with you, I sound just like I do when I write! I’m the same person in my IGTV videos as I am in my emails!

Now, if we’re talking about Instagram, the answer is the same, but a little more complex! Since this question came from one of my Instagram followers, I actually think she was talking about building Instagram followers, so let’s talk about that!

Building authentic followers is a big, big deal and it takes work. Back when Instagram first started, the whole key was to have as many followers as possible. Influencers (called “bloggers” back then) would do things like pay for followers or take part in loop giveaways, in order to build their follower numbers as much as possible. (Loop giveaways are those in which participants have to follow multiple accounts to enter.) I never purchased followers, but I did take part in loop giveaways for a year or so, thinking it was the thing you were supposed to do. (Everybody did it back then!)

What I found was that lots of people followed me, but they were mostly people who wanted to win a prize. They weren’t really interested in my content. I rarely do those anymore, although I did make an exception recently when I participated in one with other influencers who are also in the women-over-50 niche. Since we were all in a similar demographic, it was a good way for new followers to discover me.

About 2-3 years ago, brands got wise to the fact that having a lot of followers wasn’t necessarily an indicator of an influencers’ actual “influence.” (Go figure!) Now they’re much more into “reach” and “engagement” as important metrics.

  • Reach measures the number of people who actually see an influencer’s content.
  • Engagement measures the percentage of followers that interact by liking and/or commenting on an influencer’s post.

Around the same time, a leading ambassador marketing agency called Fohr developed a computer algorithm to accurately measure influencer reach.

Fohr Verified Reach signifies that an influencer’s Instagram Reach is performing above the Fohr Verified Reach benchmark. It’s a designation that tells brands and agencies that an influencer’s following is active and engaged, and that in-feed Instagram posts are getting a healthy number of views. Getting “Fohr Verified” is a big deal for an influencer, and most verified influencers will indicate on their Instagram profile page if they’re Fohr verified.

fohr verified reach badge for @emptynestblessed

As I approached 20K followers on Instagram, I made the decision that getting the Fohr verified designation was really important to me! Not only are authenticity and honesty important in my business, but they’re also personal character qualities that I value!

Since I was still carrying a bunch of inactive (or fake) followers from my giveaway years, my assistant, Natalie, and I knew we had our work cut out for us! We spent the better part of a month going through every single follower, and looking for key indicators that they were not authentic. Then we blocked them.

At the end of that process, we had deleted over 5K followers! I got my Fohr Verified badge, and I was so happy! Unfortunately, every day I have to block 30-50 fake accounts on Instagram just to keep things real and authentic! We have a joke in my family that Keanu Reeves is obsessed with me, because some fake Keanu account tries to follow me almost every day! (Also, a few Princes are also vying for my attention!)

example of a fake instagram account

Do you hire a virtual assistant or do all the computer work yourself?

I have an assistant named Natalie that I adore! She is as calm and classy as I am hyper and sassy, so we work well together! You can read about her HERE. She does things like make collages, post exclusive content to my page on the LiketoKnow.it app. She also helps me with Instagram comments and handles my Pinterest page.

At especially busy times of the year, I sometimes hire additional, short-term help. Last summer I hired a teacher who was a social media whiz and was looking for a little extra summer income. She was awesome!

Other than that, my tech team over at WP Barista provides website hosting and helps me with anything tech-related that is over my head! (Like writing custom code for my website, etc.)

I hope you learned a lot about the influencer business today! Was there a lot more to it than you thought? ???? Thanks again for your patience in waiting for this post! If you have any more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Suzy Mighell

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14 Comments

  1. Very informative and food for thought. Does anyone really plan to be an influencer? I think like you, I may realize that because of my writing and platform I could be but I haven’t mastered working with brands (probably because I haven’t put in the effort). I’m going to come back to this post if I take becoming an influencer seriously.

    1. Nylse,
      I I did want to do what I’m doing, but didn’t really know it would evolve into what it is today. As I said in the post, I’ve found that the industry changed (rapidly!) and I had to keep growing and changing to keep up. Also, I actually rarely reach out to brands. They almost always reach out to me!
      Have a great weekend!
      xoxo
      Suzy

    1. Jennie,
      Wow! That’s so nice! Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
      xoxo Suzy

  2. What! Keanu Reeves and Prince Harry don’t really want to follow me!????????
    Great post, Suzy! It is amazing all the time and work that goes into being an influencer. I am definitely noticing a lot more sponsored content on other’s feeds.

    1. Marjie,
      Hahaha! I will send Keanu and the Princes your way. (You can have them!!!) I’m so glad you liked the post, Marjie! You’re doing a great job! Keep up the good work!
      xoxo Suzy

  3. Hi Suzy!
    I finally got the chance to read this post! So interesting!! I learned a great deal about the world of influencers (glad you told me that just means “blogger” in more hip terminology!!). Maybe Keneau and Prince Harry are truly following you, just using the name John Smith or something! 🙂
    I hope you have a lovely and restful Lord’s Day!

    1. Betsie,
      So glad you liked the post! Glad you learned something! Keanu and Prince Harry have nothing on Bob!!! Thanks so much for your sweet comment!
      xoxo
      Suzy

  4. Hi Suzy!
    I really found your post informative, especially the history. I never knew about the Fohr Verified Designation and I am going to be looking for that amongst the influencers I am following.
    Thank you for a glimpse into what it is like to be an influencer and all the behind the scenes work you put in. It is so fun to follow you and now I am aware and appreciate all the work you put in!
    Thank you once again for authentically sharing,
    Robben

    1. Robben,
      Aw, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing them with me! Your thoughts mean so much to me!
      xoxo Suzy

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