I Abandoned My Plan To Be A Software Engineer And Became An Influencer

  • Vanessa Chen has a degree in computer-science but chose to pursue content creation.
  • She started posting her outfits as a viral hobby and grew her following to more than 4 million.
  • Now he earns six figures and collaborates with his favorite brands. Engineering is his backup plan.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Vanessa Chen, a 22-year-old content creator in Boston. His income is confirmed by Insider documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Before the pandemic, I was a computer-science undergraduate with plans to become a software engineer. Today I am a full-time content creator with over 4 million followers across YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok earning a half-six-figure income.

My pandemic hobby turned into my full-time job thanks to the right timing. Like many people, I started posting videos of my outfits just for fun during lockdowns because I’m always in fashion. While I have the largest share of followers on TikTok today, my social-media journey began with Instagram. Reels has just been launched, and not many people are using the feature yet.

I have relied on video content from the beginning. My Instagram stats exploded when I started posting videos, and the same thing happened when I repurposed my content for TikTok and YouTube Shorts. Before Reels, I had about 1,500 followers on Instagram. In six months of posting every day, I reached 100,000 followers.

I want to take advantage of this content creation career while I have it because there is no job security in social media. My computer-science degree was my backup plan.

Juggling content creation and college isn’t easy

I turned down an internship offer in the summer of 2021 to focus on my social media. I was nervous at first, but I saw a lot of people struggling to do a full-time job and create content, so I knew it was the right time for me to go all in because it would be more difficult this.

Fortunately, I made more money that summer than I could have from the internship, and by the time I graduated, I had built enough of a following to become a full-time content creator.

I built my content creation job as a 9-to-5

While many people think the job of an influencer is glamorous, my work day looks like a 9-to-5 job, except it’s just me and my stuff in my bedroom. I used to have a part-time assistant who was a student and could only work during school vacations, but now, it’s a one-woman show. I plan to hire a full-time assistant soon.

On a typical day, I wake up and go straight to filming. I know a lot of people batch their content, but I film and edit in the same day. It’s tiring to keep up with trends, so I try to film what I’m most passionate about. When I’m in a rut, I look at my old videos for inspiration — I can always change a trend, transition, or sound in a new way. It gives me a backlog of ideas that I will hopefully never run out of.

After that, I usually check my emails, go to the gym, go home, and eat. I spend a few hours at night with my fiancé, Jason, and then I go to bed and do it all over again the next day.

You’d think, as a content creator, I’m up to date with everything on social media, but I try to avoid technology in my free time for my mental health.

When I’m working, I check social media to see what others are posting, especially when I’m lacking inspiration. But I am very careful to make sure that I always put my own creativity or talent into the content that I am inspired by.

I leveled up by hiring a management company

Before I had a manager, I didn’t make much money. The industry is still new and nobody talks about money, so I don’t know how much to pay. It didn’t help that I was terrible at negotiating.

But I heard that influencers can make a lot of money, so I decided to hire a talent-management company two years ago, and it changed the game. My current management company reached out to me when I only had 10,000 followers. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I needed it, so I didn’t. A few months later, it contacted me again, and I realized that I needed help negotiating and dealing with brands. It’s been great ever since.

My management company negotiates contracts for me, so I can focus on what I do best: content creation.

My income comes from several places

About 80% of my income comes from sponsorship deals, and the rest from affiliate codes and ad revenue. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of the brands I loved growing up, including Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, Lululemon, Reebok, Marshalls, and Nike. Last year, Amazon asked me to work on a clothing line with them, and it was an exciting opportunity.

My progress was exponential in the beginning, and it’s starting to plateau, which can be scary, but I’m comfortable with it. I don’t have to chase numbers, and I know what I’m doing.

Some creators think that higher numbers equal higher income, but in my experience, many times brands prioritize quality content and high engagement over followers alone. I’d rather have 100,000 followers who actually connect with my content than 1 million followers who barely know who I am or don’t consume my content regularly.

Hopefully, if I play my cards right and start investing my money in the right places, I can be semi-retired, or at least not have to work every day, by the time I want to settle down and have a children. I haven’t invested yet, but Jason and I are talking about investing our savings soon in areas like stocks or properties.

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