- Vanessa Chen has a degree in computer science but chose to devote herself to content creation.
- She started posting her outfits as a pandemic hobby and grew her follower count to over 4 million.
- Now she earns six figures and collaborates with her favorite brands. Engineering is his backup plan.
This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Vanessa Chen, a 22-year-old content creator in Boston. His income was verified with documents by Insider. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Before the pandemic, I was an undergraduate computer science student with plans to become a software engineer. Now I’m a full-time content creator with over 4 million subscribers on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok earning an average 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 lockdown because I’ve always been into fashion. Although I now have my biggest share of followers on TikTok, my social media journey started with Instagram. It had just rolled out Reels, and there weren’t many people using the feature yet.
I leaned towards video content from the start. My Instagram stats skyrocketed once I started posting videos, and the same thing happened when I redirected my content for TikTok and YouTube Shorts. Before Reels, I had about 1,500 followers on Instagram. Within six months of posting daily, I reached 100,000 subscribers.
I want to make the most of this content creation career while I have it because there is no job security in social media. My computer science degree is my backup plan.
Juggling content creation and college hasn’t been easy
I turned down a summer internship offer in 2021 to focus on my social media. I was nervous at first, but saw a lot of people struggling to do both full-time work and content creation, so I knew it was a good time for me to get started. because it would become even more difficult.
Fortunately, I ended up making more money that summer than I would have made from the internship, and by the time I graduated I had enough followers to be a creator of full-time content.
I structure my content creation work like a 9 to 5
While many people think the job of an influencer is glamorous, my workday feels like a 9 to 5 job, except it’s just me and my gear in my room. Before, I had a part-time assistant who was a student and could only work during school holidays, but now it’s a one-woman show. I plan to hire a full-time assistant soon.
On a typical day, I get up and go straight to filming. I know a lot of people bundle their content, but I shoot and edit on the same day. It’s very tiring to constantly follow trends, so I try to film what excites me the most. When I’m in a rut, I look to my old videos for inspiration – I can always redo a trend, transition or sound in a new way. It gives me a backlog of ideas that I hope I will never run out of.
Once that’s done, I usually check my email, hit the gym, come home, and eat. I spend a few hours in the evening with my fiancé, Jason, and then I go to sleep and rehearse everything the next day.
You would think that as a content creator I would know everything on social media, but I try to avoid technology in my spare time for the sake of my mental health.
When I’m working, I check social media to see what other people are posting, especially when I’m lacking inspiration. But I take special care to ensure that I always put my own creative touch on the content that inspires me.
I leveled up by hiring a management company
Before I had a manager, I didn’t make a lot of money. The industry was new and no one was talking about money so I didn’t know how much to charge. 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 was a game changer. My current management company contacted me when I only had 10,000 subscribers. At that time, I wasn’t sure I needed it, so I said no. A few months later he contacted me again and I realized that I needed help in negotiating and dealing with brands. It’s been great ever since.
My management company takes care of the contracts for me, so I can focus on what I do best: creating content.
My income comes from a few places
About 80% of my income comes from referral deals, and the rest comes from affiliate codes and advertising revenue. I’m very lucky to have worked with many brands that 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 growth was exponential at first, and it started to plateau, which can be scary, but I’m pretty comfortable with it. I no longer need to run after numbers and I know what I’m doing.
Some creators believe that a higher number equals higher revenue, but in my experience, brands often prioritize quality content and high engagement over just followers. I would much rather have 100,000 subscribers who genuinely connect with my content than a million subscribers who barely know who I am or don’t consume my content regularly.
I hope that if I play my cards right and start investing my money in the right places, I can semi-retire, or at least not have to work every day, when I want to. settle down and have children. I haven’t invested yet, but Jason and I have talked about investing our life savings soon in things like stocks or properties.