No, that figure is not a typo. No, this isn’t clickbait.
Yes, in August, Sarah and I signed enough partnerships/brand deals in one month that the payout was more than the average American household makes in an entire year. We feel incredibly blessed and grateful to wake up each day and do what we love. There’s no greater feeling than seeing something you built from nothing turn into something that you’d only dreamed of. But something tells me you’re more interested in the details: How much exactly did we make that month? And how did we make it happen?
THE COME UP
“I had to grind like that, to shine like this” – Meek Mill, Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)
When Sarah and I started this journey together back in 2013, we both had less than 1,000 followers on Instagram and absolutely no road map to where we wanted to go. All we had was a dream. Sarah was incredibly fashionable, stunningly gorgeous, and had a degree in Advertising, and I was a creative with a marketing mind and entrepreneurial ambition. We saw all the big bloggers and social media stars (the term “influencer” hadn’t even been coined yet) and dreamed about one day being at that level. To be honest, at the time, the goal of where we wanted to be was so far away that it almost felt like a pipe dream. We were no different than the 18 year old theater student fresh out of high school, moving to Los Angeles and envisioning becoming the next Brad Pitt. Of course it was our ultimate goal to make a full-time living off Instagram and get paid to promote our favorite brands, wear free clothes, and take amazing trips, but this journey was so new that we couldn’t even see how we were going to get to the next turn in the road, much less the final destination.
Being an entrepreneur is a lot like driving in the fog: You know where you want to go, you just can’t see how to get there. So you just keep driving and hope you find it eventually. Even when visibility is low, turning back is not an option when you have somewhere you need to be. And for me, I had committed to myself at a young age that I would never accept anything less than exactly what I wanted for my life/career.
Fast forward to 2016 when Team Tripp moved to San Francisco for no other reason than to chase our dreams. We had no family here. No job to take, no school to transfer to, we just wanted to live in a city where things happen. We had dreams to make reality and we knew we couldn’t chase them in a small market, so we packed up our things and moved to the City by the Bay. We spent the next year making connections, honing our craft, and spending each day grinding our asses off for what we wanted.
When 2017 rolled around, we knew that we had to take an even bigger leap if we wanted to achieve our dreams. No one ever accomplished anything important by being halfway in or having a safety net. At the time, I was making a good salary as the Director of Marketing at an organization back in Utah but still barely enough to live comfortably in San Francisco. Considering anything below $117k/year is considered low income the Bay Area (yes you read that right) the cost of living raises the stakes that much higher. We were already dedicating one of my bi-weekly paychecks to rent every month, and then would live off the other the rest of the month. Like true millennials living in the city, were spending more than half our money on rent and barely saving anything. Sarah had quit her last job of being an online stylist for an outfit subscription service, which was at least a steady paycheck that gave us some extra money each month. We had cut off all our guaranteed income after moving to the most expensive city in America and were now feeling unsure if we could even afford to pay the rent in SF indefinitely if things didn’t work out. Why did we do this? Because it was time to sink or swim. It was time to bet on ourselves.
THE GLOW UP
“Our ‘overnight’ success took 1,000 days.” – Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb
2017 was our breakout year, no doubt about it. Through hard work and pure persistence, we started checking off major goals on our vision board. In the first quarter of the year, we locked up campaigns with Aerie and Nike, two brands that were on our goal list, and I gave my first TEDx talk. As the year went on, the sponsored campaigns kept rolling in, my book kept selling, our following kept growing, and we were doing it. We had jumped into the deep end and we were actually swimming.
Then in August 2017, the viral curvy wife post happened. My Instagram tribute to my beautiful Sarah took on a life of its own and was covered by every major media outlet in the US and then internationally. Within a week or two, both of our followings on Instagram tripled. We appeared on Good Morning America, BBC Radio, Good Morning Britain, TODAY, and countless other publications. Since that week over a year ago, our life has not slowed down for a minute since.
As 2017 progressed, we continued to blow past every goal we had set for ourselves that year. We were doing everything ourselves, no assistant, no team, no agency. From the minute we woke up to the time at night where our eyes were blurry with fatigue, we were hunched over our laptops in our one bedroom apartment here in SF, grinding away. The campaigns were starting to get bigger, the sponsored trips were starting to become more regular, and somewhere along the way we realized that we were actually out here. After four long years of dreaming and grinding and figuring it out along the way, we were finally making a full-time income (a San Francisco income nonetheless) off the blog and our social media presence. It felt amazing and I’d like to think that we allowed ourselves to stop and smell the roses of our success for a minute but things truly were moving so fast at that point.
In July 2017, I signed with a literary agent and began working on my forthcoming book. I also started doing my own sponsored campaigns as well while continuing to run the business development and creative direction for Sassy Red Lipstick. By that time, several social media talent agencies began reaching out for us to sign with them. By the end of the year, knowing we couldn’t continue at such a breakneck pace, we decided to sign with one based in NYC.
“I like all my profits, man I hardly do percents.” – Drake, “Nonstop”
As we entered 2018, we began to worry about the decision we had made to sign with agency. It was nothing against the particular agency at all, in fact we loved the people we worked with, we just were used to doing everything ourselves. Our purpose in signing in the first place was to allow us more time to create content and less time buried in our email inbox, bogged down in the million back and forths that are required for a successful campaign. Our other main goal was to connect with an agency that had big time connections with global brands and get some serious long-term partnerships going. But after several months had passed, we weren’t seeing the type of results we wanted. It was great having an agent that could handle a lot of the day to day minutia, but we still felt that we weren’t seeing the success we had hoped for. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just differing expectations.
At this point, we had to make a huge decision: 1) Stay with the agency to continue handling our inquiries even though it was taking 20% commission of all our earnings or 2) Go back to being self-managed and put all that weight back on our shoulders, even though we were busier than we’d even been before. It was a tough decision. Sarah and I had a lot of discussions, arguments, and fights about it. As an entrepreneur, it was killing me to have to share a percentage of our income with a third party and not feeling like we were getting the return on our investment. For Sarah, she also knew it wasn’t working but couldn’t imagine how any more work could possibly fit on her already full plate. Finally, in August, we made the hard decision:
We were going back out on our own.
I created my own agency-of-one Tripp Creative (more on that later) and doubled down on my previous responsibilities of handling all our inquiries and chasing down new partnerships. We had spent the past year giving 20% of our income to an agency, and I was determined to make that money back and then some. July 31 was the day our contract expired, which meant August 1 was our first day of doing everything ourselves for the first time in nearly a year. Overnight, my responsibilities for our livelihood multiplied 10x and I was ready for it.
I’ve talked a lot about the necessity of the outbound grind and how it’s career suicide to wait for work to come to you. I’ve always been a firm believer that you don’t wait for Mr. Opportunity to come knocking, you drive up on his front lawn, knock down his door, and drag him out of the damn house. During the month of August, I spent entire days on LinkedIn, 8+ hours searching for the right brand contacts, sending emails and DMs, and pitching Team Tripp for sponsored campaigns. I was on the outbound grind all day long, and I was thrilled to be back in the negotiation seat, setting our own rates and securing deals.
We were busy as ever, and of course we knew we were cooking, but it wasn’t until August ended and we came up for air that we realized what kind of month we’d had. When we looked at our spreadsheet of the campaign deals we had signed that month and calculated the numbers, we were pleasantly surprised that we’d just had our all-time best month ever:
$102,500 in partnerships signed.
Of course we were very proud of ourselves for reaching that figure in just the 31 days of August. It felt amazing to know that when those checks started rolling in over the next several months, we would be keeping 100% of the money, no commissions to a third party, no percentages owed. We’d had some great months earlier this year ($50k months in both January and May), but this is an all-time high. Considering the fact that we wrote a big article last year about how we made over six figures in one year blogging, to know we were now hitting that mark in one month was a satisfying achievement.
“A team aligned behind a vision will move mountains.” – Kevin Rose, entrepreneur/venture capitalist
In the interest of time, I’ll get straight to the point: No one can maintain a breakneck pace forever. People who do, end up sacrificing things far greater and more important in life than what they’re earning. In the end, something has to give. For Sarah and I, we were enjoying having the most successful months of our careers, but they were also the most difficult. If we thought we were cooped up working at home and tied to our laptops before, our work/life balance disappeared entirely when we started managing everything ourselves. Sarah began doing at least one photoshoot a day seven days a week, sometimes as many as three in one day. For me, all of my creative endeavors and passion projects were put on complete pause as I spent 12-14 hours a day on my laptop handling all our business inquiries and acting as a one-man creative agency, taking photos and video, editing every blog post and vlog, fixing the website, pitching brands, etc. Needless to say, it was exhausting and it began taking a serious toll on our mental health, our relationship, and our overall happiness.
After a few months of making that independent money, we received an email that couldn’t have been more well-timed. When we saw an email from Digital Brand Architects (DBA) in our inbox, we knew it was a good thing. For those of you not in the influencer/social media space, DBA is the premier management agency for most of the world’s top bloggers, YouTubers, and internet personalities. All the way back in 2013, I specifically remember Sarah saying her dream was to be represented by DBA. And here they were reaching out.
At this point, we were faced with a decision: Do we go back into the world of agencies/managers that we swore off just a few months prior? After leaving our previous agency, I was determined to handle everything on our own from then on. But even though we had signed over $100k in campaigns during the month of August, how much was our sanity and life balance really worth?
We decided to fly down to LA to take the meeting with DBA. They were just as impressive as their reputation would suggest. As we chatted with their team in their ultra-chic office in West Hollywood, in a conference room with windows that overlooked the glamorous LA skyline, we knew that in order for Team Tripp to grow in many different categories, not just financially, we needed to team up with people who could help us spread our wings. We had learned over the last several months that the cost of keeping 100% of our earnings was actually not even worth it when compared to giving a percentage away and being able to work smarter/more effectively.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” – Sheryl Sandberg
I don’t write this post to brag. Not even close. I do it for two reasons: to inform and to motivate.
I’ve met and worked with countless influencers and bloggers who are making serious money online and guess what? No one talks about this stuff, not even with each other. Sarah and I have always believed in being open and genuine, and have always been confused as to why other bloggers/influencer refuse to talk about what they charge per post or what their stats are. How can anyone learn and grow if they’re kept in the dark? I’ve had many conversations and consultations with influencers where they’ve had a legitimate “ah-ha!” moment when I started talking openly about our rates, earnings, metrics, etc. For me, there’s no better feeling than giving a fellow influencer the empowerment to realize: “Hey, that’s what I should be charging brands for a sponsored post! I know what I’m worth, and I’m not going to settle any longer.” There is so much secrecy in the influencer world and I’m not sure why it exists. The more information we all have, the better off we’ll be!
The other reason I write this post is for the same reason I do anything on my platform: To show you that it’s possible to achieve your dreams!! If I can do it, so can you. When Sarah and I were just two college kids in love, starting this crazy journey, we had no idea what we were doing. I barely had enough money to buy her a wedding ring and our first Christmas together I bought her a used pair of Kate Spade heels off eBay because that’s all I could afford. Looking back on where I came from, you better believe it feels damn good to be balling like we are. And I want you to feel that feeling too!
Whatever your dream is, keep grinding. It’s 2018. There are no rules! All you need is wi-fi and a dream. At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money you make or how many followers you have, it’s about living a life full of passion and creativity. In the beautiful words of Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
I believe in you. You can turn your dreams into reality. Now go out there and get what’s yours.
We out here.
– Robbie Tripp