Just How Do Influencers Afford To Pay The Bills?

Cos free food and sponsored clothes just aren't the same as an actual salary. We ask a financial guru about money matters that social media influencers may be neglecting.

All these social media influencers and their fab picture-perfect lives — they're practically drowning in free clothes/bags/shoes, get to travel for work and don’t have to be holed up at a stuffy cubicle from 9am to 6pm. Sounds like the dream job? Before you ditch that Powerpoint presentation for an OOTD photoshoot, remember that all the PR gifts and food tastings in the world don’t translate into actual income. Sure, bona fide influencers do get paid by advertisers, but for every one Yoyo Cao, Drea Chong or Xiaxue, there are a gazillion aspiring influencers who only get paid with free BB cushions or hosted tastings.

The bottomline: If you're thinking of this as a full-time career but don't have the following of top influencers (yet), there are financial implications to consider. To find out more, we asked Anna Haotanto, 33, CEO of a fintech startup who made her first million bucks at 29. She runs The New Savvy (thenewsavvy.com), a website aimed at educating women in financial literacy, and is among the entrepreneurs featured in the sophomore season of Channel NewsAsia docu-series Millionaire Minds.

“I think it’s amazing that being an influencer is now a sustainable career path. I have seen how the whole industry blossomed. I was sceptical at first, I think the rise of digitalisation and social media have made peer-to-peer recommendations more credible,” says Anna, who has some cents-ible tips that no social media influencer will tell you about.

Part of the motivation for Anna to set up The New Savvy was her family’s financial situation. She recalls: "We struggled financially and we didn’t own a flat. Instead, we were renting. I saw my parents make financial mistakes, like borrowing against credit card. And since I’m the main breadwinner of family, I wanted to make sure that the mortgage is taken care of. When I was in SMU, our rent kept increasing. As it is, our disposable income was already insufficient. Our rent had increased from $2k to $2,200 to $2,400. If you’re earning only $3k, even a $200 is a lot ’cos you don’t have savings and there are fixed expenses to pay. So I’d always thought of how I could get my family out of our situation." Photo: Ealbert Ho

#1: It should not be a full-time job.
“While being an influencer can be quite lucrative, I view it as a contract or freelancing job. The income stream is quite erratic and they don’t have CPF or insurance [as part of corporate benefits].”

#2: Make your money work for you.
“Prioritise to save and invest your money early on in your career, especially while you have high earning capabilities. The earlier, the better to enjoy the power of compounding. And if you lack discipline, try automating your savings."

#3: Be prepared for a rainy day.
“Focus on building an emergency fund. Make sure you have at least 6 months of savings for unforeseen circumstances. Focus on healthcare and insurance. Make sure you are prepared for medical expenses and hospital bills. Get yourself covered as early as possible – especially when buying accident, health, retirement, and life insurance plans.”

#4: Have a plan B.
“Think about what happens when this stream of income goes away. For instance, people used  to blog, but now people don’t read blogs that much and have moved on to Instagram. But what happens if Instagram isn’t in vogue anymore? Always think of what happens next, and what your appeal is. Whether it’s food, lifestyle or fashion, make sure you have another stream of income. It’s also about getting other skills to get that wealth of knowledge and be more useful.”

Millionaire Minds airs Tue, on Channel NewsAsia, 8.30pm. Catch Anna on the Nov 21 ep. Catch-up episodes on www.channelnewsasia.com. 

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