A few years ago, after being made redundant from my job as an interior design assistant, where I worked two week days and every other Saturday, helping customers choose fabrics, wallpapers, and creating moodboards, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It wasn’t easy to find a job in this popular industry that would allow me to work part-time, and that would be as local and convenient as the last.
During this period of uncertainty, my beloved dad was afflicted with a rare form of skin cancer on the right side of his face. Our family had never been personally touched by this terrible disease and it was a really difficult time for all of us. Having been misdiagnosed as a cyst, the cancer had been left to run riot for far too long, and resulted in my dad having to lose his ear in order to be rid of it. Myself, my mum and my two sisters watched him go through an arduous operation, and wake up with a vital part of himself missing; harsh staples trailing down his face and neck, yet his faith in God and his optimistic character was absolutely steadfast – what a hero he is to us all!
Once he was out of intensive care and on the mend (his cancer hadn’t spread and to this day has never returned) he was to be discharged. I wanted to get him a gift to celebrate his return home and his recovery, but he is notoriously difficult to buy for (as are most men I find) and so I googled ‘gifts for men’ as you do when you’re struggling for ideas. I saw an advert for a personalised house drawing, and I thought this would be a perfect choice since my parents have lived happily in their house for around 30 years. But I also thought that I could make my own instead of commissioning one from a stranger. My grandfather was an incredible artist and I have inherited his ability to draw (although admittedly nowhere near as well.)
My dad and mum LOVED the illustration, and since it was November and I knew people would be doing their Christmas shopping, I asked friends and family whether anyone would like me to create them a bespoke drawing. I couldn’t believe it as orders came in thick and fast – I was busy making them right up to Christmas eve! In January I launched my Etsy shop and following this, a storefront on Not On The Highstreet, creating these hand-drawn, personalised artworks of homes, pubs, wedding venues etc.
I made an Instagram account for my business, and I soon realised that most of my orders that came through it were from accounts full of photos of their home interiors. I hadn’t even known this was a thing but after some research, I approached an interiors account who had lots of followers and asked them if I could create them a bespoke drawing in exchange for a shout out on their feed. You can see the post below.
Although it took me around 8 hours to draw and paint the picture, and I didn’t get any money for it, her post brought me lots of new followers and business too, so it was well worth the exchange.
Since my first love is interior design, and I had recently renovated my Victorian home, I decided in October 2017, to start my own home décor account, mainly to try and drive traffic to my illustration account, but also as a hobby, as I loved the idea of showing what I had done in my home, and chatting with other interiors fanatics about cushions and wall colours.
On 21st October 2019, it was my 2 year ‘Insta birthday’, and what a fab two years it’s been. I have learnt so much, had some fantastic opportunities come my way, such as writing for magazines, and being featured in 25 Beautiful Homes, and attending events. I’ve made new friends, and made money for my family and I am so grateful for it all.
Now onto the controversial subject of ‘influencing’ and ‘free stuff.’ The dictionary definition of free is ‘without cost or payment’, or ‘costing nothing, or not needing to be paid for.’ As I said before, I have been a small business, desperate to get my name out there, and therefore putting in the hours of work, to create something for an ‘influencer’ and not getting paid for it. But it wasn’t a gift to her, it was a business transaction. The influencer was getting a product she didn’t give me money for but she still had to do something for me in return. She was to advertise my product to her large, engaged audience. Although we hadn’t drawn up a contract, we had come to a verbal agreement. Therefore the item I’d ‘gifted’ her wasn’t free.
Now I am that influencer. I honestly had no idea two years ago that over 70,000 people would be interested in my life, my squares, and my home. I never dreamed I’d have small and large brands approaching me to advertise their products in my home. It’s mind-boggling and fantastic. But, creating content is work.
I really dislike the hashtag, or label ‘gifted.’ It makes it sound like the product is a gift, and yet it’s not. Yes, very occasionally someone will send you something with no expectation for you to post. But this is rare, and in any case, if this happens and I like the product (usually from a small business) I will mention it anyway, in a post or story as that’s the right thing to do and I love to support independent shops. But usually when something is sent, there has been either a conversation about what you’re expected to do with it, or a contract with specific details about what you are to mention etc. Sometimes money is exchanged, and sometimes it isn’t. And there’s always a deadline, and pressure to get it done as soon as you can.
If you’ve worked on a project for your boss, or if you are freelancing and you’ve spent your time writing an article, or creating a design; if you’ve delivered a baby, or put out a fire, checked out a trolley load of shopping, or delivered parcels, you’d expect to be paid for it, because it’s a job. It’s no different for those who work on the platform of social media. The only job you don’t expect to be paid for is being a parent (worse luck, totes think something should be done about this!) Okay, I’m joking, parenthood comes with it’s own special rewards, like no other job does….
Whether it be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or blogging; social media is a great new way for businesses to get their name out there. Large businesses have an advertising budget, and just as they would pay for a TV or radio advert, they now realise that advertising through Instagram is a great way to sell a new product or service. I only put items on my feed, blog or stories that I truly love. I try them out and if I think my followers will benefit from them, or like the style of them, then I will advertise them. I would love to be paid for every job, as I have a family to provide for, but sometimes it’s not possible and so I agree to a ‘payment in kind.’ Sometimes it can take the whole 6 hours my children are in school to get the right shot, and write up for the advert and the item is my fee for doing so. Sometimes I have to decorate a whole room in order to get paid for one collaboration. Afterall, you have to have the perfect setting in which to get an inspirational shot.
These items are also taxable. Every year I do my taxes and declare which items I’ve received as payment for a job whether that be a blog post or social media coverage, and I pay tax on those items. They’re not free.
The other thing to remember, is that you don’t grow an Instagram account overnight. I have worked solidly, posting almost every day (and in the early days, twice a day) for two years to achieve my following. I have attended events, paying for my own travel costs, I have spent hours writing this blog, and I don’t get paid for most of the entries of course. I like to write it, hopefully with helpful ideas and tips and stories for you all to enjoy. I put in the work, and decorate my home myself (with the help of my husband), we only ever bring in people to do things we can’t do, like laying carpets for example. We give most things a go ourselves.
So next time, when you’re tempted to ask someone “are you getting everything for free now?” maybe this will encourage you to think twice. Consider how many hours of unpaid work goes into creating a successful account. Consider that lots of work we do, we would like to get actual money for, but instead we are paid with a product for our homes instead (not that I am complaining, its lovely when you get something beautiful to furnish your home with). But it’s a product that we have to promote, which sometimes takes hours to create content that the brand is happy with.
Let’s support each other. After all, we are all just trying to make our way in the world, and we all have different skills and talents. Let’s all inspire each other and most of all, be kind.
Until next time,