This is a great question. I feel like we’ve answered something similar to this a few times. I just want to take a moment to talk about craft and to talk about getting good at something. I wrote an email to brands recently and I showed a photo that I had taken in 2009 and then a photo I’d taken in 2011. They are quite different. They certainly do not look like the same person took the photo. My point in that was that between those two photos, I probably took 300,000 photos. I was completely obsessed with photography. I shot constantly. I ended up getting decent.
What most people don’t see is the hundreds of thousands of crappy photos that I took, that each time, I got a little better, a little better, and a little better. My point to brands was that if you haven’t started doing influencer marketing yet as a company, you need to start just to practice to try and get better. This is going to be a big part of the world. If you’re not good at it now, that’s okay, but you have to put yourself out there and learn and invest in the craft to get better. For influencers, when is the right time to quit? Well, if you actually like what you’re doing, then who the hell cares?
If you are doing this to build a following and to have a career, it will not work. I fundamentally believe it won’t work, because unless you are independently wealthy or in some way blessed with a genetic code that makes you one of the best-looking people in the world, I don’t think you can be successful anymore without an immense amount of pain, suffering, and perseverance. We’re just talking about a great example of someone who’s been on the show, Jamie Beck. When she came on the show, she had 120,000 followers. Jamie got a big following early on Instagram. I think she had 100K very early on.
Probably in five years, she went from 100k to 120K. She had essentially no growth for years. She moved to Provence. She was always shooting incredible stuff. We talked about on the show, her following never really went anywhere. She started doing the self-portraits and she started doing her still lifes. She did them over and over and over again. She got better and better and better. She invested in her craft. This was not sponsored posts. This was not her getting paid. She wasn’t selling the work. She wasn’t making any money on it, but every day, she created some piece of art, and every day, they got better and better and better.
Go look at her first self-portrait or her first still lifes and they look nothing like the ones that she’s doing now. She took everyone along in that journey. Now, I just looked at her feed the other day, she has about 210,000 followers, 209,000 followers. She’s gained 90,000 followers since she’s been on the show, which was 9 months ago, 10 months ago, a year?
Male Speaker: At least with over a year.
James: Over a year? Maybe in the last year, she gained 90,000 followers. She hadn’t gained followers in five years. I think the point is that you need to be investing in yourself and thinking about what do I want to get better at and what do I not know that I need to know. You need to put your head down. You need to do the work. I feel like most creative endeavors are like blacksmithing, where it is a craft. It is something that if you practice it enough, you’re good. I am not an artist. First time I picked up a camera, it wasn’t like the heavens opened up and I was any great talent or anything. It is something that you get rewarded with the work that you put into it.
Whether that is your writing or it is photography or it is video, whatever those things are, you get better by doing more of it. I feel like there’s been this shift in the influencer space away from craft as people look inwards towards themselves. The only thing they care about is them, "What am I doing? What meetings am I going to today? What sponsored posts am I getting? What free shit am I going to get? What show am I getting into?" Me, me, me. I think that's a race to the bottom. I don't think that you can create long-term sustainable growth without, at some point, focusing on your craft and getting good at that.
Look at every actor in the world. That's as much of a lottery as anything if you can win that and you can be a successful actor. For a lot of people, that's the dream. You need to have an immense amount of talent, even line up at the fucking side of the pool, and then it is decades often, decades of terrible struggle because the reward is so huge. It's so vast to be a movie star, to get a role in a big picture. Your life is fundamentally changed forever.
We've talked about this a little bit in the influencer space, you get that 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 followers, your life will be fundamentally changed. A few years ago, I don't think that was common knowledge, it is now. It is so much harder to build that following. I think that like photography, like being an actor, or a painter, or a poet, or a CEO, the hard work has to happen in private, you have to put the work in and you have to have a thing that you are getting better at or you’re understanding more.
If your thing is style and you're just like, "I want to have the best style on Instagram," I ask you, what are you doing to make that better? Are you reading biographies of every designer? Do you understand the history of the houses? Do you understand why a Saint Laurent show from 2001 was great and one from '97 was terrible? Are you pushing yourself to understand so much more about clothes than your followers will ever know, so that you can describe to them in a really simple way that they can understand, and then they can go tell their friends what it is that makes a Balenciaga piece terrible? Or let's say this, what it is that made old Celine great and new Celine bad? Can you convey that point?
I think people have liked Drink with James because, hopefully, I give you advice that is easy to understand. I didn't open my mouth for four years I was running this company. Before that, I was one of the more followed photographers in the world for years. I've been putting stuff on the internet for over a decade. I didn't say shit for the first 10 years of that journey. Ten years, I didn't open my mouth. I didn’t gave no advice, I didn't say what you should be doing, what you should be thinking about, how you should grow, nothing. Now, I feel like I can speak with a level of confidence because all of the work, that whole decade of shit is in these episodes.
I encourage you, guys, to look at yourselves and ask yourself, "What am I better at than most people in the world? What do I understand better than most people in the world?" If you don't have that answer and if you aren't chasing that or you don't have a goal to be that, then I don't know how much of a chance you have to make it anymore. If you're going to be a photographer and you don't say, "I'm going to be one of the best photographers in the world,"--
I know that when Jamie Beck and I were eight years younger drinking in some bar in the Lower East Side, she was like, "I'm going to shoot Vogue covers, that is what I'm going to do. I'm going to be one of the best photographers in the world." She has been putting that work in since she was 15. It is paying off now, she's not there yet. Ask yourself what that journey is for you and really invest the time in it. If you need to say like, "Okay, I need to make a living. I need to think about sponsored posts and all those things." Cool. Even take 20% of your time and say, "Twenty percent of my time every week, I'm going to be learning, I'm going to be doing something new, I'm going to be growing."
I just don't know if most people have a mission. I don't know if they have a goal other than their own success. I don't know that you can actually really be successful if your only goal is to be successful. I think you need to have something you want to do. It's interesting to even look back on someone young like AOC. She's been talking like this for years, even when she was a bartender. She's been working on this, she's had this bigger mission. If you can combine a mission with a platform, really special things happen. People don't give out platforms very easily. They're very hard to get and by their nature, take a long time to get them.
- Brand Leaders, Quitting Influencing, Initial Contact to Brands