Influencing can be a high-earning career. Why don't we take it seriously? By Katie Bishop Content creators are making big money and running businesses as influencers. It's time to recognise their work as a real job. Most days, Chloe Homan's work schedule is jam-packed. The 32-year-old from Wisconsin, US, usually starts her week with planning and touching base with her team, while Tuesdays are back-to-back with meetings. Wednesday and Thursday are reserved for focused work. With Friday spent wrapping up loose ends before the weekend, Homan says she can sometimes rack up 80 to 90 hours of work each week. Yet in spite of her long hours and intense work schedule, plenty of people still don't see her line of work as a "real job". Homan is a professional influencer, who has been on the receiving end of plenty of eye-rolling about her career. "I remember telling friends and family what I was going to do, and nobody even knew what it meant," she says, reflecting on the start of her content-creating journey, around five years ago. "People thought you'd just take a picture and post it, and there wasn't any real money to be made. I remember my mom being worried about me putting my whole life online." But now, things are changing. Homan was able to go full time as an influencer in 2019 after finding a niche providing curly hair tips and tutorials to her followers. She now runs her social media platforms as a business with a staff of six, and has also launched a hair accessory line. And it isn't just her ability to make a living as a content creator that she's seen change. "Now I have friends who are teachers who will tell me that kids say that they want to be TikTokers or YouTubers when they grow up," she says. "You can create a very good living in this industry." For years, many people have seen influencing as something of a self-indulgent pursuit for mostly young women, with content creators being branded as vapid, even con-artists. But the art – and business – of influencing is changing. Now, content creation can be a lucrative career, and companies rely on people with big social media followings to boost their products and services. Many influencers have proved themselves to be savvy entrepreneurs with a knack for building a brand. A 'real' job? As the founder of New York-based influencer agency Village Marketing, Vickie Segar has seen the business of influencing change. "Influencers have been discredited for a decade," she says. "People used to believe that influencers could be paid to support and promote any brand, but they're increasingly understanding that the creator is in control." Segar says she's seen growing trust in influencers from consumers, and with it, a boost in confidence from brands to spend big on influencer partnerships. Estimates from Influencer Marketing Hub show the influencer industry is now worth a sizeable $21.1bn (£16.8bn). "Most consumers, especially younger audiences, are sceptical of print and mass media marketing," says Anna Stella, a marketing lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, UK. "However, influencer marketers bring authenticity to advertising, increasing brand trust." In another Influencer Marketing Hub 2022 survey of 3,500 agencies and brands (38% of whom worked in marketing), 82% of respondents they would be dedicating a significant portion of their budget to influencer marketing in 2023. Yet despite the impact of these creators, Segar says many people – particularly older generations – still don't take influencing seriously. "Influencers are creative directors, talent producers, editors, location scouts, community managers, product curators and sales teams all in one," says Segar. "They are replicating a creative agency and media industry that would have several people working to produce what they do and maintain the audience and media value. Anyone who can keep people's attention should get credit for that value." Held back by biases Some companies, such as Mattel and online pizza ordering platform Slice, have even started hiring influencers as salaried employees. These moves hint at a more formalised influencer career path in future. Speaking to Business Insider in July, the CEO of Slice has said the move was motivated by the fact that social media users are put off by "glorified ads", with companies viewing influencer employees as a route to reliable but ostensibly more organic content. But for many influencers, perceptions of the industry still cause frustration. Segar believes a significant reason why many people still shun influencing as a real career is because of lingering age and gender biases. Influencing is one of the few industries she says is dominated by young women. "Women have been discredited in business since forever," believes Segar. "If influencer marketing started off dominated by men instead of women, this would be an entirely different business." Stella points out other factors contributing to negative sentiment. "The issue of fake followers is rampant in the digital space," she says. "This unscrupulous behaviour has contributed to the belief that influencing is not a real job." She adds although there is growing demand for authentic marketing content, many influencers are now leaning heavily on promoting brands and products with staged content, a turn off for discerning social media users. "Followers can now tell when content is not real," she says. "Predictable and fake content is likely to drive away consumers." Stella believes that the proliferation of fake followers and content could be a key reason why influencing is still not taken seriously as a career. 'Very lucrative businesses' The rise of the content creator industry currently feels like an unstoppable force. Many young people are making significant money on social platforms, and experts predict influencer spending to reach up to $143bn by 2030. And with more and more influencers taking content creation seriously as a career, we're likely to see a blurred line between big social media presences and the businesses behind them. Wary of ageing out of new trends, falling victim to changes in how apps operate or the decline of various platforms (the death of Vine in 2017 served as a warning to influencers, as some of the platform's stars faded to obscurity after its demise), many content creators are now branching out into offline businesses, using their platforms as a jumping off point. Grace Beverley, originally a British fitness and lifestyle Instagrammer, turned her social media fame into a sustainable clothing brand that turned more than £6.2 million in its first year; former YouTuber Zoe Sugg publishes novels and has launched beauty and homeware off the back of her huge following. "Influencers have turned their influence into very lucrative businesses, but may are now spinning off their own businesses, or investing in companies," says Segar. "They have created multifaceted revenue streams in ways that some of the best business owners haven't been able to do." For Homan, she says treating her content creation as a business with multiple channels of income – brand deals, products and digital courses – has been crucial to being taken more seriously. It's also creating security for her professional and financial future. "My goal is to be more in charge of what I create, without having to rely on outside brands only when they have budgets and campaigns," she says. "I'm working towards making my company a seven-figure brand. There's lots in the works, and every day is an adventure."