Making money from Instagram: Stylist charts the rise of self-branding workshops

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Alexandra Jones
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Stylist explores the sell-out courses teaching women how to make money from Instagram

Making a cuppa used to be a pretty straightforward affair. Switch on kettle, put Tetley’s tea bag in mug. But thanks to the weird and wonderful world of Instagram, where each post offers another opportunity to present a slice of your personal brand, even this mundane task has become rife with rules and symbolism.

Take one Japanese kettle from Labour And Wait, a slate grey mug from Mud Australia and artfully arrange alongside Native & Co linens. Scatter half a tin of SABO organic loose leaf tea across your marble work surface and balance a vintage teaspoon you picked up from Columbia Road. Wait for twilight to create just the right mood lighting. Then snap. What was once a two-minute job may have taken all day but you now have a showcase of the designers you affiliate with and the aesthetic you subscribe to; you are making a statement not just about your tastes but about who you are as a person.

Sound a tad over-complicated? Perhaps. But perfecting your online presence has become so nuanced that a growing number of workshops, online courses and retreats have sprung up, offering to teach us how to ‘self-style’ our lives.

You could, for example, spend a week in a farmhouse on the Welsh coast with Bristol-based Lou Archell (writer, creative consultant and founder of where alongside yoga and golden-hour photography you’ll learn the tricks of visual storytelling. Or identify your online aesthetic on a sunny break in Majorca with The Brand Stylist ( From a wellbeing-focused branding weekend in Canada care of Nurture: A Retreat ( to a five-day food styling and photography workshop at a seven-star Indian resort with, the opportunities to refine your online style are ever growing.

One of the most successful is run by 33-year-old Tennessean Beth Kirby, founder of Her retreats, which she runs with her husband, range from £585 for a one-day photography and food styling workshop in Paris to £5,500 for an immersive escape to Japan.

Alongside the more typical aspects of picture styling (the millimetre precise composition of that mug, kettle, spoon), each retreat includes a range of experiences. A recent London retreat (cost, £1,900) included a stay at the Ace Hotel, a private lunch at The Clove Club, dinner in the Garden Room at Skye Gyngell’s Spring and a Sunday morning stroll down Columbia Road Flower Market. As Kirby points out, these are “once-in-a-lifetime, completely immersive travel and food experiences”. No doubt everything from the hotel, to the eateries and the areas to be explored, has been hand-selected to give you another photo opportunity to tell your social media followers who and what you are.

That’s right, you’re a brand now. And before you roll your eyes and write off personal branding as the preserve of would-be bloggers, take a moment to consider the realities of our online-first, post-recession world. It’s not just the fact that having a social following can mean cash in the bank (brands can approach people with at least 1,000 Instagram followers for endorsement and pay a fee based on your popularity. Users with 1,000 followers can earn £4,160 a year to post just twice a week). Even those of us with no desire to run a business from our Instagram accounts can benefit.

“In a precarious job market it pays to see all forms of leisure as potential money-spinners,” says Tim Hill, lecturer in marketing at Bath University. “From the places where we eat, to the music we listen to and the holidays we go on, many of us have begun to treat these experiences as a means to enhance our personal brand because we never know when we may need to draw on these cultural resources – on our tastes – for employment.”

In fact, for many of us, #livingthedream means breaking away from the linear career path (even if you’re not part of the 51% who plan to start their own business by 2020). “Nowadays to be successful in many industries you have to diversify,” says brand consultant Katherine Ormerod. “For instance, you might be a graphic designer who also codes websites and consults. When you’re offering three different services, the only element that keeps a cohesive centre is you. To attract the right kind of employment, you have to present a clear vision of what you stand for.” A well thought-out online presence is the first step in this process.

“Think of your Instagram feed as a gallery,” says Emily Quinton, founder of, an online learning platform which runs courses such as ‘Build your Instagram audience’. “Would you display the same images together on a wall? If the answer is ‘no’ then you shouldn’t put them together on Instagram.” As well as a colour scheme that should appear across all your profiles (and which needs to be reflected in the shopfronts you ‘casually’ snap or the homewares you style your shots with), your pastimes need to reflect a slicker, chicer version of the audience you’re trying to engage with. “Personal branding is about careful self-packaging,” says Hill.

Quinton advises referencing trends – marble, copper, blush pink – that most populate your feed for a boost in likes and follower engagement. “If you look as if you haven’t left your house this year, it’s unlikely people will continue to be interested in you.” Hill agrees, “Above all, building a lucrative personal brand requires you to demonstrate an understanding of the current, trending aesthetic; you have to show that you have the right taste.”

Whether the right taste can be learned is another matter but, as Hill explains, “Over time, if you carry on going to the right places and honing your skills, anyone could emulate the right aesthetic. It just takes time before we can perform it with a sense of authenticity.”

So next time you pop the kettle on, think carefully about which mug you choose. Because as Kirby says, “A photograph is not reality; you’re not taking a photograph, you are making a photograph.”

Photography: Pixeleyes
Art Direction: Chloe Sharp


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Alexandra Jones

Alexandra Jones is a freelance journalist and the former commissioning editor at Stylist magazine. She writes features on everything from dating to global feminism. She has bad taste in films, a penchant for pickled foodstuffs and a spiralizer that has yet to be unboxed.