written by special contributor, Lance Fleming

The pandemic of 2020 wreaked havoc on the global economy, shut down businesses and schools, drove employees to home offices, separated friends and family, and took most people away from their routines.

But in ways no one considered before COVID, it brought families closer together, allowed everyone to slow down and take care of themselves and each other, and gave everyone time to reflect and think. It’s also when Natalie Lewis decided on a career path.

During those days spent sitting in her parents’ home in The Woodlands, she turned to YouTube videos to pass the time. She focused on fashion and lifestyle YouTubers, which led her to follow those influencers on Instagram. That’s when she put the pieces together.

“I noticed those individuals had made a career out of creating content for their audience and brands that they love,” said Lewis, a senior marketing major from The Woodlands. “I knew that would be something I would love to do, so I decided to give it a shot.”

Lewis began her own Instagram page (@natalieelewiss), which not only chronicles her life, but also allows her to pass along lifestyle and fashion advice. She engages with other influencers through YouTube and Instagram, which she says is her favorite platform. That’s why she started on Instagram but will expand to YouTube after she graduates in May.

Her parents, Colter (‘95) and Elizabeth (‘96), have supported her post-college career decision, especially after she’s seen so much success – almost 15,000 followers – early in the process. Her mother helps Lewis create content, and her father helps her think through all the logistics of payment and pitching herself to different brands.

“My parents have watched my gradual build-up from simply getting free products to getting paid campaigns, and they were able to understand it better,” Lewis said. “They saw the hard work I put in behind the scenes of growing my platform and gained more respect for what I wanted to do. When I told them I wanted to pursue this career, they already understood it and saw that influencing is a fast-growing industry.”

The influencer industry is relatively new, and she said the most important piece is finding a niche, a target audience, a social media platform that resonates with the audience, and constantly revamping the platforms for consistency. Lewis began slowly, posting outfit photos on Instagram because she wanted to step into the world of fashion content.

That made it easier to get brand collaborations from companies, who would look at her feed and see that her content aligned with their brand.

Once I branded my Instagram, I started reaching out to small clothing brands and got rejected by some and accepted by others,” Lewis said. “Once companies had seen my work with other brands, they became more interested in working with me because of my credibility. And that has led me to work with bigger brands.”

Lewis didn’t have a marketing plan when she started, just a passion for fashion and taking pictures. She began posting for fun because she was curious where the posts might lead. When Lewis found her passion, she researched how to grow her account and work with different brands. She didn’t write a marketing plan until her junior year at ACU.

Lewis said no follower count or income level is required to be considered an influencer. Consistency in posting and connecting with the community, Lewis said, are most important in building a career as an influencer.

“It’s a mindset,” Lewis said. “If you want to be an influencer, you have to post like one, which is awkward at first. But you get used to it. I got my first brand deal with 3,000 followers and have seen many other creators work with brands with only 1,000 followers. You can be an influencer with only 1,000 followers and earning no money, just as long as you’re actively pursuing influencing. In my first year of content creation, I only received free products and earned no money. Consistency, engagement rate, community, and trustworthiness are how I would measure whether someone is an influencer.”

Her education in COBA, she said, has helped her learn how to market herself, implement those plans, and measure the growth of her brand.

“I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to build relationships with so many professors who have helped me with this venture, specifically Dr. Jennifer Golden,” Lewis said. “She has helped me with my professional goals within the influencing industry. COBA has taught me how to market myself on social media. The biggest lessons I’ve learned are about personal branding, which is a crucial topic in the influencing industry because it sets one apart from millions of other influencers. The models and plans I’ve been taught in COBA have influenced my decision-making, steering me where I want to take my social media.”

After she graduates from ACU, Lewis said she looks forward to expanding her niche into more lifestyle-based content (bridal, newly married, interior design, daily routine, family, etc.). She also said she wants to focus more on growing and creating the content she truly loves while continuing to create fashion content.

“I’m going to get a job after graduation while pursuing influencing on the side,” Lewis said. “However, I’m going to work hard to grow my platforms so that one day I’ll be able to quit my job and focus on influencing full-time. Creating content for my audience and working with brands I love is my biggest passion, so the end goal is to go into influencing full-time one day.”