Natasha Samuel is an Instagram strategist, CEO of Shine With Natasha and host of The Shine Online Podcast. Four years ago, she started her one-woman social media management business before becoming a coach, speaker, and educator. As sunny as her signature yellow brand, Natasha was kind enough to share lessons from her first year as a content creator.
The Leap: Paint us a picture about how you became your own boss. What made you take the leap?
Natasha Samuel: One of my first internships was with a woman that had her own digital marketing business; she worked remotely and for herself, which was completely new to me. She really encouraged me that if I wanted to build my own business, I could; she planted the seeds.
At the time, I was in college studying public relations but didn’t see myself going into a big PR agency. During my senior year, I had the crisis that every senior in college has: What do I do now? What makes me excited? What am I passionate about? What do I want my life to look like after college? I had all these skills so thought, what if I started doing social media management for clients?
The day before my 21st birthday, I told my mentor about this idea and she said, “Go for it. I’ll give you your first client.” And I was like, oh, okay, this is happening! So I started with that first client and then went out and got my own clients using the Upwork freelance platform.
What was your initial schedule, projects, and workload like? Are there other experiences that stood out for you that year?
I was really happy that I gave myself room to not niche myself down by force and to truly try everything. Initially, I was doing digital marketing but very quickly realized that I really hated design, I did not like building websites and I did not like doing things like Facebook or LinkedIn for clients. I was getting burnt out by under charging and doing too much. I had to reevaluate my pricing structure and my packages. And I realized I only wanted to do Instagram.
Looking back I thought I was killing it but I made like, $14,000 USD in my first year, which wasn’t bad, right? But not really enough for a person to live on, especially when I was reinvesting a lot of that money back into my business. I had to make the tough decision to move home. That was the sacrifice I decided to make. I didn’t want another job to take away from the energy I was putting into my business. It was one of the hardest decisions but one of the smartest ones I made in that first year in order to not have pressure to support myself and to really be able to pour myself into building sustainably.
At the time, I was also having the big dilemma and debating if I should even start my Instagram account (@shinewithnatasha), which surprises a lot of people because I now have a community of 40,000 people. Today it’s the heart and soul of my business in so many ways, but I think I told myself that I wanted to spend all my energy and time helping my clients and didn’t want to be distracted by marketing and growing my own brand. The truth is, I was nervous to show up. I told myself, “People are gonna think I’m too young or that I’m not qualified enough. I don’t have years and years of experience.”
All these things, which are actually strengths of mine now, I was really insecure about.
But being consistent and always wanting to show up authentically and with value made it such that, when my brand really blew up in 2020, people gravitated towards it because I was already walking the walk, even if it was just for 1,000 people. It’s good to remember: I started with zero followers. It demonstrates the power of showing up when people aren’t watching because you are building those stepping stones for that next level that you’re wanting to get to… I look back at my first story and my first IGTV and my first Instagram reel and you can just see that it’s so new to me and I’m just putting myself out there. If you never post that first one, that 100th one will never be stellar.
In year two, I launched my first course that made $0. Literally $0. But I made it, I filmed it, I created it, I launched it, I did it. And that led me to continue to create courses and have bigger launches that were really successful. Then, I started a podcast and started doing free summits and started showing up more on video, which led me to then being invited to speak on stages. I was creating content where I mentioned brands that I really love, which eventually led to me partnering with those brands. I feel like those little stepping stones, the things that felt exciting were taking me to the next level. By simply doing them, even while I was doing social media management, not only helped me diversify my income but showed me that, if I needed to pivot or change and lean into something else, I had the skills and that I could do it.
How did you eventually land on your rate? And what did you learn about money?
For a lot of entrepreneurs finances, logistics and things that are necessary are very scary. Money was very scary to me. Everyone has different relationships with money. I was not only being thrust into adulthood, straight out of college but then I had to figure out how to pay and save for taxes, how to file an LLC. It was just so overwhelming that I avoided it. I wish that not only I would have separated my money so much sooner, but I would have gotten help from an accountant. At the time, I felt like I couldn’t afford it but I needed to be able to afford it. That was a big shift: it’s such an important part of running a business. We can’t avoid it.
At first, I was charging around $300 USD/month for full Instagram management, design, graphics for my longest client that was a therapist, and close to minimum wage at $12 USD/hr hour for a marketing assistant role including Instagram, Facebook, photoshoot director, and blog management. I was doing A LOT of work for the lowest rate compared to industry standards. One client I was able to double the rate over time but the other I had to let go because they couldn’t budge as a non-profit. In comparison, my last social media management client was at a $1,200 USD/month retainer… which looking back was STILL low for all the work I was doing. I now get paid this amount just for one Reel in my brand partnerships!
If you could go back and give yourself words of wisdom, what would they be?
Trust that gut instinct sooner! It would have helped me out a little bit. I did the best I could. I’m proud of the little bit of confidence that I had but wish I would have leaned into that instinct a lot sooner… What really stuck with me since that first year was my mentor telling me, you know, if you know more than someone else, you are an expert! I was just not feeling confident. I told myself: I don’t have years and years of marketing experience, I’m still in college, who’s gonna hire this college kid? Who’s going to accept my rates? I felt like I had to hide it. And she just always told me that, if I know more than someone else, I am an expert. And so I feel, even to this day, I really leaned into that. Even if I have just a little bit of experience or ideas, or a perspective, that is enough. I can trust myself and feel competent, posting the thing, pitching the services, whatever it is. I am an expert.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.