Written by: Tarushi Mohan
If you are good at something, never do it for free! Sanya*, an Instagram influencer, explains how she is particular about working only with brands she believes in but she wants to be paid well for her work.
- 25 years old
- Lives in Delhi
She joined me for a friendly chat on a Friday afternoon, with a simple smile, exuding confidence and very excited to share her journey as an influencer. Becoming a social media influencer was the latest feather she added to her cap. She is a professionally trained dancer and a casting agent as well, but post an unfortunate accident she slowed down on her dancing and decided to become an influencer. With a penchant for trying out new things and an innate inability to “not be doing anything” Sanya dabbled with several kinds of lifestyles and is still open to experimenting.
She immediately comes across as a creative person who has a strong belief system and is not afraid to stand by things that resonate with her. She spends over eight hours every single day creating and curating content! She finds content in everything she comes across and the world is her oyster.
Sanya was 12 years old when she decided to experiment with veganism. When asked for the reason behind it, she simply said, “I realized that I have an intolerance to dairy. And I was very young, and I couldn't eat ice cream or cake or anything for the longest time. So I was very upset. I started reading up (to understand), why at this lovely age, am I not allowed to eat any Dairy Milks anymore?” What started out as a personal journey to understand her own body better turned into a drive to promote veganism and help people like her lead healthier lifestyles.
She started reading up on material online which led her to also develop a deep-seated affection for animals and proactively work for their cause.
“Oh, this is my favorite part. So, I'm an animal lover. And I take that very, very far. I usually foster a lot of pets. I pass a lot of pets across to a lot of animal shelters after we rescue them. So my page is full of stray domesticated animals (in addition to veganism).”
What stood out to me was how she stood by her ethics in addition to being true to her content. “I always go the extra mile to make sure that the team is also treated well… that the workspace is respectful. Especially when I was starting out, I was really afraid whether my ethos was going to do me any good. But I think now I figured it out. Now I know which way I'm headed.”
She only wants to work with brands that are aligned with her personal beliefs
Sanya collaborates with a lot of brands that offer vegan products, including local businesses and cafes. When asked about the brands she has worked with, she excitedly said, “I worked with Stitch Fix a bunch of times and I am a very big fan. I was buying their products before I worked with them. I love them. Because even their packaging is so sustainable. Even the tape they use is going to be paper tape.” Sanya is all about being sustainable and environment-friendly. She also enjoys reviewing local businesses, even if it is not a paid collaboration. The ability to express her unbiased opinion without any brand inputs gives her a sense of empowerment.
In fact, Sanya is vehemently opposed to working with brands that go against her values and ethics, including those that harm animals in any way or hold events that are not environment-friendly. “Those (vegan and sustainable) are the brands that I tend to… the only ones I work with anymore, I don't think I work with any brands that I don't believe in anymore. I just find that works better for me,” is how she talks about her work preferences. In fact, she’d rather take up side hustles for financial stability than work with brands she doesn’t approve of. She’s done small gigs for content writing, photography and even dog sitting (her favorite) to cover her expenses!
As a growing influencer, she falls back on family and her online community
When asked about her family’s take on her off-beat career path, she spoke fondly of their support in spite of being unsure of her success right away. Even though they were reluctant at first, she has slowly managed to convince her entire household to follow a vegan lifestyle.
“Now, as a matter of fact, now my brother and my mother are vegan as well. So even right now, my grandparents also live with me, they've realized that lighter foods are easier for them to digest. So very slowly, they also started tiptoeing into the vegan end of things.”
In addition to her family, she also found support in her online community. “And then slowly, I found other people who asked me to keep going. I think that's what made the difference for me. That's the community I found online. It was a reminder that not everybody agrees all the time. But that's so key. So I found some wonderful vegan weightlifters and I found some wonderful vegan athletes online and they have been instrumental in getting me to understand what different kinds of animal welfare and conservation is like. I met a bunch of lawyers who were working for environmental change.”
Sanya finds her online community to be a huge support in her “activist-like” approach to her work. Every time she doubts her beliefs or ethics, or the general direction her content is taking, she relies on her community on Instagram, followers and co-creators for assurance.
Her biggest challenge is surety of payment when doing brand collaborations
Sanya makes it a point to never work for free while doing brand collaborations and makes sure she receives some kind of payment, regardless of how big or small the brand is.
She told me about brands that didn’t pay her even after she made good on her deliverable… “And we went up to the point where we've decided costumes, we've decided date, time, everything we've decided everything and my final question is hey, you haven't gotten back to me on the commercials yet, and they're like, oh, we need you to do this for free.”
Apart from payment, issues relating to logistics also arise at times. She narrated another incident - “And eventually they're just like, yeah, what if we do food and transport? I said, I expect you to do food and transport, regardless, you're not doing me a favor by making sure people on the set are fed. So there are a lot of these hiccups I've done.”
More than the amount of money she is paid, really, it is about recognition for her effort that is important to Sanya. “I've told so many people who've asked me for advice on this… ask for 500 bucks if you want… it is not free work, ask for money.”
Is there anything brands can do to make influencers feel secure about their collaborations? Sanya does have a solution, “I learned the very hard way that I need to have a contract and I need to make my terms very clear”. She wants to have written contracts in place before any collaborations happen but the larger question is, are big brands willing to indulge in written contracts with social media influencers?
Sanya makes her preferences very clear by saying, “All the time I keep telling people this... I love having things written down and those signatures at the end, it just makes everything so much better for me because I know that there is an initiative from my end and from the brands and because we're both coming to the table saying this is what we're expecting.”
*We anonymize participant names to protect their identities and encourage more honest dialogue.