Be original: as a photographer I belong to the “preset-selling-industry“. At some point selling presets (filters for your images) has been very successful but nowadays EVERY photographer and most of the influencers are selling them, which makes them boring and unoriginal. You won’t be able to sustainably make an income with something that is being sold by everyone. I personally think it’s always better to look outside of the box and come up with unique ideas instead of following what everyone else is doing.
As part of my series about “How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle von Kalben.
Michelle von Kalben, a female entrepreneur and content creator from Germany, found her passion for photography early on and made the decision to pursue this career full time in 2019. Social media opened up many opportunities, that helped her reach success by doing what she loves and that’s why she founded a digital company teaching thousands worldwide to successfully build their brands through social media and taking their businesses to the next level.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is your “backstory”? What brought you to this point in your career?
Thank you for inviting me! The foundation of my career is the love for photography which I found a few years ago. I started sharing my work on Instagram early on but didn’t know anything about the possibilities it can offer. I just liked to document my trips to foreign countries and the progress with my skills along the way. When I met my boyfriend in March 2019, I slowly started understanding more about the opportunities social media can bring you if you actually approach it in a more serious and active way. Right before the pandemic began, I decided to start growing an engaged audience on Instagram. With all of the knowledge I have learned over the past years I was able to grow my audience from 0 to 30K in only a matter of a few months. It has opened a lot of doors for me and showed me that creating an income by doing what you love isn’t only a „dream “that every person in this world has. It IS possible if you approach it the right way. This encouraged me to help others achieve the same which brings me to the current point of my career.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
Probably the most interesting thing that has happened during my career is that I stumbled upon true love in a different country. By getting to know someone from the same industry very well, I grew as a person and so did my business. It is so beautiful that we are constantly able to learn from each other and teach each other things that will bring our businesses to the next level.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I defined my “WHY “in the very beginning. I never wanted to be one of the influencers who share one coupon code after another — because I knew that if I want to become successful, I have to find something more sustainable. I always dreamed of giving value to others by doing what I love and what I’m best at. And that’s exactly why my goal is to show other people, especially the ones who feel “stuck” in life, that there are endless possibilities within the online world. The only things required are passion, hard work and the right mindset.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?
First off, I must say: I haven’t been blessed. I have tried to gain success half-heartedly for a few years. Back then I didn’t have the right mindset to succeed, I wasn’t aware of how much work it requires and I didn’t believe in myself. Once I started taking my photography and social media more seriously, I also started seeing results. But it definitely required more work than most people are willing to put into it.
My advice for others would be: create a strategy. If you start social media without a strategy you will eventually end up scrolling through Instagram and falling into that constant loop hole. This will result in a lot of wasted time without seeing any success on your own path. You have to know how you want to use the app, what your target audience will look like and what type of content this audience wants to see. Be consistent and try to improve your content daily.
None of us can achieve success without a bit of help along the way. Is there a particular person who made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
I am lucky to have a boyfriend that has been very successful with social media within the past few years. People who don’t know better or people who aren’t willing to open up their minds for the work it actually requires to build a successful personal brand online, usually tend to think that I gained success only because of him. While some people definitely found out about me through him, his knowledge and his presence definitely had a WAY bigger impact on me than his social media reach. Working together in the same industry is a blessing because we can constantly learn from each other but also support and motivate each other.
So, what are the most exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My next project will be to start a podcast. In the podcast I will talk a lot about my career and the mindset you need to achieve in order to be able to start building a successful (online) business yourself. I want to normalize the idea of online businesses and pursuing a career that you absolutely love. I feel like in our society it has become a normality to only be „okay “with the work we do, to look forward to the weekends and then to be sad when they ‘re over. Nobody loves work 24/7 but it makes me sad that the majority of people nowadays believe that it’s normal to not love their job and I want to change that by giving them insights on how it is for me and other online business owners.
What are your “Top Five Ways That Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand”. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Define your target audience straight from the beginning and build your content around that. If you are planning on doing workshops in German it won’t help you to build an audience with its majority from other countries. Always remember: quality before quantity. You could have 2 million followers and 99% of them are “useless“ when it comes to monetizing your brand. BUT you could also have “only” 50.000 followers and generate millions of dollars with it.
2. Don’t be basic — be original: as a photographer I belong to the „preset-selling-industry “. At some point selling presets (filters for your images) has been very successful but nowadays EVERY photographer and most of the influencers are selling them, which makes them boring and unoriginal. You won’t be able to sustainably make an income with something that is being sold by everyone. I personally think it’s always better to look outside of the box and come up with unique ideas instead of following what everyone else is doing.
3. Without any knowledge about sales and marketing, you will be left behind. In the creative industry I have noticed that the creators who promote themselves and their products are often titled as being too „salesy “. The reason for this is because most people don’t understand that the art or a product won’t ever sell just alone — the right marketing is what makes it become successful and what allows you to scale moving forward.
4. Sell what you know best and what your audience might struggle with. Your audience follows you for a reason: they love what you do and get inspired by it. Ask them directly what they struggle with and what they want to learn from you. You can use your skills as an advantage.
5. Don’t think only about the sales. A lot of people go straight to selling without any focus on how to actually get people interested in you and what you have to offer. My fifth advice would be to put the most time into staying active with promoting your skills or whatever it is that you want to sell.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
As a woman I know how hard it can sometimes be to be a part of the creative industry. While there are a lot of appreciative and supportive people out there, you will eventually also cross paths with the one’s that title you as „the girl who only stands in front of the camera “or „the girl who only has to look pretty to succeed “. And it couldn’t be further away from the truth. That’s why I want to encourage especially women to show their skills and start a business by doing what they love. There are so many hidden talents out there just because people are too scared of negative reactions from people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
I would love to chat with Gary Vaynerchuk. There is something really inspiring and motivational about his brutal honesty and I would value his opinion on my goals and strategies a lot, since he has many years of experience and basically started from nothing. He is the best example of what is possible if you are passionate, dedicated and hard-working.
What is the best way our readers can follow your work online?
I am the most active on my Instagram Account @michellevonkalben where people will find my personal work as well as business and mindset related topics.