If you haven’t recognized it yet, social media has taken the world by storm. Influencer and social media marketing is quickly becoming one of the most effective ways brands advertise to consumers. Billions of dollars are being spent every year towards influencer marketing alone, and that has gotten the attention of eager young influencers and creatives looking for skin in the game, hoping to grow their social media presence and pages, while capitalizing on their passions and creative focus.

However, a lot of people will jump into this journey thinking that success will come easy, and that steady growth and engagement will be automatic, and once they begin realize the difficulty of the journey, their dreams soon wilt and die, because there wasn’t a true understanding of the work it takes and preparation needed to grow and experience social media success. The truth is, it takes a lot of work and time to grow your follower base, build your account, and become a successful influencer. Apart from the many things that you may not know about travel photography before you start, there’s also the possibility of burnout once you really get started.

As an influencer that has started from zero, gone through trial and error, and now has created a successful, growing, and profitable Instagram page, I understand what it takes, and hope to share the knowledge I gained through experience, so I can help guide those who want to pursue this field more fiercely. After two years officially in this social media realm, I can confidently say that these are the six things you must have to succeed on social media.

1. Quality content

Unless you’re a celebrity and anything you post goes viral, you’re going to have to be able to create and produce content that is beautiful, visually stimulating, and on a higher level than the majority of social media users. In a social media world filled with great content, exposure is key, and if you aren’t creating content that stands out, you will fail.

There’s a pattern with successful influencers. Most are creatives, and are driven by the desire to create beautiful content alongside a passion or message they feel strongly about. Yes, there are some influencers that have photographers following them around, but the majority have to start out knowing how to at least create and edit their own content well. Taking quality content takes time and is difficult, but if you are passionate about creating and doing that often, you will thrive.

2. Consistency

When you begin your journey as an influencer, you aren’t just starting a page. You’re starting a personal brand, and if you look at any successful brand on the market, they have consistency; consistency in their focus, quality, look, style, voice, and message. If you start out not having a clear summary or idea of what your personal brand looks like in these areas, how do you expect someone to follow you? A follow is caused by a personal connection to you, and if there isn’t a clearly defined “you,” then you’ll have a hard time getting others to support and follow you.

This is probably one of the biggest needs for a successful influencer that many overlook in the beginning because they don’t understand the importance. They don’t realize that building a successful account means creating a successful personal brand and never straying from that focus — or if you do, make that change transparent to your audience.

Make sure to determine your focus, whether it’s a certain style of photography, activity, or passion, develop your voice and message, stick to a level of content quality you set, and create your own unique editing style you could potentially be know for, which adds so much value to your personal brand. You have to do these things and create consistency for your personal brand, or you’ll be like a pilot without a flight plan, with neither a sense of direction nor an ability to successfully take off and land, and your prospective followers will recognize that indirection as well.

3. Perseverance

Becoming successful on social media is not easy. In fact, it’s quite difficult, and if you don’t have perseverance, you will fail. As you grow, you have to sell yourself to brands, agencies, and tourism boards, and you will start out getting way more no’s than yes’s. There will be periods of time where you see little growth or jobs, and it can be really frustrating.

However, it’s important to tough it out in the bad times, not fall for the “quick and easy” method of buying followers and abandoning organic growth and engagement that can lead to brand deals and ambassador programs in the future. The majority of bought followers will either get deleted or never engage on your content, which lowers your engagement rate, and devalues your brand. Do things the right way, persevere through the bad times, and you will be rewarded in the long run.

4. Patience

Growing an account takes time — like several years’ time. It’s not something you can build overnight, and that is one of the biggest deterrents towards those looking for success in social media. People get bored, frustrated, and stuck, so they quit. There’s no quick and easy solution or hack here. It takes work.

My biggest suggestion in regards to patience is to not make your account your only own source of income or focus. Having that pressure can cause your patience to run thin when your account isn’t growing as fast as you need it to or you have to make “x” amount on social media to stay afloat. Stay at your day job, and build your social media platform(s) on the side, whether that be during the evening, on the weekends, or through trips and paid time off. Grow your account and client list first before doing social media full-time so your patience doesn’t wear thin on your social media accounts, and you put yourself at financial risk.

5. Networking

Social media, like most any profession, can sometimes be about who know you, especially when you’re starting at square one. Again, you may get a lot of no’s, but a great way to grow is to network, meet, befriend, and learn from accounts or influencers that have a similar focus as you. Ask bigger influencers in your city if they’d like to shoot or collaborate sometime, or if you’re planning a trip, ask and see if other influencers want to link up and create content together, while promoting each other’s accounts.

Get a list of big accounts that share content similar to yours, and always tag them and reach out so you get consistent features. Show people your passion and what content you are capable of, and you will develop connections and relationships that could further your influencer career and spike your account’s growth.

6. Entrepreneurship

As I said above, most influencers are creatives, but not all influencers are entrepreneurs or business savvy, and that is critical to your social media success. Your art and content is just as crucial as developing your pricing structure, monetizing your account, and understanding your value. It’s easy to sit back and expect brands to reach out, when the majority of the work involved with influencing is reaching out to brands yourself and developing your communication system for collaboration and partnership — especially at the beginning. You have to do the work, put your name out there, and work hard, not just in the creative realm, but in the business realm as well.

As an entrepreneur, you have to be profit- and goal-driven. The money you make in social media is directly correlated with your account’s engagement rate and follower count, plain and simple. You get paid more for a strong engagement rate paired with a large, organic following. So set your goals, and aim high. If your first big goal is 100,000 followers, then set that goal, and determine what you could be making based on industry averages for sponsored posts, stories, and campaigns. If your goal is to make six figures as an influencer, then determine how large your account would have to be to hit that goal on an annual basis.

In addition to being profit-driven, you have to diversify where your profit comes from. Yes, sponsored content and brand deals are great, but what if those fall through suddenly? It’s always smart to spread out risk and diversify what you can offer clients and brands. Whether that’s social media promotion, ambassadorships, being a spokesperson, or endorsement programs, commercial content, written work, affiliate programs, modeling… the list goes on and on, and the opportunities are out there. Planning and diversifying your revenue streams can really allow for you to not only create and work with brands in several amazing ways, but protect yourself from sudden work changes that are commonplace as an influencer and entrepreneur, and freelancer.

Finally, as an entrepreneur, you have always be on the lookout for what is next. No social media platform is safe, and there are new opportunities that arise quickly. Being the first on a new, exciting, network could truly take you to the next level as an influencer. Yes, influencing is a creative field, but if you paint yourself in a creative corner and don’t set goals, be profit-driven, diversify, and be on the lookout for upcoming social media platforms and trends, you will not succeed in social media.

Success on social media is not a given or a promised goal. In this day and age, it takes a lot of work to become an influencer and you are competing in a field that is crowded with talented, passionate people. However, if you can create high-quality content, develop consistency in your personal brand, practice perseverance and patience in the slow and difficult times, always look for networking opportunities, and be an entrepreneur, in addition to being a creative, you will be well-equipped to succeed on your social media journey.