As Chairman of the American Influencer Council and founder of Untitled Secret, Patrick Janelle is showing creators how to build their businesses
If you’re a photographer, writer, designer, podcaster, or aspiring creative of any kind, you may have been hearing about the pioneers of the creator economy who are turning their passion into new sources of income.
With all the stories about how challenging it can be to convert your craft into a full-time job, you might wonder if it’s all just overblown hype.
But even if most of the Great Resigners aren’t yet making their entire living from their new pursuit, over half of non-professional creators are now monetizing their content to some degree, according to a recent study from Adobe.
Take it from one veteran creator who started with just a camera and a passion for cocktails, travel, food, and fashion—the opportunity is real. But first, you’ll need to let go of the myth of overnight success.
When Patrick Janelle moved to New York in 2011, he was looking for his next creative venture. That’s when he first discovered Instagram, which instantly became a way to connect with a new community in a new city and keep in touch with old friends.
“It was also a creative outlet,” he recalls. “I loved the ability to be taking photos and get immediate feedback on those images.”
Plus, it gave him a chance to think creatively about how to share moments in his life in a way that would capture other people's imagination. Within a few years, @aguynamedpatrick became so influential that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) named him Fashion Instagrammer of the Year in 2014.
After carving out a successful niche of his own, Janelle decided to pay it forward to the next generation by sharing the lessons he’s learned. As Chairman of the American Influencer Council and founder of the talent agency Untitled Secret, he and his colleagues are part of a new wave of organizations designed to support career creators and communicate the impact of the creator industry on the GDP.
We spoke with Patrick to find out how he and his colleagues are helping creators gain the skills they need to turn their ventures into successful businesses.
“That support I began building for my team has taken the form of the agency I run.”
After starting as a solopreneur, what motivated you to start building your team?
At a certain point, the needs I found were managing my business and everyday support. So I brought on a part-time virtual assistant, then a manager who was a contractor overseeing all of my brand partnerships. Bringing in the support allowed me to continue the creative aspect of what I was doing and make sure I could create content while having somebody to forge the relationship with the brands and partners I was working with.
I've had various forms of assistance, but I've always maintained control of my primary channels, my Instagram, and website, et cetera. I have other people in my network who I tap for help with content creation when it comes to videography or photography, but I still like being super connected to the work I'm doing. Sometimes it's a matter of setting up a tripod with a little handheld bluetooth clicker or a timer, and shooting video or photos myself.
One of the other things the managers on my team do is to think strategically about the vision, direction, and sustainability of the brand. Even when there's a lot of inbound, it's important to ensure we're spending time thinking not only about asks for partnerships, but also proactive ways to build and shape the brand and content.
All that support I began building for my team and myself has eventually taken the form of the agency I now run.
When did you realize the need for a trade association like the American Influencer Council?
The American Influencer Council was founded by Qianna Smith Bruneteau and launched on the 10th anniversary of Global Social Media Day celebrated annually on June 30. Our founding membership saw an opportunity to usher in the age of the career creator defined by entrepreneurship, business ethics, and standards.
The Council is dedicated to educating, inspiring, and equipping America’s current and future career creators for entrepreneurial success. Through mentorship, small business development, trade resources, and knowledge-sharing experiences, the AIC strives to support career creators at every stage of the small business cycle. AIC Members influence and impact the policies and opinions driving America's multi-billion dollar influencer marketing industry.
From healthcare to journalism, most industries have professional standards. Influencer marketing is a startup industry with no well-established professional standards for career creators. As a trade association, the AIC strives to help establish the standards necessary to improve and promote those working professionals within the influencer marketing industry.
When one creator makes a mistake, the media and public tend to hold the entire creator community accountable. Individual creators who stand for integrity suffer, which is why standards and accountability are critical. From follower fraud to consumer transparency, creators separate themselves by adhering to best practices that validate and strengthen consumer trust.
Do you think of AIC more as a resource for creators or a liaison representing the industry?
It's honestly both. As a trade association, we're the advocating voice for career creators. Through the AIC Resource Hub, Creator Lunch & Learn Webinar Series, AIC In the Classroom, among other initiatives, the Council strives to be a lifelong learning engine where creators get support and tools for their future.
In May 2021, we launched the Career Creator Club, a free mentorship community to drive long-term career development, pairing Fortune 500 senior executives with nano, macro, and mid-tier creators. The Creator Town Hall series marked our 2nd-anniversary celebration in June 2021, which brought together creators from different content verticals and platforms to share their thoughts and ideas on professionalizing the business of influencing.
And this past August, we collaborated with Clara for Creators and Hashtag Pay Me for a Virtual Town hall to discuss the State of Career Creators on Instagram in response to the hashtag movement #MakeInstagramInstagramAgain. We’ll tap into real-time moments like our Creator Wealth Summit in August, which aligns with National Financial Awareness Day, which aims to help creators be more financially capable.
On July 26, the Federal Trade Commission released its long-awaited, proposed rule changes to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Regarding advocacy, in 2020, the AIC authored a public comment with suggestions to evolve the Guides as they relate to social media influencer paid and organic content and sponsored content marketing.
“Building an audience you can have direct access to means it's a longer-term, more sustainable revenue stream.”
What would you recommend to other creators who are struggling to adapt to the ways algorithms are restricting access to their followers?
Operating a creator business on Instagram is a daily strategic recalibration, as the changes are frequent, and how they've been making changes has made it increasingly challenging to access the audience you’ve already grown. It's just confounding, knowing that the content I create and post only reaches a small fraction of the people who actually follow me. While there may be ways to bolster that number by using tools like Reels. There’s no surefire way to make sure that you're accessing your own audience. That can be extremely frustrating.
There have been changes I've made that have been a direct response to changes with the platform, and trying to grow my audience. Early on, starting my newsletter was an effort to grow an audience I own. One of the difficulties with any platform is, ultimately, you don't own your own audience. You don't have control over the way your content is being distributed. That could change at any minute. There's always been some need to be able to have more direct access and control of the audience. That would be true regardless of changes in the algorithm. Building an audience you can have direct access to means it's a longer-term, more sustainable revenue stream.
I'm differentiating between starting a newsletter that's not being monetized right away versus going to Patreon because I need another revenue stream directly from my audience. All of those things are great, depending on where a creator is in their journey. There's always a need to diversify and serve regardless.
At Untitled Secret, how do you advise creators about negotiating contracts and setting rates?
From an industry landscape perspective, we’re proactively looking at the value of each creator, what they provide culturally and creatively, and where their rates should be set. A large part of the work that we do is making sure that those rates are there.
Then, we're advocating for the talent, helping them build their business financially. That’s something we have very specific conversations with our talent about. When it comes to the AIC, we act as more of a platform for these discussions to take place among creators.
We have programs like the Creator Lunch and Learn and virtual town halls. We love to feature the organizations that are essentially opening up the conversation about pay equity. We’ll introduce those individuals and the heads of those organizations to the community to lead those conversations.
I say that because we're not a union. We are not at all in the business of setting those standards. But we are a platform for those conversations to be happening.
What advice would you give to new creators who are launching their businesses in 2022?
I would tell them to make sure they’re saving at least a quarter of their paychecks. In New York, it’s even higher. Because if you're not familiar with paying taxes for yourself as opposed to having them taken out of a paycheck for you, it's going to be a rude awakening. So: financial responsibility.
I would also encourage creators to look at their work as a career in the sense that it should be structured, and should come with goals, both in terms of your output and your growth. Think about how you structure your day to ensure your goals are accomplished. One of the hardest things for creators is having a structured way to execute their content and to ensure they're getting deliverables turned in a timely manner.
Any structure that can help you transition your workflow into a small business mindset is extremely important. Not only is that going to help you do better work now, but it's also going to set you up for success in the future.