My name is Lauren Elizabeth Pirie Bath and, until three years ago, I would have told you that I was a chef by trade and a happy one at that.
I was born and raised on the Gold Coast Australia and throughout most of my life I knew that I would work with food. My biological father was a chef, my brother went into an apprenticeship and even my mother had excellent skills in the kitchen, taught by her own mother. I didn’t know what my job would look like, but I researched several possibilities including dietetics and nutrition. With an excellent academic record, I eventually entered university in a food science degree and spent my weekends cooking in a local restaurant.
I thought that I had things all figured out until my weekends in the kitchen started to mean more to me than my studies and I realized that I wanted to be a chef. When people know what my job is now they often assume that I was dying to escape the clutches of the hospitality industry but the opposite is true. I LOVED being a chef! I was truly passionate about my work and spent countless hours pouring over cookbooks, creating recipes and shopping at farmers markets for the freshest produce. I soaked up knowledge and found myself running one of the best restaurants in Cairns, Kingsford’s, without any formal qualifications. I guess that I’ve always followed my dreams with abandon.
At age 28 I was working in a job that I loved, I had great friends and hobbies, I was fit and healthy and I was bored stupid. I wanted to TRAVEL, I wanted more out of life and I had what can only be described as “itchy feet”. I moved to the Gold Coast and took a few trips overseas but I soon found another job, met my partner and found myself comfortable again. As much as there is nothing wrong with “comfortable” I was soon feeling bored again and I wondered if my life would have impact, if I could still do something to change my life and the lives of others. Innocent thoughts from a self-confessed responsible adult.
It was at this time in my life that I discovered Instagram. Like so many others Instagram changed my life. For a start I realized that I had a creative side outside of the kitchen, I could take photos and I was pretty good at it. First on an iPhone, and soon after on my first Nikon, I was learning the basics of composition and exposure and I was hooked. More so than the picture taking I was discovering I had a voice and Instagram was a platform that I could use it on. I talked about anything and everything with my growing community, my work as a chef, my increasing interest in photography and life in general. Soon it was more than just photography I was hooked on, it was social media too.
I won’t gloss over how it happened, or pretend that I wasn’t aware, but in less than eighteen months I found myself with 200,000 followers. Instagram, once a small intimate social media space, had found it’s feet and people were joining in DROVES. As an established user (I started in August 2011) I was often online, taking pictures daily and my uploads were usually trending on the Popular page, now known as the EXPLORE page. In early 2013 200,000 followers was a BIG deal in Australia and brands were starting to notice me. I secured opportunities with Kia, the Australian tennis open, Hamilton Island and Tourism ACT and all I had to do was take photo’s and share them on Instagram. The glimmering of an idea was starting to form in my mind.
On the last day of 2012 I found myself washing dishes at the Italian restaurant I worked in, everybody pitches in on busy nights and New Years Eve is the busiest, and I was just thinking “is this it?” 15 years of cooking, washing dishes, working New Years Eve (and birthdays and Christmases) and moving from restaurant-to-restaurant and I just wasn’t really getting anywhere. Being a vegetarian meant that the big restaurants would never hire me, being a cautious “responsible” adult meant that I would never open my own place. I was just standing still.
The next day I made the decision that would change my life. I would become Australia’s first “professional” instagrammer; I would make my dreams come true.
So what is a professional “instagrammer”?
Even I didn’t know the answer to that question in early 2013 when I found myself unemployed and armed with just my camera and a healthy Instagram account. I wanted to travel, that itch had never gone away, I wanted to take pictures (and pictures and pictures, I never got enough) and I wanted to use Instagram all the time. I was addicted to the instant gratification that came from sharing my photo’s and the constant inspiration from the many accounts I followed back. I found a scrap of paper and I wrote down this …
- Social Media
Although I was naïve I vowed that if I was going to work for myself I would always make decisions that led me to those three things.
My next step was to start saying yes to people, yes I would love to go to Christmas Island, yes I would love to watch the Margaret River Surfing Classic in Western Australia, yes I would love to photograph “Behind the Scenery” of pristine Tasmania. Yes, yes, yes BUT you need to pay me…
I needed to make a living and I didn’t know how. I wasn’t good enough to be a commercial photographer in the tourism industry, and I wasn’t really interested. I also couldn’t justify being paid just to make Instagram posts, not unless I could figure out a way to measure the value of them. I was confident to ask for a payment but not confident on what I was selling and I set about changing that. Through immeasurable conversations with the people I met I started to figure out what I was trying to sell, what the heart of my little business was, and it was inspiration. I wanted to inspire people to travel, nothing more and nothing less. I wanted tourism boards to hire me to inspire people about their destination. I just needed to couple this with a tangible product and I would be on my way.
My tangible product was my early package of services, which has changed little almost three years later. I sell the following –
- Travel Inspiration through an agreed upon number of Instagram posts
- Social media style photos for my client to use on social media
- Traffic through linking in my client’s @username and encouraging others to engage with them and,
- Education, I can’t talk enough about my work and industry and thrive on seeing great results for my clients
I am not a commercial photographer; the images that I take are good, they will probably never be great. I want people to look at my photos and think ‘I could do that, I could go to that place and take that lovely photo.’ I want the real stories that I share to inspire others to get a ticket and go somewhere. Somewhere local, somewhere far, somewhere cultured, somewhere exotic. Just somewhere. Travel shapes and changes you as a person and, in my mind, there is no greater pursuit than to travel.
From humble beginnings my business has expanded rapidly. I’ve found that I have a knack for marketing and a mind for planning and I now run social media campaigns for tourism boards across the globe. I vet and hire the best bloggers, instagrammers and photographers in the world for my projects. I consult on and plan trips that I sometimes don’t even attend. I educate industry and mentor people wanting to work in this field and I even speak at conferences and events.
And at the heart of it all are these three things;
- Social Media
So when you see me in New Zealand skiing or in Dubai hot air ballooning or somewhere local enjoying simple pleasures I want you to remember that all I want in life is to inspire others to explore and I work damn hard to do that job.
As a one-woman show for almost three years, it’s almost time for me to think about expansion and I have huge ideas about how to help travel brands and destinations market using social media. I want to continue to travel to new places always but to find more time and balance in my personal life too.
Watch this space!