To say that I have an interesting career is an understatement. In fact, what I do is so unusual that there’s not an exact definition for it. Hence the reason for this, my first ever blog post.
Like any story there’s a beginning, and my beginning was humble. I was born and raised on the Gold Coast by a single parent, my incredible mother Christine. Mum always placed a lot of emphasis on higher education and I was groomed from a young age to enter university, especially since I proved to be an excellent student with the potential to enter any field I chose.
Unfortunately for Mum, the one thing that I had a special love and affinity for was cooking – the career of my biological father and not what she would have chosen for me, knowing the challenges and hard work that hospitality workers face. To keep my options open, I decided to apply for university but also cook throughout my studies with a part-time job. However, it wasn’t long before this part-time work became my everything, and when I realized this I knew what I had to do. I made the tough decision to drop out of university, already half way through my degree, and pursue a career in the kitchen.
The next 12 years was spent working as a full-time chef and, without a formal qualification, I rose faster through the ranks than I could have imagined possible. I ended up in North Queensland (Daintree and Cairns) in several head chef positions and my life was easy and happy. I was engaged to my long-term partner and we lived with our two dogs. I had a great circle of friends and was happy and healthy, and I was in the best job of my career. Despite all of this there was a small part of me that was unsettled. I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch and a feeling in my gut that this wasn’t the life for me. Like so many others, I ignored my gut and poured even more energy into my job, my fitness and my hobbies.
Fast forward to my first trip to Bali, such a cliché destination for Australians and yet such a life changing place for many, and I felt like I’d been slapped. I KNEW, with every part of my being, that I wasn’t living the life I was meant to be living. I didn’t want convention; I didn’t want my life to be scripted and always heading in the same direction. The security that so many people crave was making me feel trapped, but you can’t imagine the guilt and anguish I felt over the decisions I had to make at that point. How entitled and selfish of me to walk away from that life, from my partner, my pets, my friends, my boss and work colleagues, and everything that defined me. And yet, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t asking myself what I should be doing but instead doing what I needed to.
I moved to the Gold Coast and back home to my mum and stepdad in the tiny apartment where I’d spent my teenage years. I’d been bold enough to make this incredible decision but I soon found myself falling into familiar habits. Within a few short months I was dating someone new, forming new social circles and back working in the kitchen. Same, same, just a new address. My gut still gave me a little ping occasionally but I was distracted with my new life and I had no idea what I wanted!
This is where things get interesting. With my first smart phone (an iPhone 4) in my hands, I started getting into social media and was among the first wave of people to download Instagram. Instagram: such an unknown and inconsequential mobile application in 2011. I’d never used anything like it. You upload a tiny little square photo and write a caption to it and, with the help of a few hashtags, people from all over the world can find that photo and connect with you. Suddenly all the energy that I had tended to pour into my career was being poured into Instagram and I was hooked. I thrived on the challenge of using my phone to create an image that people would care about, and I loved having the ability to meet and talk to people from all walks of life and all corners of the world.
And something interesting happened; I realized I could take photos. I had the ‘eye’ as they say. I was an early adopter of a social media platform that rewarded engaged and engaging accounts, and I was sharing pictures daily with a growing community of new friends. The ingredients were there for a hell of a ride and I jumped on that ride when Instagram started to hit the big time in 2012. I upgraded to a camera, started posting more regularly and took full advantage of that boom time, managing to grow my audience to 200,000 followers within 18 months.
It was late 2012 and Instagram was my life. Although I reluctantly dragged myself to work for my shifts, it was becoming increasingly obvious (especially to my boss, haha) that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. With so many followers in such early days I was already starting to get offers from within the Australian tourism industry and I’d jumped on a few of them, each time pinching myself that anyone could be interested in me just because of this app that I used. That gut feeling that I’d stifled and ignored for so long was now pounding.
So I had a chat to my mum and stepdad, who I was still living with, and my partner (remember that new guy I’d started dating? He was still in the picture, also living in our cosy little apartment). For the first time in my life I voiced my deepest desires and immediately realized the power of speaking your dreams. I wanted to travel, and not just to save up and do a trip here and there. I wanted to travel all the time and to all the places and to immerse myself in our world. I believed that I had a chance to create this kind of life for myself by utilizing my Instagram account, my photography skills, my inquisitive personality and my strong work ethic.
Within 24 hours of saying the words out loud I was sitting across the table from my boss and giving my notice. The immediate result from the universe was three job opportunities hitting my inbox within an hour of that meeting. I jotted down three words on a piece of paper and swore that I would use my career to give me those things. The words were Photography, Social Media and Travel. At last my life was in motion, the life that I wanted.
I’d love to tell you that things were easy from that day on, but that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the last five years in my dream career have been the hardest years of my life. They’re simultaneously been the best, the most fulfilling and the most vivid. Every moment stands out in brilliant Technicolor compared to previous years. Which brings me to the point of this entire post: what do I do?
You could give me a number of different titles and none would be untrue. I’m a travel photographer, an influencer, an Instagrammer (in fact news.com.au once gave me the title ‘Australia’s first professional Instagrammer’) and a creative. I’m also a project manager, a consultant and an educator. I run my own conferences, I dream big, and some call me an entrepreneur, although the word scares me. I’m living a big life and it all started with a small idea.
In my first year of business my goal was to make enough money through photography to enable me to support myself. To make this a reality I needed to figure out what I was offering and find a way to monetize it. As a chef I earned $700 a week and I’d always managed to save some money, so realistically I knew I needed to be earning $500 a week on average to continue. I had several tourism boards contact me to ask if I’d like to come to their destination on a ‘famil’ (a ‘familiarization’ is traditionally a tour for journalists to visit a region, so that they can then write about it for print and digital publications). I knew that I needed to make money and had a very clear view that this – whatever ‘this’ was – needed to pay, so I asked each person who emailed me if I could be paid. It was an unusual model, as most people being hosted by a destination are selling their work, their stories, and making a living that way.
I started to ask for $1,000 per job. That job could be a week in Western Australia or three nights on Christmas Island; it didn’t matter because I had no idea what I was doing, only that I needed to make an average of $500 a week to avoid admitting defeat and slinking back to my old job. I learned very, very early on that in order to ask for any money at all I needed to be accountable for what I was offering. Chucking a few posts on Instagram was not going to cut it. With words of advice from two very influential and strong women in the tourism industry, I quickly put together a package of services that is still listed on my media kit today. That package is now known as my ‘solo influencer’ package. Solo, meaning just me, and influencer meaning someone with a large reach and the trust of their audience. That audience was made up of my Instagram followers, the people I had spent years engaging with and getting to know.
My first professional service, the solo influencer package, consisted of (and still consists of today) the following: an agreed number of social media posts detailing my experiences in region, education to my client about influencer marketing and using Instagram, a gallery of images for social media usage, and a clear report measuring the impact of the campaign. This report has hugely improved in accuracy over the years as Instagram has introduced analytical tools that measure reach.
With this professional package, a better pricing system, a growing reputation and being literally the first Australian in the market, I soon found myself with more travel opportunities than I could possibly take, and trust me I took a LOT. For the first three years I was averaging 50 trips a year and over one hundred flights. It was an exciting time but almost becoming too much of a good thing. I’d been dabbling in a few other things at this point: project managing influencer trips, public speaking, a little bit of consultancy here and there, and sometimes commercial photography. For every new thing I tried I first asked myself if I loved it and then remembered the three words I wrote down when I first quit my job: photography, social media and travel. If I loved something and I knew it would contribute to my dream career then I started to talk about it more, sell it and make it a part of my business.
Bit by bit my career has fleshed out and I now run a company that offers a variety of social media services as well as my very first service, as a ‘solo influencer’. In addition, I have spent the last two years working on other projects that make my heart absolutely sing, and in the process I’ve found a contentment that I didn’t think was possible with a crystal clear vision of the future.
Two years ago I launched my own conference with two business partners, both peers in the travel industry. We’ve called it the Travel Bootcamp and the premise is to teach others how to work in the travel industry as an Instagrammer, blogger or writer. The Travel Bootcamp has finally provided me with a platform to give back to an industry that I care about, and the joy that I get from our delegates is immeasurable. I can now teach people everything that I’ve learned in the most supportive of environments and the event is going from success to success. The Bootcamp is my absolute baby!
This year I am finally releasing my first online course, a beginners’ guide to photography. As a self-taught photographer myself, I can vividly remember unpacking my first camera and staring at all the buttons, dials and numbers in shock. I genuinely thought I would never figure it all out and for years wanted to create a logical, practical and progressive course that would teach complete beginners how to go from shooting in automatic to full exposure control. I’m not talking about a shiny course showing me in some far-flung destination talking about focus stacking and blending layers and luminosity masking. I’m talking about what the hell the numbers on the lens mean and how do you put the stupid thing on a tripod and how on earth you know what f number to dial in and what an f number is. For everyone that’s ever looked at his or her new camera and thought ‘I’m a dummy’, this course is for you.
And next year I am going to take my first ever photography tour overseas, to a country that means as much to me as Australia. That country is Zimbabwe, the country of my partner’s birth. Many of you who follow me on social media know him as Dreamboat and I can’t credit Emmanuel enough for giving me the guts to pursue my dreams, the support I needed during the hard times, and a balance in my life that I can only achieve by spending time in his wonderful country. These tours will provide employment opportunities to the people I care about in Zimbabwe, will allow me to give more to conservation efforts there, and will hopefully stimulate the tourism industry in a country that is more than deserving.
Now? I want to continue to dream big, to have new projects that inspire me every single year, and to be in the position to make changes in our world through my travels. As time goes on I find myself less motivated by consumerism and more motivated by experiences, a mindset that I pass along to others. Money is less of a driver now and I accept more partnerships with non-profits, especially if they give me a platform to speak on important causes that matter to me. The travel work that I do constantly reminds me that exposure to new cultures, religions and people makes humans more tolerant and compassionate. Each and every aspect of my business was born from passion and the urge to help others, and I hope that this is transparent in everything I do.
I’ve never thought that I’m anyone special but I have learned some huge life lessons in the past five years and feel privileged to be gifted with this knowledge. So now I share it with you –
Dream fucking big,
Put your fears aside!
Follow your gut,
Don’t burn bridges,
Work your ass off,
Help others along the way,
Don’t be an asshole,
Don’t become tied up in consumerism,
If it feels wrong, it is wrong and,
Never live with regrets.