By next year, the Instagram influencer marketing business may be valued at anywhere between $5 billion and $10 billion. A growing demographic is the kid influencer, who can appeal both to young parents–millennials who frequent Instagram–and kids who have grown up scrolling through Instagram. These kid influencers, who can be as young as 2 years old, can reportedly earn at least $100 per 1,000 followers for a sponsored post. If their audience is in the millions, that could spell a paycheck of $15,000 or more for a single post.
With this new influencer economy comes a generation of kids who, from an early age, are earning thousands of dollars and showered with free gifts from brands. As the architects of these mini influencers, parents are tasked with both managing their money and keeping their kids grounded. We talked to three parents about how they manage their influencer earnings–and how they keep their children’s expectations in check.
Income: About $10,000 a month
Spending: “I give 15% to charity, and I’m saving the rest of my daughter’s money until she’s 16”
When Martha Krejci started posting about her daughter, it was after she quit a longtime job to spend more time with her. “I was at work, and my husband sent me a video of Norah taking her first steps,” she says. “It was like time stopped, and I just felt like more of a caged animal than I’ve ever felt in my life. I could not leave and was missing moments.” A week later, she started a marketing agency with her husband.
Eventually, she started getting approached by brands that wanted to feature Norah. (She’s currently promoting a show for Nick Jr.) “It just organically happened,” she says of their platform. But Krejci cautions parents against jumping into this without thinking through the implications of prominently featuring their kids on social media. “To any parent that thinks this might be something their kid would enjoy doing: You really have to be okay with your kid being in public.”
Krejci claims her daughter understands–as best as a 4-year-old can–what she’s doing when her mom features her on Instagram. (Norah also has her own page as of last month.) “Any time I’m doing a live [stream], she will jump in on it,” she says. “She knows there are people on the other side of the camera. She’ll wave at them and talk to them. As she has questions, I’m helping her understand what this life is about and what she’s doing and the part she’s playing in it.”
For Krejci, putting all the influencer money toward Norah’s future was an easy decision. Their earnings are “relatively not a ton of money,” according to Krejci, but amount to about $10,000 a month. “All of that money basically goes into [Norah’s] own account,” she says. “I have a gigantic aversion to the dance moms or the momagers that really seem to almost treat their kids as a commodity. That alarms me, not just for the moms but also the kids.”
Four months ago, Krejci also started a side business that is already bringing in $4,500 each month, which she plans to put in Norah’s name when she turns 16. She doesn’t want to raise a “trust fund kid,” but she does want to empower her daughter. “If somebody is not financially laden or feeling the stress of finances, then they can do good in the world,” she says. “They can do good things without being stressed about making their monthly payment. You can lead with your heart instead.” In fact, 15% of what they earn goes to the Ronald McDonald House, as per Norah’s wishes. “She has a friend who has Down syndrome, whose family stayed there for a while,” Krejci says.
By granting Norah access to her money at 16, Krejci thinks she can offer some financial guidance to her daughter, beyond the values she is already trying to impart and embody as a parent. “When I was 16, I was relatively responsible but I was still in my parents’ house,” she says. “I’ll still be able to help guide her, as she’s learning how to manage money.” She also tries to be a good example in the hopes that Norah will take lessons from how she and her husband conduct their finances–from how they diversify investments to how they save money and give back.
Free toys and allowance. Krejci isn’t investing their influencer money just yet, but plans to after hitting a target number. She also didn’t want to lock up the money in a college fund without knowing what path her daughter might take. “I didn’t finish college,” she says. “I don’t know that college is really the way to go these days. I don’t want to make her do something that isn’t in alignment with her character. If you want to go to college, cool. But it’s your choice.”
But a gig as an influencer doesn’t just yield checks. Another thing parents have to contend with is that being an influencer can be a pipeline for free gifts and swag that, when heaped on a child at an early age, can send the wrong message. “We’re hitting a period right now where every time we go somewhere, Norah asks for a free toy,” Krejci says. To curb that, Norah’s parents have pulled back on automatically giving her free swag. “We started with the whole box,” she says. “But then that dopamine hit is gone, and you need another box of toys. So what we do now is trickle them in, and we also give her a weekly allowance of $5.” That gives her the opportunity to pay for a toy if she really wants it.
All this assumes, of course, that Norah is on her best behavior. “You can’t be a saucy brat and get free toys,” Krejci says. “Good girl plus allowance equals semi-grounded at 4–as grounded as she can be.”
Income: Less than $10,000 a month
Spending: College fund, IRA, trust fund, charity, and my daughter can access her money whenever she wants
An influencer herself, Mai Nguyen-Miyoshi knew when it was time to start monetizing her 7-year-old daughter Zooey’s Instagram account. “We thought it was only fair to start charging brands who were using our photography for their own marketing purposes,” says Nguyen-Miyoshi. As those deals got bigger–Zooey now has 142,000 followers–she signed with a management agency.
Despite her age, Zooey is kept in the loop as much as possible: She knows which photos are being posted and sometimes even helps with the text posted to her Instagram stories. Nguyen-Miyoshi lets her choose between potential outfits and even shows her select comments. “We are very transparent about the whole process with her,” Nguyen-Miyoshi says. “Zooey doesn’t look at all the notifications, but I monitor [them] very closely, and when there is a really nice standout comment, we share that with her.” Zooey also knows that if she receives free products from brands, they may need to post about it. “She understands that we need to thank the brands for sending her these things, and we talk about why it’s important that we might need to take a video or pictures of the items for her Instagram,” Nguyen-Miyoshi says. “She’s learning a lot about business from an early age.”
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Nguyen-Miyoshi declined to share how much Zooey’s account brings in each month, though she said it was below $10,000. “Our digital manager keeps a spreadsheet so that we have full transparent access and a view of what programs we’re taking on and how much we’re being paid,” she says. “But I don’t obsess over it, because it is money Zooey earns, and it goes immediately into her savings.” Part of the money goes towards Zooey’s college fund, and part of it into an IRA.
We don’t need to dip into her accounts. It helps that the family has multiple sources of income and doesn’t need to dip into Zooey’s accounts. “Our family is taken care of through my work as a freelance social media consultant and Zooey’s father’s work as a sales associate,” says Nguyen-Miyoshi. “There is no pressure to split proceeds from her work or have her making money to fulfill a specific goal.” Since Zooey is also a model, Nguyen-Miyoshi was required to put 15% of her modeling earnings into a trust, as per the Coogan law, which helps protect child performers. Kids with a Coogan account will have access to their money at the age of 18.
Unlike some other kid influencers, Zooey can access her money at any time, though she has yet to use it. She keeps cash gifts from family members in a piggy bank but doesn’t really spend that either, Nguyen-Miyoshi says. When she receives free brand swag she doesn’t want, her parents encourage her to donate it or give it away to family and friends. “We often remind Zooey that she is very lucky to receive these gifts, and that it is not a normal thing for other kids her age,” Nguyen-Miyoshi says. They also donate to the nonprofit Baby2Baby and are working on teaming up with other influencers for a more consistent giveback effort.
Though Nguyen-Miyoshi has made the choice not to use her daughter’s money for family or personal expenses, she stresses that parents should make the decision that is right for them based on their circumstances. “Not every family situation is the same, so they should not be generalized nor judged,” she says. “We want to believe that all parents have good intentions.”
Income: About $3,500 a month
Spending: I pay myself 15%-20% like a manager, the rest goes to business expenses, a trust fund, and charitable giving
As Nguyen-Miyoshi points out, not every influencer parent takes the same approach to their earnings. Simone Gittens, for example, thinks of her 5-year-old daughter’s Instagram account as a business, one that she’s working for and investing in. That’s why about 15%-20% of her earnings–which amount to about $3,500 per month between sponsored posts and event appearances–goes toward paying Gittens, who may not be the face of the business but certainly manages things behind the scenes. “Sometimes I do feel like, ‘Should I be taking a percentage?'” Gittens says. “But she’s paying me now as her employee. I’m her stylist. Instead of paying somebody to do that, she’s paying me; she’s paying me to creative direct her shoots. I look at it as: She’s my child but she’s the boss.”
Like Zooey, her daughter Summer is also signed with a modeling agency, so Gittens puts 15% of her earnings into a trust. The rest of her money is divvied up: About 15% goes to an external manager, and Gittens pays herself about the same amount. About 10% is set aside for charitable giving through their church. Another chunk of her earnings goes toward business expenses, of which they have many. There’s Planoly, the scheduling platform they use for Instagram posts, and email marketing tools. Then there’s the travel Summer and Simone have to do for appearances, along with her hair and clothing–all of which is important to keep their influencer game going. “I try to make sure I keep money in her checking account now that she makes a few coins,” she says. “So it’s not consistently cutting into the family income.”
Setting up other revenue streams. But as many influencers know, this business isn’t necessarily a dependable source of income in the long run. “People don’t understand that it’s not consistent,” Gittens says. Influencer paychecks can dry up as quickly as they appear. That’s why Gittens is trying to set her daughter up with other potential revenue streams–for starters, a product line that launches this summer. “My reason for doing that is to give her something of her own, without relying on these brands,” she says. “Because at any time, this can stop. She’s already built a name for herself, and this can be her own thing.” Gittens says Summer is all in–with a vision board to boot–and that her first product is a purse. Soon after, she’ll be releasing her second purse and hair accessories.
It’s also a way to channel Summer’s tastes, which can be exacting, Gittens says. She won’t just wear something she doesn’t like for the sake of an Instagram post. “[Summer] is very into this and that’s the only reason it’s successful,” she says. “I don’t think it would be if she wasn’t.” And Gittens figured that if she didn’t capitalize on her daughter’s success, someone else would. “I was like, ‘Somebody is going to pick her up and say, Let’s start a collection with this little girl,'” Gittens says. “And I had to think about: Why am I waiting for someone to approach us? Why should I not take some of the money she’s earning herself and invest it and flip it?”
As for how Summer views her earnings, Gittens says she’s already conscientious of money and usually opts to save the $20 she receives when a paycheck comes in. “She has $12 in her wallet right now and thinks she’s rich,” she says. “I think by the time she turns 18, she’s going to be so money-savvy.” It’s especially important to Gittens that her daughter has a grasp of money management and finances because she never learned about money growing up. She even had Summer sit down with a YouTuber, Tiffany the Budgetnista, so she could impart simple money lessons on giving, spending, and saving.
The giving-back component is especially important to Gittens because she doesn’t want her daughter to grow accustomed to “expecting things” like gifts from brands. That can mean donating through their church or even doing something for a friend–say, using part of her allowance to put together a care package. “I want it to be second nature for her,” she says. “I just want to get her into the habit of giving–because so many people make so much money, and their hands are so closed.”