Ever dreamed of traveling the world — and getting paid to do it? Not so long ago, Elma Beganovich was working in an unfulfilling part-time job in international arbitration and pursuing her law degree at Georgetown Law. Take a look at her Instagram feed today and you’ll see photos of Beganovich strolling by the Golden Gate Bridge, lounging on a clifftop in Capri and picking grapes in Tuscany.
Beganovich and her sister Amra Beganovich — a former economist — are superstar digital influencers who have amassed an audience of over 2.3 million followers on social media and are the founders of A&E, an influencer-led digital marketing agency.
And they got there in a very short span of time. In 2013, the sisters quit their jobs to build their company, which focuses on influencer marketing, photo production and social media growth for brands ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Here, Elma Beganovich reveals how she and her sister got to where they are and shares tips for how you can travel the world, too, and get paid for doing it.
Laura Begley Bloom: How did you and your sister get your start?
Begley Bloom: What inspired you to get into this line of work?
Beganovich: I always loved documenting my travels and social media gave me a podium to share that with an audience who found my tips useful or merely inspirational to give them that midday kick to keep working toward their dreams. Also, my legal job was not very fulfilling, knowing that my progress was not based on meritocracy but rather seniority. I would have to put in my time — no matter how capable I was — in order to advance in that career trajectory. I wanted the market to be the final judge of my work, rather than a few senior partners.
Begley Bloom: Tell me about your company.
Beganovich: When Amra and I started, we began in advertising. Gradually, the clients we had started asking us whether we would be able to take over their social media efforts to growth their digital footprint organically, just like we had done for ourselves. Essentially, we agreed that this was the next step for A&E and hence we grew into a digital marketing agency that focuses on making brands explode digitally through influencer marketing, photo and video production, and social media channels. Our clients are either Fortune 500 companies that are trying to revive themselves on digital or growth-stage companies trying to take advantage of the new digital space in order to reach their target consumers.
Begley Bloom: You call your company an “influencer marketplace platform.” What does that mean?
Beganovich: We built a platform that enables marketers to filter through huge amounts of data — in our case, influencers — in order to find the ones who make sense for a particular brand’s target demographic. A marketer is able to use filters like location, following range and industry type to find influencers who meet that criteria. Also, the user is able to view the influencer’s profile in order to see the analytics, such as the engagement rate and follower growth, in more detail. This way, a brand has a more complete picture of the influencer before deciding to engage him/her in the campaign.
Begley Bloom: You also learned to code; was that helpful?
Begley Bloom: Talk about an influencer’s perspective on marketing versus a brand’s perspective on influencer marketing.
Beganovich: Influencer marketing is still in its infancy stages. Brands are still coming to terms with the fact that digital has replaced many of the traditional marketing channels, such as print and television. Many of the established brands are run by 60+-year-old CEOs who are still uncertain about what Snapchat is, let alone how to run an account there. Many are still figuring out how to maneuver the backwaters of digital and how to grow their footprints across Google and social media to reach the millennial market. I believe that influencer marketing is here to stay and that brands will slowly transition into paying influencers in lieu of product in exchange for positive mentions on social media because this is still more cost-effective than paying for advertising space and an in-house photo production team.
For influencers, they are pushing more and more limits (whether traveling to Bali or hanging off cliffs) in order to produce spectacular content. Thus, more are demanding to be paid for their audience (eyeballs) and content. Many are individuals making a livelihood from content marketing, especially the ones with a large following and high engagement. They have to pay for the photographer, props in the photo shoot and cover the costs of transportation to the locations. Lastly, many influencers with a stellar following are being bombarded with gifts and services (from free hotels to first class airfare); hence, it becomes a lot harder from brands to impress them unless there is a campaign contract involved.
Begley Bloom: What’s the secret behind your success?
Beganovich: I don’t believe there is a secret, per se, but rather staying consistent and committed on a daily basis. Even when you feel like the walls are closing in (and daily rejection is part of the journey), keep moving, stay determined and focused to meet your end goal. Always remember, there are many paths to the top. Keep trying different ones until you get there; never give up.
Begley Bloom: You advise other entrepreneurs. Why is your top piece of advice when it comes to career strategy?
Beganovich: Listen to the market. You don’t need a mentor. No one knows (if they did, they would do it themselves). The market gives you objective data about whether or not your product is desirable.
Begley Bloom: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Beganovich: I watched Don Valentine in Something Ventured, and I loved that he said, “I like people with logic.” Drowning out the noise and listening to your own intuition is the most important.
Begley Bloom: How does travel inspire you and your work?
Beganovich: I believe inspiration is one of the key ingredients for success, and for me, it is travel — seeing new places, breathing new air and discovering new cultures. Travel opens my eyes to worlds that are very different from mine.
Begley Bloom: What places around the world inspire you the most?
Beganovich: Capri, Italy: for its villas, views and nearby islands. I was blown away by Villa San Michele and Villa Lysis, the latter hanging on the steep cliffs overlooking the Amalfi coast. Also, I loved taking a day trip to have lunch in in the picturesque town of Positano.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: This little gem, located 45 minutes outside of Nice, used to rival Saint-Tropez and be the go-to spot in the 1950s for the likes of Winston Churchill. I can see why — in its vicinity one can visit the ever-so-stunning Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the medieval town of Eze, both overlooking the emerald blue waters of the Riviera.
St. Bart’s: The island is a precious little remnant of France located in the midst of the Caribbean. Thus, one does not have to take an eight-hour flight to get to mainland Europe, especially in the cold and dark winter. The island is stunning, gorgeous and peaceful — a perfect winter holiday getaway.
Elma’s 13 Tips For Getting Paid To Travel
1. Work on your following and engagement first: You need a lot of followers (10k+) and a high engagement (3-8% on Instagram is a good number). The most important way to do this is to form a unique online persona. Understand who you are and what you want to communicate to the public. Understand how you want to distinguish yourself from others in order for the public to remember you. One of the ways Amra and I did this was by traveling to very dreamy destinations because we love to travel, explore and learn so much about various cultures and foods.
2. Invest in your content. Here is what I mean: Hire a photographer. If you don’t have a budget, learn how to use a DSLR camera so you can instruct your partner, mother or a close friend on how to take a photo of you. This will do it for the start.
3. Learn how to use Photoshop and/or photo editing applications. Start with VSCO or Color Story.
4. Catch the sunsets/sunrises. The best lighting for photography is during sunset or sunrise; go with the former because it is easier to beat the crowds. Warning: no sleeping in allowed.
5. Do your due diligence/location scouting. To find the most picturesque locations, do the research ahead of time so that you are prepared and ready to go come sunrise. If possible, visit these locations a day in advance so you know how to quickly get there.
6. Engage with your target demographic. What that means: Don’t be shy to pay individuals compliments, but make sure they are sincere ones. Pick accounts where your target demographic hangs out, e.g., if you are in tech, pick Airbnb, Uber or Google, and engage with individuals there. You’ll be surprised how many people will come and check out your profile, and with great content they’ll very likely start following you.
7. Use shout-outs. Find accounts that share your target demographic and are of similar size and ask them to support your work. In return, you will support theirs, i.e., “give a shout-out” so that you give an endorsement to your followers to pay attention to this account.
8. Participate in giveaways. Again, find accounts that share your target demographic and are of similar size and form a giveaway. If you want to be very ambitious, find several and host a loop giveaway.
9. Contact public relations firms. This is the fun part. PR firms are looking for great coverage for their clients, such as hotels, airlines and spas. So reach out to them and ask to collaborate.
10. Contact restaurants. While traveling, take the opportunity to reach out to particular restaurants where you would like to be photographed and ask them to collaborate. They will often set up a picturesque breakfast for you.
11. Contact tourism boards. You can even get a local travel guide to show you across the region by partnering with a tourism board. The tourism board is powerful because as an influencer, you can get access to travel perks across the whole region (rather than being tied to a particular city).
12. Fly in style. Make sure to prepare your wardrobe in advance to match the location’s mood, e.g., your wardrobe will not be the same for the concrete jungle that is New York City versus the sandy shores of Cabo.
13. Don’t forget to sleep in. Take a day (or two) to yourself just to sleep in and relax because these trips can be quite tiresome with switching time zones, diets and running around to capture those eye-catching shots. (Tip: Bring some great skincare or schedule a day at a local spa to pamper yourself on your day off.)