Note: This post was editorialized by an employee of Tree Frog Social. This article was inspired by a long-form editorial written by a client. We followed up with him and obtained permission to use more precise facts and direct quotes in this article. The client was not compensated for this review.
I know what you’re thinking. Another influencer engaging in shameless self-promotion. That’s how social media works now. You make a splash with a picture of a half-naked model or a salacious headline, and then you wrangle those precious few seconds of viewers’ attention into somehow benefitting your own brand.
For this reason, I’ve chosen to remain anonymous and completely disassociate my own brand from this post. I want to tell my story without trying to sell you anything.
Four years ago, I graduated college with a general studies degree and no job. I had always thought of myself as a competitor and high-achiever, so I thought back to how I could have possibly found myself in such a predicament.
I was recruited to play Division I football but quit after my freshman year. I didn’t see any action on the field, and I wanted to focus on my Biology degree and getting into med school. I knew that I had no future in football, but a future in which I could don a white coat and make a real difference in the world was attainable with hard work.
After I quit playing football, I tried to fill the vacuum in my life with everything that a college student is bound to try. Studying, the weight room, dating, partying, new hobbies, more partying–you get the picture. As I shed thirty pounds of my football bulk, hangovers increased in frequency, and I remained a solid B student, I often questioned whether I was on the right path or what being on the right path even meant.
Into the first semester of my junior year, my GPA wasn’t going to cut it for med school. My advisor started to recommend that I look into Master’s Degree programs–a sure sign that he didn’t think med school was a possibility.
During that semester, I partied less. I worked out more. I changed my major to Accounting. All accountants go on to have stable, fulfilling careers. That’s what we’re told. However, we’re never told exactly how hard it is to become an accountant in the first place. Realizing that I would have to spend at least another year in school and also that I had no support group to help me with assignments, I switched to General Studies after one semester.
I had further damaged my GPA, but didn’t fail any classes. By quitting accounting, I was still set to graduate on time. My friends from freshman year–even my friends from football–were all starting to talk about their internships and career goals. I barely had a 3.0 GPA and was thirty-five credits away from the easiest degree offered by my university.
My only solace during my academic struggles came through setting personal bests in the weightroom and playing intramural sports. After years of work, I had transformed my body to a lean athletic build. Women gave me more attention. Everyone took me more seriously. People started asking me for advice, and I enjoyed helping them.
I had a serious girlfriend during my senior year, which made me feel better about the fact that I was probably going to move back in with my parents after school as an abject failure. I graduated school, she dumped me and moved to New York City, and I moved back in to my childhood bedroom.
I joined a new gym in my hometown. Almost immediately, I was invited to take personal trainer certification courses. Great, more school, I thought. I buckled down and took the course. Before I knew it, I had finished my training and the gym was sending me clients. I wasn’t making all that much, because I still had to pay the gym a token amount, but I was able to support my simple, boring lifestyle. And spend all day at the gym!
I rarely used Instagram. My ex-girlfriend had forced me to create one. During that first year out of school, I would just log on and see her and my other friends having fun in New York or Boston or somewhere else that wasn’t my parents’ house. If you use Instagram to put other people’s lives on a pedestal and not to inspire you to work harder in your own, I believe that it is by far the most harmful social network.
I continued training clients and even managed to successfully raise my training rates. My friends were getting raises, even getting promotions and new appointments in places around the world that I had never heard of.
Moving out of my parents house was tough. I did it.
Raising rates for my clients was also tough. Many of them balked at the idea. Some of them never scheduled another session with me.
My life as a personal trainer wasn’t glamorous. My first clients were flaky and would refuse to pay when they didn’t show up for sessions. I felt trapped, even as my gym paid me to use pictures and videos of me working out as promotional material.
Then some of my clients asked if I could send them videos of workouts. I tried distributing them over email, but that didn’t work. Someone suggested Instagram. I made my first post in late 2015.
Six months later, I had ten thousand followers. I started traveling to different clients and offering custom-tailored plans including nutrition. There was so much demand–or, at least, interest–in my services that I was able to increase prices and effectively eliminate clients who didn’t respect my time.
I learned the ins and outs of Instagram over the next two years. I built a following organically and networked with other fitness minded professionals. By consistently posting original and compelling content, I was able to grow consistently. It’s a consistency that I was never quite able to find in the classroom.
Recently, I’ve taken all that I’ve learned and started using Instagram to sell different products. Sometimes, I promote them from my main account. For other ventures, I simply use Instagram as the virtual storefront and totally disassociate them from my brand. Success in these ventures is always the most fulfilling.
When I tell people that I make a living by using Instagram, many people remark that it must be easy to be a male model. But I’m not and never was a model. I showcased real workout plans and exhibited progress pictures of my own clients, and as a result I became a respected and successful personal trainer.
If I had to do it over again, there isn’t a whole lot I would change. I look back at my life with the understanding that I made the best decision at each key moment, and the result has been a vastly fulfilling career. I hope my story can serve as inspiration for those who are looking to Instagram as a way of growing their personal brands and building their careers.