Samantha Wong is a content creator based in Hong Kong. She began as a prop stylist working on ad campaigns and print editorial. With the rise of Instagram and mobile technology, she now focuses most of her time flatlaying for brands who need a constant flow of digital content for their social media channels. Her clients include Cathay Pacific, W Hotels, Cartier, Calvin Klein, and BMW, to name a few. She is also the editor of the blog, Sam is Home, which launched in 2010 embracing fashion, food and lifestyle.
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance content creator.
I was just starting an online boutique selling sustainable fashion but most of the money we were making was going right back into the business and I needed an income! I was blogging on the side (as a hobby) when my friend, who is a photographer, suggested I consolidate all my flatlay photos together into a portfolio and she'd pitch me as a stylist to clients. I had no idea arranging objects could be a job, but gradually I started taking on more prop styling work for advertising campaigns. Eventually as social media became a necessity, clients asked me to create monthly digital content specifically for Instagram and Facebook. That's when I saw a shift in the demand from seasonal campaign work to weekly digital content needs from brands and began focusing the majority of my portfolio on social.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Strangely my first clients were the good clients. It wasn't so much about how much I was making (which was very little), but they really respected and loved the work I was already doing. Nowadays, at times it feels like clients hire you based on the number of likes and followers you get which kinda makes me feel uncomfortable. I was trained to think like an artist and a creator, not like someone in PR or marketing, and having to explain my work away based on stats alone makes my work feel worthless because I know there will always be someone with a bigger following and I have no control over that.
Can you tell us a bit about your content creation process? What does a day in your life look like?
Ha, my day to day life is really random. Sometimes I'm on back to back shoots, on the plane editing photos and other days I'm just home following up on emails or exploring Hong Kong and shooting content for fun. Some days I don't wake up till 10am and I'm learning to accept that it's ok- it doesn't mean I'm lazy, my schedule doesn't reflect the norm. I've learned not to beat myself up over it and not feel guilty that my schedule isn't 9-5 — I'm productive, responsible and self-driven and that's good enough.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
As a freelancer you will experience lulls in your schedule. But during those times when I'm in between jobs, I try to use that time to experiment and refine my craft. Since there's no pressure from clients I can be very free to have fun and take more risks than the paid work I get. Recently I dipped my toes into night photography and it became the most rewarding period ever! Personally I learned how to photograph and edit in urban artificial lighting and I received a strong response from my followers. As a bonus, I had some clients who also requested the same aesthetic for their own digital channels.
You've successfully stepped into the influencer space. Do you have any advice for readers who would like to do the same?
Copying and imitating your favourite influencers is a good starting point to learn basic skills but eventually you will have to evolve the work and make it your own.
You have the most influence and power in the place you are based. I understand there are perks of being a travel influencer but luxury hotels will only get you so far with content and it isn't sustainable in the long run. Despite being a crowded, expensive and polluted city, I've come to be at peace with living in Hong Kong and the majority of my followers love seeing the city through my eyes.
How about advice for readers who would like to work with influencers?
If you are a brand, understand influencers spend time, effort and creative energy making content. I can't speak for everyone, but as a 30-something year old, I don't need another free watch or bag. I prefer to be paid for my services so I can save that money and invest back into my business. It's frustrating when I'm still asked to do things for free — I've learned to say no. Nowadays when I'm deciding whether or not I want to take on a project for no pay I ask myself, "if I wasn't working on this free project, I'd be (insert activity)". My answer is usually investing back into my own personal work and I think that's far more rewarding than being stressed out with non-paid work.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer / creative business owner so far?
Beside convincing clients that my work is worth being paid for, chasing clients to pay me on time. Last year I worked with an influencer agency that suddenly went bankrupt and I had been chasing them for payment of USD 1000 for half a year. Since they're not locally based, I had no power to take them to small claims court and just accepted the fact that I probably wouldn't get the money I was owed. Thankfully the brand who hired this agency found out and contacted me just last week wanting to make amends. But it's been a year since I executed this job and after this experience, I realized how little protection we have as freelancers.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I hired a friend to help me set up a Google spreadsheet with all my finances on there — it's helped me a lot to keep track of who hasn't paid me to how much I'm making in a year. I'm a creative and not a numbers person so this helped me visualize my income and helped me make projections for the following year.
We love you before/after stories on Instagram. Can you tell us about your motivation to create that series?
Thank you!! I just wanted to show people that even the ugliest photo has potential if you have an overarching vision for your work. I also find it very therapeutic to edit photos and seeing something change instantly before your eyes.
Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
More night photos! I'm waiting till the Christmas lights go up so I can run around Hong Kong capturing it all. Also I'm waiting to visit certain cafes and hotels within the city but it's always so busy in Hong Kong that we spend a lot of time trying to get an empty shot.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Always state your terms of payment, services and deliverables in your quotation and invoice. You are responsible for protecting yourself and having a strong stance on that from the get-go helps you to avoid issues after contracts have been signed.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
I'm a huge advocate for personal work because it allows you to play and have fun without having to worry about pleasing clients. My work is 50/50 between personal and paid work.
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
Raw Milk podcast by Beth Kirby
Reset by Ellen Pao
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: