Any time I coach someone on how to pay off their student loans, I always mention they should find ways to earn more money. The people I talk to are often doing the best they can, budgeting, living frugally and putting every spare dollar toward their loans.
But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes spending less isn’t enough – you need to find a way to make more.
How to Make Money as a Brand Ambassador
I first met my friend Melanie Lockert in 2013, when we were both starting to write about personal finance. She was paying off $81,000 in student loans including a Master’s degree from NYU. She was also writing a blog, Dear Debt, featuring letters people wrote to their debt (like Dear John). Side note: Now, Melanie is a published author! Check out her book: Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt.
Melanie talked about how she worked as a brand ambassador to pay off her student loans. I’d never heard of being a brand ambassador, so she explained it to me. You know all those people at festivals and concerts who are giving out samples of tea or chips? Those are brand ambassadors.
The great part of being a brand ambassador is that you can do it anytime you want. If you’re busy with your regular job, you don’t have to sign up for any gigs. But if you really need the money, you can pick up as many brand ambassador gigs as you can handle.
I asked Melanie to share some of her experiences working as a brand ambassador.
Why did you start working as a brand ambassador?
I started working as a brand ambassador because I needed cash fast. When I was in New York, struggling to make ends meet, I looked on Craigslist and found a post to be a brand ambassador for a pet adoption event in Central Park. The gig paid $20 per hour and said payment would be within 2 weeks. I applied and got it!
So I handed out flyers in Central Park promoting this adoption event. Pretty uneventful really, but I couldn’t believe I was getting paid $20 per hour to hand out flyers. After that first gig, I was hooked.
Were you nervous talking to strangers and promoting a product?
No. I am a natural extrovert so I wasn’t nervous. There are those days where I’m not in a good mood or not loving the idea of chatting with someone, but you do it for the job. The only thing I really hated was when someone would be unnecessarily rude. People just don’t want to be bothered even if you’re giving away free stuff.
Was it easy to find gigs? How did you determine which gigs were worth it?
Once I figured out how it worked, it was fairly easy. I signed up for a ton of marketing agencies and created a profile. So I had a resume, headshot and other photos. When a gig was available they’d send out emails to see who was available. I’d respond quickly and book a gig.
Responding quickly is key. It also helped that I lived in New York City and then Portland, Oregon which are bigger markets. I don’t know how many brand ambassador gigs there would be in small towns.
When deciding if it was worth my time, I’d look at the pay (I never took anything below $17 per hour), the hours, and what the brand represented.
During my extreme debt payoff, I actually was an alcohol brand ambassador twice. Once on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a nightmare. I had to wear a skirt and heels and give out shots and it didn’t feel like me at all. After that, I vowed to never promote liquor again or do anything that would make me uncomfortable, even if it had higher pay.
It’s important to ask yourself if you’re okay with representing a certain brand. You are the public face — even for a moment — of the company.
How much did you make per brand ambassador gig?
Pay is different every gig, but typically ranges from $17 to $25 per hour. Some gigs might pay more or less, depending on the brand and the market.
I would say I made anywhere between $200 to $1,000 per month as a brand ambassador. Summer months were busier with festivals, concerts, and conventions. Holidays are also a busy time. Brand ambassador work definitely has seasons, so some months were pretty slow and some months in the summer I was booked every weekend.
Would you recommend this to someone else looking for a side hustle?
Definitely! If you’re an extrovert, can stand for long periods of time and talk to people, this is a great gig. You can get paid between $17-$25 per hour. I would not work for less than that as that is a pretty standard market rate.
I loved this side hustle as you only take on the gigs that actually work with your schedule. There are many brand ambassador gigs nights and weekends, so it’s perfect to do on the side.
What’s your advice for someone looking to make money as a brand ambassador?
I would join the “Brand Ambassadors of [Your City]” Facebook group. Check out different marketing agencies that post in there so you can be on their list. Look on Craigslist — there are legit gigs there. Zina’s note: Also check the “Brand Ambassadors of [Your State] Group if you live a in smaller city.
Have recent photos to share. Respond quickly. When you get booked, arrive on time, be friendly, smile and put your phone away. Make friends with other brand ambassadors, because if they need coverage they can ask you.
Anything else I forgot to mention? Like any pros and cons?
The pros are that it’s a fairly easy job and pretty good pay for a side hustle. You also can work for some cool brands. I once worked for Columbia Sportswear in Bryant Park helping people do karaoke in an igloo! I also got $500 worth of free clothes. That was by far my favorite gig.
On the other hand, sometimes you don’t really know what you’re getting into and it could be a brand you find boring or it may be totally different than what you thought the gig was. Also, the worst con is that it can take up to 8 weeks to get paid. Only once did I have to follow-up three times and call the head of HR to finally get paid.
What to Know Before Working as a Brand Ambassador
Working as a brand ambassador is great, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
You’ll have to pay taxes on your earnings. Any time you earn extra money, you have to report it as income on your taxes. That means you can also deduct any expenses related to your side hustle. If you took the bus to get to your side hustle, you can deduct that. If you drove, you can deduct the gas mileage. Try to keep all your receipts so you can reference it during tax time.
Most jobs are on the weekends. Most brand ambassador gigs are held on the weekends, so this isn’t something you can do while you’re lounging in your PJs. Still, you can decide to only work one or two weekends a month to have the rest free for friends and family (or just binge-watching Netflix).
You can’t slack on the job. Because this is a public-facing gig, you can’t pretend you’re only there for the money. A successful brand ambassador is charming and gracious even when people don’t want to try your samples. Bring a smile and a good attitude and you’ll get called back for other gigs.