How the world was one click away: James Cole reveals his remarkable Instagram journey

By Alice Warner

At first glance, James Cole is just a normal 20-year-old, but in reality, he’s seen more of the world than most. What’s his secret? Instagram.


James Cole enjoying his work in Hong Kong

With 400 million active users, Instagram is the perfect platform for the one million advertisers posting every day on the popular social network. One of them, James Cole is just 20 years old and earning enough money to buy himself three cars.

It all started four years ago, at aged 16, when James made a personal Instagram account just like any other teenager, taking selfies and waiting for likes and followers, but at this point it wasn’t about the money, he said: “When I was little I just thought it was fun to have more followers than everyone else.”

After he gained 100,000 followers on his personal account, he thought to himself: “This is rubbish, you’re not going to make any money on this” so he sold his personal account and created another, totally different page. Around two years ago, when James was studying journalism at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College he started earning money on his @earthfocus Instagram account: “When I first started making money off of it I would be on the way to college and I’d make £100 on the bus – it’s pretty cool.”

James owns both @earthfocus and @roamtheplanet on Instagram. Both of them have a travel feel but Roam the Planet has more of a nature theme and James is more careful about what he posts on this page: “I like roam the planet the most, it is more of a certain niche: adventure, camping, mountains, just certain types of countries. Whereas earth focus is anything that looks amazing. I’m more selective with Roam the Planet.”

Earth focus

James Cole’s Instagram account Earth Focus has over 2.5million followers

If you’re wondering how the accounts make him this much money, then it really isn’t that complicated. Through Instagram, James collaborates with brands to boost their sales: “Brands get in contact with me, I have ongoing partnerships with certain brands, for example, I have been working with a certain brand for two years. Right now, I have a five-month contract with them that finishes in December at $1,000 a month.

“Companies might pay for just one post or they can pay for multiple and have a package deal with me. The brand ‘Daniel Wellington’ bought a package deal for Roam the Planet, they just gave me dates for three days in November to post the images that they provide.

“My biggest contract was $4,000 for two social media campaigns for a tourism board. A regular post is a brand called ‘Tentree’ I have worked with them for two years, posting for them every month. They sell clothes but every time they sell one item they plant 10 trees so it fits in with the vibe of the page and people don’t hate it.”

James has to carefully choose the advertisers that he promotes on his page, they have to be in keeping with the genre of the page and the type of followers. Brands only get in contact with you if you have a large number of followers, as this way they can advertise to more people through one post. Earth Focus has 2.8million followers and Roam the Planet has 696,000 so you can see why James’ accounts are so popular with big brands.

Most of us only have one holiday a year to get away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but there are many perks to the life of an Instagram travel photographer, having travel pages means James gets to see the world for free.

In the summer, he got an all-expenses paid trip to Tanzania, Africa for 10 days where he had a personal driver on a private safari and he saw no-one else for the whole week. The trip would have cost thousands of pounds. The company paid for him to go for just 18 posts. He got to see animals in their natural habitat, up close, which most people can only dream of.

James is also going to Iceland this month to see the beautiful Northern Lights.

All at the age of 20, James owns multiple cars, earns very good money and can buy himself whatever he wants: “I’ve got three cars so it’s not bad. Audi for the daily and a Land Rover just for the fun.” He still lives with mum and dad rent free, earning more money than both of them.

James’ real passion is photography, in the future he would like to go into freelance photography. He can edit photos professionally and sometimes hosts tutorials through his personal Instagram account. Doing this also helps him get the best deals, as he can take and edit the photos to a professional standard himself if that’s what the company wants.

Instagram will not last forever, his job will only last as long as the platform.

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