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Last February, I had the opportunity to mentor at the Institute of Code’s (IOC) Social Media Boot Camp in Bali. To be completely honest, when IOC first contacted me I was pretty hesitant. I don’t believe that there is a fast, or easy way, to build a brand on social media. On top of that, I was worried about associating myself with a course that I’d never personally taken. And I mean, what the hell is a social media boot camp anyway?

At the same time, I was looking for ways to give back to my community. I’ve learned so much over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to share some of that experience. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive messages, emails, and questions about “how I do what I do.” But it’s not a question that can be answered in a quick comment or DM. I did write a blog about “How I Afford To Travel All The Time,” but that only scratches the surface.

After talking to IOC about their course objectives and some of my concerns, I decided that the boot camp might be exactly the opportunity I was looking for! There’s something very powerful about a group of people from all different backgrounds coming together to turn their dreams into reality. The first step is often the hardest step on any journey, and for many of the students at IOC, the boot camp was their first step toward becoming a social media influencer, manager, or digital nomad.

The experience really made me think about what I’ve learned over the past few years growing my own brand on Instagram over the past few years. And after a lot of reflection, I decided to write my most important lessons in this blog post. The most important things I’ve learned honestly don’t have anything to do with the strategies you usually get from people selling workshops or courses claiming to know how to make you grow faster, increase your engagement, etc. The truth is, there are no shortcuts. No rules. You don’t have to spend 3 hours a day commenting on other people’s posts. You don’t have to post every single day. But you do bring something of value to the table. And that thing of value is YOU.


Doing a photo shoot with  Jess Bonde  in Bali.

Doing a photo shoot with Jess Bonde in Bali.

1. You have to get outside your comfort zone to grow into the person you want to be.

I know we’ve all heard this one a million times, but it bears mentioning because comfort is a tricky thing. It creeps up on us subtly like the passing of time. Just because you’re doing something now that was once out of your comfort zone, doesn’t mean your work is done! You have to keep evolving.

To be successful, to progress, to grow, we have to be constantly pushing our boundaries. This is especially true in social media. Trends on Instagram quickly lose their luster. Building a brand on existing trends might result in quick short term growth, but your appeal will fade with that particular movement. Don’t be the person that does what everyone else is doing right now.  Be the person that influences what everyone else wants to do tomorrow!

2. You are enough.

There are a lot of people trying to make a name for themselves on social media. The good news is, there’s only one you! No one else is as uniquely you as YOU are! So as long as you remain true to yourself and authentic to your interests, you will be well ahead of everyone out there emulating others.

Just think about it, you’re already the best at being YOU, so why would you try and be someone else? I like to think of life as a piece of art that you create through inspiration, vision, and time. And if life is a piece of art, why would you want to be an inferior and less valuable reproduction when you’re already an original! You are enough. More than enough!

“You must be so unique that if people want what you have, they have to come to you to get it.” – Walt Disney


Waterfall in Bali. Photo by  Jess Bonde .

Waterfall in Bali. Photo by Jess Bonde.

3. If you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody.

You can’t make everyone happy. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a hard concept to grasp if you’re a people pleaser like me. It’s even harder when you live in a world where people use the anonymity of social media to voice their opinions—often not in a very productive way—every time they don’t like what you’re saying, doing, or thinking. Do it anyways! If you try to appeal to everyone, then you likely won’t truly resonate with anyone. For every person that voices their disapproval, there are far more that need to hear what you have to say. Being yourself is the best way to build the type of connections that form the foundation of a strong community.

4. Understand your audience’s pleasure and pain points.

Understanding your audience’s pleasure and pain points is all about bringing value to your community. Who is your audience? And, what are the frustrations and challenges they are facing? The only way to truly understand your followers is through communication, and that starts with YOU. Social Media, and Influencers in general are not inherently trustworthy. Transparency and authenticity (sorry I know we are all tired of the word), are the key to building trust. So don’t be afraid to open up those lanes of communication with your community. Once you have a better understanding of who they are, and what their “pain points” are, you can add value by offering solutions. In doing so, you become a source of pleasure!


Exploring the rice terraces in Bali. Photo by:  Jess Bonde

Exploring the rice terraces in Bali. Photo by: Jess Bonde

5. Focus on story.

People don’t buy what you do. They buy WHY you do it – and that’s your story. I don’t care who you are, or what you’re interested in, your story is important. The trick is learning how to tell that story in a way that resonates with others. Having something to say is one thing, being able to say it in a way that people want to hear — that’s something entirely different. It’s what separates you from the rest of the noise.  

6. Don’t sacrifice the long term integrity of your brand for short term financial gain.

This is a big one. Especially when first starting out, it can be extremely tempting to take any job that comes your way. RESIST THE TEMPTATION. Everything you post needs to align with who you are, where you want to go, and what you want to attract.

For every offer that comes your way ask yourself; 1) Does this opportunity align with my brand message? and 2) Does this opportunity add value to my community? If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” then move on. There’s nothing that will break the trust you’ve worked so hard to create with your community faster than a post that stinks of inauthenticity or ulterior motives.

Not only will an off-brand post breach your community’s trust, it will hurt the long term integrity of your brand and ultimately diminish your chances of attracting the type of partnerships you actually want. Stay patient, focus on creating quality content, add value to your community, and the rest will follow.


Photo by  Eyes Of A Nomad

Photo by Eyes Of A Nomad

7. Community is king.

In some ways, all the other lessons in this blog could be boiled down to this one point: community is king – and should be treated as such. I am forever grateful for the individuals that have chosen to follow me over the years. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.  Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate their support, and for that reason I try to dedicate at least part of every day toward making sure they know how grateful I am. I do this by engaging with as many people as possible. By listening. By responding. It’s not the size of your community that matters, it’s the quality – and luckily that’s one aspect of Instagram you control. Never forget, it’s not a community if you’re not an active member of it.

8. Don’t engage in the scarcity mentality.

Comparison is at the core of a lot of unhappiness. Comparing ourselves to others doesn’t just steal our joy, it robs us of our creativity. It prevents us from embracing those things that are uniquely ours – which is tragic because our unique attributes are the things that have the most potential to make us successful. But here’s the thing – success is not a limited resource. In part, this is because success means different things to different people. Figure out what success means to you, go after it with all you’ve got, and know that there is enough to go around. Do not fall victim to the scarcity mentality!


The infinity pool at  Munduk  Moding  Plantation in Bali.  Photo by:  Jess Bonde .

The infinity pool at Munduk Moding Plantation in Bali. Photo by: Jess Bonde.

9. Surround yourself with what you want to become.

Surround yourself with people who reflect what you want to be, and how you want to feel, because energies are contagious. Everything in  your life should be in alignment with the goals you are working toward.

The flip side of this coin is that you need to let go of the people who are weighing you down. This includes unfollowing individuals on social media that don’t make you feel empowered, informed, or inspired. You don’t need to stay up to date on the day to day activities of people that make you feel like crap about yourself. It’s not productive. And it won’t help you achieve your goals. Instead, start building the reality you want by deliberately cultivating your sphere of influence.


Photo by  Eyes Of A Nomad

10. Few things worth having come easily.

The Institute of Code’s Social Media Bootcamp isn’t for everyone. You won’t learn any shortcuts or tricks for gaming the system. You won’t go home feeling like you have life all figured out. There were even a few things they teach that I fundamentally disagree with, like doing product for post exchanges. But, if your dream is to become an influencer, social media manager, or digital nomad, and you don’t know where to start, then IOC might be exactly what you’re looking for! Plus, that’s one of the great things about having multiple teachers and mentors – you get to hear different perspectives on social media strategies, and then decide which tactics make the most sense for your personal goals. There is no one right way to succeed.

The boot camp doesn’t just teach you hypothetical theories and short-cuts. Instead, it’s focused on teaching actionable tactics and strategies that you can start implementing today, and sustain into the future. You will learn a lot of different ways to organically grow your personal brand or that of your business. But it’s up to you to figure out how to incorporate those strategies into your own career goals. The IOC team is there to help support you throughout the process. But no one can do it for you!


Photo by  Eyes Of A Nomad

Photo by Eyes Of A Nomad

Looking back on the boot camp now, I think the greatest value IOC offers is a built-in community of fellow dreamers that you get to keep long after you have returned home. Being surrounded by people who are taking that first step toward following their passion can be very inspirational. I’ve always believed that we are, to some degree, who we surround ourselves with. As someone that can be quite closed off, listening to everyone’s stories, watching students push outside their comfort zones, and share their vulnerabilities, filled me with a renewed sense of gratitude for all the people that have let me into their lives.

There’s nothing as valuable as the humans that have shared their stories with me, and added to mine. As we move through life we will constantly meet new individuals, and each one will have something unique to offer if we are open to learning. All we have to do is listen and remain present. If we approach social media with that in mind, then I truly believe everything else will fall into place.


Rice Terraces in Bali. Photo by:  Jess Bonde

Rice Terraces in Bali. Photo by: Jess Bonde

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  1. Diza says:

    this is so good

  2. Don Kinsey says:

    Jess,
    Thank for for another opportunity to challenge myself to be authentic. I read where greatnesses comes when you have the courage to separate yourself from the crowd. I also need to hear what you said about staying comfortable with people like myself and not those I choose to become. Surrounding myself with inspirational people has to be intentional. Your blog continues to challenge me to become the best version of me. Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks so much for the kind comment Don. It really means a lot to know that you enjoy the blog, and that some of the content challenges you to do a little reflecting on your own life. So awesome to hear! Have a wonderful day. Thanks again! 🙂

  3. Megan says:

    I signed up for the course coming this November. Will you be there at that time? I’m super excited to learn and to meet like-minded individuals. And of course being in Bali will be such a bonus 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    • Hi Megan! I’m not sure about November yet, but they always have great mentors. It’s seriously the nicest group of people. I’m sure you will have a wonderful time. It really motivated me to be around so many other people with big dreams.

  4. Kirtan P. says:

    "Be the person that influences what everyone else wants to do tomorrow!" Great line, Jess!!!

    • Thanks Kirtan! I know we all get tired of seeing the same things over and over again on social media. Even so, it can be so scary to think outside the box and get creative when you are first starting out. But in my experience the best rewards come out of taking risks. 🙂

  5. Zhanna Seravokaya says:

    It sounds like a great course. It’s really awesome to learn from people who already figured our the way and are eager to share it with you. However, I love one thing that you mentioned here. You can learn from other people, but it’s up to you to agree or disagree with them, take their advice or not.

    • It’s so true! You can learn a lot from other peoples experiences, but at the end of the day we all have to travel down our own paths. What worked for me may not work for you, and I never want to mislead people into thinking that my way is the only way, or even the best way! I think the best strategy is to take little pieces of everything you learn from different people, and create your own formula. 🙂

  6. Hey Jess, as an aspiring travel influencer, this post is exceptional and inspiring. Thank you for doing what you do, they way that you do it!

    Cheers,
    Ben, the Freestyling Backpacker

    • Thank you so much Ben! I apologize for the delayed response, this month really got away from me. But I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the feedback. Best of luck!

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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