315: How Shooting Toy Guns Turned into a Full-Time Business

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kelly hardwick

“There was no safety net, it had to work,” Kelly told me.

Kelly Hardwick was talking about her business and blog, FemmeFataleAirsoft.co.uk.

It’s a site she built to write about her new hobby in airsoft, which Kelly described as a war games sport, like the Call of Duty video games in real life.

Kelly started playing airsoft regularly in 2014. However, she was disappointed with the lack of airsoft content online for women. “Be the change you want to see in the world, right?” she told me about why she started her blog. 

She started her blog along with an Instagram account, and it’s actually been her Instagram following that has become the linchpin of her business.

Her Instagram following has gone from 0-65k in less than 4 years, and it’s this popularity on Instagram that has helped her land paid guest posts, social media sponsorships, grow her social media management business, and secure other business opportunities.

Tune in to hear how Kelly has grown her audience from 0 to more than 60k followers, how she first monetized her blog, and how she develops profitable relationships with other companies in the airsoft space.

Creating Content and Building a Following

Kelly had done a blogging module at University but didn’t have any blogging experience when she started FemmeFataleAirsoft. Using her iPhone, she started taking pictures and video while playing airsoft, and wrote up reviews of the kit (gear) she was using.

She also set up an Instagram profile, which was instrumental in helping her connect with airsoft community and discover new products and other airsoft-related things to blog about.

Getting Noticed

After a couple of months, one of the companies behind a product she had written up a review about reached out to her to thank her for the review and offered to send her some more kit to try out and review. So, of course Kelly said yes to that.

“It snowballed from there,” Kelly said.

Writing for Industry Magazines

There are two large airsoft magazines in the UK, Kelly submitted her picture to one of them for a feature they were doing, and a month later the editor reached out to her and asked if she would like to submit a trial piece of content.

She jumped at the chance, they loved the piece she sent in and offered her an ongoing contract for £50 ($65) per 500 words. The magazine also allows Kelly to post her articles on her own site once they’ve been live for 30 days.

How She Grew Her Social Following

Kelly was sharing her game day pictures on Facebook and Instagram, but it was Instagram that really took off.

She started getting likes and comments on her images and made sure to reply to comments and follow people back. Kelly said engaging with people was the key to growing her following, “That’s the most important part of building a following, you’ve got to engage with your community.”

In the 4 years she’s had her Instagram, Kelly has seen her followers grow from:

  • Year 1 – 9k followers
  • Year 2 – 25k followers
  • Year 3 – 45k followers
  • Year 4 – Almost 65k followers

A couple of other things Kelly does to engage with her followers are live feeds, which she uses as an opportunity to engage with her audience live, and weekly Q&A’s.

She uses the Instagram Stories feature to post a short video with a question box so people can send her anonymous questions to answer.

How Does the Business Make Money Today?

Kelly’s main revenue stream is sponsorship packages. Sometimes companies reach out to her, but often Kelly will approach them herself offering to feature their products on her social media channel for a fee.

A lot of her clients come from attending large gun shows in the US and Europe, and introducing herself personally.

Media Kit and Services Pack

Kelly will then send them a media pack containing high-quality images of her work, detailing how many followers she has, her aims and what she can do for their business, and basically outlining how companies can benefit from working with her.

She also includes a services pack, which is examples of her work, pricing plans, and outlining how she can build a custom campaign for each company. Kelly then follows up with a phone call after they’ve received the packs as she likes to discuss things in person to see what kind of deal they can work out.

Rates for Sponsored Content

Her standard rate is £200 ($250) for a 500-word blog post and 5 images. An example she shared of a recent campaign was a 6-month contract with a company looking to increase their brand presence in the UK.

Kelly charged £750 ($950) a month for 4 blog posts and a YouTube video, and said this exposure helped the brand raised their awareness in the UK and shops started stocking more of their products afterwards.

Affiliate Marketing

She has also tried going down the affiliate route which is how most blogs make money and makes sense in an industry with physical goods.

However, Kelly has not made many sales with the Amazon affiliate program yet, but has had some sales from affiliate programs working directly with companies.

Social Media Management

Another service that’s ringing the cash register is managing social media accounts for clients. Kelly spends a lot of time on social media and decided to pitch a service managing accounts where she posts content, adds hashtags, interacts with their audience, and grows their followers.

For this, she charges an hourly rate and sends an invoice monthly. Kelly opted for an hourly rate over a set package like she uses for her social media sponsorship deals because her clients are providing the content in most cases.

Her system for managing her client’s social media work alongside her own includes planning out and scheduling the content on a weekly and monthly basis. She has a separate phone for clients so she doesn’t get any crossover logging in and out of her accounts.

What’s Next for Kelly?

Kelly is moving to a new office soon with a dedicated space to make YouTube videos and store all of her airsoft gear. 

She realizes the potential YouTube has after seeing what a large social media following has done for her so far, so she’s going to start dedicating some time to the platform.

There are also some huge gun shows to attend in the US and Europe coming up, which means more opportunities to work with large brands and grow her business.

Links / Next Steps



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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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