Selfied by Steph: How One Student Turned a Hobby into a Business

Right now, there are over 300 million pictures on Instagram that are tagged with the word “selfie”. Merriam-Webster gave the word an official definition in 2014. A recent AOL survey found that almost half of adults think selfies make them feel more confident. It is no secret that we are obsessed with our self representations.

Earlier this year, senior public relations major Stephanie Zmuda had just downloaded the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite on her laptop and was playing around with some illustrating tools in Photoshop. She drew a photo of her sister using one of her selfies. She did the same kind of digital drawing for a few of her friends and her boyfriend.

It was Zmuda’s mom who encouraged her to make a profit from her new hobby, and Selfied by Steph was born. In February, Zmuda created an Instagram account by that title, and the handle @selfiedbysteph currently has 400 followers, a number that grows each day.

Zmuda’s background in graphic design and various forms of digital art are what drive this project.

“Most of the time when people draw in Photoshop, they like to use Adobe Illustrator too, but I prefer Photoshop because I like the use of its layers and it’s just easier for me to use in the Creative Cloud Suite. I put the picture in there, then I take my phone out to color match, to see what’s going where, and then I draw it,” she said.

Her craft is tedious, but rewarding.

Throughout the spring of 2017, requests for selfies poured in. When demand was at its peak, Zmuda was drawing as many as 15 selfies in a day. She explains that one selfie can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour– it all depends on the quality of the photo.

“The better the lighting, the better the picture. The hardest ones to do are when they’re sent over-filtered. I can’t figure out what their real skin tone is,” she said.

Zmuda also doesn’t limit herself to drawing just humans, either. If you visit the Instagram, you’ll see a few photos of dogs as well.

“Animals take longer to draw… One lady offered me 25 dollars to draw a selfie of her cat,” Zmuda said.

To date, Zmuda has made over 1000 dollars from selfies, and payments are accepted via Venmo, a popular mobile transaction service.

She has started to reach out to Instagram influencers and other art-based accounts to see if they would like to be selfied, as a means of attracting more followers. She’s also decided to do logos. Recently, a popular food blogger who needed business cards for a convention contacted Zmuda for a logo, which is currently featured on the Selfied by Steph account.

Some people give Zmuda a hard time if they’re not happy with the quality of their selfie, but Zmuda will often change what customers don’t like, and has never turned down a selfie request.

“People will complain about their skin tone, or the shape of their nose and stuff like that. So I fix it, I don’t care,” she said.

Over the summer, Zmuda studied in Italy for a month, and started working full-time as soon as she got home. Because of this, Selfied by Steph had to fall on the back burner. Zmuda recently tasked herself with re-launching the business, and realized she needed some additional support.

Enter Amanda Critelli, also a senior public relations major and good friend of Zmuda’s.

“I was talking to Amanda about wanting to restart but I needed help with social media and getting my name out there, and she offered to help me,” Zmuda said.

“I was obsessed with it, [the account] and I was showing all my friends, and when I posted my selfie I noticed that a lot of my friends from home started following the account,” Critelli said.

Critelli’s observation sparked a new marketing strategy – customers who post the selfie to their own instagram and credit Selfied by Steph will get a special discount.

At Manhattan College, students have enjoyed being selfied, and following the account means being able to see the digitally drawn selfies of everyone else they know. Critelli also points out that people often tend to comment on photos of people they know that are posted.

“It’s like a chain reaction, only a couple of people have to post it and then the whole school knows about it,” she said.

Critelli identifies a significant factor when it comes to the popularity of photos.

In a recent study conducted at Georgia Tech, it was proven that human faces are almost 40 percent more likely to receive likes and 30% more likely to attract comments than photos with no faces.

Critelli has also been posting more videos, as they tend to garner more attention and engagement.

“We’ve been tracking the insights to see what the best time to post is,” she said.

Zmuda recently screen recorded while she painted, and then sped it up to post on Instagram for users to see her method.

Critelli has also utilized the “story” feature on Instagram, and hopes to establish a Youtube Audience as well. Slowly, she wants to expand to various social media platforms.

“I feel like Tumblr is going to be good, and then also Twitter because people will be able to share it. I’ve been posting about it Facebook, because I feel like people interact with Facebook a lot,” Critelli said.

“It’s hard because she did just start it up again. We’re trying to get people more involved,” Critelli continued. “We post it a lot on our personal accounts, I have it in my bio on my Instagram. We’re just looking for the best time to post it and get the most interaction. We’re just beginning. We’ve talked about other ideas.”

“She’s got this whole social media strategy going for me,” Zmuda said.

Since Critelli is skilled at making the most of social media, Zmuda can focus primarily on her drawings, which almost therapeutic for her in a sense. When she first began, she didn’t imagine it would grow into a business.

“I did it for fun really. I don’t know, I enjoy it. Right now coloring is popular for reducing stress. Essentially all I’m doing is outlining the selfie, and then coloring it in,” she said.

On the Selfied by Steph Instagram, there are about 60 selfies posted, and Zmuda has a folder of about 100 that haven’t been posted yet.

Since the demand has slowed since last semester, Zmuda can catch her breath – she’s currently interning part-time for a plastic surgeon and taking classes full time. Critelli has been able to ease her workload, but she has a busy schedule herself, both with classes and her fashion internship at Marchesa.

Both of them credit what they’ve learned in their major when it comes to marketing the instagram.

“Right now we’re trying to develop a social media calendar and promote brand awareness. Definitely some of the stuff I’ve learned in PR classes and other comm classes has helped a lot,” Zmuda said.

Zmuda plans to invest in an iPad to use for her drawing, and where she can have all her social media accounts for Selfied by Steph in one place. She also plans to continue this business post-graduation because of how productive and enjoyable the work feels.

“The proudest moments I’ve had are when people tell me ‘I wanna get selfied’ because it’s like I’ve made my own little word,” she said.

Right now, her biggest challenge is expanding.

“The hardest thing for me is getting organic followers. I want to get people to interact with my account. I’m creating art for people, not for bots.”

So far, Zmuda has an authentic following, and has even done selfies for people in places like Dubai and London. It’s all about knowing what people want before they know they want it, and promoting a brand to its full potential. Critelli and Zmuda are doing just that.