Captain Kelly Gordon
Kelly Gordon first stepped foot on a yacht in 2007. @Captain_KellyJGordon via Instagram

Kelly Gordon first stepped foot on a yacht in 2007. During her first boat ride, the now-42-year-old climbed the metal ladder's rungs, walked on the deck, and instantly became addicted to the salty sea air.

Reflecting on her early days, Gordon told CNBC Make It, "I didn't even know port from starboard." Despite her initial lack of experience, Gordon immersed herself in the yachting sector, honing a range of skills over 11 years while pursuing her dream of becoming a captain. Alongside her maritime training, Gordon worked full-time as an adjunct chemistry professor at Carteret Community College in North Carolina.

After more than a decade of dedicating her holiday time to yachting, Gordon now captains super yachts for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Based in Palm Beach, Florida, she currently commands a 108-foot yacht, typically working eight to sixteen hours a day, around four days a week, for a single client. In addition to her captain duties, Gordon records and shares daily videos on social media.

Building a Social Media Side Hustle

The popularity of the reality show "Below Deck" has piqued public interest in the yachting world. In 2019, driven by a desire to provide an authentic glimpse into the industry, Gordon began sharing photos of her travels on Instagram. Her content creation, a side hustle, consumes about five hours a week when she's not working on the yacht.

According to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It, Gordon's side business earned her a remarkable $124,000 last year. Her income streams include merchandise sales, public speaking events, sponsorships, social media advertisements, and affiliate marketing.

The Road to Becoming a Social Media Influencer

To meet the growing demand of her social media presence, Gordon recently hired a video editor, PR manager, speaking coach, and three part-time staff members. She reinvests most of her online earnings into paying her team, choosing not to keep any of the money for herself just yet. Gordon has ambitious plans for her company, Captain Kelly J. Gordon, and is focused on expanding her business.

Last month, her side hustle brought in around $24,000, approximately $4,000 more than her highest-earning month last year. With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, Gordon has also launched a podcast covering topics such as mental health, boat safety, and careers in yachting.

Gordon's Earning Potential as a Social Media Influencer

Gordon aims to make enough money by May 2025 to support herself and hopes to double her income each year until she reaches $1 million. To boost revenue through partnerships and sponsorships, she plans to expand her current projects and will start charging for public speaking appearances rather than offering them for free.

Despite her growing social media presence, Gordon has no intention of giving up her captain's license. She loves being on the sea every day, which she believes makes her more relatable and interesting to her audience.

"I'm hoping this will be my retirement job... traveling around the world, showing up at events, inspiring people, and continuing with my social media," Gordon said. "I'm not done running boats anytime soon."

How to Become a Social Media Influencer

Becoming a successful social media influencer involves several steps:

  1. Identify Your Niche: Choose a specific area of interest or expertise that you are passionate about.
  2. Create Quality Content: Consistently produce engaging, high-quality content that resonates with your audience.
  3. Build a Community: Engage with your followers regularly to build a loyal community.
  4. Collaborate and Network: Partner with other influencers and brands to expand your reach.
  5. Monetize Your Platform: Explore various revenue streams such as sponsored posts, merchandise sales, affiliate marketing, and public speaking.

Earning Potential of Social Media Influencers

The earning potential of social media influencers varies widely based on their niche, audience size, and engagement levels. Influencers can earn from several hundred to thousands of dollars per post.

Additionally, revenue can come from various sources, including sponsorships, advertisements, merchandise sales, affiliate marketing, and public speaking engagements. Top influencers can earn millions annually, while those starting can still make a significant income as they grow their presence.

Kelly Gordon's journey from a chemistry professor to a yacht captain and successful social media influencer showcases the potential of combining passion with strategic social media use. By sharing her experiences and insights, she continues to inspire and educate her growing audience.