Pursuing your Dreams: Smart Persistence and Low Risk Decision Making with Vanessa Li, Law Student, Content Creator, and Founder of Ness (Part 1)

Vanessa Li is a content creator, creative director, consultant and founder at ness, with a following of 99k across Instagram and TikTok. Alongside her personal endeavours, Vanessa is also currently a Comm/Law student at USYD and works at a law firm called Gilbert and Tobin.

Find Vanessa on Instagram and TikTok (@vanessaa_li) and her website (https://www.vanessali.co/)

The tension between the desire to pursue one’s passions and the feeling that one should follow a conventional corporate path is often felt by university students like myself. As a Chinese Australian, Vanessa grew up with strong academic expectations instilled in her by her parents, which she upheld throughout school and in her Comm/Law degree at Usyd. She always imagined herself working her way up the corporate ladder and becoming a partner at a law firm which she was “brought up to believe was the only path to success.”

However, her innate creative and entrepreneurial spirit is demonstrated through her social media content and the various businesses she’s built such as her presets. This year, after careful consideration of risks, Vanessa has decided to pursue her social media and businesses full time rather than becoming the lawyer she thought she’d become when growing up. “I was never taught that you can go out and do your own thing and be successful,” she says when reflecting on her career decisions.

The write up below is a summary of the conversation. To hear Vanessa’s story and the key insights we’ve learned from this conversation, you can listen to the episode above. This conversation has been produced in 2 parts.

How did you start and get to where you are now with a following of 99k?

“I basically started doing Instagram and social media stuff as a creative outlet because my degree obviously isn’t very creative,” she says. However, her work with brands really started when she recognised a lack of Asian representation on social media. “I was going through the Instagram of a brand, I got really triggered because there was no Asian representation or any people of colour in their brand imagery so I just sent them an email about this and they replied to me and they said hey Vanessa would love to send you $100 gift voucher.”

This isn’t what you imagine what a typical com/law student to be doing, how do you balance your workload with content creation?

“I used to spend every single weekend at the library and just study from from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM … but then this year my marks have actually been better than they have ever been because I learned how to study smart.”

How do you pitch yourself when reaching out to brands and how can we apply this to different scenarios such as when applying for a job?

Vanessa believes the most important part is confidence and persistence. “I remember when I started in first year wanted to work at a law firm and had zero experience. I sent out 300 cold emails to law firms. Out of those 300 emails, I got one reply and I got the job so it’s kind of that sense of being persistent and being confident.”

When you weren’t getting many responses, did you have to grow and learn or was it just a matter of persisting?

Vanessa reflects on a time she received negative feedback and the importance of using this to improve. “I was really offended…because I was so proud of my content but then I sat for like a whole month, I was super unmotivated.” Taking this feedback on helped her improve herself and get to where she is today.

“I definitely think persistence is key at the same time you have to be open to constructive criticism.”

You can earn a fulltime salary from Instagram, how are you finding the process of deciding to switch from law to being a full time creator?

“I’m just going to take the jump. I still have a year and a bit of my law degree to go and if I fail then I can just fall back onto corporate so I feel like it’s a very low risk and very feasible.” Vanessa explains her lower tolerance for risk and mathematical approach to decision making. “I am a very logical person so I did forecast my income on an excel spreadsheet. In all those scenarios my income would be better than it would be in a draw a job as a law.”

If you didn’t have many followers or were making money from Instagram, would you still pursue it full time after uni?

“No I definitely wouldn’t have. I think stability is really important part of one’s career and as much I am for pursuing your passion, I think that there is a base level of life and income that you need in order to be able to pursue the things that you want.”

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