In 2020, Jamie and Sarah McCauley filmed themselves tearing up, repainting and restoring second-hand furniture. They resold the items, made over $1,000 in profit, and posted the results on YouTube.
Within a week, the video received 20,000 views. The McCauleys, who live off a variety of side hustles, sensed an opportunity. They started posting more videos about their other sources of income, including rental properties, house flipping projects, and reselling throwback pallets from Amazon and Target.
Teaching people how to build these types of hustle has proven lucrative: Last year, the McCauleys made $102,000 through their YouTube and other social media channels, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
This averages out to $8,500 per month. In their best month of the year, they brought in $9,000.
“We started to realize: this is a great way for people to make extra money if they have bills, or if they just can’t pay their rent, or if they want to have a great vacation with their family,” says Sarah. . “Anyone can do it.”
But of all their sources of income, Jamie says their YouTube and social media presence is the most stressful to deal with.
Here’s how they built it and what to do to maintain it.
How to Build a Social Media Career
Jamie and Sarah knew the ins and outs of social media after running a successful wedding photography business that, at its peak, made $150,000 a year, Jamie says.
But after having two children, the couple realized they didn’t want to spend weekends away from their family. So they started buying, renovating, and renting properties in West Michigan, hoping for a more passive income stream that would encourage schedule flexibility.
It worked, and the extra time allowed them to embrace a variety of side activities. They came up with the idea of posting their furniture and property flipping adventures on YouTube in 2019, and immediately found it challenging.
Initially, Jamie worked 30 hours a week on the YouTube project alone, while Sarah worked an additional 10 hours, on top of their efforts to sell two reverse houses and run their photography business.
It took them a full year to reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours, making them eligible for Google AdSense, a feature that allows creators to monetize their YouTube videos with ads.
“We weren’t really sure where the house design, the flipping, the photography or YouTube would take us,” says Sarah. “But we knew if we put ourselves out there it would open up more opportunities.”
Flip the pros and cons
There are some clear benefits to returning and reselling furniture and home decor online, especially in times of economic uncertainty, Sarah says.
For example, more people are willing to search for deals on eBay and Facebook Marketplace when times are tough, instead of frequenting their usual retail stores.
“When a recession hits, people don’t want to pay a heavy price,” she says. “Thrift stores thrive in recessions, and I think resellers do too, because people try to save money any way they can.”
Unlike real estate, buy-and-sell furniture bets are minimal in terms of price and risk, the McCauleys say. There is less financial investment, and Sarah says she has broken even at every turn.
The couple says one of their best flips was a mid-century dresser they bought for $50 on Facebook Marketplace. All they had to do was stage and take a nice picture of the dresser before selling it for $300.
Sometimes, after buying furniture, the couple realizes that the items have more flaws than expected. Usually that means investing more time and money into repairing the part, which can affect the eventual sale value of the item, they say.
In these cases, “we just get our money back instead of making a huge profit, but we’ve never really lost any money,” says Sarah.
Costs and effect
Going a full year without making money from YouTube was tough, the McCauleys say. And just qualifying for AdSense didn’t guarantee big bucks.
“The slower growth and its inconsistency, it’s been more of a mental struggle to keep pushing and believing in the process,” says Jamie. “Now we’re in a better place, but throughout this two-year period it’s been about, ‘Is this what we should be doing? Is this going to work ?'”
In 2020, the couple felt a change, they say. Their videos started going viral more regularly, and brands like Skillshare, Beyond Paint, and HelloFresh offered them partnership opportunities.
The sudden attention was overwhelming and they didn’t immediately know which brands to trust. These days, the McCauleys work with an agency that vets brands and sets up deals for them, claiming 18% of a number of those partnerships, they say.
Monetizing their presence on YouTube allowed them to shut down their photography business, which dramatically reduced their weekly workload.
But there’s always a mental struggle that comes with inconsistent income, says Jamie. When you depend on advertising and brand partnerships, your revenue depends on the audience, and the algorithm often seems out of their control.
“There are times of discouragement where not much is happening,” says Jamie. “But there are also good months where a lot of money comes in. It’s about a long game and trying to keep going. It’s about perseverance.”
The couple say they have no plans to give up their social media business. Collectively, their income streams help them earn a good living while spending more time with their families than they would in standard 9-to-5 jobs.
“We want it to fit into our life, and that’s why we wanted non-traditional jobs,” Sarah says. “So we can choose what we do.”
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