Lauren Riihimaki was minding her own business as a student at Ryerson University in Toronto when she turned to YouTube to post a video. Now the business in minding her.
Want to make your own kimono? Turn a simple hoodie into a snazzy fashion-forward jacket? Ms. Riihimaki's LaurDIY channel can show you, through her simple yet well-produced instructional videos telling viewers how to create custom clothes and accessories.
"My story on YouTube actually happened completely by accident," she says.
Ms. Riihimaki, 21, has run a blog since 2012, and she began using YouTube to upload do-it-yourself sewing videos onto her site.
Ms. Riihimaki's videos are breezy yet practical, taking viewers through easy steps to make jewellery, Halloween costumes, fancy tops and scarves, and offering tips on makeup, nails and hair. Combining peppy enthusiasm with clear explanations, she has been able to use social media to leapfrog over the typical routes to self-help stardom, such as securing a specialty TV channel show.
"This turned into a career and dream job. YouTube offers the opportunity to monetize your videos as soon as they start gaining views, so they were the influencer in turning my channel into a revenue stream," she says.
Her channel now has more than one million subscribers and her videos have been viewed more than 45 million times.
Ms. Riihimaki, a fourth-year graphics communications student, makes money in two ways through YouTube. "Ad revenue is paid out by my YouTube network [through ads that accompany the videos] and also through direct advertising and product placement integrated into my content," she explains.
Advertisers approach her either directly to collaborate on a video or through her manager, Scott Fisher of Select Management Group.
Ms. Riihimaki, who graduates next April, is remarkably casual about how she has turned what were essentially home videos into a slick production company with a six-figure revenue.
"This will probably be really disappointing, but I don't have a business plan, finance strategy or anything intense," she says. "To get started you really just need a few pieces of key equipment: editing software and a camera that shoots in HD [which smartphones now do]."
Recently she incorporated LaurDIY and has added some extra equipment to boost production quality – high-aperture lenses, tripods and recording microphones.
"I owned a DSLR camera with a recording feature prior to starting my YouTube channel, and then using the money I earned from my website and videos I was easily able to afford equipment upgrades and extra things like the lenses," she says.
"The hours have really taken a toll on me this year. Scheduling and time management is the absolute key to staying sane," she says.
"I typically keep a 30-day calendar … and continue to update it as new work comes in, especially to make note of any video deadlines when working with companies."
She is a strong believer in maintaining total creative control over her work.
"I do the entire process myself, beginning with brainstorming the video concept, collecting the supplies from an assortment of retailers, filming the entire process with the occasional help from either my boyfriend or my dad," she says.
Her videos, which usually run four to 10 minutes, include shots of her finished creations in action, and her postproduction is simple – editing, voice-overs and then uploading and promoting through her blog, social media and her website.
"I maintain all of my own social media accounts," Ms. Riihimaki says.
She would be happy to share her business tricks and secrets, except that she doesn't believe she has any. "There isn't a guaranteed structure or model that a YouTuber can use for growing their audience or their business," she explains.
"Generally speaking, creating high quality and relevant content, interacting with viewers, being consistent and being yourself all are extremely important to ensuring your success on the platform. I find that certain types of videos receive more views than others, so being mindful of your content can help growth, but other than that, it can be very random and sporadic."
A lot of work goes into her production, but so does a bit of luck, she adds. "The right person will see your video and share it with the right people and you'll end up with 30,000 more subscribers in the month than your previous month's growth. It's unpredictable but sticking to the main components [of production] can really make a difference."
Right now she has no financial worries as far as her business is concerned. "I have a much higher income than the cost of expenses, so I'm always able to afford my own expenses, personally and on the business end of things," she says.
Ms. Riihimaki, a self-described "professional glitter lover," adds that the only thing she knows for sure about the future of LaurDIY is that it will continue to grow.
"There's a lot of talk around YouTube being the future of television, so who knows what the structure of the platform will be like 10 years from now?"