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How an online chef monetized her social following to build a six-figure business

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Dec 2, 2022
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Creator funds, like TikTok’s Creator Fund, provide creators with a means to monetize their content on social media beyond brand deals and sponsorships. To take advantage of the funds, all creators need to do is meet a platform’s follower and view requirements. Easy, right? Think again.

On the surface, creator funds appear as an incredible opportunity for creators to earn income, but a quick peak under the hood reveals how faulty the machine powering the funds truly is. Take it from world-famous influencers Hank Green and MrBeast. Green recently revealed that his TikTok earnings amounted to only $0.02 to $0.03 for every 1,000 views, and MrBeast reported that he made less than $15,000 a year on TikTok even though he had accumulated billions of views.

It’s obvious how follower and view requirements for the funds are disadvantageous for creators with smaller followings, but even creators with a large follower base and high view counts struggle to prosper. And, it isn’t just TikTok’s Creator Fund that isn’t living up to its promise. YouTubers, too, grapple to earn income with YouTube’s Partner Program.

Alla Driksne, owner of Alla’s Yummy Foods and Kajabi Hero, can attest firsthand to the issues plaguing YouTube’s monetization option. After growing an audience of 126,000 subscribers on YouTube, Alla expected to start earning income from YouTube’s Partner Program, but to her dismay, came up with empty pockets.

“I built a huge following thinking that if I had a large fan base, I would make money on YouTube. I thought at least three, four, five thousand a month. But the biggest check I got from YouTube was $200 and that's with 126,000 subscribers.”

With Alla’s hard work amounting to nothing, she was on the verge of giving up on her dream of creating a successful chef and pastry business. But before she put her whisk and flour away for good, Alla tested out one more way to earn income—off of social media.

Keep reading to learn how Alla went from earning near zero on YouTube to building a sustainable five-figure business with online courses!

For a quick version of the interview, check out Alla’s answers to our Rapid-Fire Q & A series, or read on to get the full rundown!

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Tell us your story of how you got started.

I came to London when I was 14—by myself. Crazy, right? I'm originally from Latvia, a small country in Eastern Europe. Eventually, I got into the London School of Economics and got a bunch of jobs in that field. I wasn't enjoying what I was doing—but I was always passionate about baking. It was something that gave me a bit of relaxation and took away my anxiety because I was a bit anxious living abroad and not speaking the language. When I was 25, I quit my full-time job to take a year to try out baking. I thought, "You know what? I'm going to start with a YouTube video, and see how it goes. If anything, I will always find a job again." I decided to get a second education as a professional pastry and French chef because I knew I needed qualifications. And, it was nothing like I expected it to be. It was hard. I worked five jobs, including working for Alison Price, one of the biggest caterers in London. On the side, I was building my online business, which, at that time, was just on social media. I thought eventually I'll get somewhere [with it] and I'll get paid like everyone else.

At what moment did you realize you needed to build a business off of YouTube? What was the transition from social media to online courses like?

I started on YouTube because I thought that if I reach a certain number of followers, I'd be paid a lot of money. I even had a number in my head. I thought at least three, four, five thousand a month. At the start of my YouTube journey, I was filming every weekend. I worked five jobs during the week and then I'd film new content. I basically sacrificed my life. Fast forward three years, I had made no money. I think the biggest check I got from YouTube was $200 and that's with 126,000 subscribers. I knew something wasn’t right. I thought, "Okay, maybe I should get more brand deals." I started getting some, and they paid okay, but they were on and off. It was never consistent, and they had their own rules.

A few months later I had a strategy session with my sister to figure out where most of my money was coming from. She asked, "How many hours does it take you to make a cake? And how much do you make on YouTube?" We figured out that social media took the longest amount of time and made me the least amount of money. It was ridiculous. Something like two cents per hour. My sister was in the tech space, so she suggested I start an online course. She said, "Even if you charge only $20 and five people buy your course, that's a hundred dollars." 

Without doing any research, I created my first mousse cake course. I signed up [for Kajabi], and I remember it was so scary because it was a hundred dollars a month. Once I launched my course, I told my followers on social media. I priced it at a hundred dollars, and 10 people bought my course. I made a thousand dollars in one hour. That was my salary for a month of slaving away, and for me, it was a no-brainer from thereon.

What did it feel like when you put all of this work and effort into YouTube, only to realize that you couldn't actually monetize it in a way that was scalable?

It felt awful—putting so much effort into YouTube and social media and not getting any money back. I wasn't always driven by money, but money is important for everybody, right? We have pay to rent. But not making any money, that's the hardest part because you feel so deflated, you feel upset and angry because you're trying so hard, and you feel like if you're doing your best, then something has to happen, right? And it really put me into a very depressive state a lot of the time, so much, I was going to give up. My sister was always my biggest supporter, and she would tell me, "You can do this. You can do this." But I always felt like someone else is doing better because of something that they have, not really believing in myself. That's my biggest lesson is to believe in yourself. If you know what you are doing and you are passionate about it, it's always going to come through.

What made you realize that you need to own your audience and go to direct monetization through online courses?

I talked to someone and realized that I actually don't own anything after all I've been building for seven years. It made me realize that I can't just keep going like that because if Facebook goes down or any social platform, I will lose everything. Actually, my Facebook got hacked, and at that time, I had 250,000 followers. And the reason I got hacked is because of money—because the hacker told me we can place ads on Facebook and you're going to get paid $300 a day. I added him as a Facebook manager, and within minutes, everything started changing. I got kicked out of Facebook, and they started deleting everything I had. That was the moment when I realized you literally can lose everything in a moment. Everything you've been building for years. Luckily, my sister's in tech, so she knew someone to contact on Facebook. I didn't sleep for two days, but because of some connections, I was very lucky. They asked me to send documentation like taxes to prove who I am, and I had to get a lawyer, but they managed to restore my page in a few days. By that time my page wasn't Alla’s Yummy Food anymore. That’s what hackers do, they steal your audience and delete all your content. That was the moment I was like, "I don’t own my own audience. I have to have emails, I have to have a place where I can have them all there.”

How did you start to build an email list? What was that process like?

I joined Mailchimp and made a free pdf. I created 20 of my most popular recipes and that was my lead magnet and I was like, "Hey, do you want a free pdf?" And people signed up for it. As I’ve progressed, I have three or four lead magnets and I constantly do webinars and other things. Obviously, now with Kajabi, it's just much easier, with everything being all in one place.

How hard was it to build your list at first?

It was slow at first, and I think it takes some time, but as you grow and understand what people want and give them a high-value product or some sort of value, they do sign up. Now, with my new lead magnets, I can easily get a thousand leads in a few hours. But I do still go on every single social platform to encourage my followers to get on the list. You do want this amazing whatever, one vanilla cake or something like that.

It’s clear that you still use social media to grow your following. Can you tell me how you use social media now?

Of course, I still use social media all the time. But now, I use social media because it helps me bring people to my funnel or to my online courses. It’s the main place where I get them [a new audience].

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell creators who aren't monetizing directly and are only using brand deals or sponsorships to monetize? 

I would say to create a product that they can sell. Create a really good lead magnet that shows your audience what they will be getting in the online course. And definitely start to monetize it. Don’t be scared of taking that step! I was really scared, and it took me years to make moves. I wish I did it sooner. If it doesn't work, try something else. Additionally, I would recommend not building out the whole course if it's something huge, but get an interest, maybe do a trial, and get a few people to test it out. Then, get some testimonials, and try and sell it.

What do you think it is about Kajabi that helps creators and entrepreneurs actually become successful?

What I loved about Kajabi is that it has everything in one place. And for me, that was literally a game changer because I realized I can accept payments, create a website, have emails, and more. I liked how much support I had. I joined the Facebook community. I remember I was asking a question and everyone jumped in and helped me out. And of course, it gave me the opportunity. Without Kajabi, I would never would've even started, right? I would never even think that I can be a teacher. But now I call myself a teacher.

What would you tell to a creator who's just starting out?

I would say to have a clear vision, and to go into it understanding that this is a business; even though it's your hobby and you might be passionate about whatever is it that you want to teach, there is a business side to it. Approach it from a sales point of view more than the creation point of view because you are selling yourself and your product 80% of the time and then that other 20% is your creation. And don’t be afraid of failure. I feel like I failed so much in my life, and I had my moments where I cried and thought, "That's it, I'm done." But then that drive inside always helped me get up and made me realize I need to do this.

The bottom line: Use social media as a traffic pipeline

With a large following and a high view count no longer equating to success on social media, creators need to evolve how they utilize social platforms.

Rather than rely on social media as your sole form of monetization, use it as a pipeline to drive traffic to your website and digital products—and less as a tool for direct monetization. Learn more about the digital products available to you through Kajabi here!

As Alla said, “Of course, I still use social media all the time. But now, I use social media because it helps me bring people to my funnel or to my online courses. It’s the main place where I get them [a new audience].”

Faulty social media creator funds represent just one crack in the $100 billion industry we’ve come to know as the creator economy. The reality is the creator economy is broken; it doesn’t work for the majority of creators supporting it.

Hear from these other Kajabi Heroes on how they are being affected by the dark sides of the creator economy:

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How an online chef monetized her social following to build a six-figure business
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