In April 2017, one of Graham Stephan's YouTube videos took off. He was elated. He made $181 that day, which at the time was a lot of money for him to be making just on the side.
"I was so excited, thinking if I made $2 a day just from YouTube, that pays for my phone bill, so when I had that one day of $181, I was like wow, there is really a lot of potential in this," he told Business Insider.
At the time, Stephan was working full time as a real-estate agent, and when he got home, he would work on YouTube from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., he said.
His YouTube channel quickly became a great source of side income, and by the end if 2018, he had earned over $250,000 in total from his YouTube business, he said. That's when he went all in.
"It was in December of 2018 that I really felt like I had a small chance with this, and thought, there's a lot of potential in this, I need to give this its full attention," he said.
Stephan now focuses on his YouTube channel full time. He has 1.6 million people subscribed to his YouTube channel and earns money through the ads that play in his videos, by selling a course on how to grow your YouTube channel, sponsorships, and through Amazon's affiliate program.
Creators like Stephan — who is known for sharing personal-finance, investing, and real-estate tips with his followers — often earn more money on their YouTube videos per view than others because the finance-focused audiences they attract are more valuable to advertisers.
In February, he earned a total $141,356 in AdSense revenue alone, on 8.9 million views in 29 days, according to his YouTube dashboard, which was viewed by Business Insider. His video, "How I Bought A Tesla for $78 per month," with 6.3 million views, made $56,329 so far to date in under a year, he said.
How Stephan got his start on YouTube
In 2010, Stephan started watching YouTube and felt it was the future of TV. And after four years of watching, he decided he wanted to get involved somehow, but thought he wouldn't be a compelling enough star.
"I didn't think anyone would want to watch me, so I remember thinking maybe I could invest in a YouTube channel," he said. "I wanted to be a silent investor because I knew at the time these people weren't making much money and weren't doing it full time."
Stephan said almost every channel he reached out to turned him down, and in December 2016, he finally filmed a video of his own and uploaded it to YouTube.
"I held up the selfie side of my phone and just recorded for 25 mins straight were I talked about my journey getting into real estate and just some of the things I learned along the way, and that was it," he said.
He created his YouTube channel that night and began posting videos once a week.
At the time, he would leave a comment on any of the other videos he would watch, or any relevant channels like business or real estate, which he said helped him initially grow his audience.
Stephan said he has always been passionate about money. Now, he shares his personal experiences with saving money and investing with his audience. He told CNBC in November that he saves roughly 99% of his income, estimating that 85% of his total yearly earnings come from YouTube.
How he grew his YouTube channel, and his advice
"Once I started posting three times a week, the whole thing took off," he said about his YouTube channel.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3:30 p.m. PST, Stephan will have a new video up on his channel.
"I responded to 95% to 98% of all my comments until I hit one million subscribers," he said. "I couldn't get out of bed in the morning until I answered all of the comments that came while I was sleeping. I'd spend 30 mins to an hour in the morning responding to comments, like 'thanks for watching' and 'really appreciate it.'"
At the start, he used his iPhone and natural light to film his videos, and still today he uses his phone to film vlogs, and for his sit-down videos, he upgraded to a used Cannon 70D which he purchased on eBay. For editing software, he uses iMovie, a free app that comes downloaded on Apple computers.
His tips: build community by replying to comments and focus on having a catchy title and an intriguing thumbnail image.
"Any time someone has a notification turned on they just see the title," he said. "If enough people click on it from that notification, YouTube is going to be placing it temporarily on the homepage for people who have maybe watched me once or twice in the past. So the thumbnail has to be eye catching."
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