In 2020, Jamie and Sarah McCauley filmed themselves tearing, painting and restoring thrifted furniture. They resold the items, made more than $1,000, and posted the results on YouTube.
Within a week, the video had 20,000 views. Living with various concurrent side hustles, the McCauleys sensed an opportunity. They started posting more videos about rental properties, home makeover projects, and other income streams, including reselling pallets returned from Amazon and Target.
Teaching people how to build such hustles has been lucrative: The McCauleys earned $102,000 from YouTube and other social media channels in the past year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
That’s an average of $8,500 a month. In the best month of the year, they made $9,000.
“We started to realize: This is a great way for people to make extra money if they have bills or just can’t pay the rent or want to go on a nice vacation with their family,” says Sarah. “Anybody can do it.”
But of all the income streams, Jamie says their YouTube and social media presence is the most stressful to manage.
Here’s how they built it and what goes into maintaining it.
How to build a social media career
Jamie and Sarah knew the ins and outs of social media having run a successful wedding photography business for years, which at its peak brought in $150,000 a year, Jamie says.
But after the birth of two children, the couple realized that they did not want to spend weekends away from their family. So they began buying, renovating and renting out 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 take on different side hustles. In 2019, they got the idea to put their furniture and property adventures on YouTube and immediately found it challenging.
In the beginning, Jamie only worked 30 hours a week on the YouTube project, with Sarah working an additional 10 hours – on top of her efforts to sell two converted houses and run a photography business.
It took them a full year to reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours, making them eligible for Google AdSense.
“We weren’t sure where home design, spinning, photography or YouTube would take us,” says Sara. “But we knew that if we put ourselves out there, it would open up more opportunities.”
The pros and cons of flipping
Sarah says there are several clear benefits to flipping and selling furniture and home decor online, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
For example, more people are willing to look for deals on eBay and Facebook Marketplace when times are tough, rather than visiting brick-and-mortar retail stores.
“When a recession hits, people don’t want to pay full price for things,” he says. “Thrift stores thrive in a recession, and I think retailers do, too, because people are trying to save money.”
Unlike real estate, buying and selling furniture has minimal both cost and risk, McCauleys says. There’s less of a financial investment, and Sarah says she’s broken even every time.
The couple says one of their best finds was a mid-century dresser they bought on Facebook Marketplace for $50. All they had to do was go on stage and take a nice picture of the dresser before selling it for $300.
Sometimes after buying furniture, a couple realizes that the items have more defects than they expected. Usually, this means spending more time and money on making the piece, which can affect the final sale value of the item.
In those cases, “we just get our money back instead of making a big profit, but we’ve never lost money on it,” says Sarah.
Costs and impacts
McCauleys says it was difficult to go a full year without making money from YouTube. And just being AdSense eligible didn’t guarantee big bucks.
“The slower growth and the inconsistency of it, it was more of a mental battle to keep pushing and believing in the process,” Jamie said. “Now we’re in a better place, but in this two-year period, ‘should we do this?’ Will this work?”
In 2020, the couple felt a change, they said. Their videos started going viral more regularly, and brands like Skillshare, Beyond Paint, and HelloFresh reached out to them with 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 and contracts for brands and claims 18% of a number of partnerships, they say.
Monetizing their YouTube presence has allowed them to land their photography business, which significantly reduces their weekly workload.
But there’s still the mental struggle that comes with an unstable income, says Jamie. When you rely on advertising and brand partnerships, your earnings depend on the number of followers, and the algorithm often feels out of their control.
“There are times when it’s depressing when there’s not much,” says Jamie. “But there are also good months with a lot of money coming in. It’s the long game and trying to keep moving forward. It’s persistence.”
The couple say they have no plans to abandon their social media business. Collectively, their income streams help them make a good living while spending more time with their families than they would in a standard 9-to-5 job.
“We want it to fit into our lives, so we want to do unconventional things,” says Sarah. “So we can choose what to do.”
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