Do you want to learn how to get started on YouTube? Here’s how Erika went from 0 subscribers to over $100,000 on YouTube in less than one year.
Everyone has heard of YouTube, and pretty much everyone has watched at least one YouTube video in their life.
In fact, according to YouTube, there are over 2 billion users who watch at least one video on YouTube each month.
That is a ton of people!
If you’re interested in starting a YouTube channel, then please read further.
Today, I want to introduce you to Erika Kullberg.
Erika Kullberg is a nationally-recognized personal finance expert and has been featured in Business Insider, CNBC, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post and more. Her personal finance YouTube channel has grown to over 70,000 subscribers and 4 million views in less than a year.
Yes, this means that it is not too late to get started on YouTube!
I asked Erika to take part in an interview on Making Sense of Cents about her growth on YouTube.
In this interview, you’ll learn:
Why she decided to start a Youtube channel
How she makes money with her YouTube channel
How her following and income has grown
What she uses to record, edit, and publish videos
How long it takes her to make each video
If she thinks there is room for new YouTubers
And, all of her best YouTube tips!
This interview is packed full of valuable information on how to start a YouTube channel.
You can find Erika’s YouTube channel here.
Related content that you may be interested in:
Here’s how Erika went from 0 subscribers to over $100,000 on YouTube.
1. Tell me your story. Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Erika Kullberg, I’m an award-winning lawyer and the founder of a legal technology company, Plug and Law. I’m also a nationally-recognized personal finance expert and have been featured in Business Insider, CNBC, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post and more.
My YouTube channel, where I talk about all things personal finance, has grown to over 70,000 subscribers and 4 million views in less than a year.
I graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown Law. After law school, I went to work for one of the top law firms in the world as a corporate lawyer. While it was exciting working on billion-dollar deals for Fortune 500 companies, I realized that I had lost sight of my ‘why’. I went to law school to help people, yet as a corporate lawyer was only helping large, faceless corporations.
I took a risk and left the law firm towards the end of last year to start Plug and Law because I believe that the “legal stuff” needs to be more simple and accessible for business owners and entrepreneurs. The reality is, especially when starting out, business owners and entrepreneurs can’t necessarily afford to hire expensive lawyers to help them. So with Plug and Law, we help educate content creators, business owners and entrepreneurs about how to legally protect their business (without hiring an expensive lawyer), then offer affordable solutions to make that possible.
2. Can you tell me about your student loans? How did you pay them off so quickly?
I graduated from law school with over $200,000 of student loans.
To be honest, at that time, I wasn’t even fully aware of how much debt I was in. I intentionally avoided my student loans for months after graduation–not ready to face the gravity of being weighed down by them.
Only when I started getting flooded with letters in the mail with unfamiliar terms like “grace period” and “forbearance” did I realize “wow, this is real and I need to do something about it.”
That moment of realizing I couldn’t ignore them any longer is what set me on the path to paying off my student loans. I spent hours diving in and learning everything I could about them. I listed out all of the loans I had and mapped out a plan for how I could pay them off. I was fortunate enough to have a well-paying job right out of law school, so I calculated that if I continued to live the same frugal life that I lived as a student and didn’t increase my spending at all, I could pay off the loans in 2 years.
For the next 2 years, I was laser-focused on paying off my loans.
Having a set goal for when I would be debt-free was the most motivating thing–it helped me to see that there was an end in sight. Throughout those 2 years, I had a bi-weekly ‘meeting’ with myself to make sure I was on track for my goal. Creating an ambitious goal like that also forced me to take budgeting seriously.
The single best thing I did that helped me pay off my student loans quickly was not to inflate my lifestyle. It’s easy when you go from being a broke student to suddenly having an actual income to want to inflate your lifestyle to reflect that increased income. There’s this sense that you deserve the nice purse or the glamorous vacation because you’re working and earning money now. I think there’s also a natural inclination to want to ‘fit in’ with your working colleagues that might be spending on nicer things.
I made a very conscious effort to never allow myself to think I wasn’t still a broke law student. Once you do get into the habit of spending more and treating yourself to nicer things, it’s very hard to take those things away. That’s just human psychology–it’s easy to inflate your lifestyle but very hard to come back down. On the other hand, if you can force yourself to not spend more than you were spending as a student, it’s easier, because then you’re just maintaining the status quo.
My guess is that I was probably the only one at the fancy law firm who was wearing shoes from Walmart at work and walking 35 minutes each way to and from work just to save a few dollars on the train fare, haha! By not inflating my lifestyle, I was able to save over 80% of my income to put that towards my student loans. I also credit refinancing my student loans–it enabled me to slash my interest rate in half and save thousands of dollars in interest.
3. How long have you had a YouTube channel?
I started my YouTube channel a little less than a year ago.
I posted my first video on October 31, 2019.
4. Why did you decide to start a YouTube channel?
I wanted to start a YouTube channel as my small way of trying to have an impact. I had just left the law firm to start Plug and Law, and was looking for a ‘passion project’ that would fit 3 criteria: it needed to be completely unrelated to law, outside of my comfort zone, and have an impact on people.
Learning about personal finance changed my life. It allowed me to pay off over $225,000 of student loans and save up enough money to leave a comfortable job to pursue entrepreneurship. I wanted to find a way to share that passion of personal finance with others to hopefully enable and inspire them to take control of their finances in order to live a more fulfilling life.
At first, I thought about starting a blog to talk about personal finance. I have always enjoyed writing and a blog would’ve fit perfectly within my comfort zone. However, as I spent more time thinking about what platform I wanted to use to get my message out there, the idea of creating a YouTube channel started to seem more appealing.
One, it was completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been camera-shy, have a fear of public speaking, and the idea of recording myself was terrifying, but I made a promise to myself after I left the law firm that I wanted to stop letting fear control me. For too many years, I’d let fear of judgment, fear of failure and fear of disappointing my parents dictate the things I did and didn’t do in life. Leaving the law firm was already a terrifying jump out of my comfort zone, so YouTube seemed like a great way to challenge myself even further.
Two, I liked that there was a higher barrier to entry. I think blogging is slightly easier to start because you are just typing behind a computer and can even remain anonymous. To me, it felt was blogging was already too saturated and it would be hard to get my content to reach people. For YouTube, on the other hand, you’re putting yourself in front of a camera. It’s vulnerable. I felt like, perhaps for that reason, YouTube wasn’t as saturated. While there were quite a few men who seemingly dominated the personal finance space on YouTube, I didn’t see many women in the space–so thought I could perhaps contribute from that perspective as well.
5. How do you make money with a YouTube channel?
I make money with my YouTube channel through 3 primary sources:
Ad revenue is money earned directly through Google. After you reach a certain threshold (1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months), Google allows you to apply for the YouTube Partner Program. Once accepted, you can run ads on your YouTube channel and earn money from the ad revenue. Google keeps 45% and you get 55%.
The amount you can earn from ad revenue varies largely based on the topics that you cover. For example, finance channels typically earn much more for every 1,000 views compared to gaming channels. Just to give you a sense, this video I made about how I’ll build $200,000 of passive income this year starting from $0 currently has a $55 CPM (CPM = how much an advertiser pays for 1,000 views). In stark contrast, a gaming channel’s CPM averages between $2-3.
It took me almost 6 months to reach the threshold to apply for the YouTube Partner Program. It took me about 3 months of consistently uploading a video each week to reach 1,000 subscribers, but then I didn’t reach the required 4,000 hours of watch time until the end of April, after my first viral video. From the momentum of that viral video, I earned over $700 from Google ad revenue on the first day that I was able to run ads on my channel.
The second YouTube income source is from affiliates. With affiliate marketing, I can promote certain services or products I genuinely like to my YouTube subscribers, and if they click a tracking link known as an affiliate link to take further action (i.e., to purchase the product), I may receive a commission.
Thirdly, I get paid for creating sponsored videos on my channel. A sponsored video is where a company will pay me a set amount to mention their product or service in a video. The most common type of sponsored video seems to be a 60-second integration, where I talk about their product or service for 60 seconds of the video.
6. How has your following and income grown since you started?
In less than a year, I’ve gone from 0 YouTube subscribers to making over $100,000 from YouTube (just from ad revenue, affiliate marketing and sponsorships). The large majority of that income has come in the last 5 months.
My goal with YouTube was always to post 1 video per week, for 1 year, no matter what–regardless of how many views or subscribers I had. I think that it’s important with YouTube to set goals that are output based since those are completely in your control. If you set goals about the number of views or subscribers you want, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment since those aren’t entirely in your control.
As far as following, it took me 3 months to get from 0 to 1,000 subscribers, then around another 2.5 months to get from 1,000 to 2,000 subscribers. Then, thanks to a few viral videos, I went from 2,000 subscribers to over 50,000 in 30 days. My channel is currently at over 70,000 subscribers and 4 million views.
For the income, in January, I made a video saying that I was going to make $200,000 of passive income in 2020, starting from $0. I was fascinated with the idea of creating passive income, especially coming from a corporate law background where I truly was trading my time for money. The crazy thing is, the world of making money online was completely foreign to me a year ago at this time.
For the $200,000 passive income goal, I had 4 important factors I was considering:
It needed to have a motivation besides money. I think it’s important to have a mission statement behind everything you do–it can’t be just for the sake of making money. Otherwise, it’s too easy to burn out. For Plug and Law, my mission statement is making the ‘legal stuff’ simple and accessible for business owners and entrepreneurs. For my YouTube channel, my mission statement is helping people learn how to make more money, save more money and take control of their personal finances.
It had to be efficient. Anything that I could outsource to enable me to scale the business more quickly, I would outsource. An example of this is that I outsourced video editing of my YouTube channel from the beginning.
It must be passive. It cannot be tied to the number of hours I’m putting it. That means turning down opportunities like 1-1 coaching or consulting.
It needs to be location independent. I want to build a business and income where I can live wherever I want. Growing up with a dad in the U.S. Air Force, we moved around every 3 years, so by the time I was 14 we had already lived on 3 different continents. I love the idea of building a sustainable business where I’m not tied down to one specific location.
The funny thing about my income projection is how far off my YouTube predictions were.
In January, I had made $0 from YouTube, and predicted that in 2020 I would make $15,000 from ad revenue, $2,000 from sponsored videos, and $3,700 from affiliates.
At the time, I had people telling me that was absolutely ridiculous and I would never be able to hit that in my first year on YouTube. To my surprise, I made that amount from YouTube (around $20,000) in just the month of May alone.
It even caught the attention of Business Insider–they did an article about how I was able to grow on YouTube so quickly.
7. What do you use to record, edit, and publish videos?
I use a Canon 80D camera to record and Adobe Premiere Pro to edit.
I hesitate to share that because I don’t want people to think you need an expensive camera or editing software to succeed on YouTube. I don’t think that’s the case.
For the majority of people, I would recommend just starting with your phone and free editing software for the first few months before making any big investments.
8. How long does it take you to make each YouTube video?
It varies. From start to finish, some videos can take me up to 15 hours.
This is especially the case if there’s a lot of background research required. The quickest I can do a video is about 3 hours, and my average is probably around 8 hours.
There are 3 stages of creating a YouTube video: scripting, filming and editing.
The large majority of my time is spent scripting. Filming takes me between 30 minutes to 1 hour, now that I’m more experienced. In the beginning, I was still very nervous in front of the camera and stumbling over my words, so it would take me over 2 hours to film one video. Editing, since I’ve outsourced, takes me the least amount of time–it just requires me to create basic editing notes for my editors and approve the final edit.
The amount of time I spend on each task also reflects the value I assign to it.
Without a doubt, I think the most important aspect of a YouTube video is the scripting. With every video, I want to make sure I’m providing a lot of value in the video, and the way to accomplish that is by spending a significant amount of time preparing the content. Filming and editing to me are lower priorities. People will come back to your channel if they’ve gotten lots of value from your content. I don’t think filming and editing are the key things that bring people back.
9. Would you say that you’re a techy person? Do you have a film background?
No, I’m not techy and don’t have a film background.
I taught myself how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro by just watching YouTube videos. Even if you do end up outsourcing video editing like I did, I think it’s still important to have a basic understanding of how to edit videos so you know how to hire the right editors for your needs.
10. What do you like about making YouTube videos? What do you not like?
The best part of making YouTube videos is hearing the words “Erika” and “inspiring” in one sentence. I talk about this on my channel sometimes–I spent years and years working to go to the best college, then the best law school, and the best law firm, and never once heard those words together. To me, that is the greatest part of YouTube. You get to connect with a real audience and try to have a real impact. That’s not something I don’t think I could have ever achieved had I just stayed confined in my corporate law bubble.
I especially love hearing that I’ve helped people with their finances. The other day someone messaged me on Instagram and said I inspired her to finally take control of her student loans. That was really rewarding.
The difficult part about YouTube is dealing with negative comments. I don’t think I was prepared for that–especially comments about things I can’t change about myself. Those do impact me, but I try to remember that in order for a complete stranger to lash out at me like that, they must be going through something or having a bad day. As much as possible, I try to respond to even the negative comments with kindness.
11. Do you think there is room for new YouTubers?
I see a huge opportunity for business owners to use YouTube as a way to establish themselves as experts in their field and gain visibility and credibility for their business.
I believe there’s always going to be room for new YouTubers. Come to YouTube with a plan on how you’re going to provide value to your audience, stay consistent, and you will succeed.
12. What tips do you have for someone wanting to start a YouTube channel?
The hardest part of YouTube is starting and the second hardest part is staying consistent. Both of those are entirely in your control.
I know that starting YouTube was really hard for me. I was told by other lawyers that it would ruin my professional image, and I knew that I would be judged. Getting over that hurdle was the toughest. But, once I posted my first video, it was out there in public! No going back from there, so I figured I might as well embrace it.
The second hardest part is going to be staying consistent. The primary differentiating factor between people who succeed on YouTube and people who don’t is the work ethic. How consistent can you remain, even when the views and subscribers aren’t necessarily where you’d like them to be?
If I had to capture the ‘secret’ to succeeding on YouTube in one sentence, it would be: ‘You should love it like a hobby, but treat it like a business.’
Whatever topic you choose to talk about on your channel, make sure it’s something that you’re truly passionate about. You need to love it like a hobby–meaning, you’d want to do it regardless of whether income comes from it. For me, I knew personal finance was something I could talk about for years, even if I didn’t make a single dollar from it. This matters because there are going to be times when you get discouraged by YouTube. Maybe you’re not where you want to be in terms of subscribers, or a video you spent hours creating only got 5 views, or someone writes a negative comment about you. However, if what you’re talking about is something you’re genuinely passionate about, you’ll keep going! If you come to YouTube just motivated to make money, it’s going to be hard to sustain.
Second, you need to treat it like a business. Since consistency is incredibly important for YouTube, treating it like a business means not just posting a video whenever you feel like it. You need to have a consistent upload schedule and stick with it. Whether it’s once a week or twice a week, come up with a plan for how often you want to post a video on YouTube, and stay consistent with it for at least a year.
The reality is, most people will quit YouTube before they even see success or get their first viral video. If you can stick with it and stay consistent, I do believe anyone can find success on YouTube. It does require patience, but you will have your breakout moment! For 6 months, I made a video a week and only saw slow growth. My videos were averaging about 200 views at that time. Then, right before the 6 month mark, I got my first viral video with over 20,000 views. The week after, I got my second viral video, with over 800,000 views. It will happen for you if you can stay patient and consistent!
Another tip: to truly monetize on YouTube, you also shouldn’t just rely on ad revenue alone. Only a fraction of my YouTube income comes from ad revenue–the bulk comes from affiliates and sponsorships. In that sense, I approach YouTube like a business. I am constantly seeking out opportunities for affiliates and sponsorships and not just waiting for them to come to me.
If you’re ready to get started, download my free step-by-step YouTube guide on how I grew from 0 subscribers to over $100,000 on YouTube in under a year.
Do you want to start a YouTube channel? What other questions do you have about making money on YouTube?