social media | Mar 20, 2024 |
Want your own show? Here’s how one creator built a media company on YouTube

In Ask an Influencer, Business of Home explores the creator economy. This week, we spoke with content creator @alexandragater.

Two weeks before she got laid off, Alexandra Gater was on top of the world. At the time, she was the home editor of Canadian women’s magazine Chatelaine—but her path to the position was a winding one. After studying journalism and studio art in college, she nabbed an internship that turned into a string of jobs there. As the publication pivoted to video, she helped lead the transition, executing a yearlong video series about decorating small spaces on a budget.

One of the last episodes ended up going viral, and as the videos gained traction online, so did Gater’s personal following on social media. “It felt like I had cracked the code,” she says. “Like all of my dreams were coming to life.” But just as quickly, the floor fell out from under her: In 2018, a few weeks after the viral hit, Gater was let go alongside several others.

“I thought, ‘How am I ever going to do this on my own?’ We had a team of videographers, all the equipment was there, I was backed by this huge brand,” says Gater. “Suddenly I was out on my own.”

That same year, with the help of a few fellow laid-off peers, Gater set out to make lightning strike twice on social media with the launch of her own YouTube channel centered on the process of offering home makeovers to residents across Toronto. It didn’t take long to recapture the magic: Today, she has 708,000 subscribers on the platform and 191,000 followers on Instagram.

Here, she tells BOH how she leveraged YouTube as a source of passive income, why hiring a COO brought structure to her team’s workflow, and how a new feature fosters a deeper connection with her most dedicated fans.

A dining nook by Gater
A dining nook by GaterCarla Antonio Photography

What was your trajectory toward building a following?
For the first couple months, I realized that people were coming back to watch the videos I created for the magazine, and I knew that I had to ride that momentum. Right away, I started my new channel, but I knew that I needed a management team or agency to help me. I had no idea what a career on YouTube meant—I was very much in the dark because I’d been working in publishing for so long. I met this amazing team in the influencer marketing world, and for the first few months, I was just creating content and writing articles on the side to make money, and I was given a couple of opportunities to do a small series.

I was able to gain subscribers quite quickly, and even though the channel was monetized, I wasn’t making a ton of money through Google AdSense. About six months in, I was feeling really defeated because I knew in order to make these videos bigger and better, I needed a whole team of people. So, I called the influencer network I was with and said, “I think I’m going to quit YouTube; it’s just not making money.” The day after I made that phone call, I landed a huge deal. It was $20,000, which, at the time, was insane for me—I could never, ever have dreamed of making that much money. That funded the next six months of my YouTube career, until the next opportunity presented itself.

Are you still with that influencer network?
I left last year, but they were such a huge, instrumental part of me getting started and building my brand and getting opportunities and brand deals. But recently I moved to a management team in the U.S. to expand opportunities outside of Canada.

When did you find a content strategy that worked for you?
My channel grew so much in 2020 during the pandemic, but I still needed to hire—at the time, a creative producer and an editor were the only full-time members on my team. It was like, “OK, I am now employing two people, money is coming in, I’m set up as a corporation.” But it wasn’t until 2022 that I felt like I knew which videos were going to do really well or what people wanted to see from me. It took about five years to find the structure and the people to make these videos come to life.

When did you start hiring again, and how did you know which roles you wanted to establish?
Honestly, a lot of the people that are on my team now, I had worked with at the magazine—we had all been let go at the same time. James, my editor, was an editor at Chatelaine; Carla, my videographer, was in the video department. I’ve always known that the videos I’m creating are different from a lot of other YouTubers out there—we’re creating an HGTV-level production with a crew in tiny spaces, so I knew that I had to have a contractor or handyperson on my team. I also knew I had to have a creative producer, and I really had to have someone to handle the business side of things, so it evolved from [those needs].

A lot of people on the team also have television backgrounds—Amanda, my COO, previously worked in TV, but she also went to business school. She actually worked at the influencer agency I had signed with originally, and she approached me and was like, “I think what you’re doing is so cool, and I’d love to be on your team.” A few of the other team members went to film school, so we have a very eclectic mix of people who have done different things in the industry and have all come together in this really beautiful way.

What does the workflow look like with such a big team?
When we’re shooting makeovers, we have a call sheet—we’re going hour by hour—and Amanda runs the whole production of the day. We definitely operate in the same way you would on a TV set—I’m not filming these videos in my bedroom, sitting on my bed talking to a camera; it’s very structured. We have a specific workflow: The footage gets shot that day; then it goes to a junior editor who does a timeline; and then it goes through our senior editor, James, who is amazing at creating a story and bringing out the entertainment factor in these videos. It’s turned into [something where] even if you don’t love home decor, people still come to watch the videos for that entertainment factor.

What has it been like to bring a COO on to your team?
Amanda is honestly the secret to how I was able to grow my business so quickly and take it to the next level. I was finding that I couldn’t focus on the creative aspect of my business because I was constantly taking calls with people and trying to put out fires, handling all of my brand deals myself. Scheduling, creating call sheets—that’s just not something I’m good at, and it’s not something I’m familiar with. Amanda had worked on Big Brother and Top Chef and all of these amazing TV productions, and now she really handles the day-to-day of running the business—the finances, paying contractors, sending out contracts, managing the schedule, and then also being on set and keeping us organized.

A bedroom with a bubblegum pink bed frame pops agains a textured wall
A bedroom with a bubblegum pink bed frame pops agains a textured wallCarla Antonio Photography

What are the different aspects of your business?
The videos are monetized, so we make money on AdSense, and now that I’ve been doing this for five years, I’ve also built up this catalog of videos that are bringing in [revenue] constantly. It’s a big library of content that’s just making money perpetually. I upload two to three times a month, but we increase that in the fall because AdSense [income potential] is higher since a lot of brands are spending money. Then, of course, brand deals: Brands are either sponsoring the videos or sponsoring social campaigns on Instagram. And then there are other opportunities that come up—I’m working on something now where I’m hired by a production company that was hired by a brand, and I’m creating content for [the] brand’s YouTube channel. I also wrote a book last year, which brought in a lot of revenue, and I just started an e-commerce brand called Pom’d Marketplace.

Do you offer design services?
For the YouTube channel, those are all gifted makeovers: We pick the recipients and pay for all of the labor; they leave and then come back to a brand-new space. This was something I really struggled with at the beginning of building this channel—[not only] having money to fund the videos, but also people would approach me [about a makeover], and I would say, “I can do this for you, but you will have to pay for certain pieces of furniture—other pieces I can get donated by brands or gifted.”

I quickly realized that wasn’t a great process because it took out the surprise element of the makeover, which is such a big factor in the entertainment value of the channel. It also didn’t give me full creative control or the opportunity to do what would look good on camera and make a beautiful before-and-after. We now get all the furniture donated or gifted by brands that are really excited about being in the videos, so we always link them in the description box or give them a shoutout, or share photo deliverables after the fact that they can use on social media. It’s something I built up over a long period by making meaningful relationships with these brands to make it enticing for them.

Do you have a content schedule?
We would not be able to do what we do without a content schedule. We have our videos planned up until August of this year, and we already have sponsors tied to those videos, so we have to shoot at specific times. Also, everyone has to leave their homes in order for us to do these makeovers, so we can’t change the date at the last minute. It’s really like shooting on a big production—we run the exact same way.

How do you interact with your audience?
We have recurring jokes we make in videos, and it’s so fun and heartwarming to see when people reference those funny moments and tag me on Instagram, where I can interact with them directly. Or I’ll get questions on Instagram and I can quickly reply. On YouTube, we also have a paid-membership page where I do a live video with my contractor Graham every month, which is such a fun way to connect with my viewers, answer questions and share behind-the-scenes [experiences] with them. It’s just so cool to feel like people are connected to us and the team.

A serene kitchen with ice blue cabinetry
A serene kitchen with ice blue cabinetryCarla Antonio Photography

What do you do when you’re stuck for content ideas?
On social media, I feel like you constantly have to reinvent yourself and put out fresh ideas and content. As a person who loves design, I have a very specific style. If it was up to me, I would use the same three paint colors in every space, but I learned quite quickly that my viewers want to see new styles. My creative producer and I collaborate constantly on how we can take a style and make it our own.

My main way of getting inspired is just to be challenged and ask my makeover recipient: “What style are you drawn to?” If it’s a style that I’m not particularly confident in, those are the best videos, because I’m able to be challenged and push myself creatively.

What’s the biggest challenge for you on social media right now?
My goal has always been to reach a group of people who have been so underserved when it comes to home decor and interior design. The reason I started this channel in the first place was that I’m not an interior designer but I still want to have a beautiful space. So how can we do that? I live in Toronto. I grew up here, and owning a home is not a reality for the majority of the people who live in the city. Whether they rent or they’re buying, my goal has always been to empower people to live in a beautiful space.

The other thing that I’m perpetually going to struggle with is being a business owner and having to adapt constantly to the changing landscape of social media and balance expressing my creativity with running a business 9-to-5. Something that’s been really hard has been giving up a lot of that creative control to other people on my team, because I don’t have time for everything. Personally, [the challenge is] being OK with that and accepting that my role is to be a leader and an entrepreneur and employing people versus sitting at my desk and mood-boarding all day.

It’s a really big shift for me, but one that’s so rewarding and something I never, ever thought I would be doing. It’s been such an exciting journey. Sometimes I look around and I’m like, “Wait, what is my place in this organization?” Because it has evolved so much, and my job now is not what it was five years ago. But I think at the heart of it, my job is to show up and to lead a team of amazing people and host the show.

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