We all go into content creation sometimes thinking that we have to have X number of followers to make a living, and I think that just isn’t the case.
A model, TV host, and sneaker YouTuber, Marissa Hill has carved a unique niche at the intersection of fashion x sneaker culture with her brand, ShadeTV, and is paving the way for women in the sneaker game.
Her approach to launching ShadeTV and the way she extracts value from every one of her YouTube videos are masterclasses for anyone looking to learn how to think about the business of content creation.
Marissa first started taking content creation seriously as a model.
One day, I just was like, "What if I tried doing well on Instagram? I'm just going to consistently post on here and I'm going to post good images."
It was a game changer. I started working with all these makeup brands, hair brands, getting paid more than I was getting paid modeling.
And I was just like, "What have I been doing? I've been doing this all wrong."
That experience prepared her for COVID shutting down the modeling industry — she knew that pivoting to becoming a Creator presented even bigger opportunities.
Marissa knew she wanted to make content in the sneaker space, and that there weren’t many female sneakerhead Creators out there.
She approached launching ShadeTV the way an MBA might craft a business plan:
She started with a market analysis, to understand her competition, alternatives to her offering, and opportunities to differentiate:
Is there a female audience out there that cares to watch a female sneakerhead?
Or if not a female audience, are there men out there interested in watching a female talk about sneakers?
How do my video formats compare to other guys who have been out there for decades?
I really wanted to jump into YouTube as a new Creator, not just as a female, but somebody who was creating different types of content that didn't already exist - because what's the point in copying people?
She then developed a product (content) offering based on her unique selling point (USP) - the thing that made her both different from the competition (existing sneakerhead Creators) and appealing to a specific audience segment (female sneakerheads):
I started by adding a fashion element into my niche of sneakers, which was my background already - I come from the fashion side of things. I really wanted to incorporate that into how I would do unboxings on sneakers.
She set clear, achievable goals for her first year:
I set some goals - how many subscribers I wanted to have, and if I wanted to get sponsorships.
That was a goal early on - I really wanted to get a small sponsor at the start. It didn't need to be a Nike or an Adidas, but just someone who believed in me and wanted to grow organically with our channel as well.
It worked - she signed her first long-term brand deal with just 3000 subs, because the clarity of her vision and strategy allowed her to make the most of a chance meeting with the CEO of K-Swiss.
I never knew that you could land a sponsorship at 3000 subscribers. There's no way I would have thought that any brand or company would want to partner with a smaller creator like myself.
That was just an eye-opener. I thought: “If I can do it at this number, I can't even imagine what I can do at 10K, 15K, 20K, growing and moving up.”
Today, Marissa applies this business-savvy mindset in a different, but equally clever way: she generates multiple streams of revenue from each piece of content.
Her YouTube channel drives her business, with brand deals making up 60% of her revenue. That means 40% of her revenue - a hefty chunk - comes from 3 monetization tactics that are in play for every video she releases:
Par for the course - AdSense is the bread and butter of YouTube.
AdSense is amazing because it is passive income. You're basically going and doing whatever it is in your life, and your videos are making money on the backend.
Marissa’s content features expensive products (sneakers), so getting a piece of those sales can make a real impact on revenue per video.
Maybe you're looking at a video that didn't do so well. Say it got 100 views, and I'm talking about a sneaker. Two people watch that video and then spend a thousand dollars each.
If I was making an affiliate fee…It would take maybe 10 million views on a video to make that amount from AdSense alone, versus me making, say, 20% off of those sales.
There's just so many robust ways you can link products on YouTube now. Their shoppable shelves that they've got now are incredible. I've been waiting for something like this because, for somebody like me who is so product-driven, it's very important that there's some way for whoever's coming across that content to be able to find and buy the products I'm talking about.
The sneaker industry is unique because high-value sneakers are often limited, and they sell out almost instantly. As a result, early knowledge of what’s coming and early access to drops are prized by sneakerheads, which makes paying for early access to Marissa’s videos worthwhile for many of her fans.
Memberships are also a big source of income for me…With the brand partnerships that I have now, especially getting early products, I want my viewers to have early access to seeing those videos first. That’s a big part of what we offer in my memberships.
Marissa’s website, Shade Studios, hosts a number of editorial articles that also include her YouTube videos. The site gets views through search traffic (people searching for sneakers), and then funnels that traffic to her YouTube channel while capturing revenue along the way through affiliates.
They've got simple templates that you can pick and choose from, and I just saw a template that really worked with what we wanted.
Linktree is something that I've seen a lot of Creators use. The formatting is pretty simple.
Membership - YouTube Channel Memberships
Some people like using memberships off of YouTube, but I like to stay on the platform itself - it just makes it easier for me.
Community - YouTube Community Tab
The Community tab on YouTube is exceptional.The amount of impressions that we get on there is insane, for still images and polls and things like that. We always utilize the Community tab as much as we possibly can…it keeps the conversation going, but it's also circulating back into our content that we're posting.
Affiliates - YouTube Shopping Shelf + LTK (LikeToKnowIt)
They're a bit better with linking things on platforms like Instagram, because Instagram is not fully transparent. If you are making money off of products, they don't show you that data. You have no clue - if you're posting a photo, did I push somebody to buy this product? There's no way to link and track that very well.
Like To Know It is what we like to use to embed on our website, but we can also connect that with Pinterest and with Instagram so that we know if somebody is purchasing something.
Project Management - Google Calendar
I like to work with a backwards calendar - start at the end of the coming year and just carve out what is going on from December all the way backward to January. Then we fill in the board with what's going on each month.
Communication - Discord + WhatsApp
Video Production - Sony A7S III + Sony FS7 + Sony Vlog Cam + DGI mini cam + Yeti Mic + Aperture Lighting + Gorilla Pod + Shure Mics + Adobe Premiere and After Effects + Ronin gimbals + ProGrade memory cards + SanDisk solid state drives
For me, it's just the way that the layout is - it's very simplified and easy for me to use.
Content Distribution - Direct to platform
Sometimes, when you use those aggregator systems, it'll flag something - for instance, on Instagram - and then your account gets red flagged. It's more work to have to go and fix that type of problem than it is to just individually post per platform.
Operations - Preditor + Intern + Writers
Alfred [my business and creative partner] is the man behind the camera, he pretty much does a majority of all the editing. He does all the filming, the photography, and does a lot of the backend work…
We're just a group of friends. They're just doing this because we enjoy it, you know. We have a team of seven writers in total for the editorial side of things right now.
Representation - Octagon + Muse Models + Viral Nation
Marissa is represented by several agencies in several areas:
Agencies can be quite territorial, so balancing multiple can be quite difficult. She’s pretty practical about it:
They work in conjunction with each other - all of my agents do. I keep them all informed on all the different projects we're working on, and if there's any piggybacking or ways that they can help each other, we’re pretty transparent with each of them.
At the end of the day, you want to find agents who just care about your success, where doing whatever it takes for you to be successful is their main priority.
That's all you can really ask for out of agencies.
Relevant Previous Interviews
I write about the Creator Economy on LinkedIn through the lens of my 15 years as a Creator, agent, manager, marketer, producer, and executive at companies like Patreon, Wheelhouse, and WME.
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