How This Former Makeup Artist Broke the Rules to Create a YouTube Community of More Than 2 Million

Jackie Aina's beauty tutorials for women of color have made her beloved by fans.
How This Former Makeup Artist Broke the Rules to Create a YouTube Community of More Than 2 Million
Image credit: Courtesy of Jackie Aina

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7 min read

In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.

Before Jackie Aina created her popular, NAACP Image Award-winning channel, she served in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Aina joined the army after spending two years in college studying to be a doctor, a move that would have made her Nigerian family happy, but a career choice that just wasn’t the right fit.  While she was stationed in Hawaii, she developed an interest in beauty and found that she had a real talent as a makeup artist, which landed her a job at MAC.

After Aina kept getting told at makeup counters that the trends she wanted to try wouldn’t work for her complexion, she started creating videos about the products and looks she loved that could work for anyone.

Today, Aina’s style and funny, energetic and straightforward approach to teaching have gained her a following of more than 2.2 million subscribers, which have made collaborations with makeup brands such as Artist Couture a sold out success.

Aina shared with Entrepreneur what goes into building her beauty empire.

Related: Rejected by Network TV, These 3 Women Took Their Talents to YouTube and Grew an Audience of 3.6 Million

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get your start with YouTube?

It was in the summer of 2009. I was serving in the Army Reserve and also living in Hawaii and I was also married. At that time I had a lot of time to kill. I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos, but it never dawned on me to start a channel.

When I started, I didn't even realize that what I was doing at that time was taking tutorials that Asian women and white women were doing and I was making them work for me. I would show people how to do it for their skin tone. Essentially I'm going against everything women of color are told not to do with makeup.

How much of your time do you spend on a video and what does that entail?

From the moment I sit down at my station I am online. For example if I'm doing a product review, the first thing I do is I sit on my desk. I look up the application of how to use the product. That takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Then I usually film for about an hour and a half depending on what I'm doing. The editing is anywhere from two to four hours. I'm not the type of person who can film, edit and throw it back up.

After that, the comments in the first 24 hours are the most important. I spend a lot of time responding to questions, making sure that people's concerns are met in the comments section. I may even post a teaser to the video on Snapchat or Instagram to drive traffic. The aftermath is the interactive part, tweeting about the video, asking what people thought, retweeting memes -- people love to take screenshots of my facial expressions. It’s just fun ways to continue creating momentum around the video because the first 24 hours is the most important so I try to be as interactive as possible.

How do you leverage your YouTube channel and to what extent do you monetize it?

Every video is monetized automatically. I do have in-video ads, that's super important to me. I do utilize affiliate links. If I'm talking about product I believe I absolutely should be compensated for it especially if I'm praising the product. If you think that creators shouldn't be paid for a product that they're raving about that got upwards of half million views or more, you're crazy. Although affiliate links don't generate a ton of money -- it's definitely good money -- but it's not like my main source of income. You definitely want to utilize affiliate links when and where you can.

Of course, product collaborations are always great. My highlighters that I created around last Christmas with Artist Couture was a great way to monetize. My makeup line is what I'm currently working on. That's the direction I see a lot of us moving into in the future because product collaborations are great but I think we're at a point where people want to have their own brands, which is pretty awesome.

Related: This Former Marketing Student Turned Her Knack for Life Hacks Into 6 Million YouTube Subscribers

What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?

You have to be OK with knowing that you probably aren't going to make money for a long time. And I think a lot of people get super discouraged. They just assume something's wrong. Or their content isn't good. And that's not always the case. It's just that people underestimate how many people do use YouTube overall as a platform. So you have a lot of eyes to compete for and you have to get people's attention and then you also have to keep it.

Don't be surprised if something that works for someone else does not work for you. There's no way to actually estimate, like in six months if I do this type of content I'll grow this much. You don't know what will catch on. You don't know what people will get sick of. It's trial and error. And then if something works you work the hell out of it for as long as you can, and then when people get sick of it you better find something else

What's a misconception many people have about YouTube?

That it doesn't take much talent. For me as a creator, it was frustrating [at first] because I came from the background of a professional makeup artist. [When I started] I was working for MAC and I was freelancing as well. I had a hard time understanding why some of the people in the beauty community that weren't makeup artists were getting such huge growth. I couldn't understand why people didn't want professional advice.

The more that I understood that [personality was important] I started to not knock people's hustle as much, because you can't fault someone who's playing the game. One thing I've learned is you just need to be yourself. Sometimes people underestimate how important that is. Even though YouTube is saturated, there is room for so many other people. I want people to understand that being yourself is going to take you a lot further than trying to recreate a formula that you think other people are doing.

"This one was fun to create because each lipstick I tried on brought out a different vibe and a different mood."

"I absolutely love when I get to just sit down and chat about life, or new products I’m trying out and give a little bit of vlogging and 'day in the life' after a makeup tutorial."

"I really loved collaborating with Alissa Ashley in this video and having fun while also bringing light to an issue we are both passionate about: diversity in beauty."

"Another video I did that had satirical undertones but also had a very important message behind it."

"My favorite video to make, where I get to truly just be myself, no filter, and let it all out."

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