Her seamstress mom told her to start off sewing 1,000 straight lines, but soon-to-be law-school graduate Vanessa Wilson knew she could do a little better than that. Soon she was impressing friends with her baby gear and pillow case dresses. They wanted her to sew for them, but Wilson wanted to show them how to do it themselves.
So, the Crafty Gemini—a how-to show and online pattern shop—was born.
“It’s like my little home-made business,” Wilson explains. “It’s really not that hard. You can do it. That’s what I’m trying to get them to see.”
Wilson recently turned her YouTube phenomenon and accompanying shop into an LLC, after receiving a business start-up grant from YouTube, the online video site. YouTube’s NextUp program looks to cultivate the next big thing on its site.
Wilson has more than 1 million views of her do-it-yourself sewing, quilting, crafting and cooking shows. And, the audience keeps growing.
Her viewership not only generates ad revenue from YouTube (she attracts that hard-to-get online over-45 female market), it also drives people to her blog and website, where they can purchase the sewing and quilting patterns she designs. Most of her more than 50 videos are free project tutorials, but five of them promote her patterns by including directions on how to make something, not just the measurements. She directs viewers to her website (www.craftygemini.com) at the end of these tutorials, where they can buy the patterns.
“I’ve sold thousands,” she says. “I make three times as much money selling patterns than I do off the ads on YouTube.”
Wilson spends up to two weeks creating and scanning the pattern, which is automatically emailed as a PDF to customers after they pay via Paypal.
“I only do it once and I keep making money,” she says of her “24/7” business. “I wake up every single morning and there’s money in my account that wasn’t there when I went to sleep. While [I’m] sleeping, someone on the other side of the world is watching [my] video.”
Wilson’s customer base spans the globe and includes many expatriates who want a connection to the United States, she says. Plus, her patterns are an extremely good value at $3 – $6.50, with most quilt patterns going for $12 – $17 at a store.
“I can sell it for a lot cheaper,” she says. “I have no overhead costs.”
YouTube, though, is the linchpin for Wilson’s business. It allows Wilson to connect with her clients, build an audience and provide them with valuable content. Plus, it’s the second-largest search engine after Google, which positions Wilson as an expert with content that people crave instead of just a product on a website.
“There’re tons of other people who sell PDF [patterns], but they don’t have video tutorials,” she says. “They’re like private lessons. People pause it, rewind it and replay it. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Finding a Way to Monetize
This YouTube thing began because Wilson was getting sick of having to teach different friends the same sewing skills over and over again.
“Everybody kept asking and…it was so redundant for me,” she says. “I do it for the creative aspect.”
So, her husband would videotape her and they’d put it on YouTube. Every time a friend would ask her for instructions, she just sent her a link.
“At that point, I didn’t know how to make money at this,” she says.
She was already teaching lessons in the Santa Fe College Community Education department, so she just translated those skills into her onscreen debut.
“I wasn’t that far removed from being a beginner,” she says. “I don’t assume that the viewer knows certain terminology. I just tell it like is is, as basic and simple as possible.”
Wilson had already looked into renting space to open a small sewing school on the side, she says. But the overhead expenses had ruled that out. YouTube seemed like the perfect solution and the response was overwhelming.
“Letters came from all over the world,” she says. “‘Your videos are the only ones I could follow,’” they would often remark.
Wilson’s husband told her, “These people really like you. You’re an expert to them … Let’s figure out how to make some money from this.”
That’s when she introduced the sales side of her business with the sewing and quilting patterns, she says.
Evergreen Means More Green
Her evergreen content helped her viewership continue to grow. While many YouTube videos are “of the moment,” Wilson’s instructional videos are always relevant and keep drawing a new audience.
While the process for getting ads on Youtube is complicated because it’s based on an algorithm instead of just a set number of views, Wilson was offered the opportunity to start placing ads on her content after only a few months.
Only a few weeks later, she applied for the NextUp grant program with YouTube. “I thought I had a very good chance. There were no other crafting shows in the competition,” she says.
The $35,000 grant from YouTube allowed Wilson to get some much-needed equipment, such as editing software and an Apple computer.
One purchase was a 360-degree rotating camera tripod. Back when Wilson was first starting out, she would place the video cam in her sports bra in order to get the angle she wanted on her hands.
“They need to see both your hands,” she explains. “It was really low tech, but that’s part of my style of instruction… It’s confusing if you reverse the angles, so I like to give the shots from the view of the people doing it.”
The grant helped her fund projects that will expand her viewership. Her videos are now fully captioned for her hearing-impaired viewers and she has Android and i-Phone apps. She’s also investigating how to do voiceovers in Spanish to increase her market share. She would eventually like to build her own small studio on her farmhouse property to reclaim her family’s dining room.
The NextUp program also included a trip to New York to network with other top YouTube shows. Wilson was hobnobbing with other grant recipients who had been on Youtube for three to five years. When Wilson was awarded, she had only been on for 16 or 17 months.
With all the advances Wilson has made, her early videos are starting to look a bit kitschy, she says.
“I almost feel like deleting the old ones, but my husband says, ‘That’s what got you started,’” she explains.
And the fact that an amateur video made for friends can launch a whole business should encourage other business owners to use YouTube for their businesses, Wilson says.
“Why is every single business not on YouTube?” she asks. “It’s free advertising 24/7.”
You don’t need a production crew, she says. You could demonstrate a new product or do a behind-the-scenes look at your business and then send it out via a newsletter.
It’s important to remember to not just leave it on YouTube; Wilson puts her videos on other crafting sites and blogs to increase traffic.
It’s that personal connection that has allowed Wilson to expand beyond sewing and quilting into soap-making and cooking. She plans to add organic gardenig soon.
Her husband told her to take the leap because, “It’s not your tutorials, it’s you that they love.”
And Wilson is hoping to continue to reach out to her viewers, giving them a glimpse into the lifestyle she’s creating—perhaps through books, lectures and an online or regular TV show in the future.
“I get to stay at home and do what I love,” she says. “I’m just living my dream lifestyle and teaching other people how to do it, too. You just have to take that first step.”