How to monetize your hobby and grow a personal brand.
Kayleen Babel has had tremendous success in growing her personal brand; she’s gotten a lot of success with her audience growth in a very short period of time. She’s also been able to balance a lot of really big time consuming things in her life with monetizing her hobby, as well as dealing with some mindset issues that we are going to dig into.
I’ve known Kayleen for a long time; she was an outstanding intern of mine at a previous job where I was a marketing manager. But since then, she’s gone off and done her own thing. She’s developed her own brand, and she has really big goals. AND she’s still a marketing professional as well, and just got a new full time job.
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I’d love for you to introduce yourself in your own words, and then I’m going to ask you one million questions.
Sure. Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s weird; I was thinking this morning how every time I talk to you, I feel like my life is in a very different point.
Like you said, I started as your intern; now I’m in a whole different world. But I guess the way I describe myself to most people is that I am a content creator and a dance teacher.
My content centers around dance instruction, but more recently, I’ve transitioned some of my content to be more in the wellness and mindset space. I’m trying to make it more holistic about everything that I want to talk about, not just dance. I also have a YouTube channel and a podcast.
Why Did You Become a Content Creator?
And so what made you start that? You did have a job soon after college. So why monetize your hobby and start a personal brand? What were your goals and motivation?
Well, I started my YouTube channel first. It was actually for a school project when I was in college.
I was taking a social media marketing class, so we had to do a long-form content project. A YouTube channel sounded good, because I’ve always been a little bit interested in that. I struggled, at that point, with starting something on my own without tying it to a school project – or something that I had to do – because I was so scared of people judging me for starting a channel Having that as my springboard was very helpful, because I could tell people, “Oh, I’m just doing it because it’s a school project.”
But then came a weird series of events. I was dancing a lot at the time on my college dance team. My senior year, I tore my ACL. Dance was my creative outlet, and without having that anymore, I had a lot of time on my hands. So, I kept posting videos beyond the school project; we also had to do a little bit of Instagram stuff. And so I slowly started doing more of that, too.
But then, over time. I realized that keeping everything on my personal account was confusing to people.
YouTube was slowly growing; it was doing fine, but having my Instagram be my personal account, it was so many people just followed me personally from school or life. It was becoming a mishmash of things that weren’t relevant to my audience.
So that’s when I started a whole new account, Dance with Kayleen, and it was really slow in the beginning. But reels and TikTok, in combination, were really big in helping me grow that account. And then everything else just continued to trickle up from there.
Monetize your Hobby As A Content Creator
Yeah. I love that. You had been wanting to do that for a while, and then school gave you the excuse you needed to keep it going and not feeling like a narcissist.
When did you get to the point where you started realizing oh, I can actually make a little bit of money with this?
Once I hit the threshold on YouTube where I could monetize my videos, that was probably the first time.
But even then, I wasn’t taking the monetization stuff super seriously, because the way you get paid on YouTube is so low unless you have a lot of views. I still didn’t think that was really a viable thing for me. I never expected my channel to get that big.
From there, I just kept working on my Instagram, slowly. Every once in a while, I’d get a brand partnership, and then the thought started coming into my mind: maybe if I really focused on this as my full-time gig, I would be able to grow it a lot faster, get more of these types of things, and then explore other ways to monetize. So that’s kind of the story.
Balancing A Content Business While Avoiding Burnout
How has that been going? Why take a full-time job again? I’m curious.
Well, it is a mix of things.
Part of the reason why I am starting to branch out from just dance content is that I love dance. I also love doing it more than talking about it.
I was getting kind of burned out from just talking about dance all the time. It was making me not even want to take classes, which is weird. I don’t know why that happened, but I feel like it almost started to take the spark and the joy away from the art because I was focusing it on it all the time.
And, some of it is little other things. I’m working on a course right now. I also want to have other ways to monetize, with coaching and stuff like that, but I don’t want that to be my full-time thing anymore, just because it takes away the fun.
I do know that I have good marketing experience, and I’m still really interested in marketing outside of this little space that I’m in. So I figured I’d go back for a little bit and see how things go.
When I went full time with all of this, it wasn’t like I expected this to be my forever thing. I really wanted to leave my last job. That was a big piece. And I was like well, I can sustain myself on this. So I might as well just go for it. And then we see what happens. I was trying it out, seeing how I like it and who knows, maybe in the future I’ll go back and it won’t be just dance. I’ll have some other kind of business, but for now that’s where I’m at.
Growing a Business While Enjoying It
That’s really important for people to really hear. A lot of people miss this, and I think that there’s probably other content creators that really relate to this where they start to monetize a hobby because they just love doing the thing. And that’s part of why your content has been so successful because you’re really good at teaching it, but then it stole the joy away from you.
I think most people would just be like well, this is my job, so I’m going to persist anyway. And then they kind of kill the thing that was giving them joy.
You’re in a great place, because you haven’t been doing this for 20 years. You’ve been doing it for a few. But do you have any advice for people who are like, I monetized my hobby and now I don’t like the thing that I used to like, because now it’s my job?
Well, I started taking more breaks away from it, and I would do more content batching so that I had room to take a little bit of time off and completely take my brain away from the business side of things Then, just try and go to classes or even just watching YouTube of videos of people doing dances and stuff, and not having the work mode on my brain. Because I think you need space away from the business side of things to remember why it brought you joy before that.
To be honest, I’m still kind of working that out myself. I do feel like for me going back to taking more classes and also having another goal – I want to audition for an NFL cheer team – having that goal that’s not business related, it’s more just a personal thing that I want to do, but it’s still related to that thing I was passionate about, I think that is helping me move forward and keep being excited about it is just finding a new outlet for it.
Time Blocking And Consistency
I love the idea of time- time blocking and really just creating spaciousness and time away. I think it’s so easy to just not take breaks and not to have down time.
Before we move on to some of the mindset questions I have, I know that you did this just because it was fun and you still had to learn a lot of practical things to grow the Instagram account and YouTube channel. It wasn’t just like you lucked into it, you actually did have a strategy to monetize your hobby. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you grew both accounts? We don’t have to get into too much nitty gritty, but give us some high level advice to what your strategy was for going to the YouTube channel and Instagram.
On my YouTube channel, before I was able to monetize on it and before I considered it anything business related, I was posting whatever I wanted to post for fun. There were like five people that would comment on every video and if they asked for certain things, then I would make videos on those certain things. I figured that’s what my audience wants.
Also with YouTube, it was about posting consistently, posting a variety of videos. The ones that were big on my channel are my long stretching routines. Those were really successful. But I also wanted to have shorter content, so that if someone watched the stretching video, they could click through to that.
That allowed me to reach different audiences.
I could reach those people that are trying to do at-home workout type stuff, and also people who care a lot about dance. Mixing it up was helpful. And then, to be honest, it was just, two videos took off because of a matter of timing and good luck. One of them was a video I made about how to record a video for a virtual dance audition. It was right at the beginning of COVID and no one had done it yet. The video got shared in some big dance teacher Facebook groups and things. From there, my channel just started growing.
The other one was a stretching video that was mostly luck. when I say luck, it’s more that there are dance creators on YouTube, but they’re very bad at optimizing their channel. They don’t know how to use keywords and titles properly, or even thumbnails, because I found that I was able to rank on the first page of search almost every time just because I knew some of that stuff, or learned it.
On Instagram and TikTok, I created whole new accounts.
I started posting on TikTok every single day for two weeks, because I saw all these marketing people on TikTok saying that’s how you can grow fast. So I was posting every single day trying to do all of the little subtle marketing things that people don’t realize are capturing their attention, like having a really good hook in the beginning, being super clear about what the video’s going to be about and then trying to keep it fast-paced. I also tried to look at other creators that did something kind of similar, like maybe they’re in fitness but their videos were getting lots of views and kind of copying some of their techniques and then making them my own after a while.
But, with copying people, it really started to feel like work, because it was like I’m not putting my own creative spin on it anymore. I’m just following a template.
TikTok and Instagram were really about getting a little viral-ish reel or video once in a while, and then trying to keep posting normal content too, so that people understood me more. That’s one thing I’m working on now too, is incorporating myself more into the page so it’s not just dance tips over and over and over, but more about who I am so I can form a connection with my audience.
I love that you first of all started with something that was not just a skill that you had, but also a passion and an interest. And then you learned about marketing, which obviously you have a little leg up because you have a degree in marketing.
But a lot of content creators, it’s funny how bad they are at marketing.
That’s kind of how I got started: I’d been blogging for a really long time, and then I got into some blogging groups. I was like, oh wow, bloggers don’t really know about marketing. You would think that writers would know about marketing – but truly they don’t. And probably the same thing is true for the dance content. I can think of some other niches too, there’s a lot of people who get coaching certifications who are just like okay, I’ve got this certification, I’m going to go out there and get my coaching clients. But they don’t know how to create a website or how to post in an engaging way or how to use keywords. I feel like you just kind of summarize holistic business building, which is skills, interest, passion, and then actually taking time to market but making sure that it’s always authentic.
Because you can grow and be popular without being authentic, but it’s not very sustainable.
No, it’s really not. I went down that road for a little bit, especially on TikTok. Because I was like, oh this is what was doing really well and people wanted to see, but it’s okay to do those every once in a while. I understand that even these creators that I follow on YouTube that I consider are so authentic, they share so honestly about their lives, they even admit that sometimes you have to make a somewhat clickbait-y title or thumbnail or something. That’s just part of it. But you have to be very careful that within the content you’re explaining the situation and making sure people don’t take from it something different. But yeah, still staying true to yourself too is very, very, very important.
Overcoming Perfectionism when You Monetize Your Hobby
Yeah. So the biggest question I have on kind of the mindset side is about perfectionism. I don’t know if you would describe yourself as a perfectionist; I think you’ve outgrown it a little bit.
In your story, you share that you did all of these things and now you realize it wasn’t necessarily worth it. And so how did you start moving out of that? And when you were in it, how did you get out of paralysis or inaction?
This is a really good point.
I feel like I’m kind of similar to you, where in some areas of my life, I’m not a perfectionist at all. And so I was like, why is it in when I’m posting on social media or these things that seem kind of small, why am I such a perfectionist? Where is that disconnect?
I found that it was because I was worried about people’s judgment.
It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted the work itself to be perfect, but because lot of people might see this and I don’t want them to think that I’m dumb.
So, when I disconnected it and moved my Instagram and TikTok over away from all my personal people, that did help a lot because most of them don’t even follow me anymore, which is great. I’m literally talking just to the people that care about my content. That made it a lot easier.
But also, it was a really gradual over time thing. Even people I knew personally still followed me, because they’re like, I think it’s really cool what you’re doing. And it’s so brave of you to create this page and do all this. I could never do what you’re doing.
It made me realize I don’t think people actually care about it being perfect.
People are going to be inspired by this as long as the meat of the content is there, the message is right, it doesn’t matter about all these little small details or making sure I stick to a specific publishing schedule. People aren’t going to notice. And so I guess, yeah, it was two things. Kind of not worrying as much about what people think of me, and then also over time you realize that you don’t need to worry so much about the little details usually.
Yeah. I always tell my clients: we are marketers or coaches – not brain surgeons. No one’s going to die.
The Importance of High Quality Content for Building Trust
Yeah. Well, my one caveat to that is when you’re first first starting out, and you don’t have the credibility of a lot of followers or high engagement, I think it’s a little bit more important that you’re conscientious about stuff. People are going to look at it, and maybe if the content is great, then even if you don’t have a lot of followers, they’ll still follow it. Because they’re like wow, they put so much effort in this. This looks great. But if it doesn’t look so great and also you don’t have a lot of followers, you’re not giving them a lot of reasons to click the button.
Yeah. What’s really important on YouTube is to have really good content. It’s also important that it get better and better. And I also would argue that eventually everybody gets lucky. That’s the point of being consistent is-you’re consistent so that you have that one reel take off or that one YouTube video-
You can’t have 10 total videos and then one go viral and expect to get a lot of subscribers because they want to come back and be able to see that library of stuff that you have. And if it’s very sparse, then they’re just going to keep on going. So yes, you’re very right about that.
And that’s one thing: it’s hard in the beginning when you’re posting and posting and posting, and it’s not really going anywhere.
But you literally never know when one video, the timing of whatever’s happening in the universe could be right and then people start watching it and everything goes up from there.
That’s how that video I made about auditions took off – which, now that I’m thinking back on it, I didn’t even really want to post. It was the coach of the college team I was on, she’s like hey, that’d be a really good idea. I think it would help a lot of the girls.
I did it super fast, gave my general advice and then it took off. So yeah, it’s also good I would say in terms of any content you’re creating to do a good mix of content that you’re spending a lot of time on and being more of a perfectionist, and then some that’s just thoughts and ideas that come to your mind in the shower and you can make quickly. Sometimes those take off really fast too.
I am excited to keep following you, and go ahead and tell us where the best places are to follow you now.
Sure. So my YouTube is just my name, Kayleen Babel. My Instagram and my TikTok are @dance.with.kayleen. And then, my podcast is called The Curious Dancer Podcast. And I think that’s everything. My website, kayleenbabel.com, but there’s not really anything there except for you can book coaching with me if you’re interested.
Yeah. Awesome. And then when is your course coming out? And your course, tell us a little bit about your course.
Yeah. My course is going to be foundations of dance technique for dancers who are interested in contemporary, modern and jazz. It will be the very foundational level of what you need to be in a beginner class or to even learn online combos. And so that will be coming out at the end of this month. It will be on my website, but of course, I’ll be sharing all about it on social media too.