Nia Wellman and Ayanna Bozeman (above) have managed to start their own moneymaking businesses before graduating college — through YouTube.
Wellman, 20, from Lithonia, Georgia, started making silly videos with her cousin and has managed to grow her YouTube channel to more than 94,000 subscribers. Most of the videos on her channel, Nia Imani, are tutorials on how to style natural African-American hair. The inspiration came from her own struggles to find other African-American women with her hair type on YouTube.
"I wanted to show girls who have hair like mine how to do their hair," said Wellman.
Natural-hair tutorials have grown over the past few years. Meechy Monroe, an African-American hair guru who was seen as a pioneer in raising this issue through social media, had more than 50,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel before passing away tragically from brain cancer.
Natural hair has become a big trend as more African-American women are starting to embrace their natural kinks. Nia Wellman is now one of many natural-hair gurus on YouTube. She is now making as much as $1,000 a month from her YouTube channel and has quit her student job to focus all of her energy on her new venture.
"I think after I graduate I'm not going to have a job job. If YouTube goes the way I want it to go for me, I'll probably just do YouTube," Wellman said.
Milwaukee resident Ayanna Bozeman, 20, started off doing "vlogs" — blogs in video form — just for fun. Her channel, Ayanna Alexis, encourages viewers to embrace who they are while living life to the fullest with a positive mind-set. As her channel took off, she started doing more reviews and taking part in more YouTube challenges to raise her profile.
While there are many vloggers on YouTube inviting the world into their network of family and friends, Bozeman thinks the determination and confidence she displays is what has attracted a following of more than 27,000 subscribers.
"Be yourself, stay confident, and never let your light dim, because success is not an option but a way of life," said Bozeman.
The two young YouTube channel entrepreneurs still plan to graduate college, but as far as post-graduation plans, they are open to turning YouTube into a full-time job.
They didn't get to this point just by sitting in front of a camera. They had to follow a set of rules to start making money from YouTube. Here are their tips for new YouTubers hoping to get on the path to YouTube channel profitability.
Both Bozeman and Wellman struggled to grow their audience in the early days of their YouTube channels.
"It was frustrating. I'm putting work into recording videos, vlogging and editing, and I would only get like 30 to 50 views," Bozeman said.
Consistency quickly became Bozeman's go-to strategy for her channel.
"You have to have a schedule of when you post videos. I try to post at least two videos a week, so people are expecting more content from me. Because if you post one video and then you leave for a month, people are going to lose interest in your page," Bozeman said.
Wellman didn't reach the point of making more than $1,000 a month from paid sponsorships and partnerships by spending a lot when she started out. And to this day, she tries to only spend money on her channel when she deems it necessary for her audience.
"Say I want to film a tutorial that I think will be super helpful, like a beauty tutorial, or if I want to buy a beauty product. On average I might spend $30 maximum, and if that video receives enough views, I definitely think the amount I make will outweigh what I spent," Wellman said.
In order to make money on YouTube — which is under the Alphabet corporate umbrella — you have to enable your channel for monetization and connect your channel to an AdSense account in order to get paid for monetized videos.
Wellman, who has more than 7 million views on her videos, tries to stray away from using too many ads.
"I don't like to be excessive, because to me that just screams I want YouTube money," Wellman said.
Wellman determines the type of YouTube advertising she uses by the length of the video she is posting.
"If my video is over 10 minutes, I'll use two ads. If it's a video within the 10-minute span, I'll use one ad before the video," she said.
Both Wellman and Bozeman use additional social media platforms to drive subscriber growth, including Instagram and Snapchat.
"I would go on my Instagram and Snapchat to be like, 'Hey, go watch my video,'" Bozeman said.
Wellman often posts pictures of her natural hairstyles on her Instagram page in order to promote her upcoming hair tutorials.
These other social media platforms can become moneymakers, too. For promotional posts on Instagram, Wellman makes $500.
They also both use collaboration, the process of making a YouTube video with another YouTuber in order to gain exposure.
Bozeman recently did a collaboration with LavishRuby, which involved a giveaway for people who subscribed to both of their YouTube channels. LavishRuby is another African-American vlogger, who has 14,545 subscribers.
"I'll have them send me a clip of their video, and I'll put their clip in my video, and they'll put a clip of my video in their video. Then their subscribers will go check out my page," Bozeman said.
After a year of being active on both social media and YouTube, Bozeman didn't have to reach out to sponsors — they reached out to her.
"My first sponsorship was a hair company. They sent me hair and told me that they wanted me to do a review. At that time, I didn't charge, since it was my first sponsorship, and I was just so happy that someone was sending me free hair," Bozeman said.
She now receives emails from sponsors daily and makes $220 for a dedicated video review and $50 to shout out a product — that's when a YouTuber tells their audience to go check out the product but the majority of the video is unrelated.
"You have to pick and choose what you want to be sponsored with and what you want to do with it," Bozeman said.
Wellman makes more than $400 for each dedicated review and says she often uses Famebit, which is a site where YouTube channels can search for sponsors. "Sometimes I will reach out to brands that may not have seen my content," she said, adding she also keeps her business email on social media, which generates sponsorship inquiries.
Wellman has done reviews on UNice Hair, EcoStyler and products from The Mane Choice. Both YouTube entrepreneurs say there is a downside to every product. Bozeman emphasizes doing your own research and testing a product before agreeing to review it. "If I honestly truly don't like the product, I won't review it," she said.
Within reviews, she makes sure to give her audience an honest opinion about the product, careful not to sugarcoat. "I try to give the pros and cons so that it's genuine and realistic," she said.
Bozeman and Wellman are always wary of scammers: After some success, YouTubers often start to attract third-party marketing companies that promise to grow their channel. While some are legitimate and work with well-established media and content brands, others could be scams.
"I always like to get a second opinion," Bozeman said.
Any email solicitation promising to scale your channel and asking you to enter your credit card information should be scrutinized, and for new YouTubers it's probably best to err on the side of not trusting the third-party sales pitch.
Many established YouTubers have high-quality cameras such as the Canon T5i or Canon 70D. However, both Wellman and Bozeman said starting out with an expensive camera is not necessary.
"You want something that's going to give you a decent video but you don't have to go out and get a $10,000 camera. There's no need for that, especially if you're a beginner," Bozeman said.
There are several options that aspiring YouTubers can turn to if they don't have enough money for an expensive camera. For one, YouTubers can use their phone or a webcam.
Many big-time YouTubers — such as Eva Gutowski, who has more than 8 million subscribers on her channel MyLifeAsEva — started with their webcam.
Wellman long had her heart set on the Canon 70D, which retails for around $800 (the Canon T5i is a little less expensive), so she decided to make a few sacrifices.
"I traded in one of my old cameras, and I'm financing it. So I pay for it every month, and my quality has upgraded because of my purchasing a new camera. If you can afford a new camera, go for it," Wellman said.
YouTubers can get too caught up in the amount of subscribers or income they are generating and lose sight of the real reason they created a channel in the first place.
"For a while I got stuck on the fact that my channel wasn't growing as fast as other people's. Now I feel like I'm just enjoying my journey and taking my time, because it's more than just a number," Wellman said.
Wellman says her YouTube experience became more positive once she realized it wasn't the number that appears next to her subscriber button that matters most, but the fact that she has the ability to use her platform to touch others.
"A lot of people have told me that I inspire them to go natural and go to college — both things that they thought they would never be able to do," Wellman said. "Don't get so stuck on the YouTube numbers. ... Realize that being on a social media platform can be so much larger than that."
Wellman agreed, adding: "Be consistent, and the money will roll in."
— By Lexie Carmon, special to CNBC.com