After getting rejected by more than 15 medical schools, 29-year-old Charlie Chang decided to start his online teaching and content creation business. In 2014, I was fresh out of college and thought I had my life all planned: Go to medical school, get a six-figure job as a doctor, and make my parents proud.
None of that worked out. I realized I hated blood and needles and got rejected by more than 15 medical schools. My parents weren’t so happy. From 2014 to 2019, I took on tutoring side hustles, did some modeling gigs, started a drop shipping business, and worked as a real estate agent. But nothing was consistent in earning me a steady income stream.
After several business attempts, I finally found something that worked: Posting financial advice on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. In 2021, my content creation business brought in $1.5 million in revenue — and my mom stopped sending me job listings.
How I built a $1.5 million-per-year business
I had been posting on YouTube since 2006, but the content was random and inconsistent. So I decided to stick with the topic that excited me the most: money. Growing up in a painfully frugal family, I was always interested in finding ways to be more thoughtful about earning, saving, and investing. In 2018, I created a new YouTube channel dedicated to financial advice. I posted almost every day, as well as on Instagram and TikTok.
My first few videos received around a dozen views each, half of which were from my mom. I still earned most of my money through odd jobs and side hustles. But in April 2020, about a month after Covid-19 has declared a pandemic, I noticed a spike in interest in stimulus-related content. That month, I posted 20 YouTube videos about the stimulus and relief efforts. One of my videos went viral — earning me $10,078 in ad revenue and 30,300 subscribers.
I posted 19 videos in May and made $15,791 in ad revenue. And in June, I landed my first sponsorship deal with Foundr, an online education company; they paid me $250 to create one TikTok post. I continued to experiment with different types of video content to see what was most effective in growing my audience and attracting interest from brands.
By November, after securing another partnership deal and reaching around 200,000 subscribers, I launched my first online course teaching people how to start their own successful YouTube channels. In 2021, I added affiliate marketing to my income streams. I made $86,000 in January, then scaled to an average of $150,000 per month in 2021.
How to build multiple income streams
Today, I have over 650,000 YouTube followers. So far this year, I’ve made about $197,700 per month via five income streams — several of which create passive income. At one point, I made $245,000 in a month. What I love about the business I’ve built is that I can choose when and where to work. Some days I’ll work zero hours; others, I’ll put in 12 hours. On average, I work 35 hours per week. Here’s how I built each of my income streams:
1. Affiliate marketing: 40% of monthly income
I earn a commission for promoting another brand’s product or services with affiliate marketing. I post affiliate links in the descriptions of my YouTube videos and on my website, then get paid each time someone is directed to a brand’s product page or makes a purchase. To make passive income through affiliate marketing, you must include links to targeted content in a niche people are searching for. This can lead to clicks for months, even long after you’ve posted.
For example, I link to captions based on popular search terms, which I find using the Google Trends tool. I get most of my affiliate deals through partnership management platforms like Impact Radius, Partnerstack, and Share-A-Sale. Creators with any audience size can use these websites to find and join affiliate link programs.
2. Brand sponsorships: 25% of monthly income
With brand sponsorships, companies essentially pay me to mention them in one of my videos or on my website. Brands typically reach out to me via the email address on my YouTube profile, but I also work with agencies like Spacestation to secure more sponsorships. Finding a niche helped me grow a loyal and authentic audience, which has been crucial to my success. I answered Covid19-related finance questions that no one else was addressing. Then I took the concepts with the highest audience engagement and ran with them.
Find your niche by asking: What is a specific problem that I can solve with my story and unique knowledge? Understand the ins and outs of your audience, like their age, location, and general interests. During the negotiation process, remind brands why that audience is valuable to them.
3. YouTube ads: 25% of monthly income
I make another quarter of my income from YouTube Adsense ads that appear before or during my YouTube videos. To join this program, you must have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months. Once you’re part of the program, it’s important to post consistently and create videos based on what your audience responds well to.
4. Online course sales: <5% of monthly income
My “6-Figure YouTube Academy” and “Personal Brand Masterclass” courses are hosted on Kajabi. These courses took months of planning, research, filming, and editing. For YouTube Academy, I outlined what I would teach in each video using Notion, an online workspace organization tool, then created slides to play during each video on Keynote. It took me a week to film more than a hundred videos, which I edited using Final Cut Pro X. I organized my videos on Kajabi and started to market the course on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. I don’t spend any money on advertisements.
5. Coaching: <5% of monthly income
I meet with clients one-on-one to discuss how to make their businesses more successful. This is a great way to connect with my audience and get to know them individually.My coaching sessions are done via Zoom, allowing me to meet with anyone from anywhere worldwide. I charge $500 per 60-minute session.
Recently, I started building StartupWise, a resource platform for new businesses and entrepreneurs. I’m also working on a company called Side Hustle Mastery and its complementary newsletter called Hustle Club.
Charlie Chang is a content creator and serial entrepreneur whose mission is to educate people on personal finance and entrepreneurship. He is a UCLA graduate and founder of startups. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube.