Though now a beloved online makeup educator and YouTube star, Marlena Stell spent years working as a high school music teacher before posting makeup tutorials to YouTube. Growing interest in her YouTube channel, MakeupGeekTV, led Marlena to not only launch her own makeup store, but also transition full time to her Makeup Geek business. She now manages a thriving business combining friendly education and inspiration with beautiful makeup products.
Below Marlena shares aspects of her videos that gave them a competitive edge in the competitive world of YouTube, the factors that lead her to quit her steady day job, her experience with starting a store and selling products online, and advice for those who would like to follow in her professional footsteps.
What do you think it is about your makeup tutorials that gave them an edge and make them stand out?
I keep my tutorials professional, but also make sure that this is combined with personal touch. I am also lucky to have a background in teaching, so I understand how people learn and can apply this knowledge to my tutorials. I really do genuinely love teaching others, and am very passionate about making women feel beautiful. I think this all comes across in my videos and contributes to their success.
What was the tipping point that made you feel ready to quit your job as a high school band class teacher and work on Makeup Geek full time?
I still wanted to teach, but also wanted to help women feel confident and beautiful. I felt more passionate about doing this through makeup. Even though my initial earnings weren’t the same, I was much happier because I was doing something I truly loved.
What was the initial motivation behind starting the Makeup Geek store? How did you decide on online tools to use to create your store?
I was continually promoting other brands, giving them tons of exposure and not seeing any kind of compensation for this – this motivated me to look at how I could generate a secondary income stream alongside my YouTube channel.
Nick (my ex-husband & business manager) had some experience with operating an online store, so his experience helped determine what choices we made. We chose WordPress, which is open source, great for content management, bolstered with great support, and made incredibly versatile through the variety of plugins and add-ons one can choose. For the store, most of the existing software was outdated and didn’t offer many modern capabilities. Magento was relatively new, was also open source, and had a clean, modern look that was really ideal for a new, growing business.
Has the Makeup Geek store always been a more lucrative source of income than your videos, or has video ad revenue (now, or at any point) been a significant source of funds?
Up until we launched the cosmetics line, the ads and the store were pretty even. It has fluctuated from time to time depending on special deals with ad networks. However, in the past couple years, the store revenue has really taken over. Now, ad revenue is a decent-sized chunk of our overall revenue, but we are becoming less dependent on it. Because of this, I have been able to spend more time developing products and networking. This is great, as I get a break from the pressure of continually having to turn out new content.
In the early days, did you do anything special to promote your videos or shop? Would you recommend online ads or heavy social media involvement to other fledgling shop owners and video personalities, or do you think it is more important that one focus on creating the best store/products and videos possible?
Definitely creating the best products and content is important, but staying current on all trending social platforms plays a key role in gaining a larger audience, plus an inexpensive way to promote your products. If you have quality products, word-of-mouth will bring you in more customers, and this also builds a community of trust – we’ve never spent a single dollar on traditional advertising.
What advice might you give to those who are contemplating starting a business with a significant other? Does going into business with a friend or romantic partner have any particularly strong benefits or drawbacks?
The benefits are that you can work together as a team as long as your strengths are in different areas. Or as long as they complement each other. The drawbacks are that it is a strain on the relationship because you are with that person all the time and your work and personal lives get blended together.
My advice is to make sure your bond is really strong and that you keep separate interests to balance the work/relationship blend.
Did you decide independently to begin making and selling your own makeup, or were you approached by several labs? What do you recommend other shop owners look for in trustworthy vendors?
I always knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a makeup line and I visited several labs before deciding which one to work with. I recommend visiting each lab in person to see and review the quality of their work. Additionally, one of the most important aspects of a quality vendor are its sales and account reps. It’s hard to know if you have a good rep until you start dealing with them, but having a quality rep is very important! Other then that, you want a vendor that makes quality products, has fast turnaround, is patient, and makes you feel important regardless of how big (or small) your business is.
When would you recommend to other online shop owners and content creators that they hire staff members (e.g. to help with order fulfillment, filming, photography, etc.)?
It really depends on your needs – if you are feeling overwhelmed and can’t produce quality work without the help of others, then it’s time to hire staff. Having staff to help out with the more “routine” tasks gives you the chance to work on the tasks you’re are best at or that you really want to take the time to focus on. My business manager recommends these books that go along with this topic: “The E-Myth Revisited” and “The 4-hour Workweek.”
For those who want nothing more but to follow in your footsteps and create their own successful online presence and company, what short (the first days) and medium-term (the first year) tactics would you recommend?
Short term: Focus on quality content or work; word of mouth will take off if you are producing good work.
Medium term: Focus on getting as much content up as possible and promoting your work through every social platform as possible.