If you’re a naturalista, chances are you’re familiar with the MahoganyCurls brand. There’s also a high possibility you’ve stalked her on at least one of her social media pages for #HairGoals and styling tips.
When looking at Jessica Lewis’ rise from a virtually unknown YouTube contributor to now one of the most recognizable naturlistas and vloggers in the hair community, success for Lewis, known to the world as MahoganyCurls, was a coincidental happenstance. In 2008 the wife and military mom began to document her natural hair journey post the big chop, as a means to share her story and hopefully inspire others. Little did she know her pastime would soon elevate her to a social media phenomenon and the hair behind a budding empire now tied to major brands.
From styling tutorials and hair health, to a guest blogger for Essence.com and her most recent YouTube page, Lewis Love and Family, a lifestyle channel that chronicles the weekly happenings of her family life, the MahoganyCurls brand now has more than half a million followers and throngs of dedicated fans.
So what does it take to build a brand, amass millions of YouTube views and distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other hair bloggers, all while maintaining a work/life balance? Loaded question, but Jessica Lewis has the answers that have proved successful for her. She took a moment to speak with Adore Colour to discuss how she transformed her pastime into passion and profit.
When did you know your YouTube channel had the potential to become a viable brand?
I had that moment when I began to notice a lot of people following me [online]. It started at 500, then 1,000, and then all of a sudden I had a T-shirt company contact me to ask if I would wear their shirt because of my following. I thought, “Wow, oh my goodness. People really like like what I do.” And from that, I thought maybe I could do more with this. That’s when I had my “Aha” moment.
Why do you think so many people resonated with your videos and the idea of watching someone style their own hair?
At the time I was documenting my journey and talking about things that were relevant to me. I found that a lot of people could relate to my videos, especially during that time, before natural hair had become mainstream. It was 2008/2009 and there weren’t a lot of natural hair bloggers. I think I gave viewers something to relate to. People watched and saw the process of natural hair growth and I think they were intrigued and inspired.
I compete with myself. I don’t know what the next person did…or what they’re doing behind the scenes. For me, there’s only me…Be sure to push yourself to see how you can be better. When you do that, you’re concentrating on yourself versus others. Having confidence in yourself is key to success.
How have you monetized the MahoganyCurls brand?
With YouTube I leveraged Google Ad Sense. This allows commercials to run along your video and bloggers get a portion of the revenue generated through views. When I first started uploading videos to YouTube, you had to be invited to become a partner to take advantage of Google Ad Sense. I tried to become a partner in 2010 and I got declined (I think at the time I had 5,000 subscribers). About 2 years later I got an invitation saying, “hey Jessica, we want you to be a YouTube partner.”
There are also sponsorships. Once you gain a certain number of followers, you’ll have companies approaching you to showcase their products. With sponsorships, I make sure to highlight products I truly love to use and believe in. For example, Shea Moisture. I like Shea Moisture. I love Shea Moisture. I’ve been using their products for years before they even thought of using me. I’ve learned that sponsorships work best when it is something you genuinely like or care about.
What’s your advice to others on turning their passion into profit?
Take your time. Also make sure you have a true passion for what you do. I’m starting to see a lot of people right now who aren’t passionate about their profession and aren’t doing it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for the money. When you’re passionate about something, the money will definitely follow. It’s going to come but you don’t know when so you have to be willing to take risks.
Be honest, be open and be you. You really have to be authentic and transparent. Do this and you’ll be surprised at how easy everything else will follow. To do what you love is such a blessing. We tend to dedicate so much time to our work so you have to really enjoy what you do.
Mom, husband, blog, life. What’s your work/life balance strategy?
Take your time and be organized. Focus on one thing at a time and move on to the next task when you’re done. It’s something I struggle with and am just starting to get the routine of it with the baby. Leverage calendars, planners, productivity apps, whatever works for you. There are a lot of things you can do to make your life easier, but you have to do it.
When it comes to running a blog, you have to set out a time to create content and also schedule your posts. I usually have a planning day where I plan for the week. With my videos, I know what I’m going to record a month in advance. I have to answer to myself. If I have a video due Friday, I know by Saturday or Sunday that I need to record and I also need to allow time to edit. Planning is key. Plan, plan, plan.
How do you distinguish MahoganyCurls from similar brands?
Consistency. I pretty much do my hair the same way, even when I had a TWA. Understanding the science of hair also gives my videos a strong educational component, which comes in especially helpful when I’m talking about a new product.
But again, the key is consistency and not straying too far from your core. You won’t see me do something crazy or do something that isn’t true to who I am. I don’t jump on trends, I just like to stick to what works for me. And people will see and appreciate that. I compete with myself. I don’t know what the next person did to get that number of followers or what they’re doing behind the scenes. For me, there’s only me. I challenge myself. Be sure to push yourself to see how you can be better. When you do that, you’re concentrating on yourself versus others. Having confidence in yourself is key to success.