Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Trina Espinoza wants to know how things work.
Back before she joined YouTube, the creator (who’s perhaps better known by her moniker Ms. Beautyphile) was responsible for the science behind Hollywood’s movie magic. As a software designer and color scientist working on films like Avatar and Cloverfield, her specialty was sewing together the pieces of blockbuster worlds, creating a whole from the sum of countless parts.
Espinoza didn’t mean to apply those skills to other branches of science, but a chance encounter with a layman’s chemistry book at a yard sale had her curiosity piqued. What else could she, as a barely fledgling kitchen chemist, dig into and pick apart? She settled on cosmetics, the everyday makeup products she spent dozens of dollars on that never seemed to deliver the promises of their glitzy advertising campaigns.
She started running cosmetic experiments in her home, and, as she puts it, “What’s the first thing you do when you learn something cool? You want to share it!” With her video production skills, YouTube seemed a natural place for Espinoza to share her content dissecting both beauty products and myths from a science angle.
Nowadays, Espinoza uploads each week — and unlike the majority of our previous Creators Going Pro featurees, she creates those weekly videos around the hours her current day job as a contract software designer and writer requires. No bones about it: Ms. Beautyphile is the smallest channel we’ve profiled. Espinoza has a following of 6,700 subscribers and brings in around 15,000 views per month. She’s also the only creator we’ve featured who makes the majority of her YouTube revenue from partnerships with brands like Procter & Gamble.
With each of those brand partnerships, Espinoza moves closer to making YouTube her full-time occupation. And as she grows her presence on the platform, she’s also helping other YouTubers who are still building their channels into careers.
She recently hosted Better Elevation, a series for creator community Standard’s new streaming service, Nebula. In the series, Espinoza sits down with various career YouTubers — including Kati Morton, Jake Roper, Joseph Pisenti, and CGP Grey — to discuss how they built their own platforms and manage their YouTube businesses.
Moving forward, Espinoza intends to apply the wisdom they imparted to take her channel to roads untraveled — places like long-form videos, series, and educational courses.
And, of course, no matter where she takes her channel, Ms. Beautyphile intends to do it curiously.
Check out our chat with her below.
Tubefilter: So first, tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What did you do in ye olde days before joining YouTube?
Trina Espinoza: I am currently living in San Fran, but I grew up on the next farm over (Fresno). I guess that makes me a small-town girl trying to make it in the big city…or something like that.
I had a whole other career before I set my sights on YouTube. I worked behind the scenes in the film industry as a software designer and color scientist. I got to work on films like Men In Black 2 and Hulk, then I would wind down by watching the pyrotechnic department blow up miniature sets during my lunch break. It was a great job!
After years of doing tech, I wanted to try my hand at making some of my own stories. Around the same time, I picked up the book The Extraordinary Chemistry of Ordinary Things at a yard sale. I was hooked. I liked that it shared how chemistry works by connecting it to our everyday lives. That was the sort of story I wanted to tell — videos where people could learn something useful and relevant.
Tubefilter: What made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content? What do you think it offers you, as a content creator, to help you grow your platform and build your career?
TE: What’s the first thing you do when you learn something cool? You want to share it! That’s how my stuff ended up on YouTube. I could upload what I learned and share it with others. It turned out there were other people besides me who wanted to know more about their cosmetics too. What I didn’t realize yet…is how this would help me grow a career.
People I didn’t even know started to reach out with questions. Answering them helped me grow my knowledge, my credibility, and ultimately my audience. People started asking me about their acne, hair loss, and skin discoloration. These were really personal questions, and if you answer enough of these, you really get to know your audience and start forming friendships. One of my little thrills as a YouTuber is getting a question or comment from someone I recognize.
Without my YouTube audience, I would never have had the opportunity to collaborate with fantastic science communication channels like ACS Reactions (chemistry) and Alex Dainis (geneticist). Now I get to travel the world visiting cosmetic conferences, meet industry leaders and formulators, and even get asked to review and give feedback on products.
Tubefilter: Your content blends beauty and science. How did you arrive at this perfect marriage of the two? What draws you to science, and to beauty?
TE: I was spending a lot of money on cosmetic products, and I gotta tell you, they were failing to deliver their promises. I had this tiny apartment, and all these failed products just ended up cluttering drawers, not to mention overflowing landfills! I think I have an engineer’s mindset; I started deconstructing the ingredient lists and figuring out how these products worked. I had a cart that was my makeshift “formulation lab” and spent many late nights in the kitchen hacking together my first formulations to find something that would work for me. I noticed I was using science to answer all my questions about cosmetics, and that’s what my channel became about — using science to help improve people’s lives.
I’m building an environment where science is for everyone, not just the people who wear labcoats. Beauty is simply the avenue we’re using to explore it. If somebody learns something from me that helps them tame their hair, control their acne, or helps them identify a skin condition…I am walking on sunshine.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
TE: My first revenue didn’t come from advertising. It came from a network that wanted me to address topics relevant to their audience. I only had about 30 videos on my channel, and it was still really tiny. It was for $400, and I was so happy! “Who said small channels can’t make money on YouTube?!?” I thought.
Then the client rejected the first iteration of the video — they didn’t like the background. They sent back the second version with more changes. And then again. By the time I got the check, I made a lot less than minimum wage. I learned a lot about the importance of specifying the number of client-requested revisions and how to qualify when a project is finished in the contract. It was a hard lesson, one I’m so glad I learned early on.
Tubefilter: So clearly you’ve had partnerships with and sponsorships from brands on your channel!
TE: I have! In fact, most of the revenue from my channel comes from partnerships. But I have this strict rule that I’ll only do them when I believe in the company and their product. It’s important to me to have a clause in the contract that allows me to discuss the sponsored products openly and honestly. My audience comes first. So it’s never just a sponsored mention — they get access to products that haven’t been released yet or interviews with people behind the scenes that they normally wouldn’t have access to. My partnership with Procter & Gamble is a great example. They allowed me to interview the master perfurmer for Old Spice, and she was this fantastic woman with a great sense of humor and interesting insights for my viewers.
Tubefilter: You recently debuted a series with Standard’s new streaming service, Nebula. What are the top three channel improvement tips you’ve learned from your creator chats for that series?
TE: Yes, I did! The series is called Better Elevation. I got to spend a week in New York City learning the business of YouTube from some really standout creators like Jake Roper of VSauce3, Joseph Pisenti of Real Life Lore, CGP Grey, and Kati Morton.
My three channel improvement tips are:
1. Make bitchin’ videos
2. Collect riches
3. Eat chocolate fudge sundaes
Oh, you mean seriously…
1. Authenticity is something YouTubers hear about all the time, but it can seem a little elusive to get. With Better Elevation, I spent more time on camera than ever before, and there just wasn’t time to prepare and obsess over perfection like I sometimes do. A few days into the project, I was recording, and I realized I had stopped filtering my thoughts. “Ah-ha! This is what authenticity feels like!”
2. Making videos the way I do can be time-intensive. You have to think about and build efficiency into your plans. When you sit down for a video, see if you can record in batches of two or three. You’ll especially thank yourself if your shooting space is also your living space — like mine. Then, you’ll only inconvenience yourself once instead of three separate times. Create templates to work faster, and revisit old videos frequently, promoting them far after their initial release.
3. Don’t depend on one source for income. Structure your revenue like an investment portfolio — diversity is key! That way, if YouTube or Facebook changes the rules about video ownership or how creators make money, you can simply amplify another revenue source. In addition to partnerships, I also do live speaking engagements, guest host for other science shows, and sell merch. My revenue model isn’t perfect by any means…but it’s starting to look a bit less like a heart attack, and more like a healthy pulse.
Tubefilter: When was the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
TE: I am not a full-time creator yet…but I am getting closer! I got a call a month ago from an organization that provides education and development resources for the beauty industry. To my shock, they asked me if I would be willing to talk at an industry event for an hour about the techniques I use to communicate beauty science. If they trust me with industry professionals, I should probably start to trust myself! It gave me a huge boost of confidence and made me feel like maybe I was made to do this.
Tubefilter: What’s your content strategy? What do you think makes a good video? What aspects of your content do you focus on the most?
TE: My channel is lighthearted, quirky, and fun! My content strategy is the sneak attack! I want viewers to have fun, but also come away surprised they’ve actually learned something! Ha! Got ya! To do this, there is always a balancing act between entertainment and delivering information. I haven’t mastered the balance yet, but I am always up for the challenge.
A great video is when someone says they’re going to explain something like black holes, and I actually get it. For me, the best videos take a complex idea and create a simple framework that makes it easier to understand. It’s not easy to do, and it takes a lot of skill. The public is more capable of understanding complex concepts than we give them credit for, and as a YouTuber who makes educational content, it’s so satisfying when it’s done right.
Hands down, the aspect I spend most of my time on is accuracy. I tend to feel like one bad fact will blow my credibility, so I spend a lot of time weeding through scientific papers to make sure I fully understand a topic. For a long time, the fear of slip-ups prevented me from creating videos quickly. Now I am better about just issuing a correction when the odd mistake slips through. Lately, I’ve even begun livestreaming to share my thoughts while they’re still in the development phase, and my audience loves it.
Tubefilter: What makes you passionate about content creation as a career? Why is this profession one that engages and excites you?
TE: Before social media took off, cosmetic brands ran the show. They determined what information you had access to…and it was all marketing, of course! YouTube has helped democratize communication and given consumers a voice. We get to prioritize OUR interests, which include understanding how something really works. I get to share what I know with people, and the beautiful thing is, it’s never a one way street. My online community shares products, articles, and ideas all the time, so we’re building our knowledge together. There is something really, amazingly powerful about that.
You know, what excites me most about YouTube is the variety. My mom says I practice orchestrated chaos. She’s right! I love to change it up, and every day, it’s something new! My favorite is the first two or three days of hunting for a new topic. It’s like firing up my headlamp in an underground cave and staring straight into the void. I could find absolutely anything! I’m sort of a data junkie, so it’s a rush for me.
Tubefilter: What’s your production process like? How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from scripting to filming to uploading? Do you take days off?
TE: I research the heck out of an idea, and it can easily take a month or two before I am comfortable drafting a script. The production part is intense. If it all survives fact-checking, then it’s time to crank out several videos with a frantic day or two of shooting. After recovering for a few minutes, I start in on editing and visuals. Making graphics is my favorite part, and if I’m not careful, I’ll blow all my time noodling visuals. Somebody stop me please! From the time I hit record, it can take a week to produce a video, more if the setups are complex.
What’s a day off?
Tubefilter: You mentioned Better Elevation was a different production process than you’re used to. How did they differ?
TE: The two are radically different. For my own channel, I spend a lot of time thinking through what I’m going to say before I’m on camera and I talk about cosmetics, never about myself or my production process. As I mentioned earlier, I come from a feature film background, so I love images that look pleasing to the eye. Polish, polish, polish!
For Better Elevation, we were shooting in the moment. I’d learn something, and moments later, I’d be talking about it on camera. Everything was so raw and unscripted! It was a whole new adventure, and that was terrifying and exciting!
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
TE: I keep it curious. I have a serious case of the whats, whys, and how-comes? Once you start to question everything, you discover how much more there is to learn. Most people lose this skill as adults, but I see it as something worth holding on to. Maybe I started doing this because I’ve asked a lot of questions in my life and people would shut me down or treat me like I’m stupid. There are NO stupid questions on my channel. People are much more likely to comment and chime in when they know they’re not going to be publicly hung out to dry.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
TE: I want to spend less time making one-off videos, and start deep-diving into topics like sunscreen and haircare with a series of mini courses. In the fall, we can look forward to more travel to NYC, Montreal, and Bangkok, so I’m happy about getting out of my cramped living room. I also might be joining a major health information network as a beauty and wellness expert, which is truly exciting because I’m really passionate about being a consumer advocate.
The big focus for the next few months is on that scary transition to full-time YouTuber, with a fully sustainable revenue model. That’s big dreams for this little Latinxer. 😉
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