Christian LeBlanc’s plan was to graduate business school and work full-time at one of Canada’s largest accounting firms. But in his last year of university, the Vancouver resident did an exchange program in Bangkok, Thailand and started making videos of his travels for his family and friends and posting them on YouTube for fun.
He came back to Canada to work long hours and lots of weekends at a job he didn’t like. So, at age 22, he decided to quit accounting, sell everything he owned and scrape together “just enough money for a one-way ticket” back to Bangkok. He lived like a “broke backpacker” for a year before his YouTube business took off.
LeBlanc often travels with his girlfriend Katy Esquivel, a Peruvian YouTuber and fashion blogger who goes by “What The Chic” and has 2.4 million Instagram followers and 1.1 million YouTube subscribers.
He says he works “way more hours than the average person” and is always thinking about work, but he’s living his “dream job.” LeBlanc shared his story with VICE, from his home in Bali, including tips for anyone looking to ditch the corporate rat race and be their own boss.
VICE: What do you do?
Christian LeBlanc: My one-word title would be ‘YouTuber’ because my full-time job revolves around YouTube. Or travel film-maker. I post a weekly video showcasing different destinations all around the world. I try to teach people not just the facts of the destination but also the experience of being there.
I also create films once in a while. I take photos for Instagram. By working with brands and showcasing products and services to my audience, I’m able to monetize my travel content with different revenue sources.
How are you making money? And give us a sense of how you’re doing financially, compared to your desk job days.
You can easily say six figures. I don’t want to be too specific with how much I’m earning but it’s safe to say it’s multiple times what I was earning at the accounting firm. The revenue streams have been increasing every single year.
In my first year after leaving the accounting job, my goal was to break even. I was prepared to work for two years like that. But I was able to hit break-even in two months. In year one I made a little over $20,000. The second year was six figures and it’s only increased from there.
Break it down for me. How do you make this money?
My main revenue stream is YouTube-related brand deals. Number two is the courses that I sell through my storefront, the video editing and the travel guide courses where I show people how to travel to places that I know really well. I have exclusive, behind-the-scenes content.
Third revenue stream is my affiliate income which is basically in my videos I have urls that are directly linking back to things that give me a kickback for people signing up for things and that’s been working surprisingly well.
The fourth would be my YouTube ad revenue. So when somebody watches my video, there’s a 30-second pre-roll or there’s a little tiny pop-up ad and those all monetize and give me a healthy check every month.
How did you learn how to do all that? Because it’s really different from accounting.
It was actually a very long process. My earliest videos are still up and you can see exactly how far the channel has come. It started with very basic editing. I had a GoPro and a laptop that would crash every now and then. With time, I upgraded my skills with online tutorials that are free on YouTube. I taught myself by consuming videos and editing my own videos every single day.
I’m a huge believer that you can learn to edit, take photos, basically any skill these days is learnable online and there’s a good chance you can do it for free. That’s how I did it.
Do you monetize Instagram or is that just a portal to get people to check out your YouTube stuff?
If I do a campaign with a client, a lot of time they’ll pay a large amount for the YouTube video and a lesser amount for an additional Instagram post. So that’s one of the awesome things about having my presence across multiple platforms. I can do one video, one Instagram post, two stories. All these things have their rates that they charge for them and that’s how I make money off that.
But I’m not getting many Instagram-only campaigns. Instagram is, in my opinion, a very saturated marketplace and brands aren’t paying the way they used to there. One impression on YouTube is much more valuable than it is on Instagram so if you can build an audience on YouTube, it will be worth more money.
When did you notice that change—that Instagram isn’t as lucrative as it used to be?
I’ve talked to a lot of friends who are either influencers themselves and they all say this year has been a really tough year to make money on Instagram and I think it comes down to that over-saturation. A lot of people are undercutting each other or working for free. There’s a rise of new influencers that are willing to work and take very little in return. It’s just getting more competitive.
What advice do you have for people who dream of abandoning the rat race?
I recommend they challenge the norm. It doesn’t mean getting into Instagram and posting the same posts that everyone else is. The way to get an abnormal return is to do the abnormal—do the thing that very few are doing.
If you’re getting into social media or film, you need to be hyper-focused on how you’re different from the rest. I know it’s super cliché that probably everyone will say, but there’s so many look-alike influencers and they essentially just mimic what others are doing. You won’t get ahead by being a copy of somebody else. You’re going to have to be you and be something that resonates with someone.
Letting out your personality is super challenging. It’s much easier said than done. I used to be so uncomfortable on camera and it isn’t until you get more of that comfort built up that you can let out who you really are. You have to have a reason why people will give you their valuable time.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you?
The elephant selfie. If you search ‘elphie’ you’ll find it. That was my first breakaway moment for Instagram. As a social media influencer, it was the first time I got a really quick surge of growth, because I had one viral photo. An elephant had taken a selfie of me with a GoPro and that photo got shared on ABC, BBC, CNN. I felt like a Kardashian for a couple of days.
It took my following from 3,000 on Instagram to 15,000 overnight. That was back in the day when I was a broke backpacker so it was exciting to be earning a cut from all of the press coverage, because the image rights were being licenced. A news syndication company cut me a check for a couple grand, which meant a lot. It was a lot of pad thai, nasi gorengs and nights in a hospital.
What are the top three places that you’ve visited?
My favourite city is Bangkok. My favourite destination for lifestyle and food is Bali. My favourite place for overall travel and adventure—maybe not necessarily experiencing the best food or the best comfort—but seeing beautiful jaw-dropping landscapes is the Philippines. El Nido and Coron in particular.
What is on your bucket list?
I’m actually making a video about that, coming soon, but one of the things on my bucket list is to skydive. The hardest part will be jumping out of that plane.
Any brushes with death?
I’ve been fortunate. I’ve never had any crazy incidents while traveling. I’ve never been robbed, I’ve never really come across anyone that meant me harm. I’ve had a couple of uncomfortable situations, but nothing worth mentioning.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing for me is the flexibility. Being able to work my own hours in Bali. If I want to go to Peru and climb Machu Picchu, not only is that something that I personally want to do, but it’s also something I can make a video out of and monetize. I just love that it affords me a lifestyle that I don’t have any intention of stopping. Being able to be my own boss was always the main intention. Being able to run my business from anywhere with my laptop, that’s it.
So you don’t think it was your destiny to be an accountant?
I guess I’ll never know.
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