Local vlogger Thandi Gama left her full-time job to start her YouTube channel, and it's paying off

Thandi Gama. Image supplied by Irvine Partners
Thandi Gama. Image supplied by Irvine Partners
  • When YouTube launched a local site for South Africa in 2010, it created an opportunity for keen vloggers to entertain, inform and even monetise their content. 
  • The success of some vloggers on this platform has since been so great that they have been able to ditch the degrees they were pursuing or leave the certainty of a monthly salary behind.
  • Beauty, fashion, and lifestyle vlogger Thandi Gama, is one of these YouTubers. W24 chatted to Thandi about her new career as a successful content creator. 

We're at the tail-end of Youth Month - a month which commemorates the 1976 youth uprisings in Soweto. It has later become a time during which we shine the spotlight on issues affecting the youth today as well as local youths who are blazing the trail in their respective fields. 

See, it must be said that at the time of the Soweto uprising, black teenagers had very few options for life after matric.

Very often, the majority would end up doing laborious, low-income jobs in suburbia where they are not welcome after 5pm. Those more fortunate to pursue further education, might have become teachers and nurses, doctors or lawyers, introducing post-apartheid black excellence that would later evolve to include an array of career paths. 

READ MORE:As you diversify your social media feeds, here's how to meaningfully support Africa's content creators

We've since seen several young black professionals pursue the unconventional with much success.

But in a country where job opportunities are hard to come by, one might shudder at the thought of leaving the security of a full-time job to swim independently in a different stream. However, past W24 career profiles would prove that although the waters may be turbulent at first, there are successful women who've manged to stay afloat and are still doing swimmingly well today. 

From Shonisani Masutha who left her corporate job to become an actress, to Thandi Gama who left her job as a strategist in a marketing agency to become a full-time YouTuber - they are proof that sometimes the risk is worth the reward. 

READ MORE: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" - How Shonisani Masutha's big risk payed off when she became the first African actress in a Bollywood series 

Today, we turn our focus to Thandi, who, one year and seven months after taking off her 9 to 5 coat, has amassed 43 000 subscribers on her channel, and has used her acclaim as a YouTuber to launch her own beauty line, Lashed by TG. 

Thandi started vlogging in 2016, spending a good two years honing her craft on YouTube before she officially made the move to dedicate her time fully on her channel. She explains that "currently, as I’m building my brand, I don't see myself going back to a 9 to 5. I like being in control of my time".

"If the structure of working a 9 to 5 completely changed and it came with a salary I could not refuse, I might consider it. But for now, I am happy with where I am," she adds.

But as with any new venture in somewhat unfamiliar territory, Thandi's gradual foray into full-time online content creation had its challenges.

"Because I had turned down a lot of opportunities while working at an office job, I found myself having to rebuild my profile as a YouTuber and make brands fully aware that I was now ready to take on the work," the YouTuber reveals.

As a result, she says the first few months turned out to be heavily focused on creating content that showcased what she was capable of. 

Meet Thandi Gama, local YouTuber who quit her job
Image supplied by Irvine Partners 

Given the widely normalised culture of side hustles that is so accepted that there's even a term for people who earn multiple streams of income doing two or more jobs - slashers - you might be wondering why Thandi didn't just do the same.

Well, like most millennials who are now prioritising fulfillment and mental health over the pressures of the rat race, Thandi expresses that she was neither happy nor fulfilled at her 9 to 5 job.

This feeling was then catalysed by her eagerness to do any work she landed in the YouTube or influencer space. "When I realised I could make more than my salary doing what I love, I decided to invest a couple of months of planning and financial prep for an exit strategy from my day job," she says.

Of course, as a strategist, it's no surprise that Thandi reveals how she "considered all the possible outcomes" of leaving and finally did so six months later when she was "ready to take on the upcoming challenges of not having a constant income stream".  

W24 had a quick chat with Thandi about content creation during a pandemic, brand promotion, and her advice for new vloggers:

What does a workday of creating content look like for you? Before and after lockdown.

I wake up in the morning and look at everything I noted on my to-do list the night before. I start off working on the most important work that has the closest deadline. I always make sure I read and respond to my emails by 12 noon and anything received thereafter is attended to at the end of my workday in order to avoid being sidetracked. I try to fit in a bit of research every now and then to constantly evolve and improve on my work. Before lockdown, there was a lot of going out and discovering places and creative spaces that I could draw inspiration from. These days, my source of inspiration during lockdown is watching other content creators and drawing inspiration from their stories and creative work.

READ MORE:3 influencers share how they are producing work during lockdown, plus tips for content creators

Has it been more difficult to create content during lockdown? And how have you managed to navigate any challenges?

It was difficult at first because my whole strategy had to be thrown out the door as it was no longer relevant or fitting to our current climate. I took time to understand what people were consuming or interested in and shifted my strategy to fit that. The thing about being creative is that you always find a way of making what you have work for you. Trying new content is a way to navigate the lockdown and analysing your analytics to see how your community reacts to it. Sometimes things will work and sometimes what you think is a good idea will not necessarily fit with what your audience wants at the moment. 

Has there been a moment so far in your career journey as a YouTuber that cemented that this is what you're going to keep doing? 

Yes, I’ve had two big campaigns that I never expected that came at points in my life where I found myself questioning doing this full-time. [One of them] is the one that actually helped me leave my job, as I found myself financially secure to leave and work from home even though I wouldn’t immediately get campaigns in the first few months. 

Has having a YouTube Channel made it easier to start your own lash brand and promote it?

Yes, having a YouTube Channel has definitely made it easier. People come onto my channel for advice and product recommendations -  I just so happen to provide one essential item that elevates any make-up look and for many. I have built a reputation as a trusted source on the topic of beauty, so my community found it easy to buy into my brand. 

What advice would you give someone who's been considering becoming a full-time YouTuber? 

It doesn’t happen overnight. It's important to love it if you truly want to monetise it. With the industry constantly growing, it's becoming more important to put your heart into it if you want to grow. It's rewarding, but it can be frustrating if your heart is only set on money instead of prioritising the needs of your community. Also, take every 'hate' comment with a pinch of salt; it really does come with the job. Finally, find your niche and invest in that. 

READ MORE: Looking for pandemic freelancing tips? TV producer Sazi Mbalekwa is dishing out advice 

How important are collaborations with fellow vloggers for growth?

Fellow vloggers most likely have an audience that is not aware of who you are or the content you serve. Collaborations will introduce you to a different market and hopefully a new audience.  

What advice do you have to share with new vloggers trying to build a community of supportive viewers?

It's important to try and understand the people who consume your content and what it is they like. Don't just take their internet data, but give them content in a way that using their last gigabyte on you feels worth it. Remember that your current audience will amplify what you give them; when they feel appreciated and are served great content, they are most likely to share this information with others. Word of mouth is still an amazing marketing tool.

Finally, what are your current vlogging goals?

One of my goals this year was to create travel content, but Covid-19 changed many of our plans - it definitely put that on pause. When things get better, however, that will still be at the top of my list. I am also working on growing the #TGgang family to 100K subscribers.

Additional information and images provided by Irvine Partners

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