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Right before the world began to close and the pandemic changed life as we know it, I was at the Aerie Summit in Brooklyn, New York for a day of inspiring talks and motivating sessions with many of my fellow Aerie Real Role Models. My friend Molly Burke was there and I finally got the chance to invite her, in person, to join me on The Goal Digger Podcast.
Molly launched her YouTube channel with make-up tutorials and fashion content, growing it into the massive platform it is today with over 2 million subscribers. Molly also happens to be blind.
I’m so excited for Molly to share her story — Why did she start her YouTube channel? What did she want to do with the platform when she was starting out? And what are the behind the scenes secrets to content that does really well on that platform? Are you ready for a YouTube lesson?
Where it All Started
When Molly Burke was just 4-years old, she received a rare diagnosis that meant one day she would lose her vision, but doctors couldn’t tell her when that would happen. She started speaking publicly about this experience and part of her public speaking mission was to raise money for research into her rare condition.
At 14-years old, her vision began to fade over several months. This process put her into a deep depression and she reached a dark point of her life. Faced with suicidal thoughts, Molly gave herself one more chance to fight. She chose to seek treatment and start her path to recovery.
When she was 20, Molly started her own motivational speaking business, and it was around this time she launched her YouTube channel. Now, she reaches over 3 million people across platforms with topics like fashion and lifestyle, and a core mission to bridge the gap between able bodied and disabled people.
Her earliest inspiration for starting her channel were the beauty and fashion YouTubers who became a resource for her to learn about makeup and clothing after she lost her sight. “I couldn’t go into Sephora and swatch lipstick colors on the back of my hand, but I could listen to YouTubers describe the best Mac lipstick colors for fair skin,” Molly explained.
But her very first video was actually part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Remember that? “I knew I wanted to start a YouTube channel, I just needed a reason to hit post,” Molly laughed. After getting tagged in the challenge, she went for it.
“Once I hit publish and I’ve posted my first video, the hardest challenge is over and then I just have to commit to continuing to post.” If you take anything away from this interview, let it be the fact that you just have to START.
The Importance of Trailblazing
Diving into YouTube started as just a side project and hobby for Molly. Her boyfriend at the time helped her to shoot and edit her content, and she didn’t have a plan going into it. She also said that her parents feared the platform, knowing only the scandals that had come out of it, so they weren’t in full support of her endeavor.
But Molly was a trailblazer. She explained that at the time, nobody who looked like her was creating YouTube content. There wasn’t an established community of YouTubers making disability content. This meant she had no one to follow for inspiration, and even the algorithm was working against her because her content was so different from everything else that it wasn’t getting recommended to viewers.
Still, Molly was dedicated to carving her own path. “There was nobody for me to look up to or be inspired by, specifically in my own space or community, so I really wanted to be a part of that,” she shared.
As the algorithm got even more intense and the monetization of videos got more challenging, Molly decided she wanted to create videos that any able bodied creator could and would create. “I started reaching out to large creators who I really had no business reaching out to, and pitching myself to them,” Molly laughed. “My whole thing was offering them things I knew no other creator could offer them.”
As a smaller creator, Molly knew that there were few risks involved with pitching herself to a larger creator. She said, “I have nothing to lose. If they say no, they say no and I’m no worse off. If they say yes, they say yes and I’m way further forward.”
Molly’s elevator pitch consists of three things: “This is who I am, this is what I do, and this is the video I would like to do with you. And like I said, I knew that I would be offering them a piece of content that no other creator on the platform could offer them, and that could not do if I was not going to be in the video. And it worked.”
Creating Content to Create Change
Molly covers so many different topics with her videos, while also seamlessly weaving in her mission to talk about disability. “What I came to realize in my content creation journey over these last six years is that I am disabled no matter what content I’m making,” she began.
“But the content where I don’t talk about my disability at all I view as just as important, or more important, because if I can make someone watch a 20 minute fashion haul video, where I don’t mention once that I’m blind, and they forget that I have a disability, that’s change. That’s creating change.”
“I believe my fashion videos, my makeup videos, my travel videos are just as important, and still continue my cause and my mission. We need disabled voices in the beauty and fashion space. We need that representation. If I can help people forget that I’m disabled, that in itself furthers my cause.”
Molly shared with me that sometimes brands approach her for partnerships and it’s clear they aim to simply check a box. I asked how she navigates tokenism in the industry, and she shared a conversation she had with Thando Hopa who said that if partnering with a brand still allows her to further her mission, it’s still worth it.
Molly said, “At times I’m going to be simply something on a checklist for a brand, but if they’re using me, I’m going to use them right back. I can still use that as an opportunity for me to further my cause, even if they don’t care about my cause.”
YouTube Quick Tips
I put Molly on the spot for a YouTube lightning round. She laughed, “No one has ever known me to give quick answers!” But I wanted to cover all of the YouTube bases in this conversation.
So first up: How do you decide what kind of videos to create? Molly’s advice is to create from your own life while listening to the comments of viewers and creating what they want to see from you next.
What does every great YouTube video need before hitting publish? Molly says a great thumbnail (50% of the click is a result of the thumbnail), a good title, and monetization.
And a lot of people talk themselves out of starting a YouTube channel because it seems like a lot of work… What’s Molly’s advice for those people? She gave some honest feedback for those people: “Be prepared for a lot of hard work.” The algorithm demands consistency, and if that’s not something you can commit to, maybe it’s not the right platform.
However, Molly says that the equipment side of things isn’t as important as you might think. Molly uses a smartphone, a tripod, and natural light… That’s it. You don’t need the fanciest camera gear to get your channel off the ground.
More from this Episode
What is life like now that Molly’s travel and touring schedule has halted? What is she learning to appreciate about this time at home? What’s her advice for anyone who believes it’s too late to get into the YouTube space? Hit play on the links above to learn from this incredible creator.