Kitchener-Waterloo

Guelph grad uses YouTube Channel to help pay off student loan

By the time they finish university, the average student is $28,000 in debt and will spend the next 10 years paying it off, but Ben Leavitt was able to do it in just a year, with revenue from his YouTube channel.

How realistic is it to use YouTube to pay for school? A social expert weighs in

Ben Leavitt says his YouTube channel was earning him about $500 a month while he was getting his commerce degree at University of Guelph. (YouTube)

By the time they finish university, the average student is $28,000 in debt and will spend the next 10 years paying it off, but Guelph's Ben Leavitt was able to do it in just one year, with revenue from his YouTube channel.

Leavitt only graduated from University of Guelph one year ago, but he's already paid off his $25,000 student loan. 

According to Statistics Canada, the average student finishes their undergrad $28,000 in debt. Most of them will spend the better part of the next decade paying it off.

Leavitt credits his YouTube Channel — at least in part — for his success.

"I essentially just put every dollar I made from that directly to pay off student debt," said Leavitt, saying it was key to managing his bills while going through school.

He said he was making $500 to $600 a month while in school, but business really took off after he graduated, and estimates he can credit his channel with generating between $6,000 and $8,000.

Leavitt graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in marketing, and his videos include explaining how Instagram hashtags work and the secret to making a viral video.

"I think a lot of people don't pursue things they really want to do because they feel its overwhelming, and they never could, so I try to simplify these things as much as possible," he said.

Affiliate links, not ads

The secret, Leavitt says, isn't ads. The key to his success has been affiliate links. 

"The money you'll make, especially as a small channel, will not come from ad revenue, simply because of how YouTube has grown over the years; there's less and less ad dollars to go around," said Leavitt, whose most popular video has been viewed 155,000 times. 

"The real money comes from your ability to funnel the traffic to go buy things from other companies or make your own products."

And while Leavitt firmly believes anyone can do what he did, Aimee Morrison, a social media expert and associate professor at University of Waterloo, says it's harder than it looks,  

"You always have to be hustling," said Morrison, "Because the revenue that comes from ad placement is so miniscule, unless you get so, so many page views that YouTubers are always hustling for another way to monetize their content."

That includes merchandising, product placement and sponsorships — all things that take time and a lot of effort to generate, she said.

"Three per cent of YouTubers drive 90 per cent of YouTube traffic, and they earn well more of the lion's share of the revenue straight from the Adsense program," said Morrison.

'On-camera sales job'

Leavitt says he was able to leverage his expertise to negotiate a better cut from sponsors; in some cases getting 20 to 25 per cent back from any purchases made. 

But that's an entirely different thing from being a YouTube star, says Morrison.

In fact, she says, it's more akin to making your own late-night infomercials. 

"[It] turns you into a sales person," said Morrison. "So if that's been your heart's desire, to run a YouTube channel where you do product recommendations for long enough, for enough people, to hope that companies will send you their products for free and also pay you ... It's a sales job. It's an on-camera sales job." 

Now that he's got the ball rolling, Leavitt says he hopes to transition his channel from side hustle to full-time gig. 

"It's essentially like investing because these investments make you money forever if you do them properly," he said.

Guelph's Ben Leavitt says his YouTube channel is kind of like an investment portfolio. Carefully curated, strategic... and it pays in dividends without too much tinkering. He even used it to help pay off his student loan. But it's not for everyone, says social media expert Aimee Morrison. 7:25

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