Internet Famous: How cake decorator Laurie Shannon (a.k.a. the Icing Artist) bought an $800,000 home with her YouTube earnings

Internet Famous: How cake decorator Laurie Shannon (a.k.a. the Icing Artist) bought an $800,000 home with her YouTube earnings

Age: 29
Genre: Cake decorating
Subscribers: 3.84 million
Most popular video: 10 AMAZING PRINCESS Dress CAKES 👑 Compilation! (200 million views)
Year started: 2013
Life before YouTube: Cabinet maker, waitress and bakery worker

I used to be a carpenter. That’s what I studied at Conestoga College in Kitchener, where I met my husband and business partner, Kevin Jones. After graduating in 2010, I continued working in cabinetry for two years but I never really loved it. Kevin and I both quit—he became a Zamboni driver, and I worked odd jobs, like waitressing and working at a daycare. In summer 2013, we went on a four-month road trip across Canada. It opened up our eyes to the kind of life that we were looking for. I realized I wanted to be my own boss. We had heard back then that people could make money on YouTube and started talking about the idea of having a cake-decorating channel. I learned to bake with my mom as a kid but didn’t get into cake decorating until I was an adult. I learned everything about cake decorating from watching YouTube.

When I got back from that trip in September, I started working full-time at a cupcake bakery making minimum wage. The next month, I started my YouTube channel. I was living with my parents in Pickering at the time, and Kevin was with his parents. I filmed in a storage room in their basement. I had to drape tablecloths over all the storage stuff so you couldn’t see it on camera. It was very makeshift at first but I made it work, and Kevin helped out with filming.

Laurie’s baby bump cake Photo courtesy of YouTube/The Icing Artist
Laurie’s recreation of Olaf from Frozen Photo courtesy of YouTube/The Icing Artist

I was making a lot of cupcakes, treats and easy cakes at the beginning. I wanted to make easy things anyone could do and picked simple designs I could bang out quickly. Then I started creating trendy designs like Olaf from Frozen and a baby shower bump cake. It was still a struggle for the first two or three years, trying to get traction. I was only getting a few thousand views per video. For our Cinderella spinning dress cake in March 2015, I was inspired by how Cinderella’s dress spins and flares out in the movie, so I created a cake on a battery-operated turntable that spun around as if Cinderella was twirling on the dance floor. It got a million views. I thought, This is it. I’ve made it now. Everything’s going to be great and easy. Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. Just because you got success on one video doesn’t mean you’re going to get success on all your videos, and we didn’t have another hit for a while. There were times when I wanted to quit because I put so much time and effort into it but I wasn’t making any money, and I still had to work full time at the bakery.

Laurie’s Cinderella spinning dress cake Photo courtesy of YouTube/The Icing Artist

That changed in May 2016, when we got an offer from now-defunct to create food livestreams for six months. I was making cookies, cupcakes, fondant figures and cake parfaits for their platform. It only took me about four hours a week but paid me twice what I was making at my full-time bakery job, so I was able to quit my job and focus my time and energy on our channel. We bought some new camera gear and changed our editing style. Kevin helped me shoot videos from different angles instead of just having the camera on a tripod.

A year later, in February 2017, we started making compilation videos because I saw they were doing well on other accounts. I would go through my archive, identify themes and put a bunch of clips together in one video. It took me about an hour to edit them together, and almost every one of them got a million views. Then I started getting 10 million and 15 million views—the princess dress cakes compilation ended up with 200 million views. The compilations brought in millions of people to the channel and hit a huge international audience because there was no language barrier. We started getting viral video after viral video. By October 2017, Kevin quit his job driving a Zamboni to join the business. We had gone from 80,000 subscribers in February 2017 to one million in November 2017.

Laurie’s home workplace

Kevin takes care of the business end of things—accounting, bookkeeping, analytics and content virality research. Some cakes take a ridiculous amount of time to film, as long as five days. Sometimes we shoot for 14 to 16 hours per day. I’m always making a cake for the first time when I’m making the video. I feel like things are more authentic that way; when things mess up, people see how I overcome those mistakes. We listen to our audience and what they want to see, and we watch trends to see what’s doing well and how we can reinvent it. We saw that mini cakes were trending, so I started creating mini animal cakes and they’ve received millions of views. If I know a Batman movie is coming out, I think about what Batman-related cake I could do.

With all the success of the channel, we were able to buy our 3,000-square-foot dream home in North Oshawa, which cost over $800,000. We have a lot more filming space and we’re in the process of renovating the basement of our house into a studio and office with multiple filming areas. We’re currently looking into buying income properties and saving for our retirement. We’ve had older videos make less than $100 and super-viral videos making as much as six figures. And the revenue never stops. We also do brand deals with companies like Google, Hershey and Warner Brothers. We get paid for appearances. We were featured on Live with Kelly and Ryan twice. Last May, we went to an event called Brandcast which is a huge event hosted by YouTube. I was decorating cakes in a booth next to Alicia Keys performing on stage. It was crazy.

As told to Andrea Yu

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