My name is Ara Bentley and I run the Youtube channel, ‘Bentley House Minis’. I live in DFW, Texas with my family and I do this full-time for part-time pay. I am blessed to be supported by my husband’s job while my brand is still growing. However, I am already making more than my previous part-time job so I feel like I am doing something right. I create dollhouses and miniatures on my channel. And occasionally I write stories about my creations!
While I have been growing my Youtube channel, I have also taken this opportunity to grow an online business on the side. I have known from the beginning that anything can happen in the Youtube world (especially when many creative channels were trying to figure out the new COPPA rules in 2019) so I decided to secure my creative endeavors by making sure that Youtube wasn’t my only source of income or the only way to reach my audience.
At the moment I am a one-person team, running both the channel and the store. However, if things keep growing at the current rate I won’t be able to be a one-person team for long! And that’s a good problem to have! This is actually partly where my channel/business name came from. Everything is done in-house… in the Bentley House!
My educational background is in Architecture, however, once I started working in the architecture field, I started missing all the creative building exercises we did in school… aka the architectural models. This drew me into buying a dollhouse randomly one day and planned to create all the interiors and furniture myself. This plan led me to find a small online blogging community that enjoyed sharing their miniature builds. I started blogging myself, and this was my first introduction to sharing my work online: http://afminimansion.blogspot.com/.
While I was still working a full-time job, my blog grew pretty steadily and I started to see how interested people were in miniatures. I am not sure why, but one day I decided to start up a Youtube channel during this time to share some of my miniature techniques. I thought that sharing tutorial steps in video form are a little easier than in a written format in a blog.
When I started the channel, I was sharing all sorts of different types of art: painting, oil pastels, miniatures, and mixed media. I started to notice that all my miniature-related videos had views that were way higher than my other art videos. At the time, I thought people were just more interested in my miniatures but I now understand that Art channels on Youtube were just way oversaturated and it was hard for anyone to get a foot up there. Miniatures was a much smaller, more specialized art category and there were fewer channels to compete with when people were searching. This worked well for me because miniatures were really what I loved making so I changed completely over to those types of videos!
It took a good 3 years for my channel to gain any significant traction. I changed jobs and started working as a part-time art teacher and a part-time Youtuber. In 2019, I went full-time on YouTube with the help of my husband.
I get my ideas from almost anywhere and everywhere. Because I create miniature environments, I am constantly inspired by media (movies and TV), photography, everyday life, and little ‘what-if’s” that float into my mind now and then. Such as, “What if I made a coffee shop but it was completely abandoned with everything still sitting in place the day it was abandoned. How would I do that and what would it look like?” (Watch it here: https://youtu.be/uIUqw-FgQ28) or “What if there was a building where the gargoyles on the side got so bored they started playing cards?” (Watch it here: https://youtu.be/tEjo6-IjJto)
There are many times that the inspiration gets overwhelming and I have to keep lists to keep myself on track. I limit the number of ‘ongoing’ projects that I have on my channel so that my audience doesn’t get too lost on what I am doing. Some of my projects have been going on for years so it takes quite a bit of concentration to stay on track and not get distracted by shiny new ideas!
Having multiple (but limited) projects at one time has been very helpful in keeping away the mental or creative block. When I get tired of looking at or thinking about one project I can turn to another and pick up where I left off. I have found my audience enjoys this as well because they never know which project I will be working on in the next video. Some subscribers have favorites that they want to be worked on the most, but most are happy to see what is happening on all of the projects that are in progress.
Currently, I am using Cyberlink PowerDirector to edit videos but I started out with the free editing software that came with my computer. And honestly, sometimes I miss the more simple editing program. All you just need is something that can help you adjust your lighting, add voiceover and cut out all the coughs and um’s and you’re good to go!
I do use all of the regular platforms such as Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter (rarely but I had to grab my business name to hold my spot), and Tiktok just recently. One of the less popular social media tools I started using was an email list through MadMimi. This email contains a newsletter each week of my new video, anything new in my store, and any insider information I want to share. This has been increasingly helpful when Youtube has stopped sending out email notifications. This is a service I pay for monthly but I feel like I make that money back each month by the traffic it sends to my store regularly.
If we would have ever done a vote, my family and friends would have voted me “Least likely to ever do ANYTHING in front of a camera or a crowd”. I used to not talk to anyone because I was just too scared to speak out. But I feel like I found comfort in talking about miniatures because it was something I knew. I felt knowledgeable while also letting myself be vulnerable, making sure my audience knew I didn’t know everything and I was wanting to learn more.
Learning to handle negative comments or feedback was gradual for me. It’s true that you have to build up a tough skin to be on the internet but it can be an uncomfortable process. I used to let one negative comment resonate in my head for days and days when I first started out. When I get them now, they still can hurt for a second, but I am much better about separating myself from the online person they think they are commenting about and remembering that they don’t know me at all, and most likely are a one-time viewer that I will never hear from again. They bounce off me a lot easier now.
Understanding that growing an online presence is a long process is key. When I would compare myself to others online, I would see how much better, how much more comfortable or well-spoken they were than I was. But I realized I was comparing their 5th year to my first year. That’s not a fair comparison. Almost every content creator I know has had some private videos on their channel from the first year… including me! We grow and change and get better at what we do gradually.
Two of the biggest things I have tried to focus on while building my channel are authenticity and collaboration.
Be your authentic self and you will never have to worry about disappointing your audience. If they are there for you and your personality, then it really won’t matter what you post because they will be sure to watch it. I have seen viewers spot fakeness incredibly quickly and people won’t stand for it. This doesn’t mean that you have to share every aspect of your life, but if you don’t know something, admit to it, if you are unsure about something, say so. People have often found more value in my videos where I share that I am having the same creative struggles that they are.
Watch this: https://youtu.be/56v4PJdioso
I have also found a lot of success collaborating with other creators that have a similar audience base. Take chances and reach out to other creators. You have to be ready for some rejection or some that never reach back out. That’s normal, a lot of creators' email inboxes are overflowing. But I have found several online friendships with other creators and our collaborations have strengthened each other's channels by sharing our audience.
Also, take chances when they come to you. I took a big chance in 2020 by applying to a call that a big creator in the Art Youtube sphere put out. He was going to be gone from his channel for a while so he wanted to feature the work of some other smaller art YouTubers during that time. I made a video and applied, not knowing if there was even a possibility of being chosen. I was chosen and that feature gained my channel over 10,000 subs in a day. Youtube took notice and within a month I was on the Rising Creator feature on youtube which also boosted the numbers a bit. I am so glad I took the chance instead of listening to my inner doubts.
Watch it here: https://youtu.be/6Ouy9w3pLKo
Make sure you LOVE the content you are making. I mean, really really love it. I remember being completely floored when I saw a creator I admired walk away from her huge channel on Youtube. I couldn’t understand why she would leave something she had worked so hard to build. She put out a blog post explaining that she was no longer making what she loved. And when she did make the things she wanted to, she just got complaints in the comments. From that day on I promised myself that I would follow what I wanted to make and not get too distracted by fads or following what is ‘popular’.
Yes, making things that are popular at the moment may gain you followers and views but if it's not something you can see yourself doing again and again then those followers will stop watching and eventually unsubscribe. When I do try to make something that is ‘trending’, I make sure it fits in flawlessly with all the other regular videos that I plan on making on my channel. In doing this, I know that subscribers that enjoyed the ‘trending’ video will continue to love my content.
This can get hard as all social media platforms now put analytics right in your face and the numbers can hurt sometimes. There have been so many videos that I have made that I thought “Yes, this is the one! This one is going to be big and everyone is going to love it!” and then it gets lower views than all the rest. I have to step back from the numbers and focus on the fact that I loved the result and those that watched it did as well. Not all videos are going to be winners and if I am expecting each one to be a top video, then I am going to be disappointed a lot!
I ran my Youtube channel alongside my part-time teaching job for 3 years. I have only been doing Youtube full-time for 2 years now and I am still only making part-time pay. I do feel now that my business is on track to soon turn into a full-time paying job, but that includes my online store and Patreon alongside the ad revenue I receive from Youtube.
I like to be open about how long and slow the journey has been for me to anyone thinking about starting a channel. Many times we see the ‘overnight stars’ whose channel gains millions and we think that could be us. But in reality, the chances are it won’t be. It will be a long and difficult grind to climb to each new step. This, again, is why it is so important for you to love what you are doing. The monetary rewards can’t be your main goal or else you won’t find the journey rewarding for a very long time.
One of the biggest surprises was waking up to an Instagram message saying that Youtube had tagged me in one of their posts. Not only had they tagged me alongside several other wonderful women creators, but they had also illustrated me into a cartoon image! It was such a strange thought that someone at Youtube headquarters was staring at a picture of me trying to duplicate my likeness for an IG post. Even though that was a while ago it still stands out as a rather surreal moment! (credit to Youtube for the art)
I am a parent so having this job, though incredibly time-consuming, does allow me the freedom to work when I want to and be there for my kids when they need me. They also think it’s pretty cool that their mom is a YouTuber!
One of my strategies has been to diversify my content and figure out how I can be a part of the community I make videos about. My store items relate to my content and can be seamlessly incorporated into my videos without feeling like I am constantly selling things to my audience. For example, I created a PDF download of what I call, The Dollhouse Workbook. I have been looking for something like this for my own use, so I created it myself. I can speak about it in my videos regularly and direct anyone interested to my store. This also naturally draws in crafters that may not necessarily be looking for Youtube videos but are more interested in the products. It draws people from both ends. Website and Store: www.bentleyhouseminis.com
I previously mentioned collaborating with other creators with a similar audience but you can do the opposite as well. I enjoy writing stories that go along with my scenes so I recently collaborated with a channel that was all about ‘writing’. These topics are in different categories of art and creativity BUT there is going to be some crossover in interests and I can reach people that might enjoy the creative aspect of my videos but would never search for anything having to do with ‘dollhouses’.
I tend to steer clear of taking on too many sponsorships because I have my own business that I am trying to grow. I feel like if I am talking up a business, it should be mine. This may mean that I am losing out on sponsorship money but I have not regretted the decision so far.
I do enjoy reviewing products, but I try to make sure they are products that my audience would be interested in. I have been contacted by shampoo/make-up brands and I can tell from their emails they have never watched a single video on my channel. If there is no way to incorporate the product naturally into the video, I am not interested. I am also sure to let the company know that I will be giving a truthful review. The trust between myself and my audience is very important to me.