Last year, Helena Faustin almost doubled her annual income – all thanks to a part-time job.
The 35-year-old works full-time as a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse in Freeport, New York, earning $105,000 a year. In her free time, she has spent the last four years running That Nurse Can Cook, a food blog where she describes recipes and posts cooking videos.
It originally cost Faustin about $700 in groceries, ring lights, and other production materials to launch That Nurse Can Cook. Last year, the side business brought in $117,000 from YouTube revenue, brand partnerships and e-cookbook sales, according to documents verified by CNBC Make It. Faustin, who plans, films, edits and promotes all of her content herself, raised more than $25,000 from That Nurse Can Cook in June 2021 alone.
But monetary value is far from the only benefit for Faustin, a mother of two who says her blog has given her a sense of control as she works as a nurse during the height of the Covid pandemic.
“I felt like I was really working out of necessity,” Faustin tells CNBC Make It. “You have bills to pay, you have mouths to feed, and the work has to keep going no matter what. I said to myself, ‘Gee, if I could have more autonomy in my life, I could deserve a lot more choices for myself and my family.'”
But That Nurse Can Cook’s success didn’t come overnight. Faustin’s passion for cooking – and doing – has been smoldering for more than 20 years.
Faustin originally inherited her love of cooking from her mother, a Jamaican immigrant who taught Faustin how to prepare dishes like akee and saltfish in her family kitchen in Brooklyn, New York.
When Faustin was nine years old, her mother sent her to the neighborhood markets, where she learned to distinguish different ingredients and bring them home. At 15, Faustin says, she began observing her mother more closely in the kitchen and then asked to join in.
“[My mom] didn’t always have the patience to teach,” says Faustin.[Jamaicans] I cook by instinct, so I’d say, “How much garlic powder should I put in?” And she would literally look at me and say, ‘Use your judgement.'”
Faustin never thought her family recipes would become lucrative. Instead of pursuing her culinary passions, she went to school, got good grades, and became a nurse in the NICU.
“Anyone out there who is a first-generation American and was born to immigrant parents, we were always raised to crave stability,” says Faustin. “They always taught us to go to college and get a degree. So I couldn’t imagine a career as a chef for myself.”
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Nursing brought stability: over the years, Faustin’s annual salary has grown to as much as $126,000. The food blog idea came from her personal life. In 2018, she began posting photos of her Jamaican-style dishes on Instagram and interest from friends and family was immediate.
Still, there’s a big difference between racking up Instagram likes and becoming a regular content creator — so Faustin spent hours researching trends, gear, and recipes that might connect with her intended audience.
“I had to learn… how to create content that would resonate with people,” says Faustin. “In the early stages I had a lot of growing pains, a lot of trial and error.”
She looked to other content creators to see how much — and just how — other influencers were making money. She bought tripods, ring lights and upgraded her iPhone. She then began reaching out to other brands in hopes of networking and collaborating.
As Covid drastically changed her day-to-day care work, she found her mind often wandered away from the hospital and back to her family. She wanted to make money without spending any more time away from home.
Another food blogger suggested that Faustin write her own e-cookbook. Now, Faustin’s two e-books — which focus on 30-minute recipes and “extravagant meals with sides,” respectively — account for a large portion of her monthly sales: Last year, she made $71,333 from e-book downloads, compared with $39,030 from brand collaborations and $7,523 from advertising revenue.
Faustin says her side job has helped her be more present in family life while improving her mental health. But running a business while maintaining a full-time job comes at a price: your free time.
“When I started this side job, I was really so passionate about seeing my dreams come true that I didn’t stop,” she says. “I literally worked every day that I wasn’t working at the hospital.”
When she’s not on her feet at work or at home, she’s emailing, researching, and grocery shopping — which, at around $600 a month, is one of her company’s only expenses. There are days when her content doesn’t perform as well as she hopes due to social media algorithms. She says she wants to hire a staff member to delegate tasks that keep her from creating content.
Faustin also still has long workdays as a nurse, but the success of That Nurse Can Cook has allowed her to reduce her hospital shifts. She currently works eight 12-hour shifts a month, down from a previous peak of 13 such shifts.
She doesn’t envision retiring from nursing any time soon, she says. But one day, she hopes, That Nurse Can Cook will provide her with the stability to choose between the two roles.
“You don’t have to be behind a computer or have a traditional nine-to-five job to have the life you want,” says Faustin. “If you have a talent, use that talent, learn as much as you can from it, and monetize that thing.”
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