Lucie Fink on Turning Her Day Job Into Her Dream Job
Lucie Fink always had a hunch that she belonged on camera, but at the time she graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2014, the Scarsdale, New York native said there weren’t many hosting gigs that didn’t involve red carpets or celebrity gossip. “I just didn’t want that,” she says. “It seemed like my only option was to go behind the scenes and be a producer.” At the advertising giant Ogilvy, Fink impressed then chief creative officer Lisa Clunie with her portfolio of colorful stop-motion animation. It was good timing—A few weeks later, when Clunie departed to become chief operarting officer at Refinery29, Fink was one of her first hires.
Over the next two years, Fink became one of Refinery29’s first on-air talents, best known for starring in the five-day challenge series Try Living with Lucie, which she had conceptualized, pitched, and produced. Her bubbly personality, adventurous style, and wry sense of humor made her a natural fit, and as her star began to rise, so did her opportunities: fitness brands, talent agents, and TV scouts came knocking. Here, the 27-year-old—who now has 170,000 Instagram followers, 175,000 YouTube subscribers and an income in the “multiple six figures”—tells us how she leveraged her success at the influential women’s media company and set off to launch her own.
When I started, Refinery 29’s YouTube channel didn't have any sort of regular programs or hosts, so we built a dedicated audience that was coming back week after week to see me trying something new. “Try Living With Lucie” became their most successful hosted YouTube show and won Webby and Telly awards, and it made me someone who was known online. At the same time, partly because of my side animation projects, my own Instagram started gaining traction and brands started to reach out to me directly, wanting to send products and have me post about them. Eventually, around early 2017, I decided I didn’t need more free products, and thought, Maybe I should charge brands to be featured. That was a turning point.
It became a delicate situation, though, me being a full-time employee with Refinery29 and doing partnerships with brands on my own. I also felt like it wasn't in my best interest to be negotiating these deals by myself. I was in talks with ICM [Partners] for representation, but Refinery29 offered to represent me instead. They had developed an internal talent program where they’d play agent and manager all in one. Back then, I didn’t have a big enough following to do much on my own, and I really wasn’t interested in leaving the company, so it made perfect sense.
We re-negotiated my contract after a year, but I was slowly understanding that the deals minded Refinery's best interests, not mine. Also, I couldn’t distinguish myself separately from them the way I wanted to. I wanted to be more than the five-day challenge girl. It was approaching time for me to go on my own.
Making the Side Hustle the Main Hustle (and Vice Versa)
By early 2019, I had found an agent and was thinking about starting my own YouTube channel, which I wouldn’t be able to do along with a full-time job. But I had a hard time leaving my Refinery series behind. My audience still wanted them. Thankfully, the company and I came up with another new contract that made it so I was no longer an official employee but allotted me a set number of videos that I’d make for them each quarter.
There were a few exclusivity agreements or companies I couldn't work with––chiefly Refinery29's biggest competitors, like PopSugar and Buzzfeed––but those were just for one year. As of this year, in 2020, I'm working with Refinery on a per project basis. With [Refinery] having been bought by Vice [in January], we’ve just agreed to work together as projects emerge. I’m in the process of doing something with them right now to promote their new loungewear line, actually. So we're still very amicable and in touch.
A lot of people ask me about balancing a full-time job and a side hustle, and how I knew it was time to leave. My advice is to look at the numbers. Part of the reason I felt ready was because the stuff I was doing on my own as an influencer became, eventually, significantly more lucrative than my salary. I figured, okay, if this is what I'm making on the side while juggling a full-time job, imagine what I could make if I did this full-time.
Knowing Your Value
One thing I discovered early on was that, because of the time we live in and the platforms that are available to us, everyone suddenly wants to be on camera. I don't know if it's because we live in this Instagram age where everyone is their own show, but everyone––from the video producers to writers to designers at Refinery––seemed to want the job I was doing. At first it made me uneasy; I had been doing this since college so I was surprised when people popped up out of nowhere and thought they could do it on a whim. But you learn to roll with it. Refinery could be crazy competitive, and that can be toxic. You have to remember that there’s room, and an audience out there, for everyone.
You also learn not to take rejection personally. In my current deal with UTA, I do a lot of Skype auditions for shows on Quibi and Echo. It basically requires you to maintain a good attitude. I don't get upset when I hear back that it didn't work. I just think to myself, okay, the thing that's meant for me is still on the way. This is still a Hollywood industry even though it’s online.
Growing the Brand
I’ve been learning so much about the backend of programming content on YouTube, from titling to SEO optimization to keyword tagging. But it’s paid off: In the past year, my channel has doubled in traffic and now it’s bigger than my Instagram. It has become the funnel through which most of my deals come in. I think there's more longevity with YouTube content because it’s more easily recycled and shared than old Instagram posts. Also, YouTube continues to make me money on the backend every day just from ads––with me doing nothing. Understanding that element of the business has been huge.
I’ve also been learning more about the technical side of things now that I’m running my own business. At Refinery, I’d script my videos and then hand them off to an editor who would then hand them off to marketing. Now, I’m responsible for the entire run: scheduling, scripting, shooting, producing, hosting, uploading, promoting, and of course, responding to commenters. It’s just me. Sometimes it feels like I’m drowning in busy work, but I’m determined to make this a legit business, so it matters. I’ve spent the past year getting all my tax forms and processes in order, and now I’m getting ready to build my team. So far, I’ve hired an assistant and a business coordinator, and we’ll see from there. I’m trying to figure out who I need to make sure that I'm operating efficiently and professionally. That’s how Refinery built me as talent.
It’s also an opportunity to answer big questions, like, what is my preferred work schedule? I don't want an office job. I don't want someone coming to my apartment every day. And I don't want to live my life on a week-by-week scheduling basis. I want to try to have set days in a week when I know I'm shooting new content, or capturing branded assets that need to be created, or uploading a new TikTok video or whatever. I don’t want to just be on my phone everyday with thoughts popping up reminding me what I have to do.
As I continue to build my brand into more of a media company, I’m trying to do fewer one-off sponsored posts and more meaningful, long-term partnerships. When it comes to branded content, I used to mainly focus on affiliate links. Now, I’m trying to actually collaborate with brands to make my own products, kind of like capsule collections. I have a dream up designing my own ice cream flavor.
I want my content to be less about promoting products and more about promoting values. Everything I do needs to be aligned with one of my core values. It’s a balance, of course. A lot of my content focuses on the environment and sustainability, so it just doesn't make sense for me to promote a plastic water bottle. But at the same time, there are brands that I believe in and love for other reasons. I'm doing a partnership with Fabletics, for example, which I know a part of my audience might see as me endorsing fast fashion. But I love this brand’s body positivity message and the fact that they make clothes for all sizes and body types, so I’ve decided I’m okay with it. You’re always going to get questioned about who you partner with. I just make sure I have a solid answer.
Lucie's Brand Breakdown
- Weekly Youtube videos
- Daily Instagram posts plus round-the-clock Stories
- Occasional Facebook and Snapchat posts
- Once in a while TikTok experiments
- Bi-weekly email newsletter
- Online stop-motion course for purchase
- YouTube masterclass for aspiring YouTubers
- Yet-to-be-launched 7-day Instagram branding course
- Accepts commissions for shout-outs on Cameo, directing half of the proceeds go to environmental sustainability organizations
- Hosts virtual meet-and-greets on Fundo, particularly helpful during COVID