How This B&B Owner Became a YouTube Star
“I was rubbish at marketing generally,” Stephanie Jarvis said as I asked about starting her YouTube channel and Instagram, which now boast over 85,000 followers between them.
In 2004, Stephanie moved into a 16th century chateau in the heart of rural France and has been running a bed and breakfast (called “Chambre D’hote” en français) ever since. But as an English major during university and opera singer in London before relocating to France, marketing was never her strong suit.
Stephanie and her family – including her best friend that co-bought the chateau with her – worked to make ends meet for years, but they got through and restored much of the chateau, which had fallen into dereliction.
Then an opportunity came. In the UK, a small production called Escape to the Chateau, featuring a British family that restored an abandoned French chateau, took off and became a cult hit. A new spinoff series, Escape to the Chateau DIY (shortened to ETTCDIY), got commissioned and would feature other British chateau owners in France.
Stephanie was lucky enough to get a message from the producers, asking her if she’d be willing to be on the show. She figured why not – it might bring more B&B bookings – and became a featured chatelaine. While the show didn’t help her with more bookings in the first season, she decided to carry on because “if you reappear a year later in people’s television screens, it has a slightly different feel” than just a one-time exposure.
In response to some good feedback from seasons 1 and 2, Stephanie launched the Chateau de Lalande Instagram account, hoping it would serve as a useful way to capture the excitement from the TV show and drive a bit more business to Lalande.
“Every season that we were in completely transformed the amount of feedback that we got,” said Stephanie. “That’s when I realized the sheer power of just reaching out to people. If no one knows you’re there, you can’t really do anything in life.”
The plan for her Instagram account after that was simple: drive more business for Lande’s B&B business and maybe get a sponsored post or two.
Listen to what bugs you
From the popularity of ETTCDIY, Chateau de Lalande’s instagram account grew at a steady pace. She was even on track to get big enough for sponsored deals. But something felt off about the whole thing.
“You have to say a lot in an image,” said Stephanie. “You end up spending hours tweaking it and then end up with this really beautiful, perfect image that in no way represents your life. It started to feel that it was almost a bit fake. For loads of people, it isn’t. But for me … it felt like I wasn’t bringing across the real feel of life here.”
After requests from some followers, she started making short videos for IGTV. It instantly felt better because she could be more honest and show the “roughness” of Lalande that made her fall in love with it in the first place. But not everyone was happy with how Stephanie approached vlogging.
“When there were disasters, I showed them,” she recalled. “I remember we did a singles event and none of the guys turned up – it was a complete disaster. I vlogged about it, and several of my friends said I had to take it down because it would harm my business. But I think honesty goes such a long way and that people respond super well to it.”
Her hunch that honesty would pay off was right. People responded to her authenticity and liked seeing a more unfiltered view of chateau life in video. After all, the image most people have in their heads when you say you live in a French castle is that you must be surrounded by gorgeous rooms and a staff of servants. While Stephanie has restored many rooms to their former glory, she did it all herself – she has no army of servants, though she does welcome volunteers from around the world.
With the success of videos, coupled with Stephanie feeling way better about creating authentic videos versus tweaked-to-perfection images, she started a YouTube channel called The Chateau Diaries to share her life at Lalande.
Success came slowly at first, with Stephanie mentioning in one vlog that it took her over a year to hit 1,000 subscribers. Further, her presence on ETTCDIY didn’t grow her YouTube much. But she kept at it because making videos felt good to her.
Be open to suggestions
Fast forward a year and a half, and she’s over 50,000 subscribers and generating thousands per month in revenue from both YouTube monetization and Patreon. And when COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the B&B revenue dropped to zero. Suddenly, she was out of hospitality and into entertainment.
But it wasn’t an instant switch. She’d been setting the stage for two years, perhaps without knowing it, and her biggest growth opportunities came not from strategy but based on feedback and following what felt authentic to her.
Know why people engage with you
In the beginning, Stephanie followed the well-trodden path of showing her ‘best self’ on social media. She developed two mini-series on her channel, with Thursdays being about her life as a chatelaine and Sundays being about the chateau, whether its history or another specific feature.
Now, she focuses far more on the ‘mundane’ and welcoming her subscribers into her real daily life.
“I realized people are watching the channel to see daily life here,” she said. “Things that seem very normal, ordinary, and possibly boring to me are not boring to people who don’t live in a chateau, because that’s not what they experience in their daily life.”
Collaborations help everyone
Through ETTCDIY, Stephanie met Michael Petherick, the brother of another chateau owner on the show. The two became close friends. As an artist, Michael gave Stephanie a lot of tips about how to increase the production value of her videos. But Michael also launched his own YouTube channel for Château de la Basmaignée, where he lives with his family.
Wanting to support a friend, Stephanie put a link to Michael’s channel at the end of one of her videos. It turns out, she stumbled on a gold mine.
Because Stephanie sent traffic to Michael’s vlog (and he linked back to hers), YouTube’s algorithm, which is known to privilege channels who can keep people watching more content rather than leaving the platform, featured both channels highly in search results.
The results were amazing. Michael’s channel started to trend and hit 100,000 followers within a month. Stephanie’s channel more than tripled in size, from 13,000 to over 45,000.
Let your community support you
Stephanie didn’t turn ad monetization on for her channel until months after she was eligible.
“I thought it would be pennies,” she said. “I thought why am I irritating people with ads if I’m not going to make much money from it.”
However, she tried it just to see. The first payment was about $150, which showed her that ad monetization could be real dollars. So she talked about it on her channel, noting that money from ads would go directly to restoring the chateau. Now, her subscribers leave comments encouraging people to watch all the ads on her channel so she gets more money for restoration.
She also launched a Chateau Diaries Patreon, which she set up with ambitious goals tied to chateau restoration. But she had actually had never heard of Patreon until a subscriber asked about it.
“Somebody wrote in the comments that they wanted to become a patron,” she said. “I just ignored that first one because I thought it was one super kind person, but no one else would feel that way. Then I think I’d been asked by five different people and I thought maybe this could be a thing… so I went and did it. And the response has been amazing.”
Between her YouTube and Patreon, Stephanie is making thousands of dollars per month – she’s a veritable paid entertainer. And given COVID-19, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s been literally life-changing within three months.”
Now, Stephanie is planning to launch another YouTube channel where she tours other chateaux with Michael Petherick. The channel isn’t live yet, but this new move will solidify her as an entertainment entrepreneur with a hospitality business on the side. She’s even at the point where she’s considering slowing down her B&B business to give her more time for vlogging. And even though she spends 12 hours a day filming and editing videos, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is a perfect excuse for us to be doing what we love, creating content we’d love to watch, and then sharing it with others.”
Feature image courtesy Michael Potts Photography.