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Utah Business

Samery Moses, a professional martial artist based in Utah, makes her full income online. Here's how she does it.

This professional martial artist makes her living as a YouTuber

Samery Moras makes a living posting videos about martial arts as @BlackBeltSamery on YouTube.

As a former member of the US national team and Black Belt in Taekwondo, Moras is internationally recognized in her sport. She spent six years competing, and while she assumed her future career would be related to martial arts, she wasn’t banking on social media. At all.

“I didn’t even realize jobs like that existed,” she says.

Instead, Mora’s rise was slow, steady…and a little accidental.

“While I traveled with the team, I would take pictures for my friends and family,” Moras says. “There was no strategy behind it.”

She started receiving comments and messages from people asking her for advice about developing martial arts skills. In response to the comments, she launched her YouTube channel, Black Belt Samery.

“I saw names I didn’t recognize, and it was really weird for me,” she says. “I became a presence online because people wanted me to.”

But that doesn’t mean she let herself get pushed around. Before purposefully posting, Moras wrote down how she wanted to be perceived.

“I wanted to be inspirational,” she says. “That’s what I wrote on a piece of paper somewhere in 2017, that I wanted the people who saw my content to see a happy, inspirational person who could motivate them to try hard things.”

As soon as she had her brand image locked down, she started filming.

“People wanted to learn how to kick faster or kick higher,” she says. “So that’s what I started with—quick videos about the best drills and stretches for beginners. I had around 200 subscribers at that point, and I really had no idea where they had come from. It was all organic.”

When YouTube announced they were hosting a creator-only workshop in Utah, Moras wanted to attend. The problem? Only channels with over 1,000 subscribers got invitations. 

“I had a month to get 800 new people to subscribe to my channel,” she says. “But I had really loved the past few months of just making content for people, of teaching the skills I’d honed. So, for the first time, I started marketing myself.”

Moras reached out to her friends and family—and everyone else who would listen—and asked them to add her channel to their YouTube subscriptions. She hit the 1,000-subscriber requirement just before the deadline.

“The workshop opened my eyes to the world of online content,” she says. “This was a job I could do? I thought ‘Seriously? I can make money doing this?’”

That’s when the research started: Moras spent hours every week dedicated to understanding algorithms, what people clicked on, and what they’d scroll past. What caught (and held) people’s attention most often? Moras thinks it’s simple: honesty.

“I wasn’t naturally good at this sport,” she says. “Not only was it scary to start, but I also lost pretty much every competition growing up. I found that was something a lot of my new followers could relate with: they were afraid to get started, to try a new thing out. That angle fit well with the brand I’d established for myself, and it resonated with my audience.”

Moras made a goal to upload one or two times every week.

“The successful creators in my field had one thing in common: consistency,” she says. “I was still training at this point, so anytime I was at a session I’d try to record it and add some commentary.”

There was no videographer, no editors, no social media managers. It was just Moras and an iPhone.

“I didn’t even have a tripod,” she says. “I was naive and ignorant about what I was doing and the amount of effort it would take, but I kept doing it anyway. I’d prop my phone up on my shoes, record myself doing a kick, go back to watch it. I’d do that over and over until it looked good.”

The development of her social media accounts took most of her free time.

“When I wasn’t physically training, I was editing the videos or promoting them,” she says. “I’d wake up thinking about what I’d post on Instagram or Facebook that day. It was just constant work.”

The late nights paid off. By the end of 2018, Moras hit 30,000 subscribers and started to make money off AdSense, Google’s ad program. Still, the income wasn’t what she’d first imagined it would be.

“I earned around $1,000 a month,” she says. “I was grateful, but it wasn’t enough to live on.”

Moras tried a variety of ways to monetize her content, from selling merch to starting a Patreon account. Nearly three years into the effort, a stable income still wasn’t materializing. 

“I realized I wasn’t going to get the kind of views that made AdSense worth it,” she says. “But for me, the quantity of people wasn’t as important as the quality of subscribers: the people already following were serious about me, and they were willing to pay for higher quality content.”

That idea sparked her first course: “How to Use Nunchucks.”

“Looking back at it, it was made so horribly,” she says. “I borrowed a friend’s camera and still didn’t really know how to edit. But I knew how to teach that course: I had that expertise, and that came across.”

She uploaded the video on a password-protected section of her website and hoped she’d pegged her audience correctly.

“More and more students signed up,” she says. “It was overwhelming. I started designing more courses, teaching about everything about sparring techniques to my workout routines. They were big hits.”

Those “big hits” drove up her subscriber and follower counts—by the end of 2019, she had over 100,000 subscribers and was able to start paying her rent with the income. 

“I did a focus group with my top customers, and they all pointed to my consistency,” she says. “It took some of them a year after following me to purchase a course, but when they wanted content like that, they knew I’d be there.”

As her following grew, she wasn’t just making money from courses or YouTube ads: brands started to approach her.

“You have to remember I was doing almost all of this alone,” she says. “I didn’t have legal experience; I had taught myself how to run a website—it was a really stressful time and I had to make a lot of big decisions.”

Moras fell back on the brand she’d crafted for herself almost 5 years prior.

“I make enough to support myself from the courses, so I can be picky about brands I work with,” she says. “I didn’t want to lose control of what I’d created, to promote things that didn’t sit right with me, even if I could be making a lot more money that way.”

While Moras did sign on to do ad campaigns with both Degree and Mountain America, she says brand deals still aren’t her goal. Instead, she’s diversifying her platforms.

“I’ve started collaborating with other athletes, and I’m considering having guests instruct courses on my platform,” she says. 

Some of her work has sidestepped martial arts altogether.

“I’ve been asked to do social media consulting,” she says. “People want to create an audience organically, and now I know how to do that.”

And she really does—if you thought her first channel was all luck, she started a separate account for her dogs, just to see if she could do it again. 

“We’re at almost 100K on TikTok now,” she says. “I built it up the same way I did for my original platforms: identified my values and stayed consistent. Sometimes you must be patient and pour a lot of yourself and your time into things before they pan out, but it’s worth it. I love what I do, and I get to do it full-time.”

Jacqueline is a Master of Accounting graduate from the University of Utah. Specializing in tax, she's interested in business, government, and the intersection of the two. When she's not studying or writing, she loves to run, play Candy Crush, and read novels.