In February of 2021, 56-year-old Elaina St. James was working 40 hours a week as an insurance agent, making around $30,000 a year. She was taking care of her son on her own and starting to worry about her financial future. She feared that she wouldn’t have enough money to pay for college or to retire from her job.
That’s when she stumbled upon a few articles from women who were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on OnlyFans.
“I had never heard of the platform before but their stories seemed too good to be true,” St. James told Passionfruit. “It was something you could start and do from the safety of your own home and I figured if I could make a tenth of what they are making, it would be life-changing for my son and I.”
St. James loved taking pictures and being in front of the camera. But she’d never used social media before.
“I didn’t know how to start, so I just started,” she added. “I created an Instagram account and began chatting with the guys who followed me. I asked them what they wanted to see and used their feedback to create content.”
She started her online brand completely from scratch
She decided to create a niche by being herself, a 50-something woman who was proud of who she was.
“I created content that showed my big smile, friendly attitude, and added in a little flirtatious fun,” she said. “I leaned into showing the world who I was, a creator in her fifties, who was proud of her body, and started to gain followers, especially when I put out video content on Instagram just moving around or dancing to a song.”
She leaned into Instagram as her number-one marketing channel for her OnlyFans account. She created reels using trending audio and put out at least one new one a day. She would send messages to followers to ask what type of content resonated with them and she would create based on their feedback.
Instagram doesn’t allow creators to link to their OnlyFans account directly. So instead, St. James would post a link to her LinkTree account instead. On there, people could find out how to visit her OnlyFans page. People who found her reels and photos organically on Instagram slowly figured out that she was an OnlyFans creator and started to become paid subscribers there.
By April of 2021, Elania had 10,000 followers on Instagram and around 60 subscribers on OnlyFans.
“I had made almost $2,000 that month which was a little less than my full-time job salary,” she shared. “That’s when I thought this could really turn into something big.”
A month and a half after starting OnlyFans, St. James gave her two weeks’ notice to the insurance agency she was working for. By the third month as a creator, she was making $10,000 a month from premade and custom videos and photo sets.
She stayed resourceful and learned as quickly as she could
“I bought a ring light and a tripod. From there, I watched hundreds of YouTube videos on how to shoot videos and photos yourself using an iPhone,” she said. “Those free videos were essential. They taught me everything I needed to know about filming videos on my own and making them look professional.”
She picked up helpful tips like the importance of staying true to your brand and being consistent.
“Posting daily, or close to it, helps you feed the beast of public attention,” she said.
To tap into social media platforms as marketing vehicles for her OnlyFans account, she studied threads on Reddit from other creators who shared how they used Instagram and TikTok to gain subscribers, without violating the rules of the platforms.
For example, she learned how to rename the audio on her reels to be labeled as her website name or “google Elaina St.James”. This helped her hint to the audience that they could find more out about her if they searched for her off the platform. To that end, St. James is open about the fact that she came into this business knowing nothing about social media or content creation.“Do your research and don’t expect anyone to hand you magic tricks along the way,” she said. “Because what works for me is not gonna work for you and vice versa. We are different people, we’re different brands and you can only figure that out by trial and error and you know, you just have to do it.”
Being a NSFW creator on TikTok and Instagram is frustrating
When you look at St. James’ Instagram account, with over 400,000 followers, or TikTok account with over 200,000 followers, you can’t help but think she’s a booming success. Her videos often get over 100,000 views and she puts out new content almost every day. But when you ask her about how she’s built such an engaged audience, she’s quick to admit that being a NSFW creator on these two platforms comes with headaches and heartbreaks.
First, she deals with copycat accounts that pop up almost every single week. She shared that these catfishing accounts will steal her videos and message followers to get them to send money. To combat this issue, St. Hamese hired a company that takes care of this for her and reports the accounts to get them taken down as quickly as possible. She also posts a video on each of her real accounts proving that it’s her running the account so that followers can spot fake accounts when they pop up.
“I’ve lost five different TikTok pages,” she said. “It’s not like I posted anything explicit for that to happen. I never know why I get in trouble with these platforms but I always wonder if it’s because a video of mine showed a little too much cleavage or skin.”
When she goes to start a new one, she always follows the same playbook to help it grow. She’ll make videos using TikTok trending audio, put her spin on popular video styles of the week, and hopes that a few will go viral so she can get back the hundreds of thousands of followers that she loses when an account gets taken down. She also finds that if her account gets deleted, people search for her on the platform and find her new account. That’s what she attributes to her new pages growing fast.
And while St. James often gets over 100,000 views per video. She says she has months where she feels like the algorithm is working against her and she can’t get more than a few thousand views.
She shared that the toughest part is that these platforms don’t give her any feedback or insight. They will often just tell her that her account has violated their standards.
“From a NSFW creator standpoint, we’re all struggling with the fear that we’ll get deleted off TikTok or Instagram at any moment for a reason we didn’t see coming,” she shared. “I notice that women who are younger-looking get away with a lot more than I do in my videos.”
St. James spends 6-9 hours a day running her social media accounts
Since St. James’ job is to be a full-time creator on OnlyFans, she spends a minimum of 30-hours a week using social media as her top marketing vehicle. She spends about 10 hours a week on content creation, responding to messages from her followers, and researching how to optimize the platforms for growth.
Every day, she’ll spend a few hours scrolling through Instagram and TikTok to find trending audio or video styles that she can save and replicate. She then spends around an hour a week brainstorming how to make the content fit her niche and put her own brand spin on the trends. She’ll also practice how she’s going to walk, dance, or lip sync before she goes to film the videos. Then she spends around ten hours a week filming content.
“I’ll film 15 videos at a time and save them in my draft folder,” she said. “That way, every day, I have new content to post on Instagram or TikTok.”
However, St. James is strategic about what she posts and has rules. She often doesn’t post the same videos on her Instagram and TikTok. She also tries to wear different outfits on each platform, in case she has repeat followers. She doesn’t want her followers to get bored. Plus, she noticed that Instagram doesn’t like it when you repost a TikTok video there and they will sometimes show it to fewer people as a result.
“I often use a program that takes off the TikTok watermark so that I can reuse these videos on Instagram,” she said. “I find I don’t get penalized when I do that.”
Almost two and a half years later, St. James is a top-earning OnlyFans creator who is proud of her new full-time career.
“I want to be a beacon of hope,” she shared. “For any woman, or man, in their 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s, who feels like their life is over and all they can do is look back on their glory days. It’s not true. I want them to see that maybe their best days are in front of them. Mine still are. I didn’t always feel that way but I know that now and I want others to see that too.”