How One Family Makes Enough to Live off Their YouTube Hair Tutorials

"It was just supposed to be a hobby," Mindy McKnight says in the latest issue of PEOPLE

Photo: Ramona Rosales

Mindy McKnight never thought she could turn spending time with her kids into a business empire.

“It was just supposed to be a hobby,” the mom of six tells PEOPLE of fixing up each of her children’s hair every morning. “It’s 10 minutes per child that we get to sit and talk about the day or go over spelling words. I really enjoy that time.”

Mindy, 37, says she has no formal training in hairstyling. But as her children got older, it became increasingly common for people to come up to them on the street asking if she could show them how she crafted the intricate braids her children were known for at school.

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“We would be walking around the mall or at school, and moms would always ask us how we had done the hairstyle,” says Mindy. “It got to the point where people would approach and say, ‘Hey, will you undo the hairstyle and show me how you did it?’ ”

To save her kids – twin girls Brooklyn and Bailey, 15; daughters Kamri, 12, Rylan, 10, and Paisley, 4; and son Daxton, 7 – from becoming impromptu hair models at the mall, Mindy started a blog in 2008 where she posted step-by-step photos of her hairstyles. But when some of the dos proved too complicated for photo documentation, her husband Shaun, 41, suggested filming video tutorials instead.

And, so, the YouTube channel Cute Girls Hairstyles was born.

“It’s not what I went to school to do. I can tell you that,” Shaun says of quitting his day job three years ago to devote himself full-time to the channel, which now has 3.9 million subscribers. “But one of the great things about it is that for the first time in 15 years, when my daughters had daddy-daughter doughnut day at school or a parent-teacher conference, I have the freedom to be able to go. I didn’t have that before.”

Mindy and Shaun are also grateful that working on their YouTube channel has become a family affair.

“As a parent, it’s fun to see your children get involved,” Shaun says of including his children in all the business decisions.

And their empire is growing.

In 2013, the McKnights debuted a second channel, Brooklyn and Bailey, which introduced their followers to the family behind the hairstyles. Just this week, they launched a channel targeted toward mothers, Millennial Moms, and have plans to launch a fourth channel targeted at teens in the near future. The family is also mulling book, TV and manufacturing deals.

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“YouTube has literally changed our lives,” says Shaun. “We adopted our son and had to take out a second mortgage on our home. Even though I had a great job, it was tight for three or four months. Then, about six months after that point, YouTube invited us into their partner program and things completely changed for us.”

For more from the McKnights – including how Brooklyn and Bailey feel about their family’s success – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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