Make a Career on YouTube
You know a career path is mainstream when Forbes starts ranking its highest-paid members, and that’s what happened to professional YouTube stars in 2015. The news that Swedish videogame vlogger Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) grossed $12 million last year raised some eyebrows and sparked a fresh wave of interest in making YouTube videos for a living.
Understand the Economics of YouTube
YouTube seems like a platform that lends itself to on-a-shoestring success, but there are expenses for video creators beyond the costs of a camera, microphone, editing software, and computer equipment. YouTube reportedly takes a 45% cut of content creators’ ad revenues; the Patreon donation platform takes a 10% cut of tips left by viewers; and sponsored content can pay well but could cause a drop in subscribers. (Even Kjellberg has spoken publicly about the challenges small creators face on the platform.)
It is possible to make money on YouTube, but it requires realistic expectations, hard work, persistence, and a real love for what you’re doing. Here are some things to consider as you’re starting out.
Choose a Channel Topic
Video game, comedy, and beauty vlogs are consistently among the most popular on YouTube. These topics dominated 2015’s list of the world’s most popular YouTubers. If one of these is your field of interest, the good news is that there are huge numbers of viewers interested, too. The downside is there’s plenty of competition for their attention.
[bctt tweet=”Want to be a professional YouTuber? Top genres include video games, comedy, and beauty vlogs.” username=”hostgator”]
Other topics can do well, too. Lindsey Stirling, uniquely skilled in playing the violin while dancing, was on the Forbes 2015 list. A quirky topic can be a selling point, and there’s often less competition from other vloggers.
Select a target audience
Professional YouTuber Mah-Dry-Bread explains in the video below that income streams vary depending on your audience. Adults are more likely than kids are to use Adblock while watching YouTube, which means creators don’t get ad-network credit for those views. Adults are more likely to use Patreon to donate to YouTubers. Beyond adults-vs-kids, you’ll want to develop your audience-member persona in more detail and pay attention to who your early subscribers are to help focus your content.
Make lots of videos, then make more
Veteran YouTubers say that uploading new videos often is the key to gaining new subscribers and keeping existing viewers happy. Olga Kay, a celebrity with channels for videogame play, juggling, fashion and beauty, and her pet dog, turned out a minimum of twenty videos each week in early 2014. Her pace seems to have eased up these days, but Kay still updates regularly.
Start with whatever equipment you have. While many YouTubers invest in high-end camera gear, plenty make entertaining and popular videos using only their smartphone cameras. At the request of her teen fans, Brittany Maddox explained how to shoot, edit, voiceover, and upload YouTube videos on an iPhone with low-cost equipment and apps. Her tips include:
- Get an inexpensive tripod
- Use the phone’s back camera for better picture quality
- Buy the iMovie app for editing
Maddox walks viewers through a quick edit in the video.
Think about how you’ll earn money
Mah-Dry-Bread, in his video on YouTubing for pay, cautions new creators to be wary of ad network offers when they first sign up. Once you have 1,000 subscribers, you may start hearing from legitimate ad networks that will place pre-roll or on-screen ads on your videos and pay you a small amount for each ad viewed. He recommends joining a network that allows you to opt out with 30 days’ notice.
The more popular your channel becomes, the more likely you are to hear from potential sponsors. Sponsored content can be lucrative, although Gaby Dunn of JustBetweenUs has written that subscribers don’t always like sponsored videos, so try to make sure the sponsor and audience are a good match.
[bctt tweet=”3 ways to make money on YouTube: Patreon donations, YouTube ad networks, and sponsored content.” username=”hostgator”]
Patreon donations can help YouTubers with older viewers cover their expenses and then some. Mah-Dry-Bread recommends Patreon for all YouTubers as a hedge against unpredictable ad and sponsor income. Some YouTubers also use their channels as a springboard to other revenue streams. Olga Kay sells adorable knee socks, and British YouTube star KSI has extended his brand to clothing and a new rap career.
Set up a website to promote your YouTube channel
Most professional YouTubers also maintain a website where they link to and embed their videos, direct visitors to their channels, link to their Patreon page if they have one, and share new content. Some prime examples include
- PewDiePie.com, with links to his merchandise
- Olga Kay’s MooshWorld, where visitors can buy knee socks that look like pets
- LindseyStirling.com, which includes her upcoming international tour dates
- MichellePhan.com, where Phan hosts her popular beauty blog and promotes her book
You may not have a book or concert tour to tell viewers about, but your website can promote your consulting services, speaking engagements, your own merchandise, and affiliate products your audience will find relevant.
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Keep at it and have fun
Building a career on YouTube, like building a career anywhere, takes patience, persistence, and a willingness to learn. UK vlogger Jim Chapman has reminded new YouTubers “this isn’t going to happen overnight.” In the meantime, Chapman told The Independent, “Do it for fun.”
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.