If anyone tells you it’s too late to start a YouTube channel now, ignore them. The platform is booming, and while there have been some controversies over the years, it’s still possible for a new content creator to grow and do well from scratch.
But before you dive in, there are some things you need to think about if you want to maximize your chances for success. There are no guarantees when it comes to YouTube.
Not motivation in the sense of “being eager to act and work,” but rather “the reason why you act and work.” What’s your motivation for starting a YouTube channel?
Maybe you want to teach others how to do something, like DIY home repair or programming web and mobile apps. Maybe you want to tell brilliant stories through short film. Or maybe you want to play and review video games. It can be anything, but it has to be something.
Your motivation is the basis for three key elements shared by every successful YouTube channel: topic coverage, target audience, and reason for existence.
- Topic coverage is WHAT your videos will be about.
- Target audience is WHO your videos are intended for.
- Reason for existence is WHY they should watch your videos.
For example, MakeUseOf’s YouTube channel includes gadget reviews and tech tutorials (what) intended for people who want to level up their tech-savviness (who) and we do it in a way that’s down-to-earth and approachable for even the newbiest of newbies (why).
Before you launch your channel, you must define these things. Otherwise you’ll end up with a hodge-podge channel that fails to capture any kind of meaningful viewership, and no meaningful viewership means no long-term success.
Once you know what kind of content you’ll make and who will be watching it, you need to decide on a production schedule. How often will you release new videos?
It mainly depends on content type:
- For vlogs and Let’s Plays, maybe every day (e.g., Northernlion).
- For research-heavy trivia, maybe every week (e.g., Wendover Productions).
- For high-quality skits, maybe every month. (e.g., Epic Rap Battles of History).
Be realistic and think long-term. You might have the energy to do one video per day right now, but can you keep that up for six months or a year? Do you want this to be a full-time endeavor or would you rather have some leeway for when wrenches are thrown into your schedule?
It may sound silly, but changing up your frequency later on down the road could really tick off your viewership — so much so that they unsubscribe. Even missing one day (or week or month) could trigger discontent with fans. When in doubt, go with a lesser frequency.
Many people will tell you that success is all about “substance over style.” Well, they’re wrong. The true key to success is “substance and style.” YouTube viewers eat with their eyes, and if you serve up a dish that’s healthy but bland, many will turn their noses up at it.
Of the many ingredients to a successful YouTube channel, three involve style:
- Smart titles
- Consistent format
- Video thumbnails
If your channel will involve audio, then you need to work on articulation, confident voice, and getting rid of annoying speech patterns (like upspeak). If you’re going to be on camera, you’ll want to work on standing steady, looking into the camera, smiling, not fidgeting, and so on.
A few ways you can do this: confront and slay your fear of public speaking, then learn how an engaging speaker speaks by watching and studying notable TED Talks, and lastly, check out these free sites and resources for improving communication skills.
But you also need to edit your videos well. No, I don’t condone joining in on the jump-cut trend for viewers with no attention span. It just means picking a good video-editing app (we haverecommendations for Windows, Mac, Linux), making sure the quality and framerate are high enough, and cutting out all the unnecessary bits.
Again, forget about “substance over style.” Drill it into your brain that “substance and style” is key to YouTube success — and this means acquiring the essential equipment necessary to create videos. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend much to get started.
At a bare minimum, you’ll want to have:
- Camera: Before you drop $500+ on a decent DSLR or mirrorless, know that a quality webcam is more than enough at the start and costs less than $100. Or you can just use your smartphone! Save the high-end fancy cameras until you’ve been doing this for 6–12 months and know you’re going to keep at it for years to come.
- Tripod: If you do have a separate camera, or if you end up using a smartphone, then you’ll want a tripod to hold it up and keep it steady. You could put it on a desk or shelf, but tripods offer more flexibility and don’t cost much. See our camera tripod recommendations and our smartphone tripod recommendations.
- Microphone: The built-in microphones that come with cameras — whether webcam, smartphone, DSLR, or mirrorless — are often terrible, because most of the work goes into the video aspect. So get an external microphone, record audio separately, then mix it with the video afterwards. Learn more about condenser vs. dynamic microphones to pick the right one for your content type.
- Green Screen: A green screen is necessary if you want to change the background in your video. While an actual green screen kit could cost upwards of $50, you can just use a literal green sheet or DIY one with an unused white sheet and some green dye.
- Screen Capture Software: Only necessary if your videos involve content from your screen, such as Excel video tutorials or PC gameplay. I highly recommend OBS Studio, which can record your screen directly as an MP4 video file.
This is just a quick overview. If you want to learn more about each part, see our full article on what equipment you need to start a YouTube channel. When you start getting serious with your channel, you may eventually want to consider building a YouTube studio at home.
“If you build it, they will come” — nope. Not true at all for YouTube. You can go five years producing a new video every single day and it’s entirely possible to never crack 1,000 views on any video.
If you want to succeed, you have to promote yourself — and there’s a thin line between spam and self-promotion. Here are a few ideas you might use:
- Social Media: We’ve written about promoting a cause on social media, but the tips also apply to YouTube channel promotion.
- Forums: These are great, especially the big ones like Reddit. Find a community for which your content will be relevant, then share your best content (not all your content). Don’t share too frequently though, else you may be banned for spamming.
- Giveaways: People love free stuff. By running a giveaway that involves social sharing as a method of entry, your channel can reach a lot of people within days. Just make sure follow our guide to running social media giveaways and that you offer a prize that’s valuable to your target audience.
- Collaborate: Working with others isn’t just a good way to network and expand your contacts — when they share your collaborations with their audiences, it exposes their audiences to you. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Bear in mind that promotion is a long game. It may takes months, or even years, for your channel to gain popularity. Perseverance is the number one trait shared between YouTube creators!
Making money through YouTube is harder than it used to be, but it’s still possible today even if you’re just starting out.
While most people think YouTubers earn boatloads of cash through advertisements, the truth is that ads rarely pay well for the effort. As of 2016, the average revenue per 1,000 views on YouTube was about $1.50 (after YouTube takes its cut). That comes out to $1,500 per 1 million views, and users have reported that rates dropped further in 2017.
In short, don’t expect to get rich off ads even if your channel goes viral. So how do the top YouTubers make their money? A combination of many monetization methods:
- Affiliate sales and product promotions
- Consultation services
- Direct advertisements that aren’t Adsense
- Public speaking events
- Support from fans who donate
You can learn more about this in our post on how difficult it is to make money on YouTube.
7. Goals and Milestones
The quickest way to grow discouraged as a YouTube creator? Compare yourself to others.
Before you even start your first video, lay out a few goals and/or milestones that you want to reach. Not only will these keep you focused on your own path, and not only will they give you a sense of progress, but they show you what to do when you feel stuck.
An effective goal has three core elements:
- Measurable: The goal should have a quantified component that lets you know, at any given moment in time, whether you’ve reached it or not.
- Timed: The goal should have a realistic deadline — not so far out so that you still feel pressure, but not so close that it’s overwhelming.
- Controllable: The goal should be an action you can perform, rather than an outcome that you hope will come as a result of an action.
For example, you might aim to put out 10 videos (measurable) by the end of October (timed). Note that “putting out a video” is an action you can do, whereas “reach 1,000 viewers” is not an action but rather an outcome. “Earn $50 this month” isn’t a goal, whereas “find and negotiate a sponsorship deal” is.
Create a few goals, then keep creating more as you reach them. You’d be surprised how effective this can be at keeping you motivated and on track to success.
What Kind of YouTube Channel Are You Making?
I hope this post has been empowering and not discouraging. The main takeaway is this: creating and running a YouTube channel is easy, but building one that’s successful takes a lot of effort. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to practice, and a lot to keep in mind.
But if you take it seriously, there’s no reason why yours can’t succeed.
Tell us about the kind of channel you want to make. Which successful YouTube channels do you most admire? Share with us in the comments below!