If anyone tells you it’s too late to start a YouTube channel, 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 build a successful YouTube channel 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.
1. What’s Your Motivation for Starting a YouTube Channel?
Not motivation in the sense of “being eager to act and work,” but rather “the reason why you act and work.”
Maybe you want to teach others how to do something, like how to program 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).
You have to define these things BEFORE you launch your channel. 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.
2. How Frequently Will You Upload Videos to YouTube?
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.
3. YouTube Success Requires Substance and Style
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, learn how an engaging speaker speaks by watching notable TED Talks, and check out these free sites and resources for improving communication skills.
But you also need to edit your videos well. I’m saying you need jump cuts every few seconds, but you should at least pick up a good video-editing app (see free Windows video editors, free Mac video editors, and free Linux video editors), making sure the quality and framerate are high enough, and cutting out all the unnecessary bits.
Learn more with these tips for editing video like a pro.
4. What Equipment Does a YouTuber Need?
To succeed, you’ll also need to acquire some essential equipment for creating high-quality videos. Fortunately, you won’t have to spend much to get started.
At a bare minimum, you’ll want to have:
- Camera: Before you drop hundreds of dollars on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, know that a high-quality webcam can be enough to start. Or you can just use your smartphone! Save the high-end cameras for when you’ve been doing this for over a year and know what exactly you need to improve.
- Tripod: If you have a camera or end up using a smartphone, then you’ll want a tripod to hold it up and keep it steady. See our smartphone tripod recommendations.
- Microphone: The built-in microphones that come with cameras are often terrible. Get an external microphone and record audio separately, then mix it with the video afterwards. Learn more about condenser versus 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 videos. While an actual green screen kit could cost upwards of $50, you can use a literal green sheet or DIY one with a white sheet dyed green.
- Screen Capture Software: Only necessary if your videos involve screen capturing, such as Excel video tutorials or PC gameplay. I highly recommend OBS Studio, which is free and can record your screen as an MP4 video file.
This is just an overview. If you want to learn more, 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.
5. How Are You Going to Promote Your YouTube Channel?
“If you build it, they will come.” Right? NO! Not for YouTube. You can go many years producing new videos every day and never crack 1,000 subscribers. It’s hard work, and you can’t be passive about it.
Want to succeed? You have to promote yourself. Here are a few ideas on how you can do that, without being overly spammy:
- Social Media: Building a social media following can be just as hard as building a YouTube channel, but if you have followers already, they might be your first fans. You can also consider doing social media giveaways for exposure.
- Forums: These are great, especially the big ones like Reddit. Find a community that’s relevant to your content, then share ONLY your best content. Don’t share too frequently, else you may be banned for spamming.
- 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!
6. Making Money From Being a YouTuber
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
Learn more about how difficult it is to make money on YouTube.
7. Set Attainable Goals
The quickest way to grow discouraged as a YouTube creator? Compare yourself to others.
Before you even start working on your first video, lay out a few actionable goals that you want to do. 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 your first month (timed). Note that “put out a video” is an action you can perform, whereas “reach 1,000 viewers” is not an action but 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.
For extra inspiration, check out these unique YouTube channels.