How to make a living on YouTube: The Definitive Tutorial

by Rob | March 15, 2015 6:35 pm

On August 25, 2009 I uploaded my first video to YouTube.  It was a quirky 6 minute mini-documentary I made while I waited for the cable company to show up at my new place.

During that time I also had a moderately successful[1] podcast that I used to springboard my YouTube channel to almost 1000 subscribers in the first year.  It wasn’t great numbers, as friends had channels with 50,000+ subscribers, but it was a start.

In 2010 I decided to upgrade my podcast to a true video show where I would interview guests via Skype with video.  It was revolutionary in my market at the time, so it was a sure-fire way for me to achieve mass success… or so I thought. After equipment glitches, video & audio problems and guests not showing up for live shows it was a complete nightmare to produce.

We still pressed on, releasing a video show every couple of months.  When we looked at the numbers it was almost depressing.   The best video had only 1,000 views and 70% of viewers didn’t make it through the first 5 minutes of the show.   After 5 shows, we called it quits and went back to audio podcasting and occasionally released video clips (under 10 minutes) instead of the full shows.

By 2012 our numbers had grown to around 2500 subscribers and the YouTube ad’s I enabled in the hopes of making a bunch of money.  I failed miserably and wrote off YouTube as a great advertising product but not for the serious viewer.

In 2013 something strange happened.  Videos that I had posted years ago suddenly started making money.   Not a lot but my Adsense earnings went from a check every couple of months for $100 to getting a check every month.  It wasn’t going to pay the bills, but it made buying new equipment a lot easier.

Just 2 years later my channel is approaching 1 million views, 10,000 subscribers and I work full-time online.  How did I turn it around?

Don’t expect to make a living for a long time

After analyzing the numbers I realized that those old shows that I did years ago where starting to give us the most traction.

Google & YouTube like established content and will give those established videos ranking in the search engines.  This in turn was causing a massive increase in viewers to our channel.

If you are going to build an honest business based on video, you need content and “good” content takes time.   I’ve literally gone months without posting a new video while I worked on other projects, only to return to see massive growth as the videos started to gain traction.  Those new videos would get more views, the older videos would continue to grow in pace and my Adsense checks continued to grow.

You need other avenues to revenue

Even though my Adsense checks have grown (I can’t give you actual numbers because that would violate our user-agreement with Google) it’s not enough to live off of.  Not even close, but it is enough to constantly upgrade my equipment.

Now I portion my Adsense money specifically for upgrades to equipment, but how do I make a living?   By diversifying what I’m doing.

The great thing about making a living online is you can virtually try every single avenue to revenue with minimal effort or cost.  I’ve sold T-shirts, DVD’s, books, digital products, donations, etc.  Some of them did great, others not so much.

After I found out what was working I focused in on them.   I use my platform on YouTube to drive vistors to things like T-Shirts, mobile & Internet TV apps and video on demand specials which are all things my niche have a thirst for.

Content, Content, Content

At the risk of sounding like your a-typical Internet marketer, content IS king.  If you are just getting started using YouTube, take time to focus specifically on content for the first 2 or 3 years.  In that time you’ll grow as a producer and offer more solid content for your niche.

For giggles here’s a screen shot of my original video podcasts:

tja-podcast-ep08[2]

And here’s a screenshot of the show we did this past Friday (March 13, 2015):

tja-podcast-ep104[3]

As you can see, things have changed a lot in those few years.   It will be interesting to see where it goes in the next 3 years!

Upload Regularly

I’ve also found that when I released videos on a weekly or daily basis I would see a huge increase in views on my older videos.  If you are uploading on a regular basis you will see a perfect storm of old videos getting new views, which translates to new subscribers, which then translates to more views on your new videos.

It really is the “secret sauce” of YouTube views.

Interact and let comments fly free!

Every content producer I talk to hates the YouTube comment system.  I, on the other hand, quite enjoy it.  I’ve even been known to encourage trolls to go on their vicious rants.    Why would I encourage such abuse?

Search Engine Rankings.   Every word those “trolls” write is another word Google uses to see the “social proof” of my video.   After analyzing the data for almost 6 years on YouTube there is a clear trend between videos with a lot of comments vs those with none and the amount of views they receive.

This also has a double edged strategy of causing people to post the videos on their forum, Facebook or social media page talking about how “dumb” you are.   This brings in more views, more comments and more importantly more subscribers.

I call it the Kardashian effect, everyone loves to hate the Kardashians, but yet that is all anyone seems to talk about.   The hate is a good thing IF you can let your ego bypass the negative side of the comments.

I also try and remember that most of those trolls are only acting like that because they wish they could do what I do.

Don’t Give Up

The biggest mistake I’ve seen made over and over again was people giving up and closing their channel down, removing all their videos.  I’ve gone as far as removing controversial videos because at the time I didn’t understand the Kardashian effect.

As time went on, most of those who deleted their channels ended up coming back and opening new channels and starting all over again, only to quit yet again when their peers that did not delete their channel succeed in the face of overwhelming negativity.

You CAN do this.  The question really is, how bad do you want it?

Endnotes:
  1. moderately successful: http://www.avclub.com/article/the-best-podcasts-for-the-week-of-april-5-11-72354
  2. [Image]: http://webtalkrev.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tja-podcast-ep08.jpg
  3. [Image]: http://webtalkrev.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tja-podcast-ep104.jpg

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