Become YouTube Star, But Don’t Quit Day Job (yet)

Another article about how becoming a YouTube star can allow you to quit your day job (the Globe and Mail). Take it from a guy who knows this market fairly well… it’s possible but not easy.

A few of my friends have quit relatively low-paying jobs to focus 100% on YouTube, but if you’re like me (house, four kids, mortgage, debt) then YouTube isn’t quite enough. I’m also squeamish about having too much of my income depend on a volatile marketplace, and I fear being dependent on one website. Fortunately my income has continued to grow, and I thank God, YouTube and the advertisers for that.

There are three income sources associated with being a “YouTube star”: direct income from shared advertising placed around your videos, lucrative sponsorships from companies wanting access to your audience in more meaningful ways (profitable but sporadic), and finally other “perks” (like free loot or whatever merchandising you can spin off… I’ve not had much luck there).

Now some tips:

  • While it’s true that more and more prominent YouTube “stars” are making $100K plus, most of these have been at it for years. To hit those numbers you need literally 5-10 million views a month. That requires a large number of very popular videos and a high frequency. It most likely will take months or even years to build to that point, so you’ll need to have intrinsic motivation or you’ll quit before you see the meaningful pay.
  • When I started in 2005/2006 the competition was less fierce, and most of us shared tips. Today there’s a larger audience, but much more competition both from other amateurs and, increasingly, professional producers. That doesn’t mean we aren’t seeing “breakout” amateurs, it’s just less frequent than several years ago. And even the weblebrities of the past occasionally fall off the charts (for a variety of reasons).
  • There are two types of “high earners” on YouTube: the person with a one-hit wonder single video (like David After Dentist) that drives such incredible recurring views that it alone can be a significant income source… even with low ad dollars per view, the sheer number of continuous views creates an annuity stream for the creator. The second “high earner” are those who post in a regular pattern: twice weekly or even daily. They literally make YouTube a full-time job, and spend hours interacting with their viewers. Don’t think MGM, ShayCarl, Sxephil, WheezyWaiter or Michael Buckley are sitting on the couch eating bon-bons all day. These guys pull longer days than full-time employees, and it’s not all as fun as their videos might suggest.
  • Unless you’re luck enough to be in the former segment and “strike gold,” it requires patience and persistence. You’ll face times where it feels frustrating and pointless, and you’ll need a non-financial drive to press on. That’s why passion for the medium (beyond money) is a better predictor of long-term success. It helps if your personality is almost dependent on having an audience… a certain “need” for attention and online interaction… and one that can override other needs/desires (like sleep). You’ll need to decide if you’re vain enough to pursue beyond obstacles, but also resilient since some fans will come and go.
  • Since the market is competitive, if I was starting new in 2011, I’d focus less on appealing to a wide audience and more to meeting a less competitive unmet need. Focus on a specific segment or interest type (cooking, exercise, travel, etc.) may not get your videos “viral” but makes you a better match to sponsors that can be more lucrative than YouTube ads alone.
  • YouTube is increasingly becoming “BYOA” (bring your own audience) so consider how your online presence on other mediums (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) can drive views. And post predictably/routinely so you’re part of an audiences habit. The moment I stopped posting almost daily I took a nose dive in views for recent videos.

Check out my free “How to Get Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent,” or my book (Beyond Viral) for more tips. Indeed YouTube has changed the lives of many people, and a handful of them are blessed to abandon their “day jobs” to pursue YouTube. But when that happens, YouTube becomes their day job… it’s often just as demanding as a regular job. But for the right personality, it’s far more enjoyable.

Are you seeing any patterns I’ve missed? What else is common among the high earners? Keep in mind that being the “most subscribed” does not mean you’re getting the most views (and the latter impacts today’s income far more than the former).

16 Replies to “Become YouTube Star, But Don’t Quit Day Job (yet)”

  1. I see that more the audience grow more it is harder to grow into a star (a webstar). It feels like there is still a reasonable window open for newcomers today, but I can see it shrinking every month more. Give it two years and the necessary effort to become webstar will be the same as in real life, diminishing the chances (big time) from what it is today. I believe you are right in the end, newcomers should better aim to a niche (the bloggers mantra).

  2. I should write a book: How to start a YouTube channel around the golden era for making stars, build a following of a few thousand, vanish for a couple years, experience user atrophy, come back, do okay, then vanish again, and yet somehow manage to get a check from revenue sharing every few months anyway.

    Maybe the title needs some work.

    PS- sukatra told me to come back, if you were wondering who to send the referral check to

  3. Hi Nalts, another great post. We read your blog often, but haven’t commented yet, so “hello!” This post does kinda hit home because we’re in the same spot as some of your friends.

    It’s very tough these days on You Tube. Pros putting out music videos targeted right at the audience we’re going for. That’s why it’s true that you really need to connect directly to the audience through comments, questions, Facebook, etc. Hopefully it’s the one edge that “at home” video makers like us will always have.

  4. Chad,

    Still having fun is definitely a plus for the amateur crowd. Of course, the flip side of that is that for the amateurs, “real life” will always come first. I can’t tell you how many hilarious ideas I’ve got either on my head or on my hard drive waiting to be edited in my own island of misfit toys. But when you need to look for a job, be a dad to an 18 month old, etc, etc, life is going to dictate when you have the time to do videos and when you walk away from your YouTube account for a couple months because you’re just too busy.

    Bunny trail: Every time I use the word amateur, I feel compelled to throw out there that I’m not using it in any sense that represents a lack of quality or ability. Amateur literally means “lover of their craft”, or in other words, someone who does something because they enjoy it. I’m happy to be an consider myself an amateur YouTuber.

  5. I guess the amount of time willing to commit on making videos is a crucial element of the equation.

    how much of a drop (in views and people engagement) have you experienced after being away from posting on YouTube for a couple of months?

    I’ve been digging your channel, some videos are really funny, have you already made any collab video with other YouTubers? If Yes, have you notice any substantial increase on subscribers?

    Sorry if I’m being too nosy guys, I’m just studying how the medium works. 🙂

  6. Erik,

    Views of my new stuff has dropped by 100%

    Of course, I haven’t uploaded new stuff lately. 🙂

    My old stuff has remained largely unaffected. Strangely enough, I was lucky to have three different videos of mine featured on YouTube back in the day when getting featured actually meant something. Those three carry the bulk of my views, but I have a small handful of others, mostly related to two of my niche markets (Studebaker restoration and video production tips) that still get regular hits. Like I said above in my first reply, I’m still getting a check from google every few months despite my continuing hiatus.

    Unlike the red giant that is nalts, I am but a type GV2 yellow dwarf star. I’ll probably coast along as I am for a few billion years until I burn into a pulsating white dwarf.

  7. 😀
    Thanks Somecallmejim,
    I see, so if you already have a well established number of videos, those are likely to not suffer from a momentary outage keeping a good stream of views (or at least in this case, I guess because you have your own niche). Why is getting featured losing so much importance? Is it the new homepage re-design or the fact that more and more user were using contests to trick the system?

  8. @Nalts:

    A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing can escape, even light.
    When a large star has burnt all its fuel it explodes into a supernova.

    So does this mean you are somewhere between a spent star and nothing?

  9. Marismartypants, me so hapy yue no so muck aboot spase. I feal reel smert. Esept afeered uv gray hoals now.

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