This Ultimate Guide on how to grow and monetize your YouTube channel was created through a series of interviews with inspiring YouTubers. Thank you Kraig, Michelle, Daniel, Rory, Justin and Ryan for participating. You’re awesome.
Every minute, more than 300 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube. Since 2005, YouTube has been a place to create, upload and share. In the opinions of many, it was the first platform that allowed for people to connect in a more interpersonal way through a more interpersonal medium no matter which corner of the world they were uploading from. Today, the platform has over one-billion users and is ranked second in the Alexa Top 50 List of Global Sites.
With almost 5 billion videos being watched on YouTube every single day, it has become a major source of income for many through affiliate marketing, AdSense, and sponsorships. Now more than ever YouTube creators are running their channels strategically and optimizing them for ideal success. With over 20,000 partners around the world and hundreds of them making six figures a year (and that’s a 2011 number) on the platform, many YouTubers may wonder where to start when it comes to monetizing their channel.
These days, monetizing on YouTube is no small feat. With a higher threshold, more policies and requirements surrounding YouTube monetization; along with a higher saturation of creators from all over the world, it can be hard to figure out where to start, how to keep going and how to truly be successful so that you can continue to do what you love as a creator.
We reached out to a few YouTubers all at different levels of subscribers, niches, and popularities to find out what they’ve learned when it comes to monetizing on YouTube, their tips and tricks for maintaining and growing a channel, nurturing their communities and audience and how they got started in the first place to create an all-encompassing resource for those who are just starting out and wondering how to monetize their YouTube channel.
Meet Kraig, Michelle, Daniel, Rory, Justin, and Ryan:
Kraig Adams is a YouTube creator, filmmaker, and minimalist living in NYC. Creator of Wedding Film School.
Niche: Weddings, Tech, Minimalism
Michelle Dufflocq Williams is a YouTuber and blogger pursuing a career in fashion marketing in New York City. Michelle was born and raised in Chile, where she lived until she moved to the U.S at age thirteen. Michelle has written and produced video content for the Lala and College Fashionista and worked with brands such as Neutrogena, Adore Me, American Eagle, and Victoria’s Secret PINK. Michelle graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in marketing and a certificate in digital marketing in December of 2017.
Niche: Fashion, Lifestyle, Beauty
Daniel Yubi is a Mexican living in London who is, as he likes to put it, “collecting stories to tell his children.” He hopes to entertain and inspire others with his YouTube channel.
Niche: Travel, Tech
Rory van Gaal is the founder and CEO of a YouTube channel called BuriedOne Cryptomining that specializes in crypto mining with graphics cards. With his knowledge, he tries to help people be a part of the decentralized world while feeding the world computer and trying to combine artificial intelligence, smart contracts, and blockchain technology.
Niche: GPU Mining, Blockchain Technology
Justin Khanna is a chef who has been training at Michelin-Starred and critically acclaimed restaurants like Per Se, Grace, The French Laundry, Frantzen, Noma, and Lysverket. He’s a YouTuber and the host of a weekly podcast called The Emulsion.
Ryan Clayton is a Trail and Ultra Runner, Triathlete, and Coach. He coaches beginner to advanced runners and triathletes across all disciplines or endurance sports. He’s competed in many ultra-marathons, trail races, and triathlons of all distances including 50 and 100 milers and Ironman. He documents his journeys preparing and training for big races while coaching and to share useful endurance sports information that’s taken him years of studying, coursework, testing and trial and error in the endurance world.
Niche: Running, Triathlon Training
4 Major Ways to Monetize Your YouTube Channel
Many YouTubers start out monetizing with affiliate marketing and then as their channel grows they start to additionally monetize with AdSense and sponsorships. Not sure, what each of these monetization channels is or what they entail for YouTubers? Let us give you a quick rundown.
There are four major ways to monetize on YouTube:
- Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate Marketing: Monetizing by Promoting the Products You Love
Affiliate marketing is when a creator (YouTuber, blogger, etc) promotes products either actively or passively and is rewarded by a company for directing purchasing customers to the company’s site. Active affiliate marketing means that you’re creating content for the purpose of promoting products for a potential commission. Passive affiliate marketing means that you happen to mention or show-off different products that you could potentially gain a commission from, but your content isn’t centered around the promotion of products like it would be considered inactive affiliate marketing.
For Kraig Adams, affiliate marketing was a concept that blew his mind.
“[Monetization] comes with time. I’ve been doing YouTube ‘professionally’ for about four years now and it’s been interesting having two channels because I happened to fall upon the success by chance with the first Wedding Film School [Channel]. I’m kind of doing it all over again, going through those learning moments through the second channel, so I think I’m doing it much better the second time through. As far as affiliate [marketing], that’s new to me. I would say a year ago was when I was first told that people could earn a commission from influence online using links to track that influence. It blew my mind. I realized at that moment that they were a lot of sales, especially with camera gear in my niche market of teaching people how to shoot and be filmmakers, that there were a lot of lost sales throughout the years so it was an exciting immediate turn to start earning income.” explained Kraig.
He went on to say, “When people talk about YouTube, especially financial people outside of the industry of being an influencer, they just see Adsense as the primary income. When in reality, to make money on YouTube you have to have a business off to the side that either you’re promoting, whether it’s education – which is what I sell now – access and time or merch – products with a joke or a brand on a t-shirt. Or, the special case of actually having a product to sell. Affiliate [marketing] is just another layer on top of all of those things that can start from the very beginning and just scales with the amount of influence that anyone has. It’s an exciting thing to start seeing dollars that could be much greater than AdSense immediately from the get-go. For a lot of situations, you don’t even need to even talk to a company to start earning. It’s such an on-your-own kind of thing, especially with the adpocalypse, people need other resources of revenue.”
Adsense: Earning Ad Revenue With the YouTube Partner Program
Michelle and her sister Aline primarily rely on AdSense and partnerships to monetize their YouTube channel. Michelle explained to us that her sister and she are partnered with Stylehaul and they get paid through them based on views just as Google pays with AdSense.
“My sister and I are partnered with Stylehaul. We get paid through them based on views so that’s basically just exactly how AdSense works on your videos. Even though YouTube has evolved and things started to shift, there were definitely times when my sister and I were making a good amount [solely from adsense] for the views that we were getting especially just for it being a side-hustle.”
Monetization with AdSense is when you earn a cut of revenue from Google when an ad is displayed before your content and a certain threshold of people view it. On January 16, 2018, YouTube announced new eligibility requirements for its YouTube Partner Program. Now a YouTuber must have reached 4,000 watch hours in the previous 12 months and have 1,000 subscribers to be reviewed to join the program.
Sponsorships: Creating Relationships with Brands
Many YouTubers layer all three different means of monetization on their YouTube channels for maximum revenue opportunity. Although YouTuber, Rory van Gaal’s main source of revenue on YouTube is from affiliate links and Google AdSense, he also has had a few companies reaching out to him for sponsorships.
Sponsorships are when a company works directly with a creator to promote their products and services. As a creator, you can contact different companies to form these partnerships or a company may reach out to directly to you.
Rory currently has two different types of sponsorship on his channel. The first is with a couple of companies who have reached out to him to review or mention their products in his videos. Rory warns that about 90% that reach out are probably scams and you have to be extremely careful about who you choose to do business with. He went on to explain that the other type of sponsorships that he has established are more project-based sponsorships with companies where they pay him to execute a larger, big-idea project. He recently had the idea to build a water-cooled computer but he didn’t have the money for it so he reached out to some companies that he knew could help him fund it and now he’s building it with their help.
The Value in Patreon: Monetizing Loyalty From Your Top Supporters
For Justin, Patreon is a valuable platform in addition to AdSense and affiliate revenue. “It’s something that I adopted very early on. I’d seen a lot of channels that do monetization, but they apply it later. They’ll do a bunch of content for free, they won’t put ads on, and they won’t pitch any products. They want to be very kosher with their audience. Then it gets to a point where something does come up and they get a sponsorship or something happens and then they don’t know how to act and approach their audience. It’s something that I definitely wanted to start with at the ground level.”
Justin goes on to say that he likes to be upfront and straightforward with his audience so that there’s never an awkward conversation that goes something along the lines of “Hey I know that everything up to this point has been free, but now I kind of want to ask for money.” He made the point that he doesn’t have any shame in that because he knows his content invaluable.
How to Get Started
The first thing you need to do is choose your area of focus. Kraig Adams started out just making videos for fun. But on his first day of college, he started making the content he wished he could’ve found during his college search.
“Everything until the start of college was just for fun and goofy. I actually started teaching people the day I started college. I started a weekly college blog about what it was actually like to go to college and be a Television & Film arts major at the college I was at. I was the kind of kid who when searching for colleges to choose to attend, I wasn’t really sold on websites, and I honestly wasn’t really sold that much on in-person tours. What I was sold on was YouTube videos and just videos online, especially from actual students at the college. Those were the things that I was looking for and searching for and I barely found any, so I made the pact that was going to create that type of content which I craved.”
He goes on to say that from then on, his content creation process starts by looking for something that he would find helpful and if he can’t find it, then he makes it himself. For him, that’s stretched into weddings, how to YouTube and in every aspect of what he does, his goal is to give back and teach those that are in his same shoes.
Much like Kraig, Daniel Yubi started his YouTube channel to give back to his community and to help others. He followed his passion for photography, which he’d done for many years but never thought about showing people the process behind it.
“I’ve done photography for many years as a hobby, but I never thought of actually showing the process… As a photographer and a tech guy, I’ve never been as close to people that could actually learn from me. So basically that’s the reason I started doing it – how I can give back to the community, see if they could learn and eventually we had good content and the audience is growing little by little… It all started by focusing on the community.”
Rory had the same revelation himself: “My cousin who is 10 years older than me was mining Bitcoin in the beginning and I was always fascinated by it, but when I went to school I kind of forgot about it. One and a half to two years ago, I was watching a gaming YouTube channel and he mentioned something about the Athenian coin and how you can mine it with your GPU. I thought, ‘Hey, that’s pretty interesting.’ So I started thinking about how was able to mine with my GPU and my gaming computer and it was more fascinating to see myself getting money with the start script I created than playing the game. That’s how it started. I had a gaming channel that only had about 50 views on my game videos and I was working pretty long to make them, so nobody was interested in what I was doing. Then I thought, “Hey, why don’t I share the information of how I got started on mining with my GPU?” I started sharing those videos and people started saying, ‘I’ve never seen a video tutorial on YouTube on how to do this and you’re the first one that I see.’ That’s when things kind of took off quickly.”
Why It’s Important to Always Add More Value Than You Take and To Keep Your Promises
“In every relationship, you should be trying to add more value than you take,” said Kraig. He added that when you do start out, “Make whatever you want. Inspiration should come from everywhere and not just the platform that you’re posting on. Pull from nature, pull from books, pull from music, pull from food, from animals – whatever. Second, I would suggest realizing that people are almost more important than the content that you’re creating. It’s possible to get popular and become successful in whatever sense that is just by making and posting and never talking to anyone else and never asking for feedback. To be 100% of an artist, I feel like that’s what that is. But the reality of the situation is, is that you need to work and collaborate with other people. You need to have a real roadmap of the people that you look up to, that inspire you, that you would love to connect and give value to in the future, those are the people that you follow on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and then you should have those people on your radar. Always be pushing towards that as a goal. Then, also identify the people in the struggle with you, in the same industry in the same genre, niche, whatever. With similar impact and influence, you should be working towards the same goal next to each other. Those are probably going to be the best people to collaborate with because you’re in similar situations and you’re going through the same process. Eventually, you’ll start to have fans. They will start out being your mom and then your closest friends. Those are the first people that you’re trying to make promises to and keep them. Whatever your content is, go with that idea. Make a promise, keep a promise. The fans will be happy and they will share. Just keep doing that over and over again.”
Kraig’s bottom line? – Make a promise and keep that promise, in the beginning, once you’re well into it and beyond.
Fear Lies in Inaction: Just Start
Make your first video and don’t let perfect get in the way of done. Ryan Clayton gave some of the best advice about starting. He says, “Fear lies in inaction.” He went on to say that if anyone is contemplating starting a YouTube channel to “just do it; just start. Use what you have and dive in.”
Michelle reiterated that explaining how important it is to just start. “If you’re interested [in being a YouTuber] just start, although I know that’s a lot easier said than done. If you need a bit more of a push, I think it’s really important to look at the YouTubers that you enjoy watching and see what they’re doing.”
Her and Aline definitely wish that they would’ve started much earlier than they did. “There’s no way to fast-forward and become amazing right at the start. I know Aline and I look back on our channel and our first 50 to 100 videos we’re not that proud of,” she said. “You learn with every video.”
Consistency is Important
When you do start out, it’s especially important to be consistent because of the demand for content in this day and age, but also because it will push you to constantly flex your creative muscle so that you can become the YouTuber that you aspire to be. Ryan also spoke to this saying that a good trick is to create a series which will push you to upload on a consistent schedule.
Kraig touched on consistency as well, saying that “There was something behind the once a week idea behind television. You have to set a schedule and try to adhere to it if you’re going that route, but when you start out, I wouldn’t make set rules because then you have to change and adjust as you go. If you say Monday, Wednesday, Friday uploads, no one’s really asking for those but if you accomplish it, you accomplish it. But if you don’t upload on those days, you’re breaking a promise publically that no one really asked you to make in the first place.”
Kraig explains that cadence is especially important if you’re looking to gain a good amount of subscribers and you’re telling a story that’s chronological (Like Ryan suggested to set out and do in the beginning.),
“It’s very important that you get your cadence correct because your audience is coming back time after time to see the progression of a story and the more that you chain these vlogs or talks together the more value subscribers will get by watching them in order and even just watching from the beginning, they’ll get the inside jokes, they’ll understand what has changed over the course of the past 10 videos.”
Why SEO Can Be More Important Than Cadence
However, Kraig did go on to say that if you’re reviewing tech or in a similar space, it makes sense to focus on SEO more so than cadence. In the long run, SEO is what will ultimately bring in the revenue. If you optimize your videos when you start they will continue to contribute to your revenue as long as they’re on the platform. In fact, when it comes to affiliate marketing, YouTube is an extremely unique channel and one that will allow your content to pay off as long as it’s uploaded because YouTube at its very core is a “library” of resources. Blogs disappear, but YouTube videos are evergreen. If your content is properly optimized, it will show up first and you will continue to earn commissions off of that content for years.
When first starting out on YouTube, dive in SEO-first and search for the topics you’re interested in, see what other people are doing and then just do it better. Kraig explained that “You can upload with similar titles so when people find that video in the similar way that you found that video, your thumbnail will probably show up on the side and if people start to click on that and realize it’s better than the other one, your video will start to get more traction than the other video.”
He also said to hone in a single idea for a single channel. There are many ways you can do this, but one of the best and most tactical ways to do it is to do some SEO research around some pain points in your life, see if there are people in the same boat and what already exists around it. This will reveal those opportunities for you to capitalize on that will pay off for years on YouTube, setting a strong foundation for success.
The first step in researching is to go to the YouTube search bar and start typing your niche into the search bar and see what pops up. Then you can do some longtail research and get more specific. If you find a topic in your niche, but it has 10 ranked videos and a million subscribers on each channel, you should keep looking. In a video that Pat Flynn did with Sean Cannell, they talked about how every single topic has adjacent topics that you could talk about that maybe others aren’t talking about in the space. The example they gave was if your chosen topic is weight loss and fitness, you could maybe you can talk about mindset and the important role it has in the space. There are so many opportunities to connect to adjacent content that can ultimately lead you to be able to make content around what you are passionate about.
Why Building Trust is the Key to Being Successful on YouTube
Aside from monetization tactics and SEO, being successful on YouTube comes down to trust.
“For people to click your links and actually take your advice, that takes trust and to build trust, you make promises and you keep those promises. The more you facilitate that feedback loop, the more people build some kind of loyalty to what you say and what you represent. Once you start having an audience that listens to what you’re doing, that’s exactly what sponsors want. The most basic form of sponsorship is affiliate [marketing], so if people click your links and buy the things that you recommend and represent, that’s income. That’s you working and making money based off of the hard work that you do.” said Kraig.
Michelle explains that she feels she and her sister Aline have a responsibility when it comes to their audience to filter out products and be strict about the collaborations that they accept. They really try to only work with brands that align with their own brand and brands that they have a huge respect for. She says the flipside of that is respecting your own brand and saying “no” to collaborations with brands that don’t align with your brand.
With the majority of their content being monetized by AdSense and sponsorships, Michelle and Aline really try to stagger their sponsored content. Michelle advises,
“If you do have a good amount of sponsored content, try to stagger it as much as possible within the rest of your content and then make sure that [the sponsored product or brand] naturally flows with whatever the video is. I know a lot of people have blogs where it’s just a day in the life and then they’re cooking dinner and they mention something like Hello Fresh or a service like that. That works really well because it flows with what the content is instead of just mentioning [a product or brand] completely out of the blue that doesn’t really have to do with what the video is about. That can come across as not genuine.”
When starting to monetize his channel, Ryan, took a cue from Gary Vaynerchuk when he said, “give, give, give and then you develop trust.” Having only started actively Youtubing about a year ago, he explained, “If you develop that trust, people will go out and buy that product. That stuff works – It just does.”
How To Find Your Voice
Earlier, Michelle mentioned finding other YouTubers when you’re just starting out and see what they’re doing. But when it comes to finding your own voice, she explained that there is a balance and that paying too much attention to what other YouTubers are doing can lead to paralysis and feeling overwhelmed, ultimately stifling your own creativity.
“Stay in your own lane and focus on your own content. I think that really helps in finding your own individual voice… It’s really important to try to have consistency because obviously with practice, practice makes perfect and as you go along, you’ll find a rhythm and your voice with every single video that you upload. Try to not worry too much about what other people think.”
The Power of Authenticity and Being Genuine and True to Yourself
“Whether you have 500 subscribers or 500,000, you need to be the same person that people knew and loved in the beginning,” said Rory. Michelle touched on this as well when I asked her about who her favorite YouTuber is.
“My number one is Zoella. She was probably the first female YouTuber that I ever subscribed to and now she has two channels – the main channel and a vlog channel. Her main channel has 12 million subscribers and her vlog channel has 4.8 million subscribers. She’s written best-selling books and she has her own line of beauty products and home products. Zoella has become a brand and a role model to me. What I love the most about her is that even though she’s gotten so huge, she’s literally the same girl just sitting down talking to a camera in her bedroom.”
Kraig’s favorite YouTuber is Julien Solomita, a popular YouTuber who is in a relationship with one of the most popular YouTubers of all-time, Jenna Marbles. Kraig has watched nearly every single video of his and really likes him because he’s authentic, raw and real. “You really feel like you get to know him.” Said, Kraig.
When Michelle and her sister Aline started their channel, their focus was really broad. Then they decided that they wanted to focus on beauty, fashion, and lifestyle. When they did they became strict with their content creation.
“We were so strict about the theme of our channel and the subject matter that we wouldn’t even allow ourselves any freedom to experiment, which I think can be dangerous for creativity.”
She went on to talk about the importance of allowing yourself to experiment and to just have fun and not to be afraid to go outside of your niche. When they first started out they didn’t even allow themselves to have the freedom to do a little bit of everything, which in turn stifled their authenticity.
“You can try to imitate the most popular person who’s going viral and it won’t make a difference because there’s already 10,000 of those types of people, but there’s only one you. As cheesy as that sounds, it really does help to just be yourself because that way you’re already doing so much more to be original.”
Kraig also spoke to this as well saying,
“Some small YouTube creators when they start out, just try to vlog and copy the people who inspire them, like Casey Neistat. The most tragic thing I’ve seen on YouTube are kids, teens who are on vlog 200. They’ve uploaded 200 videos and each video has about 10, 20, 30 views but they keep doing it because they think if they keep uploading these vlogs that’s what they need to do. It’s tragic because they’re just copying what they think they need to do to be successful. If they just made two or three videos – one a week or one a month even, that was entirely their own and unique, and something no one has ever seen before, that’s better, but it takes risk. It’s really scary to make something that you don’t see out there as being successful. But if Casey has a couple million on a vlog where he skates on a skateboard, it makes sense to kids to try and copy that and then be successful.”
How to Nurture Your Community
A common point between all the YouTubers we interviewed was the importance of nurturing your community and getting your audience involved with your process in any way that you can. “You should not be doing this for the money at all. You should be doing this for the community and the audience,” said Daniel. For Daniel, he tries to make things as personal as possible.
“[In my videos] it’s like if I’m talking to my mom or my sister, but I’m talking to a camera. I call my audience the ‘Yubi Fam’, which is my last name. It’s interesting because people that I don’t really know say ‘I’m so proud to be a part of the ‘Yubi Fam’… They feel connected to something maybe bigger than I.” Explained Daniel.
Daniel went on to say that he really tries to use words like ‘you’ and ‘we’ and ask his audience questions to include them in his creative process.
For Rory, he likes to try to connect with his subscribers in person. His channel has been invited to many conferences across the world and really likes to connect with his subscribers if it’s at all possible.
“Your subscribers want to see you in real life, at least once. When you’re really big and you tell them that you’re going to be at a conference or something, there will be subscribers that will be so happy. You want to give them a chance to meet up with you. Try to get them involved.”
Like Daniel, Rory also advises doing anything that gets your audience involved. Ask them questions. Make them feel like they’re a part of something.
For Ryan and Michelle, they both echoed one another on how important it is to try and respond to every single comment.
“At this point, I am getting comments every day and I do reply to every single one of them and I try to be thoughtful back. What I’m trying to do as a creator is really respond genuinely to each comment and try to say something thoughtful and useful, not just ‘Thanks’ with a thumbs up or something. I just try to be thoughtful with my comments and I think it shows that you’re a real person and it shows that you’re taking the time and that you care about these people.”
“I think that trying to respond to every comment is really important especially when you’re just starting out and you really can afford to take the time to respond to everyone. We try to respond to every single comment that is on our videos. It’s important to remember that you are where you are because of these people who take the time to watch and engage and comment on and like your videos. It can be easy to get frustrated and focus too much on how you don’t have enough followers or that you’re not where you want to be and you can kind of forget about the people who you do have supporting your channel.” said Michelle.
Tips and Tricks of The Trade
A big tip Kraig shared could be summed up in three words: Social Media Empire. He explained that every couple of months he will take a piece of paper and write down all the social media accounts that he has and all the things he’s working on, whether it’s workshops, events or anything else. Then he starts to draw lines to connect the two and write in websites and links and anything else. Once he has a good picture of everything that’s going on at the moment, he starts to think about how things can be joined together or work in this group versus that group; which things aren’t bringing him any kind of value or growth or income; things that he could cut out or things that he could focus on. That goes hand in hand with keeping links organized, which is something that he just started doing over a year ago.
“It helps because your website should include links to all of your social media empire in a very clear way. So at least you have a single link that you can send people so that they can find you [and] follow you. So organizing your links, maintaining a clear and beautiful organization or your social media empire is what I would suggest.” he said.
Once you establish yourself as a YouTuber, you can perfect your practice and really fine tune what your product is. For Kraig, he’s found that his product is education. He’s working on in person, small-group workshops to help others in his same space.
His advice when it comes to making connections with others that you aspire to be in the industry?
“You’ve just gotta know what they want and get it for them. Don’t even ask, get it for them. If you can’t do that and get their attention, you need to find the 6 bodyguards – the 6 people around them that they love who are in their circle. Add value. Figure out what they want and get it for them. If you do that for those people and they don’t recognize you, pick one of them and then do the six people around that person. You just need to keep finding what these people want, getting if for them and then expecting nothing in return. If you do that enough, people start to notice and give you value back and even become your friend. It works. If you do that to the people around someone that you’re trying to get to, chances are that that person’s going to catch wind that you’re making all their friends a lot happier so they will come and talk to you.”
Putting It All Together
So what does it take to monetize and grow your YouTube channel? As we learned from Kraig, Michelle, Daniel, Rory, Justin, and Ryan, it takes a lot. It’s so much more than just signing up for an affiliate program or reaching out to brands for sponsorships. No matter what level you’re at, whether you have 276 subscribers or 59,000, there are small steps that you can take today that will impact you in a big way. Like Daniel said, “Eventually you will monetize but this is a marathon.”
You need to choose the means in which you will monetize, whether it’s going to be through affiliate marketing, AdSense, sponsorships or Patreon, or a combination of all four. In order to reach the revenue you’re hoping for, you need to establish and maintain trust with your audience and always, always add more value than you take. You need to find your voice, keep your promises, be consistent, put some effort into SEO from the start, and nurture your community and your creativity. But most of all, you need to remember that “fear lies in inaction.” The biggest step that you can take towards monetization and growth today is to start.