Ah, imagine if we all had a DeLorean time machine and Dr Emmett Brown as a mate. The things we could go back and change; the future we could explore ahead of time.
As a YouTuber, I often wonder what I’d do with that vehicle and its flux capacitor. After all, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and life is littered with examples of where we should have done things better, or said something different.
Despite this, I’m a firm believer that making mistakes is the best way to improve your craft and become more successful. It also enables you to impart your mistake-fuelled knowledge to help raise the game of those who follow in your footsteps.
So, if you’re where I was nearly two years ago, this is what I’d tell you.
1. You’ll need to find more time
If there’s one thing every YouTuber would buy more of, it’s time. That’s right – not fancy cameras, lenses, mics, backdrops, or editing assistance – just good, old-fashioned time.
Alas, you can’t; there is a finite amount of the stuff available to all of us.
This is a problem, because very few YouTube channels are started from the ground-up as businesses without any other distractions. Most people will already have jobs (well paid or otherwise), families, and a myriad of other priorities that take up their time. That makes YouTube firmly a side gig for most people.
This wouldn’t matter quite so much if running a YouTube channel was akin to knocking out a blog post or two each week. It’s not (trust me – I do both). Running a YouTube channel is a full-time job, no question. And you realise this quite early on.
There’s only one solution to this, which is to work your backside off for a period of time. Whether it’s editing late into the night or sitting, bleary-eyed, at your computer at 6am to write a script, it needs to be done. The pay-off is your ability to be consistent and increase your skillset with every video you publish.
So, grit your teeth, keep battling on, and, one day, your YouTube channel will consume enough time and generate enough income to warrant letting go of other forms of work.
2. Listen to yourself more than the critics
I have spent far too much time and energy responding to armchair critics. It’s hard not to when the bait is so irresistible. They point out how I should shoot my b-roll, why I need to stop experimenting with content, and exactly how long my videos should be.
There’s one instance of this which sticks in my mind. A seemingly lovely viewer of my YouTube content (and reader of my Medium articles) reached out via email for some help with his own channel. He was impressed with what I had achieved so early on and asked for a bit of guidance on his own efforts.
I duly gave my advice, and we enjoyed a rather nice email exchange. Then a few weeks later, that same person emailed to inform me that my content had turned into “garbage”. There was more to the message than that, but I’ll spare you the details.
I’m ashamed to say I took the bait. I know better now (sometimes) than to engage with trolls, but on this occasion, I really went for it. I explained why such pointed, abrasive criticism was unfair, and asked my former mate to reconsider their approach if they happen to engage with other YouTubers in the future.
We work damn hard, I said. This isn’t easy. I’m all for constructive criticism, but there’s a way to deliver it.
This of course fell on deaf ears and only resulted in increasingly unpleasant exchanges between the two of us. It was surreal and rather disappointing, given the fact I’d previously offered free, genuinely useful advice to that person.
Since that exchange, I’ve changed tack. I’ve focused resolutely on what I believe to be right for my brand. And, boy is it working. I recently hit four million views, and I’m approaching 50,000 subscribers at a rate of knots.
The moral of the story? Listen to yourself. Constructive criticism is important, but you know how to build your YouTube channel. You’re also acutely aware of how much time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears goes into the process. You’ll continue to find your ideal audience; those who dislike you, your content, or the approach you take, will evaporate. And remember – it’s far easier to critique from the sidelines than it is to get in front of a camera and put yourself out there.
You know what you’re doing. Trust me.
3. Early success is all about compromises
I’m a bit of a gear head. But when I started my YouTube channel, I had to ‘make do’ with what I had, camera-wise.
Don’t get me wrong – I had a bit of a head start here, having spent a couple of years beforehand building my portfolio of videography work. But I wasn’t exactly going to challenge MKBHD in the production stakes.
For instance, the camera I used for my first 80 videos was the Sony A7Sii. It is a dreadful camera for solo YouTube work. The autofocus is useless, the recording limit of 29 minutes was a constant worry, and the battery life was appalling.
This meant that I had to manually focus every piece of a-roll, race to the line for each shoot, and spend more time ensuring batteries were charged than actually filming.
But it worked; that camera helped me achieve incredible early success. And, when the time came, I upgraded to the Sony FX3, which completely changed the game for me, production-wise.
The point here is that I had to compromise on something that was deeply important to me for well over a year and through a huge amount of work. It was the right decision, too, because avoiding spending a significant amount of money on a new camera system early on meant I could invest elsewhere in areas such as review units, which would prove to be the catalyst for much of my channel’s early growth.
Your compromises may be different, but whatever they are, you need to battle through them, learn to love them, and realise that something far better will be around the corner – when you deserve it.
I hope this helps. Head down (or up, ideally), and keep smashing those videos!
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