On June 15th, 2020, I published my first ever YouTube video. It was filmed in my kitchen, featured awful lighting and framing, and it was completely unscripted.
Back then, I was addressing an audience of about six people.
One of them was me. Another was my mum.
But I had big plans, and the diary series of videos I decided to put together back then had a cunning strategy behind them.
Only, I wasn’t sure how ‘cunning’ it was. I genuinely didn’t know if the idea I had for the channel had legs and was more than prepared for it to fall into the “well, at least I gave it a go” category.
Fast-forward six months and I have over 2,000 subscribers, 144,000 views, 13,400 hours of watch time and my videos have collectively received 2 million impressions.
How did that happen?
The growth I’ve experienced on YouTube is beyond anything I ever expected. In August, I set a target of 500 subscribers by Christmas. I smashed that a few weeks later. And the numbers kept rising and rising.
I’m as proud as I am surprised by the channel’s achievements so far, but I know it’s the result of hard work and several strategies which I’ve implemented (sometimes, completely accidentally).
So, I thought I’d sit down and try and work out how I managed to get from zero to 1,000 subscribers and over 4,000 hours of watch time in just four months – because I have a feeling there are lots of people out there striving for similar growth.
If you’re building a YouTube channel or thinking of doing so, I hope the following strategies help you, too.
I waited for the right moment
I’ve wanted to run my own YouTube channel for a long time, but I knew there would be a right time to do it.
That time happened earlier this year when, for reasons we’re all aware of, the world changed pretty significantly. It gave me a new appreciation for what mattered, how little time we have on this planet and why it’s vital to follow your nose.
So, that’s what I did. With a little more time on my hands, I decided that 2020 would be the year I’d finally launch my own YouTube channel. Whether it succeeded or failed didn’t really matter; I was simply ready to put my all into it and knew it would be a huge amount of fun, regardless.
I threw myself into the world of YouTube
For two or three months, every dog walk, run and cooking session was soundtracked by YouTube experts.
I found several podcasts which taught me more about the fascinating world of YouTube than I knew existed. If you fancy checking them out, these are my top picks:
I devoured their back catalogue, made copious notes and bookmarked the episodes which I knew I’d need to revisit.
I bought several books, too. These are my top recommendations:
- YouTube Optimization – The Complete Guide
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook
- YouTube Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Following and Making Money as a Video Influencer
I’m still devouring those books and podcasts now because I know this will be a never-ending learning process. There are some wonderfully helpful people out there, and there’s nothing quite like hearing the success stories of other YouTubers to gain inspiration for your own channel.
It’s also vitally important to watch as much YouTube as you can. Thankfully, I’m a little bit addicted to it and the people to whom I subscribe, therefore I had something of a head start (plus, I’d argue if you’re not particularly into YouTube, this probably isn’t the life for you).
I asked questions about my target audience
You’ll hear a lot about “niching down” and nailing your target audience, and it’s probably the best advice you can heed during the early days of building a YouTube brand.
I knew there were lots of other tech-obsessed people out there like me. I also knew that many of them would be freelance workers and the sort of people who conduct a fair amount of work at home.
My audience was, to all intents and purposes, me, but I knew I needed to look beyond that. How could I reach a very specific audience that would likely stick with me, engage with my videos and keep coming back for more?
A case in point: I actually misjudge my audience in the early days. I thought they’d all be freelancers looking for help with getting things done efficiently. As it turned out, the majority simply loved cool laptops, headphones and smartphones. So, I adjusted my target audience expectations and niched down my content to target that specific group of people.
It’s working – big time.
I vowed not to focus solely on YouTube
My YouTube brand extends far beyond YouTube itself. It includes:
- my own website on which I have a blog;
- a presence on Medium;
- presences on key social channels (Instagram and Twitter being the most important to me);
- SkillShare classes;
- affiliate income; and
- my own newsletter.
Having run my own business for several years, I know how important it is to have multiple streams of income, and that’s been the plan from day one with Mark Ellis Reviews.
Crucially, all of those elements above are linked, thanks to a consistent content repurposing strategy. Blogs reference videos (and, indeed, the latter are planned by the former) and vice-versa, and everything is tied together via my newsletter.
I never want to rely solely on YouTube. It’s arguably the most important element of the brand, but it can’t survive, long-term, without everything that surrounds it.
I ran a diary series to create a video-making rhythm
I really do recommend starting off your YouTube channel with some form of diary series like I did.
My diary series had a simple set of rules: no script, no fancy editing and no ‘playing by the rules’. The purpose was to:
- get myself into the rhythm of creating one video per week;
- get used to addressing the camera (this is so weird when you first do it); and
- refine my editing style and approach.
It really worked. The diary series was a joy to produce and succeeded in all of the goals above.
I paid someone to do the branding
If you don’t have any budget at all, then there are plenty of services like Canva to help you create a simple brand for your YouTube channel.
But if you can afford to throw a little bit of money around during those early days, use it to hire a professional designer. I did that and had someone create my logo and channel art. The result was a set of visuals which immediately brought the brand to life.
The same goes for my website. I built that myself on WordPress, but the branding stemmed from that professional input. And it makes a huge difference to the way you feel about your YouTube brand; it suddenly becomes this real, living, breathing thing of which you can be proud.
I picked a day to just go for it
After nine diary episodes, I knew I needed to just go for it.
So I did, and published a headphone review:
My timing was a little fortuitous, because the day before I published that review, Sony had announced the successors to the XM3s – the XM4s. As a result, there was a fair bit of interest in Sony’s line of noise-cancelling headphones, and my stats received a shot in the arm, as a result.
I suddenly went from views of between 20 – 70 for my diary videos to hundreds. Comments and likes began to flood in, too.
One of those comments suggested that I should publish a follow-up video to compare the new headphones with their forefathers. So, I did, and that video quickly drew in thousands of views.
Luck? A little, but if I hadn’t picked that time to just get on with the channel properly, that would never have happened. As they say, you make your own luck, and I’ve not looked back since.
I created one video per week
Consistency is key with any form of content production. There are lots of opinions on what the right cadence is for YouTube, but, for me, one video per week has so far worked brilliantly.
I run my own business, which means anything more than one video per week would be a push. I’d have to significantly reduce the time I put into each video, which would have a negative impact on the quality. So, that’s not an option.
Since that first video in June, I’ve successfully published one video per week on the channel, and it doesn’t feel like a chore at all.
I developed a killer back end process
I’ve always been super-organised when it comes to work, but I knew the YouTube channel would need a killer back end process if I was to keep everything in check and avoid the perils of running out of ideas.
My tool of choice for this is Notion – a favourite for many YouTubers. It’s a highly customisable, database-driven platform which runs every facet of my brand, from the videos to the blogs, SkillShare classes and profit and loss.
It’s a bit of a beast to get started with but grows beautifully as you do. Because I need everything linked, Notion’s database structure is perfect for my requirements – but it might be overkill for you.
The moral of the story is to simply have some form of back end process that helps you keep your ideas, progress and monetary stuff in check. If that’s a spreadsheet – cool. Just make sure it becomes the ‘bible’ for your channel.
I followed best practices
Remember those podcasts and books I mentioned earlier? All of the learnings from those awesome experts has been thrown into the videos I produce.
There are lots of YouTube best practices worth following, but here’s a snapshot of what I’ve implemented:
- SEO-driven titles;
- no ‘wrapping up’ at the end (don’t provide any indication that your video is about to end – you want people to watch the next one!);
- just one clear call-to-action (CTA);
- a story-driven narrative;
- no long, waffling intros; and
- a strong focus on creating the best possible thumbnails.
There’s lots more, but I really do recommend implementing the YouTube practices you hear more than one expert mention. They know what they’re talking about.
I didn’t get too bogged down in SEO
Search engine optimisation is really important for YouTube, as I noted earlier. But I don’t think it’s something you should get too bogged down in during those early days.
This is partly because it’ll take you away from the process of creating. During these early days of my channel, I’ve discovered that getting the title right is important, but it isn’t always driven by SEO research – it’s often a happy accident or simply the obvious choice.
I know you can’t build a brand with that mentality forever, and SEO is going to have to become a more intense process for me, but it really didn’t play a big role during those first four months if I’m completely honest.
I watched my stats intently – and reacted
People will tell you to avoid getting too obsessed with your YouTube stats, but that’s easier said than done.
Hands up – I open YouTube Studio all the time and excitedly pull-to-refresh to see how many new subs and views I’ve gained.
This can be disheartening at times, but if you’re onto something – like I am – it’s actually pretty exciting. In my experience, those pull-to-refresh moments have revealed a tangible increase in growth and reach for my channel. It went from one or two new subs appearing every few hours to ten, twenty and sometimes more.
I don’t recommend getting too obsessed with the numbers, and if yours don’t appear to be doing anything, something is wrong. However, if you’re getting it right, those pull-to-refresh-moments will be incredibly exciting.
I read every comment and replied to as many as possible
I’m several country miles away from the YouTubers who receive thousands of comments on their videos, but I do receive enough for it to be a significant task each day.
And I love it. Even the negative stuff.
Thus far, I haven’t encountered any hardened trolls – just the usual dose of armchair YouTube experts who are keen to reveal why the hard work you put into your last video was such a waste of time.
But I even love those interactions, too.
Your audience often knows more than you when it comes to the direction in which the channel should head, and they’ll give you countless ideas for new videos. More importantly, their collective voice will begin to reveal itself and, for me, that has enabled me to narrow down my niche even further.
On the whole, the people who comment on my videos are absolutely lovely, and they’re a huge source of inspiration and encouragement to keep going. I love it.
I set goals – and beat them
Goals are important for anything you do in life, and the same goes for YouTube.
I decided early on to set simple goals to keep me focused, and the easiest target was subscribers.
Yes, this might be a vanity metric, but it’s the clearest indication that your channel is growing during those early days. So, I set my initial subscriber goal – and beat it. Then I set a new goal and beat that, too.
You need something to strive towards, and the beautiful thing about YouTube is that it is entirely number-centric, so you can choose the metric that gives you the most impetus to crack on.
I focused on quality content
I’m a videographer by trade, therefore understand how to shoot good b-roll and properly frame a piece of a-roll. I also love the process of shooting and editing video.
I care about decent lighting, great audio and footage which supports the narrative. I watch TV and films more often than not with an eye on the technical details rather than the plot (much to my girlfriend’s annoyance).
This all gives me a bit of a head start when it comes to content quality, and I think it shines through in my videos (the comments I receive back this up).
This isn’t a boast, either; quality content really matters on YouTube. There are so many creators out there, and we’ve all come across videos where you can’t hear the presenter or the footage is so poorly lit you focus more of your attention on that than the content.
Producing video is easy – anyone can pick up their phone and start shooting – but producing great video requires some technical prowess and love for cinematography. Learn it – seriously.
I celebrated every little win
It’s very early days for my channel, and for that reason, I’m celebrating every new subscriber, every view, every comment (good and bad), and every indication that the intrinsic link between each element of the brand is beginning to work.
I’ll keep celebrating until I’m no longer enjoying it. Which, let’s be honest, is probably never going to happen.
If you’re starting a channel or thinking of doing so, I hope my insight above helps. Although, I can guarantee I’ve missed something, so if you have your own YouTube strategy success story, get involved in the comments! We’re all in this together, after all.