Ask any YouTuber what their main challenge is, and they’re likely to say, “I just don’t have enough time to get it all done”.

That might be true, but as I’ve discovered recently, we really are the masters of our own destiny when it comes to how much productivity we can squeeze out of a working day.

A case in point: I completely screwed up ‘iPhone season’ this year. Hopefully, the net effect of that isn’t obvious, publicly, but behind the scenes, it has been a right old palaver.

This self-inflected hassle stems mainly from a failure on my part to balance sponsored and growth content effectively. It’s a big lesson for me, and I’ll be making changes, but I think my learnings could help other aspiring creators.

How I got it totally wrong

A couple of months ago, I received several really interesting, well-paying sponsorship opportunities. Several brands were keen to work with me and pay to have prominent ad integrations in my videos.

I said “yes” too many times. And because they all arrived in such a short space of time, that meant the scheduling of the resulting sponsored videos was just as closely packed in my content calendar.

If this was ‘off-season’ when the tech niche takes a much-needed breather, it wouldn’t have been a huge issue. If anything, this influx of sponsorships would have been welcomed, due to the inevitable dip in views and engagement during that time.

But this wasn’t off-season; I’d inadvertently scheduled all of those sponsored videos throughout September and October – two months that are vitally important in the tech calendar.

It’s why, if you’ve been following the channel recently, you’ll have seen me review a productivity app, an office chair, and a budget pair of headphones, amongst the usual raft of iPhone event reaction stuff.

It’s been a headache to produce (although a lot of fun, admittedly) but, more importantly, not particularly coherent for my audience. That’s not good enough, as far as I’m concerned.

Committing to the 80/20 rule

I was talking to a couple of YouTuber mates about this recently, and we all agreed that in order to successfully grow a YouTube brand and keep it heading in the right direction, you need to strike the balance between two types of content.

The first is what I’ve described above – sponsored content. Love it or loathe it, sponsored videos are a significantly important revenue stream for YouTubers of all sizes – they keep the lights on and put food on the table. My rule is to only accept sponsors when I genuinely have an interest in their product and feel that it could benefit my audience. It’s rare this doesn’t pay off for the brand, my audience, and yours truly.

But those videos always draw in a relatively small audience. They can be super successful when it comes to referrals and conversions for the brand (and I must note that I often benefit from that too, thanks to affiliate deals), but they don’t help grow my brand at all.

Growth content, as the name suggests, does. It’s rarely sponsored, and instead favours a theme which latches onto a highly trending topic. This is the golden stuff – it’s what draws people in and tempts them to subscribe. Pick the right topic, and your carefully crafted video can have an immediate, positive impact on the growth of your channel.

This year, it has become clear that the good ol’ 80/20 rule should apply here, weighted in the favour of growth content. Over these last two months, that balance has been closer to 50/50, and that means a slower moving channel with ad-hoc and relatively unpredictable revenue, rather than sustained audience growth.

How to stick to your guns

As I alluded to earlier, implementing the 80/20 rule for growth versus sponsored content isn’t easy at all. It’s very hard to say “no” to a brand that’s working on a tight timescale and wants to pay you good money to feature a product you have an interest in.

However, the more I negotiate with these brands, the more I realise that you can lead the conversation as the creator. Those timescales, embargoes, and limited time offer periods shouldn’t dictate when a video is scheduled. If you can’t fit a review in right at the time of the embargo lifting, will your audience really care? Probably not – check out how long it takes MKBHD to publish his big-name reviews these days.

It all comes down to being bold with your negotiations, being honest when you can’t meet a non-movable publishing date, and having the confidence to lean on your past experiences. As I always say, you know what works for your channel – not the brand that wants to sponsor it.

You have my word – from here on, I will be sticking diligently to the 80/20 rule – it’s better for everyone.

Final thought

Sponsored videos remain a sticky topic in YouTube land. The viewers who publicly illustrate their distrust of my content because it is sponsored are admittedly in the minority, but they still bite.

I’ve made mistakes with sponsors in the past – I’m happy to admit that. I’ve inadvertently worked with a couple of brands who didn’t live up to my aforementioned rules governing sponsored content. That’s a learning process, and one I’m committed to.

Managing the balance between growth and sponsored content is a challenge I didn’t foresee when I started this business. I hope my new strategy for dealing with it effectively inspires you to do the same!

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