I want to share with you the 14 most important lessons I learned my first year as as an artist on YouTube. I started my YouTube channel when I decided to teach art lessons online and share my art through YouTube. In reality it doesn't matter what year you begin, because we all have to start with the first steps. If you are thinking about starting your own channel, in the process right now, or just curious about how YouTube works for people, I can tell you my experience with YouTube and what it takes to build an online business. Be aware that I tell things how they truly are because I like to keep it real, so read on with caution, lol.
1. How to get Subscribers. I started out with a new channel, with no followers on any social media platforms besides my own personal Facebook account full of friends and family. The reality is that I had to build from zero. For my first subscribers on YouTube I asked friends and family to please subscribe. Some of them were interested in what I was doing and some of them were not, and I was okay with that. The first year was snail slow gaining subscribers as YouTube doesn't promote videos from channels with a few subscribers. I gained more subscribers by commenting on other YouTube channels similar to mine, but not commenting with spam, like "check out my channel." I took time to actually being interested in other videos and answering art related questions that went unanswered by the YouTube channel host.
Subscribers are people, so I treated them as friends, because that's the type of people I wanted watching my videos. Each subscriber to me is a person I am sitting down creating art with. Even though I can't see them, in my viewers reality, they are with me through the process. My goal was to help people and in return, if they liked watching my videos, I asked them to please subscribe and share. At first I hated asking because it felt weird, but I soon realized that most people want to share something they enjoyed with other people and to keep enjoying it themselves. A lot of people don't realize that subscribing, commenting and clicking the thumbs up button on videos helps spread the videos to more people in turn helping the video creator keep sharing content. How Youtube works isn't the first thing on most peoples mind when they're enjoying a video, but if I bring it up, most people will help in return for enjoying my videos.
I put out a lot of content the first year and posted that content to all my new social media places like, Twitter, Instagram, a business Facebook page, and Pinterest. This helped bring in people from other places so I didn't have to rely on Youtube alone to bring in interested viewers. Just be aware that it takes time to build audiences on these social platforms as well.
2. At first getting subscribers is slow. It was uncomfortably slow to get subscribers the first few months. That's right, months! I was only getting a new subscriber every other day, sometimes every three days. The first 100 subscribers took me about 6 months. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how other new channels were growing so fast.
Of course I wanted to be successful, and I got caught up in measuring my success with the numbers and comparing myself to others because I didn't know better. I put way to much of my precious time into researching other channels. Many channels looked like they were doing better than mine and I easily got sucked into comparing and feeling bad about myself instead of facing the reality of what it takes to grow my channel. I did learn valuable things by researching other channels that grew quickly.
I don't recommend ever paying for subscribers. People who do this live in a fake reality where they want to appear successful even when they know they aren't. I don't have much patience for those type of people and either does Youtube. Having subscribers is not how video creators get paid. Youtubers get paid by the ads people watch before or during a video. If people aren't watching a persons video or clicking the ads then $0 is what they get. A logical person would not waste their money on subscribers who are not interested in watching their videos (or are real people). Youtube does not reward Youtubers for growing fast, in fact, people who grow too fast appear to have purchased subscribers, even if they didn't actually do that, they still get flagged by Youtube. So slow and being real is the way to go.
It was challenging the first year to grow slow and see that my videos I worked so hard on, had little views. These videos I was so bummed about now have several thousand views, so it really didn't matter that they had little views in the beginning.
I learned I needed to build my channel with realistic expectations or I could get hyper focused on the numbers and not what I was contributing to people. I chose to put forth the time to build instead of focusing on cutting corners or what I was getting out of it. I have noticed several other YouTubers go with the "me, me" mentality. No one notices people until they have something worth noticing. I get several comments a day from other channels pushing their channel in my comments or asking me to" sub for sub" or "look at them." This is not the way to build a YouTube channel because it is the people who they aren't begging for attention, that are the ones that care. I learned to do what I do with my channel because I love it and anyone who does that will make it through the hard first year.
3. Don't take a course. A course is a waste of money. It may teach how to build a YouTube channel or business, step by step, but anyone can learn more with a $10 book, by asking Google, with free videos, and podcasts more specific to their niche. Course creators legitimize the thousands of dollars they will charge for such courses to make sure I'm 'invested" in following through with their course and becoming successful. They tell me I can skip the struggles and be successful faster...(laughing)...because nobody can skip the building process for any business just because they take a course. The same thing goes for art. I can teach someone how I paint with acrylics, step by step, but that person has to figure out their own style and put in their own effort to become a successful artist. No matter how much money they throw at me, I can't do it for them. A course doesn't make a successful YouTube channel or business, the person or people behind it does.
4. Making videos costs money. The reality is that businesses have start up costs and so does starting a YouTube channel. Making videos on YouTube is actually part of my business and if it's just a hobby, personally I don't have the money or time for such an expensive and time consuming hobby. I had to buy a camera, tripod, lights, microphone, computer, editing software, art supplies, table, and more just to get started. I also pay to share free videos everyday, just to share them! I pay fees to accept e-mail subscribers and send weekly e-mails, and to have a website to name a few. I also have future expenses, like updating technology, getting art supplies or when items I need for videos need replaced. At the end of my first year on YouTube I finally got paid my first $100. I was really discouraged when in the first year I didn't even come close to paying for just one thing I needed to make my videos.
5. Wanting to quit. It is disheartening when you're paying to serve people and you get a thumbs down or a negative comment. Even when it is just a small amount of people doing it, it hurts. Many times I wanted to quit because of mean people or even constructive criticism. Then I stopped giving them that control over my business and most importantly my emotions. I stopped caring. I still don't care if someone doesn't like my videos or my art and I don't think that will change. I do care about the people that love my videos and like my art!
I don't waste my time on negativity anymore and I especially don't support negative people by changing my business or content to their specifications. I'm always trying to become better and so not caring about the negativity doesn't keep me from progressing. if someone criticizes me, I take it for what it is, and that's one persons opinion in a world of many many people. Sometimes I agree with it, like when my music was to loud in a video. I didn't erase my video or reply with a mean comment, I said thanks and then in the next video I turned down the music. It's not personal to me anymore. It's all up to me on how I want to share what I do, and this makes me strong enough to keep going.
6. Making money. Money keeps a business going but it's perseverance that matters most. When it came down to the time spent planning, recording, editing, posting, writing, creating a website, posting to social media and other business related tasks, I was not making anything, in fact I was paying a lot to work many hours. I became angry at the situation several times, because what I was doing took time away from other things I could be doing (like spending time with my family) or getting a "job" that brought in an income. I couldn't see what was truly required to be successful on Youtube or in business. I didn't fully realize that what I was doing in the first year was a future investment and that getting paid would happen over several years. This put me in a quit or change mentality. If what I was doing now wouldn't change the situation, I would move onto the next desperately trying to find a solution. I would put more and more effort into changing still without seeing any immediate rewards. It was really hard to stay focused on one thing because I couldn't tell if the direction I was headed was the right one. I didn't realize I needed to stay focused for a longer period and that this craziness was the way it goes for any business starting up. Every business person starts out with an idea of what they want to build and goes through a period of problems arising and discovery of what works and what doesn't. Every business experiences failure and to be successful has to keep adapting and moving forward.
No money, should I quit? I learned making money from Youtube is making a product and then sharing that product on Youtube to sell. Otherwise asking others to pay for FREE content is like asking for tips. Asking for tips is pretty uncomfortable and most people don't care enough to give back. After researching other channels I discovered for every 10,000 subscribers 1 person will donate. That is more than just sad, it's seeing a big screen TV in a shack with starving children sad. After the first year I used a platform called Patreon to ask for support. Of course not a lot of people supported and figuring out what my audience wants extra for giving their support was a challenge. Anyone could easily get overwhelmed creating even more content for their supporters on a monthly basis. I give my supporters special content, because they are special, they are those 1 in 10,000, but I have to keep the rewards reasonable so that it's actually supportive, not the opposite!
In the beginning I gave everything for free, but at some point I had to ask for something of value in return or my business won't be able to share anything with anybody, anymore. I have been on the verge of failing many times because I didn't have something that people were willing to pay for. Asking my audience what they want has been good and also investing more of my time in creating products aside from videos has kept me afloat.
Getting businesses to sponsor in the first year is a joke. It's all about subscribers you have, not about a videos view potential, which I think is ridiculous. Several of my sponsored videos have reached thousands of viewers more than what I had in subscriber numbers. I reached out to several companies that I loved and used their products and heard nothing back. I did get a few companies that I had never heard of reaching out to me. What they wanted was to send me their product so I could make a free video for them! A great deal for them because they don't have to invest in video equipment or the time to create a video and potentially reach a huge audience in the future. Um no. Most of them would give me an affiliate link, which does not pay the creator for their time. Charging a flat fee for my time was the most reasonable but most companies won't pay for the time it takes to create a great "ad" for them. I had to be okay with that or I would create a lot more work for myself without getting paid for my time. It is always better to create my own product and sell that, instead of another companies products. I use affiliate links in all my videos for what I actually use in my videos and while it brings in some income, it never pays for creating the video...but at least I get to use what I want.
7. Reward yourself. I had days when I felt like what I was doing was not important, no one cared, and the work was unrewarding. The rewards of the hard work as an entrepreneur is often celebrated when success finally happens. This is a very long time to wait and I realized if I was going to stay motivated I needed to reward myself for little successes. My first 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and so on subscribers were all celebrated as big deals. Once I was in the thousands of subscribers my rate of subscribers increased faster. I celebrated by going out to eat, relaxing or enjoying a Martenelli drink. The first time I got paid was a big deal too and I celebrated by getting much needed art supplies without feeling guilty, lol.
8. Expect Negitivity. The Youtube audience is a place where their are a lot of negative and judgmental people. If an audience is geared towards kids there are more thumbs down and negativity because of immaturity. A lot of people lose their filter, manners, and etiquette online, when face to face, they would be reasonable and nice. This means every channel will get thumbs down and negative comments no matter how great the content. The Star Wars movie for example made billions of dollars and is very popular, but the trailers have a lot of thumbs downs and negative comments. Some people feel better about themselves because they can express their opinion with a thumbs down button or by being a jack ass. Youtubers have a name for people that go around leaving thumbs down and negative comments, they are called Trolls. Just don't feed them at all and erase the comments if they are offensive to others. Youtube does not hurt channels for thumbs downs or negative comments so don't worry about them. In the settings a Youtube creator can ban words and even people, and I have a list of inappropriate words and I have even banned people who have harassed me and other people in my audience, just because they could, yup, it's that ridiculous. I keep my channel clean from these type of people so that my audience is safe from them as well.
9. Get to know your audience. I first started out wanting to serve the same people I had always served with my art lessons. This meant I was giving lessons to kids and adults. I was teaching several different mediums based on the needs and desires of my customers. This doesn't work the same on Youtube. To serve my audience better I had to be more specific and niched. For example after sending out a survey, which was super important, I learned that my audience mostly wants watercolor and acrylic lessons. This changed the projects in my videos. Why waste the time on a video tutorial if my audience does not care for it? My audience was also confused with kids and adult lessons. I got several questions from my adult content on how to change the lesson so a kid could do it. It was confusing to teach kids and adults on the same channel. Starting a new kids channel was the best thing I could do for my channel and after this change my channel started growing faster. However my kids channel still grows slower than my adult channel, when the videos for kids are much more difficult to create. So instead of wasting my time trying to grow the kids channel that had less interest, I put more effort into my adult channel. As time goes on I get to know my audience and even though some are disappointed that I no longer create kids art videos, this doesn't mean I won't make kids videos, just not for free on Youtube as it's not the right platform. My business will eventually get molded into a successful one if I'm willing to be flexible, but this doesn't mean I have to change my goals with Createfulart because parts of it don't work for Youtube.
10. Video thumbnails are super important. Successful channels have a certain brand look to them. That means time needs to be invested in figuring out colors, logos, channel art and yes thumbnails. Thumbnails are the pictures on the videos that get people to click on them. At first I had no idea what I wanted for thumbnails so they had no specific look. This was not good. I changed my thumbnails to be consistent with my brand colors and saw more viewers turn into subscribers. Before someone subscribes they want to know who I am, and if I can't convey that, they leave. Also thumbnails need to stand out above the rest, especially with a channel just starting out, those clicks are very important to getting videos to rank higher.
11. Making good videos. I started out with the idea that I was just going to make better videos than most of them out there and did so with success. However looking back my videos are horrible compared to my videos that I make now and I expect that this trend will continue as long as I keep trying to be better. The thing is that I did not account for being camera shy and not knowing what I was doing. I thought I just needed to get in front of a camera and teach lessons the same way I do in person. My brain however was not thinking the camera and people watching were the same thing, because a camera is not a person. So for a while looking into the camera and talking to it like it was a person was very strange. The more I did it, the more I got used to it and the better my videos became. Also I did not realize that the YouTube audience is impatient and wants me to get to the point right away or entertain them. I also got better at editing videos over time which accounts for better videos. I learned that people like certain things like several different angles, fun intros, branding in the videos, a story and to relate to me. Experience is the key to better videos and you have to just keep going to gain it.
12. Collaborations are a joke. I have read and heard multiple times that collaborations grow your channel faster than everything when you start out. The humor is that a larger channel is not going to collaborate with a channel with hardly any subscribers because making videos is a lot of work and there is nothing in it for them. The lucky people are the ones that have a friend already on YouTube that is one of their cheerleaders, if not it is very difficult to find people willing. Also collaborations from my first experience did not spike my subscribers. I made two videos with a larger channel with thousands of subscribers to my hundreds and there was no difference in my analytics. There are no more views on those videos than my other videos and a spent way more time on them so that I could impress the other audience. That audience never took the time to click over and see my channel. Is this common, I don't know, but what it does mean is that collaborations can fail as mine did. I have several videos that are not collaborations that have grown my audience more, so concentrating on making videos people are looking for is a better route.
13. Make videos people are looking for. For a long time I was making art tutorials that I thought would be fun without actually seeing if people were looking for them. For instance I had the idea to serve my homeschool audience with art history videos on famous artists only to find out that people were not searching for them on YouTube so I had to advertise them myself. If people are not searching for famous artists on YouTube I was never going to get paid for creating these videos and advertising meant that YouTube was not giving me anything for creating this type of content. What I had to do is re-think what videos I made for YouTube and offer the other videos as courses that people had to pay for. At first I was sad about this, but then I realized that giving people what they want is what YouTube is about. All of my top videos are top in searches. Every video I made that got very little views took the same amount of work as my successful videos and therefore low searched video content is a complete waste of time.
14. The ugly truth about YouTube. YouTube is actually a very insecure place to grow an audience. YouTube is still the place with the largest audience and a great way to find the people that want what you have to offer. However, YouTube channels get shut down all the time for no apparent reason, subscribers all the sudden are dropped, YouTube algorithms change and your videos stop getting noticed, subscribers don't get notified of new videos, you have no control over becoming a verified channel, and there are glitches all the time that can prevent you from getting a video out on time to the audience that is expecting it.
All of these things make your business on YouTube with your subscribers inconsistent and your ability to serve your audience hindered by YouTube problems and inconsistencies. It hurts how you look as a business not how YouTube looks, because viewers have no idea what is going on and that it is YouTube with the problems.
For example I made changes to my video playlist names on my Youtube channel and Youtube gave me two strikes for doing this, a glitch in their system as this is usually something you can easily change with no problems. After three strikes my channel gets shut down. When this happens you have to appeal and wait weeks to months. Meanwhile your viewers come to your channel and get a notification it was shut down for something you did wrong. If your channel is shut down you lose access to all your subscribers and have to completely start over. It is extremely scary and frustrating to see years of hard work just erased.
The best remedy I have found it is crucial to ask people to go to a different place like a website and subscribe so you can communicate if something happens on YouTube. People on YouTube don't necessarily like to take the time to leave YouTube and go to another place to subscribe to get the same content. This means making extra content and free things just to get them to subscribe somewhere else so you can better serve them. E-mail has it's own obstacles like putting e-mails in spam folders, or people subscribing and never opening a single e-mail. It is not easy to serve people and it never has been, even for free. However at least they know where they can always find you if something happens to your channel on Youtube. There are many obstacles for every person putting themselves out there, whether they are selling art, books, toys, blogging, or whatever they do. Counting on obstacles and disappointment was my biggest lesson.
So what did I learn my first year as an artist on YouTube? I learned how to get subscribers and what to expect as far as growth. I learned making videos costs money and takes a lot of time and you don't get paid for it unless you are pushing your audience to buy a product or begging for their support. Both of those don't necessarily happen either because your audience is small. I learned how to stay motivated so I did not quit and to celebrate the small triumphs. I learned to get to know my audience, niche my channel, and become a brand so that people new what I was about. I learned what videos would do well and how to promote them. I learned that YouTube is a good and bad place to grow an audience and to create some fail safes.
I hope this helps you understand YouTube a little better. If you love art and want to be more creative subscribe below so you don't miss any content!