John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.
Earning a living through YouTube is one of the more popular methods of working from home for a certain type of person. That type of person may be you if you’re creative or have a good knowledge of a topic that you can share in a clear and interesting manner, but having a “shtick” is only part of the battle.
I’ll say this here at the top of the article; there are no “cheats” to making a living from YouTube—at least none that will work long term. If you don’t have compelling content that people want to watch, YouTube likely won’t work for you as a source of income, and certainly not in the long run.
So, let’s look at that content.
Content Is Most Important
The beauty of YouTube—and the Internet in general for that matter—is that you can make whatever you like and put it out there. Practically speaking however, if you want to earn a living from that content it needs to be something that a large number of people want to watch.
Your potential audience is the upper limit of your earning potential, and unless you have a small fortune to spend on promoting your content, the percentage of your potential audience that you will actually get will be quite small. What this means is that, while you can make whatever you want, you should be realistic about what your choice of subject matter will mean for your earning potential.
The key is to find a balance between a large potential audience and a niche topic. The most popular forms of content have thousands upon thousands of YouTubers making videos on those topics making it extremely difficult to get a foothold without expensive promotion. The most niche of topics have fewer videos out there making it far easier to get noticed… but they have fewer videos for a reason.
Unfortunately, if you’re a creative talent looking to make your way on YouTube, your lot is little better than it would be in the regular world. You will need to put your content out there and find your audience. In this respect there is little advice that can be offered; your creative content is yours alone. Consider branching out a little in order to build your audience, however. If you're a musician, make occasional videos of you covering a popular song, or giving a tour of your home studio.
If your aim is to share knowledge in a particular area, look to narrow your field a little. For example, if you want to make videos about gaming, focus the bulk of your content on a particular game or game series. If your interests lie in woodworking, make your videos mainly about a certain area of woodworking, such as furniture.
Once you’ve built up an audience you can sprinkle in content on other related subjects, but don't go overboard as your audience could lose interest if you're making too much of something they're not interested in. If you have a burning desire to make content on a different subject to that which your audience came for, consider setting up a separate channel.
After Content Comes Promotion
Once you have your content, promoting it is the most significant hurdle left. In fact, once your video is made, getting people to watch it is pretty much all of the battle.
If you have money to burn you can buy ads and sponsored video slots that will definitely get eyeballs on your content, but you should be aware that, while this will get you views, the revenue from those views will never be worth the amount you spent on promotion. Now, if your content is compelling and good enough to hold an audience, promotion is a great tool for those that can afford to do it. The key is to make content that makes people want to come back for more, then show it to as many people as you can. For content that is “one hit”, spending money on promotion is just spending money to increase your view count, and will do little to help your bottom line.
Outside of spending money on ads, the usual methods apply. You should be sure to share your content on all your social media platforms but don’t over do it. If you have a Twitter account that only tweets about your latest video, that Twitter account willy carry little value to a potential audience. Your Twitter account should have an audience of its that may not cross over directly with your YouTube audience, then when you share your video content there you’re not just showing it to the same people who are subscribed to your YouTube channel. The same applies to Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, and any other social media platform you might choose to promote your content on.
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Another way to get noticed is to collaborate with other YouTubers. Obviously you'll want to work with someone who has a bigger audience than you do, and you need at least a portion of their audience to be interested in what you do. To make an analogy, there’s no sense in collaborating on a video with a guitar pedal reviewer when your channel is all about knitting!
Unfortunately it can be tricky to make these collaborations happen. Bigger YouTubers don’t get a whole lot out of collaborating with unknown content creators other than the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing they helped out a “little guy”. So rather than relying on some successful YouTuber's altruistic nature, try to come up with entertaining ideas that might pique their interest. If your channel is about knitting, perhaps you could collaborate with a popular arts and crafts channel. Make it worth the bigger YouTuber's time.
If You've Got the Views, Start Monetizing
All of the great content and rocketing viewing figures in the world will be of no use to you if you don’t have a way to monetize those views. But before we get into this aspect of earning money through YouTube, let’s first briefly touch on a legal matter that many new content creators overlook; copyright.
If your videos use copyrighted material, be it a popular song (or even not-so popular song), a clip from a movie or TV show, or even a photograph, your video could be flagged for copyright violation. There are grey areas such as “Fair Use” but the system is generally rigged to favour the copyright holder—in particular the copyright holders with a lot of money. Indeed, if you make a lot of videos you’ll probably find yourself being flagged for copyright violation incorrectly on more than one occasion. In my experience, it’s best just to shy away from copyrighted material; there are plenty of other options.
Now, back to monetizing. Obviously YouTube has their own solution in the form of Google’s AdSense and the YouTube Partner program. This service integrates nicely with your regular YouTube dashboard and gives you the option of putting different kinds of ads on your videos (pre-roll, banner, side) and it works very well for the most part. I cannot stress enough, however, that you should not rely solely on YouTube’s Partner program. Or any other single method of monetizing your content for that matter.
There are many ways of monetizing your audience. If your video involves making things, offer the things you’ve made as a purchasable product. If you review things, be sure to include an Amazon Affiliates link to the product you’re reviewing. If you have a dedicated audience, consider providing the option to donate or sign up to a Patreon page. Be careful not to over do it, however. Audiences know you're making money from them, but they'll leave you in a flash if they start to feel like you're trying to milk them for every penny.
As in my other articles on earning money online, the ultimate key here is to diversify—to not have all your eggs in one basket. YouTube is no different. If you can make enough of an income from YouTube to live off of, great, but don’t come to rely on it entirely. Many things can happen that limit or even cut off your YouTube earnings. Banned accounts, issues with copyright holders, and there’s always the possibility that this era of uber-successful YouTube stars could come to an abrupt end as these things have a habit of doing.
Go. Create. Enjoy yourself. But be smart about it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 John Bullock
N.E. Wright on September 19, 2017:
Janellegems on October 26, 2016:
Great informative Hub. Good job in sharing and covering all aspects in making money on YouTube.
James Lamprey from Maryland on October 26, 2016:
Nice article. You did a good job touching on the different sources of revenue possible to Youtubers.
Babu Iqbal from INDIAN on October 26, 2016:
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Jonathan Joseph Willcox from Folkestone on October 26, 2016:
Great tutorial! well organised hub as well!
Nathan from newyork on October 26, 2016:
Yes youtube is great income for good youtubers. I am starting stage this post is very useful to implement the direct on my youtube channel hottnchill.com