How to build a YouTube audience

A guest post by outdoor YouTuber Carley Fairbrother. Carley is now a teacher, but she worked for years in the field as a park ranger, fisheries technician, and outdoor educator. 

Two years ago, I started the The Last Grownup in the Woods, a YouTube channel geared at helping people learn about the natural world and inspiring them to get outside and connect with nature.  I use my channel to share what I know about nature, but also to document my experiments with wilderness skills, and to vlog my outdoor adventures.

I want to break down barriers between people and nature through education and (hopefully) inspiration.  I want to help folks get outside and playing in nature with a mish mash of nature facts, wild foods, adventures, and outdoors related tidbits.

The name comes from Richard Louv's "The Last Child in the Woods," where he talks about the impact that decreased time outdoors has on children. He coins the term "nature deficit disorder" - something I see signs of it everywhere, not just in kids.

It’s not exactly a big money maker, but I am working to turn it into a viable business.  In fact, starting I’ve recently reduced my work hours to four days a week to make it happen. 

Growth has by far been my biggest challenge

Challenges

Growth has by far been my biggest challenge.  After more than two years, I still have under 1000 subscribers.  I’ve seen similar channels grow a lot more quickly, and there are few factors that I think have come into play.

1. Regularity
The YouTube algorithm favours creators who produce regular content.  Plus, the more videos a person has out there, the more likely one is going to be discovered.  I try my best to put out a video a week, but it’s not always possible.  Making a video can take a lot of time.  

2. Video quality
My video quality is always improving, but, like many YouTubers, I had very little video making know-how before I started my channel.  

3. Sheer dumb luck
The last, and perhaps the biggest, factor is sheer dumb luck, or lack there of. So much of YouTube success depends on videos or channels getting discovered and shared by big influencers. If you spend enough time searching, you’ll find no shortage of good YouTube channels who are seriously undersubscribed. 

Successes

Now to counter the complaint I just made about not being discovered by the “right” people, I have met some pretty amazing people through my channel.  The occasional shoutout from other small YouTubers has gone a long way to help me grow, but more importantly, to help me stay positive about my work.  Deranged Survival  provided my first ever shoutout, and it ended up being a much needed boost to my ego and my channel.  

There is a strong community of outdoors enthusiasts on YouTube, and without it I probably would have gotten discouraged and quit a long time ago.  They remind me that people enjoy my videos, and usually, that is enough to keep me going.

he made my stinging nettle pie recipe with a Scout troop, and that they loved it

Most of my successes have not been of the monetary sort.  I had one woman, who now has a YouTube channel of her own, say that my channel was one of the first she started watching when she decided to start getting outdoors more.  I had another person happily tell me that he made my stinging nettle pie recipe with a Scout troop, and that they loved it.  

To inspire people to not only get outside more, but to share their experiences with others, is exactly why I started my channel.  

These are some of the stickers and items that other YouTubers have sent me, as well as some of my favourite nature finds.  It is part of my filming background when I shoot indoors.

These are some of the stickers and items that other YouTubers have sent me, as well as some of my favourite nature finds.  It is part of my filming background when I shoot indoors.


How YouTubers make money

1. Brand Deals and Pro Deals 

If you are big enough, brands will pay you to promote their products, but even small channels can benefit using pro-deals.  Most gear companies will offer around 30-40% off for professionals working in outdoors industries.  All you need to do is be seen using their stuff, and direct anyone who asks about it to their site.  YouTube isn’t their typical clientele for this, so you may need to make a case for yourself, but I have saved hundreds of dollars on gear I would have bought anyway.  I started doing this at around 500 subscribers. I have also had success approaching companies about making contributions for giveaways.  

2. Amazon Associate Program

Mentioning books or gear and sending viewer to Amazon can get you a decent commission.

Mentioning books or gear and sending viewer to Amazon can get you a decent commission.

If you have a monetized blog, you have probably explored this option.  This is a pretty good option for people just starting out.  If you like a product or piece of gear, mention it in a video and add an Amazon link to the video description.  If anyone buys the product through your link, you will get a commission (it starts at 4% in most categories, and goes up as you sell more).  Even if someone gets to Amazon through your link but ends up buying something else within the next 24 hours, you still get the commission. I’ve made a few sales this way, but the minimum payout for Canadians is $100, so I have a ways to go before I see any cash. 

Gear review videos can get a lot of views, but the only products I’ve reviewed aren’t on Amazon, so I can’t personally attest to how much review videos make.  If you are making a more adventure specific channel, then there should be plenty of opportunities to mention your favourite gear. 

3. Merchandise 

My custom Giraffe® Multifunctional Headwear.

My custom Giraffe® Multifunctional Headwear.

Spreadshirt allows you to design T-shirts and produce them on order, so there is no overhead.  You can sell designs through your own online store, or through the more general Spreadshirt Marketplace. If anyone purchases any of your designs, you get a few dollars for the design and a commission for selling the shirt.  I set this up mostly because I wanted a T-shirt for myself.  I’ve since designed a few shirts for family and friends and have sold a few on the Marketplace.  I’ve made a whopping $10 from Spreadshirt, but if you have a knack for graphic design, this could be a great option.  I also sell branded Giraff® Multifunctional Headwear (similar to a Buff®). I’ve only just broken even on them, but they have also been great to send as channel giveaways. 

4. eBooks and online courses

I’ve heard of people having great success using their channel to sell online courses or eBooks (or whatever product you have).  Of course that means writing a book or creating an online course.  This is something I will be exploring within the next year or two.  

5. Advertising

Activating Google Adsense on your YouTube channel is the first thing that comes to mind for many who want to make money from YouTube, but the potential money from this for a small channel is negligible.  A creator only makes an average of $1 for every 1000 views. Monetizing too early can actually do more damage than good.  Seeing ads will cause some viewers to click away, especially if the video doesn’t have a lot of views.

I have had a few of my more popular videos monetized for about two months now, and have only made around $10.  Minimum payout is $100, so I have a while before I’ll see a cheque from Google (Google owns YouTube).

[Note: Under the new rules, YouTube won't allow creators to turn on monetization until they've 10,000 lifetime views on their channel.] 

6. Crowdfunding

Many YouTubers have found success on Patreon.  Creators can ask for monthly donations for each video they produce, and offer a rewards tier system. Last spring, many major advertisers pulled their ads from YouTube.  The “adpocalypse” left many full time YouTubers struggling for revenue.   Many turned to Patreon, making it a bit of a saturated market.  I’ve yet to see any small YouTubers having much success on Patreon, but exciting rewards for donations could help to drive a successful campaign.  


Starting out with Video Making

As I mentioned, I had very little experience making videos when I started. I bought a copy of The Filmaker's Handbook by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus and barely read it. The YouTube Creator Academy has a lot of great (and free) short courses that are very relevant for YouTube creators.  This video by YouTube expert, Nick Nimin, lists the best “how to YouTube” channels. Watching lots of Youtube is also a big help.  You’ll be able to see what makes a video watchable.  Even if you are an experienced video maker, you may find that making videos for YouTube requires different strategies than you're used to. 

Don’t invest too much money too soon

Don't invest too much money too soon.  You can do a lot with very little investment.  I started off with a $200 Canon Vixia, but newer smartphones will make better video.  I am now using a Canon GX7, which is a compact camera with a DSLR sensor.  I started off editing on Microsoft Moviemaker, and switched to iMovie when I replaced my computer with a Mac.  iMovie is fairly basic, but it’s powerful enough for my needs and is easy to use.  Microsoft's answer to iMovie, MovieMaker is even more basic and a complete pain in the butt.  There are dozens of free third part editing programs available.  HitFilm Express and DaVinci Resolve have great reviews, though I've never used them myself.

I also use a Zoom H1 Handy Recorder for external sound.  It makes a huge difference when shooting inside, and a wind cover on the mic allows me to shoot outside on windy days. There seems to be a consensus among experts that upgrading sound should take priority over updating video quality.  

iMovie is easy to use and free for Mac users

iMovie is easy to use and free for Mac users


Dos and Don'ts Navigating the YouTube World

Do

  • Make friends. Find channels that are similar to yours.  A genuine comment on one of their videos and a subscription to their channel will often start a friendship.  Many of my subscribers found my channel when a YouTube friend gave me a shoutout.  More importantly, though, is that making friends on YouTube will earn you a spot in a surprisingly positive and supportive community.  
  • Watch lots of YouTube. The more you watch, the more you see what makes a good YouTube video and what makes a bad one.  
  • Research the heck out of the YouTube algorithm. Research engine optimization (SEO), and how to make your videos “clickable”. YouTube provides an amazing analytics tools and sites like TubeBuddy can help you analyze the data and improve SEO.  Any “how to YouTube” channel will talk a lot about SEO.  
  • Be genuine.  This includes the friendships you make, the products you promote, and the content you produce.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing something because you think it will get you views.  One of the reasons YouTube has become what it is is the personal nature of it.  If you are genuine, you will find yourself with genuine fans who have a real interest in what you are doing.  
  • Make your videos concise.  Just because you shot the video doesn’t mean to needs to go onto YouTube.  Edit out unnecessary parts.  Unless your video quality is very professional, aim to keep it under five minutes at first.

Don’t

  • Don’t worry if you have no video making experience.  That’s where most people on YouTube start.  All you need is a bit of creativity, some initiative to teach yourself, and a tolerance for failure and you should be ready to start making videos.  
  • Don’t start a YouTube channel to get rich, because you probably won’t.  Do it because you have something to share that will add value to people’s lives.  
  • Don’t get discouraged.  Just work on improving your videos, and marketing them the best you can.  

Time Investment

YouTube takes a lot of time.  If I do not devote two full days a week to my YouTube channel and at least an hour on others days, I usually don’t get my weekly video out.  

it generally takes at least one hour of editing per one minute of video

It depends on the video, but it generally takes at least one hour of editing per one minute of video.  For informational videos, I’ll typically spend a 2-5 hours researching, writing up a script, and planning the shots.  Shooting a video always takes longer than I expect.  I pretty much need to plan for something like demonstrating outdoors skills to take two or three times as much time as usually.  If I’m on adventure with someone else, I won’t put quite as much effort into shooting, which means more time editing to make my mediocre footage passable.

Video thumbnails are crucial for generating clicks and views

Video thumbnails are crucial for generating clicks and views

Making a thumbnail for the video, setting up all the metadata, and posting the video to social media will usually take another hour or two.  Answering video comments adds another hour or two throughout the week.  

What seems to be even more time consuming is the research and marketing.  I spend a lot of time researching how to make better videos, and how best to market them.   Plus, I have YouTube friends to keep up with, which is a form of marketing in itself.    There is always something to look up in terms of marketing or money making opportunities. 

If I did everything I wanted to do, I could easily fill in more than a 40 hours work week.

So, should you start a YouTube Channel? 

If you think you would have fun making and sharing videos, then yes.  Having a YouTube channel doesn’t have to be about growing an audience and making money.  

However, growing a channel  takes immense amounts of planning, filming, editing, marketing, networking, and researching.  Periods of slow growth can be very frustrating, and you might drive your loved ones a little crazy when you are holding up the hiking trip to get the best possible footage or spending your entire weekend editing. 

Nevertheless, if you have fun doing it, why not try to turn it into an income source?  


To find out more about Carley Fairbrother