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YouTube – and the 5 things I wish I’d known

It’s been very nearly a year since my first video went up, and it’s taught me a lot!

YouTube
image courtesy of author

I thought it would be so easy!

This time last year, I distinctly recall feeling unsettled. I knew I needed to change things up as I felt stale & bored. Mum always told me she worried most when I was bored, as mischief often ensued!

Well, after a few more times around the sun, I think I have turned that misspent energy in to a positive. I was still a radio presenter last autumn. I loved the music, the guests, and artists I got to meet. The art of radio itself – creating the theatre of the mind, is like no other. Being a late night host, creating that warm, relaxing, environment was a skill I’d learned. But, radio has a major problem…there is no money in it.

The three weekly, two hour, live shows was the easy part. I produced all my shows, which meant I was putting in over 30 hours a week, and not being paid. The love I had for radio, and music, was being ebbed away as I started to resent the lack of reward.

I knew I still needed that creative fix, and challenge, though. Somehow, I needed to figure out a way to be creative and get paid. Enter, from stage left, YouTube.

Thank lockdown

Through the numerous lockdowns, like many, I had turned to YouTube. Initially, as a way of keeping my brain active, I watched tutorials from Adobe. Then, once on the platform, I started to scroll and found a whole world that was unknown to me. My feed was suddenly alive!

Creators were making content about everything. All my interests were catered for. It was fresh, new, vibrant and, exciting. I quickly gathered that creators, on the platform, could earn a living as well. This piqued my interest yet further.

It made for an almost perfect storm – bored, stale and requiring a change, coupled with a creative world for me to learn and, hopefully, prosper from. From that standpoint, it has ticked every box.

Scratching the surface of the world of a content creator has been fascinating. I have always been my own boss, and being a creator on YouTube is very much like that. You have to motivate yourself, make your own diary, find new opportunities, skills I was already used to.

Naively, I thought making a modest living from YouTube would be a walk-in-the-park. I figured my radio background would in someway help, and I’d take to it naturally.

Turns out, it is not quite that easy! Like anything you watch, and then go on to try, the pro’s make it look so simple.

Too far in

I walked away from radio in December 2021. It was a massive decision, but one I have not regretted. I needed the time to devote to this new chapter of my life.

Since last September, I have put up at least one, and on some occasions, two videos a week. The work ethic is there, but the results varied. And the lack of success is 100% on me, I get that. There is no else to blame. I simply need to get better.

Most nights you’ll find me either editing, or watching my favourite creators on YouTube in an effort to learn, and implement some of their skills in my videos. The learning never stops. That’s fine by me, as the process, as it turns out, is fun!

But, here are five things I wished I’d learned quicker about the YouTube journey. If you are considering starting a channel, hopefully, these tips may just help.

1. Scripting

This is not quite what it sounds. I have never owned a teleprompter or read a script from start to finish on any video. But, now, I will always write a full script in Apple Notes.

The benefits of doing this became clear to me, actually, only fairly recently. The failings I have that I alluded to, include the art of making an interesting video.

There should be distinct parts, or chapters, of any good video. The fact you may not notice it, is the all down to the skill of the creator. If they are doing their job well, you will be taken on a journey, without even being aware of it.

By scripting, I can now focus on the early hook, the part that pulls the viewer in, the main story, the value to the viewer, what I can offer in the video, along with a good conclusion. When written down, you’ll find yourself more focused, and not overlooking elements you meant to cover. The YouTube algorithm will like this too, so we are led to believe.

There is one other benefit to writing a script…being a blogger, it means I can re-purpose content fairly easily, and convert that video script, to a blog. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the creator’s book, but valuable none-the-less.

2. Tell a story

Telling a story is a skill. Even if you do script your video, when writing, you need to understand how to take your viewer on a meaningful journey. Again, looking back on my first year, I think I have overlooked that.

The scripts, I mentioned, have clearly defined headings. I set out the template like that on purpose. If I follow through those points, it should mean I have made a proper effort at taking the viewer with me, from A to B.

I can almost guarantee, that without knowing it, the reason you keep watching videos from your favourite creator, is because they are engaging you with their story telling. One of the best on YouTube at this, is Peter McKinnon. If you’ve not checked him out, do. He is just a master at it.

Don’t be afraid to let your character shine through. Being entertaining is part of the skill. There is a world of choice out there for your viewers to feast on – give them a reason to watch you.

3. Impactful editing

One of the truisms of starting your YouTube channel, is that the best, indeed, only way to learn is to just do it.

I spent months before putting up a video on YouTube, trying to learn Premiere Pro. Premiere is my video editor of choice, but this applies just the same to DaVinci, or Final Cut. I thought, that putting in the hard yards, before going live, would help.

Now, I came from a background of no previous knowledge, or experience with video editing, so those days of just ‘learning’, clearly had their benefits. But, by far the best way to learn, is by making content, and posting videos to YouTube.

The YouTube community is amazingly forgiving. Don’t be shy or embarrassed by putting up your early efforts. I cringe at my videos from a year back, but, they have all served their purpose. You’ll learn so much in the process, more than you’d ever learn by simply practising.

At some point, you’ll have to rip off the Bandaid, and if you want my advice, the sooner, the better! Learning on the job is, undoubtedly, the best route to producing quality videos for YouTube.

4. Try not to obsess

Easier said than done, but a lesson well worth learning.

YouTube has a sneaky way of taking over your life. When you are not watching YouTube, you’ll find yourself looking at your stats in the YouTube Studio app. And in my case, when not doing one of the above, I then listened to endless podcasts on ‘how to be better’.

Again, I am certain, all of that has helped in some way. Learning can never be a bad thing, but I realised now, that the amount of information I was taking in was detrimental.

Recently, I was laid low for a week with COVID. About the only thing I could do was think about where I was going wrong, and what I could improve. Most of what I am writing today, came from that week’s reflection. I was too poorly to make any content, but it meant that I could take a step back and focus on the improvements that needed to be made.

The total obsession that YouTube had on me, increasingly, over the year, was becoming a drawback. I had to step back, breathe and trust myself a little more. Now, I am working with more clarity and efficiency.

I am not second guessing myself as much, either. I am a graphic designer by trade, and even with that background, I found myself listening to experts telling me how to design a thumbnail! At that point, I think I realised it had to stop.

Now, be it thumbnails, tags, titles, or descriptions, I am trusting myself. I am putting in more effort than ever. Time will tell if it pays back, but it feels great to be free to create, and not second guess myself so much.

Consistency

This can manifest itself in numerous ways with YouTube. Consistency can apply to regular uploads, content, those pesky thumbnails, or even brand colours.

Consistency, I have learned, is important, and needs your attention with YouTube. With that self-employed background, the work-ethic, of creating content and consistently posting, was not the issue.

My area of fault was the look of the channel, and the content I was posting. I think my thumbnails had become too varied, a fault that came about from listening to, far too many experts (see above). The content too was guilty of being scatter-gun. Viewers need to know what to expect when they come to me, and it is purely down to me, to make sure I deliver.

Again, thanks to that bout of COVID (see, I turned that downtime in to a positive), I have doubled-down on getting a more coherent, themed style and format to the channel.

Wrapping up

If I could have my time over, and had better implemented what I have covered here, I am sure my channel would be in a better place.

That said, this first year has served it purpose. I am not going to lament over it, but rather draw from it. If I kept on making the same mistakes, then it would have all been for nothing.

Right now, I am so clear on what I need to do, the energy is burning away inside of me. My attention to detail leaving no stone unturned, and making myself better in every way is where I am at.

YouTube is there for me to conquer. I want content creation, including writing, of course, to be what puts food on my table.

The passion & belief is there – it’s all down to me now, so, quite literally, watch this space!

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