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Read Unscripted!
May 12, 2022
I’m in the top 1% of YouTube creators.

This is the story of how that happened.

TL-DR background:

Professional Photographer who trained at degree level in the 1990’s
Ran a portrait studio most of the 2010’s and started to fall out of love with it.
Long hours, and if I didn’t shoot, I didn’t get paid.

Have vague ideas about sharing my love for the ‘why’ of photography with others who hadn’t had the benefit of art school (in my experience most photographers I came across) on YouTube
Never bothered because I was comfortable in my grind to get more bums on seats in the studio.

Covid hit and 6 months with a closed studio made me realise how unhappy I was with the status quo.

Decided to finally try my idea to talk, not about gear and technical stuff like most other channels on YT, but to talk about photographers themselves and the creative process to see if it had traction.

Starting Out.

First upload November 2020.
The technical side wasn’t a huge leap as I knew how to create video and light myself well.
Initially I sat down and simply recorded biographies of photographers using a script I’d cobbled together from wikipedia and other articles about said photographers.

I was very nervous about having an opinion of my own so stuck to ‘facts’.
So and so was born in X and then did Y.

Promoted my content via my personal Facebook account. Normally this is a bad idea, but in my case because a lot of my friends are photographers it was actually a good thing (albeit by accident).

Got a few views, like maybe 20 a day, a few subscribers here and there.
Figured if I had a 1000 subs and 4000 watch hours (monetization entry) in a year, that would be a win. Felt a looooong way off.

What I would do differently:
Spend more time on deciding who my audience is and creating IDEAS based on other channels successes which fitted in the narrative of how I wanted to help people enjoy photography on a deeper level.

Monetize right away (affiliate stuff, mailing list, pateron, buymeacoffee etc.) Small commitment stuff at the start.

What was good:
Replied to any and all comments.
Started to foster a community.

First growth.

Around Jan/Feb 2021 I noticed one of my videos starting to get traction and go from 20 views a day to 100/200.

It wasn’t anything different from what I’d been doing previously.
What I was seeing is a hidden aspect of YT at play which a lot of channels never experience (or importantly recognize).

There is a theory that every 90 day period, YT has assembled enough data about who watches your content to increase the number of pools it adds your videos to.

Unlike traditional marketing where you are trying to find an audience for your product, in the YT ecosystem you must remember this:

YT is looking for content to show its audiences, not finding an audience for your content.

My idea is that every 90 days, YT shifts your content around in their library. Tries out new audiences etc. You don’t see this when you start off because there isn’t enough data/time.

The more niche you are, the smaller these waves of views will be initially.

Because I was filling a gap in the market (talking about WHY in photography, rather than just another gear review channel), people were discovering a video of mine, and then bingeing the rest (at this point, IIRC about 10/15 videos). A GREAT signal for YT.

At the start of 2021 I had 27 subscribers (mostly friends/family), starting March, 904, and on the 1st April…


All from a relatively massive uptick in views on new and existing content without any real change in titles/thumbs.
*spoiler alert* I wouldn’t see this sort of rapid sub growth again until Feb 22

What I Would Change:
Look at the content that was working well and driving those subs. Double down on it. Use it as a template.
Not let my ego get carried away with me. I thought I had cracked YT. I didn’t know this was a wave, not a constant.
I killed the wave by thinking I could release any old content about photography and people would lap it up (the prospective 10 part series about the history of photography was a big fat fail!)
Stop putting stupid intro screens on the content and telegraphing the end of a video (seriously that shit sucks hard, don’t do it!)

What worked:
Having a library of content that was homogenous and on consistent message
Developing a uniform look and feel to my videos (as a Newtuber, people will have a hard time remembering you - give them something to remember. In my case a catchphrase (saying ‘howzit howzit’, and wearing a check shirt and waistcoat). Even now people mention the howzit howzit thing.

Monetized end March.
Adsense income:
March/April/May = $5217

First Dip.

After the wave, comes the dip.
Something to realise is that growth on YT comes in waves. So long as you come out of the peak with your baseline views higher than they were previously, you’re all good.

The trick is to recognize the wave starting, and to try and ride it like a surfer for as long as possible.

I got very depressed with the views as they dropped off. So much so I became sporadic in my uploads - the whole summer of 2021 I uploaded IIRC 3 or 4 videos.


For the majority of channels, not every upload will be a cracker.
Rather than panic and try different content at this early stage, keep uploading and making small improvements.
The views will return.
Take this time to build your community (because it gets a load harder later on!)
Don’t get disheartened and find excuses to not create content.

Adsense income:
June/July/August = $6008

Second Growth:

In Sept 2021 I committed to uploading three times a week. This is a heavy workload, but I wanted to see what happened if I offered myself to the grind. 40k subs at this stage.

Views did start to pick up, and the upward trend of subs started again.
This time I had a bit more knowledge of titles/thumbs etc. and tried different ideas and approaches outside of my original idea.

Because I now had a library of content, and a reasonable amount of views (I think it was 1m total at this point), I could get a better idea about who I was serving with my videos.
What surprised me was it wasn’t who I thought it was (or at least what I thought they wanted).

I broke the video stats down into two segments - content about specific photographers/genres, and content that was more inspiring/go pick up a camera and shoot/see the world differently type stuff.

The second was out performing the first by a large margin. Subs gained, views, and most importantly, RPM (Revenue Per Mille, which is your taxable income from Adsense)

Posting 3x weekly gave me a steady flow of views, and some good growth, but nothing spectacular as I was jumping around quite a bit and making some false starts.

By the end of November I was shattered, but had broken a few milestones.
Most important was having, finally, more of a community feeling to the channel. Posting regularly via premier (like a watch party) let me interact more with them.

What Didn’t Work.

Despite having data to back up what drove engagement and brought viewers to the channel, I kept trying to explore new avenues of content, instead of creating more of what they enjoyed in the first place.

By this point, I was more comfortable in front of the camera, and enjoyed helping people feel inspired and motivated to rediscover their love for photography. Did I create videos based around those core ideas?


I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture of creating value for the viewers over the long term, simply chasing some numbers (mostly views)

Despite the community feeling growing, I had less time to answer emails, respond to comments and really engage with the viewers. Lack of system and process didn’t allow me to focus on the reason for the channel - the community.

What Did Work:

Posting to that schedule meant I could make improvements on my content quickly whilst it was fresh in my mind.

Once there's are reasonable amount of data in your Analytics for the content, it’s far more helpful to see the impact changes make.

That crash I suffered at the end of November was, in retrospect, good, because it reminded me that content for content sake isn’t helping to serve my community.

Adsense income:
Sept/Oct/Nov = $12257 (also take into consideration that RPM during this period traditionally increases by about 20% as Q4 marketing spends increase)

Ended 2021 on 51765 subscribers

Hiatus Of Channel

I didn’t post anything Dec/Jan.
Took December off, and spent Jan planning content for February, knowing I was going to go back to 3x weekly

There was momentum of views into December, but Jan flatlined - in fact there were two days I had negative sub growth (only -2 and -1, but still!)

A reminder that my content isn’t really ‘evergreen’ and YT does need babysitting/fresh content. More on this later.

Explosive Growth (which is really what you want to read about right?)

Had 3 months worth of content ready to create by the start of Feb.
I was more focused, and also knew now that it’s not just upload and forget on YT. You need to manage and test ideas on titles etc in the crucial first 48 hrs.

The first video was O.K
The second better
The third took off like a rocket.

The third was a rework of an idea I’d had the year before which didn’t really land.
It was basically the same video but a better script and a snappier title

As was the fourth video, which was also a rework.

The sixth was a dud because I broke my rule of creating for myself, rather than serving my audience.

The seventh, also took off.

Not millions of views, but a few 100k+ videos back to back really (like really) gives a channel a real boost!

The trend like this continued into start of April.

Earlier I talked about the 90 day cycle on YT.
Feb was at the start of a cycle (roughly) for my channel - that’s the only reason I can see for the massive change in impressions - like from 500000ish to 5000000 per video.
YT decided to add my content to new buckets and it performed well, so it gets pushed more etc etc.

This time though I knew it was a wave, so I was more prepared for it. Aside from one or two hiccups with ego content, because I’d spent time working on ideas, I could make the most of this wave.

As of today (14/05/22) the videos released in Feb have the following stats:
Views 786,099
Subs 14742
Revenue $4774

I also finally got off my backside and created a course.
Launched in Jan, it sells about $100 worth a day - just to my audience on YT via links in the description box, and a few call outs in content now and again.

This second growth period generated:
$16681 Adsense

In April I generated $6700 Adsense and $3167 course sales
Not a whole heap of income, but fits nicely with what I say next

The biggest takeaway:

I love sharing my knowledge of photography. People have said they find my delivery and ideas inspiring. It gives me a real kick to hear that kind of feedback, especially when you stumble over those words in a random thread on r/photography :D

Youtube has given me the ability to reach and connect with that tribe.
Whilst the ad revenue is welcome and has the ability to scale, it is also totally dependent on the whim of an opaque system.

I see YouTube as basically free advertising and a way to connect with and offer value to people in a way that was unimaginable when I first picked up a camera. I can now use that to start to create a business that I can control, through which I can help people enjoy their hobby.

There are so many things I glossed over here (like I haven’t mentioned any nuts and bolts stuff about content creation, or things like sponsorships, increasing RPM). Feel free to AMA and I will help you as much as I can.

Also, there are many ways to grow a YouTube channel. This is the way I grew mine. It is not gospel. But it took me to being in the top 1% of YT creators (only about 10% of channels ever get monetized, and only about 1% of all channels ever break 100k subs)
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