YouTube Observations #5 - Lessons Learned in 1 Year on YouTube

On April 1st I celebrated 1 year on YouTube. I can hardly believe a whole year has gone by. It felt like such a wild idea to start a YouTube channel and now I can't really imagine my life without it. So I thought it would be fun share all my observations of what I've learned about running a YouTube channel. I did a video on this subject but I had so many thoughts about each of these lessons that I figured a corresponding blog post would be a good idea. I'll link the video at the bottom of this post if you want to see that. So here we go, my top 12 lessons learned in 1 year on YouTube...

1) Be patient and persistent

Rome wasn't built in a day. And no one hits 1000 subscribers overnight. Building up a YouTube channel takes time. It takes a lot of patience and persistence. In my first observation post I talked about the two kinds of YouTubers I noticed, those whose focus was on the numbers and those whose focus was on the community. Number focused channels aren't willing to be patient and persistent. They want to get as many subscribers as possible, as fast as possible. But what they don't realize is that that's not sustainable. When you're engaging in practices like "sub for sub" and gaining subscribers who don't actually watch your videos those people will only unsubscribe from you within a few months when they do a sub box clean up. It's worth it to be patient and let your channel grow naturally over time than try to rush the process. Rushing is kind of like building a house on a sand foundation, it will never stay upright. Part of the reason I think some people try to rush is that they compare themselves to the large channels (we'll talk more about comparison later) and this is not helpful. While some of the larger channels do seem to have fast growth, there are other factors that small YouTubers often overlook. For example, I've seen channels gain 10k subscribers seemingly overnight, and then surpass 400k within a year. But what people often don't realize si that in this cases the creator usually already has a large following on a blog or Instagram or something, and that following transitions over to YouTube, hence the 0-10k "overnight", so they're starting at a huge advantage. As such they're growth is going to be exponentially larger than the average small YouTuber. While I might gain 10 subscribers in a month (just as an example), someone with 10k subscribers might gain 100 in a month. I could get 500 in a year, but because our growth rates are different, a larger channel could gain 500k in a year. Part of this is simple math and the algorithm, larger channels with higher views will put you at the top of search results. But it's only part of the equation. Channels with regular growth rates are also channels that are patient and persistent. They have a positive attitude and stay focused on the content and building a solid foundation for their channel. They are also consistent in their content. Which leads to lesson #2...

2) Be consistent

Consistency is key. When you put out regular and consistent content viewers respond. If I subscribe to someone I want to know that I will be able to build a relationship with that channel. This applies to both large and small channels. The large channels I watch religiously, put out consistent uploads. I know, that with the very occasional exceptions, I can count on a video from certain creators on Sunday and other creators on Wednesday. But this also works for smaller channels. I know that Wednesdays mean something fun from Shannon on her channel Pages and Polish, and Fridays mean something fabulous from Alice on her channel Alice Red. When you're consistent subscribers can form relationships with your content and you'd be surprised how many of them start to schedule their day around your uploads. On Sundays a lot of my fave channels, large and small, upload videos. So I plan to be done with all my errands and tasks by 5pm so I can grab something for dinner and settle in to hang out with my "friends".  Compare this to channels that aren't consistent. When I get someone commenting on my videos asking me to check out (and sub to) their channel, one of the first things I do when I click on their channel is click on the "videos" tab and look at the frequency of their uploads. If I see that they've been on YouTube for over a year but only have six videos, each with 3 months of more of time in between uploads, that tells me they're not consistent, and I'm significantly less likely to subscribe. When I subscribe I want to know that there will be regular uploads that I can watch and comment on. I'm also more worried that if they aren't uploading frequently they might not be that engaged in the community and might not watch my videos. I'm looking for a mutual relationship with small channels. Consistency pays off in more ways than one.

3) Participate and engage with the community

In addition to being patient, persistent, and consistent, you also have to participate and engage within the community. My channel would still have only 10 subscribers if I didn't subscribe to other channels, watch their videos, and leave sincere comments that show I'm actually paying attention to their content. People respond to subscribers who honestly and sincerely engage with their content. I've formed so many amazing relationships with people over this past year because I genuinely engage with other channels and with my own subscribers. Staying on top of my sub box is hard, but I try to watch as many videos as possible each week, and to leave thoughtful, sincere comments. And without waving my own flag or sounding conceited, this has gotten me noticed by creators of both small and large channels. With the small channels I've made new friends, all around the world. But even with larger channels, I've seen some of my favorite creators recognize me from the comment section as well as across platforms. One of them refers to me by my first name when she replies to my comments on her videos, but my real name is not attached to my YouTube account. So how does she know my name? I engage with her content on Twitter, responding to tweets and retweeting things. Because of my frequent engagement with her content on both platforms she knows me on both. I've had another fave person tell me that she always loves reading my comments on her videos. This is both a fantastic feeling to me as a viewer, knowing my comments are seen and appreciated, but it also works out for me in other ways. The larger channels I support frequently frequently respond to me on YouTube and Twitter. I get replied to and retweeted on Twitter and that exposes my accounts to more people. When you participate and engage, honestly and genuinely, you can significantly increase your own following. 

My "golden rule" of YouTube is "be the kind of subscriber to other channels that you want for your own channel."

4) Do it for the right reasons

People often start YouTube because they want to be the next [insert name of your favorite super popular, multi-million subscriber, YouTuber]. But what they don't stop to think about is that YouTubers like Zoella, for instance, didn't set out to be ZOELLA!!!! Millions of subscribers, product deals, book deals, etc. That's what she built along the way. All those big YouTubers started like the rest of us. With 0 subscribers and making videos because they had a genuine interest. If you start your channel thinking you're going to have a million subscribers and international fame within a year. Good luck. Honestly, I mean that. You've got an uphill battle. I'm not saying I don't have dreams of doing blogging and YouTube full time, that would be brilliant. But in the meantime working hard to build the channel and blog is easy because I really enjoy it. I love filming, editing, engaging in the community. YouTube is like life, it's a marathon, not a sprint, it's about the journey not the destination. You have to do this because you love it, because building a channel takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. If you don't love it, you'll be miserable, and your viewers will notice.

5) Don't spend money on your channel right away

I can't reiterate this enough. Do NOT spend money right away. Start with what you've got. My very first video was done using the built in camera on my computer. Then I started using an old DSLR (it didn't even film in HD), because I already owned it. All I bought was a tripod, an SD card, and an extra battery for my camera. I vlogged on my iPhone 6. When I started borrowing my mom's newer DSLR I bought spare batteries for that. But I didn't spend a large amount of money on my channel until I bought my Olympus Pen camera in October, about six months after I started my channel. I waited a long time and I saved up my money and I put a lot of thought into how I would invest in my channel. I knew I loved vlogging but was getting tired of using my phone. I also had a trip coming up. So I decided I wanted a new camera specifically for vlogging. I did a lot of research to find the best deal and looked at a lot of reviews to make my choice. What you choose to spend your money on will be different. You might start off filming on your phone and want to upgrade to a DSLR. You might have a good camera but decide you want really good editing software. But you won't know any of this until you've made a bunch of videos and gone through the full creative practice, learning all the pros and cons of your current tech situation. So take your time, make your videos, save your pennies, and then slowly start investing.

6) Don't compare!

When you compare yourself you only set yourself up for disappointment. You will never know the full story behind someone else's channel or success. You don't see the work they put into behind the camera. It's fine to be inspired by other channels but try to stay focused on your own path. Enjoy your journey. Don't compare your work to someone who's been doing this for longer than you. You're still building and growing as a creator. I get inspired and motivated by other channels but I don't sit around feeling sorry for myself because my numbers aren't as big as theirs.

7) Celebrate the milestones but don't caught up in the numbers

You should absolutely pay attention to the milestones your channel reaches and celebrate those moments. You've earned those subscribers and views. And if a video gets a higher than usual amount of views or likes, you need to be paying attention to that. If that video is something you can replicate, you might want to consider that. I like celebrating the milestones because they're an important part of this journey. I didn't think I'd have 100 subscribers in a year, and I had that many in only a couple months. So that was a big deal for me and I definitely celebrated. But I didn't get upset when I took almost twice as long to get the next 100. 

8) Set realistic goals

This relates back to #4, if you think you're going to have a million subscribers in 1 year, you're not really paying attention to how YouTube works. But if you set goals in small increments and put in the time and effort to your channel you'll notice that you will start hitting milestones. Setting goals and pushing yourself to put out quality content is definitely worth doing, just make sure you're being realistic with those goals, or you're only setting yourself up for disappointment.

9) Track your growth

This is something I wish I'd done from the beginning. I have dates or at least date estimates for some of my milestones, but there are so many numbers and dates that just passed me by and I have no record of them. Your channel might take a long time to grow or it could grow quickly, either way, keep track of your subscriber number, channel view count, revenue (if you monetize your videos), watch time/retention, etc. Get to know the analytics page of your channel. Don't obsess or get sidetracked by these numbers, it can make you a bit crazy if you look at them too much, but get in the habit of writing them down every month so you can see how much/fast your channel is growing. These numbers can also help you with setting those realistic goals I was just talking about.

10) Have fun!

People have commented that they don't understand how I've managed to keep up with my channel in the middle of my portfolio review, reading for my comp exam and then the final prep of comp exam. But the truth is filming, editing, and uploading videos is what kept me sane in the middle of all my PhD work. You have to enjoy doing YouTube. If you don't, if it just feels like a chore, then why bother? If your heart's not into it, your audience will notice. We all can tell when someone doesn't actually care about their content. You're not going to have instant internet fame overnight or massive success and product deals in a month, it takes time and energy and even then you still might not be a YouTube "start". So you have to do it for the love of it and for the creativity of making videos. You have to enjoy it and have fun with it. If you're not, take a break. Your audience will understand and your true subscribers will still be there. Let them know approximately when you'll be back and maybe keep sharing your existing content on your Twitter or Instagram so you can still be gaining new followers. Recharge your batteries (figuratively and literally lol) and come back in a better, happier place to make new content. For me, I needed to keep doing YouTube during the stress of my exams, but some people need a break from YouTube. Figure out what you need and find a way to work around it. You, and your audience, will enjoy things a whole lot more if you are actually happy with the content you are creating.

11) Don't stop learning

I follow a lot of YouTube channels geared towards creators, I also read blogs and listen to podcasts about building your channel, your Instagram, using cameras, building your audience and your brand. I have a "don't stop learning" attitude towards most things in my life, school, work, my personal life, etc. I know I don't know everything, but I also know that knowledge is power. So the more knowledge I can get, the better. There are so many aspects to building a strong YouTube channel, I don't think you can ever know everything there is to know because the platform is always growing and changing. So you need to be keeping up with that and trying to learn as much as possible. I also learn a lot from looking at the big channels I follow. How are they writing their description box content? What kind of disclaimers do they use? How do they interact with their subscribers? How do they use their other social platforms like Twitter or Instagram? The big channels are big for a reason, they treat their channels and blogs like a business, so what business practices do I see them using and how can I adapt that to my own use? I try to challenge myself to learn a new skill or business/media practice every month or so, that way I'm not staying too static and getting too comfortable.

12) Be yourself! It's the one thing you can do better than anyone else!

This is the most important lesson. And one that I've seen too many small YouTubers not pay attention to. Over the past year I've seen soooooooooo many small channels that are clearly trying to be like the big channels they idolize. That impulse is natural, and it's always good to be inspired by other people, but you have to find a way to adapt that inspiration into something that feels natural to your own personality. You audience doesn't want to watch you copy someone else, they want to watch you. The channels that I love the most (both big and small channels) are the ones that are 100% authentically themselves. With very few exceptions, for the most part when we click subscribe it's because there's something about the personality of the channel we are watching that we fall in love with, that YouTuber just "clicks" with our own personality someway. I can tell you, for every channel I follow, what it is about that person that made me click subscribe. And in each case it's something that's unique to that person. There might be similarities between the channels I follow but it still all comes down to the personality of that creator. Copying someone is not only unethical it's also incredibly boring. So just be yourself. You'll feel a lot better about your content and your audience will love you more for it. There's only one you in this world, have faith in yourself. It really is your biggest asset in building your channel. 

Thanks for reading!



  1. Congratulations Andrea, I agree consistency, persistence and audience engagement is important in blogging and Youtube, great work : ) xo

    1. Thank you for reading! And thank you, I still can hardly believe it's been over a year that I've been doing YouTube. :)


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