There used to be a time when YouTube was considered just another platform for entertainment. A 10 hour long Nyan Cat marathon? Sure. Goat bleat-along to Taylor Swift? Why not! You got it all (and more) on YouTube.
While still having fun, YouTube has managed to provide a modern sort of workplace. Becoming a YouTube star is no longer just a teenage dream. It is the successful content creator’s reality.
Some of the most elite YouTubers make up to millions of dollars a year . Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight and for most – it doesn’t happen at all.
Since YouTube recently made significant changes in their ad policy , earning the big bucks with the help of advertisements has become that much more difficult.
Luckily for both upcoming and more senior YouTubers, there are ways to secure a steadier cash flow, not putting all of your eggs in the ad’s basket.
Here’s how to make money as a YouTuber:
- Set up online patronage
- Sell your digital products
- Arrange product and paid sponsorships
- Become an affiliate
- Sell merchandise
- Launch a product with crowdfunding
- Plan a workshop
- Start a product line
- Teach a course
- Host a retreat
1. ONLINE PATRONAGE
Remember the Medicis - the Italian banking family of the Renaissance who supported visionaries such as Galileo and Michelangelo ? If they were still around, they might just be sponsoring yet another YouTube video using Patreon, Ko-fi, Flattr and other platforms - a modern kind of patronage.
What it is?
A descendant of crowdfunding, online patronage allows creators to earn revenue directly from their fans in an ongoing manner - via recurrent payment, based on subscriptions or per work of art.
This means - the more you inspire your viewers, the higher the possibility they will support your work financially. Most likely your biggest supporters will be your most dedicated fans.
How it works?
Let’s look at 3 online patronage examples.
Patreon uses a system of multiple membership and award levels, allowing fans to subscribe or pay per creation.
Patreon is probably the most popular of the bunch. A relatively easy-to-use website, it applies a system of multiple membership levels, giving your viewers (patrons) the option of how much they want to support you.
You’ve got 2 options here. In case of a monthly subscription (which is also the more popular one ), your patrons will be charged automatically once per month.
If your supporters “pay per creation”, you’ll make money only when creating a “paid post” with whatever it is that you create.
What you have to do is: set up a Patreon account and let your YouTube subscribers know of various membership opportunities and rewards they can receive by supporting your work.
Will it be access to never-before-seen bloopers footage ? Or a verbal shout out at the end of the next video? Up to you to decide. But if you absolutely can’t, there are plenty of perk ideas out there .
In Ko-fi, one donation is similar to the price of a coffee, and the money goes directly to the creator.
Ko-fi - another choice in the online patronage world and the digital equivalent of a tip-jar. If you feel like your viewers are not up for the duties of a monthly subscription, this site is the way to go. Ko-fi has picked the ever-friendly metaphor of a cup of coffee (who doesn’t love coffee?!) as their symbol for showing support.
Each donation is approximately similar to the price of a coffee, but the money goes directly to you, the creator. It’s also possible to add a Ko-Fi button to your channel, website or Tumblr page for easier use. Cute AND practical.
Flattr’s browser extension registers the content your fans engage with and spreads tipping accordingly.
Similar to Ko-Fi, Flattr is a platform that also started out using a support button, but in this case - in the form of flattery. The first Flattr version required users to click on a button to “flattr” the content, aka show support.
The social micropayment service has since then switched to a more Patreon-styled system of monthly donations. No need to embed widgets or buttons. As a YouTuber, you register with Flattr and provide your bank account information. Instead of the button, a browser extension now registers the content your fans engage with and spreads their monthly “tipping” budget accordingly.
Apart from having great charisma, you need to have good content. Provided your channel is a source of value and information , it will be easier to establish that special bond with your viewers and hear “cha-ching” in your bank account.
There are no special requirements for using online patronage platforms, but bear in mind - some forms of content work better than others, such as:
- Animation (2D, 3D etc.)
- Guides, reviews, series
- Various forms of art and entertainment
Each cup of Ko-fi coffee will get you a small sum of $3. The more cups you receive, the higher your income. In addition, setting up a Ko-fi page is free with no commission.
Flattr’s monthly donation is also a minimum of $3, however, this gets split among all the websites, pages and platforms your supporters “flattr”. With the site commission and payment fee, you’ll receive 90% of the total amount of your Flattr donations.
Patreon allows fans to commit to payments starting from $1 , and on average a patron will pledge approximately $12. A 5% chunk goes to Patreon, so you’re taking home 95% of the total amount of your income.
All the more reason to see how a huge portion of creators earn less than the minimum wage in the USA. However, there are some who have managed to bring in more:
For example, Dr. Jordan Peterson makes video lectures on psychology and earns more than $34 thousand / month.
2-Minute Table Top makes table-top maps for board games like Dungeons and Dragons at $456 per map.
Or more realistically, Reveriesky , an artist from San Francisco, draws sketches in return for Ko-fi cups at $24 for a full body sketch.
At the end of the day, the audience size and engagement are essential in figuring out how much you’ll earn on Patreon or any other online patronage platform for that matter.
- SELL YOUR DIGITAL PRODUCTS
For those who feel unsuited for the 9-5 working life, but still need to pay bills, there is hope. And this can be found in the comfort of your PC.
What it is?
Digital products exist on computers, but are still sold for money online. Digital goods can be anything from stock photos and eBooks to sound clips and logo design.
We recently made a list with 101 digital products you can sell online , so provided your product has added value, there is a niche for everybody.
How it works?
Being involved in the world of digital products means not having to pay for manufacturing or distribution costs. When you’ve made the product, what you sell is basically your profit.
What you do need is an ecommerce store for your digital goods, and this is where Sellfy comes to the rescue. You can start selling in no time, and the platform will handle the rest - starting from hosting to content delivery.
Don't know what to start selling? Here are 101 digital product ideas you can sell online . All you have to do is choose.
You’re already an expert. Create the digital product within your area of expertise. If you’ve been around the block in YouTube, you’re probably more than decent at filming and video editing. Try selling stock video footage of traveling, outdoors etc. as a service.
Talk yourself up. Use the channel to promote your digital goods. If you are selling a recipe book, talk about it on your videos, try out a few recipes in your vlogs so that your viewers get hooked of what you are selling.
Sellfy crunched the numbers and found that the expected average revenue per 1000 followers per month is $77.50, when your primary focus for monetization is on selling digital products.
There are two main factors that influence the revenue:
- Audience engagement. How many views do you get per video based on your subscriber number?
- Your niche. The more professional it is, the more $ per 1000 followers you can get.
Earning a stable income by doing what you love is possible. Take filmmaker Jakub Gorajek , for example.
Jakub started out by earning $30 for his first stock footage of New York on a site called VideoHive, but has now reached approximately $3000 / month . Not too shabby.
3. PRODUCT AND PAID SPONSORSHIPS
Who wouldn’t love to talk about their favorite video game or try out a new SPA treatment, earning money by doing so? When simplified, this is how sponsorships work .
What it is?
A product sponsorship is when a company or a brand provides you with their product free-of-charge. In return - you review it or think of other creative ways to incorporate it in a video.
A paid sponsorship means you’ve managed to get a company to actually pay you to advertise their brand or endorse a product. This is the kind many a YouTuber is happiest about.
How it works?
In layman’s terms, you contact the company with a killer-proposal and see where it takes you.
The downside is - there is no way of knowing for sure whether you will make a deal.
It might take a long time. It might not happen at all. You can, however, work on your content. Quality videos and a large content backlog attracts larger viewership and traffic, which in return is like honey to bees for sponsors.
Don’t wait to be recognized. Reach out to a potential sponsor today, even if you have started your channel recently . Remember that nothing bad can happen by just asking. Well, ALMOST never, if you remember the White Moose Cafe feud . Whoever said all press is good press, right?
Work with brands that you actually support AND that fit well with the context of the channel. Viewers appreciate truthfulness, and most people can tell when somebody is a sell-out. Trust us - this will not reflect well in your comment section.
When you’ve got a product sponsorship, most likely your profit stops right there with the product the brand has most generously sent you for free. It’s still something!
In case of paid sponsorships, however, it is recommended to start out with a flat fee system . To figures it out, use this equation:
[Your average view count] X [cost per view - usually between $0.02 to $0.10+] = $$$
Example: if your average view count is 20 thousand viewers and your cost per view rate is $0.03, your flat fee price for one video could start at $600.
4. AFFILIATE SPONSORSHIPS
Bringing in smaller income, yet most likely easier to land - that’s affiliate sponsorships for you.
What it is?
Being “an affiliate” means that your channel partners up with a company via affiliate links or affiliate codes. These can be used by your viewers to get discounts or provide you with a certain percentage of the sell.
How it works?
The simple basics of how affiliate deals work is - you get a unique code or link that will provide whoever uses it with a discount. Once that code or link has been used, you will earn a small amount of commission off that sale.
Inform your viewers about the affiliate code or link (leave it in the description box, incorporate it in the video etc.). It helps greatly if you are a persuasive vlogger, as well as confident in the product. You will have to talk it up in order to deliver the pitch to your viewers.
Amazon’s Affiliate Program is one of the largest online affiliate programs, so it might be a good idea to start there. The income will vary based on the products you sell, so focusing on more expensive ones might be the key .
RewardStyle is an invitation-only platform and something that fits well if you’re vlogging about fashion, beauty and lifestyle. A neat little hack for Instagram influencers is their LIKEtoKNOW.it program, making outfit or home decor shopping very easy.
There are people who make nearly a few cents, while others make thousands of dollars.
Take Chris Guthrie, the man behind Up Fuel blog, for example. He promoted cameras, watches, USB sticks, RC helicopters among other physical products . Over a 2 year period, Chris earned more than $60 thousand in just one year via Amazon’s Affiliate Program alone.
So it really depends on you and your selling skills.
5. SELL MERCHANDISE
If an evil-looking cat can do it , so can you! Selling your own merchandise is all about making your brand even more recognisable and having people associate with your channel.
Do make sure though that your brand and visual identity is appealing enough so that the viewers will want to be a part of your community and support you both financially and by representing you.
What it is?
Merchandise is when you incorporate recognizable visual aesthetic (identifiable logo, brand identity) on products or services used by your audience for a price that includes a profit margin for yourself.
Everybody who ever was somebody has their own merch - be it a pop star, a company or even a city. Whoever didn’t get an Eiffel tower keychain on their first visit to Paris? Or went to Moscow and came back without a matrioska?
Good merchandise, however, is not about mass-production and overused ideas. It’s about finding out what fits best with your audience and adding that “je-ne-sais-quoi” to the visuals.
How it works?
To create your merchandise, there are a couple of questions you need to answer:
What is your merch going to be? Any product can be associated with any brand. Do keep in mind though that lifestyle products such as headwear, bags, water bottles etc. make the best merchandise because of their functionality. The more the customer can get out of your merch, the more likely they will keep your brand and channel in mind.
How is it going to look? Design is what will bring your customers and your brand together, so do invest not just in your logo, but in the overall visuals of your merchandise. Make it creative, innovative, use a funny quote - because let’s be honest. Whoever profited from a boring design? Here’s a list of successful YouTube merch examples.
How am I going to get it out there? You’ll need to find a way to bring your merch into the world. For the production side of things, you can use a print-on-demand site such as Printful . It lets you choose from a wide variety of products, and you get 20% off sample orders to check the quality of the product. Keep in mind you also have to set up an online shop.
Before putting your face or logo on a shirt, it’s also essential to think about the success of your channel in these terms. Do you have a supportive fan base? Are your subscribers engaged enough with your content? Is the viewership large enough?
Your channel is not just a collection of videos - more importantly, it is a social platform. The more you connect with your viewers on a daily basis, the more likely you’ll have strong support (even demand) for launching your merch.
- Plan your strategy. Start slow at first and see if the sells pick up. Introduce one product at a time. Analyse your audience and even competitors to see how to get the best out of your merchandise.
- Don’t be shy to talk about it. Nobody will buy your merch just because it is out there (that only happens with Kardashian products). So make that video, do that merchandise contest - involve your audience!
AsPrintful says, it is (yet again) all up to you.
They’ve also got a pretty neat calculator where you can estimate the approximate profit.
Say, you want to earn $100. You will have to sell 10 shirts at the price of $22.95. Which means - 100 shirts to earn $1000, 200 shirts to earn $2000 etc.
Here’s a list of other useful print-on-demand sites that will make your life easier by limiting the expenses - the product is produced only at the time of the purchase.
6. LAUNCH A PRODUCT WITH CROWDFUNDING
When you’ve got a great idea for a product, but don’t have the investments, look no further - turn to crowdfunding.
What it is?
Crowdfunding is the practice of financing a project, a company or other cause by raising money from a large group of people.
It is an opportunity to showcase your product-to-be via Internet, thus reaching potential sponsors around the globe who you probably never would have even met otherwise.
How it works?
There are various types of crowdfunding, so choose the best fit for your project:
- Equity crowdfunding is when investors can invest to buy a small share in a business (AngelList, CircleUp, EquityNet).
- Rewards crowdfunding is when individuals provide an amount of money to a project or a product in return for a reward (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Fundable).
- Donation-based crowdfunding is the online way to give - meaning that a campaign collects donations without being required to provide anything in return. This option serves non-profits, social causes and charities best (Crowdrise, GoFundMe, RocketHub).
- Lending or debt-based crowdfunding is similar to getting a loan from the bank, but often provides lower and competitive interest rates. You raise funds from individuals in return for interest (Lending Club, Prosper, Funding Circle).
The list of crowdfunding platforms goes on and on, so weigh all pros and cons carefully.
Use what you’ve got. This means reach out to your social network. If you’ve got a large YouTube subscriber base, it will be that much easier for you to achieve a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Be a pessimistic realist. Set your funding goal as low as you can imagine. Learn how much you’ll need to cover all costs (including platform fees, administrative expenses etc.), but don’t add too much for your own profit . You’ll be able to get your share afterwards when launching the product.
More than $3.5 billion dollars have been pledged in Kickstarter over the years, funding 140 thousand projects. On average, most successfully funded projects raise less than $10,000.
To find out if your campaign is going to be successful, it really depends on the appeal of your idea (and your marketing plan). Here are some successful campaigns that started their way with the help of crowdfunding:
- The World’s Best Travel Jacket - thinking of 15 unique features to add to your jacket finally paid off! That’s how Baubax LCC team raised over $900 thousand on Kickstarter.
- PLASMA Pedal - just recently the guys at Gamechanger Audio introduced the first high voltage distortion pedal. And musicians rejoiced - the pedal raised over $90 thousand on Indiegogo in the first 5 hours.
7. PLAN A WORKSHOP
Yes, this will take more time and resources than setting up the video camera in your living room. However, for those who prefer human-to-human interaction without the interruption of a screen, this might just be the way to go.
What it is?
Workshops are meetings where people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject with the focus on learning or producing something new. It's a great way to meet your YouTube fan base and speak to them directly, paving a way for a stronger bond in the future.
How it works?
Running a workshop is just like meeting a friend for a casual cup of coffee.
But instead of the one friend, you’ll be meeting at least ten. And instead of the casual coffee, you’ll be interacting with unknown people who are there to listen to every word you have to say. Ask questions. Perhaps even doubt your pearls of wisdom.
Therefore having an agenda is crucial. What do you want your audience to learn? What is their current skill level? These things are all important to have clearly planned, as on the spot it might be difficult to even remember your own name. Robert, was it?
Find suitable meeting space. As opposed to teaching a course online, conducting a workshop will require a physical room, so plan accordingly.
Collaborate with another YouTuber. This way you will not only share the rent of the space, but expand your audience and offer double the amount of knowledge.
Marketing expert Fred Gleeck suggests that Total Revenue = Registration Fees + Product Sales .
To figure out how much your workshop will make, try doing the simple math of INPUT vs. OUTPUT.
Say you’re charging $50 for a ticket and there are 10 attendees, your total income will be $500 in total.
Don’t forget to take into account all aspects that require financial investment - print materials, rent of the venue, catering, speakers etc. Larger events can cost up to thousands of dollars , but you can start (very) small.
So if you provided:
- A small, but cosy space rented out from a friend at barely no cost - $100
- Small room means no speakers needed - $0
- Snacks, coffee, tea - $100
- Leaflets and other printed material - $150
- Other expenses - $50
All expenses considered, you’d make around $100 from your small workshop. It might not be a gold mine, but it will get you good and connected with your fan base and might improve on your channel traffic in the long term.
8. START A LINE
Nobody uses avocado-lime-beetroot scrubs, they said. That’s such a weird idea, they said. Prove them wrong - start your own product line and promote it through your YouTube channel.
What it is?
From makeup to food items and clothing, a product line means you’ll be designing related items with some key differences.
Think of having a product line this way. As opposed to merch where it is advisable to put your face or your channel’s logo on everything to promote recognition, you can use the face of your grandma (do ask for permission first!) on that batch of super delicious pineapple salsa and other homemade goodies and make that into a product line not directly connected to your channel (yet still making income).
Why choose a product line instead of a solo product, you might ask? It’s actually easier to market , and the same goes with product collections rather than stand alone ideas.
How it works?
First you have to think of a product to sell. Is it yoga mats? Is it gamer pants with an extra stretch? Be creative here, find your niche!
When you’ve found a product, start thinking about how to acquire it. Will you make it yourself? Will you outsource manufacturing to professionals? You’ve got a few options here, so choose wisely.
Don’t forget your storefront - set up an online shop. If your product line consists of handmade, vintage products and craft supplies, Etsy might be a good beginner’s option. Shopify is another popular choice and does not have any restrictions as to what products can be sold. Here’s a helpful article to figure out which platform will work better for you.
- Make the leap. Don’t be afraid to start your line if you don’t know a thing about manufacturing. Take an example from marketing professional Arianna O’dell. Even though she didn’t have experience in product design , Arianna managed to produce her own line of cute, yet slightly profane dolphin beach towels . Yup. That beetroot scrub doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now, does it?
- Make the most of what you have. If you’ve already got something of your own that your friends or viewers liked, say, a unique, yet practical camera light that you’ve made from scratch, use this as a prototype and start a video lighting collection.
Starting your own line of products is a monetizing option that is hard to predict. It depends on your design, product, investment, strategy.
But here’s an example. Think Pup , an apparel store for dog owners, made over $1200 in three weeks, so that’s a decent place to start.
9. SHARE YOUR SKILLS
Just like time, knowledge is key to good business and eventually profit. If you feel confident enough on a subject or two, share your wisdom with others.
You can either set up a course on your own Youtube channel or invite your subscribers to meet you on another platform. This is where Skillshare, Udemy and similar sites come in handy.
What it is?
What’s great about it is that these sites make all sorts of skills and expertise available for anyone willing to learn. Skillshare has a database of more than 3 million users, while Udemy boasts 20 million.
So if you’ve got something to say, it is most likely there will be students who will listen (and learn).
How it works?
With more than 3 million users, Skillshare is a learning platform where some teachers make $30 thousand / year.
Skillshare and Udemy teachers earn money every time a student takes their class. Basically, you are no more than 3 steps away from being an online teacher:
- Film your class from home
- Publish the class using your chosen platform
- Engage with students to build a larger database
Udemy’s top 10 instructors earned a whopping $17 million in 2015 alone.
Not sure what could be your skill to share? Check out these useful tips . You might be surprised that the super-neat napkin folding skill is not only something your friends admire at dinner parties, but an asset worth teaching.
Spread out your knowledge. Top teachers suggest dividing your lessons into smaller subjects . This will keep your students focused, and you will have more material for the upcoming lessons. Win-win!
Skillshare claims some teachers make over $30 thousand / year, while the courses of the top 10 instructors on Udemy earned $17 million in 2015 alone.
Coming down back to earth though, there are people who in their first month of skill-sharing earned between $100 and $1000 , just by making one relevant video-lesson.
That’s the story of Marie Asselin , a food writer and a baker. Her first Skillshare class “How To Make French Macarons” earned $966 in one month.
Patience is also the key. Take Rob , a full-time musician and teacher, for example. His very first month on Udemy only brought him $23. Fast forward one year later, and he’s already making $6000 that same month.
10. HOST A RETREAT
Sort of like short vacations, but with an agenda, retreats are the latest “escape-from-reality” craze.
What it is?
The meaning of a retreat is to relax and get away from it all , forgetting everyday troubles and ordinary routine. The answer to modern rat race living, retreats are especially popular in the corporate world and can be about anything - detox, couple’s relationship, wellness, self-understanding…
Some might enjoy meditation and reflecting on the meaning of life, while unhurriedly sipping colorful smoothies. For others, the key to a successful retreat might just be playing newest computer games and feasting upon a juicy pizza.
So why not make it a YouTube retreat where you meet your awesome channel community, Netflix and chill and perhaps brainstorm ideas for upcoming videos?
How it works?
If you’re in charge of the workshop, the agenda is up to you. Set a date for the event, pick a name and a location, plan the activities, outline the content.
Marketing plays an important role, especially if it is your first retreat. Let people know what you are up to - announce the retreat on your YouTube channel, create a Facebook page, set up a mailing list and send out regular mailing. Do all this in good time so that people have enough time to sign up.
What’s no less important - leave room for some “me” time in the itinerary so that your workshop doesn’t feel like another day at the office. For other useful ideas, read further on what makes your retreat work .
Plan your audience. When you’ve got a channel, you probably already know your list of ideal clients. Having like-minded individuals on the workshop - like the close-knit YouTube family - will surround you by positive vibes and reflect well back on you as a the head of your YouTube tribe.
Provide visual feedback. Take photos, shoot videos and post them on your channel. This is a good way to look back on your workshop and kindle your subscribers’ interest to apply for the next ones.
To figure out how to price your retreat to make it profitable Darla LeDoux, an entrepreneur with extensive experience in event planning, suggests this method:
- How many people are attending? Let’s say - a small retreat of 10.
- What are the expenses? Darla’s retreats are high-end and cost around $4000, so let’s try $2000.
- How to price your retreat? Divide the cost of the retreat by half of the number of the guests (5 in this case).
So if the workshop costs $2000 and there are 10 people attending, this will give you $400 / ticket for this particular retreat.
You will break even when the retreat is half full. When you fill the other half, you’ll already be making some money.
YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW
Being a part of the vast YouTube universe is demanding enough, let alone trying to make your channel as a secure means of income.
But as plenty of successful examples prove it, this is possible with a bit of creativity and a lot of hard work.
So don’t stop when the going gets rough. Play around with these ideas, try one or two and see which fits best. Or better yet, think of your own unique way of reaching that YouTube stardom. Best of luck!
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