Back in October of 2016, I was working for my local power utility as a design representative. Essentially, I took the measurements and drew up the blueprints for the line department when it came to overhead power line construction.
I wasn’t particularly passionate about this line of work, so I decided to start up my YouTube channel as a hobby. I recorded videos on nights and weekends in the spare bedroom at my moms house and even in my car behind Walmart (true story!) on my lunch breaks.
I always had an interest in money and investing. I also noticed that there was a huge lack in financial content geared towards young people.
At the time, I was spending around 2 to 3 hours a day working on the channel as my online side hustle. It was totally passion driven, and I started by outlining a few videos, recording them in batches, and then uploading them over the next few days.
When I started making YouTube videos, I had absolutely no idea this side hustle would eventually make me money and grow the way it has.
Now, this was back before the “ad-pocalypse” on YouTube, where major advertisers pulled off the platform because content was not advertiser friendly. As a result of that, the requirements to get your channel monetized are more strict.
You now need to have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months to apply for monetization and make money on YouTube.
If your channel is deemed advertiser friendly, you can begin running ads! I was able to run ads on my channel from day 1, which helped with the initial channel earnings.
However, if you’re wondering how to make money with YouTube now that the game has changed, I’m going to break down exactly how my channel got started and what beginner YouTubers should know!
From 0 To 500,000 Subscribers
Fast forward over three years and here we are, approaching 2020. I have scaled my channel up to over 500,000 subscribers, and I regularly get 1,000,000 views per month or more.
In terms of earnings, the worst month I have had this year in 2019 was over $13,000 in ad revenue. Over the last 28 days alone on my channel, I have made just shy of $20,000!
Am I telling you this to brag? Absolutely not! I am merely showing you what is possible with hard work and consistent effort over a number of years.
Now it is important to understand that my channel is in the money/finance niche, which means my ad rates are significantly higher.
My channel talks about investing in the stock market and other financial topics. Most channels on YouTube do not make this much money based on the number of views I am getting.
But, believe it or not, there was a time when I was making next to nothing with this channel.
The month that I started, I earned $2.57 in total. It is easy to get out of touch with the early stages of any venture, so in this article I want to go back in time. I want to take you back to late 2016 when I had just started this channel on a tight budget.
Earning My First $100 From Ads
As I had mentioned earlier, my goal with this channel was never to make money.
I wasn’t passionate about or interested in the work I was doing at my job, so making videos in my spare time became my creative outlet.
However, after a few months went by, I realized that there was some income potential here. Once I saw the money coming in, even thought it wasn’t much, I set the goal of making $100 a month.
A lot of people set these massive goals for making money online, but I am a firm believer in starting small and working your way up.
I have met people before who have told me they have a goal of earning $10,000 a month from an online business.
My follow up question for them is always “have you made $100 yet?” In most cases, they haven’t made any money at all! That is like setting the goal of running a marathon before you have even run a mile.
So, just how long did it take me to get to $100 a month in earnings?
To be honest, not long at all. The first month where I earned over $100 was January of 2017, meaning that it took me about a month and a half.
In that month, I earned $146.67 in ad revenue. Now keep in mind, it probably will take longer today since the ad requirements are stricter and you need to have your channel manually reviewed before it is monetized.
However, I am going to share a few tips with you about how you can start making money from day 1.
Most people focus on the ad revenue when looking to earn money on YouTube, but there are actually a number of different ways to make money on the platform.
Most of these methods, like Patreon, sponsors, or merchandise are out of reach for small creators. However, there is one method that works regardless of the size of your channel and that is affiliate marketing.
So, I will be sharing with you some initial tips to get your first 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time to get your channel eligible for monetization. I will also show you how to leverage Amazon Associates to start making money potentially from day 1.
How To Get 1,000 YouTube Subscribers
The very first thing you want to do is ask everyone you know to subscribe to your channel.
Early on, the truth is nobody is going to be watching your videos.
A lot of people refer to this as the “Google sandbox” which is a time period where new blogs and channels (since YouTube is owned by Google) are prevented from ranking in search or seeing much traffic.
I believe this is 100% true. In order for Google to deliver traffic to your videos, they need to see that you are serious and that you are going to regularly contribute quality content to the platform. Having mentored many small creators in the growth phase, I would say this “sandbox” time period lasts about 3 to 6 months.
However, one way around this is bringing your own subscribers in and following a grass roots approach.
This is why it is so important to get everyone you know to subscribe to your channel! After you bug all your friends, neighbors and relatives, it is time to hit the direct messages.
Now, I am not telling you to spam people or ask them for a “sub for sub.” I am recommending that you establish real connections with people online.
Here’s the strategy I followed.
I knew that I was trying to grow in the personal finance niche, so I started looking at big finance influencers on Twitter. You can do this on other platforms too, like Instagram, but I personally preferred Twitter.
I would simply go to the profile of a finance influencer and go to their followers. Then, I would follow 20 to 50 of those people per day. About 20% of them would follow me back, which meant I was gaining 4 to 10 followers a day.
I would click on the profiles of these people and send them a personal message introducing myself. Most of these people would reply. Then, I would ask them what they do for a living.
Without failure, they would reciprocate and ask me the same question. That is when I would tell them what I do, but also about how I am starting a new YouTube channel as a hobby. Most of the time, they would ask me for the link since I had already built rapport with them!
This strategy gained me 1 to 3 new subscribers per day. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. It gave me a pulse on YouTube. Believe it or not, it actually took me 7 weeks to get my first 100 subscribers.
That is an average of about 2 per day. The good news is, growth on YouTube is exponential and not linear. While it took 7 weeks to get 100 subscribers, it only took me 11 more weeks to cross the 1,000 subscriber mark.
The truth is, getting your first 1,000 subscribers is a grind. In total, it took me a little over 4 months.
My best advice in these early stages is to focus on the long term picture of what you are building. I’m sure this goes without saying, but none of this works without creating valuable content for your growing audience.
Content is king, and this should be your main focus. You should also have a strong call to action at the beginning and end of your videos asking people to subscribe to your channel. You never want to assume that they will without you asking!
How To Get 4,000 Hours Watch Time
If you are able to accumulate 1,000 subscribers on your channel in a reasonable amount of time, you usually don’t have to worry too much about watch time.
If you are gaining subscribers, you are getting views. Thus, you are getting watch time as well. I know that 4,000 hours of watch time sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t.
If you look at the data above for the month of February 2017, I was able to get just under 624,000 minutes of watch time in a month. That translates to 10,400 hours of watch time in just a month, which fulfills the requirement.
That being said, I have some tips if you are struggling with watch time.
The first one is to make longer videos. The longer a video is on your channel, the more time people will spend watching it.
For example, a 20 minute video will accumulate more watch time than a 2 minute video. It is important to make sure the video is engaging and entertaining, because nobody likes it when you waste their time! Consider doing some longer tutorial style videos to increase overall watch time.
Another tip is to do livestreams. This is one of the easiest ways to get more watch time.
Let’s say, for example, you spend an hour doing a livestream on a Friday night and you have 100 people watching you. That means you just accumulated 100 hours of watch time! In all honesty, if you are creating valuable content the watch time will just accumulate on its own.
A lot of people get hung up on the subscriber and watch time requirement, thinking it is some daunting task. It really isn’t that difficult to knock both of these out in 3 to 6 months time!
Making Money On YouTube With Amazon Affiliate Links
Until your channel is eligible for monetization, you can’t make any money from ad revenue.
The good news is, you can still make money from affiliate marketing. For those who are not familiar, affiliate marketing is when you refer a sale to someone and earn a commission in the process.
One of the largest affiliate programs out there is called Amazon Associates, and it is very easy to get accepted into this program. Basically, if you have a pulse online, they will let you in. Not even kidding!
With Amazon Associates, you can link to virtually any product on Amazon and earn a commission from the sale. The commission per sale ranges based on the product category, but you can view the full commission outline here.
In my opinion, this is the best revenue stream early on for new creators and the easiest way to start making $100 a month. You simply take these Amazon affiliate links and place them in the description of your YouTube videos.
Now, how exactly do you get people to click on these links? The answer is product reviews.
Find a few relevant products in your niche that you have already purchased. For example, if you run a channel about your dog, you could review some of your favorite pet products.
Let’s say you purchased some all natural dog treats after doing a fair amount of research.
That information is valuable to other consumers, so you could do a video review of the treats you ultimately decided on and discuss the reasons why you made that decision!
Then, you simply generate your affiliate link from Amazon and place it in the description. Pet products is an 8% category on Amazon, so you would earn $0.08 for every dollar spent on treats!
Here’s a few of my favorite ways to include Amazon links in your videos…
- Include links to your video/recording equipment
- Do videos on your favorite books and link to them on Amazon
- Talk about gift ideas around the holiday’s
- Review products that you already own
- Compare two products side by side
The opportunities with Amazon Associates are endless. There are people out there making a full time income just from this affiliate program. I have seen countless channels out there making money from day 1 by leveraging this program.
So, something you may be wondering, just how much income am I making from this on my YouTube channel?
Well, to tell you the truth, I haven’t done anything with Amazon affiliate links in years. I created a few book reviews and product reviews early on, and those videos are still to this day making me money.
Believe it or not, over the last 30 days I have made $142.46 from Amazon Associates! This is 100% passive income from videos I created years ago.
I know we covered a lot in this, so I want to go ahead and summarize the steps for you here.
If you are looking to make your first $100 a month on YouTube, you need to focus on getting your channel eligible for monetization.
This means you need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 minutes of watch time. For the first few months on YouTube, you will be in the “Google sandbox,” so it is crucial that you are spreading the word about your channel to friends and family.
Beyond that, some grass roots networking on social media sites helps a lot too! The watch time will come naturally, but a few ways to boost it are by creating longer content and doing livestreams. Once you meet these requirements, you can apply for monetization and hopefully begin making money from ads.
In the meantime, one of the easiest ways to start earning money with YouTube early on is the Amazon Associates program.
It is very easy to get accepted and you can refer sales to just about any product on Amazon. I am still making over $100 a month on YouTube just from these links, even though I haven’t touched them in years! You should start out by making a few reviews of products you already own in your niche, or doing some side by side comparisons.
Getting your channel off the ground is a grind, but I can tell you that it is totally worth it. It is truly one of the best decisions I have ever made. If you are creating content about something you love, it really doesn’t feel like work at all. If you are able to make money doing something you love, that is a win win scenario!
EDIT: 2020-09-02 – Tom here, I just have to jump in with an update because Ryan’s advice is absolutely spot on.
I just recently reached 1K subscribers on YouTube, and like Ryan mentions, the snowballing of this platform is real.
If you’re skeptical about all of this or starting your channel, the proof is in the pudding.
I started my channel in February with one lousy video.
In mid-March, I decided to upload a video per week and also upgraded my equipment a little bit. You can read more in my post on blogging vs YouTube.
Anyway, with an upload or 2 per week, this is what happened to my reach on YouTube:
It just took one video to get some traction for things to pop off. Plus, this is mostly YouTube search traffic, not redirect traffic from This Online World or a free traffic source like Reddit.
And, as a result, I’ve now created a new income stream for myself!
Ryan’s advice here is spot-on, and I think his results plus this little test-run show that!
Ultimately, I think the future of YouTube in 2020 and beyond is looking up. Don’t be scared to start your own channel
Thanks so much to Ryan for taking the time to make this guest post!
If you want even more resources, check out my latest case study!