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In 2013, 15-year-old me created a second Snapchat account, sharing daily updates, and gathering a small following in my local area. “HanWillsVlogs” turned into my alter-ego, allowing my personal account to stay followed by friends only.
People tried to persuade me to move to YouTube, saying they wanted full videos rather than just the odd story here or there. They seemed convinced I had it in me to do well. But something always stopped me — probably a combination of a fear of the unknown and being scared of the reaction I would get.
I finally started a YouTube channel in September 2019 when I was 21, to document a trip to Asia with my friend Vas. It felt like the perfect time to take the plunge because the worst-case scenario was having a memento of our travels, and the best outcome was continuing to grow the channel when we returned. We had nothing to lose.
Vas and I created the channel together, which made starting out less daunting. Two years later we’ve racked up almost 50,000 views, and still love making content. Looking back, I only wish I’d done it sooner. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
Something I quickly learned was the vast number of steps the creative process has from start to finish — it’s harder than it looks. Thinking of video ideas was a challenge in itself, especially during lockdown when we were both apart and stuck in our homes.
Then there is the time it takes to edit the videos. I had very minimal editing experience, but it was a skill I was willing to commit time to work on. Our very first video was a vlog of our three weeks traveling Vietnam. It’s still one of my favorite videos to date, but was ambitious to say the least. The excitement of it being our first meant we were hoping to get it up in just a few hours, but we quickly realized this wasn’t realistic. It took us about two days to post.
It seemed overwhelming at first, but after the first couple of videos it became second nature, and because there were two of us, once we were in the swing of things we could split the workload.
Something I had to quickly get used to was the sound of my own voice and the sight of myself on the big screen. At first, I cringed hard having to listen to myself while editing or refilming clips but after the first few videos, I embraced it.
One of the first things we did was make an intro for our channel which we knew would be consistent throughout. The perfect song combined with some snippets from our videos really helped to give our channel an identity. Finding the song, however, was a mission, to say the least. We spent days listening to samples of royalty-free sounds, which quickly all started to sound exactly the same. We didn’t use any fancy methods, just a lot of trial and error before we landed on our choice.
We also realized we needed to have consistent thumbnails to build our brand. We changed ours a few times in the first few months until we found a style we really liked. We went from colored, curly text to a simple block all-white font, which we felt looked cleaner and more professional. We asked lots of friends for feedback on thumbnails as we developed our channel too.
In starting YouTube with a friend, it was crucial we both had the same ambitions for the channel. We spoke before starting about our shared level of commitment and were both equally excited at the prospect of filming.
We have very similar interests including travel and fashion which meant we wanted to produce similar styles of content, and we haven’t faced any arguments over creative differences so far. Running the channel actually made us closer as it became our joint project which we were both committed to spending time on. I think YouTube could be quite a lonely place if you go it alone so I was glad to be doing it as a duo.
Our first major barrier came when COVID-19 hit and we both moved back in with our families, but we worked together to adapt our content. One of my favorite isolation videos was ordering outfits to each other’s houses; the jury’s still out on who did the best job.
One of our most successful videos, which recently hit over 17,000 views, featured our top tips for students coming to Newcastle University in the UK, where we were studying at the time.
A few months later, we both got jobs in a student bar. Fuelled by cheap double vodkas, customers frequently asked “are you that YouTuber?” At first, I was unsure how to respond but after a while, I took it as a compliment that people enjoyed our content enough to remember and approach us.
Vlogging out and about takes some getting used to — as soon as you have the camera in your hand, you’re like an exhibition in a museum. Strangers try to jump in the back of the shot and will come and talk to you. When we were filming in Vietnam, we were approached four times in about 10 minutes being asked what we were doing, and some even asked for photos.
We started our channel using one phone as a camera and the other as a spotlight. When we invested in equipment the quality of footage shot up, and having a camera to hold rather than a phone helped us feel the part a lot more, especially if we were vlogging in public.
The camera that a lot of the professionals use, the Canon G7X, costs around $700 but we found a second-hand one on eBay for a lot cheaper. Nothing beats natural light so we try to film during the day, but we also bought a $20 ring-light from Amazon for indoor videos. This was a good investment, especially in the winter when we wanted to film after lectures when it was dark.
Luckily I already had subscriptions to editing software like iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro as I used them both for work, otherwise this is something else in which we would have needed to invest. iMovie comes free on Mac, and Premiere Pro is around $20 a month for the basic package, although there are discounts available for students.
Checking how our videos are performing is important for helping the channel grow, but it can be hard not to take it personally when a video underperforms.
We tried to focus on consistency, which experts suggest is one of the most important factors when you’re starting out. It helped us build a loyal audience of viewers who would expect our videos every Wednesday and Sunday. The common rumor in the creator world is that YouTube also bumps consistent channels higher in recommended lists, so it seemed like an easy way to get more engagement on videos.
We developed a talent for spotting which videos consistently performed well. We made sure to analyze watch time — not just views — as that’s often a better indicator of what the audience actually thought of the video, and we used these insights to guide our future content.
Patience is not one of my strongest skills. I like things to happen instantly, but I quickly realized this probably wasn’t going to be the case with growing the channel.
Seeing YouTubers with millions of subscribers can be both inspiring and disheartening, but I tried to remember that everyone started somewhere. The bonus of it being a side hustle is that we can let it slowly gain traction, without putting too much pressure on ourselves.
One thing we did do was set up a shared Instagram account where we posted about new videos, did Instagram Lives, and generally interacted with our followers. We spent lots of our spare time going out and taking pictures for the page which was time-consuming but really fun. It was much easier to gain followers on Instagram than subscribers on YouTube, but the two complemented each other well and helped increase engagement on our videos and build our online presence.
All in all, starting a YouTube channel was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It’s a great creative outlet and gave me something to focus on, especially when we were in and out of lockdowns. I grew in confidence, vastly improved my video editing skills, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
If there’s anything you’re currently contemplating starting, my advice would be to go for it, you’ll only wish you’d done it sooner.
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.
A leading-edge research firm focused on digital transformation.