YouTube stars are today’s self-made celebrities—people who have earned an audience by creating video content geared toward teaching, entertaining, reviewing, and being awesome on the web.
Making money on YouTube might not be your reason for starting a channel, but the opportunities to earn are a pleasant surprise once you realize how many of them there are. Luckily, there are some creative ways to make money on YouTube.
Your audience might unlock your YouTube channel’s earning potential, as is often the case with Instagram influencers or bloggers, but it’s the creation of multiple revenue streams, through side hustles or businesses, that helps you make money.
How to make money on YouTube
1. Join the YouTube Partner Program
The first revenue stream you’ll likely explore is ads. Whether you want to earn money on YouTube without creating videos or as a content creator, joining the YouTube Partner Program and setting up monetization is a vital step.
You’ll have to agree to follow all of YouTube’s monetization policies and live in a country or region where the YouTube Partner Program is available. Then you can apply for monetization once you’ve hit 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours over the past year.
Here’s how to enable monetization on YouTube:
- Sign in to the YouTube account you want to monetize.
- Click the icon for your account in the top right corner.
- Click YouTube Studio.
- In the left menu, select Other Features > Monetization.
- Read and agree to the YouTuber Partner Program terms and eligibility requirements.
- Create a new Google AdSense account or connect an existing one to your channel. (You need an AdSense account to get paid.)
- Set your monetization preferences.
Once that’s done, head back to the dashboard and click the Analytics tab on the left side. From there, you’ll need to choose Revenue from the tabs at the top, then scroll down to the chart Monthly Estimated Revenue to get an idea of your predicted YouTube revenue.
What is YouTube Premium?
YouTube Premium is a paid membership program that lets fans watch and support their favorite content creators without ads. For creators, not much changes, as they will get paid for content consumed by non-members on YouTube, along with content on YouTube Premium.
Creators are paid for YouTube Premium based on how much members watch their content. Consider revenue earned from YouTube Premium subscribers as a secondary revenue stream in addition to what you’re already earning through ads.
While it’s easy to set up, earning money through advertising as a YouTube Partner is far from the most lucrative revenue stream you can create for yourself.
Why you should look beyond ads for revenue
YouTube received a lot of backlash around its transparency regarding advertising on the platform and what qualifies as “advertiser friendly” content.
At the time, many YouTube creators feared they would lose out on the advertising revenue they would lose out on advertising revenue due to the nature of their content.
Your content may get excluded from ad revenue if Youtube deems it includes:
- Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humor
- Violence, including displays of serious injury and events related to violent extremism
- Inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity, and vulgar language
- Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use, and abuse of such items
- Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters, and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown
This is nothing new. YouTube has been demonetizing content it doesn’t deem advertiser friendly since 2012 via an automated process. It is done without warning and without the content creator’s knowledge.
Now, creators are notified when their content is flagged and can contest any time they feel a video was mistakenly excluded from YouTube’s advertising network.
Advertising might be a common means of generating passive income for creators, but the trade-off is that YouTube’s parent company, Google, gets to keep around a 45% share of ad revenue.
In short, YouTubers should explore other revenue streams to sustain their creative hobby. Below, we’ll share how to earn money from YouTube without AdSense.
2. Sell products or merchandise
There are plenty of products to sell that can help you make money through your YouTube channel. Selling merch—t-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, snapbacks, you name it—has a benefit beyond revenue.
Merchandise increases your exposure by putting your online brand and personality out into the offline world and deepens the relationship between you and your fans as they literally “buy” into what you’re doing. Creators like Roman Atwood sell a variety of merchandise in his store under the Smile More brand.
And when it comes to handling orders, you can integrate your store with services such as DSers or one of the many print-on-demand providers that take care of shipping, fulfillment, and customer support, letting you reap all of the benefits of a print-on-demand business that requires less effort on your part.
Alternatively, you can partner with an existing merchandising network for creators, such as DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome). However, you’ll be competing with other YouTubers and have less control over adding products, offering discounts, integrating your content, and all the advantages that come with owning your own ecommerce site.
You can even go a step further by manufacturing and selling your own unique products and powering your business through your YouTube channel, like Luxy Hair did to sell its hair extensions with hair-related how-to video tutorials.
As a YouTuber who’s already earned an audience, you’ll have two advantages from the start that other store owners would be jealous of:
- A content engine that consistently drives traffic to your store
- Your audience’s trust, which you’ve earned by regularly serving them your own brand of content for free
3. Crowdfund your next creative project
When money is all that stands between an idea and its execution, crowdfunding is a good way to make it happen.
Whether you need help buying better equipment, hiring actors, or covering other production costs, you can call upon your own audience and the crowdfunding community to pitch in, if your idea is compelling enough.
Many successful crowdfunded creative projects tend to offer a sneak peak or “trailer” that gets people excited, so consider shooting a video explaining your project or offering a taste of what it’ll be like, such as this popular Kickstarter for Kung Fury, a short film paying homage to 1980s action movies.
Popular crowdfunding sites with a proven track record of campaigns from YouTubers include:
- Kickstarter. One of the most well-known crowdfunding sites, great for funding cool products and creative projects. Be sure to set an attainable funding goal because you’ll only secure it if you actually meet the goal you set.
- Indiegogo. A Kickstarter alternative that offers more flexible funding options.
4. Let your audience support you through “fan funding”
Similar to crowdfunding a project, you can also set up “fan funding” streams to source donations from your audience.
As a creator, you’re contributing your voice to the internet without forcing your audience to pay for admission. So, if you’re offering good content, your audience might be inclined to support you on an ongoing basis.
Many fan-funding platforms offer creators another place for people to discover their content and a way to engage their most loyal audience and reward them for their support.
Wait But Why creates more long-form written content than YouTube videos but is a great example of receiving support from the Patreon community.
If you choose the crowdfunding route, be sure to follow a couple of best practices. First, create transparency around how the money will be spent. This will get your fanbase invested in your story or mission, and they will literally buy into the value of your content.
Second, offer enticing rewards for better pledges. The more you can make donors feel like they’re getting something exclusive for being a loyal fan, the more likely you are to get donations and higher pledges.
Some popular fan funding options include:
- YouTube’s Super Chat. Super Chat is a feature used when doing live streams on YouTube. It lets you create a tipping jar for your viewers to donate whenever and however much they feel like contributing. You’ll need to set up your YouTube account for advertising, as outlined above.
- Channel memberships. Channel memberships let viewers support your channel through monthly payments in exchange for members-only perks. Similar to Super Chat, you must be a part of YouTube’s Partner Program to access this feature.
- Patreon. The membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid. Fans can subscribe to their favorite creators for as little as a dollar a month and receive exclusive rewards.
- Tipeee. This platform lets you get a combination of both one-off and recurring donations.
- Buy Me A Coffee. Buy Me A Coffee lets creators and artists accept donations and membership fees from their fans. It’s referred to as the “#1 Patreon Alternative,” with over 300,000 creators. The differences are it’s easier to accept payments with Buy Me A Coffee, there’s a flat 5% fee for all features (versus up to 12% for Patreon), and payouts are instant.
5. License your content to the media
If you happen to create a viral video with mass appeal—say, a funny clip featuring your dog—you can license your content in exchange for money.
TV news outlets, morning shows, online news sites, and other creators might reach out about rights to use your videos if they happen to go viral.
You can also list your videos in a marketplace, such as Trusted Media Brands, where your content will be easier for the right people to find and purchase.
When this video of a woman wearing a Chewbacca mask went viral, tons of media outlets wanted in.
6. Work with brands as an influencer
Brands are investing more and more in influencer marketing and sponsorships, spending their typically large advertising budgets on influencers who’ve already won the loyalty of their audiences.
This creates a massive opportunity for you as a creator if you can negotiate the right deals.
Brendan Gahan, a YouTube marketing expert and influencer, recommends establishing your baseline flat fee by looking at the number of views your videos typically get and multiplying it by $0.05 to $0.15 per view (which is around what many brands are willing to pay for views via YouTube ads).
According to data from WebFX, the potential prices for influencer marketing on YouTube are:
- $200 per video for a YouTuber with 10,000 subscribers
- $2,000 per video for a YouTuber with 100,000 subscribers
- $20,000 per video for a YouTuber with 1,000,000 subscribers
Depending on your leverage—your audience demographics, content quality, and how unique and profitable your niche is—you might be able to negotiate a better deal if the brand is a good fit.
The key when partnering on brand-sponsored content is to be transparent about it, not endorsing anything you don’t actually like or believe in, and being upfront with your audience about why you’re doing it.
Here are just a handful of the many influencer marketplaces you can add your channel to and get discovered by brands both big and small:
- Crowdtap. Complete small content creation “tasks” in exchange for money and other rewards. There’s no restriction on how many followers you need to join.
- Upfluence. A full-scale influencer platform with a database over 3 million influencers. Clients can search through Upfluence to find creators by keyword and contact them to form a partnership.
Some influencer marketplaces offer you free products, while others are known for having big brands who are willing to pay more. Capitalize on the opportunities that best suit your needs, but list yourself in as many places as you can to ensure maximum visibility for your channel.
7. Become an affiliate marketer
Affiliate marketing refers to earning a commission by promoting a product or service made by another brand. You can become an affiliate marketer for brands and include product placements, endorsements, or other types of content. However, you must disclose the partnerships to viewers in your videos.
This works especially well if you review products as part of your YouTube channel. Since there’s no risk involved on the brand’s end (they only pay when they make sales), there's usually a low bar to getting started.
Popular affiliate programs include ClickBank (1% to 75% commission, depending on what the vendor sets) and Amazon’s Affiliate network ( up to 10% per sale). You can also reach out to brands in your niche that are running their own affiliate programs, which isn’t uncommon in the ecommerce space.
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How many views do you need on YouTube to make money?
The average YouTube channel can receive around $18 per 1,000 ad views, which equals around $3 to $5 per video view, according to data from Influencer Marketing Hub.
The number of views you get doesn’t correlate to revenue earned. If your video gets thousands of views but no one watches or clicks the ad, you won’t make any money. This is because of YouTube’s criteria for billing advertisers: a viewer must click an ad or watch the video ad in full (10, 15, or 30 seconds) for you to get paid.
How to get paid on YouTube
- Publish ads on your channel
- Offer channel subscriptions
- Offer channel memberships
- Sign up for affiliate marketing
To start earning money directly through YouTube, you must have a least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours in the past year. Once you reach that, you can apply to YouTube’s Partner Program and monetize your channel.
One area where you can make money as a beginner with a small number of subscribers is affiliate marketing. Niches like food reviews, product openings, and top [X] lists are popular topics for YouTubers. You can earn money when they purchase affiliate products from your video, versus an ad click or video view.
How much money do YouTubers make per year?
The top 5 YouTubers as of January 2021 have tens of millions of followers each. Accounts include MrBeast, Jake Paul, Markiplier, Rhett and Link, and Unspeakable. These YouTubers earn upward of $28.5 million per year through their channels. While what they earn is enormous, smaller accounts can still earn a living on YouTube.
Take Justine Leconte’s YouTube channel, for example. She has 913,000 subscribers and 91 million video views on her channel, which helps people dress better and understand fashion. Just off ad revenue, her total estimated earnings are around $259,304, earning $979 per video, on average, according to Influencer Marketing Hub’s YouTube Money Calculator.
Based on these estimated numbers, Justine could earn a living off her YouTube channel by posting one or two videos per week. It’s important to note that these are just estimates. Justine could be earning more or less than the numbers above, depending on the YouTube monetization strategies she uses for her business.
How do YouTubers get paid?
Data from Forbes shows that the top YouTube earners make 50% of their annual income from ads. You can set up an AdSense account and enable monetization once you create a YouTube channel. You only get paid once you reach $100 in your AdSense account.
YouTube channels can be monetized even if they don’t have millions of subscribers. Your earning potential isn’t determined solely by the number of subscribers and views you have, but also by the level of engagement you generate, the niche you cater to, and the revenue channels you explore. That’s not to say subscriber count doesn’t matter—check out our tips to get more subscribers on YouTube.
Second, this list of top 10 earners might give you the impression that the millions of dollars made comes directly from YouTube. In fact, each of these channels has its own line of merchandise. These channels found and built their audiences first, before launching their own merchandise. If making money on YouTube is in your marketing plan, the first step is the same for everybody: have a clear understanding of your target audience.
Tips for selling on YouTube
Many of the above strategies for monetizing involve promoting products or campaigns (e.g., crowdfunding a video series). But you’ll want to make sure your promotions don’t sabotage the integrity of your high-quality content.
“Selling out” is a real concern for a lot of creators. But if you never ask, you’ll never get. There are a number of “placements” you can choose from for promoting products or campaigns.
Understand your audience on YouTube
Building your own audience puts you in a great position to monetize content in a variety of ways. But you’ll only be able to take full advantage of the opportunities you have if you understand the makeup of your audience.
For many YouTubers looking to monetize, the more niche your channel, the better position you’ll be in to work with brands looking to target specific audiences (more on that later).
You’ll want to pay close attention to:
- The gender of your audience, to see if it skews toward one particular group
- The age range most of your audience falls into
- The geographic location—countries or cities—where your videos are being watched
- Your audience’s overall engagement, or “watch time”
With this demographic information at hand, you’ll have a better understanding of your own audience and be able to work better with brands. All demographic insight can be pulled from your YouTube analytics, but to compare your own channel against others, try a tool like Social Blade.
Record a call to action in your videos
“If you liked this video, then hit the Like button and subscribe.”
Many YouTubers include a call to action along those lines at the end of their videos to grow their viewership. By suggesting the intended action you want them to take, your audience is more likely to take it.
You can adapt this approach to direct your audience’s attention to a revenue-generating opportunity.
Add well-timed YouTube cards to your videos
Whether it’s part of your deal with a brand or you’re promoting your own products, YouTube Cards offer an eye-catching way to get the attention of engaged viewers.
You can set them to pop up at just the right moment, when they’re most relevant and least distracting, to increase their impact.
Add links in your video descriptions
You can funnel viewers to your store, Patreon page, Kickstarter campaign, or other revenue-focused part of your online presence by adding links to your video descriptions.
If you’re a video creator who wants to focus on generating revenue as an affiliate marketer, look at Unbox Therapy. Unbox Therapy specializes in product reviews, and it uses affiliate links in its video descriptions to make money via YouTube audiences.
If you’re creating videos about your own products and you own or manage a Shopify store, you can incentivize new customers to buy your products with “buy X get Y” promotions or discounts.
Promote your offer on other platforms
Just because your content is hosted on YouTube doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking advantage of all the other distribution channels out there.
Spread the word about new campaigns or discounts on Twitter, Facebook, and any other profiles you own.
The more places your message lives, the greater the chance it’ll be seen. So it’s always a good idea to grow your following beyond YouTube with social media marketing.
The rise of the “YouTubepreneur”
What compels most creators to create is rarely money. It’s the thought of making something for the world to enjoy. Many famous YouTubers started out with humble beginnings, like PewDiePie, who created content on commentaries of him playing video games.
But ironically, that puts them in a great position to actually make money in a content-obsessed world.
While the hard part for many businesses is getting and keeping their audience’s attention, YouTubers have already figured that bit out.
All that’s left is to get creative and channel the entrepreneurial drive to explore ideas with how you choose to monetize your audience and your passion.
Becoming a full time YouTuber
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Making money on YouTube FAQ
How many YouTube views does it take to make $1,000?
Do you get paid for uploading videos on YouTube?
Content creators aren’t paid by YouTube for the videos they upload. Neither are videos monetized by default. For you to start making money on YouTube, you have to enable monetization in your YouTube account settings. From there, you have options to join the YouTube Partner Program or have your videos listed on YouTube Premium.
How do YouTubers make money on YouTube?
- Join YouTube's Partner Program
- Sell products or merchandise
- Fan funding
- License content to media
- Work with brands as an influencer
- Become an affiliate marketer