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How to Make Money on YouTube (Without a Million Subscribers)

YouTube stars are often akin to self-made celebrities—people who have earned an audience by creating content geared towards teaching, entertaining, reviewing, and just generally being awesome on the internet.

Most YouTubers probably do what they do to scratch an itch for creating and sharing cool things, and to get in front of an audience, however small, of like-minded people. If you’re thinking of starting your own YouTube channel, making money probably isn’t very high up in the list of your motivations. However, if you’re willing to think about your content strategically, your YouTube channel could, in fact, turn out to be quite a money-spinner. Let’s find out how we can make this happen.

1. How much money could you make on YouTube?

So how much money can your YouTube channel actually bring in? In principle, a whole lot.

While reliable figures for the earnings of popular Indian YouTubers are hard to come by, here’s a list of the estimated net worth of some of them, in rupees, as of September 2021:

  1. Gaurav Chaudhary, ₹326 crores
  2. Amit Bhadana, ₹47 crores
  3. Nisha Madhulika, ₹33 crores
  4. Carry Minati, ₹29 crores
  5. Ashish Chanchlani, ₹29 crores
  6. Bhuvan Bam, ₹22 crores
  7. Sandeep Maheshwari, ₹22 crores
  8. Emiway Bantai, ₹18 crores
  9. Harsh Beniwal, ₹16 crores
  10. Vidya Vox, ₹9 crores

You’ll probably agree that these are absolutely mind-boggling numbers. While it’s true that all the YouTubers mentioned above are outliers, it’s just as true that anyone at all can make money on YouTube if they approach their content-creation journey in the right way.

Before we discuss what such an approach looks like, let’s quickly tackle some basic questions you might have.

  • Don’t you need lakhs or millions of subscribers and views to make money?

Thankfully, you don’t! Probably the most important thing you have to know is that even small and mid-sized YouTube channels get monetised on a routine basis. 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 alternate revenue channels you explore. That’s not to say your subscriber count doesn’t matter — check out our tips to get more subscribers on YouTube.

Moreover, lists like the ones above might give you the impression that the lakhs of rupees some creators make all come directly from YouTube. In reality, many of these channels have their own line of merchandise. But before they could go ahead and launch their own product lines, they had to find and build an audience first. If making money on YouTube is a goal of yours, the first step is going to be the same as that for everybody else: having a clear understanding of your audience.

  • How do you understand your target audience?

If you don’t have a YouTube channel yet, you’d probably like to first look up the audience demographics of established channels in the niche that you’re targeting, so that you can tailor your content to that kind of an audience. However, it turns out that comprehensive demographic details for other people’s YouTube channels are not all that easily available.

You can certainly get some idea of the keywords and content that resonate with the audiences in your domain through tools like Social Blade and BuzzSumo. However, the analytics they provide won’t include critical details such as the age and gender of other channel’s audiences.

Hence, if you want to know what kind of people might be interested in the sort of content you want to create, the best way might be to just start making some content. Because once you have some content up, all the demographic insights you need for your own channel can be pulled up from your YouTube analytics. Moreover, you can build this initial content around some popular keywords or topics, as indicated by the tools mentioned above.

Building and understanding your own audience will put you in a great position to monetise content in a variety of ways.

One thing to remember is that when it comes to monetising your YouTube content, the more niche your channel is, the easier it’ll be for you to work with brands looking to target specific audiences.

analytics

Thus, when you take a look at your YouTube analytics, you'll want to pay close attention to:

  • The gender of your audience, to see if it skews towards 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 more effectively with brands.

  • Can you get paid for simply uploading great videos to YouTube?

No, you won’t get paid for simply uploading videos. In fact, videos are not monetised in any way by default. The most straightforward way for you to start making money on YouTube is to apply for and get accepted into the YouTube Partner Program. If you’re accepted into the YouTube Partner Program, you can then enable monetisation in your YouTube account settings. This will open up several potential revenue streams for you, such as advertising, channel memberships, YouTube Premium revenue sharing, etc., discussed in more detail below. Alternatively, you could also bring in some revenue if you qualify for the new YouTube Shorts Fund, which is also discussed below.

With those preliminary ideas out of the way, we can now start talking in earnest about the different ways your YouTube channel can make money.

2. How to make money on YouTube

As is the case with making money on Instagram or other similar platforms, to maximise your YouTube channel’s earning potential, you need to examine multiple revenue streams.

Thankfully, YouTube makes this relatively straightforward to do by providing the following ways to bring in revenue:

Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these streams.

2.1. Earning directly through the YouTube platform

The first revenue stream on YouTube you’ll likely want to explore is ads, which appear in your videos as part of Google’s AdSense program.  To start getting a cut of what advertisers spend on these ads, you’ll need to join the YouTube Partners Program (YPP) and enable monetisation for your YouTube account. There are several criteria that you must meet to be able to do so. Two critical ones you’ll need to work towards are that you must  have at least 1,000 subscribers, and your channel should have racked up at least 4,000 public watch hours over the previous 12 months.

●     How to enable monetisation on YouTube

Once you’ve joined the YPP, here’s what you need to do to turn monetisation on for your channel:

1. Sign in to the YouTube account you want to monetise

 

2. Click the icon for your account in the top right corner

 second step    3. Click YouTube Studio in the dropdown menu

 youtube studio

4. In the left menu, click Monetization

monetization

5. Read and agree to the YouTube Partner Program terms monetization agree

6. Create a new AdSense account or connect an existing one to your               channel (You need an AdSense account to get paid)

7. Set your monetisation 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 Monthly Estimated Revenue chart to get an idea of your predicted revenue.

channel analytics

Source: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9314488?hl=en

  • How many views do you need to make money on YouTube?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because there are many factors that go into determining the amount you make off of a video.

For one thing, it depends on the advertising model chosen by the advertiser: CPC (cost per click), CPM (cost per mille, i.e. per thousand views), or CPA (cost per action). Different models result in different earnings from each ad viewed or clicked. Furthermore, the keywords that your video targets, the length of the video, and the geographical location of your audience also play a decisive role in this respect.

As a rule of thumb, going by certain approximate calculations, if your channel gets 1000 views every day, you could make anything between Rs. 7,500 and Rs. 1,20,000 every month.

However, now that YouTube Premium is around, you no longer need to rely on advertisers creating engaging or enticing ads to earn revenue.

  • YouTube Premium

YouTube Premium is a paid membership program that allows viewers to watch content without any ads, along with some other benefits. For creators, this represents an additional revenue stream as they will get paid if their content is watched by YouTube Premium subscribers.

In effect, YouTube shares some of its Premium revenue with creators. How much a creator gets depends mainly on the watch time garnered by their channel from Premium subscribers.

  • The YouTube Shorts Fund

The YouTube Shorts Fund is a $100 million fund designed to encourage YouTubers to create high-quality Shorts (videos no longer than 60 seconds). If you have created a Short within the past six months and are deemed to be eligible to receive some money from the fund, you’ll receive a notification from YouTube informing you of this.

Apart from creating Shorts and ensuring that your channel remains in good standing, you don’t have much control over whether or not you can tap into this revenue stream. Consequently, it would probably be a good idea not to bank on it too much.

  • Why you should look beyond ads for revenue

While it’s easy to set it up, earning money through advertising as a YouTube Partner is far from the most lucrative or reliable revenue stream you can create for yourself on this platform.

For one thing, videos that YouTube moderators or, more likely, algorithms deem to not be “advertiser-friendly” could get demonetised. In other words, they would cease to make you any money.

However, it is important to realise that at the end of the day, even if you abide by all of YouTube’s rules, it is possible for some of your content to get demonetised without you being able to remonetise it. This is already a good enough reason for you to not rely solely on ad revenue.

Moreover, while advertising might be a common means of generating income for creators, the trade-off is that YouTube gets to keep around a 45% share of ad revenue.

In short, YouTubers should explore other revenue streams if they’re serious about making money off of the platform. Read on to look at a few ways to earn money through YouTube without having to rely on AdSense.

2.2. Selling products or merchandise

There are plenty of products to sell that can help you make money through your YouTube channel. Selling merchandise — 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. Moreover, it deepens the relationship between you and your fans as they literally “buy” into what you're doing.

selling products

An example of such a YouTube channel is Chess Talk, which sells t-shirts and hoodies through a store called KadakMerch, which only sells merchandise associated with Indian YouTubers.

However, you absolutely can start selling branded products without needing to get onto such platforms – via your own store.

To begin with, you can have affordable designs made for specific products, like t-shirts, using freelancer sites such as Fiverr. Next, you can create an online store using a service like Shopify. On your store, you can use mockups to give your audiences a glimpse of what the finished products will look like. Lastly, to actually fulfil your orders, you can integrate a dropshipping service or a print-on-demand provider into your store.

If you have your own Shopify store, you can also also use our Google App to seamlessly connect your store to YouTube. YouTube Shopping with Shopify allows you to upload your store to YouTube, instantly sync your products to YouTube, create live shopping experiences and allow your customers to purchase easily from you via YouTube. And you can manage all of this from your Shopify dashboard.

Additional resources:

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.

Assuming that you’re a YouTuber who’s already garnered an audience, you’ll have two advantages from the outset that other store owners would probably envy:

  1. A content engine that will consistently drive traffic to your store.
  2. Your audience's trust, which you will have earned by regularly serving them your own brand of content for free.

Alternatively, you can partner with an existing merchandising network for creators, such as the one mentioned above. However, you should be mindful of the fact that by doing so, you’ll be competing with other YouTubers on the same store. You might also have less control over adding products, offering discounts, integrating your content, and all the other advantages that come with owning your own ecommerce site.

2.3. Crowdfunding 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 projects tend to offer a sneak peek 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 ’80s action movies.

kung fury

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.

2.4. Getting paid directly by your “fans”

Similar to crowdfunding a project, you can also set up “fan funding” streams to source contributions from your audience, often in exchange for exclusive perks.

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. 

membership level

Dhruv Rathee is an example of a well-known Indian YouTuber who has a sizable number of “patrons” on Patreon, a popular membership platform that enables creators to run a subscription service.

If you choose the fan funding 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 larger pledge amounts.

Some popular fan funding options include:

  • YouTube’s Super Chat: Super Chat is a feature used when going live on YouTube. It lets you create a tipping jar to which your viewers can donate any amount of their choice whenever they want. You’ll need to set up your YouTube account for advertising as outlined above.
  • Patreon: The membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid. Fans can subscribe to their favourite creators for as little as a dollar a month and receive exclusive rewards.
  • Tipeee: Lets you get a combination of both one-off and recurring donations.

2.5. Licensing 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 the rights to use your videos if they happen to go viral.

You can also list your videos in a marketplace, such as ViralHog, Storyful, or Jukin Media, where your content will be easier for the right people to find and purchase.

viral hog

For instance, this video of a tiger family received a fair amount of attention online, and was even covered by a few media publications.

2.6. Working with brands as an influencer or affiliate

Influencer marketing is going to be one of the advertising bedrocks of the next decade.

- Gary Vaynerchuk

Brands are investing more and more in influencer marketing, 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.

While it’s difficult to get reliable data on what Indian influencers typically charge, some estimates put the per-post rate for Instagram at between ₹6,500 (for micro-influencers with 5-10k followers) to nearly ₹50,000 (for influencers with 2.5-5 lakh followers).

If you’re trying to figure out what you should charge, a reasonable way to come up with a baseline figure is to take the number of views your videos normally get, and then multiply that number by your average ad income per view.

If your channel is already monetised, you can work out this average by hand, but if not, you’ll have to estimate it. Probably the best way to do so is to check out videos by content creators in your niche in which they dissect their earnings. For instance, AKS Dusra, who makes videos that help budding YouTubers learn the ropes, worked out that for a certain period in 2020, what YouTube paid him per view was around 0.04 rupees.

Depending on your leverage — used as an umbrella term here for your audience demographics, content quality, how unique and profitable your niche is, reach, audience engagement, and several other factors — you might even 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, to not endorse anything you don’t actually like or believe in, and to be honest with your audience about why you’re doing it.

But how do you get a brand collaboration going in the first place? There are four main ways to do so:

    • Reaching out to brands with a pitch
    • Getting brands to approach you by putting out engaging content
    • Hiring a manager
    • Registering with an agency or marketplace for influencers 
  • Reaching out to brands with a pitch

This is probably the most common strategy that influencers use to reach out to brands to get paid collaborations, and it’s easy to see why: you don’t need to have a massive number of subscribers or viewers to go this way. What you really need is to have a convincing pitch to send to decision-makers.

There are several ways you can go about using this strategy. One way would be to tag a brand in a relevant social media post and follow up with a direct message expressing your interest in collaborating with it. Another would be to use LinkedIn to find the PR representatives of brands and then pitching them.

An indispensable component of such an approach is a media kit: this should give brands a quick overview of your style, social media metrics, past collaborations, and other relevant details about you.

  • Getting brands to approach you by putting out engaging content 

If you consistently put out content that’s of a high quality and gets a large amount of engagement, chances are that brands looking to advertise in your niche are going to sit up and take notice. Once you’re past a certain threshold of viewers, comments, or perceived clout, it’s quite likely that brands might want to reach out to you directly.

To make the most of such opportunities, you should:

    • Make sure that you’re extremely easy to get in touch with by prominently displaying your contact details for business on your profile. Consider creating a separate email id for this purpose.
    • Have a process in place for understanding project details, such as the brand’s expectations, the payment schedule, the number of posts, etc. A simple Google Forms questionnaire would help.
    • Have a media kit ready, of the sort discussed above.
  • Hiring a manager

Once your audience has grown beyond a certain size, it often makes sense to hire a manager to oversee essential aspects of your business, such as reviewing sponsorship deals, replying to emails and comments, and handling legal and financial matters. This will free you up to do what you should be focusing on: creating high-quality content.

But managers can also go one step further and actively reach out to brands with whom a fruitful collaboration might be possible. A savvy manager should be able to keep your calendar full without it being overwhelming.

  • Registering with an agency or marketplace for influencers

Agencies and marketplaces for influencers act as one-stop-shops that brands can approach when they need to find the right influencers to collaborate with. While marketplaces make it very easy for influencers to register on their platform, agencies might sometimes be a little more exclusive, in the sense that they typically reach out to influencers themselves rather than inviting registrations. Regardless, once you’ve made it to the database of a marketplace or agency, they will do the heavy lifting of hooking you up with brands. 

Here are just a handful of the many agencies and marketplaces you can associate your channel with and get discovered by brands both big and small:

    • OPA: Mostly geared towards beauty and shopping products. Influencers register on their app and can then participate in invite-only collaborations
    • Plixxo: Plixxo will first verify your profile, reach, and stats, after which you can start working on paid brand campaigns. You’ll need to have at least 5,000 subscribers on YouTube to sign up here
    • in: Boasts of thousands of influencers across several niches
    • Pulpkey: The barrier to entry is less intimidating here: you’ll only need to have 500 subscribers on YouTube to get started as an influencer
    • Peoplekind: An influencer marketing agency that aims to be “a community of thoughtful storytellers” 

Some influencer marketplaces offer you free products, while others are known for having big brands that are willing to pay more. Capitalise 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.

Alternatively, you can also become an affiliate marketer for brands and generate some passive income through commissions from every sale you land through your channel. This works especially well if you review products on your YouTube channel. Since there's no risk involved on the brand’s end (they only pay when they make a sale), there's usually a low bar to getting started.

Popular programs include the Shopify Affiliate Program (which pays you a generous commission for every person that opens a Shopify store through your referral), the Flipkart Affiliate Program (4% to 20% commission, depending on the type of product) and Amazon's Affiliate network (earn 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.

youtube example

As an example of a YouTube channel generating revenue through affiliate marketing, take a look at Traking Tech, a Hinglish-language channel that boasts more than 10 million subscribers. Traking Tech specialises in tech product reviews, and it uses affiliate links in its video descriptions to make money through YouTube audiences. The channel is signed up as a Flipkart affiliate. It places certain unique links — pointing to the reviewed product on Flipkart — in video descriptions. If a viewer purchases the item by clicking that link, the affiliate will earn a small percentage of the revenue share paid to Traking Tech by Flipkart.

Do keep in mind that whenever you promote a brand, product, or service in exchange for some sort of consideration, you should make sure to clearly disclose that a certain part of your content is in fact sponsored, in keeping with the Guidelines for Influencer Advertising set out by the Advertising Standards Council of India.

Lastly, there’s an integral but easy-to-overlook aspect of selling to online audiences that deserves its own section: the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to turn people off if they perceive you as being a bit too keen to part them from their hard-earned cash.

3. How to “sell” without annoying your audience

Many of the above strategies for monetising 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 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 common methods  you can choose from to promote products or campaigns.

  • 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 towards actions that generate revenue for you, such as app downloads or newsletter sign-ups.

  • 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. Cards are rectangular pop-ups that make your videos more interactive. They can contain links to videos, playlists, and channels, and even external links. 

You can set them to pop up at just the right moment, when they’re most relevant and least distracting, to increase their impact. For instance, if you sport a particular watch in a video, you could also have a card with an affiliate link pop up when the watch is focused on.

nike

  • Add links in your video descriptions

You can funnel viewers to your store, Patreon page, Kickstarter campaign, or other revenue-focused parts of your online presence by adding links in your video descriptions.

If you’re creating videos about your own products and you own or manage a Shopify store, you can incentivise 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 of yours.

The more places your message lives on, 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.

4. Are you ready to monetise your YouTube channel?

What compels most creators to create is rarely money. It’s the thought of making something for the world to enjoy.

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 — to channel the entrepreneurial drive to explore ideas — with how you choose to monetise your passion.

FAQs

1. How can I make money on YouTube?

There are several different revenue streams that you can tap into if you’re a content creator on YouTube:

  • Ad revenue shared by YouTube
  • Revenue from YouTube Premium members watching your content
  • Fans paying through Super Chat to have their messages highlighted in chat streams
  • Selling products or merchandise
  • Paid memberships through platforms like Patreon
  • Licensing your content to the media
  • Working with brands as an influencer or affiliate

2. How many views do you need on YouTube to make money?

To start making money on YouTube by signing up for the Youtube Partner Program you need to have:

  • at least 1000 subscribers, and
  • at least 4000 watch hours

in the past 12 months.

Thus, the number of views on your channel is not what counts: what counts is the amount of time people have spent watching your videos.

3. How does YouTube send your money?

To get paid by YouTube, you’ll first need to create an AdSense account. Within this account, after you’ve provided the requisite details, you’ll need to choose a payment method. Then, once your accumulated income exceeds a certain threshold (currently USD 100, or around INR 7,500), you will get paid within a 21-day period.

4. Do you need 1000 subscribers on YouTube to get paid?

Yes. You need a minimum 1000 subscribers and at least 4000 watch hours in the past 12 months to be eligible for the YouTube Partner Program – which is necessary to get paid by YouTube.

However, there are other avenues to make money on YouTube without signing up for the YouTube Partner Program. These include:

  • applying for the YouTube Shorts Fund
  • selling products or merchandise
  • crowdfunding your next project
  • direct fan payments through Patreon
  • licensing your content
  • working with brands as an influencer
  • affiliate marketing

5. Can a beginner make money on YouTube?

Yes, even a beginner can make money on YouTube. However, to get paid by YouTube directly, you need to sign up for the YouTube Partner Program, to qualify for which, you need a minimum of 1000 subscribers and at least 4000 watch hours in the last 12 months.

So a beginner has a few other avenues to make money on YouTube which include:

  • applying for the YouTube Shorts Fund
  • selling products or merchandise
  • crowdfunding your next project
  • direct fan payments through SuperChat and Patreon
  • licensing your content
  • working with brands as an influencer
  • affiliate marketing

6. How much money per 1000 views do you make on YouTube?

Various sources report ₹230 - ₹380 ($3 - $5) on average, as money you can make with 1000 video views on Youtube.

Illustration by George Wylesol

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