When you think about becoming a successful full-time YouTuber, you might think about big-name channels with over a million subscribers.
And if that’s your definition of success, we won’t lie—it’ll be a long road getting there.
But if your definition of success is to make a sustainable living relative to the time you spend each week on your YouTube channel, that goal is more attainable than you might think.
Especially when you consider all the options there are to make money on a video platform with over 2.4 billion users (a quarter of the world’s population).
We’re going to walk you through step-by-step how to become a profitable and (more importantly) sustainable YouTuber. And if you’d rather learn about YouTube through a YouTube video, we’ve got you covered too 👇🏾
How to become a YouTuber at your own pace
- Define your goal—for you and your audience
- Set up your production process
- Publish, promote, analyze—embrace the creator’s loop
- Monetize your YouTube channel
- Smash that subscribe button on your YouTube career
1. Define your goal—for you and your audience
According to self-reported estimates in the r/YouTubers subreddit, YouTubers can spend anywhere from a single afternoon to over 20 hours per week on their YouTube channel, especially when you consider everything involved, from scripting to recording to editing to designing thumbnails, and more.
If you’re putting out a new video at least weekly to keep your subscribers engaged, as many YouTube creators do, you’ll need your goals to align out the gate or you might run out of steam.
You can come up with a clearly defined goal by breaking it down into three considerations.
Who is your audience?
As they say: If you’re for everyone, then you’re for no one. Choose a specific audience you want to serve, one that you not only feel a connection to but feel confident you can create great content for.
Resist the urge to go broad simply to have a bigger audience.
You can still grow a sizeable following through a more specific niche audience and have an easier time promoting your content and carving out a unique identity.
Don’t believe me? There are YouTube channels with tens of thousands of subscribers based specifically around the sandbox survival game Minecraft.
Keep in mind that the audience you choose will have some bearing on how easily you can monetize your YouTube channel, but there are enough options for making money on YouTube that it shouldn’t be the sole factor in your decision.
Having trouble? Write down general interests, lifestyles, skills, hobbies, or identities you connect with and then see how you can go a level more specific:
- Cooking > Air fryer owners, vegans, bakers
- Gaming > Nintendo Switch, Super Smash Bros., PC builds
- Remote working professionals > Digital nomads, home office workers, freelancers
- University students > Test takers, biochemistry students, graduate students
What are you going to promise your viewers?
Successful YouTube channels have one thing in common: They make an implicit promise to the audience that encourages viewers to make the decision to subscribe and subscribers to return for more.
This is a promise of value to the viewer and that value can be educational, information, inspirational, or entertaining in nature. It can be to teach them new skills, give them honest product reviews, or just make them laugh.
Matty Benedetto of Unnecessary Inventions makes that promise explicit in his header, including his posting frequency:
“I design and build unnecessary inventions. (*New inventions every week.)”
His audience? People like him who find it hilarious to go to great lengths for absurd ideas.
What do you want to gain from your channel?
While every serious YouTuber should give value to their audience, you should define what you want from your YouTube channel as well.
Some might say not to think about money first, but you should at least consider your monetization options upfront, as this will help you plan the premise and direction of your YouTube channel.
Do you want to:
- Make an extra $2,000 a month?
- Leave your full-time job and go all in on YouTube?
- Establish yourself as an expert on a topic?
- Generate passive income?
- Spread a message you care about?
- Achieve many goals through this channel?
Jessica McCabe, for example, started her YouTube channel, How to ADHD, as “a place to keep all the strategies she’s learned about having and living with ADHD.” While her goal may not have been to make money at first, she has built a loyal community as a result.
Consider your personal why behind the channel and let it be your driving force if you’re ever struggling to find inspiration or energy for your next video.
Now, put it all together and give your channel a name:
Every [cadence], I will [provide value] for [specific audience] so that I can [value gained]. My channel is called [YouTube channel name].
Every Sunday, I will share work-from-home tips and home office setups for remote workers so I can figure out how to be more productive and make an extra $1,000 a month. My channel is called “WFHomies.”
With your goal and premise defined, you’re ready to think about creating content.
Everything from here on out will depend on the goal you’ve laid out for your channel.
For example, YouTube group Yes Theory produces videos of themselves doing things way outside their comfort zones (such as letting a coin flip control their lives for 24 hours) to inspire others to do the same.
And so their production process is a lot more intense with pre-production planning, filming, and editing happening months in advance so they can release multiple videos a week.
But like you, they also started small by filming one simple spontaneous act every day.
Matt Dajer from Yes Theory spoke to me a while back to share the YouTube group’s journey from a couple hundred to 300,000 subscribers. That was in 2017, and today the channel has over seven million subscribers.
Even the biggest YouTubers started small. But rest assured, you don’t need to be this big to go full-time.
2. Set up your production process
You may have a solid premise to kick off your YouTuber career, but a solid production process is how you’ll deliver video after video as you grow your audience.
Here’s what you’ll need to consider.
Yes Theory started filming with a high-end Canon EOS 70D.
But Dajer says a fancy camera wouldn’t have been of any use if they didn’t know the story they wanted to tell. “People just won’t care unless you can tell them that story,” Dajer says. But if the story you want to tell demands good gear, you can Google around to find affordable cameras and microphones you can use.
Many smartphones these days have what you need to start shooting YouTube videos in 4K.
So if you don’t need a top-of-the-line camera to bring your vision to life (and chances are you don’t), you can skip it or revisit it later, and put some of that money into something that will drastically improve the professionalism of your videos: a solid microphone.
Some options that offer a nice balance between quality and cost include:
- Blue Yeti: A popular microphone among YouTubers and podcasters, especially if you’ll be filming from your desk.
- Rode smartLav+: A discrete portable and travel-friendly mic you can plug into your smartphone and clip onto your shirt.
- Rode VideoMic: A shotgun mic for mounting on a camera for more professional and complex video shoots.
Trying to produce an entire YouTube video from start to finish in a single day is a tall order, even for simple concepts.
Instead, what many YouTubers do is allocate one day for each phase to avoid the switching costs of changing contexts.
A typical production schedule for a weekly YouTube channel might look like this:
- Day 1: Research and outline
- Day 2: Write script
- Day 3: Record video
- Day 4: Edit video
- Day 5: Polish, upload, schedule
However, if you want to release multiple videos in a single week, you can work on multiple scripts on one day, record multiple videos on another day, edit multiple videos on the next day, etc., and get ahead of your video schedule by a few weeks.
As you go through each video, you’ll end up creating templates, finding tools, automating or outsourcing tasks, and learning tricks to save you time, over time.
Filming is the fun part for a lot of YouTubers. Whether you’re a travel vlogger chronicling your globetrotting adventures, a comedian producing YouTube sketches, or a traditional at-your-desk YouTuber, the following tips will help you keep your videos looking professional:
- Write a script for each video. Even if you think you’re good at talking on the fly, a script will make you a whole lot more efficient. You can estimate that every 550 words of your script will translate to around 3 minutes of video.
- Position the camera at eye level and look directly into it. It’s easy to look at yourself or to the side when you’re speaking to a camera. But you can simulate direct eye contact by looking into the camera to come across more confident and engaging.
- Keep your lighting in front of you. Whether you’re using natural light or a ring light to illuminate your videos, keep your light source in front of you and avoid casting shadows.
- Enunciate and mind your pace. If you talk fast, make a point to slow it down and speak clearly, using strategic pauses to make editing easier. The camera isn’t going anywhere! Also, a smile can give a boost to your on-camera charisma.
- Shoot more than you need. You’re not working with film so record multiple takes for each part of your video. Switch up the angles too if you think a different view would add a little variety. “B-roll” is secondary footage taken outside of your initial production plan to give yourself more options when editing. It includes panning over a product, shots from multiple angles for a review video, or even blooper footage that makes it in as a joke in the final cut.
Editing is the unsung hero of video and where a lot of time and effort is spent for YouTubers.
YouTube has its own editor to help you get started, but there are plenty of free video editing tools out there with unique features that are worth checking out:
- Da Vinci Resolve: Packed with the same features used by Hollywood studios to do everything from correcting colors to visual effects and post-production audio. And yes, it’s free.
- Descript (Freemium): Edit videos as easily as you edit text by making changes to the transcription. With the ability to export and edit video directly to YouTube and other social media channels, it’s recommended for YouTubers who value efficient workflows.
- iMovie: Apple’s homegrown video editor is a more powerful option for video editing today, especially if you’re filming in Cinematic mode on a newer iPhone or iPad.
Your editing software of choice will depend on your needs. Descript, for example, is great for video podcasts since it generates a transcript from your videos that you can include in your show notes.
Editing is time-consuming and, for many YouTubers, the first workflow they outsource to reclaim some of their time.
If your strong suit isn’t editing and it’s just filming and being an entertainer, then find somebody who can edit and don’t waste eight hours of your day or more just learning how to edit. Unless you really, really want to learn how to edit.
TIP: Be sure to edit and export your YouTube videos using a 16:9 ratio to avoid black bars on either side, or 9:16 if you’re publishing for YouTube Shorts.
Branding and thumbnails
Every YouTuber has a brand, whether they’ve meticulously designed it or came into it naturally.
And part of your job is to ensure that brand is reflected consistently across your channel.
Not a designer? You can use Canva to create your YouTube channel branding with plenty of templates to get you started.
Here’s a checklist of basic assets to consider:
- Brand guidelines that include your typography and colors
- Channel header (2560 x 1440)
- Logo or profile picture (800 x 800)
- Video thumbnail templates (1280 x 720)
- Write your channel’s About section to pitch your channel
- Optional: Intro animation and music (depending on the style you’re going for)
- Optional: Channel trailer to introduce your channel to new visitors (you don’t need one right away though!)
You can see how Yolanda Gampp’s branding for How to Cake It connects all visual elements from the header to the thumbnails.
For the sake of this guide, we’ll skip the steps to setting up your actual channel. But you can refer to this step-by-step guide we created for help on that front.Read channel setup guide
3. Publish, promote, analyze—embrace the creator’s feedback loop
Being a creator of any kind is about more than just creating. You want your content to be consumed by your audience and so immersing yourself in the steps that come after is just as important.
It’s an iterative process—listen to your audience and analytics to take that feedback into creating the next video. But you’ll need to go live with your video and find yourself an audience first.
There are several fields and settings you’ll need to fill out before you can make your video visible. Some of these play a significant role in your video’s reach once it’s live.
Here’s a quick checklist of what to pay special attention to:
- Write a catchy headline, including keywords your audience may search to find your video (70 characters max or the full title may not display on some screens).
- Write a description that includes keywords viewers may search in the first two lines (5,000 characters max).
- Enable chapter sections for longer videos to help viewers skim through.
- Select the relevant category and include two or three tags (cramming too many tags will hurt instead of help).
- Upload a custom thumbnail optimized to grab attention (many thumbnails feature one to four words of text to communicate at a glance).
- Add subtitles to increase your reach. (YouTube generates captions but you can upload an SRT file to ensure they’re error-free.)
While you can cross your fingers and leave your video’s fate to the YouTube algorithm, there are plenty of ways you can take things into your own hands to get more viewers and subscribers:
- Share your video in niche subcommunities that may be interested in it.
- Engage with other YouTubers in their comment section in an authentic non-spammy way.
- Share your video where you have a social media audience.
- Optimize your title and description to show up in YouTube and Google search results.
- Build an email list you can send new YouTube videos to.
- Embed your video on your blog if you have one.
Build a post-publishing playbook for promoting your YouTube videos so you can quickly move on to making the next one.
Feedback is essential for getting better at anything over time, and YouTube is no exception.
Analytics for a YouTuber are the equivalent of applause for any stage performer.
While racking up a large view count is great, there are two even more important feedback signals that help you align with YouTube’s own goal of YouTube of keeping people on their platform as long as possible:
- Watch time: The total number of minutes and hours your audience spent watching your video.
- Audience retention: The percentage of your total video that people watched to identify where viewers were most engaged and where they dropped off.
By figuring out how to produce videos that increase these metrics, you increase the odds of YouTube’s recommendation engine showing your videos to more people.
That doesn’t mean you should forget about what your existing audience has to say. They’re your best source of tangible feedback—like this comment on the Learn with Shopify channel that inspired some of the coverage in this very guide.
It’s a fine balance between serving up what your audience wants in order to grow and accommodating your own creative expression in order to keep from getting bored.
“I think it’s like any business, where if you have a good product and people like it, you want to keep putting out more of that product,” says Matt Dajer about how Yes Theory figures out what to create next. “The Abandoned series, the Asking Billionaires For Things series, you see that it works. Obviously, you don't want to overdo it so that your channel only becomes that thing, but you’ve got to give the audience what they want a lot of the time in order to keep doing what you want.”
4. Monetize your YouTube channel
Finally, we arrive back at where we started: Making money as a YouTuber.
The reason we started talking about money early on when defining your goals is that your niche and personal goals will influence which of these YouTube income streams you prioritize.
Join the YouTube Partner Program
You’ve likely heard you can make money from the ads that YouTube runs before, during, and around your videos. But you can’t opt into this from the jump.
You’ll need to satisfy some criteria first:
- 1,000 subscribers
- 4,000 hours of total watch time
- 0 active Community Guidelines strikes
Once approved, this can be a source of passive income, but by no means enough to rely on. Luckily, the following options can help you start monetizing before you hit that 1,000-subscriber mark.
Start an online store
The same creativity you apply to making content can also be applied to making products that you can sell to your audience.
You can sell:
- Digital products (courses, templates, creative licenses)
- Merch (t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, books)
- Services (consulting, coaching, designing)
- Print-on-demand products (design and sell products without holding or shipping inventory)
If you’re a sketch comedy channel, for example, you could create t-shirts around inside jokes for your community. If you’re an educational hub for your viewers, you can sell courses or templates.
Yes Theory chose to sell merch with a sub-brand called Seek Discomfort to promote its core message and help its community find each other in the world.
Zack Honarvar, who manages Yes Theory and works on the business side, recounts an example: “One of our fans wrote to us about how their flight got cancelled and the next flight was hours and hours away,” Zack says. “They saw someone at the gate wearing a Seek Discomfort hoodie. They ended up becoming really good friends with that person through those several hours that they were stranded at the airport together, just strictly over the fact that they were mutual fans of the channel.”
Make deals with brands
Depending on your creative values, working with brands on sponsored ads, affiliate marketing, or even content collaborations may either excite you or turn your stomach.
As a creator, you ultimately have control, and brand deals are one of the most popular ways to make money on YouTube, whether it’s getting “paid” in free products or several thousands of dollars for a full video.
Yes Theory does the occasional sponsored video—being both careful and creative when it comes to choosing the right partners and not banging their audience over the head with an ad, or “selling out.” They recognize that it's just something they can't avoid, but want to approach it in a way that’s respectful of their audience.
I totally understand selling out in terms of we’re not going to have ExxonMobile sponsor us. It’s going to be a brand we like and we know the people from.
Shopify has worked on many collaborations with YouTubers over the years, including Yes Theory and Unnecessary Inventions featured below.
Smash that Subscribe button on your YouTube career
Telling people that you want to drop everything to become a full-time YouTuber used to earn you one of these looks: 🙁
Now, more people take YouTubers and creators seriously, with no shortage of success stories, big and small.
Whatever your definition of success is for your YouTube channel, you can “hit subscribe” on it today and take the first step of your journey.