How I Grew a YouTube Channel to 8+ Million Views and Sold It
And how to replicate the process.
YouTube is an amazing website. Despite the problems, it gave everyone the opportunity to become video creators. I was one of those people. For three years, I lived and breathed YouTube. In 2018, I sold my channel to a larger company in my niche. And this is how I did it. If you’re curious, you can find the channel here. I’m no longer affiliated with it, but many of my old videos still remain public. Including many of the most popular ones.
These are all the things I did to grow and market my channel. I never spent a cent on shoutouts or ads. All the growth was organic. And these are the things you can do to achieve similar results. And some of my own advice sprinkled in.
Finding something you love
There is a lot of money to be made on YouTube. Even having mild success like mine had a huge impact on your personal life. Despite coming from a lower middle-class home, I never had to work a job during my time in college. All thanks to YouTube revenue.
But many people see the dollar signs and instantly imagine they’re going to be driving sports cars in a few weeks after opening their channel. Unless you get extremely lucky, this won’t be the case. There is a lot of work involved. And it won’t happen fast. Want your first 1k subscribers? It took me a year and over 100 videos to get there. Does YouTube still sound appealing?
That’s why it’s important to pick a topic or niche you’re passionate about. If you pick whatever hot trendy topic everyone’s talking about, you’re going to fail in the long-run. Getting a YouTube channel off the ground takes way more effort than you can imagine. And you simply cannot fake interest in the content you create. If your heart isn’t in it, the audience will know it.
The good news is that you can be selective about the niche you pick. Each person has many interests. I can think of at least 7 or 8 things I could create a channel about. You’ll want to figure out what it is that you care about.
Make a list. And be completely honest with yourself. Draw inspiration from the channels you already watch. And even ask yourself how long you’ve been interested in this or that topic. If it’s less than a year, it might just be a phase.
I eventually landed in horror. I’d always been a fan since I was a kid watching The Grudge (remember that?!). I’d been an avid listener from the day I discovered the horror community, so I knew I could stick with it.
Find a community
Many people skip this step. And they shouldn’t. It can make your creator journey miserable. Finding a community is like finding proof of concept for content. If you can find people who make a certain kind of video, then you can easily enter that community.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Pick a community. Find what works and copy from the best. You read that right. Copy the best channel or two in the community.
However, “copy” does not mean plagiarizing or becoming a clone. If you’re truly passionate about that channel, you should know what kind of content would resonate with their audience. After all, what would you want to watch?
This is exactly how I got the hang of making videos. I literally copied the exact topics my favorite narrators had already covered. And this was a great way to get the hang of the process.
Learn the ropes
Creating videos is a very technical thing to do. And you simply need to put in the hours to get good. So, this is where you’ll simply create videos the best way you can. And improve upon that as much as possible.
Spend time optimizing your workflow. Find the best software for your needs. Automate & simplify everything you possibly can. If anyone in your niche has a video where they discuss how they make videos, watch it and take notes. It’s going to help. A lot.
You can normally find stuff like this on their second/vlog channel if they have one. If not, try to reach out via email or social media.
This phase of your journey will determine how easy it is for you to create content in the future. How quickly you can turn an idea into a YouTube video.
Personally, I think this is going to be the most important part of your journey. Just getting down your formula for creating videos. Taking an idea floating around in your head and turning it into a real video people online can watch. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Practicing your craft is super important in any field. But it’s especially important for YouTube. There are so many things you need to learn. Just to list of a couple things
- Picking a video topic (domain knowledge)
- Creating an eye-catching thumbnail
- Writing a script with good pacing & great info
- Recording the video
- Editing the video
- Adding visuals like stock footage or animations
- Editing the audio
- Rendering for YouTube
- SEO & keyword targeting
Practice these things as much as you can stand it. Your muscle memory for doing each individual task will get better. You’ll get ideas more quickly. Your brain will slowly start to rewire itself. But you absolutely must put in the hours doing these things.
One of the best strategies is to create videos in bulk. Let’s say anywhere between 5–10 videos. And then run through your process for each of them. It will help you get better at the individual processes faster. And it will save you time in the long run. Doing tasks in bulk can easily double or triple your output. Another important thing worth mentioning is keyboard shortcuts.
You’ll want to learn the 3–5 most important shortcuts and burn them into your brain. It will save you a lot of time & mental energy down the road.
Personally, I even go so far as to create custom keyboard commands for things I frequently use. For example, I regularly need to resize images in my videos. So, I mapped that command to CTRL + Shift + P in my video editor (Sony Vegas 14 btw).
It might not be obvious which shortcuts will be useful right away. But again, you will realize with due time. Just be mindful of your creation process and you will figure it out.
A lot of YouTube creators are guilty of getting stagnant with their workflow. They figure out one way to do it. And they stick with that for the rest of their lives. I’ve made that mistake myself.
After about two years of running my channel, I learned something that could have saved me thousands of hours. In my preferred audio editor, audacity, there’s an amazing feature. You can put all your favorite effects into one bulk action. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted manually applying 7 or 8 effects for every single video. But it’s a lot.
Do yourself a favor and put in this time upfront. Find these little optimizations before you make 200 videos. God only knows how much more I could have produced in that same time period.
Improve the space
Once you have the process down, this is where you break out. A good time to do this is when you’re somewhere between 2k and 20k subscribers. Once you at least have a small audience who will actually see your videos.
Find something about your niche and improve it.
I know this can be extremely difficult to do, but once you find something that works, it can set you apart and establish your channel.
I experimented quite a bit. But the thing that worked for me was including gaming footage in my videos. I had always been a gamer. In fact, I’d previously run multiple gaming YouTube channels. So, it seemed like a no-brainer.
And to my surprise, a lot of people really enjoyed the gaming footage. I mostly played horror games. But on occasion, I would play something else. This helped my videos accumulate watch time. And it made all the difference.
I also experimented with related images every few seconds, but that became extremely time-intensive. And more often than not, most of those videos flopped anyway. I tried quite a few of these little experiments. Some failed. Some changed the trajectory of my channel.
You don’t know what will work until you try it.
But by far, the best experiment I ever attempted was to write my own stories based on SEO analysis. I would find a topic that had a lot of interest, but not a lot of competition. Then, I would go full Dean Koontz and write the best story I could manage.
I’m not a naturally creative person. Writing was hard for me. But giving it an honest effort produced some of the most popular videos on the channel. You can find some of those here and also here. Oddly enough, none of these had gaming footage.
YouTube rewards creativity. Try something new. Put a new spin on your niche. But do not experiment forever. Many people fall into the YouTube hamster-wheel. Where they create the same kind of content forever. They grow. Slowly. But never breakout like they really want to.
Lots of good people fall into this trap. And I don’t want you to be one of them. If your experiment is not a roaring success then drop it and move on.
Selling the channel
The adpocalpyse of 2017 nearly decimated my channel’s revenue. Because of the long watch time of my videos, I was earning somewhere between 2k and 3k a month. After the adpocalpyse, that came crashing down to 2 or 3 hundred dollars a month.
I was in college at the time and hoped to do this for a living after I graduated. That didn’t seem possible anymore. The next couple of months were stressful and depressing. My channel was dying. And after the drop off in ad revenue, I became burnt out.
There’s a psychological reason behind this. I’m no expert, but this is my simple understanding. When you get paid to do something, you come to expect the payment. And when that payment is gone, it becomes near-impossible to bring yourself to continue doing it.
My uploads became less frequent. My views went down. Bringing myself to write or record anything was near impossible. Even if one of my videos performed really well, there was no guarantee that it would make any money.
There was one video that pushed me over the edge. I had a video get 150k+ views in just a few days. This would normally have been a home run for my channel. But it earned $3. After that point, sometimes weeks or entire months would go by without an upload. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Looking back, I should have given myself a break. I never truly stepped away. I was severely burned out and I should have just stopped for a few months. Put it out of my mind. And then come back to reassess the situation.
But I didn’t. I continued to the point where I genuinely considered deleting my channel. I knew myself and that would be the only way I could truly walk away and do something else. It was a pretty dark time.
My best advice here is to avoid burnout. If you feel stressed out and force yourself to keep creating videos, you will break just like I did. And you will regret it. Read more about burnout here.
It was during this phase that a company in my niche reached out. They had noticed my inactivity and were curious if I was willing to sell the channel. I remember getting the email when I was doing schoolwork at my campus library. I jumped at the opportunity.
They asked how much I would be willing to sell it for. And without doing any research or running any numbers, I responded to that email. I told them $2,000. I sold an 80k YouTube channel for a month of rent in a cheap apartment.
Of course, that was low. I’m not sure how much I could have gotten, but I should have done more research. Or thought about it more. Within a week, I cashed out and I was out of the horror game. For good.
But selling a YouTube channel is almost always a bad idea. Here’s why. YouTube channels are creator focused. Even a non-personal channel like mine made it hard. My former audience was not happy when I sold my channel. And I’m sure it was difficult for their team to retain my fans.
Let’s compare YouTube channels to blogs. You see, Blogs are known to sell for a lot. But they can easily be updated. And a writing style can be copied. But a voice cannot. Someone’s face cannot be copy & pasted to new uploads.
There’s a deep connection between a YouTube creator and their fans. And whenever the person behind the video changes, the audience drops off. So, buying a YouTube channel is mostly unprofitable. And this means people won’t be willing to pay for it.
I can’t change my decision. But I’m still happy things happened the way they did. This was a great learning experience. One that I won’t forget. And one that I hope you can internalize too.
Growing a YouTube channel is like riding a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re up. Sometimes you’re down. But it’s a crazy ride either way. This was my experience. If you’re a YouTuber or thinking of becoming one, I hope this was helpful.
So, in summary, here are my big takeaways.
- Pick something you love
- Find a community of creators
- Copy the best
- Improve the space with experiments
- Take time to consider before cashing out