7 Steps to Starting Your YouTube Channel in 2020
Avoid common mistakes and put your best foot forward.
YouTube has fascinated people since its launch in 2005. For the first time, it allowed regular people to broadcast themselves and have a platform to share their talents, opinions, and lives with the world. Nowadays, having a YouTube channel is considered a legitimate business marketing strategy, and there are tens of thousands of creators who do YouTube as their full-time job.
With the COVID crisis keeping everyone indoors for the last few months, many people have been taking up new hobbies to fill up their extra time at home. Things like art supplies and camera gear are selling out all over the place, and if you’ve stumbled upon this article, perhaps you’re one of the people asking yourself: should I start a YouTube channel during lockdown?
In this article, I’ll take you through 7 important steps to starting your own YouTube channel in 2020. Let’s begin.
1. Figure out what your channel is going to be about
What is the purpose of your YouTube channel? Why should people watch? Are you going to educate, motivate, entertain? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before you start your channel. Maybe you just want to make videos for fun, and you don’t care about getting views or subscribers, in which case that’s fine! You can go ahead and start posting right now and skip this article. But if you want to give your channel a chance to grow a fanbase, it needs to have at least some semblance of a purpose in mind.
Now, a lot of YouTubers spend time experimenting with different types of content in the beginning before they decide on a “niche”, so if you’re not quite sure what your answers to the aforementioned questions are, then you might want to take the common YouTube advice to “make 100 shitty videos.” Just pick up your camera and start recording.
But if you have a very specific skillset, talent, or knowledge that you can share, if there’s a specific topic you could just go on and on about forever … then you might have found your “thing” already, and you can skip that step of initial confusion about what exactly it is that you’re making, and move right along to establishing yourself within your chosen niche.
2. Choose your channel name
Your YouTube channel name is one of the first pieces of branding that your audience will see when they land on your channel page, and the thing they search for to find your channel in YouTube search. That’s why it’s crucial to come up with something memorable and consistent. YouTube does allow you to change your channel name if you want to, but ideally, if you’ve chosen a good one, you won’t have to do this.
A lot of creators choose to use their own name or a nickname for their channel. This is a great option because it allows for you to potentially pivot your content and rebrand later down the line, without having to change your name. After all, as a solo creator, your entire channel revolves around you — your personality, your videos, your knowledge. You are the constant. And while you might change as a person, and your content might change, in most cases your name will not. So this option allows you a lot of wiggle room as far as the future evolution of your channel, content, and branding.
If you don’t want to use your name or nickname for your YouTube channel, make sure whatever you choose will grab your target audience’s attention, reflects the type of content you’re going to be making, and allows for a bit of flexibility within your content. Try to think ahead to the possibility of other topics you might want to explore on your channel in the future.
3. Choose your aesthetic
Once you’ve chosen your channel name and content category, it’s time to create a brand. But what is a brand?
Put simply, your brand is the identity that you portray online. This can be things like inside jokes you share with your subscribers, or a special catchphrase you use all the time (think PewDiePie’s “brofist” or grav3yardgirl’s “sippy sippy”).
But another crucial part of your brand is the visual aesthetics. This includes everything from your editing style to your channel art — how you color grade your videos, the decor in your filming room, your thumbnails, channel icon, and channel banner.
As a beginner YouTuber, unless you were already very videography- and editing-savvy to begin with, it’ll probably be easiest to get your branding across through still images.
Spend some time thinking about your aesthetic — what “vibes” do you want your channel to portray? Is it going to be classic and minimalist? Bold and exciting? Sweet and playful? How do you want your audience to feel when they look at your channel art? Make sure this makes sense for the type of content you’re creating. For example, if you’re making travel and adventure videos, it doesn’t make sense to use very muted and calming colors.
The ultimate goal here is for your channel’s imagery to be easily recognizable and consistent, and also to communicate the purpose and the energy of your videos, so that when your existing audience sees your thumbnail on their homepage, they know it’s your video, and when new potential subscribers see it, it gives them a sense of what they can expect from you.
A good place to start is to decide on a color palette — four or five colors you will use frequently in your thumbnails and channel art to tie them all together; and also a handful of fonts that you like and will use repeatedly. You don’t want to confuse your audience by constantly changing the style of your channel art from one video to the next.
Taking a short graphic design course on a platform like Skillshare, or even for free on YouTube, could be really helpful here, to introduce you to the basic concepts of design and help you zero in on your personal style.
Use the principles you learn to create a channel banner (the image you see at the top of the screen on your YouTube channel home page), choose a photo or create a logo for your channel icon, and create your thumbnails moving forward.
4. Come up with 10 video ideas
If there’s one thing you need to be a YouTuber, it’s a bottomless well of creative ideas. To prepare for the launch of your new channel (and determine whether you have what it takes to do YouTube) jot down at least 10 video ideas to start with. Make sure these fit in with your chosen niche and make sense when you put them all together.
For my channel, I’ve found it really helpful to have a running list of YouTube video ideas to choose from. They don’t all have to be good ideas, but just the practice of coming up with them and jotting them down in a notebook helps your brain think more creatively and makes it easier to come up with more — and better — ideas in the future. My list currently has over 50 ideas on it.
When you find yourself in a slump, as all creators do, this comfy nest of ideas from your former, less creatively exhausted brain, can be a great place to start, that helps ensure that you don’t have to scramble desperately for ideas and come up blank like a deer in the headlights.
5. Think about your audience
In the very first point on this list, we talked about purpose. The best videos are the ones that are created with the audience in mind. You need to look at your video concept and consider: What problem am I solving? Why would the viewer want to watch this video? What will they get out of it?
With over 500 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute, it’s crucial to stand out by bringing value to your viewers. What does that mean? It means, don’t waste their time.
If your channel is about comedy, and your viewers are coming in for a good laugh at the end of a long day, be funny. If you’re making tutorials to teach your audience how to fix something, do it in the least amount of time possible, while giving them all of the valuable information they need — solve their problem in a clear and concise way. If you’re entertaining through storytime videos about crazy things that have happened to you, don’t tell bad stories.
This sounds like obvious advice, but humans are inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed. We can’t help it. From our individual perspective, we are the center of our own universe, and a platform like YouTube can make it easy to get caught up in the performance of it all. We’re tempted to think, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m doing stuff! Here, watch!” without stopping to consider the person watching us, and what they’re getting out of this exchange.
The vast majority of YouTube videos fall under one of two categories: entertainment, and education, or in the best case, a combination of both. You need to figure out which of these categories your videos fall under, and then do that thing well. If you’re making videos for entertainment purposes, work to really captivate your audience. Edit out the dull and slow moments in the video where you can anticipate your audience’s attention dropping off, and bring a lot of personality and interest into it.
If you’re making educational videos, don’t be boring! We all know from our experiences during high school that a fun and engaging teacher can make the most boring subjects feel exciting and interesting, while an unpleasant teacher can make us hate our favorite subject. Don’t drag on, make sure you speak using a dynamic voice, and provide information that is genuinely useful and interesting. And again, bring personality into it if you can.
6. Introduce Yourself
The more easily people can figure out what you’re all about, the more likely they are to subscribe, which is why making a great channel trailer or channel intro is crucial! First impressions are important, and your first YouTube video is an opportunity to tell the viewer who you are and why they should watch your content. Start building a personal connection! There’s a reason why “about me” videos are often among the first videos that people post on their channels — because you don’t want to be just some random person who appeared on the YouTube platform out of nowhere and started making videos without anybody knowing a single thing about them.
Instead, acknowledge your newness to the platform. Treat it as if you’re meeting a new person for the first time. You don’t just start talking about whatever it is you wanna talk about right off the bat and ask them to follow you on YouTube. You start with icebreakers like, “What’s your name? What do you do? What are your hobbies?”
On YouTube, it’s your job to break the ice for your audience. Start a conversation, and help them get to know you in a clear and concise way so that they can easily determine whether or not they should subscribe.
YouTube gives you the option to choose a specific video to put on the landing page of your channel that plays automatically when someone new stumbles upon your page. This is your channel trailer. A successful channel trailer is between 30 seconds to two minutes long, and effectively communicates who the channel is for and what viewers can hope to gain by watching.
If the nature of your content makes it difficult to form a clear answer to these questions in an engaging way (for example if you make vlogs or comedy skits) then you can also choose to feature any video that you’re particularly proud of and that you think gives people a good taste of what your videos are like.
7. Be consistent
The internet moves fast, and especially now that people are at home and spending more time on YouTube than ever before, your audience is going to expect new content from you on a regular basis.
Being consistent can look different for different channels, and it’s important to keep in mind the balance between quality and quantity. YouTube creator James Jani posted his first video seven months ago. At the time that I’m writing this, he has only posted nine videos, all but one of which have over 100k views, three of which have over one million views, and his channel overall has almost 400,000 subscribers.
Nine videos in seven months is very few by YouTube standards, so why is this guy so successful? It’s because his videos cover topics that deeply fascinate people, they include practical information, and they are incredibly well researched and carefully edited. He has put in MASSIVE amounts of work into every piece of content he’s released so far, and it shows, which is why he can get away with posting videos weeks or months apart — his subscribers know it’s worth the wait, and the YouTube algorithm knows that everything he makes is gold, so the algorithm promotes his content to new viewers every single time.
On the flip side, you have daily vloggers. Depending on the size of their team and the amount of money they have to invest into equipment, videographers, and editors, daily vlogs tend to be a category of video that is a bit lower in production value, at least to begin with, because it’s extremely difficult and time-consuming to film, edit, and post a new video every single day, especially if you’re working a full-time job on top of that. Creators such as Casey Neistat have certainly honed their craft and mastered the art of daily vlogging as an art form, but these are outliers. The majority of daily vloggers tend to attract a younger audience, either because of their outrageous and over-the-top personalities, or their flashy, luxurious lifestyles, or both.
Both of these examples are extreme and are unlikely to pay off for the average new YouTuber. Post too little and it’s hard to get traction. Post too much and the quality of your videos, as well as your life, will suffer. A good rule of thumb that most creators suggest is to post at least once a week. Bonus points if you can plan your creative schedule well enough to post on the same day, at the same time every single week.
Whatever upload schedule and frequency you choose, it’s safe to say that your channel has the best chance to thrive when your audience knows they have quality videos to look forward to. Plants stop growing when you stop watering them, and YouTube channels are no different.
Starting YouTube is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, excitement, disappointment, technical difficulties, and learning more skills than you’ve ever had to learn in your life. There’s more to it than I could ever hope to cover in a single article. But these steps should give you a good foundation to put you best foot forward when starting your YouTube channel and avoid some of the mistakes that I, and so many other creators, have made along the way.
The internet is a fickle thing, and your efforts may not always be rewarded, but if YouTube is something you’re really passionate about, that shouldn’t matter. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a chance to create a community that loves the same things you love, to help someone learn something, put a smile on a stranger’s face, and make your mark in the world. So even if things take a while to come together, push through that self-doubt, and give it everything you can.
Just keep creating.