Jeff Horne gives his no-nonsense, step-by-step guide to starting a YouTube channel, including top tips for video production. Spoiler – it’s ok to make mistakes!
So, you want to start a YouTube channel but you don’t know where to start? We’ve all been there. I’ve started multiple YouTube channels, only one of which is still active.
There are lessons you learn when you start your own YouTube channel, which can seem so obvious after you’ve made the mistakes. If you only took a few simple steps before you started you’d save yourself a load of time, frustration, and might even have fewer grey hairs…I can’t promise the last one, it’s possible I was going grey anyway.
I’ll break it down into ‘Techie stuff’ and ‘Content stuff’.
First, the potentially boring, but all important:
YouTube is a game of attention. YouTubers tend to front load their videos with something exciting, interesting, pretty or controversial right at the beginning. This isn’t just habit, it’s responding to the stats. The first few seconds have to grab attention or you’ve lost – they’ll click away. There are so many other clickable items on the page that you’re constantly fighting for the attention of the viewer.
If you get someone to watch right to the end of a video, you have indeed ascended to Valhalla and will be rewarded. Most videos have people starting to click away halfway through or less. But there’s one thing that, if done badly, will lose viewers faster than anything…
You must be heard. I don’t mean conceptually, I mean practically. I’ve watched through full 20-minute landscape photography vlogs where I could barely see what was happening (because it looks like they were filming with a potato), but I could hear every word they said. The reverse is not true.
If someone can’t hear you, there is no engagement. They will leave. Even if you’re shooting on a phone, get an external microphone. It doesn’t have to be super expensive. But it is the first thing on any video makers shopping list. I think my lav mic (Lavalier – small, clips on to something near your face) cost about £20. Good enough. You can spend hundreds. Don’t bother.
Instead, spend it on:
Only the most experienced and diligent YouTubers shoot barely any more content than they show. Someone like Casey Neistat, for example (worth a look, particularly the New York vlogs), makes a point of using the shot even if he misspeaks. But to begin with, you’ll want to keep doing it again, and all those retakes take up space on your device.
You don’t want your phone or camera to keep filling up forcing you to selectively delete files you really need. Likewise, you don’t want your entire channel to come to a screeching halt when you drop your phone down the toilet.
Data management isn’t sexy, but it is vital. Backup your data. I habitually keep all my files in at least 4 different places. You don’t have to go that far, but at least one external hard drive is a must. Make it an SSD (solid-state drive, not cloud) if you can. All hard drives are not created equal. Large capacity does not mean that it’s fast enough to actually edit with.
You don’t have to have this many hard drives, but it’s worth spending some time, effort and money getting your data sorted now. Otherwise, there will come a day, one day when you really don’t want to do it, when you have to spend hours on end putting your footage somewhere in a sane and organised place.
Camera/device with lens
I’m not a kit guy, never have been. I want the tool that does the job. I’m not interested in how cool it is, or how new it is. Use whatever you have. As mentioned in point 1, unless your channel is actually about quality video or you’re showing details on things, no one cares what kind of camera it was filmed on.
I recently taught someone to get started with a camera that was released in 2012. Nothing wrong with it for video and, in fact, pretty much perfect for YouTube. It was in a cupboard doing nothing.
You want it to be FullHD (1920×1080 pixels) but there’s honestly no need to go higher. 4k YouTube video is completely unnecessary for 95% of people – most watch on laptops that don’t go that high anyway.
If you use a phone, you’ve got two choices – neither of which are ideal, but you pays your money and you takes your choices.
- You can use the main camera on the back of the phone. From a visual quality perspective, this is the best choice because that camera/those cameras will be better quality than the front-facing camera, but you won’t be able to see yourself so framing will be tricky.
- You can see use the lower quality front-facing camera and you’ll be able to see yourself. The main problem there (which is very, very annoying as an audience member) is when people look at the screen through the whole video rather than the lens, so it looks like they’re looking off to the side.
If you have an actual photography camera, it’ll definitely have a video function if it was released in the last decade or so. Depending on the manufacturer, it might have a flippy out screen so you can see what you’re doing. Panasonic, Olympus, Canon and some Sony, some Fuji – probably got a flip-out screen. Nikon, most Sony, most Fuji – probably no flip-out screen.
As it happens my video camera doesn’t have one (Sony). I use an external monitor to frame up the shot and just talk to the lens – if doing a piece to camera. But that’s an unnecessary expense for most. The best way to make sure it’s pointing at someone all the time is to get someone to film it for you.
This is a tricky one. TVs are a ratio of 16×9, so a frame size of 1920×1080 is the best fit. However, phones tend to be 9×16. Instagram likes 1×1, or square. Unless you want to film everything 3 times to use it across platforms, it probably pays to generally try to keep the important stuff in the middle. But because this is actually about YouTube, I can get away with saying 1920×1080 (16×9 ratio) is best.
Moving on to…
The content stuff
People like to know when you’re going to release a video. Be consistent. When you get a following you can start using self-promotional tools like ‘premieres’ but until then, make sure you audience know when they’re likely to see new content.
What comes with that is your ability to produce it for the foreseeable future. Your aim is to build up over time through consistency, so saying you’re going to post every day, doing so for a week and then dropping down to random releases every few weeks won’t do you any favours.
The sweet spot seems to be once a week. I find that too tough to stick to. Once every two weeks can work. Once a month will make it difficult to build a community.
So… what can you make videos about? You want to assume at least 6 months where no-one interacts with anything or gives any feedback so it’s all you. At once a week that’s 26 videos. Start making some lists! Think about your topic areas and break them down into sub topics.
Really spend some time thinking about this. Consistency is important. This is your space on YouTube and no-one can tell you how to be. If you want to be a bit of a character, larger than life, super enthusiastic etc, then that’s fine. But it has to be in every video. If you want to try to be amusing in your videos, that’s a tricky thing to get right and you can spend more time trying to think of amusing scenarios than getting the message across. The last thing you want is to come across as someone trying to be funny but not. My advice – be yourself. Be an interesting and engaging version of yourself, but yourself nonetheless.
This tends to divide people because for some, their first instinct is that people shouldn’t need music playing to keep their attention. It’s up to you. I use music in all my videos. In fact, the music often drives my videos. You can’t use commercial music in your videos though – there is a copyright strike system in place: three strikes and your channel gets shut down.
There are various music libraries, specifically for online video. Usually with a monthly subscription of around £10 per month. There are some free resources though, to get you started. There’s a guy call Kevin Macleod (Not the Grand Designs fella) who has been producing freely available music for about two decades now. Most of them only need a mention of him in your video description.
YouTube has a free music library. It used to be absolutely dreadful, but has got a lot better in recent years. Interestingly, even though it’s supplied by YouTube, most of the tracks are freely usable anywhere – which means you can have an edit for YouTube, one for Instragram, one for LinkedIn, one for Facebook etc and keep the same music in all.
If you’re going to use music, pay attention to the way it starts and stops…as in…don’t make it just start and stop! Fade it in and out.
We’re not competing with Hollywood here so I won’t go too much into it here, but try to keep yourself either in the middle of the frame or with a bit of space on the left if you’re on the right, or vice versa.
Titles and thumbnails
They’re important. YouTube is owned by Google, so the whole thing is just a search engine. You want the video title to be easy to search for. Descriptive but pithy, intriguing but not click-baity.
The thumbnail is massively important. Once your title and keywords have got you on a search results page, you want to be clicked on. Look around and see what style would make you click on it, or more specifically what will make your audience click on it. The words in the thumbnail do not have to be the same as the title of the video itself.
Here are a few from my channel.
You’d think that once the viewer has made it to the video itself, it’s all about just that, but people read descriptions as they’re watching. You can, and should, use hashtags in your video descriptions because they’re part of the search, as is all the copy. So make it relevant.
There are some companies who charge something like $1 per minute to transcribe your video for you. If you’ve got the money, fine. I find that with my accent the auto-generated subtitles are correct more than 90% of the time, where they’re not, you can edit them.
Worth keeping in mind that subtitles are part of the video, and are therefore searchable…which is why people continuously mention the key thing in their video even though you’re already watching it.
Bonus – what not to do on YouTube
Try not to:
- Remove all the ‘erms’. No need. You’re a human. Present yourself like a human
- Read word for word of a script. It sounds a bit stilted and unnatural, because it is
- Use just one camera position. You’re not making a podcast. Sound is most important, but put some effort into how it looks.
- Constantly ask for likes, subscribes and notifications. It really gets people’s backs up. They know how YouTube works. The occasional reminder is fine, but if the one thing they remember after watching your video is that you want them to “like” it, you’ve missed the mark.
- Move the camera too much. No-one’s arms are that steady. A tripod will help, but really anything you can trust to balance your camera will do the trick.
That’s it! Go and film some stuff. There has never been and there will never be a perfect YouTube video, so don’t waste your time polishing to the nth degree. If ever there was a scenario where the 80/20 rule was appropriate – it’s YouTube (if you can spend 20% effort producing something that’s 80% complete, do it).
The most important thing is to present yourself how you want to be presented (ideally as you actually are). If you can produce consistent, beautiful, useful, valuable, interesting, honest and easy to follow content, you’ve done your job. If you can do most of those in each video, you’re doing well.
About the Author
I’m a photographer and video maker from Sussex with a background in digital content management and web user experience. I work with fitness and corporate clients as well as providing body confidence & empowering boudoir photo/video experiences.
Jeff is a member of the Big Bee Hive, our trusted freelancer crew. Learn more about Jeff: