Making money on YouTube…or more likely not


Here is the screen that makes most folks think they can make money on YouTube. But it won’t do much for you.

People ask me about making money on YouTube all the time, but really only people who won’t. So my general advice is: “Don’t try. You’re not ready and neither is your audience.

Of course, this isn’t good enough for people who think they’ll be the next PewDiePie, Grace Helbig, or whoever.  So here’s a longer explanation on how you can figure out for yourself if you wanna try monetizing your YouTube content, and (something you’ll never hear from YouTube) what that decision can cost you.

First, please have a channel with some stuff on it. Don’t have one? Make one, post something, and come back. Until you have a channel yourself it’s a bit like asking how to win a NASCAR race if you’ve never even driven a car. Watching may be fun, but does not by itself help you understand how win the race.

Got a channel? Great.

  1. Look at how much traffic your YouTube channel is getting. Go to YouTube Analytics and see what your average views were in the last 30 days.
  2. Go look up how much you could earn if every one of those views was monetized. You can reasonably expect around $.25 – $2.00 per 1000 views (or .00025 per view, which is about the same as artists get on Spotify). There are outliers outside of this range (both higher and lower), and there are no guarantees that things will be the same in the future as they have been in the past, but that’s the going rate.
  3. Compare this with how much money you want to earn. HINT: it’s a number somewhere between your current monthly expenses and your “easy street” ideal.

For conversational purposes I’ll start at the bottom of the pay scale. Minimum wage in the US is $9.75/hr or $290/mo or $15,080 annually. Now that’s not enough to keep above the poverty line anymore, but if you want to look at making money doing anything, this is the ground floor of discussion.

The minimum wage result? About a million views a month.

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That means that unless you’re already getting a million views a month on your YouTube content, you’d be financially better off flipping burgers. And that’s without figuring the expenses to produce your content (McDonald’s provides an infrastructure & materials to their “creators”).

Now, I used to work for YouTube, and I can honestly say that have yet to see one use case where making money via the YouTube platform actually makes any sense for the individual creator. There are so many other off-platform things you can do that are way more lucrative and way easier. Hank Green (of the VlogBrothers) has a great article that speaks to this. YouTube doesn’t want you to think this way because they make money off of every monetized video (way more than you ever will).

I have actually experienced disincentives like losing subscribers because I stupidly tried to monetize content before I was ready, or more appropriately before my audience would put up with them. Of course no one at YouTube had ever heard of such a thing, because they have no reason to look for it. But I suspect, based on my personal experience managing a dozen YouTube Channels, that there is a dip in subscriber numbers directly following monetization at the channel level. Those who have enough momentum when they hit that dip can still succeed, those who don’t, simply fail.

Make-Money-from-YouTubeYouTube is an awesome tool, and some people absolutely do make a ton of money off of it. But everyone that I know of who does is also making way more money in other ways. A dirty little secret that Google would probably rather I didn’t tell you: YouTube is only tangentially related to creator income, even (especially?) for top creators. Like sports figures, actors, musicians, politicians, or other personalities, the real money comes from endorsements and backroom deals you’ll never hear about.

So, yeah. YouTube away, people! But please don’t click the Monetize button unless you already have a solid strategy and this click helps it along. When you stop and think about it, the entire AdWords model is based on distracting viewers away from your content, and drawing them off to other content. Given how watchtime is calculated on YouTube, I question whether allowing advertising is ever a worthy trade-off for individual creators.

The Bottom line is that no one wants to wait through the ads that won’t be enough for you to buy a cup of coffee with this month. So don’t make them do that, don’t click to monetize. Until you’ve got over a million views per month on your channel, you aren’t ready. If you are ready, let’s talk.

My advice for your YouTube Channel is to deliver value to your audience until you are ready to monetize, then figure out a better way to cash in on that than ads placed by YouTube.