Last month, October 2023, my YouTube channel and my blog together generated about $2,500. Which ain’t too shabby, considering that I currently only have 952 amazing subscribers. And if you are familiar with the requirements to be a part of the YouTube Partner Program, you know you need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours within a year.
That means, to date, I haven’t received a shiny dime from YouTube HQ. So how am I making money you might ask? I will tell you. In this article (and the accompanying video) I will share how I have been able to monetize my tiny platform, snd what you can do to generate a decent amount of income from a relatively small audience.
#1 Affiliate links and referral programs
About once a week I’ll get an email letting me know that I made a sales commission from Recut – which is an app I use to simplify my video editing workflow. I found it a while ago, I used it, I loved it, and I made a video to show how it works. And in the description of the video, I included an affiliate link. Anytime someone visits the Recut website through that link and makes a purchase, I get credit for the sale and the developer sends me a little bit of cash in exchange for sending them a paying customer.
And the best part is – I published that review almost 2 years ago now. My job is done. But it’s still relevant and helpful content, people are still watching it (or reading the blog post), and using my link. And Recut keeps making deposits to my PayPal account.
I’m a part of several other affiliate programs. And anytime I publish, say, a review of a book, or a how-to video that uses certain tools or services, I’ll see if there’s an affiliate program available.
Amazon Associates is a very popular affiliate program because they carry just about everything. And if someone uses your link – even if they don’t end up buying the product you linked to, you’ll get a small commission for ANYTHING they purchase during their shopping session.
In most cases, you need to apply to be an affiliate. I usually check the company’s website footer and see if there’s a link for an affiliate program, and they’ll typically have a simple form to fill out. Some brands are more selective with who can join – they’ll want to make sure you’re a good fit for their brand, or meet certain audience size requirements. Other companies are less picky and will essentially beg you to refer new users. Sometimes you’ll find a “Refer a friend” link right in the product dashboard.
Once you sign up and get approved to be an affiliate, you will be given a custom URL or promo code you can use to refer new users. Grab the link and include it along with any related content you publish. Just be sure to disclose that it’s an affiliate link and abide by any other rules the platform has for affiliate content.
And my personal rule: Only link to a product or service that you would be happy to promote even if you weren’t getting paid to promote it.
Only link to a product or service that you would be happy to promote even if you weren’t getting paid to promote it.
– Just some guy
Don’t sell your soul or lead others into a poor purchasing decision in exchange for a few bucks.
Also, people are pretty good at sniffing out a shill and engage much better to honest and genuinely helpful content.
Same rule applies to monetization method #2.
#2 Endorsements and advertising
If you watch the video version of this article, you may notice a little label appear at the beginning. That is to let you know that someone paid me to promote their brand. In this case, it’s Relay – my business bank. I opened an account with Relay a few years ago, and I was really happy with the platform back then, and I’m really happy with the platform today. There’s no minimum balance requirements, and they keep adding features that make it super simple manage your money. If you are a fan of the Profit First Method, you will love Relay – in fact they are the official banking platform of Profit First. One of my favorite features is that you can open multiple accounts and use their Profit First auto-transfer rule to regularly divvy up your business income into your Profit, Tax, Owner’s Pay and Operating Expense accounts.
A while back I posted an in-depth review of Relay that started to get a lot of attention. In fact, it’s the single most viewed video on my channel. Originally, I wasn’t an affiliate with Relay – they didn’t even have a referral program for a while. But when they launched one, you can bet I wanted to take advantage of that. And long story short, even though I didn’t have a huge audience, the content I produced was effective at driving a lot of qualified leads in their direction. The marketing team at Relay took notice of that, and have since asked to sponsor several of my videos.
Endorsements are valuable for both parties – the business gets a shout out from someone the viewers trust, and the creator doesn’t necessarily have to drop what their doing and produce a full-blown commercial for the company. Case in point: This isn’t an about business banking, but maybe that’s something you’d be interested in learning more about.
Again, I don’t have a massive audience, but I have a relevant audience. I can’t guarantee my sponsors a huge number of eyeballs or eardrums. But my sponsors can trust that most of the people engaging with my content are entrepreneurs and small business owners, folks trying to grow their side gig into their central gig, people who are trying to figure out how they can use their YouTube channel and other content to generate an income, and when they do…. well, maybe they’ll want to open an account with Relay. And if they sign up with my link sidekick.show/relay, they’ll get a $30 bonus after they make their first deposit.
I’m just saying.
Who is engaging with your content? And what businesses might be willing to a little something to get in front of your audience?
Speaking of your audience…
#3 Crowdfunding and Community Sponsorships
Monetization method #3: You can get paid directly by your audience through crowdfunding and community sponsorships. Platforms like Patreon and Buy Me A Coffee allow people send tips and gifts, or join paid memberships to get access to exclusive content.
I set up a Buy Me A Coffee account where people can pay what they want for a “Pick My Brain” coaching session, or just send a little bit of coffee money because they benefited from something I created. It doesn’t get a ton of use right now, but if I was to lean more into regular content creation and community building I would probably explore setting up a paid membership option with one of these tools.
You don’t need a massive following. You just need a passionate following.
I started listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast with Pat Flynn years ago. But only recently started following his other channel – Deep Pocket Monster. My boys have gotten into Pokemon, which got me back in to Pokemon, and we started checking out a few of Pat’s livestreams where he’ll open up packs and run giveaways. It’s free to the public, but there’s an option to join his “Gem Mint Club” for $5 a month to get access to more giveaways. So there is an incentive – there’s a chance you might win a valuable card during one of these streams. But as I’m watching, I’ll see people sending tips and buying memberships to gift to others (which would actually decrease their own odds of winning a members-only giveaway) – so obviously it’s not just the profit motive. It’s the excitement and the energy around this hobby, and Pat does a great job to capture that and create a family-friendly experience. And people are willing to support that.
This might not be the best example as far as scale is concerned. Deep Pocket Monster is a large channel. But maybe you can think of a way you create an experience or a place for a community to gather, and give them the option to support you. And if they do, receive it. Because not everybody has the ability or the desire that you do to put in the work and create the content, but some folks won’t want to settle for just being passive consumers. Sending gifts or joining paid memberships is a way that they can contribute and be a small part of building this thing they love and benefit from.
But even if you do end up succeeding as a full-time creator and building a loyal community around your content, find ways to move people off the platform and onto your own site.
#4 Sell your own products and services
One of my original goals for this channel was to build something of a personal brand and raise awareness for the business I was starting around the same time I posted my first video. I’ve since learned how to generate a small income directly from the channel, and I really enjoy creating content for you guys.
YouTube is not a business. That is, it isn’t your business. Leverage it as much as you possibly can to build an audience, generate some ad revenue, and affiliate income. But understand, YouTube or any other social media platform for that matter is under any obligation to pay you or even keep you on the platform. If you’re making good content and growing an audience and getting people to stay on their site and watch ads, then it’s in their best interest to keep you around – but we’ve all seen it happen: With or without cause, people’s accounts get demonetized or suspended. Policies change, moderators flag something, malicious actors mass report you, stuff happens. You’re on borrowed land and you’re not guaranteed I’ll be here tomorrow.
I need to diversify and have another place where you guys can find me and continue to interact with my content.
And better yet, I need another business through which I can generate an income from. And I do! Which is good. not only because of the risks I just mentioned, but because monetizing content is a long game. I didn’t make my first dollar from Self-Employment Sidekick until well over a year into this experiment.
And I still consider it an experiment.
I am excited and grateful for the growth I’ve experienced, for everyone who decided I’m worth their time enough to subscribe and leave an encouraging comment, and I’m very thankful to folks like the team at Relay who took a chance on a small creator and have helped make it possible for me to produce more helpful content for people like yourself.
But this doesn’t pay the mortgage. This is all just bonus.
I made $2,500 last month. This month I’m on track for… drum roll please… half of that. There’s a lot that’s out of my hands. Affiliate programs can end. Sponsors can leave. And if this ever does grow to the point where it can replace my other sources of income, I’m going to keep those other sources of income. Because it’s incredibly important to diversify – now more than ever.
Sell t-shirts, stickers, online courses, coaching sessions, recipes, bird houses, custom 3D printed bobble heads, web site design services, haikus, anything. And then use your content to show off the incredible value you provide and tell people how they can do business with you.
If you try to make YouTube or your other content your main source of income prematurely, you’re going to find yourself making a lot of bad decisions. I’ve seen people literally beg people for subs, offer to exchange watch hours with other YouTubers, or even pay to boost their videos… to people who probably aren’t the right audience. If you need to beg, trade, or pay for eyeballs, you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re definitely not doing it sustainably. Those efforts are going to end up costing you more money than you’ll ever get a return on.
Less than one quarter of 1% of people on YouTube make any money from YouTube.
So set realistic expectations for yourself, take your time ,do it right, create content around something you are genuinely interested in, and make it genuinely interesting! Think about why you watch or read something – and make sure those things are present in your own content. Make sure it’s educational and/or entertaining. But in the meantime, make sure you have another way to support yourself and your family. Because that’s what this is all for, right?
On that note, if you need help with growing and marketing your business, you can learn about my coaching, web design, and digital marketing services at davidsteininger.com.