The best part of making a video isn’t using an expensive camera or watching your name scroll along in the credits—it’s getting the opportunity to make an impact on your audience. Whether you’re aiming for the big screen or not, there are incredible resources widely available today that can help bring your video to the masses. Ten years ago, you needed a deal from a major distributor to get a real shot at viewers outside of your immediate family. Today, it’s as easy as uploading your content to a website with a few tags and a bit of strategy.

Of course, while finding distribution has never been easier, finding success through distribution has rarely been so complex. Rather than sitting back while specialized teams handle concepts like branding and monetization, the current generation of content creators must often make these decisions alone—by mastering entirely new skillsets formerly outside the realm of filmmaking.

This is perhaps no more evident than on YouTube.

YouTube is a unique platform for many reasons, the most important being that it’s owned by Google. This fact alone is probably ample reason to end this article here with “‘nuff said,” but it’s worth going even deeper.

Want to put your work in front of as many eyes as possible? YouTube attracts more than one billion unique users every month. In a given month, those users will watch more than six billion hours of video. Videos on YouTube also jump to the top of Google searches, as they’re part of the same family, making them excellent for SEO (search engine optimization) and a lot more discoverable than many competing distribution options.

With that in mind, it’s not as easy as it might sound to make it big. For starters, competition is high, as more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Competition also takes on many different forms. YouTube is home to established brands, vloggers, web series, tutorials, comedies, music videos, reality shows, prank videos, and everything else you can possibly add to a list.

One method of cutting through this competition (or, more accurately, using it to your advantage) comes from joining multi-channel networks (MCNs)—companies that represent many different YouTube channels to form a network for improving channel optimization, cross-promotion, marketing, audience development, and funding.

 

Working with Multi-Channel Networks on YouTube

According to Tim Goessling, a senior marketing associate at Fullscreen (the highest-subscribed MCN on YouTube), success on YouTube relies largely upon consistent upload schedules, a willingness to experiment with new formats, and constant awareness of best practices in keyword optimization, tags, video descriptions, and social links.

As an independent content creator, it’s on you to do everything within your power to be successful—but you don’t have to go at it alone. In addition to promoting your videos on social media, it helps to interact with other brands to leverage their networks as well.

“The fastest way to grow a channel on YouTube is by being connected to the community,” says Goessling. Unique views aren’t nearly as important as earning loyal followers who actively interact across channels.

 

Actually Generating Revenue on YouTube

Now that you know how to bring in the views, how do you convince the naysayers—including your own inner critic—that your channel can be more than just a hobby? That answer lies in YouTube’s monetization structure.

The most important step when monetizing your videos on YouTube is to make sure you have worldwide commercial usage rights to 100% of everything in your videos. Using licensed stock video and music can be a great way to improve your production quality while also protecting you from copyright violations. Too many copyright issues could cause your channel to be suspended, or worse—to lose ad revenue to a third party.

As long as your channel does not have any copyright strikes, you are eligible to become a YouTube Partner, which allows you to enable monetization for all of your content. Advertisers will pay a certain cost per thousand (CPM) to show ads on your videos. These figures aren’t huge, often less than $10 per thousand views for video ads, minus a 45% cut for YouTube. However, they certainly add up when you start counting views by the million.

There are also opportunities to increase your revenue by working with MCNs and attracting sponsors. Most high-end YouTubers agree that once you have the fan base, you should think about diversifying your brand. With multiple web series evolving into television success stories like Broad City (Comedy Central), Drunk History (Comedy Central), and AwesomenessTV (Nickelodeon), it’s possible for YouTube stars to use the platform as a jumping-off point with better opportunities and a bigger eventual payday.

 

Is YouTube the Right Platform for You?

Success on YouTube is ultimately dependent on the type of content you create as well as your end goal. If you’ve got one great short film you want to showcase, YouTube might not be the best place to distribute your work. It’s still possible to find an audience, but what consistently does best on YouTube is serialized, branded content. Spending the time to grow your subscribers and connect with the community will build a more sustainable fan base for your future projects.

There’s a lot of competition out there, but if you have a niche, chances are there’s a home for you on YouTube. Successful web series have attracted television network deals because they have already proven that they can draw an audience, so collaborating with other channels or joining a multi-channel network can unlock a lot of doors for future opportunities. You might not get rich quick (or ever), but as a launch pad, YouTube is an excellent way to make a name for yourself, build your fan base, and grow your brand to greater heights.

Adam Gillikin writes about self-distribution, stock footage, and the YouTube generation for VideoBlocks.

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