Common issues that keep you under 1,000 subscribers

I recently heard a small YouTube creator complaining about how YouTube needs to update their algorithm to favor small YouTubers and not just “the big guys.” Other small creators chimed in and readily agreed, but I honestly have a different perspective on why small creators stay small and it has very little to do with YouTube’s algorithm.

If you’re a small creator, hopefully my thoughts here are encouraging to you and help you break out from under the 1,000 subscriber barrier.

First of all, let’s talk about that good ol’ YouTube algorithm.

Is the algorithm really geared for the large creators?

For context, I started my first channel in 2006 and grew my most recent personal channel from 0 to 10,000 subscribers in 1 year. It’s now about 3 years old and has well over 200,000 subscribers and millions views. It’s in a very narrow, small, specific niche, too, not something big and broad like gaming, vlogging, or beauty (ha! image me doing that!).

I’m now a YouTube Certified Consultant and work one-on-one with hundreds of creators, both small creators and those with millions of subscribers. Many of the smaller channels have a few common issues that keep them stuck in that subscriber bracket. Once they’re fixed, they start to exponentially grow. That proves to me that the problem is not algorithmic.

One client of mine came to me before he even started his channel. After 9 months, he’s now making $30,000 per month in Adsense revenue alone (yes, per month!). Another went from no channel at all to 16 million views per month in only 4 months. I don’t say that to point the finger at me — I say that to say: You can do this! If this guy who didn’t even have a YouTube channel can do it, so can you.

The algorithm is not the problem.

So what are those common issues that cause creators to feel stuck at under 1,000 subscribers?

1. Poor branding.
This goes far beyond a simple blog post, but think much broader than logos, header images, and branded bumpers. Essentially it’s answering the questions, “Who specifically is this content for?” and, “Why should that person care?” Why does your channel matter? What difference does it make in that person’s life? What’s their motivation for wanting to subscribe to your channel in the first place? How easily does your channel answer those subconscious questions for them? How well is that “branding” integrated into your content and channel? A good brand makes someone feel something, ideally that connects with something the audience deeply believes.

2. Poor titles and thumbnails.
It doesn’t matter how awesome your content is if the thumbnails and titles aren’t engaging, enticing, and attract people to click. That doesn’t mean you should be misleading and tease a story that really isn’t in the video — that will backfire every time — but it means knowing what the true value of your video is for someone and then crafting a “billboard” for it (title and thumbnail) that accurately pitches its value in an enticing way.

3. Craft better videos.
And I don’t mean just in terms of production value — I mean in terms of actual content value. Most creators assume that their videos are awesome and that the only problem they have is exposure. The problem with that way of thinking is that it locks you into a mindset that doesn’t change with YouTube and causes you to start blaming other things that you don’t control (i.e. algorithms). It’s pretty self-defeating. If you’ve been creating videos for even 6 months, go back and look at some of your first videos. You thought they were awesome back then. Today you’re probably embarrassed by them. And next year you’ll look back on the videos you’re creating right now and feel the same way. So use tools like “audience retention” in YouTube analytics to craft better videos. Drop the stuff that may cause audience drop-off (like branded intros, for example) and learn to start the videos with better hooks, eliminate wasted time, stuff like that.

Hope that helps some of you get on the right track. Like I said, anyone can do this YouTube thing. I really believe that. The key is to work smart, not to just work hard.

I’d love to hear what tips and ideas you have for breaking past 1,000 subscribers! Comment and let’s all help each other out here.