My Journey to 500 Subscribers on YouTube (and What I Learned)

Patience, constant refinement and healthy boundaries

The Why Girl
Nov 7, 2020 · 7 min read
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I was going to entitle this article “How to Get 500 Subscribers on YouTube,” but I realised that I don’t have clear step-by-step instructions or a proven recipe for you. My YouTube journey has not been a direct journey from A to B (or 0 to 500). If I were to draw it, it would be more of a squiggle than a straight line.

I love that. And think there’s a lot of value in unconventional tours. So I’m here to share with you a collection of insights I’ve gathered along the way if you’re on route or getting ready for the ride.

They say your first 100 subscribers are the most difficult to convince

And they are absolutely right! The first six months of my channel were slow. I wasn’t getting many views or subscribers, and I understand why.

For starters, I didn’t promote my content. I wasn’t proud of what I was producing because I didn’t know how to meet my own expectations. My unrealistic perfectionism equaled, “Although I’m a beginner, I must produce professional content.” I also didn’t exactly know who my audience was.

I wasn’t uploading many videos, either. Video editing was utterly new to me, and I needed time to learn. My first projects were taking me weeks (sometimes months) to complete, which meant I couldn’t commit to a weekly schedule.

I was impatient and wanted results right away, but I wasn’t getting them. This led to frustration, which put me off making videos even more. It felt like I hadn’t even properly started, and I was already considering quitting. After four months of this emotional rollercoaster, two things happened.

First, I did some inner work to get my priorities right, and I decided to commit. As I got better at editing and more serious about my channel, my viewers started trusting me more and subscribed.

Second, my most faithful subscriber (my mum) promoted my videos. She secretly sent out 80 emails to her friends, telling them about my channel. That initial push was all I needed: the more people subscribed, the more people watched my videos, and the more YouTube recommended my content to others, which in turn led to more subscriptions, and so on.

Soon after, I opened my account to see that 101 people were subscribed to my channel — my first big milestone.

Tip for you: Be patient and power through your content's low-quality phase until you become better. Ask your committed subscribers to help out with marketing. All you need is that push at the beginning.

Make the videos you like, and others seek out

Initially, my only priority was simply to create videos about things that mattered to me. I’ve since added a subtitle to this: my viewers should care about these things too.

I could make hundreds of videos about my favourite vegetables, animals or flowers. Yet, nobody is interested in me doing that. There are, however, many topics I’d still like to talk about, and my viewers would like it because they need that information. This is precisely the sweet spot I try to hit — the overlap between what I need and what will satisfy my audience.

The best example of this kind of content is course reviews. I love upskilling myself, and I enjoy reviewing the courses I’ve done. There are also many self-growth freaks like me, and they want to know where they should invest their money. Bingo! This is a good area for me to cover.

I also often use “keyword score” before creating a video. This helps me understand the relationship between how many people look for a certain topic and how many videos have already been made about it (the “competition”). The more people search for the term and the smaller the competition, the bigger potential. Many different keyword tools will do all the work for you; the popular ones include TubeBuddy and vidIQ.

As you can imagine, this method doesn’t guarantee success because there are many factors at play. I’ve made videos that, in theory, should have performed well but didn’t. Overall, however, I can see a difference between the performance of the videos I made on a whim and those I put more planning into.

Tip for you: Find the balance between what you and your audience are interested in. You can still express yourself while satisfying your viewers' needs.

And when you least expect it…

There’s always that one video that will unexpectedly attract many views. For me, it was a review of an online course I did — Lifebook.

I knew the video had potential because many people searched for information on the course, but there weren’t many reviews. Still, I didn’t expect the video to be highly popular because my channel was small. But I was wrong.

As I write this, it’s the most-watched video on my channel with over 8.5k views to date. The video is responsible for attracting almost 20% of my subscribers. It was a pivotal point on my YouTube journey from the statistical perspective. I realised I had value I could share with others.

I originally envisioned myself as a vlogger documenting my self-unemployed life, but that never happened. Something simply felt off about it.

After the Lifebook review, my viewers were asking me questions. I had the knowledge they needed. It felt wonderful to help them make better, informed choices. As a result, I enjoyed sharing my knowledge and lessons rather than sharing my life per se — and I adjusted the course accordingly. I started making more sit-down videos, educational content, and course reviews, letting go of the vision that didn’t suit me. At least for now.

Tip for you: Expect the unexpected and be prepared to change course as your channel and you grow. It's ok to change your vision.

The art of setting boundaries

Eventually, I got what I wanted. I gathered momentum, got better and faster at making videos, and posted every week. I started recognizing my viewers’ names in the comments. It felt like I wasn’t just speaking to a random crowd — they started feeling familiar. An “online community” that people talk about started forming. I was observing the process with curiosity and in awe.

I hadn’t accounted for one thing, though: a community, like any other relationship, needs to be looked after. What’s more, in this particular creator-audience scenario, I put myself in the centre of it all, and I started feeling responsible.

I didn’t want to miss my upload deadline. I needed to be better than last time. I wanted to pack my videos with even more information and reply to comments. I felt a duty to that growing number of individuals.

By “YouTube standards,” hundreds of views might not be much, but there is a person behind every view. 500 subscribers might seem low for many creators. However, when I imagine speaking to half a thousand people, that changes my perspective.

The trick is to use that as fuel, not a hindrance, and I’m still working out what kind of relationship I want to have with my viewers. I’m clarifying my commitments and my boundaries so that I can hit that sweet spot between giving and receiving.

Tip for you: Consider who you'd like to be for your audience (a friend, teacher, inspiration, mentor...) and the relationship you want to foster. This will help you set boundaries.

You don’t have to have targets

Some content creators have particular targets for the growth of their channels. That’s fine. However, I have a vision I wrote about a year ago, which consisted of answering four questions (borrowed from the course I mentioned earlier). Surprisingly, most of what I wrote back then still holds true. Here are a few points.

  1. What do I believe about my channel?

I have an important message to share, and sharing it will bring value to me and others around me. Perfection is not the right way forward for me; dedication, passion, careful listening, open mind, learning from experience, and not giving up are.

2. What do I want to achieve with my channel?

My mission is to share my story and experience to make my audience realise their full potential and make them believe they have the power to reach it.

3. Why do I want these things?

I want to live an extraordinary life and want others to realise they can, too. The world will be a much better place if everyone lives their lives to their full potential.

4. How will I achieve this?

Be staying truthful to myself and my mission — my energy and my message are enough; by building my social media on my own terms and in line with my values.

That last point is possibly the most important tip I can give you. When building social media (and anything else in your life, really), seek advice. Still, always use your own judgment, follow your intuition, and create your own rules. This way, you won’t go wrong.

I’d like to thank my subscriber Rishabh Singh for inspiring this article.

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The Why Girl

Written by

Hopeless idealist who believes that we all can live our ultimate lives. Asks “Why?” a lot. YouTube ➜

Small Business STRONG

Our goal is to help owners and marketers of small business amplify their message and make sound judgement. Topics include marketing, ecommerce, social media and policies.

The Why Girl

Written by

Hopeless idealist who believes that we all can live our ultimate lives. Asks “Why?” a lot. YouTube ➜

Small Business STRONG

Our goal is to help owners and marketers of small business amplify their message and make sound judgement. Topics include marketing, ecommerce, social media and policies.

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