Green thumbs: How an organic gardening guru grew a flourishing YouTube following
Mark Valencia, home dad and gardening expert, talks about life as an unlikely digital influencer
Hello Mark, how long have you been into organic gardening?
I started gardening in 2001 in a little courtyard in Albury–Wodonga when I was still in the military. I had always planned to get a small property. I moved with my family to our acreage just outside of Brisbane in 2006, and started setting up our garden and planting fruit trees. In 2008, I retired from the military after 21 years and became a home dad and started growing as much food as I could, and working really hard on getting the garden and the property up to speed.
With over 130,000 subscribers to your ‘Self Sufficient Me’ channel on YouTube, you’re definitely a digital influencer! How did it happen?
I had a lot of people asking me ‘How did you grow this?’ and ‘How did you make that?’, and my wife ended up saying: ‘Look Mark, why don’t you just write this online somewhere so that you can refer people to it instead of me having to listen to your stories over and over again!’
I thought ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea …’ so in 2011 I created a website and I called it Self Sufficient Me. I started blogging about my experiences and what I grow. I created the YouTube channel at about the same time, but I didn’t really concentrate on uploading videos until about 3 or 4 years ago and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I really got into YouTube and video full-time.
What’s involved in making your YouTube content?
It can take many hours and late nights! Creating the standard videos involves writing a script and working on that script to make sure that it is succinct, on point, that it’s got the information people want and that it is entertaining. The script can take sometimes several days to write or even a few weeks if I’m chugging along at it and doing other things.
Next, I take 3–4 hours of footage, which has to be edited and put together. Then I upload the video, which might be 8 minutes long and, during that upload process, I have to put in another 3–4 hours of work to get that video live. This includes putting up a thumbnail that is appealing and will make people click on it, and trying to optimise the video with the right catch-words, phrases, tags and title. It can take an extraordinary amount of time.
You must find it very rewarding?
It is a heck of a lot of fun. It’s a good gig if you can get some money out of it, get some enjoyment out of it, get a lot of feedback and make a difference. It is also very rewarding, you get lots of people saying how you have almost changed their lives and other people really enjoy consuming the information, so it is not about the monetary reward. It’s more about making a difference, and you kind of get addicted to that work and the hours just pass by.
You’ve just been awarded $27,500 from the Queensland Government’s Create Queensland Series award. What will this do for your channel?
It’s going to bring a new look, a new approach to target a younger audience. I want to get them excited about growing their own food, being more self-sufficient and being less reliant on major food chains and this superficial life where we outsource everything and do nothing for ourselves.
What can I do on my small urban block?
The good thing is that people can grow a hell of a lot of vegetables, herbs and other food in a small area and I need to get that message out more. I want to show people who live in smaller places that they can do what we do on a smaller scale but still make a big difference to their grocery bills and their health and their lifestyle. They will be eating organic, pesticide-free food and also saving money — and it is a trendy talking point.
Have you been surprised by the popularity of your channel?
Yes and no. I was kind of surprised initially when some of my videos really took off. Like my video on ‘How to Grow a Ton of Lemons’—I thought that was a bit of a rudimentary video, because lemon trees are grown everywhere — but people seem to want that information. That video took off and it is nearly up to a million views.
On the back of that video, I did ‘How to Grow a Ton of Ginger’, and that is up to 1.2 million views. People around the world want to know how to grow these things.
What advice do you have for other businesses wanting to use YouTube?
YouTube can be very random and you can put out a lot of good content and still not get noticed. I made a good 250 videos before anyone ever really noticed my stuff. Yes, I had a nice little following of 10,000–20,000 people and it motivated me to keep going, but you really have to stick at it.
Eventually you are going to have a bit of luck go your way because, if you put out good content, one of your videos is going to stick and then your content gets shared around. When that happens, all that backlog of good videos will suddenly get picked up and you will get even more views. That’s the long answer.
The short answer is: stick at it, love what you do, pick something that you are passionate about — and keep doing it even if you are not having much success, because that success will come if you are committed.
TIQ was instrumental in establishing the relationship between YouTube and the Queensland Government that became the basis for the Queensland Originals with YouTube program. This was the first arrangement of its kind in Australia.
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