I set my first Youtube video to “public” a bit more than 6 months ago. Despite my complete lack of experience with anything video related, I wanted to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. Here’s everything I’ve learned 6 months after starting an automotive Youtube channel from scratch:
If you haven’t already checked it out, you can find my Canadian Gearhead Youtube channel here. My videos are a mixture of both original content and video versions of blog articles from this site.
Make sure to check out this 2020 update on how my channel is doing:
The vehicles I own allow me to cater to a few different types of enthusiasts – 4x4s, import cars, and motorcycles. As of now, I make everything from detailing videos, to POV driving videos, to motovlogs on my Harley. I’ve tried not to focus on one specific type of video for a good reason. More on that later.
The Canadian Gearhead Youtube channel is nothing more than a guy with a camera playing with cars, trucks, and bikes. I haven’t hired anyone to help with filming, graphic design, or planning videos. I wanted to learn everything that makes a successful Youtube channel tick and the only way to do that was to do it myself. So what have I learned from starting an automotive Youtube channel so far? Well, to start with:
1. It’s A LOT harder than it looks.
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I decide to start the channel. It seemed so simple. Shooting and editing videos was new to me though. Photography stuff? Sure I can handle that. Video? It turns out, not so much.
I follow a lot of automotive Youtube channels. As with many new things that I want to try, I spent a lot of time watching and studying how other people are already doing what I want to accomplish. All of these channels make it look so easy and effortless. After all, the vehicles themselves are the stars of the show, right? How hard can it be?
I haven’t underestimated something this badly in quite some time. It’s HARD. Unlike photography, there’s a lot more to consider when filming a video. Location. Scripting. Performing on camera. Stabilization. Wind noise. Distractions in the background. Editing. Holy smokes.
I’m used to parking a cool car in front of a nice looking backdrop and quietly taking photos of it. If anything goes wrong, I can usually fix it in Photoshop in a few minutes.
Unless you’re an extrovert that loves being the center of attention, the idea of talking to yourself into a camera in a public place is absolutely terrifying. At least it was for me.
Many people believe that those who are doing Youtube full time as a job have it easy. They have money thrown at them constantly just for enjoying their hobbies on camera. I was one of these people. “Must be nice to not have to work for a living!“. It turns out, I was very wrong.
After just a few months of experiencing what goes on behind the scenes to build and grow an automotive Youtube channel, I’ve realized just how much work it is.
Coming up with new and interesting content on a regular basis is a lot more difficult than you might think. Sure, you’ll probably have a bunch of ideas in the beginning. But you’ll burn through those within a few weeks.
Youtube viewers are some of the worst critics on the planet. Constantly having something to film without being repetitive is no simple task. Those channels that have been doing this for years? My hat’s off to them.
I have a new found respect for all of the daily vloggers out there. Unless they have a team working for them behind the scenes (and some do), I don’t know how they do it. To film an interesting video and have it edited and published all in a day is seriously impressive.
Some of these people are even doing this while working a regular 9-5 job, as well as selling clothing, products, and online courses. We only see the end result and it seems really easy. It’s not. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself.
2. Research is important.
Of course, you can spend the time to figure every aspect of building a Youtube channel out for yourself. I personally didn’t want to spend years trying (and failing) to find out what works and what doesn’t. Do you know how the Youtube algorithm works? I sure don’t. So I turned to the people that do know that kind of stuff and absorbed as much of it as I could.
Think Media and Sunny Lenarduzzi are 2 channels that I’ve learned quite a bit from. It might seem strange to be watching videos about making videos, but I found it helpful. These people will teach you all kinds of stuff, like keyword research, camera gear, and how to send traffic to your videos.
Did you know that Youtube is the 2nd biggest search engine in the world? It’s true. Think about what that means though. People go on there to search for videos on a certain subject. It’s up to you to make sure your videos are seen. Search engine optimization (or SEO for short) is just as important for Youtube videos as it is for blog posts and websites. Because of that, I highly recommend that you read up on the subject.
Learning from other successful Youtube channels is a great way to hit the ground running with your own. I’ve found that spending the time to analyze what some of my favorite channels have done helps me to come up with my own video ideas.
Go to their video page and set the “Sort By” filter to “Date added (oldest)”. How long have they been doing this? What kind of videos were they making 5 years ago? At what point did their videos start getting thousands of views, and what kind of content were they creating at that time?
Next, switch the filter to “Most popular”. This is like having a cheat code for a video game. Take a look at their most successful, or even viral videos and what they were about. I don’t suggest that you go out and completely copy other people. But putting your own spin on a similar kind of video might just give your channel a big boost. They’ve already proven that it works.
3. Building a Youtube channel is a marathon, not a sprint.
Growing a successful Youtube channel takes time. You can’t just pay a one time fee and wake up the next morning to 200,000 subscribers and a loyal fanbase. You have to earn it and that can make for some pretty slow going in the beginning.
Taking the time to build a strong foundation will be worth it in the long run. There are things you can do to speed up the process, like running paid ads on social media and collaborating with bigger channels. Those will both supercharge your growth, no doubt.
Having a single video go viral might give you a lot of short term momentum. But that’ll eventually die off, and it won’t be enough to sustain your channel on its own. Consistency is king in the world of Youtube. Experts have stated that the Youtube algorithm likes to see channels uploading on a regular schedule. This is one of the reasons why channels with daily uploads are so successful.
That’s not a very realistic goal for most of us though. It’s still important to be consistent even for those of us that aren’t able to dedicate every waking minute to Youtube. That might mean uploading on the same day every week, or twice a week. It might even mean sharing only 1 video per month. As long as that happens every month, it still counts as a regular schedule.
The algorithm likes consistency. It shows that you’re dedicated to this, and won’t be giving up any time soon. If you have 20 video ideas, spreading them out once a week over 5 months will be more beneficial than uploading 2 a day for 10 days, then getting burnt out and taking a year off.
Remember, if Youtube’s algorithm is happy, it’ll keep recommending your videos to other users. Unless you’re willing to spend money on advertising, that organic traffic is what’s going to grow your channel over the years.
4. You don’t need fancy equipment.
Some channels are producing near-Hollywood quality videos these days. I’m not complaining – it makes for some excellent content to watch. But is it necessary to have a bunch of expensive video gear to build a Youtube channel? Absolutely not. We’re seeing time and time again that content quality is far more important than production quality.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is StreetSpeed717. This channel is simply based on a guy named Mike holding a GoPro camera. He shows people what it’s like to own his vehicles and posts daily uploads for the most part.
There’s no fancy editing, lighting, or expensive cameras. It’s just him holding his GoPro up near his face so the onboard mic picks up his voice as he talks. He has a few cool cars, a friendly personality, and some interesting stories – that’s it. He also has over 850,000 subscribers the last time I checked.
Doug DeMuro is another great example of a hugely successful, yet low-budget Youtube channel. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a car reviewer that has built his own niche based on “quirks and features” of everyday commuter cars, high-end supercars, and everything in between.
I could be wrong, but I believe he films most of his videos on an iPhone. He plops it on a tripod and takes viewers around the car to show them every feature he finds interesting.
It’s not uncommon for his videos to reach over a million views in a matter of days. Doug is one of the few people (or “the type of guy!”) to have a car channel regularly featured on Youtube’s Trending page. That’s a big deal. These are incredibly basic videos that tell interesting stories about interesting cars. It’s really that simple.
Now, I’m not saying it’s bad to have beautifully shot and edited videos. There’s no doubt that those are nicer to watch and much more pleasing to the eye. When comparing a high production quality video about a boring subject to a low budget video that’s entertaining, the latter is going to win every time. At least it will on Youtube.
5. “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
I can’t remember who originally said that quote, but I’m going to assume it was someone smarter than me. It really applies to growing a Youtube channel though. At least if you want to maximize your viewers. You have to know what you’re going to do before you hit the record button. This means doing a few things:
Plan out what videos you want to create in the future
Much like my blog posts on Canadian Gearhead, I keep a running list of video ideas that I think would be worth making. Anything that pops into my head that might be either helpful or entertaining, I write it down on the list. That way, if I wake up one day feeling like making a video, I already have a bunch of ideas to choose from.
Plan out what will happen in the video
I underestimated this. The successful Youtube channels make it seem so effortless – they just happen to tell the perfect story or say the right thing without giving it a second thought. Now I’ve realized that a lot of Youtubers will strategically plan out their video ahead of time.
They might write out a script of exactly what they want to say word for word, or at least keep a list of key points they want to hit. Or maybe they’ll know that they’re going to split things up into a series rather than have one large video. That requires beginning and ending each video while they film it even though they shoot everything at once.
Plan out what keywords to chase
Keyword research is a big part of getting your videos ranked on Youtube. Since it acts as a search engine, we need to treat it as such. Before you shoot a video, take a few minutes to find what’s already available. Is it a popular topic? Have people already made videos about this subject? If so, can you make a better one?
For example, I was about to change the oil on my 4runner and thought I’d make a quick video explaining how to do it. I searched Youtube for “Toyota 4runner 4.7 V8 oil change” and it turned up a bunch of results. It was clear that people were searching for it regularly.
But after watching a couple of the top videos, I realized they didn’t need my help. The videos that were already available told people everything they needed to know. I couldn’t make a better one, so mine would likely never be successful.
Gone are the days that you can throw random videos up on your channel and hope people watch them. Nearly 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every day. If you want people to find yours, you need to stand out.
Keyword research helps to find things that people haven’t already covered that might have slipped through the cracks. A small, new channel is going to have a very hard time competing for views against a more established one so you’ve gotta choose your battles strategically.
6. Different is better than better.
I learned this one from Sean at Think Media and found it pretty eye-opening. Producing different or unique content is better in the long run than remaking the same videos that have already been done – only slightly better.
There are certainly times where improving on another video is a good idea (like anything under 10 minutes long – Youtube loves videos in the 10 minute range). But for the most part, there are bigger rewards in being creative and coming up with new ideas. Those are typically the ones that go viral. And you might be one viral video away from quitting your day job!
Focus on being creative rather than being better than others.
7. Get your branding right.
I believe in running your Youtube channel like a business. Branding is very important for a business – it’s what separates you from the rest. It’s what makes people remember you. I’m actually surprised at how many Youtube channels put very little effort into building their brand. The ones that do it are very noticeable though. I think it makes a huge difference.
The biggest thing for me is having a uniform appearance across your channel. Use the same colors and make sure your thumbnails have a common look. On that note, make sure to create actual thumbnail images for your videos. The automatic screen cap from a random spot in your video isn’t going to cut it.
Look at what successful channels are doing, and come up with your own similar design. That image along with an interesting title is what will catch the viewer’s attention as they scroll down the list of videos to watch.
Think of a household name like Coca Cola. I personally haven’t had a sip of one, or any other soft drink in at least 10 years. Yet as soon as I see the logo, I automatically know the product. The colors. The logo. The slogan. It all builds an image, and we can do the same thing with our Youtube channels.
8. Hiding your face and license plate is a losing battle
You may have noticed that up until recently, I used to put covers over my license plates in videos. Blurring out any license plates in my photos has become a habit for me because it’s so quick and easy to do. Video is different.
I realize now that trying to eliminate my plates in videos is exhausting. I have to remember to bring the covers with me. I have to be careful of what vehicle is in the background of every shot. Plus, any situation where a vehicle is moving heightens the risk of the cover falling off.
License plates can be blurred out in editing or even in the Youtube Creator Studio, but it’s such a time consuming pain in the neck. I give up.
Even if you stay behind the camera, your face is still likely to appear in the reflections of a car’s paint and windows. Deleting this footage might mean losing some otherwise great content. You might as well just leave it in.
I plan to make a ton of detailing videos in the future and one of the results of a detailing video is very, very shiny paint. I guess people are just going to have to deal with my ugly mug.
Unless you’re doing something illegal, hiding your face and plates doesn’t seem worth the effort. I don’t plan to break any laws on my channel so I’m going to make it easier on myself going forward.
9. Testing is important.
There’s only one way to know for sure which videos will do well and which ones will fail. Put them out there to the world and it’ll tell you. Youtube offers you plenty of analytics that go into much more detail than just the number of views and subscribers. You can see how long people watch a video, what page they watch it on, and how people found it.
I know I mentioned earlier that planning ahead of time is important and you can’t just throw any video up in hopes that people will watch it. But during the early stages of your channel, when you’re trying to find your way, it doesn’t hurt to try a few things to see what people respond to.
You’ll see on my channel that I have a few different types of videos. I don’t expect that my channel will be able to succeed at all of these things. But I wanted to see what people liked. Do they sit through long videos and like listening to me blab on and on about something? (spoiler alert – they don’t!). It also came as no surprise to me that my Harley Davidson isn’t as popular as my Toyotas.
I learned that just because I don’t like a video I made, it doesn’t mean other people won’t. Case in point, my very first video. It was a short one giving a brief introduction of my 4runner. It was shaky, had a bunch of wind noise and really wasn’t all that interesting.
It turns out, it’s my most popular video to date at over 17,000 views. I was planning on deleting it. I thought my MR2 videos would be much more popular. I thought wrong. This just proves how important it is to test things out and let the data guide you.
10. Trolls are inevitable.
I’ve gotten off fairly easy in this regard so far. I don’t expect that to continue forever. There’s no avoiding it. As your audience grows, so does the chance of people not liking you. You can’t please everyone.
People are much more likely to complain about something than compliment it. In this current era of self-entitlement, that’s only going to get worse. It seems as though many people think that Youtube creators owe them something because they’re making money off their views. That can lead to some pretty strong opinions.
Some of it might actually be helpful advice and be worth paying attention to. But a lot of it is based on nothing more than hate and jealousy.
Some people just won’t like you. I hate to break it to you, but that’s the case in real life too. The difference is that in real life, people aren’t as willing to share their opinion to your face. It doesn’t mean they don’t think it in their head or even talk trash about you to others though.
So really, who cares about the trolls? If your videos are getting more thumbs up than thumbs down, you still have the majority of people on your side. And as you grow, there will come a time when those people will be willing to stand up and fight your battles for you. The trolls are just a drop in the barrel when you have an audience that likes you and your content. Focus on your fans.
The future of my channel:
So far, the biggest thing I’ve learned about starting an automotive Youtube channel is that I actually enjoy it. I might not be very good at it yet but I like a challenge. I truly believe that I have interesting content to offer.
In all honesty though, my videos at this point – well, they stink. All of them. I knew going into it that my plan was to create some throwaway videos to learn the ropes and find out what works and more importantly, what doesn’t.
I originally started my channel for the sole purpose of sending traffic to this website. All of the online gurus say that the future is heading toward video. And since so many people are surfing on Youtube every day, that’s a great way to scoop up traffic.
Based on my experience so far, that hasn’t really happened. I get a ton of traffic from Google. Youtube, not so much. Not yet at least. A big part of the reason why is because I just haven’t put enough effort into it yet.
At the time I’m writing this, the Canadian Gearhead Youtube channel has a measly 300 subscribers. Compared to most other channels out there, this is pathetically small. To me, this is a huge win. I’m thinking of the long game.
People subscribe because they like the video they watched and want to see more. I created 24 crappy videos with nothing more than a GoPro Hero 4 and for some reason, 300 people want to see more. If that’s the case, how many people will be willing to follow along if I start to actually take it seriously?
Hopefully, we’ll find out in 2019. As a rule, I don’t like to invest much time or money into something that won’t pay me anything in return. In order for Youtube to monetize a channel (meaning they share a percentage of their ad revenue with you), you need a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and roughly 240,000 watch minutes within a year’s time.
(It’s worth noting that Youtube values watch minutes more than overall views on videos – it shows how engaged your viewers are as well as how interesting your content is).
With all of that in mind, my goal is to hit 1,000 subscribers by July of this year. Once I’m able to make money on Youtube, I’ll be able to justify investing in better camera gear, editing software, and a bunch of my time. I have a vision for what my Youtube channel could become. Before all of that happens though, I need it to be able to cover its own expenses.
This is the time where I’ll add a not-so-shameless plug: If you don’t already, make sure you subscribe to the Canadian Gearhead channel. It’s basically the same thing as this site but in video format. I’m going to do my best to continue coming up with interesting content and if I manage to hit my goal, we’ll start to REALLY have some fun.
If you’ve been contemplating starting your own automotive Youtube channel yourself, my advice is to stop thinking about it and just do it. Start with a GoPro or even just the camera on your phone. Be entertaining. Be likable. Be helpful. The biggest thing is to stop overthinking it and just get started.
There aren’t many other platforms that are 100% free to use that give you the chance to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars while building your own brand. None of that can happen though if you sit around coming up with excuses why you can’t do it. Hit the record button and see what happens.
I think Joey Lee’s (aka stickydiljoe) slogan gives the best advice for future automotive Youtubers: “Passion first, the rest will follow”. I’m going to keep sharing my passion for cars with the world because it’s what I love to do. Anything that comes from that is a bonus.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: