Can You Make A Living Vlogging? Here’s How Top Vloggers Do It
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Last Updated on March 2, 2020
Have you ever read a blog post when you would have preferred to watch a video instead?
That’s essentially why vlogging was created. To cover a blog topic, but using a video. It’s a pretty broad label, covering many types of content:
- Online journals.
- Comedy skits.
- News segments.
Videos are much more effective at covering certain topics. It would take hundreds of words to explain how to do a basic squat, but about 10 seconds of video.
Just like there are professional bloggers, there are professional vloggers.
The most popular ones, like PewDiePie make more than $15 million per year.
Honestly, you probably won’t get to that level, but that doesn’t mean that vlogging couldn’t produce a significant side income, or additional income stream for your business.
It’s a lot of work.
By the end of this post, you’ll know:
- How vloggers make money.
- How to get started.
- The main keys to success.
- What equipment and tools you’ll need.
How Professional Vloggers Make a Living
The goal of most vloggers is to build up a large subscriber base. Most of which will watch new videos and create a steady income for the blogger.
Many have been able to accumulate well over 10 million subscribers. As of early 2018:
- PewDiePie – 61 million subscribers.
- VanossGaming – 22 million subscribers.
- Yuya – 21 million subscribers.
- JennaMarbles – 18 million subscribers.
I bring this up to show you the size of the market and demand for video content.
Think about how many subscribers would make a significant difference for you or your business.
But How do Vloggers Actually Make Money?
They put all these resources into making entertaining videos and then give them away for free on sites like YouTube.
So where does the income come from?
There are 3 main types of monetization for vloggers:
- Advertising – Video sites (like YouTube) usually offer some sort of advertising service for video uploaders. When viewers see or click the ads, the vlogger gets a percentage, and so does the video site.
- Sponsorship – Not easy to get at first, but once you have a significant number of subscribers, some businesses will pay you to mention them during videos. The amount depends on the number of expected viewers.
- Affiliate marketing – Easier to come by than sponsorships. Vloggers link to a product (or provide a coupon code) either in the video itself or in the video description. If a viewer buys something, the vlogger gets a cut.
Advertising is by far the most common because you can use it even if you don’t have a high subscriber count.
But there are 2 big issues with it.
First, is that it doesn’t pay great. The average is somewhere around $3.00 per 1,000 viewers.
So if you get 100,000 views, you get $300.
On top of that, the video site takes a big cut. On YouTube, the video creator only gets 55% of the advertising revenue. Google takes the rest.
So it’s a good start, but you’ll want to move onto affiliate marketing, and eventually sponsorship if you’re trying to make vlogging your sole business.
Step 1 – Selecting a Niche
When you start a blog, you need to select a niche.
Unless you’re incredibly famous or interesting, you have to pick a topic or two to specialize in.
The same rule applies to vlogging.
Certain types of topics work really well with video content. The most popular vlogging categories are:
- Tech reviews
That doesn’t necessarily mean that your niche has to fall into one of those categories to be successful, but it will improve your chances of success.
Regardless of which niches you’re considering, you should always validate that there is demand for your niche before selecting it.
How to Validate a Niche
It’d probably be a bad idea to vlog about watching paint dry since no one is looking for videos about that.
To validate that there is a reasonable amount of demand for the niche that you’re considering, you’ll have to start with keywords.
If you don’t already have a keyword in mind, head over to KeywordTool.io, specifically the “YouTube” section. Enter in a broad keyword, and it’ll spit out some more narrow ones that people actually search for on YouTube:
Next, head over to YouTube and search for that keyword.
Click on the top 5 video creators or so. You’ll see their names right under the video titles.
There are 2 things you want to look at.
First is the subscriber count, which you can see in multiple spots on the page:
These are the most popular video channels in the niche, so if there are only a few hundred subscribers maximum, that’s a sign of low demand.
But some topics get a lot of search traffic, but won’t have many subscribers.
For example, lots of people search for plumbing help when they need help, but they won’t necessarily want to subscribe and see more plumbing videos after that.
So that’s why you also want to click on the “Videos” tab on each of those individual video channel pages:
Look at how many views the newest videos get. If they’re only getting a few hundred at most, that’s a sign of a small target audience.
Again, it depends on your ambitions.
Do that for the top 5 channels (more is better), and then figure out how much you’d make from that and if it’s enough.
If not, move on to a new niche.
Select an Angle
Once you have a niche, you need something that differentiates your videos from established, popular video creators.
If you just try to make videos that are similar to PewDiePie, why would anyone watch yours, which are probably lower quality as well?
But what if you choose a more specific subtopic or style?
For example, DanTDM became well known for videos that focused on Minecraft.
After his subscriber base grew, he then expanded to more general, popular topics later.
Step 2 – Content, Content and More Content
Unless you get lucky with a viral hit, it’s going to take a lot of vlogs to get traction.
Top bloggers typically post 1 videos per day.
Whether or not it’s 1 video a day is up to you, but you should make a schedule and stick to it.
There are a few main benefits of posting frequently:
- Your old videos will continue to get views and lead to subscribers.
- Your subscribers get used to looking for your new videos on a regular basis.
- Some viewers like to watch multiple videos before subscribing. Having more videos available increases that chance.
What Defines “Quality Content”
Quality is just as important as quantity, maybe more so.
Everyone’s definition of quality is a little different, but they usually share a few things in common:
- Good picture quality.
- Good sound quality.
- On topic and useful.
The first 2 are covered in the next section about equipment, there are ways to stay on topic outlined in the script section later on.
Being interesting is the hardest part of being a successful vlogger. Some are better at it than others. It’s way beyond the scope of this guide, and there are entire sites and courses dedicated to improving storytelling and marketing skills.
Step 3 – Equipment and Home-Studio – Getting a Pro Set-Up for Under $1,000
Go look at the first videos that any vlogger put out when they were beginning, and the quality isn’t amazing. That includes vloggers with millions of subscribers today.
You’re aiming for high-quality videos, but there’s a lot to learn over time.
Understand that your first videos won’t be perfect, and build on them.
However, you want to make the best videos as possible, and to do that you’ll need equipment. Here are the basic pieces you’ll need:
- Microphone (if not included on camera)
- Tripod (“Support”)
- Filter (optional)
- Lighting (optional)
- Green Screen (optional)
Most of it is optional if you’re just trying to get started.
Over time, you’ll likely find that you need more pieces to up your quality.
So how much does all this cost?
Here’s a good video that breaks down a barebones setup for under $1,000.
Alternatively, let me break down each piece of equipment quickly.
Start With a Camera
Without a camera, you can’t film a video, so it’s pretty important.
Some of the latest phones do have high enough quality cameras for most types of vlogs, but you may still prefer to get one dedicated for vlogging.
A Panasonic G7 with a 14-42mm Lens will run you around $600-700 depending on where you buy it from.
You may be able to find discounts or sales occasionally, or you can look for a used one.
This sounds like a lot, but it’s cheap for a “good” camera, and pretty much the minimum you’ll need.
You’ll Need a Microphone
In almost all cases, you’ll need a microphone that is usually attached to the camera.
A good microphone is crucial for good sound quality. It will pick up the sounds in front of the camera while blocking out background noise.
These aren’t terribly expensive. For example, the Rode VideoMicro is under $100.
There are even cheaper options if you think you’ll be filming in good sound conditions.
A Tripod is Usually a Necessity
There are certain styles of vlogs where the video doesn’t need to perfectly steady on a tripod, but they’re rare.
Any cheap tripod should work at first. Most will cost around $20.
Do You Need a Filter? (Optional)
A filter really helps lighting quality if you’re filming in different environments, and they’re quite cheap.
For example, you can usually find the Fotga ND filter for under $20.
Do You Need Lighting Help? (Optional)
Ever notice why the pictures of your food never look like the ones on recipe sites?
Lighting is one of the biggest differences.
The same applies here. Great lighting is a necessity for a good quality video.
To achieve consistent quality, it’s a good idea to pick up a lighting kit.
You can find one for under $200.
The worse your typical lighting conditions are, the more important it is that you buy high-quality lighting.
Do You Want a Green Screen? (Optional)
Most vloggers do not need a green screen, which will cost $50-100.
It depends on the video format you’ll be making, and it’s completely up to you if you need it or not.
An alternative is a ChromaKey LED light ring. This is a ring that attaches to your camera lens and enables you to capture green screen video without the green screen. Pros use a gray screen; some even use a white wall background.
Pros and Cons of Green Screen vs. ChromaKey Light Ring
|Feature/Aspect||Green Screen||ChromaKey Light Ring|
|Lighting||The screen needs to be well and evenly lit in addition to the people/objects in front of it.||The background does not need to be separately lit.|
|Pros||Any image can be placed in the background. Images can be swapped out quickly in editing||Same as green screen.|
|Cons||Requires careful shooting, lighting, and editing. Otherwise, subjects filmed may have a green tinge to them, from light bouncing off of the green screen.||None other than editing time required.|
|Cost||Green screens themselves come in cheap versions. Remember, good lighting is required.||Wide price range. Expect to pay over $150. No lighting required for the screen.|
|Pro Tip||Don’t expect the lighting that comes with green screen kits to be useful or adequate. It’s often of poor and even unusable quality. Cheap alternative: work lights from a hardware store.||Some pros ditch the gray screen when traveling and shoot against a white wall.|
Step 4 – Script or Improvise?
Other than a few exceptions, big-budget movies are mostly scripted.
But vlogs are a completely different type of content. Viewers want to feel connected to vloggers they watch, which is only possible when they perceive the vlogger as being authentic.
So is improvisation always the best?
The Case for Improvisation in Vlogging
The biggest strength of improvisation is that it seems more “real” (authentic). This is ideal if possible in most cases.
You can also potentially leverage platforms like YouTube live to expand your reach.
But there are some potential negatives as well:
- It’s harder for most people, especially if inexperienced.
- You will make mistakes, and your recording will likely take longer.
- You may forget to include important things.
- It makes planning the actual video content tougher.
The Pros and Cons of Using Scripts
Scripts have a lot of benefits:
- They keep you from rambling.
- They force you to communicate clearly.
- It’s simpler if you’re not comfortable on camera.
- They can help you plan camera angles and footage ahead of time.
But they have the obvious weakness of making your video sound less “real.”
Pro tip: Use a teleprompter. There are plenty of affordable mini-teleprompters available like the Parrot Teleprompter featured in the video below. Most work off of an iPad or iPhone, attach directly to the camera or to the tripod via an extra accessory rail and come with an app and remote control.
The Best of Both Worlds: Create Outlines
There’s a way to get most of the advantages of both improvisation and scripts, without as many of the negatives.
To do so, make outlines.
That’s exactly what I do before writing a blog post, and it applies to vlogs as well.
Your outline should include all the main points you want to address, and in what order. This allows you to cover everything you need and stay on topic, but you don’t need the exact words (as in a script).
You will still make quite a few mistakes at first, but as you get more experienced and comfortable on camera, you’ll get much better.
An outline also lets you think about which camera angles and footage you might need.
Step 5 – Editing and Software: The Tools for Success
All good vlogs need to be edited, but certain types need to be edited more than others.
You can use editing to make your video more engaging or add advanced features to it. For example, jump cuts are a popular basic editing technique that can only be done through editing.
You have 2 options for editing: hire someone or do it yourself.
You can hire a video editor from a site like Upwork for $30+ per hour.
If you can’t afford that (most beginners can’t), you’ll have to spend the time learning yourself.
Here are a few video editing programs you could use. It makes sense to pick one and get really good at it.
This is an expensive option, but very powerful.
It has a steep learning curve, but can be used for advanced editing techniques.
For Mac users, this is paid, powerful video editing software.
Again, it has a steep learning curve but contains just about every feature you could need.
3. Apple iMovie
Apple iMovie is a basic free video editing software for Apple users.
It’s easy to use, and mainly just supports clipping together different video files.
If that’s all you need at first, it’s a great option.
DaVinci Resolve is a powerful, free software.
Despite being free, it’s a legitimate competitor to most expensive paid options out there.
If you need to do any advanced editing, it’s a great free choice.
There are tons of other video editing software out there, I just don’t want to overwhelm you with choices. These are 4 of the most popular that cover different budgets and use cases.
Step 6 – The Importance of Optimizing Your Video Details (and How to do it)
If you’ve ever blogged before, you know that throwing up content and just hoping for the best is a bad idea.
You could write a book on optimizing your video details, but here are the most important fundamentals.
Start With Keyword Research
Just as you use keyword research to find a niche, you can use keyword research to find the topics people are searching for within your niche.
Again, my favorite tool is KeywordTool.io (the “YouTube” category).
The tool works by pulling the autocomplete suggestions that YouTube gives, which are in order of relevance and popularity.
Eventually, you’ll get access to youtube analytics, which shows you your traffic sources and keywords that you get views from. You can use this extra data to find more keywords to target.
For now, type in your niche to generate keyword suggestions.
You want to start with low competition keywords. These are phrases where very few videos are optimized for that keyword phrase.
For example, searching for “plumbing snake” yields only 1 result with the exact keyword in the title (although 1 with a synonym).
It also only has 573,000 results, compared to millions that higher competition keywords usually have.
Once you have a keyword you want to target, along with the video uploaded, put the keyword at least once in the:
- Video description
FAQ on how to start a vlog
How do I get started vlogging cheaply, without buying a lot of gear?
Use your smartphone as a video camera. But be mindful of audio quality. Research how to use accessories to improve the audio quality of your phone. If you are capturing audio separately, try a Zoom H4nSP digital voice recorder. And get a decent mic to feed into it.
I don’t like the green screen look. How can I get a good background for indoor shooting?
Explore how to choose a good indoor setting or use photographic paper for an abstract background. Depending on the type of video you’re shooting consider setting up your environment to reflect your taste and the subject matter of the video. Musician Andrew Huang’s gold and white studio decor is an example.
What are some cool techniques I can use to make my vlogging stand out?
Explore using a drone to shoot aerial footage. This could be used for any outdoors-focused vlog, such as outdoor sporting, trekking, boating, living in a log cabin, or for events like music festivals, outdoor conferences, and so on.