I published my first video on November 4, 2012…
…and the rest was history!
YouTubing, blogging, and speaking at conferences just for fun quickly transformed into a fulfilling, creative business that’s taken me all over the world and enabled me to work with dream organizations. I never intended to start a business; it just kind of happened naturally thanks to YouTubing and blogging.
Here’s what the YouTubing portion of the journey looked like.
Why I Started YouTubing
A decade ago, I was working full-time as an evaluation consultant in Washington, DC.
I was also finishing my master’s degree at a nearby university, tackling one course at a time in the evenings after work.
And, I was starting to give data presentations at conferences as a regular part of my job. I also went to plenty of lunchtime brown bags around the city to meet people who worked in similar areas.
After the events, we’d stay in touch, and I started getting requests for data tutoring. “I loved your talk!” the emails would say. “Can I hire you to teach me how to do that?” Or, “I have a job interview coming up. Can I hire you to help me prep for the Excel tests that I’ll have to take as part of the hiring process?”
I’d been a formal statistics tutor and Spanish tutor in college through a small invite-only program. I got paid $25/hour back then, which felt like a million dollars for an 18-year-old college student.
So, in my mid-20s, I started tutoring colleagues after work in coffee shops around D.C. I started charging $25/hour and worked up to months-long projects at $125/hour.
Pretty soon, my schedule was way too busy. Again. Story of my life!!
“How can I help more of my colleagues with their datasets?!” I wondered. I decided to start YouTubing! My plan was to make one video that could help infinite colleagues. Then, I’d make another video that could help infinite colleagues. And so on. I’d help more people in less time.
The Earliest Videos
In between regular work and grad school assignments, I’d record short tutorials on common Excel formulas and post them to YouTube.
I didn’t have a webcam; I used my laptop’s built-in camera.
I didn’t have a microphone; you can hear my fingers clacking on the keyboard. Subscribers complained about the poor sound quality, so I bought a $15 microphone after a few videos.
I didn’t know how to edit videos; I’d record them in a single take with a “show must go on” approach.
I was awkward on camera; I rushed through my speaking points, afraid that I’d say “um” or “uhh” if I stopped to breathe between sentences. I didn’t want people to get bored while watching the videos, so I talked reallyreallyreally fast in an effort to hold their attention.
I didn’t know where to post videos – online courses hadn’t really been invented yet – so they were created out-of-order and posted in random places around my blog’s pages. At one point, I had a single webpage with ~50 videos embedded in it. As you’d imagine, it loaded really slow! I created an html Table of Contents to make the page easier to navigate. I added toggle buttons to hide the videos that you weren’t currently watching. I added buttons with links to download the supplemental materials. I was essentially creating a structured online course before that technology had been invented. I saw the need for organized videos and materials, and was thrilled when tech like Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi, and all the others were released later on.
If you want a good laugh, you can watch my very first YouTube video here!
The Middle Years
By 2014, thanks to blogging and YouTubing, there was so much demand for my dataviz training that I left the corporate world and started my own company.
I started having kids, which left me without any “let me YouTube just for fun!” time.
I’d also finished grad school, so I didn’t need any “productive procrastination” away from my papers anymore. 😊
For a few years, I didn’t create any YouTube videos. (Although I did continue blogging 2-3 times each month.)
I don’t focus on revenue growth as a business goal. I’m not here to help you make a million dollars a year.
Instead, I’ve focused on mastery and quality: leading the best private workshops I can, creating the best online course experience I can, and producing the best public resources like blog posts and YouTube videos that I can. As you can imagine, revenue growth is a natural byproduct. When you master your craft and produce high-quality experiences, you grow your business.
Here’s how I’ve focused on mastery and quality on YouTube this year.
Upgrading My Equipment, Tech, and Skills
Here’s what I’m currently using:
- Shure microphone, custom-ordered in brand purple (farewell Yeti mic).
- Mic arm so the mic is an inch from my mouth and I stop slouching over.
- Windscreen to cut down on background noise.
- Circle light to make up for working in a one-window room.
- Colored LEDs for fun.
- Canon camera (farewell webcams) so that I’m in focus and the background is slightly blurred.
I upgrade my set-up every few months. The full, updated list of equipment is here.
Here’s what it currently looks like behind the scenes:
I invested in public speaking training so that I sound like myself on camera, don’t rush, and vary my tone and cadence.
I learned basic video editing so I can use a variety of imagery: full-screen direct-to-camera shots; the webcam embedded in the corner; B-roll; and so on. I currently use Camtasia to both record and edit videos.
I hired an animator to create intro and outro animations.
I add transcriptions with Descript instead of relying on YouTube’s auto-generated captions. Descript’s captions are more accurate than YouTube’s. And, uploading a transcription file helps with SEO. (When people are Google-searching for dataviz topics, then Google searches through my transcripts and figures out if my video is relevant to their question.)
Upgrading My Content Creation Approach
Most importantly, I’ve upgraded my entire content creation approach.
In January 2022, as I was setting my business goals for the year, I wanted to master what I call the Long-Form-Short-Form approach to content creation.
My approach involves:
- Choosing a topic to share publicly (typically, anonymized case studies from past projects or Quick Wins for daraviz best practices and accessibility).
- Creating new slides about that topic (so I’d have the option of turning that into a YouTube video, online course lesson, and/or conference presentation).
- Writing a blog post about that topic with the images inside the post. The video gets embedded in the blog post, too.
- Creating a downloadable resource to share, like a checklist, cheat sheet, or dataviz template. I share these free and low-cost resources via Gumroad.
- Recording a YouTube video (which is easy once you’ve already got the slides created, the speaking points written out in your blog post, and a resource to share).
- Making a thumbnail image. I have quarterly photoshoots with a brand photographer and make the thumbnails in good ol’ PowerPoint.
- Transcribing the video on Descript.
- Adding timestamps (chapters) to the video.
- Writing a newsletter to my mailing list (ConvertKit) to let them know about the new resources.
- Breaking up that long form video and blog post into several social media images (the “short form” version), which I make on Canva and schedule on Buffer.
Phew! That’s a lot of ways to repurpose and recycle content across multiple platforms.
I realize this is jargon for most of you. 🙂
But for the fellow bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, and course creators reading this, I hope you can appreciate my mega transformation over the past decade. I’ve gone from “let me create this quick video just for fun” to “let me create conference slides AND write a blog post AND make a downloadable resource AND make a video AND add captions to help with accessibility and SEO AND add timestamps to break it up into chapters AND share it better than ever on social media.”
The Long-Form-Short-Form Approach in Action
Here’s an example of that workflow.
- I was invited to speak at a conference.
- I chose a topic (an anonymized version of a project I worked on a few years ago).
- I made a downloadable resource (the graphs that I’d be talking about in the presentation).
- I made slides and presented them at the conference.
- An hour after the conference, I recorded the YouTube video (since the speaking points were already fresh in my mind). This was a free public event for a small audience, so it was the perfect opportunity to repurpose the content for my own larger audience.
- I created a thumbnail image.
- I added captions (Descript) and timestamps to make the longer video easier to navigate.
- I wrote up my speaking points and turned them into a blog post. (I usually write the blog post before the conference presentation/YouTube video to help me organize my thoughts, but this time, I made the video before I did the writing.)
- I made several images for social media (Canva), scheduled the blog post (WordPress), scheduled a newsletter to my email subscribers (ConvertKit), and scheduled the social media posts (Buffer).
It takes a full workday to complete that entire process, which is much longer than my “lemme make whatever video I feel like, whenever I feel like” approach from a decade ago. But, it’s more effective, so it’s worth the time investment.
My Latest YouTube Stats
Between 2012 and 2022:
- 109 videos (and hundreds more inside my online courses)
- 9,100 subscribers
- 2,400,000 views
- $13,000 made directly from video ads
- $22,000 made directly from the downloadable resources that accompany the videos
- Millions made indirectly from people who watch the videos and hire me for private workshops and/or join my online courses
I do wish I had more subscribers. If I was a full-time YouTuber–and gave up my private workshops and online courses entirely–I know I could grow my channel to millions of subscribers.
Being a full-time YouTuber is an entirely different business model from being a dataviz speaker and course creator. I’m not interested in switching careers at the moment.
Here are some notable videos over the years.
I made this one in the middle of the night, “thanks” to my never-ending battle with insomnia. And it’s made me thousands of dollars in ad money. A couple hours well spent!
People either think the Excel test is way too hard or way too easy.
I didn’t create the test!! I just recorded myself taking it.
Video That’s Led to the Most Paid Jobs
What a nice surprise!
(Executives recognize these “dashboard don’ts” in their staff, and they hire me to come and train their staff to make simpler dashboards.)
I’m surprised this one doesn’t have more views.
The downloadable resource–the templates to create all the one-pagers–is such a gem.
But, the video itself is too long, and it was posted on aea365, which doesn’t get as many views as my own blog.
Favorite Videos on Other Channels
So many!!! Some of my favorite videos have been collaborations for my friends’ YouTube channels.
I especially love this lesson on using colored phrases for qualitative data visualization, which I made for Jon Schwabish’s channel.
I also love this video on starter dashboards for the “Data Is Not Scary” theme for Kate Strachnyi’s channel.
For years, I’ve dreamed about focusing on YouTube, rather than treating my channel as an afterthought around my private workshops and online courses.
For years, I haven’t made the time. And I haven’t been interested in switching from a private workshop/online course business model to a YouTube business model.
I’m not sure whether I’ll ever choose to make the time or make the switch, though.
I love teaching dataviz through videos. Learning software how-to’s through screenshots is the worst. It’s so much better to watch someone’s mouse move on the screen!
But, I’ve done that. I’ve created 6 online courses that involve recorded tutorials, live Office Hours Q&As each week, 1:1 consultations, swag bags, downloadable resources, guest speakers, and more.
YouTubing is still a fun hobby, but with running a business… raising 3 kids… going to the gym… gardening in my backyard… planning fun outings with neighborhood families… I already have a life full of wonderful hobbies. As usual, there isn’t time for much more.
That being said, there are some specific tweaks I’m working towards in 2023:
- Finally adding intro music to accompany the intro animation.
- Upgrading my recording/editing software. Camtasia only lets you record full-screen, direct to camera videos in 720p resolution, which is grainy. I want to record in 1040p resolution. Sometimes YouTubers record their full-screen, direct to camera shots entirely on their camera’s memory card. Then, they record their software demos and screensharing from their laptop. Then, they have to merge the various files inside their editing software (Camtasia, etc.). That’s a lot of extra files to keep track of! I’d prefer to find a single software program that does everything. If you have suggestions, please comment on this blog post and let me know.
- Keeping all videos to 10 minutes or less. People complain about short videos. People complain about long videos. I think the sweet spot for my topics is around 10 minutes.
- Figuring out which topics can/should be shared on YouTube. Everyone wants Excel dataviz tips, but I’ve got a course on that. Everyone wants dataviz accessibility tips, but I’ve got a course on that. I’ve also got courses on dashboards, reports, presentations, and formulas/pivot tables. So what goes on YouTube?? This is the most challenging aspect of YouTube and blogging for me: finding one-off topics that aren’t already covered comprehensively inside my online courses.
- Setting a realistic goal for videos. For 2022, I wanted to publish 20 blog posts, 10 of which would involve the long-form-short-form approach with the embedded YouTube videos and downloadable resources. I’ll finish the year with ~24 blog posts and just 6 videos. I’m not sure what’s realistic for 2023 given my other goals for online courses and private workshops, which take up the majority of my time. We’ll see! Stay tuned.
Have any YouTube questions for me? Post them here and I’ll respond ASAP.
It would mean the world to me if you’d subscribe to my YouTube channel here.
Way to go! Thank you for so clearly sharing your evolution and process. I’m so inspired by you, your work and how you make information design accessible 🙂 One of my goals for 2023 is to create my own website…baby steps!
Hello Ann, regarding the software, I am able to record high quality video and desktop capture in OBS. It’s also free! I do realize that it is not an editing solution, but I think it’s still very powerful. I’m thinking my workflow will look something like OBS -> Final Cut Pro.
I’ve heard really good things about OBS! I downloaded it a few months ago but haven’t actually used it. Yet! 🙂