We often see small YouTubers, especially of the gaming variety, talk about “The Grind”. With the idea being that there is a period in the beginning of having a channel where you just need to make videos consistently. And after an undetermined amount of time, YouTube will pick up your videos, recommend them to everyone, and then you’ll become famous.
At its core, this strategy has some merit: You gotta make videos to improve. And having a schedule to follow forces you to declare a project as finished and move on and prevents you from procrastinating too much. But it also comes with a huge drawback:
When you’re just starting out, your main issue isn’t whether you have enough content for people to watch. Or whether your schedule matches that of your viewers. Or whether your SEO is good. When you’re just starting out, your main issue is making videos that are entertaining and unique.
And yes, unless you’re completely learning resistant, regular uploads will improve your video quality and entertainment value over time. But there is a huge difference in how fast you can learn if you are focused on just improving your quality, vs if you’re mindlessly grinding out videos just to meet some self-imposed quota.
Further, grinding and consistency does nothing for uniqueness. For example, you can become quite good at doing Let’s Plays, but with viewer interest in let’s plays consistently waning since 2012, you’re now lucky to get to 2008 levels of success, ie with low-five-digit sub counts being “large channels”. You can only be as popular as your market is large, and if you’re just doing what others did years ago, the market may have developed since then.
This isn’t to say that you should avoid doing something that someone else is doing at all cost. You absolutely can use other people’s formats as a starting point to develop your own style and your own formats, but that requires you to think quite a lot about what you’re doing, and in what direction you want to develop. And that basically is the polar opposite of grinding.
So let me propose something else instead to those of you just starting out.
A 3-stage Exploration/Development/Established model.
The EDE-model: Exploration/Development/Established Creator
When you’re starting out, you should explore different genres, different formats, different styles. Just throwing different ideas at the wall, and see what sticks, see what’s fun to make, and how much effort it takes, all while actively reviewing yourself and thinking about what to do differently – AKA “The shotgun method”. In this stage, your audience is your friends and family. And as you gain more and more experience, you’ll probably naturally gravitate towards a genre or kind of content, you then can use as a starting point to switch focus from exploring to developing your channel.
In the development phase, you can still switch things up, but the overall idea and vertical of your channel should become clear. If you haven’t already, this is also where you want to start to build your audience, ie start with all those little optimizations like SEO, a regular upload schedule, catchy thumbnails, and so on. Once you’re done with that and things go well, you’ll find yourself in the established state.
In the established state, you’ll probably have worked out a formula that “just works”, and where you can get quite far while being on auto-pilot. But even here, if you don’t pay attention to the rest of the world, you’ll find yourself stagnating eventually – same example as above, let’s plays used to be super popular, and now sit at 5-ish % of their peak search volume.
The main thing that changes between the EDE model and The Grind is that you don’t start out trying to make it with the first thing that comes to your head when hearing “I’m gonna be a YouTuber”, but have tried different things and techniques before settling down on the kind of content that you’ll. This gives you an advantage over anyone just grinding the same thing over and over again, in that you a) can make more thoughtful videos, and b) already have a better handle on understanding what your content even is.
The Development stage itself is fairly similar to The Grind, with one major exception. The mindset. Grinding per definition is very repetitious, and all you’re doing is anxiously waiting for the game (or YouTube) to drop the rare loot (or subscriber/view/discoverability boost). Even if you enjoy grinding, you’re putting the responsibility of possible success into The Algorithm’s hands. This is fine if you only want to have fun on YouTube and don’t really care about your numbers, but if you do care about growth, thinking of yourself as being in a helpless position really hinders you.
There of course is no grand unified plan to becoming successful on YouTube. Every channel, every person is different, and what works for one may not work for the next person. But I hope that this EDE-model at least can serve as inspiration to try something new or different, rather than just grinding harder and uploading more and more videos per day. Even if it’s just 10% or 20% of the videos you’ll upload in the future, I strongly believe that changing things up once in a while is always worth it.
If you want to discuss this with the community, feel free to join our discord! https://discord.gg/youtubegaming