Almost a year and a half ago, I began this sabbatical with a pretty daunting task: to explore nine new potential career paths across varying fields, all with very different scopes of work.
Rather than creating a strict plan and schedule for this exploration, I opted instead for a more organic, flexible approach. I knew that early findings would inform later pursuits. I found that some paths — like web development — were really easy to learn and take on but ultimately not as interesting and fulfilling as I thought they would be. Other areas were energizing but with a much steeper learning curve. And in some instances, clearing certain obstacles seemed like too much of a ‘time suck’, so I ultimately decided to shelve the pursuit, to free up resources to explore something new.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on some of these early pursuits that I left unfinished — these dreams deferred, to put it poetically. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my exploration of video production, tied to my interest in being a YouTube creator.
In the first few months of my sabbatical, I actually did a lot of work to build my video production knowledge and skills. On the content strategy side, I analyzed some of my favorite YouTube creators and identified the aspects of their channels that were most compelling. On the production side, I received video 101 training from an experienced filmmaker.
And I even tried my hands at making my own videos, a test of what could ultimately become my own YouTube channel. Based on my interest in DIY, I first filmed a tutorial on a woodworking project. This was good practice in production planning and setting up shots. Based on how many resources were needed for the DIY projects — in terms of supplies, tools and space — I started to doubt the sustainability of these types of videos.
I quickly pivoted to a new topic that I was equally passionate about: food. I created a concept where I would feature some of my favorite, yet lesser known, restaurants. We filmed one episode, which was a lot easier and quicker than the DIY video. However, when it came to editing, my computer didn’t seem powerful enough to handle synching the video and audio nor handling the multiple media files I had to cut and splice together.
This is, ultimately, where I decided to take a break from this path. Outside of purchasing a new computer, it didn’t seem like there was a way for me to continue on.
However, months later, I revisited video creation — with a much simpler format. As an anniversary gift, I made a basic slide-show type video in iMovie with an overlay of music and narration. I worked with still images rather than video files, but it was still good practice on using video transitions, figuring out the best timing, and synching audio with the visual. And luckily, my computer had enough processing power to handle the project.
Starting from the beginning
Being stuck at home during this ‘shelter in place’ period has reminded me how powerful video and platforms like YouTube can be in connecting to a community. While we may not be together physically, we can still stay in touch digitally. And this has all motivated me to revisit my exploration of video and YouTube as a promising platform for content creation.
But I want to be mindful of what derailed me in the past — namely, I jumped into the deep end before learning how to swim. I made things too complex. I wanted things to match the production level and sophistication of my favorite YouTube creators. But ultimately, that became all too overwhelming.
So now, I want to start with the basics. Focus on the simple and doable — the MVP. Embrace the journey of learning, iterating and improving along the way.
YouTube Creator Academy
In one of my earliest blog posts, I outlined the nine careers that I wished to explore during this sabbatical and listed a few resources I might take advantage of to test out and learn more about these professional paths. For Content Creator, the YouTube Creator Academy was one such resource, so it seemed like a good place to start for this renewed exploration.
The YouTube Creator Academy is a free online learning resource that teaches the ins and outs of starting, maintaining and growing a YouTube channel. It offers various areas of instruction, including content strategy, production, and channel optimization.
Over the last week, I’ve completed courses in:
- Quickstart Guide
- Beginner Content Strategy
- Production Planning
- Getting Discovered & Growing Your Audience
As I’ve gone through the lessons, I’ve also been brainstorming what my YouTube channel would focus on. Here are some of my biggest take-aways:
Focus on your passion
When it comes to having a steady flow of inspiration and content ideas for your YouTube channel, nothing is going to help you better than making videos on something you’re passionate about.
And here’s where I start to get nervous. My passions seem to span a wide variety of things (see above about exploring nine different career paths!). And my interests can be pretty fickle and meandering. I’ll get really into learning a new language, for example, and then shift my focus to baking, only to then get my attention pulled to a fitness challenge I want to attempt. Part of that is just my personality — I love to sample a little bit of everything (tapas bars were made for me!).
Light bulb moment! Why don’t I use this interest-hopping to my advantage? Instead of focusing on just food or just DIY projects, I could create a channel centered around me trying different things — sort of a ‘Laura Tries’ type of theme. One video could be about tackling a recipe I’ve always wanted to attempt. Another video could be about trying out a new skincare routine.
The brainstorming began!
Think about what’s sustainable
It’s one thing to have a lot of content ideas but you always need to be able to execute them. Releasing videos often is key to keeping your audience engaged, so you need to create videos that fit within the scope of your own time and resources.
One of the biggest tips, especially for beginners, is to consider a topic and format that allows you to shoot multiple videos in one day.
This made me revisit my initial brainstorming. The ‘Laura Tries’ theme may not lend itself easily to shooting multiple videos in one day. While some of the videos — like trying a make-up tutorial — could use a single camera set-up, others — like trying a recipe or a one-month exercise challenge — would require multiple set-ups, thus making the filming process pretty time-intensive.
So, what could I do that just required a single camera set-up? I came up with a couple of ideas that would just be me speaking to the camera. One idea centered around explaining the latest popular culture trends (e.g. Tiger King Explained in Less Than Five minutes); though informational, the videos would be conversational, light, and funny. Another concept was more comedic than informational: I’d bring back an old Halloween character — an old woman from Jersey — who would review T.V. shows and movies; the tone would be silly and humorous.
Identify your audience and carve out your niche
It may seem counterintuitive, but with YouTube it’s not always best to focus on appealing to the broadest possible audience. Sure, you may get a lot of views for a video or two, but will that audience be loyal?
Often, you can find more success going after a smaller, more niche audience where there isn’t so much saturation in content. It’s good to consider — am I filling a content need for a specific audience that doesn’t already exist on the platform?
I returned to my brainstorm. My latest two ideas centered around broad topics: popular culture and entertainment. And the audience? People interested in T.V. and movies who like to watch funny videos. Not very specific.
I think there is a way to carve out a unique voice, so I don’t want to abandon the ideas completely. However, I did go through an exercise of brainstorming topics that I’m still passionate about but may have more of a niche audience or may not have as much existing content on YouTube.
Lately, I’ve been learning the Hawaiian language on the Duolingo app. My paternal grandparents both grew up in Hawai’i, and it’s a culture I strongly identify with. And while it saw a revival starting in the 1970’s, the Hawaiian language is still endangered, so I take pride in being part of keeping it alive. Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about how I wish there were more resources to complement my lessons in Duolingo. So, I’ve also been ruminating on a channel focused on Hawaiian language lessons, essentially people following my journey as I learn the language and in turn put together some of my own lessons. There are a few existing videos with Hawaiian language lessons but not many; still, I’d need to figure out how to differentiate mine.
It’s ok to start with what you have
The courses on production go over a lot of possible equipment you can use to film your videos. However, one thing the lessons emphasize: smartphones have pretty powerful capabilities and you can get some decent quality videos with the devices.
From specialty lights to external microphones and DSLR cameras, I do have access to more advanced filmmaking equipment, and in fact, I used this type of equipment for my earlier videos. However, the set-up is definitely longer when you use more equipment. And it also made things a little more complicated on the editing side, as I had separate audio and video files that I had to then sync.
I think for my initial videos, I’ll just focus on using my iPhone or iPad to film along with a simple ring light. It will make both set-up and editing a lot easier. As I become more experienced, I can then explore more advanced equipment.
I’m going to do some planning on a couple of the concepts: writing scripts and figuring out the set-up. This exercise in pre-production may give me an idea of which idea seems most feasible from a preparation standpoint.
From there, if both ideas look easy to prepare, I may film a test video and edit for both concepts. I can see if either concept was easier to film or edit.
Finally, I’ll look at the final products and see which one feels more engaging & authentic and was more enjoyable to work on.