From Zero to 30K YouTube Subscribers in Six Months, How This Creator Did It
In this interview, we dive into the strategies and techniques that YouTube creator, Paul O'Malley, used to rapidly grow his channel from zero to 30,000 subscribers.
Product Marketing Manager @ Buffer
Paul O’Malley’s YouTube channel, which features quick tips to improve efficiency, skyrocketed to over 30,000 subscribers in just under six months. Those are impressive numbers! So how did Paul do it? We sat down with him to discuss his journey and discover the strategies and techniques he used to rapidly grow his audience. Get ready to take notes and learn from a YouTube success story!
The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you consciously decide to start a YouTube Channel, or did it happen organically?
Kind of a little bit of both. Over the last few years, I've had a lot of roles in tech, including Microsoft. I had people saying to me, “You're really good at explaining this stuff in a way I can understand... Do you wanna create YouTube content? Maybe you should do these videos online?" And I used to always just kind of blow it off. And then recently, I was in a role where I was literally creating this sort of video content; short bite-sized clips. Just quick tips here and there. And so I thought, you know what? I'm sure other people could make use of this content as well. I decided to start putting a few of the videos up on YouTube, and some of them started to gain traction; people noticed the content I was creating and put it out on blast around the social media spheres. This drastically increased the reach that I could possibly have, and as a result, YouTube's decided they wanna start paying me for it on, on occasion. So I may as well keep at it!
Did you consider any other video platforms aside from YouTube?
I think it was always going to be YouTube. I'm quite a fan of tech in general, so I'd considered other platforms, but the only platform that would be able to give me the reach I needed was YouTube. Vimeo is great, but it's more of a business-to-business platform than a consumer platform. And for those that have started stretching out into the Fediverse with Mastodon and things like that, there's Peertube. But there's no way I would have over 30,000 people following me on Peertube in the span of four or five months, whereas I do now on YouTube.
It’s quite amazing that you grew so quickly!
Yeah! I had a lot of help in that regard. I had some growth from my own internal networks and from my previous roles. But I was somewhat lucky to have a couple of program managers from Microsoft actually retweet a couple of my tweets regarding some of the videos that I'd made. And you know, when someone who has over a hundred thousand subscribers themselves retweets something of yours, it tends to have a nice flow-on effect. In the span of one week, I had six or seven thousand people subscribe, which, like… I was looking at the numbers going; what is going on here? And it was just absolutely mind-boggling.
How do you come up with ideas for videos?
I've always been a really big fan of pushing the technology that I have to its absolute limits. To basically save me time. So I positioned my channel as quick tips to improve efficiency.
And I mean, heck, I’ve reprogrammed keys to do macros and things like that. I've got my mouse here with multiple buttons set to control different things to speed up my workflow just a little bit each time. If I could save myself ten minutes a day, that would add an extra work week at the end of the year. I could do a heck of a lot with an extra week every year. And I'm sure a lot of other people could as well. And so every time I find these little hidden features or little tips that help people's workflows be a little bit more seamless, I like to share them.
Another example, I've recently started playing around with Google Docs and Google Sheets. And I'll be honest, in the last week or so, I've gone down a rabbit hole with using ChatGPT inside Google Docs and things like that. It's just crazy to see what the technology can do when you know that little shortcut to leverage it. And so, hopefully, I can show someone a tip that takes five minutes outta their day now but saves them five minutes every day from here until eternity.
So it's like you're scratching your own itch? Instead of trying to think about what people are going to be interested in, you share the things that have helped you.
Honestly, it could be something as simple as a keyboard shortcut that people don't know about. All the way through to something completely crazy, like having ChatGPT completely fill in lists and things for you, right? There are really small things and really big things.
It could even be an accessibility feature. I don't really have any major vision impairments, but I know a lot of people who have color blindness. Even though I don't use the color filters that are in windows, I've seen the effect that, when I turn it on for them and they go, “Oh my God!”... I love that light bulb moment. Having someone else say, “Oh, I could use that,” and seeing the knock-on effect for them, that's really what drives me and has for years.
Do you have any guidelines about how long your videos should be?
I try to keep the video as short as possible. The thing that drives me insane when I go onto YouTube looking for like a how-to video is when the first three and a half minutes is someone going, “Don't forget to smash that like button,” and then on top of it, there's some insane trance music playing in the background. Don't get me wrong; I love some psytrance on occasion, but not when I'm trying to find out how to recall an email in Outlook. I've just accidentally sent this email. I need to recall it now. I can't spend three and a half minutes watching you talk about your channel.
So most of my videos are sub-five minutes. Quite a lot of them are actually less than three minutes long. The longest videos I've done are maybe seven minutes, and that's because they're a little bit more in-depth and require a little bit more setup beforehand. I try to keep it brief to the point but also clear enough that someone can just follow along themselves and understand it as I'm doing it.
What’s in your video creation toolkit, and what does your recording process look like?
I create all my videos on Windows because Windows is what I know. I have a dedicated 1080p monitor because the videos that I broadcast are in 1080p. And so I like being able to record a full screen.
For the screen recording itself, I use a program called Camtasia. It’s honestly built from the ground up for the type of content that I create. It makes it substantially easier for me to zoom in on areas and things like that. It does cost a little bit of money, but the benefit is that it's sped up my workflow by miles.
Generally speaking, I’ll try to have a storyboard so I know what I'm going to do and talk about. Then I'll do the screen recording generally in a single hit. Then I'll do my editing, zooming in, highlighting, and squaring off things so that people can see everything on the screen as I'm doing it.
After that, I use Audacity to do the audio recording. I just literally play it back and do my voiceover whilst I'm watching the recording play. The benefit is that Audacity has the ability to record at a higher clarity level of audio compared to Camtasia. I've put sound dampening on a couple of the walls, and I've got big heavy drapes to deaden the sound to make sure that everything is nice and crisp and clean.
Subtitles are a bit more of a process. YouTube’s automatic subtitle capability is okay but not super accurate. Funnily enough, I actually use the Google Voice app on my phone. For those who happen to have a Pixel phone, it is really accurate. So I'll get the transcript from there, and, now, it sounds kind of weird, but I put it into Microsoft Word and then use Microsoft Word to give it a proofread and make sure the grammar is correct. Then when I'm uploading the video, I just literally copy and paste the text in. YouTube is smart enough to be able to sync the voice with the subtitles.
The only other tool that I use is Figma. I've got basic templates that I use for all of my thumbnails; the logo of whatever product I'm showcasing in the video and then maybe three or four words beside it with what the video's about. It's super easy for me to make those; it takes seconds.
What about your microphone?
The microphone I use isn't super expensive. It's the Scarlet 2i2. It is an XLR microphone, and so the sound quality is much better than a USB mic. Generally speaking, though, XLR mics will be quite expensive. My setup retails for around about 500 AUD. I’ve also got a little shield here, which basically helps prevent reverb from around the walls.
Moving on to the distribution of the content. We talked a little bit about how other influencers have helped with your growth in subscribers. Was there an inflection point where you knew you were onto something?
Having six-figure follower accounts retweet my stuff was really that inflection point. But there were steps that took before that, based on the analytics that I was getting from YouTube. I'm in Sydney, so Australian time zones are not always the best, depending on where your audience is. I was looking at the analytics from YouTube to see when people were watching my videos the most. A lot of the time, I was asleep or, to be perfectly honest, sitting on the couch, playing Halo. So at that point, I needed to figure out, “How am I gonna get the most traction?”.
I'm on Mastodon more than any other social network. Given that there's no algorithm there, it's very much a matter of being able to find your audience at the right time. That was where Buffer came in. Trying to schedule a post for Mastodon was cumbersome and very limited in functionality until Buffer came along. I'd already been using it for Twitter, and I'd been using it for LinkedIn. So being able to schedule my posts on Mastodon and Twitter to go out at times when I knew I was gonna be able to get some traction really helped. I used to post something on Mastodon around lunchtime for me, but the middle of the night for Europe. And I was getting maybe four or five people boosting my posts or getting a few likes here and there. When I was able to start posting content at the time that worked best for my audience, posts that used to get 20 reposts were now getting 2,500 reposts.
So is social media the main distribution channel for your videos?
It's mostly social, I think. I have friends and family who are really nice and share it with all of their friends, and a lot of former colleagues have now started reaching out to me and connecting with me via LinkedIn and things like that. And they've been re-sharing my content amongst their teams internally. The network aspect of social networking really comes into play there.
For example, suddenly, I've grown followers and users from a random educational district in Texas. All because one person who I used to work with loved a couple of my videos and started sharing them with some of their colleagues. And so, as a result, it just kind of started spreading. And now I've got a little bit of a following amongst educators in Texas.
Is there anything that has contributed to that organic word of mouth? Obviously, the content's good. Is there anything else?
I'd say it’s mostly the content. I like to help where I can, which sounds very self-serving to say it like that, but I will post on YouTube, and in the comments, someone will say, “Mine isn't quite working like this; I'm seeing this instead.” Even though I can't physically go and look at that person's computer, I still like to help. I randomly get tagged by people on Mastodon saying, “I'm not sure who can help you here, but Paul might know how to do it”. People now see me as an avenue for help.
I've actually gotten some pretty cool video ideas as a result of people asking me questions and asking how to do things better. If someone's asked me a question, I can't stop thinking about it until I figure it out. I'd like to say that a willingness to help really did drive the growth.
To me, that sounds I mean a lot better than trying the typical growth hacks?
I'm sure that those little tips do work for some.
The biggest tip is just to make content that is valuable to people. Try and be consistent. People subscribe to channels when they know what they're gonna get. Try not to post 25 videos in a week and then nothing for six months. I personally schedule not just my social posts but also my YouTube posts. At the moment, I've got a bit of spare time, so I've been creating a lot of extra videos. I've got about six or seven weeks’ worth of them already lined up, ready to go.
Any pitfalls or traps for aspiring creators to avoid?
Don't overdo it. I'm a massive phone nerd. My telco loves me because I'll change phones whenever a new phone comes out. I’ve had a lot of people tell me, oh, mate, you should do phone reviews and stuff like that. But then I would go into the realm of needing to record face-based video as opposed to just a screen recording. A screen recording is easy enough for me to do. Adding my own video feed into it adds exponentially greater difficulty levels as far as editing and transitions are concerned. What I have now is working, and it's working well, so I will stick to that.
And then lastly, monetization is a hard thing to get to. The requirements have greatly increased. I was very lucky that I've been able to reach that status. What I would say is that once you get to that status, it's not life-changing money. I'll be brutally honest, I've made about ten bucks. But as the channel continues to grow and the back catalog of videos continues to expand, that passive source of income will grow as well. I know a lot of people who get to monetization and think they aren’t making much. But stick at it, keep growing. And then, as you continue to grow, that source of revenue will continue to grow as well.
Four takeaways for growing a YouTube channel from scratch
Here are the biggest takeaways from my conversation with Paul.
1. Focus on your niche of expertise: Create content that you are passionate about, and you would want to watch yourself.
2. You don't need fancy equipment but audio quality matters: Find a setup that is right for you and your budget.
3. Leverage your social networks and engage with your audience: Share your content on the right platforms at the right time. You never know when you might get a retweet from an influencer.
4. Produce quality content consistently: Post videos on a regular schedule and plan your videos ahead of time.
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Videos and shorts posted on these days and at these times tend to get higher views.