10 Ways to Make Money on YouTube & How to Grow Your Audience

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Are you an avid fan of creators on YouTube? You’re probably wondering how you can get a slice of that lifestyle and use the platform to bring in some money for yourself.

In this guide, we’ll cover 10 ways to make money on YouTube through its official monetization options and without them, plus how much money you can make, how to get started if you haven’t set up a channel yet and how to grow your audience through savvy marketing.

In This Guide: Six Main Things to Know

First: Benefits of Making Money on YouTube

Monetizing a YouTube channel is a way for creators, entrepreneurs, freelancers and educators to build an audience and a brand, and create new income streams.

Residual income is a great thing about making money from YouTube videos. You can put in the effort to gain traction with a YouTube channel for a brief period and continue to generate (a little or a lot of) income for years to follow, even if you don’t post new videos as actively.

Starting a YouTube channel is also a great way to turn your hobbies or interests into income.

You can create content and build an audience on just about any subject — from travel to web design to toy reviews — and monetize it creatively. It could be a way to fund your trips, attract new clients or get free products.

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Second: How to Make Money on YouTube Through the Partner Program

YouTube offers monetization features built into the platform for creators who meet requirements through its partner program.

What Is the YouTube Partner Program?

For many YouTubers, ad revenue through the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) is the first step to making money on the platform.

YPP lets creators earn money by sharing a piece of the revenue generated from ads running on their videos. YouTube can run ads on any content posted to its platform, but you can only earn money from those ads if you’re in the program.

To be eligible for the YouTube Partner Program, your channel must:

  • Have more than 4,000 watch hours (total time spent watching any of your videos) in the past 12 months.
  • Have more than 1,000 subscribers.
  • Be linked to a Google AdSense account.
  • Follow YouTube’s monetization policies, including community guidelines and AdSense program policies.

YouTube also recommends you set up two-step verification for your Google account to avoid delaying the review process.

To apply to become a YouTube partner and monetize your channel:

  • Confirm your channel meets the eligibility criteria of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours; and that none of your content violates community guidelines, which doesn’t allow things like nudity, hate speech or deceptive practices.
  • Review and sign YPP terms. You’ll find those in your YouTube Studio under Monetization.
  • Sign up for Google AdSense. You can do that through the monetization section of YouTube Studio. It gives you the option to connect an existing AdSense account or create a new one.
  • Go through the review process, which typically takes about a month. YouTube specialists and an automated program review your channel content to confirm it follows the guidelines.

If you’re approved during the review process, you’ll have access to YouTube’s built-in monetization features. Which features you’re able to turn on for your channel depend on meeting feature-specific requirements, like number of subscribers and location.

  Age Subscribers What It Is
Ad Revenue 18* 1,000 Share proceeds from ads on your videos.
Channel Memberships 18 >1,000 Charge fans for a premium monthly subscription.
Merch Shelf 18 >10,000 Promote your brand merch on your watch pages.
Super Chat and Super Stickers 18 n/a Let fans pay to have their messages highlighted during live streams.
YouTube Premium Revenue n/a n/a Share YouTube Premium membership fees when members watch your videos.

*Kids can monetize through AdSense if they have a legal guardian over 18 years old to manage the AdSense account.

1. Ad Revenue

As an approved partner, you can earn money from ads that run automatically on your YouTube videos. You split the revenue with YouTube, and ads could appear as:

  • Display: Only on desktop, these ads sit at the top right of the screen, next to your video being played and above the “up next” list of suggested videos.
  • Overlay: Also only on desktop, these ads pop up like a banner ad at the bottom 20% of a video display.
  • Video: These are video ads (super-short commercials) that play before or in the middle of your video (i.e. “pre-roll” or “mid-roll”). They can be skippable after five seconds, non-skippable and run for 15 to 20 seconds, or bumper ads that run for six seconds.

To be eligible to earn ad revenue, you have to meet YouTube’s advertiser-friendly content guidelines, which means your videos can’t include:

  • Inappropriate language
  • Violence
  • Adult content
  • Shocking content
  • Harmful or dangerous acts
  • Hateful and derogatory content
  • Recreational drugs and drug-related content
  • Firearms-related content
  • Controversial issues
  • Sensitive events
  • Incendiary and demeaning
  • Tobacco-related content
  • Adult themes in family content

YouTube explains these guidelines in more detail, including tips to help you review your own content for compliance, and it notes the importance of context — like, sex ed videos can contain some sexual content and music videos might be OK with profanity (‘cause YouTube’s more like your cool aunt than your strict father).

Note that advertising guidelines — designed to protect advertisers from shilling their products alongside problematic content — are different from community guidelines. Community guidelines are designed to protect viewers from problematic content, and your videos need to meet those standards to be published on YouTube at all.

2. Channel Memberships

You could sell channel memberships to your loyal fans if your channel has more than 1,000 subscribers and your channel isn’t set as “made for kids.”

Channel memberships let fans pay a monthly fee to access perks like emoji, badges; and exclusive content like Community posts, videos and live streams.

Badges are a way for fans to show off their loyalty to your brand — they’ll display how many months someone’s been a member. Custom emoji let viewers react to your videos during live chats.

To start selling channel memberships, your channel has to have a Community tab, which is like a mini social media feed inside your main YouTube page where you can post and invite comments from fans.

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3. Merch Shelf

Design merchandise, like T-shirts, coffee mugs, hand towels or whatever you fancy, to let your biggest fans show off your brand.

With more than 10,000 subscribers to your channel, you could use this feature to facilitate merchandise sales directly from YouTube.

To sell merch through YouTube, you have to set items up with a supported retailer first. That includes sites like Design by Humans, Fanfiber and Merchbar. You’ll turn on merch features and connect your retailer through the monetization section in YouTube Studio.

You can display your merch shelf for your entire channel or turn it on and off for individual videos. You can also add a Store tab to your channel’s home page, pin an item to a live stream or feature merch on video end screens.

4. Super Chat and Super Stickers

Anyone can start a YouTube live stream to connect with viewers in real time for an event or class. Live chat is automatically available for viewers to comment during any live stream.

Viewers can purchase a Super Chat or Super Stickers during a live stream to stand out in the live chat stream. Super Chat lets them have their messages highlighted, and Super Stickers let them send animated messages that pop up in the feed.

If you have a super engaged audience with fans who are eager to get your attention — and stand out among other fans — Super Chat and Super Stickers could help them get their message across.

5. YouTube Premium Revenue

YouTube Premium is YouTube’s paid subscription streaming service for users. It lets users pay a monthly fee to watch videos without ads and access perks like YouTube original content, downloads and background play.

As a YouTube partner, you can earn a cut of the revenue when a YouTube Premium member watches your videos (since, you know, they’re not watching ads on your videos). Premium payments are dolled out based on how much members watch your videos.

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Third: How to Make Money on YouTube Without the Partner Program

You don’t have to monetize your videos on YouTube to earn money from YouTube content. Creators have found lots of innovative ways to get paid for the content they create and the audiences they build through YouTube.

These strategies could be good options for big channels or those with less than 1,000 subscribers who aren’t eligible to monetize through YPP.

6. Fan Funding

A popular option for online content creators in any genre, paid membership programs like Patreon, Tipeee and Buy Me a Coffee let creators build and monetize a community.

You can publish your YouTube videos without monetizing through the partner program and instead invite your fans to send you a tip or subscribe for a paid membership through a third-party site.

Here’s how they work:

  • Patreon: Set monthly membership levels — like $3, $6 and $12 — with varying access to perks like exclusive videos, audio or newsletters. Members subscribe and access content through the Patreon platform, and Patreon keeps 5% to 12% of fees depending on the service plan you choose.
  • Tipeee: Make a creator page, and invite fans to tip any amount they want one time or as a recurring contribution. You can include perks for tippers to choose, but those aren’t tied to contribution amounts.
  • Buy Me a Coffee: Create a simple way for supporters to tip you for your creations through PayPal or a credit card. You can also add on a monthly membership option with exclusive perks at a price you set. For pages with a membership option, you can create posts (similar to Patreon); for support-only pages, your page just shows a feed of supporters.

7. Influencer Marketing

If you’ve got an audience that looks to you for recommendations on products, brands, events, activities or anything else, you could get paid by brands to create sponsored content.

You don’t have to have an enormous audience to make money through influencer marketing, but you should have a loyal, engaged audience. How big it needs to be for you to make money depends on the size and focus of your niche — a YouTube channel about using Google Sheets could monetize a much smaller audience than one about video games.

Depending on what you’re promoting, sponsored content is usually a review, how-to, overview or story about a product, service or brand.

It helps introduce your viewers to something a company wants to sell, but without the hard sell of a commercial or ad. Brands work with you because your audience trusts you and naturally wants your recommendations.

You can connect with brands by getting noticed through relevant hashtags, reaching out directly or connecting through an influencer marketplace like:

  • Grapevine Logic: Sign up with a minimum of 10,000 YouTube subscribers to develop marketing campaigns with support from Grapevine Logic staff.
  • YouTube BrandConnect: YouTube is rolling out its native influencer marketing program to select channels to help creators connect with brands. To be eligible, you have to be part of the YouTube partner program.
  • Channel Pages: Add your channel details to this network to help brands find you through search results. Brands search the network and reach out to you if your channel looks like a fit for their campaigns.
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8. License Your Content to Media Outlets

If a video on your channel gets a lot of traction or  🙌 🙌 🙌  goes viral — or just contains content other outlets might find valuable — you could earn money selling media outlets the right to publish it on their own channels.

This is different from a site’s ability to embed your YouTube video in their content or share it on social media — you get credit for all those views and potential ad revenue.

Licensing your content lets those sites republish the content natively, within the limits of the license.

If a video goes viral, you could have media contacting you for the rights to use it. If you want to be proactive about licensing your content, you can list your videos through sites like Jukin Media and ViralHog to connect with outlets and get help managing your licensing deals.

9. Promote Your Products or Services

Sharing free content and growing a community through YouTube is a great way to establish your expertise and grow a business selling things like coaching, courses or freelance services.

For example, if you’re a website designer who specializes in Squarespace sites, you could host a channel of how-to videos showing viewers how to use various functions of Squarespace.

Your videos would show up when users search for Squarespace related questions on YouTube and Google, and you could build a community of people who trust your expertise and come to you first when they need to hire web design help.

Get creative to apply this strategy to your business — you have tons of options. Here are a few ideas:

  • Demonstrate your expertise. Create how-to and explanatory videos that address common questions your target customers have about the kind of service you offer. Optimize them for search to help people find them when they have questions.
  • Showcase your brand. Record yourself answering viewer questions or preaching your philosophy to help potential customers get to know what you’re about.
  • Network and spread your influence. Interview experts for a talk show or video podcast to get to know important people in your industry and get yourself in front of their audiences.
  • Promote your projects. Use your YouTube channel to showcase your upcoming projects and garner support from fans. For example, share movie trailers, book cover reveals, or customer testimonials for your services or programs.

10. Affiliate Marketing

You can earn money by promoting other companies’ products or services without creating sponsored content. If you naturally mention products or brands in your content, join affiliate programs and share your links in the video description.

When viewers click on your link, buy the product or sign up for someone’s email list, you get paid.

Affiliate marketing is an especially good fit for instructional videos. As you teach viewers how to do things (like use Squarespace, as I mentioned above), you’ll naturally mention brands and tools you love and recommend. Affiliate marketing lets you get paid when viewers follow your recommendations.

If you’ve got a large following online, you might be able to connect with companies directly to strike affiliate deals. But most affiliate marketers use affiliate networks to benefit from deals companies are offering any creators who meet their qualifications.

You can find affiliate opportunities through networks including:

Fourth: How Much Money Can You Make on YouTube?

How much you can earn from YouTube videos depends on a lot of factors. The most obvious is how many video views you get — but even the question of how much you’ll get paid for those views is an elusive one.

The share of revenue you earn per ad view depends on the terms of your partner program terms agreement with YouTube. That share can vary by creator, and the amount can vary per ad.

Most reports say creators earn around $18 per 1,000 ad views, which works out to around $3 to $5 per 1,000 video views.

But there’s no perfect data on what YouTubers are actually earning, just a lot of individual anecdotes mixed up with headline-grabbing earnings reports from YouTube stars.

Examples of Successful YouTubers

To give us an idea of what kind of content pops on YouTube, Forbes has been tracking the estimated earnings of YouTube stars for the past few years. Here are the top earners Forbes reported for 2020.

Name What They Do Earnings 6/1/19 - 6/1/20 Views 6/1/19 -6/1/20 Subscribers as of Dec. 2020
Ryan Kaji Children's unboxing videos $29.5 million 12.2 billion 41.7 million
MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) Stunts and humor $24 million 3 billion 47.8 million
Dude Perfect Sports and comedy $23 million 2.77 billion 57.5 million
Rhett and Link Sketch comedy $20 million 1.9 billion 41.8 million
Markiplier (Mark Fischbach) Video game breakdowns $19.5 million 3.1 billion 27.8 million
Preston Arsement Minecraft and other gaming videos $19 million 3.3 billion 33.4 million
Nastya (Anastasia Radzinskaya) Children's vlog $18.5 million 39 billion 190.6 million

Of course, you don’t need to earn tens of millions of dollars to be considered successful in any job, especially if you’re just looking for a side gig.

Here are a few other folks who’ve found more attainable success on YouTube over the years:

  • Gabby Wallace, who teaches English as a second language through her channel Go Natural English, told The Penny Hoarder she earned $120,000 in one year through YouTube ad revenue, sponsorships and selling courses with about 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. That was a few years ago — Wallace has more than 2 million subscribers now!
  • Franchesca Ramsey, a.k.a. Chescaleigh had been steadily building her following and side income on YouTube before her viral video, “Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls,” pulled her into the spotlight in 2012. She was hired by MTV to do the web series “Decoded” a couple years after that, then became a writer on Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” and she published a book about her experience in 2018.
  • Entrepreneur Marie Forleo has been hosting her YouTube show for entrepreneurs and creatives, MarieTV, for a decade. She started with a webcam at her kitchen table and has built a following of more than 700,000 subscribers. She doesn’t monetize directly on YouTube and instead uses the platform to build an audience and sell her online programs, including B-School, which has had more than 64,000 students since its launch in 2010.
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Fifth: Brand New to YouTube? Here’s How to Get Started

In case you’re drooling over the possibilities but haven’t even started a YouTube channel, here’s a quick guide to getting started as a YouTube creator.

  • Choose your niche. What kind of content do you want to create? Funny, educational, thought-provoking or instructional. The possibilities are limited only by YouTube’s guidelines, which basically say you can’t post pornography or anything super offensive. Your subject can also help you determine your channel’s name (if you don’t use your own name).
  • Set up your production. You’ll need a camera, obviously. You can shoot a YouTube video on something as simple as a smartphone or webcam, or go for a full studio set up with a camera, lights and microphones. Our recommendation? Start small and simple, and build as you need to.
  • Create a channel. You have to have a Google account to be active on YouTube (assuming you’ve already got that part covered). Then you can create a channel just by signing into YouTube and clicking “create a channel” under your profile picture.
  • Verify your channel. Enter your phone number to get a verification code to let YouTube know you’re real. You can upload videos limited to 15 minutes long without getting verified — but this step is super easy and comes with perks, so we recommend it.
  • Upload videos! That’s all it takes. You’ll upload videos and see analytics for your channel via YouTube Studio, right in your YouTube account.

Once you’re set up, your biggest challenge to monetizing is going to be growing your audience — so brush up on some YouTube marketing basics.

Sixth: YouTube Marketing Basics to Grow Your Audience (and Income)

YouTube’s Creator Academy is a comprehensive resource for best practices and tips to polish your content, grow your audience and keep viewers engaged. Peruse tons of free lessons to learn how to grow your channel and make money on YouTube.

Here are a few basics every creator should know:

Learn YouTube SEO

Part of the Google (Alphabet) family, YouTube is as much a search-based platform as a social one. Tons of generally unknown creators get millions of views and earn significant revenue on YouTube because viewers find their videos through Google or YouTube search.

You can learn endless tips and tricks to optimize YouTube videos for search, but here’s what every creator should keep in mind from the beginning:

  • Video content: If it’s a fit for your niche, create videos around what your target audience wants to know. Take frequently asked questions, and turn your answers into content.
  • Video title: Write clear, descriptive titles that make people want to click to learn more. Do a little research to choose keywords relevant to your video, and put a strong one in the title.
  • Video descriptions: Include keywords and a good overview of the video in the video description to help YouTube’s algorithm know what the video’s about.

Keep Posting New Videos

YouTube likes fresh content and active channels, so posting new videos regularly can help your content show up in searches and suggested videos.

Older videos with lots of views and engagement might continue to get search traffic and generate passive income for you, which is great. You can supercharge your income by keeping your channel active and giving YouTube plenty of fresh content to recommend to viewers.

Create Engaging Content

What YouTube loves more than anything is content that viewers click on, share, like, comment on and follow to another video. Engaging content keeps viewers on the platform, so the algorithm rewards it.

It’s also good for your viewers and your brand!

Think of your audience with everything you create. Even if your content is a vlog about your life, think about what they’ll get out of each video before you record it, and work to produce a video that’ll achieve that end.

Ask questions to invite comments, and encourage viewers to seek out your other videos and subscribe to your channel.

Ready to Make Money on YouTube?

Starting a YouTube channel can be a smart step toward creating a side hustle to generate extra income — or, eventually, a new full-time job — for yourself.

Few successful creators make the bulk of their money through the YouTube partner program, but signing up and taking advantage of some of the monetization options could be a simple way to get started.

As your audience and business grows, you can diversify your income by adding sponsored content and affiliate marketing, licensing your content or promoting your business’s core products and services.

Like any other side hustle or business, YouTube isn’t a way to make money fast, but it can be a fun way to get creative, connect with an audience and boost your income.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.