How This YouTuber Used Language Tutorials To Get Over 70 Million Views
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In 2009, at the start of YouTube, Rachel Smith was an American living in Germany and doing her best to learn a new language – and compassionate with other expats and locals who were doing the same.
With encouragement from a friend who told her she had a knack for explaining complex language in an easy way, she decided to make her first video.
Smith had experience singing in German, French, Italian and Spanish, and she had also taught English as a second language since the late 1990s. With this knowledge, she decided to make her first video on the pronunciation American English and see what kind of response she got.
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Almost a decade later, Smith’s dedication has turned his videos into a thriving business helping people around the world learn English. She has made over 400 videos, which have garnered over 55 million views. In September 2017, his channel, Rachel’s English, has taken an important step and reached one million subscribers.
In addition to his videos, Smith also runs a subscription-only online academy for intermediate to advanced English learners who want to improve their conversational skills.
Smith shared his ideas on how to grow your brand in a vertical that might be off the beaten track.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started with YouTube?
I was living in Germany 10 years ago and I was studying a foreign language. I was hanging out with other people studying German from all over the world, and a Turkish friend was also interested in American English because Hollywood is a big exporter of it. I was giving them some advice, and he told me you were really good at it. And I just thought, [I could explore this]. I really didn’t have a big plan. I started posting basic videos and it grew from there. The idea and the concept have grown a lot over time.
How much time do you spend on a video and what does that involve?
I used to say 10 hours per video. It’s a little less now because I hire people to do some of the video editing for example. But the main thing is really to find the concept. Sometimes I have an idea when teaching someone and I think, I have explained this now to five different students. Let’s make a meaningful video on this. Or it could be a student who asked me a question comparing a few words that are difficult for them.
A few years ago, I decided to do a five part series where a friend of mine and I ran a mock interview for a job and we just discussed the types of questions you might be asked. There’s also American culture in there and how we talk about ourselves, how we might respond to it, how someone might prepare for an interview.
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How do you operate your YouTube channel and to what extent are you monetizing it?
There is direct monetization with YouTube ads. But in my case, my vertical isn’t lucrative enough and my opinions aren’t high enough to be my only income. The chain is big enough for someone to add value and ask them to sign up for something. I have an online school and it’s a monthly subscription. It worked really well for me.
I also wrote a book two and a half years ago and it still sells surprisingly well. It’s a digital thing that I self-published, but that’s how I took advantage of the audience. It’s not like I’m holding back from my YouTube channel, because I absolutely don’t. Someone who couldn’t afford to buy anything from me could still learn essentially everything they needed to know. But there are also people who want more help, more organization, more personal advice and more training material. This is where my extra stuff comes in.
What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
The [earlier you have an] idea for your brand and who you are trying to talk to, the better. I didn’t really do that. Mine started out experimentally, and YouTube wasn’t as well established as a place you could build a brand at that time. Know who you are talking to, then speak to them directly. People aren’t interested in seeing some sort of rigid, that is, what-should-be delivery. On YouTube, people want people.
Be as personal and natural as possible and as creative as possible with what you are showing. If you are teaching you could of course do it in front of a white background, but what are you talking about? If you’re talking about food, could you walk into your kitchen? Just try to engage visually, because that’s also what we watch videos for. And then, be as professional as possible with your gear. You can shoot awesome videos on iPhone and Android. So it’s not difficult if you do a little bit of experimentation with lighting to get some really professional stuff.
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What’s the misconception that a lot of people have about YouTube?
There are two. The first is that if you make videos, people will watch them. Lots of content is available and is barely viewed. But the other thing is that very few people grow up very fast. I received an email from an ESL teacher who told me that she was going to start a channel and that she was hoping to quit her job so that she could be home with her kids and make videos. the evening. I [told her] that it took me five years on YouTube to be able to quit my job and still work full time.
It was just a misconception of how long it would take to build this land. If you earn a full time income on YouTube, trust me, you work full time. It’s great because it’s flexible and I would never complain about the amount of work it takes, but I think people think making videos doesn’t take that long. This is not true and it is only a small part of what a content creator does.