Is it a good time to start a blog, YouTube channel or an online business? – The hard truth you need to hear

Finance

The current uncertain times are pushing many to explore alternatives to earn a living. There are unprecedented number of websites, blogs, YouTube channels and online businesses that are being started. Many online creators, YouTube channels are promising the moon and the stars and that ‘you can leave your crappy job and do what you love’ theme.

The question is,  is it a good time to start a blog, YouTube channel or an online business?

I will give you an honest answer this based on my experience of more than 10 years starting my own sites and recently, reactivating my YouTube channel (started but got dormant years ago). And the fact that more than 10 years ago (where advertisements and affiliates pay much more and less competition), I quit my stressful corporate job  and by the second year of quitting (after my savings ran out) took on a paycut job with less stress so that I have mental energy to focus on my blog.

Here are the summary of what I have learned from being a blogger for more than 10 years:

1. You must love what you are doing or else it would be worse off than a job that you hate
When you start a blog or a YouTube channel, there would be a theme or niche that you would be specifically talking about. Like popular Malaysian bloggers,  Paul Tan (paultan.org) on automobile and KC Lau (kclau.com) on finance.

If you want to make a full time living out of it, it must be something that at least you like enough to be able to forsee yourself doing it for the near and long future. To have love or passion for it would be better because this would be the force that is able to drive yourself to get up every day to grind at churning out content.

2. Be willing to improve, pick up skills and knowledge on aspects that you don’t enjoy, but essential in growing your online business. 

It is also the passion to learn and master your trade that would make you wanna learn the not-so-glamorous tasks that are associated with your website, blog, YouTube channel or online business. These tasks are going to take a large chunk of your time away from writing. In the beginning when money is scarce, it is expensive to outsource these tasks.

Examples:

  • learn about WordPress and how to put on a theme. Then keep experimenting with different themes until you find one that works the best for you
  • learn a little programming language to figure out how to make things better
  • spend hours and days pouring into forums, read technical blogs and watch technical YouTube videos to try to solve a technical problem or enhance your blog/ channel
  • learn all the skills to make better video, including the gear (eg learn about cameras and settings), audio, lighting and then editing your videos and adding overlays, animations, etc.
  • learn about social media, marketing and making thumbnails, sales funnels, etc
  • learn how to promote your channel and blog
  • for online business, wrapping up Poslaju (courier) packages and dealing with after sales feedback and complaints

3. It is possible but tough to make a full time living from blogging or YouTube channel
I am not going to be like bloggers who go ra-ra and ask you to go quit your job and be an online success, making 6 figures each year from passive income.

Because I have done that and know that while it is possible, only a very small percentage is able to earn a comfortable living. Maybe it will last for a year or at most for 5 years. But the moment you are popular, other competitors will figure out a better and more efficient way of doing what you did. Like with the current economic situation, tonnes of people have started their own YouTube channel. I noticed this because there are a lot of new creators that came on the platform, mostly younger, more resilient younger generation who could like go without sleep and publish up to 3 videos a week. Some could even make daily quality videos. I have no idea how they do it because the editing itself would take hours.

There is only a limit of how long one can sustain this before one’s health starts to get affected. And as we get older, we would find we cannot go without sufficient sleep and survive on caffeine to continually pump up new content.

Say you came up with an ebook or a software and was able to earn a hundred thousand from it. One hundred thousand and I mean nett income after minusing the advertising and whatever cost you need to create that product. A lot of money, rite?

Not a lot of you have a family with mortgage, car and kid’s education and heavens forbid, medical bills to worry about.

You would probably be able to do this once or twice in your online lifetime before hungry copycats and competitors wipe you out from business. You gotta continuously innovate, innovate and innovate or else you would sink into obscurity. If you don’t love what you are doing, this is gonna kill you on the inside.

I have seen this because I have bought software from developers who were the best during their time but now have pretty much sunk into obscurity because they are being outpaced by new competitors.

But you can earn a few hundred thousand within a few years of work for someone (some can earn it within a year of work). Yes, it takes a longer time but the income is more stable. And even if you have been laid off or you resigned, you have working experience which is what your prospective employer looks at. You can still command your existing pay and position with different company because people pay for your experience and skill. And if you do your work exceptionally well, you don’t even need to go and look for a job. You would find that you are being headhunted when you still have a job.

Whereas someone who dropped out of college to start a blog or YouTube channel, met with success and later being outranked by competitors would probably have to start from the bottom.

3. For most, you would get much better pay from your day job than your online business
When I took a paycut more than 10 years ago, Adsense was paying quite high CPC (cost per click). Nowadays I am getting more than double of the traffic I used to get but not even 1/6 of what Adsense could have paid me. And even then, my paycut job pays 4 times what I was earning from my blog….. and I could hardly make ends meet surviving in the city on my paycut job!

You would have seen YouTube videos of how to earn USD100 or USD300 DAILY and methods to do it. Yeah, if you discover something new, it may work for like a few months, again before your competitors sniff you out and find ways to do things better than you. Example I used to follow some YouTube gurus that teaches tips on how to improve blogs, sites and YouTube channel. And you know what, now some of their much younger subscribers are more popular, with some of them surpassing video views and subscriber counts of their gurus.

I don’t know about you. But for me, if my livelihood is on the table in the uncertain online world, it will rob the joy out of what I am doing. I would rather find a job where I could put my skills to good use, work at it without selling my soul and then do my online business on the side, like a hobby. In fact, when I went back to the corporate world, I did not know how the tax work for online business (because LDHN guidelines were not clear then) that I decided to remove all the monetization from my blogs and use my salary to finance my hosting (that time cost about RM1k a year).

Ya but they keep saying it can be done!

Just outsource the work, they say.

Sure, I know you probably have read that some bloggers tell you to treat your blog like a business. That you need not like what you are doing…. you can just pay writers to do it and all you have to do is to edit the work. But bear in mind that:

  • a writer cannot replace your personality and the feeling you give to your readers
  • what you pay is what you get. The better the quality that you want, the more you have to be willing to pay for it. Do you forsee what you earn would be enough to justify the amount that you need to pay?
  • you still need to do some of the work like keyword research (because you need to give writers what to write about), check and edit
  • you are working with a lot of uncertainties because you do not know if what you are paying for will give you a high return on ROI

And it is hard for a new blog to rank because people are moving to YouTube. I know because I have started some new blogs and find it hard to build traffic.

The YouTuber dream

Let’s move on to YouTube. If you are thinking to monetize your YouTube channel, you need to meet 2 requirements in order to be eligible:

  • minimum 4000 hours of watchtime in the past 365 days. Not lifetime hours but within the last year. That translates to 240000 minutes of watchtime, AND
  • minimum 1000 subscribers who subscribed to your channel

Okay, so let’s say you work very very hard and now your YouTube channel is eligible for monetization. What is the amount that they would pay you?

You get an average between USD1 to USD3 for every 1000 views. This may vary depending on the niche you are on but it is the generally agreed consensus. That means, if your videos are getting like 1000 views a day, you would earn about 2 bucks.

So if you want to earn like USD100 per day like they say, you gotta get….hmmm let me see…..10000 views of your videos in  a single day!

That means consistently producing content because the YouTube algorithm rewards consistency. Every single moment you are competing with many new YouTubers who have moved to the platform and are working very hard to build their channel in the similar niche or genre that you are in.  From my observation, the views will drop because there are more and more YouTubers competing for the limited amount of audience.

Do the math and see if the returns are worth it. You can still earn if advertising is not your main source of income but you are only leveraging on YouTube to promote your online product and services.

And compared to blogs, YouTube has a large scalability. What I mean by that is that you can get ranked much faster compared to traditional blog. And once the YouTube algo favours your channel, you can grow literally overnight. But that happens few and far in between and after achieving that viral videos, you will need to continuously make new content to sustain.

The only exception

The only thing I feel very strongly about is that if you have a physical business, it is important to start an eCommerce site. With the current situation, there are less walk-in traffic and online business is a cost effective way of doing business and keeping afloat.

So what’s it is gonna be? To start or not to start?

By now, you may feel a little discouraged. But I know that deep down, no one is gonna to be able to convince you what is right or wrong. You will only either go with what you want to hear or give due consideration if the above resonates with what you feel.

You can still give this a try especially if the voice within (I do not mean the psychosis kind yeah) is urging you to work towards your dreams and refused to be silenced. The only way to silence them is to give it a shot especially if you happen to be out of job (I just hope you don’t purposely be a difficult employee to make your boss fire you coz it will not look good on your resume).

But I don’t advice you to go all out if you cannot financially afford it. It is just too risky and building a channel or blog takes time.

You may want to do like what I did, take a paycut (get a less stressful job) to have enough mental energy to work on my blogs after work hours. I felt stifled for years in my first corporate job so I quit but went Thailand for a year. Then came back and took a paycut job to work on my blogs.

Later I went back to corporate world because I realized I would rather give in to the occasional unreasonable demands of VPs and GMs than to be asked to do stupid things by some people who did not pass their high school. No offense to those who did not get through high school but just some of the people I had to deal with really sucks.  To me, the stress level is about the same. But the pay in corporate is a few times higher and I get good medical coverage and benefits.

I always believe nothing we do is wasted because we can always learn from it. The skills I acquired and honed from building my blogs, continuously improving them and better written communication had made me a valuable asset to my company. I was tasked to write communication to employees and often my emails get read because they felt I was speaking directly to them. They also felt I cared, which is the truth because I had begun my career in their position and know how they felt.

In the end, I made the decision to quit my job to be a full time caregiver for my mom. And in the process, I decided to pick up blogging which was something I enjoyed immensely. I enabled monetization on my blogs because it would help to pay for my insurance and some living expenses. It did pay for my Xiaomi phone which I am using to take a lot of the recent years’ photos for this blog.  Blogging also give me some respite from the caregiving.

However, I want to say that,  I would not have resigned from my job if I could not afford to do so. I would have just hire a full time maid to look after my mom (could never bear to send her to a nursing home after all she has done for me).  I would not try desperately to make blogging a full time income or go all out if there is a risk I would not be able to pay my bills or become homeless.

If I do so, the desperation would kill the joy out of what I am doing (which means I would have perpetual writers block) and make me miserable. From my experience during the first corporate job that I resigned from, I learned that I have no issue reducing my expenses and scaling my life down drastically.

For you, if you could afford it, you may consider giving it a shot to silence the voice (again, not the psychosis kind) that is urging you to pursue your dream. A bonus if you are not the family’s sole breadwinner and have some extra time to work on a side venture.  If you do make money, by sincerest advice is don’t splurge it away thinking that the money will always be there. Live a simple lifestyle with as little financial commitment as possible and continue saving. Then if you got your lucky one hit or two hit wonders, ride the wave to maximize your income but don’t fall into despair should there be no repeat performance.

How to start a blog and monetize it?

To start off, I would suggest you begin your site (go for own hosting) and then apply to Google Adsense to monetize your blog once you have enough traffic. If most of your visitors are from Asia, then you can apply to affiliate networks such as Involve Asia or AccessTrade. Through their channels, you can access to merchants such as Zalora, Lazada and Shopee that you can promote. You can read a  comparison post I did of Involve Asia vs AccessTrade.

I will leave you with something very meaningful that Pewdiepie, one of the top YouTuber (with more than 100 million subscribers) said:

At 9.36 min: Do it because you enjoy making it. Because if you enjoy making them, people will enjoy watching them. And if people don’t watch them, you will at least have fun making them. So you can’t lose anyway.
– PewDiePie

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