[Daniel: This interview with was done via Google Hangout. You can listen to the interview by clicking the audio stream below. Without further due – Sean Cannell!]
Think Media is a channel that is all about the best tips and tools for building your influence with online video. We do tech gear reviews – looking at cameras, lighting, microphones and accessories for content creators. We also give tips and strategies on how to get traffic, grow subscribers and monetize your message online.
I first got started with video in 2003. I was volunteering at my church when the youth pastor handed me a Canon HV30 and Adobe Premier. He asked if I could make weekly video announcements for the youth ministry. I took the opportunity to learn how to edit videos, be comfortable in front of the camera, and learn the different parts of video production. A year later, the pastor asked if I could also make videos for Sunday sessions. So now, instead of 52 videos, it became 104 videos a year. I learned to be fast, meet deadlines, and get out consistent content on a weekly basis. This was all before Youtube even existed – Youtube launched in 2005. Then in 2007, I launched our church’s Youtube channel. This was my first Youtube channel, where I began to develop techniques on optimizing SEO for video (keywords tagging, description optimization and outbound marketing).
By 2009, I had accumulated enough experience around Youtube and people started to ask me to help them shoot their wedding videos and make videos for their local businesses. So I launched a business (and a Youtube channel) called Clear Vision Media. Our clientele expanded to speakers, authors, motivational speakers and Youtubers. This is when I met Benji and Judi Travis, then emerging Youtubers who now have over 1B+ combined video views. I helped them with their Youtube SEO and had good results. For a few years, I continued to freelance and work with Youtubers behind the scenes. It wasn’t until October 2015 when I decided to go “all-in” on my own Youtube channel, Think Media.
From the start, I experimented with affiliate links in my Youtube channels. I put links to Amazon in my Youtube videos and if a viewer made a purchase, I made 4-10% commission off that purchase. As a side note, Amazon tracks a viewer’s activity for 24 hours. So even if the viewer didn’t purchase the specific product I was reviewing, I still received commission on any purchase made on Amazon within 24 hours. I initially made $5/month. That turned into $50/month and by October 2015, it was about $500/month. It was a good side income to support my primary freelance work.
Now it wasn’t the growing affiliate money that triggered me to go all-in on Youtube. In fact, just the opposite. In October 2015, all of my freelance clients let me go! It was a bizarre whirlwind of circumstances. Few clients hired in-house, while others made decided not to focus on video anymore. As a result, I ended up losing 80% of my primary income in a single month! This was a large shock and by default, Youtube became my primary line of work.
At this time, my Youtube channel Think Media was not big – in fact, it only had 16,000 subscribers. I was unsure whether I should recoup the loss in income vwith more freelance work. I sought counsel from a business coach. He said, “You have this proof-of-concept for your Youtube channel. But you’re not really doing it consistently enough. I believe if you go all-in, you can make it”. I still wasn’t sure and I talked to my wife. She let me know that we had six months before we go bankrupt! I made a leap of faith and decided to focus all of my efforts to Youtube and affiliate marketing.
By Jan 1st, 2016 (4 months later), I managed to earn back all of the lost freelance income from with an affiliate marketing revenue on Youtube. Fast forward to today, and we are doing a 6-figure income – just from affiliate marketing on Amazon Associates! It was affiliate marketing which stacked up, replacing my day-job income and scaling beyond what I ever made from any job.
I had around 20,000 subscribers in Jan 2016. I received my check from Amazon Associates that month for $5000. Of course, the definition of “full-time income” is relative. Some people may be happy with $60K/year, but if you have 26 kids, that’s probably not enough. The key point is that you can make a full-time income without reaching millions of subscribers.
[Daniel: Besides Amazon Associates, there are also other large affiliate networks: ShareASale, Rakuten, Clickbank, FlexOffers, RewardStyle (fashion), ShopSense (fashion) to name a few. You can also check the website of specific brands to see if they have an active affiliate program]
Yes, I have some figures for you. Last month, the conversion rate of our affiliates links was 3% and we had about 196,000 total clicks on our affiliate links. In internet marketing, many people are doing a 1-2% conversion rate. If you go higher than 1-2%, you are doing great. And if you are doing 5-7%, you are crushing it! As your channel grows larger and larger, that conversion rate will naturally go down because of the increase volume.
The first tip is to consider the video idea itself. It’s important that you understand the intent of the viewer who is watching the video. For example, if you review a blow-dryer on a beauty channel, the viewer will be more likely to click the link because they have come to learn about beauty products. On the other hand, say you are a vlogger and your video is about your day in LA. If you showcase a juicer in that vlog, the conversion will be low as the viewer came for entertainment. They have no intent to purchase anything. It’s a much harder ask.
What works for me is making product review videos and putting them in front of people that are looking to buy. For example, I made a product review video last year comparing Christmas laser lights. I saw them in my local grocery store and had a gut-feeling that they would be a trend. I titled the video “Best Christmas Lights” as this would be a likely search phrase people for people looking to buy Christmas lights. The initial boost of views came from my subscriber base but then it ranked into the top 3 listings in Youtube.
This video alone collected over 100,000+ views and brought in ~$4K last December. Make a insightful video that covers the pros/cons about a specific product, including comparison of different options. This will result in a much higher conversion rate of your affiliate links.
The second tip is to explicitly let your viewers know that you have show links and notes in the description section. Let them know at both the beginning and end of a video. If you look at the average duration a viewer watches your video, you will see an aggressive drop-off. Typically, only 1/10 viewers will make it to the end. Therefore, let people know what-to-do and where-to-go early in the video as well.
The last tip of course – is to provide quality content. As cliché as that is, if your video does not provide insight or is not helpful, it doesn’t work. Many new Youtubers get obsessed with production value – placing too much emphasis on camera and lighting. However, the key to “selling” is providing good insights, helping people avoid bad products, maintaining good integrity and staying away from being a salesman. Let the viewers make their own decision.
That’s a great question. For sure, there is DNA. But I don’t believe there is anybody who is doing anything of significance with just talent. There is not one NBA player who got there without tons of practice. Early morning, late nights – just decades of practice. Since 2003, I’ve posted over 2000+ videos online. If anybody posts 2000 videos, you are going to get good.
I also have to mention that I got lot of practice from my church. I did lot of public speaking – making announcements in the youth ministry, speaking in sermons and bible studies. Besides church, I think there are also plenty of speaking opportunity at local organization like a Toastmasters or at the Chamber of Commerce. All experiences you get in the real world level up your ability to communicate well on Youtube.
I’ll give you another practical tip – especially during batch filming. I like to write a bullet-point outline of speaking notes on a small note and tape it right below the lens on the camera. Then I will record until I hit each point clearly (or retake as needed). This becomes very helpful, especially when I need to share data points about a product. The note can also include production reminders like shooting the thumbnail or b-roll.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t have it today. The best way to prepare for that breakthrough moment five years from now is to start today. Take a look at my old videos – and you will see a completely different Sean!
[Daniel: Sean also mentions Talking with Ted as a book that was particularly helpful in honing his public-speaking skills]
When I decided to go full time on Youtube in Oct 2016, I was working solo. I used Rev.com for closed captioning [cost about $1/min] and Fiver.com for voice-overs and smaller gigs [cost $5/gig]. Lot of services which help scale your operations before you need to hire.
Now in 2017, I do have a team. One person is in charge of video filming and editing – doing 90% of the video production on Think Media. Another team member takes on the role of a project/operations manager. She is responsible for sharing our content across social media and managing email newsletters. Then I have another team member who is in charge of customer service. We have paid products so she answers to customer while also coordinating inbound scheduling requests for me.
Well, success is simply reaching a predetermined goal. Of course, this includes the Youtube numbers like subscribers – our next goal is 1M subscribers. But I am also a lot more interested in building depth with my viewers. Depth meaning impact. In fact, our core mission on Youtube is help 10,000 people turn their creativity into a career. To help people go full-time around their passion. That’s a big number – to have 10,000 people quit their jobs and create a life on their own terms. We track the size of our email list as an operational KPI. We consider this group as our “inner circle” with whom we send personal messages and foster a more intimate dialogue. We are looking for impact!
The big (early) mistake that I made with Think Media was not taking it seriously. I didn’t have the courage or clarity to go full-time even though I knew my channel was working and had an early proof-of-concept. If I did go full-time in 2010, I probably would have 1M+ subscribers by now. However, I had a full-time job then and it was too easy to say “yes” to new clients. Youtube takes time and energy – getting ROI requires focus.
[Daniel: Sean mentions a book called Essentialism to learn more about how we can do less but accomplish more]
The second mistake I made in my first channel (Sean Cannell) was not having a cohesive brand or message around my channel. My first channel did grow subscribers, but there is no “depth” there. I was all over the place, making random videos across too many topics. That’s not to say that Youtubers can’t cover an array of topics but the branding has to be right! For example, look at any brand magazine. They have recipes, travel and lifestyle topics but they all relate back to a consistent brand.
I believe that if you are going to be a Youtuber, you are positioning yourself to be a leader. Why should anybody follow you if they don’t know where you are going. It may take months of experimentation to actually find a focus/niche/lane. But once you find it, you should have the discipline to stay on course.
We have a webinar, a 45-minute deep-dive training that breaks down a lot of the topics we covered in this interview. You can find it at TubeMasterClass.com. The training also covers specific details of how I built side-income and eventually a full-time income from Youtube. It also covers some of the best practices that are working this year in getting new views, subscribers and ultimately growing your influence on Youtube.