Everything I Know About Digital Entrepreneurship, I Learned from YouTube
Here Peter Hollens outlines how YouTube can work as the perfect combination business school and incubator for the eager digital entrepreneur, as it allows artists to learn how to foster a community of fans while simultaneously allowing them the develop vital business skills.
Guest post by YouTube artist and entrepreneur Peter Hollens
Everything I needed to know about digital entrepreneurship I learned on YouTube. YouTube is more than a platform; it’s a business school and an incubator for serious entrepreneurship, rolled into one. It’s not about viral videos or flash-in-the-pan micro-celebrities. It’s about gaining vital business skills, fostering a community, and creating a viable living.
I’m a musician, perhaps an unlikely digital entrepreneur. I started out on the traditional route with music school training and a major record label deal. But realizing that wasn’t for me, I pivoted and built my business on top of a platform that allows endless experimentation from people of all skill levels and backgrounds. That crazy sandbox, where anyone can post anything, proved the best place to learn what actually works today for an artist like me, and for thousands to tens of thousands of other creators and entrepreneurs.
Reverse-Engineer the Successful Processes of Others – But Don’t Stop There
The first lesson I learned from YouTube is that a low barrier to entry means that in order to be successful, you need to quickly become savvy to what is working. Do what there is demand for, find the gap in the marketplace and pounce.
On YouTube, demand is easy to see. I recognized that A Cappella music was doing well on YouTube which drew me to the platform. I reverse-engineered what other successful creators were doing, covering the next big pop songs, which in-turn lead to a degree of personal success. But I eventually hit a wall because those songs didn’t resonate with me, which pushed me to find my voice and my niche. To do this, I used my community as a guide.
As a digital entrepreneur, the approach you take to building your digital business should be similar to how a traditional mom-and-pop business does it. The “secret” lies in community building and recognizing that there is a difference between community building and marketing. In order to build a community you need to take its members very seriously.
You can look at an online fan base the way people look at the sales funnel. Your personal engagement and willingness to respond to your listeners and supporters will move people from casual fans, the people who watch a bit of your video then move on, to true patrons and evangelists, who want to share your work and back you monetarily. Along the way, you have to provide as much value as possible. That’s all about providing personal attention. The further down the funnel they are, the more the thank-you economy takes over, the more love you shower them with and vice versa.
You should treat people as if they were walking into your brick-and-mortar business. Greet the people coming to you and thank them for coming by. The etiquette and relationships in digital business are similar to the old-fashioned approach to customer service. Like a mom-and-pop store owner, you have to place yourself on the same level as those you interact with online. You can’t be high and mighty. Even if you’re a huge company or brand, acting as if you’re superior to your customers doesn’t work anymore.
Engage with Your Community
One of the best, yet most difficult, things to do as an entrepreneur is to take a true and unbiased look at your product. Give yourself an honest evaluation. It’s a tough skill to develop because it requires you to step outside of yourself.
The good news is your community can help you. If you poll ten thousand people, you’ll get a good idea of a consumer’s take on the product. You can then pivot faster. Listen to their comments and take them to heart at first. Then ignore the overly positive and overly negative comments, and listen to what’s left.
If you were a touring musician, people in the coffeehouse or bar aren’t likely to fill out a questionnaire about what they thought. But they will online. You have the ability to gather feedback from their engagement and learn from it. The best creators, like the best business owners or entrepreneurs, are those who are always pushing themselves, who want to grow and innovate. To grow, you must learn to take constructive criticism as inspiration.
That insight got me from zero to millions of subscribers on YouTube, which turned into a group of dedicated fans who fund me via Patreon and let me make videos while earning a middle-class income. This change came when, instead of leaning solely on reverse engineering, I started working with my community, listening to and engaging with them about the music they enjoy and wanted to hear.
Together, we’ve found a sweet spot, a very eclectic mix of music, which has birthed a successful online media company. Now, I’m taking my business into new spaces, from live performances to education for other artists and entrepreneurs like myself.
Simply put, creating success as an entrepreneur in the digital world does not require a new set of rules. The traditional business concepts of recognizing and supplying what’s in demand and creating value for your supporters, of building and engaging with that community, still hold true. You just need to learn them from new contexts, and YouTube is the perfect place to do that.
Anyone can make a living doing what they love and are passionate about now. There are no more excuses. If you want to change your life and build your own career doing what you are passionate about, start now. Yes, that means YOU.
Peter Hollens is a YouTube-first artist, speaker, educator, and businessman.