A Beginners Guide to Starting and Growing a Successful Vlog

by | Oct 23, 2020

The chances are if you’re my age you call a vlog a ‘vee-log’. According to my 14 year old however it’s called a ‘vvvlog’. No vee required.

No matter what you call it, whether you like it or not it’s the modern day blogging and we need to get on that video train if we want to grab the attention of our audience!

In the 21st Century, we’re not writers or public speakers any more; we’re content creators.

The smartphones in our pockets make it possible to communicate instantly, using a variety of mediums, to an audience anywhere in the world.

This post is all about one of those content creation mediums; vlogging.

What Is a Vlog and How Does it Differ From a Blog?

A vlog is simply a video blog. That doesn’t mean you have to start a blog to house your videos. It means it’s a video version of a blog, which stands for ‘web-log’.

So a vlog is a video log, rather than the more traditionally known web-log or blog as we’ve come to know and love.

When the internet was gaining popularity in the 1990s, slow data transfer speeds meant that hardly any video got posted to the internet. People instead set up blogs to share their message with the wider world.

As data transfer speeds improved, websites like YouTube made it possible for people to share videos of their thoughts easily. All they needed to do was flip their video cameras around and speak into the lens.

Today vlogging is wildly popular, and YouTube is now the most visited website in the world.

What is the Purpose of a Vlog?

Its purpose can be anything you want it to be. If you want to entertain, educate, or even change the world; hit that record button and start talking.

Many vloggers, though, start a vlog to make money. YouTube has an ad revenue sharing system called the YouTube Partner Program. And many of the top vloggers on YouTube earn tens of thousands of dollars each month from the viewers they attract on the platform.

But let’s take a step back.

How Do You Vlog?

I’m glad you asked! This blog post will teach you all about vlogging. I’ll cover the equipment you need to get started, how to choose a niche, and give you some tips for recording your vlogs. Then I’ll suggest the best platforms to vlog on and highlight some top vloggers you can learn from.

Let’s jump right in.

1. Equipment You’ll Need to Start Your Vlog

“Lights, camera, action!” The famous cue made by Hollywood filmmakers when shooting a movie provides a hint for the equipment you need to consider when shooting your vlog. It does miss out on a critical aspect of vlogging though; sound.

This section covers the equipment you’ll need to record your vlog.

Camera

You don’t need to buy an expensive camera to record your vlogs. While this is something you may want to splash out on further down the road, many vloggers make a start using nothing more than their smartphone or a laptop webcam.

As long as the equipment you already own can film in a high enough resolution for sharing online, make a start using that.

When I started way back when I used my dodgy old webcam and an old flip camera with a state of the art built in usb connection! Remember them!

(Just found this video, I am an original vlogger! Kids of today eat your heart out, this is how it’s done!)

How do I know if my equipment is good enough for filming a vlog?

Video quality is measured by the broadcast film’s display resolution. It’s a number that usually has a letter ‘p’ or ‘K’ at the end. Here are the currently acceptable video camera resolutions in ascending order of quality:

  • 720p – HD or High Definition
  • 1080p – FHD or Full High Definition
  • 1440p – QHD or Quad High Definition
  • 4K – UHD or Ultra-High Definition
  • 8K – The current top resolution for cameras and TVs.

You will want to record your vlogs using the best quality camera you can. And the latest top-end smartphones can record in all resolutions up to 4K.

But just because you can record on 4K doesn’t mean you should. Most of the videos uploaded to YouTube have a maximum resolution of 1080p. There are a handful of videos available at a higher resolution, but these need a super-fast internet connection for the viewer to watch without stuttering.

I’d recommend that you record your videos in 1080p until data transfer speeds improve for filming in 4K or more.

If you are thinking of using your laptop’s in-built webcam to film your vlogs, check the resolution available. The maximum resolution for most laptop cameras is 720p unless yours is top of the range.

I use a small 12” macbook pro for example as I travel a lot and the webcam on this isn’t the best, but still passes for a decent live recording;

You can buy good quality external webcams that record in 1080p from Amazon for about $100; look for ones made by Logitech.

Start Vlogging With Your Smartphone

Step 1 to start vlogging is by using your smartphone camera. It’s easy to shoot from different camera angles, and you can film on the move too if inspiration strikes.

It’s worth investing in a tripod to mount your camera, though, as jerky images will distract from your vlog. If you’re acting as the camera person too, you’ll want to line up your shot before filming.

You can also get special selfie-sticks to stabilise the camera when filming on the move, which, is again, around $100 for a good one.

gimbal for vlogging

Sound Equipment

If you vlog on a platform that allows your viewers to leave public comments, like YouTube, your audience will be quick to point out if your sound quality is poor.

In fact, people are more likely to forgive poor-quality pictures if they can hear what you are saying. An external microphone, therefore, should be one of the first purchases you make if you are committed to launching a vlog.

Amazon can provide all you need here, and there are hundreds of microphones to choose from.

Depending on your style of vlogging, you may only need a desktop USB microphone. Some desktop microphones can plug directly into your smartphone too.

If you move about in your vlog, you may need to invest in a lavalier microphone that clips on to your clothing. Also bear in mind that recording sound outdoors may also require a specialised microphone cover to reduce wind noise.

My best sound has always been when using Logitech headphones with a usb direct into the computer, but the days of recording with big headphones on and still looking remotely professional are over!

headphones for vlog

Nowadays, I use my Yeti mic when recording a face to camera live stream or video on my computer. My Logitech headphones when recording a screen tutorial and a small Sennheiser Lavelier mic when recording on my phone.

lavalier mic for vlogging

Micreviews.com has an in-depth post about choosing a microphone for vlogging if you want further information.

Lighting

Lighting is a key aspect when shooting a vlog. If you’re only using home lighting to illuminate your face, then viewers will probably notice.

You don’t need to become a lighting expert like Cornel Lucas:

marlene dietrich by cornel lucas

Marlene Dietrich by Cornel Lucas

But even a single cheap ring light to illuminate your face can go a long way to improve the overall quality of your vlog content.

There are plenty more lighting tutorials available on YouTube itself, and lighting equipment is reasonably priced on Amazon and eBay.

Your Home Studio

Where you film your videos is up to you. Marie Forleo uses different locations around her home. One day she is in her home office; the next in a spacious living area;

marie forleo vlog

However, she does have a rather lovely home. If yours is not suitable for a Hello! Magazine photoshoot, or even social media, then you can construct a studio set for your videos in the corner of a spare room.

Here is an example from the beauty vlogger MissBeautyAdikt. A light ring behind a camera, with a carefully managed background is all she needs to produce professional-looking vlog content.

missbeautyadikt vlog equipment

2. Choosing a Niche

Do I need to have a niche for my vlog?

Yes, without question. People choose to follow content creators because they produce content that provides value to them and fulfils a need.

If your vlog’s content jumps from personal finance to writing to beauty, for example, then your audience will value your opinion less. People like to consume videos from experts – even if it’s only for entertainment.

Choose a niche and develop expertise in it.

According to blogging.com, the top vlogging categories are:

  • Beauty
  • Food
  • Unboxing
  • Gaming
  • Travel
  • Comedy
  • Fitness
  • Tech Reviews

There are, of course, plenty of sub-niches you can choose within these broad topics for your videos.

You could focus on nail art in the Beauty niche, or running in the fitness niche. Don’t be afraid of picking quite a narrow topic either.

The whole world is potentially your audience, so even small niches can have a big enough audience for your vlog. But whichever your chosen niche, be sure to confirm with some keyword research before making a start and planning your videos.

Once you have chosen your niche, spend some time thinking about your audience. Create an avatar of your ideal viewer. Your avatar would contain some of the following information;

Biographical Information

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Job
  • Number of Children
  • Income
  • Location

Characteristics

  • Goals
  • Values
  • Challenges
  • Pain Points
  • Blogs/Sources of News
  • Books/Magazines they Read

Having an ideal viewer avatar will greatly help you create videos that resonate with your audience.

3. Recording Your Vlogs

You’ll need to think carefully about the content of each vlog, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to script it. But, it is recommended, at the very least, that you create a basic outline of the content you want to record.

Vlogging is maturing as a content medium, and lots of people are making polished videos with a high production standard that demonstrates a high level of planning.

Even so, if you’re new to video and nervous to get started, don’t spend too long here. Just plan a basic outline of what you want to cover, write out some bullet points and get recording.

Doing is better than thinking about doing and getting caught up trying to make it perfect.

If you’re already a blogger who wants to add vlogging to your content strategy, you are in a great position!

Just look at some of your best performing blog posts and turn those into videos.

Here’s a great video from the folks at Hubspot showing you how to do just that;

If you have some great social media posts, an ebook you wrote or any written or visual content anywhere on the web that could be turned into a video, you can use the same principle.

Why reinvent the wheel?

If you’re still stuck for content ideas, check out my podcast on The Top 10 Ways to Find Content Ideas

Filming Your Vlog

Unless you can flip on a camera and riff into it for 10 mins like Gary Vaynerchuk, have a list of the points you want to cover in your vlog placed near to the camera. It’s OK to flick your eyeballs over to read the next talking point as you record your vlog.

Also, don’t worry if you fluff a few lines when recording; take a beat and start repeating the line – you can edit out the error later on.

You can also record in short bursts, so you read a couple of lines, look at the camera and say your lines, then read the next few lines and so on. That’s the beauty of being able to edit videos, you can cut out all the bits you don’t need.

It might be helpful for you to do a few trial recording sessions first. Trial recordings can help you iron out technical kinks and get over your initial on-camera nerves.

4. Editing Your Vlog.

One of the people credited as a co-founder of vlogging is Adam Kontras, who recorded himself and other people smuggling a cat into a hotel.

first-ever vlog

There was no editing, no titles, lousy sound, and the clip only ran for a few seconds.

Those were the days!

Editing and post-production of your recorded video are a way to compete with the many vloggers competing for digital eyeballs. And while you can hire a specialist on Fiverr or Upwork to do this job for you, at the very least, it’s good to be able to perform some basic post-production yourself.

Video editing is simply cutting out the bits of your recording you don’t want, then stitching together the remaining parts that you do. And there are lots of video editing software available for you to choose from.

Picking the ‘best’ is subjective. So here is a selection of options, based on technical know-how, price range, and purpose.

Basic.

If you have an Apple Mac, then your starting point should be the pre-installed iMovie. You can perform simple edits, add a soundtrack, and insert captions and titles: it’s a perfectly suitable choice when you are starting out.

OpenShot is a free video editor for Windows users that performs the same kind of functions as Apple’s iMovie.

Extensive tutorials for both iMovie and OpenShot are available on YouTube, and it’s an afternoon well-spent learning the basics of video editing. Practice with your trial vlogs to learn the fundamentals of stitching together your best scenes – don’t worry, no one has to watch them!

Advanced.

If you choose to become a whizz at editing, then you may want to upgrade to a more accomplished editing package.

Apple users mainly choose Final Cut Pro X. It’s a $299 one-time cost and can produce broadcast-quality content.

Windows users frequently opt for Adobe Premiere Pro, which is also popular with many YouTubers. It’s way more expensive than Final Cut Pro X, though. Along with the $239.88 annual cost, you need to pay $20.99 per month to access Adobe Creative Cloud. Pricy.

I use (and have done for years), Screenflow for mac. Due to the steep learning curve of a lot of these programs I won’t change because I know how to use it and have spent years familiarising myself with the platform.

It’s certainly good enough for what I need it for.

It’s sister for Windows is Camtasia, which I also dabbled with back in the days before I went all ‘apple’!

Don’t get too caught up here though. Editing can take hours and you may lose your will to live and never record another video again!

If it gets too much, outsource! You can find reasonably priced video editors on upwork.com and fiverr.com. Remember your goal is to create awesome content and build an audience. Not spend hours and hours editing videos.

Post-Production Enhancements.

Some vloggers have their own titles and theme music intros, and you might choose to brand your content as well. More recently these appear to have gone out of fashion, though.

Perhaps it’s because, like all things on the internet, you only have a few seconds to grab attention, so you might prefer to ditch the intro and jump right into your content instead.

Look at what the popular vloggers in your chosen niche currently do for their introduction. If they use one, then it may be a good idea to emulate them and make one for yourself too.

Whichever direction you choose for the introduction, you will need to add some sort of graphics somewhere in your vlogs as a way to increase viewer engagement.

Marie Forleo has titles in the corner of her videos, telling you who is on screen and requesting that you subscribe to her YouTube channel.

marie forleo youtube image

These are relatively straightforward to do in even the most basic editing software and should be within the reach of most people’s capabilities.

There are third-party apps to help add other effects to your video. Kapwing is a cloud-based application that enables you to add graphics, subtitles and other enhancements to your video.

kapwing vlog tool

It follows the freemium model. You can use most of the tools at no cost for short videos up to 7 minutes long, but it’s worth signing up for their monthly package which costs $20 and lets you work with longer recordings.

Sounds, Music, and B-Roll Clips

Sometimes you may want to use clips or sounds in your video that have been recorded by somebody else. If you do so without their permission, you can enter the minefield of copyright claims.

There is a concept called ‘fair use’, where you can use someone else’s content if you’re transforming it, like adding commentary, for example. But ‘fair use’ can only be determined by the law courts. So if you use sound or clips that someone else holds the copyright for in your vlog, then the copyright owner can file a claim against you.

If you get three copyright claims filed against you on the YouTube platform, then your account might get shut down, (which is a very frightening experience when you’ve uploaded hundreds of videos, embedded them throughout your blog and all of a sudden the whole lot is gone – believe me I know from experience).

Much better to use the services of a stock footage and sound provider to source extra content for your vlogs. These companies provide licenced video, images, and sounds that you can use in your videos without fear of a copyright strike.

Some of the stock-footage providers also have tools to help you make vlog intros and other similar assets as well. Story Blocks is one of the more popular providers of licenced content. And you can also link a YouTube account to the software to bat away any unscrupulous copyright claims.

story blocks b roll for video blogs

Vlog Thumbnails

Your vlog has to be hosted somewhere, and while you can host it on your own website, it’s better to use a video sharing site like YouTube. While the video-sharing platforms have the benefit of immense web traffic, there is the drawback of stiff competition to consider.

So if a viewer chooses to watch your content, it will likely be because they have been attracted by your video’s thumbnail. Your thumbnail is an image that appears in YouTube’s search results and should advertise the promise of your video.

Here is an example; each vlog below has uploaded a thumbnail image specifically for their video vlog. You can tell from the thumbnail immediately what the video is about.

If you don’t create a thumbnail image, YouTube will pick a random still from your vlog which won’t display any text.

youtube thumbnail examples

My personal favourite is Canva.com for everything graphics, but you can create thumbnails with any Photoshop type software you have, or there are some apps available that help you make YouTube thumbnails, like Picsart. Alternatively, use the free online Photoshop alternative photopea.com instead.

Look to others on youtube for inspiration for great thumbnails. I also find Pinterest a great place to get ideas for adding creative text to images.

5. Vlogging Platforms

You will want to decide from the outset which vlogging platform you are going to post on, as the platform you choose will influence the type of content you want to produce. Some platforms suit longer videos, while others are more appropriate for short vlogs.

YouTube

YouTube is the first platform most think of when deciding to launch a vlog. YouTube was conceived in 2005 initially as a dating website but quickly pivoted to a video sharing platform, due to the ease of uploading video content for non-technical users.

Google bought the site in 2006, and it has since grown to be the premier site for online videos and the most visited website on the internet.

youtube for vlogs

Vloggers make money on the platform by joining the YouTube Partner Program. The Partner Program permits you to add adverts before, during, and after your video. You receive a share of the advertising revenue based on the number of views your video receives.

Your chosen niche can have a significant impact on your earnings. Channels that are technology-related tend to earn more per view, as advertising rates are higher for this niche due to competition for ad space.

To qualify for the YouTube Partner Program, you will need 1000 channel subscribers and over 4000 hours of watch time for your content in the preceding 12 months. While you build your target audience and subscriber count, you can earn extra revenue from your video content with affiliate marketing.

Vimeo

An alternative to YouTube is Vimeo.

vimeo video platform

While the traffic it receives does not compare to YouTube, it does offer an alternative way to monetise a vlog. With Vimeo, you can sell access to your vlog on a subscription basis.

You can charge your viewers access on an annual, monthly, and pay-per-view basis. You’ll likely need to build an audience elsewhere first, though, as the traffic isn’t as easy to come by as with YouTube.

Facebook/Instagram Live

With Facebook Live, you can vlog instantly using a webcam or mobile phone app.

This is a great way to get started vlogging as there’s no editing required. You’re live!

You can of course download your live and edit segments for repurposing or take out Q & A’s etc for more streamlined videos, but rather than sit in front of a camera doing retake after retake and then spending hours editing, Lives force you to script what you’re going to say and then just do it!

I’ve found FB lives a quick and easy way to both vlog and then extract the audio as a podcast – double content whammy!

I then add it to my blog as an audio and video, while the content goes out across the podcasting channels, youtube and the social networks.

podcast example on my blog

fb live video example from my blog

Facebook Videos

You can of course use Facebook like another YouTube, taking advantage of the more conversational and two way engagement street that FB is so good at.

One of the best examples of this strategy is Nas Daily.

His Facebook page now boasts some 2750 videos and he’s amassed a following of over 17million people!

nas daily fb videos

He’s also the author of one of my favourite quotes that I have up on a whiteboard in my house;

If you optimise for money you will lose attention. If you optimise for attention you will get money

One of his monetization methods is FB instream ads.

You will need a Facebook Page with 10,000 followers and have 30,000 one-minute views, to qualify for monetisation using instream ads.

Stories

With the addition of stories now on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and now Pinterest, you can easily start your vlogging career recording short portrait size videos directly into your phone and uploading as a story.

Much like lives, these require minimum editing as people are expecting a more raw, uncut version of your life.

You can use the same videos for TikTok if that platform floats your boat or for the new Instagram Reels feature.

Additional platforms you might consider are

Patreon, Snapchat, and Twitch. All have positives and negatives as vlogging platforms. You can learn all about vlogging on these platforms on YouTube.

The options are endless these days. The fact is, video is where it’s at, so no matter your insecurities it might be time for you to embrace the video camera!

6. Vloggers to Learn From.

When you launch a new endeavour, it’s useful to draw inspiration from people who are already successful. Here are a select few vloggers currently pulling in the crowds, which you could benefit from emulating.

Maria Forleo – An entrepreneurship and lifestyle vlogger from the United States. Maria Forleo has 670,000 subscribers on YouTube at the time of writing. She vlogs twice weekly on her YouTube channel and has released two best-selling books.

Her vlogs (she calls MariaTV) are frequently interviews with inspirational people and are the video equivalent of a podcast (vodcast).

marie tv example vlogger

Holly Gabrielle – Is a vegan and lifestyle vlogger hailing from the UK. Holly usually vlogs about productivity or sustainable living, and how you can marry the two together. Check out her YouTube channel to see how to cover two different niches if you are struggling to narrow down a single topic for your vlog.

holly gabrielle example vlogger

Kara and Nate – Travel is one of the most popular niches for vlogging. Kara and Nate had a vision in 2016 of travelling to 100 countries. They sold up, put some stuff in storage, then hit the road.

Since then, they have vlogged their way around the world and built a following on YouTube of 1.79 million subscribers.

kara and nate example vloggers

Conclusion

Vlogging is a great lifestyle business to run. It is simple to make a start – you could do it right now. Take out your smartphone, hit record and start talking.

It is a very low-cost lifestyle business to start too. You don’t have to buy any expensive equipment, invest in any stock, or even register a web address. Just choose your niche and plan some content.

Overnight success is not a given however, and making a million on social media isn’t easy. Many vloggers take a year or more of regularly uploading vlog content before they start to see real results from their efforts.

Start following some successful vloggers to find some inspiration, and who knows maybe you’ll be the next vlogging superstar to be featured on this post.

Good luck!

Please share with anyone you think this might benefit. Thank you 🙂