In just a few years, Katherine Elizabeth has gained over 400,000 YouTube subscribers, cranked out popular DIY and Lifestyle videos, landed a successful corporate gig with Target and much more, all while staying true to her creative interests. Here’s her story and some wisdom she picked up along the way.

Katherine Elizabeth
Subscribers: 407,910
Uploads: 263
Video Views: 23,706,550
Channel Type: DIY & Lifestyle
Joined: September 23, 2011

How It All Begins

Katherine’s YouTube channel started out like so many others — based on an interest in a particular subject. In this case, her interest was in makeup and fashion. Thus Katherine’s first channel, Stylistikay, was born. Initially, Katherine created and posted content for herself, though eventually she started making videos for friends and family, too.

But then something happened. She posted a video she worked extra hard on and was particularly proud of. All of a sudden, her proverbial small-town YouTube channel started to get some buzz, her followers expanded beyond her circle of friends and family into the thousands. These new followers started engaging with her and requesting even more of her content.

This is a pivotal moment for many YouTubers — the excitement you experience when something you’ve created goes viral leads you to envision success down the road. You’re tempted to follow that excitement, buckle down on the type of content that struck a chord with your followers and start churning out new videos. Sounds logical.

Not so fast, says Katherine Elizabeth. Creator, producer, editor, and host of her YouTube channel, aptly named Katherine Elizabeth, Katherine learned over time that while pleasing your followers and concentrating on what popularized your page in the first place will help you grow your channel and gain popularity, you should “never forget who you are and why you started your channel in the first place.” YouTube success, both professional and personal, rests on whether or not you enjoy creating and publishing content as much as it does on the content you’re best known for, and that enjoyment comes through in your videos and becomes part of your brand.

But how do you capitalize on your popularity while staying true to your creative interests? Katherine’s advice: try to find the right balance between videos that please your audience and passion projects that make you happy. Easier said than done, but hopefully Katherine’s road to success will give you some ideas and help you pave your own way.

Know Your Roots.

Katherine joined YouTube in 2011, sort of on a whim. At the time, she was taking a break from college and pursuing cosmetology. She loved doing character makeup — think zombies, clowns and pop culture icons like Ironman or Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones” — and fashion, and she made a few videos to share her work with classmates and friends. More important, through this process she realized that she loved the process of editing these first few videos as much as, if not more than, creating them. What resulted were a few rough, but well-edited uploads showcasing kick-ass makeup artistry and fashion tips.

After posting a few videos, and eventually sharing them with a small circle of people, her view count gradually started to increase, and suddenly people Katherine didn’t know began watching and sharing her videos, requesting more and ultimately following her channel. Her new followers loved her makeup tutorials, clothing and accessory hauls and DIY videos and, happy to oblige, Katherine started releasing more content. In turn, her followers increased.

Over time, many of her most popular video types became formulaic — DIY, “Outfit Of The Day,” and other lifestyle videos followed a pattern that her followers were used to and enjoyed, and although her page continued to grow, Katherine noticed her excitement start to decline.

Realizing this, Katherine decided to make an effort to stay true to her love for creative editing. She sprinkled in outfit videos that included stop motion techniques, released lifestyle videos with a fun “choose what happens next” feature, and even created videos where she was hanging out with “friends” but actually edited multiples of herself into one video.

And while some of these videos admittedly didn’t get the views her more standard videos got, the comments spoke for themselves; people loved her creativity. With her editing style, Katherine set herself apart from the hundreds of other DIY and lifestyle YouTubers while absolutely loving the process. Watch some of the videos from her Creative Edits playlist and you’ll see what I mean.

Hundreds of thousands of subscribers later, Katherine always spends part of her time working on creative editing, even where it doesn’t rack up millions of views. DIY and Lifestyle videos are her bread and butter as far as viewership goes, but bread and butter alone are not enough — you need a balanced diet to be fulfilled.

So she works on passion projects that incorporate stop motion, time-lapse and other non-standard editing techniques that flex her creative muscles. On top of being more fun to make, these videos also tend to excite her biggest fans and showcase her ability as her channel continues to grow.

Bootstrap First. Spend Later.

Despite the professional quality of her videos today, Katherine is completely self-taught when it comes to both video software and hardware. She started out with simple, every-day equipment. Indeed, some of her gear was homemade, though I wasn’t surprised to hear that since one of her specialties is, after all, DIY projects.

Katherine started out with a “crappy old HP laptop with Windows Movie Maker.” Her homemade gear was a softbox she made herself using a cardboard box, aluminum, paper and tape. As far as cameras go, she started with an old Canon camcorder that they don’t even make anymore.

Interestingly, these humble beginnings actually resulted in Katherine being more emotionally invested in the process of creating and editing. Using homemade equipment, making due with sub-optimal gear and finding workarounds on more basic software led Katherine to fall in love with the process itself as much as, if not more than, the final product.

She first upgraded to a Macbook, and eventually to a Mac desktop, for editing and production. Her software of choice today is Final Cut Pro and her lights have been upgraded, too, though let’s face it: We wouldn’t be surprised if Katherine’s homemade softbox lights were professional-grade.

Katherine uses two Canon DSLR cameras for most of her shoots, one with a fixed lens and one with a zoom lens. For some of her more niche videos, such as the ones on her gaming channel, Chris + Kat, she uses a webcam, either instead of or alongside a larger camera, to capture her facial expressions. For her vlog channel, Katherine Elizabeth vlogs, Katherine prefers a Canon G7X, a point and shoot with a flip-up screen that’s easy to use and can transfer video to her laptop through Wi-Fi.

Oh, and she uses green screen technology. A lot. “I have lots of background paper rolls of various colors lying around,” said Katherine with a laugh. You can’t create and edit interactive shots without using green screen technology.

Who watches your videos, and when they watch them, is important, too. Initially, Katherine based her video posting schedule more or less on common sense — makeup and outfit videos on weekends or weeknights after school gets out, room decoration and DIY videos before semesters and during school holidays, and so on. Eventually she started using more sophisticated analytics, such as vidIQ, a plug-in that tells you when to post, how to tag and otherwise helps optimize your channel.

Katherine’s mantra here was always “figure it out if it’s not working.” Particularly in the beginning, if you don’t have the money to spend on great equipment, software tutorials or outsourcing, get scrappy and learn it yourself. Not only will it make you more self-sufficient and flexible, intimate knowledge of the pre- and post-production process may inspire you in more ways than one.

Network, Network, Network

When you gain a certain amount of followers, the YouTube community starts to notice you. For example, companies that sell a product or service related to your channel may reach out to you and ask you to feature, review or even just mention them.

Luckily, organizations called Multi-Channel Networks, sometimes called “MCNs” or “networks” for short, are there to help. Networks, most of which have their own YouTube channels, essentially act like agents for rising YouTubers. They help you navigate YouTube’s business side, manage or facilitate partnerships and sponsorships, feature you on their channel and so on.

When Katherine’s channel was still in its infancy, she handled product reviews and other partnerships on her own. As requests for product reviews started to increase, however, she joined her first network for some support. Eventually, she jumped ship to her current network, AwesomenessTV.

Katherine’s biggest piece of advice for growing YouTubers is to “make sure you find a Network that fits.” While it is their job to promote your channel and help it grow, “you can’t just sit around and wait for an opportunity to come to you. To get the most out of your network, you have to put yourself out there, get to know your network manager, share your likes and dislikes, and be confident with what you want.”

Sometimes your network will offer opportunities that don’t fit, but don’t worry, says Katherine. “Be open and honest with your network as to what will be best for you — if you have a good relationship, turning things down won’t preclude you from getting more and better opportunities sent your way in the future.”

The lesson here: Know who you are and what you’re passionate about, be vocal about those things, especially with your network, and take opportunities that will help you grow your channel without sacrificing your creative passion.

Get Corporate Without Selling Out.

In Katherine’s case, her love for directing and editing, and her network’s knowledge of this, led her to a multi-day corporate gig with Target that skyrocketed her channel while giving her the freedom, and experience, to direct and edit in a larger and more professional setting.

“It was such a cool experience,” said Katherine. “I got the opportunity to work with other people on editing, production and set design in an impressive studio, and I got to be in the center of it all.” She completed three videos during her first trip to Target HQ in Minneapolis, MN, and flew back a second time for a live Facebook Q&A.

After her experience at Target’s studio, Katherine started to look for ways to get involved with studios closer to home by volunteering or just networking with people who work there. After she finished telling me this, she reflected on its importance and told me to jot this down as a piece of advice — expand your horizons outside your at-home YouTube world, regardless of whether you want to stay on YouTube or move to more traditional media. The ability to work with a crew in a professional studio, whether for a YouTube project or not, can inspire the way you approach your channel. Or who knows — it may even turn into an offline career.

Taking The Next Step

So what are Katherine’s plans for the future? More creativity, more of the time. Katherine is looking to develop her gaming channel further by uploading content more frequently. She’s also going to flex her creative muscles by pushing her video editing and production boundaries with future projects.

If ever Katherine has writer’s block and can’t think of something creative, she works on videos she can do with her eyes closed, such as her DIYs. “Working on a style of video that comes easy gives you more time to think up the next outside-the-box idea,” said Katherine. “It allows you to check in from time to time and make sure you’re still making videos for the right reason and with the right motivation”

What Katherine is sure of, though, is that she wants this to be her full-time career. “I love being my own boss. I work on the videos I like, and because I like what I do, I do my best work.” Part entrepreneur, part artist, and full-on YouTube master, Katherine’s philosophy has gained her a large following and growing success while allowing her to stay true to what she loves most.

What’s your creative motivation, and how are you going to capitalize on it?

Get YouTuber.