How they reached 77K subscribers & 8.2M views with a China travel channel

Apr 9 2024
Case Studies

Nico Overview

Nicola and Jack are the creators behind Nico, a YouTube channel showcasing what it’s like to live and travel in China (and the rest of Asia). Their journey is super interesting; it started with them recording videos to keep memories of their travels and now, it’s evolved into a key part of their jobs as freelance videographers.

Key Takeaways

  • YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. So making content that people will search for and is evergreen (like “cost of living in China”) is a great strategy.

  • You don’t have to post once a week. Taking more time to produce high-quality content could actually lead to better results. YouTube didn’t seem to penalise them after they stopped posting once a week.

  • You don't know what video is going to kick off and when. Nico had a video go viral after three years of minimal views. Only in the past couple of months has it become their most popular video. 

  • Use your channel as a funnel for high-paying projects. You don’t have to monetise using sponsorships, memberships etc. Nico uses the channel as a source of leads for their freelance photography/videography business (and more).

  • It’s a long road. If you start YouTube for virality/money, it’s not going to work cause that’s like 1% of the people you see on YouTube. For everyone else, it’s long, slow growth.

Why did you start this YouTube channel?

As a couple, Jack and I have always made videos together kind of on a whim. We had a blog and Instagram and made hobby videos for each place that we went to (like cities in the UK and our travels in South America). We just wanted to look back on our time there.

Nico 1

When we were in South America and we’d done our teaching certificate, we just didn't want to go back to the UK. We thought, “Where could we go that’s totally different and new?” So we moved to China in April 2017.

We were moving to a city called Nanjing and I'd never even heard of it. There just wasn't any information online and we had literally no idea what to expect at all. So I was thinking “A lot of other people probably have the same problem”. 

“Why don’t we start creating some content to show what people could expect?”

We wanted to help other people in the same position; the channel wasn’t even about people travelling to China. It was about the “moving” part and what life would be like there.

How did you get started?

In the very beginning, we planned all the shots in our head of where we were going to go. It was very scripted. We thought of all the places we’d like to go and the points we’d like to make since we wanted it to be kind of like a city guide.

The thing about China is it’s not that easy to find English language information online. So it took a lot more time and effort (like days).

Nico 2

Jack was already kind of into photography and filmmaking, so he had a Nikon DSLR (that was quite old) and Final Cut Pro (for editing). I think we bought a self-recording microphone that records onto an SD card that I carried in my pocket. Then Jack bought a gimbal and we just kind of used a similar setup for years.

How & when did you get to 10, 100, 1000 subscribers (etc) and to where you are currently?  

First 100 subscribers  

I met another YouTuber (Where’s Poppy) in Nanjing for dinner. She was making some videos for the company that we worked for. I was just seen at the end of her video and that brought some people over and got us over the 100 subscriber mark quite early on. 

Nico 3

First 1,000 subscribers (15 months after first video)

1,000 subscribers took a long time; definitely over a year (a bit after summer 2018).

But we weren’t very consistent or focused at all. We just kind of made a video when we wanted to make a video (even about our trips to Japan).

When we did become more focused and did our series on ‘Life in China,’ that helped us grow a lot. The reason it helped so much was because it's useful information, and it’s searchable and evergreen content. Our first video to take off was ‘The Cost of Living in China’ because people were searching for this information.

That then led us to do more videos of a similar theme in different cities (like city guides on Shenzhen and Tianjin) and a video on whether China is safe. All stuff that was searchable; that was the approach we kind of took. 

Nico 4

I do think it's helpful because YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. Even if you search on Google, YouTube videos will come up. So if you're helping to answer a question that people might ask then I definitely think it's helpful (especially if you're just starting a channel). 

First 10,000 subscribers (32 months after first video)

A key moment for us was the beginning of COVID-19 (around March 2020). We grew quite a bit because we were still in China making videos about living there whilst COVID was still going on. But it was also quite difficult because it was so hard to make travel videos during COVID.

So we had to pivot a bit and make our videos a little bit more about lifestyle/what our life was like. It was still kind of interesting because we were still foreigners living in China.

I feel like our growth on YouTube is up and down. We have a sh*t video then we have a good video then we have a sh*t video and that’s still happening.

First 20,000 subscribers (34 months after first video)

Probably because of our COVID content, we hit 20K subscribers two months after we got to 10K. 

As we were doing well on YouTube we wanted to keep that momentum going. We both worked full-time jobs and released a video every single week. So we were just like, “We need to do any video we can”. We were on a hamster wheel trying to get stuff out. 

Eventually, we had to pull it back and do one every other week. But we used our time more purposefully, and our videos are probably doing better than they were when we were putting a video out every week.

We thought we would be penalized for not putting a video out every week but actually, because we could take more time with our content and think about our ideas more, our videos did better.

The approach that worked well for us was creating videos on things people would search for when moving/visiting a new city. Like videos on infrastructure and how things work in China (like how you get around, transport, bridges, buildings and things like that).

Our last 20 or so videos are all just on cities because they generally do quite well. But it’s only in the past half a year that we’ve been consistent with our style and topics.

Nico 5

But you don't know what video is going to kick off and when. At the minute, we have a video that I guess you could say is “viral”. But we made it three years ago and at the time it didn't do very well. And now it's literally become our most popular video in the past couple of months. 

First 50,000 subscribers (56 months after first video)

How much money are you making (and how)?

Because our niche is China-related, we don’t make that much with AdSense; around $400 per month on average. It’s also difficult to get sponsorships in the China niche.

We use the channel as more of a portfolio to leverage our jobs. Brands that might get in touch aren't necessarily after sponsorships; they’re usually after something like a dedicated video or we would work with them to create some more bespoke things. For instance, we recently worked with Huawei and Geely to create videos for them.

Nico Channel Income Report

If our videos lead to one really good freelance project a year, that's better than loads of sponsored videos because you can work closer with the brand to create something really special together.

We’re also trying to expand our field and get into wedding videography and start a China travel consultancy to help people thinking of travelling to China.

What practical lessons do you wish you knew earlier?

Passion is fuel

I feel like if you're gonna start something like a YouTube channel, it's not really about things like CTR and AVD. It's more about your passion.

If you're not passionate about the subject that you're gonna film and talk about:

  1. It’ll come across in your videos and they won’t be very good

  2. How can you make dozens or hundreds of videos about a subject if you’re not passionate about it?

Learn how to deal with brands

I think a lot of people also don't really know how much you should be charging brands. 

If you don't have a community around you where you can speak to other people who are doing similar things, it's hard to know when you’d be getting undercharged. 

A difficult thing we've found as well is most brand deals are all about the numbers and we can’t guarantee those. So we have to be safe and tell them “You need to want to work with us because you want to work with us” not because we're going to get you X amount of views (which no one can guarantee).

I think we’ve also probably lost a lot of brand deals because we've gone too high. A lot of Chinese companies generally pay a lot less (compared to what you’d see on Social Blue Book).

So I think your rate really depends on your niche and how you can give value because I think a lot of these deals can just be based on the statistics.

Where can we find out more about you? And is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our YouTube channel, website and we have an Instagram as well. We're also starting a wedding videography business called Blank Frame Weddings.

If you’re starting out, you have to find your rhythm and it takes a bit of time and effort to get to that place. It could be hundreds of videos before you get a video right. 

But eventually, it’ll take off and happen. It’s a long road; if you get on it cause of virality/money, it’s not going to work cause that’s like 1% of the people you see on YouTube. For everyone else, it’s long, slow growth

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