Last updated on February 11, 2022 - My Free Marketing newsletter 👀
Over the last few years, Ali Abdaal has been doing YouTube as a side hustle, while working as a full-time doctor. He finally quit his day job when he hit 1 million subscribers on his channel.
But how did Ali manage to grow a YouTube channel to 1M when it was just a side project?
Let’s find out!
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When Ali first started making YouTube videos, every video was about how to pass a medical school entrance exam — the BMAT.
He made videos about how to take Section 1 of the exam, and then Section 2. And then made even more videos about how to prepare.
It was so unique and specific that he was able to build an audience around that content.
But what he did next is really beautiful…
He realized that he was helping people take this exam — but what about the next step? What about actually getting into the medical school interview?
So then he started making videos about how to prep for the interview.
Which got his videos out to an even larger audience!
Then he created some videos about life as a medical school student which appealed to even a larger audience, and he expanded the pie even bigger when he started making videos about how to study.
So here’s what you can learn from Ali Abdaal…
For your own audience, if you're doing marketing maybe can you pick a very specific type of marketing? Maybe it's YouTube ads, maybe it's Facebook ads — and then think about how you can broaden the audience from there.
Today, Ali’s content is a lot broader.
He thought about his audience and their interests and realized, hey, my audience is probably into tech, productivity, and learning hacks, so I’m going to make content around those niches too.
Now he’s reaching a way bigger audience than he was originally reaching, and the size of his videos has grown proportionately to that as well.
Ali started like most great businesses start: They focus on doing one thing great.
If you look at any of the largest businesses in the world — Facebook, Google, Microsoft, any of them — they started very, very niche and very specific. So for your own content and your own businesses, start narrow and then slowly build out to reach larger audiences.
I think this is a fascinating thing that Ali does.
He creates “moats” around his content so others can’t catch up.
What do I mean by that?
Moats are barriers to entry around your company that make it really hard for others to compete.
So what Ali specifically does that we found when we interviewed him, is that every dollar he makes on YouTube, he reinvests it back into his channel.
See the full Ali Abdaal interview here.
The two ways he's made the most of this is:
He took his early YouTube earnings and invested $7000 into a super high quality camera setup — he was still a medical student who didn't make a lot of money at the time.
This means though that his videos are going to be so much higher quality than anybody else who's a medical student trying to copy him, which gives him an advantage.
The other thing he's done to create a moat around his content is by hiring a team.
He's hired video editors, graphic designers, and a personal assistant, and that allows him to put almost all of his attention and time into making higher-quality videos which helps him get more views and more subscribers.
So the lesson for you here is: How can you develop a competitive advantage for your channel or business?
Think about the kinds of “moats” you can build.
This is one of the biggest things I see most YouTubers missing out on that Ali is doing so well.
He’s growing an audience through his email list.
Right now he has over 130,000 email subscribers and he sends out an email every Sunday (make sure you sign up to his list here).
This is so important because what if the YouTube algorithm ever changes — how would he reach his audience?
That’s why it’s so important for creators of all kinds on all platforms to have a kind of backup plan… Somewhere else you can reach your audience if your main platform is ever taken away from you for some reason.
An email list is one of the best options because you own your email list more than you’d ever own a social media account. You can be banned or hacked from a social media account and lose access to it forever — but it’s much harder for your email list to ever be taken away from you.
It’s also a great way to get your content and products in front of your audience.
On social media, you’re constantly competing against other creators and working against the algorithm. With email, your content lands right in your subscriber’s inboxes so you can tell them about new videos you’ve posted or ask people to purchase your course — which are 2 things Ali uses his email list for.
So a regular cadence with your audience to build up a relationship with them is so critical.
If you want to start your own email list, I recommend you check out SendFox which is a tool we've built for content creators (it’s free). Or go to Mailchimp or any other provider out there.
If YouTube has a crazy algorithm change and you're no longer able to reach your audience, you’re always going to have your email list.
If there's one thing that Ali Abdaal is amazing at, it’s getting you to watch more of his videos.
And YouTube LOVES him for that.
Think about this: YouTube's goal for you and me and everyone else out there, is to get us to watch as many videos as possible. So as a creator, they want us to say — hey, watch this video, and watch this video, and stay on the platform.
So how is Ali doing it so well?
He makes a few videos that are related to one another, and he links them at the end of each video.
Plus, in the video, he’ll say exactly what the other videos are and what they’re about, so people hear it directly from him, rather than just reading it on a screen.
For example, he made a video about his Tesla, and at the end of the video he told viewers to check out one video to see what it’s like to road trip in a Tesla, and the other video if they wanted to see how he bought his brand new Tesla for half of the price.
So if his audience wants to learn more about each specific one, they can dive deeper into those other videos and YouTube is going to reward him because he's keeping people on the platform.
So for your own content, before you even start making the videos, think about what's the next video you’re going to recommend and start planning your end screen click-throughs.
Next up is one of my favorite things I focus on for my own YouTube channel, which is consistency.
Here's a fun fact.
Ali actually started his YouTube channel to post videos of guitar covers.
He posted his first guitar cover on January 4th, 2017 and he didn’t start doing any medical content until June 20th, 2017.
When he started posting medical content, he was actually in Cambodia on rotation, so he was just filming on his phone — he didn’t have any fancy equipment for his videos then.
What can you learn from this?
Most YouTubers start out by filming with their iPhones or whatever phones they have. It’s really basic stuff. No B-roll, no music.
So for you or anyone out there, just get started with your phone no matter where you are.
And another thing we call all learn from Ali?
Since 2017, he’s uploaded between 1-3 videos every single week.
He’s never skipped a week.
Damn I love that.
He has never skipped a week uploading videos in all the years he’s been on YouTube, and because of that, he’s now done over 400 videos, has more than 2.6 million subscribers, and has over 172 million video views.
So when I was interviewing Ali Abdaal a couple of months ago, I was shocked about how much Ali copied and learned from other creators.
I always just imagined him in his room in Cambridge just figuring it all out, but he started out by watching and wanting to be Peter McKinnon.
This is what Ali had to say about it:
Honestly I just imitate other people. So at the start, I told myself I want to be the Peter McKinnon of studying and so I tried to model my videos based on his.
All of my vlogs about life as a Cambridge Med student were essentially rip-offs of his — having a bit of A-role where you talk to the camera and then switching to 100 frames per second so you can have slow-motion B-roll with a bit like music in the background.
And through that imitation over time, I feel I sort of developed my own style because his style is very kind of high energy and sort of charismatic. I feel mine is a bit more nerdy. A bit more… I'd like to think, thoughtful.
And so, Peter McKinnon plus elements of my own personality.
So even though Peter McKinnon is a professional photographer and videographer, and Ali is a doctor and wanted to make videos about studying, he still found a way that he could mirror Peter’s style and made it work for what he does.
Document, don't create.
Huh? What are you talking about?
So how did Ali actually consistently put out 1-2 videos a week for over three years while he was becoming a full-time doctor?
There's a few things that we noticed:
Like Ali took inspiration and learned from other creators to make his YouTube channel successful, what can you learn from him to make yours grow?
Think about what in your life you're an expert at and what you can do over and over to make it easy for yourself.
What have you learned from Ali that you’re going to add into your own YouTube strategy?
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