Nearly $20k/mo on Patreon. Over 109,000 subscribers on YouTube. Almost 10,000 Facebook group members. These are the numbers that the Whiskey Tribe hit after just two years on YouTube—and only four months on Patreon. If you want to know how to monetize a YouTube channel, this article focuses on 12 of the most important strategies that got them there.
Daniel Whittington and Rex Williams are the businessmen who have been faithfully building their YouTube channels (the Whiskey Vault, now officially YouTube’s largest whiskey channel with over 109,000 subscribers, and the Whiskey Tribe) over the last two years.
Their success should come as no surprise: Daniel is the Vice Chancellor for the Wizard Academy, a school for entrepreneurs; Rex has spent 20+ years producing videos for businesses around the world. Together, they have enough business sense, personality, and experience to create amazing content for their fans. That said, you’d hardly know how practical they are from the carefree, approachable, fun attitude they display on camera.
In our conversation, they shared many of the specific tactics and strategies they’ve used for rapid, yet manageable growth on YouTube, Facebook, and Patreon. If you’re impatient, you can jump to any of those three sections using the links below:
- 4 Secrets for Growing Your YouTube Channel
- 4 Tips For Growing and Managing a Community on Facebook, and
- 4 Strategies to Build a Magnificent Patreon Campaign
Everything they discussed is actionable and repeatable. Things like riding the wave of viral content, scoring collaborations, turning down the wrong kind of fans, and knowing what to offer on Patreon (in addition to knowing how to price it).
Without further ado, we present: Rex & Daniel’s secrets for success.
Feeling inspired by the Whiskey Tribe? Try Patreon.
4 Secrets for Growing Your YouTube Channel
Daniel and Rex built their channels from scratch. The Whiskey Vault started as a project to build up resources for Daniel’s Whiskey Sommelier school, but the videos quickly evolved into one part whiskey, four parts shenanigans as the pair discovered what resonated with their audience (in part because Rex kept mooching whiskey during shoots, earning him the title Grand Master Whiskey Mooch Extraordinaire.)
1. Follow the Zeitgeist
Early on, the pair learned the power of content that caters to current events. When they started filming reviews in December 2015, their very first post followed a whiskey advent calendar.
As luck would have it, the calendar began with “a whiskey no one had ever reviewed before on the Internet,” Daniel recalled. “So, our video went live at 9:00 AM on the day when everyone in the world was opening ‘day one’ of that whiskey calendar and there was nowhere on the Internet to find out information about it except for our YouTube video. And so we rapidly went from 20 to 1,000 people.”
Sometimes, like their first experience with ‘following the zeitgeist,’ it’s pure luck. But if you keep an eye on current events related to your niche, you can find opportunities to get attention to your channel. For example, the famous (infamous?) Pewdiepie did a review on Japanese whiskey on Sept 1, 2017. By Sept 2, 2017, Daniel and Rex filmed & posted a response video.
“Whenever something is viral, it's in the moment and when it’s directly connected to your niche, you have to jump on that immediately,” he said. Waiting a week or two isn’t fast enough.
So how did they go about responding to Pewdiepie? Very carefully. “If we were just kind of bumbling around saying, ‘Hey, this really big YouTuber named [pewww dye pie] did a whiskey review, let's talk about all the things he got wrong,’ we would have been annihilated by millions of people,” Rex laughed.
Instead, they respected Pewdiepie’s fans and vibe, and it paid off: after updating, they watched their subscriber count leap by 50 or 100 subscribers every few minutes. YouTube quickly made their video the next ‘suggested’ video after Pewdiepie’s whiskey review. Had they waited a week to respond, that wouldn’t have happened.
Takeaway for creators: Whenever something in your niche is trending, get yourself in the mix as soon as possible (while staying true to your style and respectful of the fans you want to court).
2. Stick to a Publishing Schedule
Rex couldn’t emphasize enough how important it is to be consistent when you publish. The pair have been posting one video per day, six days a week, for the last two years without fail. While their schedule was brutal (and even more impressive when you consider that Whiskey Tribe is something they do in addition to their ‘day jobs’), they were intentional about releasing videos on the same days at the same time they always do.
Because of that, their viewers know exactly when to check in on the channel. “Consistency is the one thing we have going for us that the algorithm can never take away,” Rex explained. “If we are building a relationship with people six days a week, on a regular basis, we don't need an algorithm. We're part of their routine.”
Takeaway for creators: Publish on the same day of the week at the same time of day. Your viewers will form a habit around watching your channel, protecting you from algorithm changes.
3. Make Yourself Useful (and Score Collaborations)
You don’t need to have tons of followers to attract collaborations. Daniel and Rex would know: they were collaborating with other channels long before their subscriber count topped 100k. For example, they made a joint video back in 2017 with The Modern Rogue, a channel with nearly 700k subscribers to date.
Fortunately, their secret is something anyone can copy: “The stress point that even the biggest of creators chronically have is that they always have to make another piece of content,” Rex emphasized.
To meet their needs, he had a concise set of instructions to share:
- First, build up your content library. Your video quality will speak for itself.
- Next, don’t spam all the large channels you can find. Instead, reach out to specific channels with a pitch that is “legitimately a good idea for their channel, their community, and their personality.”
Ironically, many pitches fail not because the creators pitching it are too small: it’s because they didn’t take enough time to craft a pitch that fits the larger channel’s audience.
Takeaway for creators: Make sure you have a few videos that showcase your abilities, then reach out to larger channels with ideas that are relevant and exciting for their audience.
4. Balance Discovery & Community Content
When you’re planning content for your channel, you have to make a decision between two types of content:
- Discovery content, which helps new viewers find and enjoy your channel, and
- Community content, which caters to your existing audience.
For example, doing a “top ten” style video will help bring new viewers to your channel, but it’s not usually in-depth enough to keep regulars’ attention. On the other hand, shooting a video that’s riddled with inside-jokes and references only your real fans would get is indecipherable to outsiders.
Do too much discovery content, and you won’t build a community; do only community content, and your subscriber base won’t grow quickly. For the Whiskey Tribe, the right mix has been mostly community content with a dash of discovery to keep new users coming in.
“If you're making content intentionally for people that are showing up on a regular basis, you're reinforcing the choice that they made to show up,” Rex explained.
Takeaway for creators: Understand why your audience shows up, then create a mix of discovery and community content accordingly.
4 Tips For Growing and Managing a Community on Facebook
The Whiskey Tribe Facebook group started because YouTube’s comment section wasn’t satisfying enough for Rex and Daniel’s followers. They needed a place where they, as insiders, could simply hang out with each other. Since then, it’s grown to be an irreplaceable part of the Whiskey Tribe community.
They don’t promote the group anywhere except on their YouTube channel. Viewers who want to engage with other fans migrate to the Facebook group naturally. That means it’s all about managing the page (and less about marketing it).
1. Make a Group, Not a Page
Both Daniel and Rex were insistent that the best way to build a community on Facebook is by establishing a Facebook group.
“We very intentionally made it a group and not a page because of the feature differences between the group and a page. If there's a business that wants any kind of community whatsoever, don't make a page, just make a group.”
Takeaway for creators: If you want to grow a community on Facebook, make a group, not a page.
2. Make an Onboarding Video
Technically, this piece of advice holds true for any place Daniel and Rex post online: they have an onboarding video for Facebook, one for YouTube, and one for Patreon. The reason is simple: “it gets you up to speed on what's the vibe, what's happening here, what the inside jokes are all about.”
In other words, it gives visitors a clear sense of who you are, what you’re doing, and why they should join in (or, if it’s not for them, why they shouldn’t join in).
Takeaway for creators: Give new viewers a way to get up to speed on what you’re about by posting an onboarding video (or infographic, or blog post—you do you.)
3. Gate Access to Your Community
Not everyone gains entrance to the Whiskey Tribe Facebook. New members have to answer a three-question test: if they can’t bring themselves to watch the onboarding video (to get the secret password), agree not to sell whiskey, and agree not to shame others for their whiskey preferences, then they don’t get in.
“There are between 100 and 200 applicants a week in the Facebook group that we turn down,” Rex bragged. “I have this perverse sense of glee because we're so aggressive about protecting the identity of the community.”
“One of the biggest priorities for us right now is protecting what works,” he explained. “We want to grow the Tribe, but not at the expense of making things stressful and not fun. The core of why people are spending time with us and our content is because it's fun.”
“But there are going to be people who are just aggressively opinionated. There are going to be people who are super political, no matter what group they’re in. And there are going to be people who just aren't a good fit for the dynamic. We'll sacrifice numbers for a really good culture.”
Takeaway for creators: To attract and keep your best fans, filter out the folks who aren’t a good fit for your community.
4. Get Volunteer Moderators to Give Trolls & Scammers the Boot
Facebook groups as large as the Whiskey Tribe can take a lot of time to moderate. Fortunately, most creators don’t have to go it alone: the same people who are super excited to be part of your community also happen to make some of the best moderators.
“We have volunteer admins that stepped up and they do an amazing job,” Rex said. “They’ve become sort of community heralds,” Daniel added. “The admins in the Facebook group aren't viewed as the people who squash all the fun, they're viewed as the leaders.”
The Whiskey Tribe admins know and enforce the rules; rule-breakers are given a swift and final boot out the door.
That said, “the guideline that we had with the admins is, look: there are thousands of people here interacting with each other, and there's whiskey happening. So everybody gives each other the benefit of the doubt, because whiskey is a thing. But if somebody gets abusive or somebody gets really inappropriate, then just remove them. You don't need to debate the merits of a post with somebody that may be drinking. It doesn't have to be a big dramatic thing and that's served us very well,” they said.
Takeaway for creators: Ask upstanding members of your community to help out as moderators (if they haven’t already offered) to keep your schedule manageable and enhance the group dynamic.
4 Strategies to Build a Magnificent Patreon Campaign
When Daniel and Rex launched their Patreon, they didn’t do any extensive marketing or super special launch activities. Instead, they filmed a video explaining what the Patreon was about, then posted it on their social media accounts.
Their approach was so compelling (and their fans so loyal) that they blasted past the $10,000/mo mark in no time. Now, they’re hovering just over the $20,000/mo mark.
When they sat down to plan their business model, they didn’t want Patreon to be “just a tip jar,” as they’d seen Daniel’s musician friends do. So, they looked for ways to build upon what was already successful for them.
“We realized that our greatest strength isn't our strength, it's the community. It's the people who have rallied around us. So how do we shine a spotlight on them? How do we leverage that in a way that people are excited about and feel like it's even more inclusive and get to go to a deeper level and participate even more?” Rex said.
That planning set the stage for the rest of their efforts. So when they got the opportunity to open a whiskey distillery together, it gave them just the opportunity they needed to mobilize the Magnificent Bastards (yes, that’s what the Whiskey Tribe members call themselves). Here are some of the guiding principles and specific strategies they implemented along the way.
1. Have (and Convey) a Vision of the Future
“One thing that I think a lot of content creators don't really consider, especially whenever they're putting together a Patreon, is that if you're going to rally a group of people together, you need to have an amazing direction to go in with them. You need to have a vision of the future. What would be really cool if you get enough like-minded members of this tribe together? What can we pull off? What would be ridiculously awesome? And then share that vision with people that like your content and want to support you,” Rex shared.
To make that a reality, they specified three types of ‘vision’ you should have and share with your community: abstract, practical, and grand scheme. For them, it broke down this way:
- Abstract: Build a magnificent whiskey culture.
- Practical: Crowdsource decision-making at their new whiskey distillery.
- Grand scheme: Build an actual whiskey-themed castle in Austin, Texas.
Yes, the pair are 100% committed to following through if their supporters provide the necessary funds to do it. In the meantime, patrons of the Whiskey Tribe get to be part of something larger than themselves (“building a magnificent whiskey culture”) while enjoying the specific rewards crafted around the distillery. It’s why they’re so motivated to support the Whiskey Tribe.
Takeaway for creators: Before you ask supporters to join you, understand where you want to take that project and communicate your vision (and excitement) to potential supporters. Make sure that vision includes both the big picture idea and practical milestones.
2. Craft Exclusive Experiences
Because they knew their greatest strength lay in their community, Rex and Daniel crafted their rewards around enhancing that sense of community and granting their supporters an even better experience.
The message they presented their followers with was, “Look, we came up with all this stuff that we’re going to do together as an adventure that you can only do if you're on Patreon. If you're not on Patreon, you’re not losing anything and we're still going to do all the usual stuff. But to do these new things, you have to be on Patreon,” Daniel recounted.
To set up those experiences, the pair brainstormed as many reward ideas as they could, then implemented everything practical. Supporters are given names corresponding to their tiers (ranging from “Whiskey Tribe Gentry” at $4/mo to “Whiskey Tribe Demigod” at $1000/mo).
All the rewards they offer are summarized in this handy chart:
Takeaway for creators: Give your patrons something exciting that they can’t get anywhere else.
3. Don’t Limit Prices to What YOU Would Pay
“One of the rules that we always try to teach business owners is, don't make the mistake of thinking what's money to you is money to someone else,” urged Daniel. It’s part of the reason they offer a Demigod tier to begin with (that, and it makes the $200/mo tier look super reasonable in comparison).
You might think $50/mo is a ton of money, but to some of your supporters, that could be chump change. “If you simply grade things on what you're willing to spend, you leave no room for other people's world experiences,” he explained.
For example, they never thought anyone would sign up for the demigod tier. To date, they’ve had two “Magnificent Bastards” sign up. The first just thought it would be fun (and wanted to be known in the community as a demigod), so he signed up for a short period of time, then transitioned to a more affordable tier. The other wanted to sponsor their efforts and signed up anonymously so he could do that.
If you assume that ‘no one would ever pay that much for what I do,’ you’re closing yourself off to possibilities.
Takeaway for creators: When you assign prices to your tiers, remember that a certain sum of money doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Don’t underprice yourself just because you couldn’t afford that item.
4. Emphasize Quality Over Profit
Rex and Daniel aren’t doing this for the money. They’re doing it because they love whiskey, they love their community, and they’re trying to build something people care about. That said, money is what keeps everything going. And that money will stop coming if they lose the loyalty of their fans.
Many times when they’re considering merch for their Patreon campaign, they pass up less expensive items because the quality just isn’t high enough. Why? “Because the moment somebody gets a Patreon shipment from us and they're a little bit disappointed, we lost them. It should never be, ‘Oh, that's okay I guess.’ It should always be, ‘Oh wow, that's a little bit better than I thought.’ That's the ball that we have to hit every single time,” Rex emphasized.
So when it came time to ship their first month’s worth of merch, they prioritized the ‘wow’ factor over profit.
“Our very first shipment included something we had never mentioned on Patreon. We decided to create these certificates that Rex and I signed. We had never promised the lowest level of patron that they would ever get anything in the mail. And so that very first time, we spent almost the entire Patreon income on fulfillment of things we had promised and things we hadn't promised. There was almost nothing left over for us to actually work on the distillery.
Rex and I had to sign like a thousand documents and then me and four others (spouses, employees, friends…) were stuffing envelopes for three days and hand delivering them to the Post Office. But that's the kind of thing that, when people got it, they went, ‘Holy crap, I was just a $4 level supporter and I'm in the Netherlands and I got a certificate in the mail that probably cost them $12 to send,” Daniel recalled.
The pair spent time studying Patreon campaigns that went well and ones that went poorly. Too often, they’ve seen giant cliffs of patronage where patrons weren’t happy with what they were getting and left in droves after a few months.
To avoid that fate, they’re focused on the long run, even if it means smaller profit margins now.
Takeaway for creators: Focus on winning over your supporters, even if it means you take home less money. Keep them thrilled, and they’ll be around to support you for years to come (and tell their friends how awesome you are).
Rex and Daniel are skilled businessmen: it’s no accident that they’re successful on Patreon. But Rex was quick to point out that their community is really what keeps them going:
“The community, and the fact that they have opted to spend time with us day after day, is amazing. It's humbling. They are so deeply ingrained in our business. We get to do this together. I'm super looking forward to growing this business now because it's not a job. This is just fun. Yes, it's a lot of work, but we get to do it with some of our favorite people who totally get who we are and what we're all about.”
Ready to put Rex and Daniel’s advice into action? Try Patreon.