How to Make Merch for Your YouTube Channel

Written by
Special HQ
January 14, 2022

On YouTube, once your channel has reached 10,000 subscribers you gain access to the built-in merchandise features. If you are considering additional revenue opportunities, you’ll want to take advantage of this with an audience that’s enthusiastic about your work and representing it.

Of course, there’s more to selling merch than just having these tools available. Even without those built-in features, if you haven’t reached 10,000 subscribers yet, there’s still plenty of steps you can take to monetize your channel through merchandise. Let’s dive in!

Building Up Your Identity

Your merch represents an extension of you, what about you and your experience are your viewers connecting with the most? The key with merchandising — and, in fact, growing your presence in general — is that you can’t just put a design on clothing and expect people to care if you don’t first give your viewers a connection with said design.

We see people or brands in some industries that don’t appreciate the connection between merchandise or products and a shared identity, particularly people or groups that think of themselves as influencers but don’t examine their audience’s motivations further or try to build a significant connection with them.

For example, during the summer of 2021 after name, image, and likeness rules were changed by the NCAA, many niche-famous college football players released merch lines that were just a personal logo slapped onto some clothing. While surely a few people have bought from these personal shops, few of these initial releases included something their fans had an emotional connection with — leaving this whole venture as mostly wasted potential. Whereas other audiences, such as HugeFlyFisherman's YouTube channel, fully embrace a lifestyle and a common joke - "I Suck at Fly Fishing" - which translates well to almost any merchandise option out there.

This phenomenon is seen fairly often: “Slap a logo on something, hope people buy it.” It can be a sour experience for your fans, and waste your most valuable resource of all - time. Understand what your audience connects with, and give them the opportunity to wear it proud!

Of course, many of these connections formed by viewers will be organic, chance happenings — the internet has a way of deciding what wins, then blowing it up into “exceptionally beloved” status — but there’s additional steps you can take to create these emotional connections, too.

Take, for example, giving a nickname to your audience. Many creators do this. It’s important to not try to force something or risk coming across as contrived. Give your followers an opportunity to develop a personalized identity organically to help further foster a sense of community. Pay attention to the comments and conversations that form around you and your video. For example, fans of the Vlogbrothers can identify with their fellow “nerdfighters,” a community that developed naturally over the course of time.

The truth is that there’s loads of ways you can help your audience feel connected not just to your channel, but also to the community that is all of your fans and you together. Much of this can be cultivated by your tone and interactions with them, taking them up on their ideas and suggestions, and interacting with them on other platforms and social channels.

Launching a store and actually creating your merchandise

You can launch a merchandise brand whenever you so please, but the wise way to go about this is to make sure you’ve taken some first steps:

  • Build up your following and get your growth process dialed in.
  • Create an enduring identity for you and your audience.
  • Ensure said audience has an emotional connection to your channel — even better if that connection can point to concrete aspects of your content like running ideas or jokes, imagery, moments, and catchphrases.

If you feel you’ve got those steps down, then you have a good foundation to start. Your next course of action should be to bring your merchandise and shop to fruition.

You likely have some ideas on what products you’d like to sell, but there’s a difference between having a solid concept and actually turning that into an appealing design that your subscribers will want to own. Luckily, there are multiple platforms that give you access to professional graphic designers for hire like 99designs, Upwork, Fiverr, and others.

Outside of those very focused and cost driven platforms, there’s thousands of digital artists sharing their work  on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, and other social media platforms. With a DM, you can ask if they take commissions for artwork, or are open to win-win collaborations. Just don’t try to “pay in exposure,” as it’s both A) a terrible thing to do and B) something that will, accordingly, make you look terrible if/when said artist exposes you for trying to get their labor for free.

As for the hosting, checkout and shipping aspect where merchandise sales actually happen, you’ve got many options; however we recommend sticking to the ones Google outlines here, like Spreadshirt, TeeSpring, and some of their other examples.

Other unconventional and creative merchandising ideas

All of this said, there’s more to merchandise than clothing, stickers, and perhaps posters. Some creators take another approach by creating a whole new product line — often products that are a bit niche, and beyond traditional merch.

For example, Side Projects’ Simon Whistler has a line of beard oil called Beard Blaze. This is a great example of the aforementioned benefits of engaging with your community and embracing organic developments on your channel; it started by Whistler just making a joke about all YouTubers having lines of beauty products, only for a fan to email him saying they could make that joke actually happen for him! This gag turned into an actual line of oils, waxes, shaving utensils, and other accessories - all relatable given he, Simon, has a beard.

This is of course just one hyper-specific example. There’s lots of opportunities here that differ from channel to channel, personality to personality. Sponsorships are another great way to leverage your loyal fanbase for additional income streams. Learn how to identify appropriate sponsors and discover ways to build relationships with sponsors that appropriately match your channel’s theme and values. Don’t be afraid to lean into your qualities that make you stand out!

One last additional tidbit - Alongside merch being an avenue to monetize your work, clothing and sticker merchandise offers your channel essentially free advertising. Be hyper critical and creative, and don’t try to force anything. People love representing the things they love, and your merchandise should be the perfect opportunity to do this. Think about what subscribers love about you, cultivate that, then share it with the world.

If your subscribers just can’t get enough of what you have to give, consider giving them exclusive access to a portion of your content. Share the love with Special.TV’s premium content platform, and give your fans even more ways to interact with you. Sign up for early access today to get started.

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