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Charles Sanville never envisioned being a YouTube star. But six years after starting his channel, he has amassed more than 295,000 subscribers and works on his videos full-time.
Known as “The Humble Mechanic” on YouTube and to fans, Charles gives technician advice, reviews products and works on vehicles in his videos. With a Universal Technical Institute education and 13 years of experience as a Volkswagen dealership technician under his belt, Charles has the know-how that makes him a leading auto expert in online media.
Charles also teaches classes all over the U.S. on behalf of SSF Imported Auto Parts, which he calls his side gig, as well as sets up factory scan tools for independent shops. He also creates content for other brands, including vehicle videos and stock photography.
Being a YouTube star is more than shooting cool videos. Charles is running a business as he educates others. The Fuquay-Varia, North Carolina, resident shared how he transitioned to YouTube full-time and provides business tips for those who want to do something similar. If you love to learn about successful entrepreneurs and their story, read on.
Charles: I was at a point where I was essentially working two full-time jobs. I was at a really cool scary crossroads where I couldn't maintain working so many hours every day split between two things. I had done the dealership thing and had a successful dealership career. I think the timing was perfect.
If you can try what you want to do before spending a bunch of money to do it, I would recommend that. YouTube is an easy example because all you really need is a camera on a phone to make YouTube videos. If you're thinking about opening a shop or starting a consulting business, learn as much as you can first because you might love the idea but hate the execution of it. Sample a bunch of things, find what you really want to do, and see if you can make money off it.
Charles: My schedule's nuts. It's a really interesting thing that time and dates don't necessarily exist for me, so I rarely know what day of the week it is. The only time I have that I rely on every day is a little bit of family time in the morning. I can work when I want and run to the kiddo's Christmas play if I want.
I get up around 5 or 6, do some work, and my family gets up around 7:30 or 8. From about 8:30 to 5:30 is whatever I'm working on, sitting at the computer editing a video, out in the shop recording a video or preparing for a class. From 6 to 8 is family time, then I'm back into the office or out in the shop.
Charles: It's both really easy and really tough at the same time. The easy side is that this is all stuff I really like doing and that I want to do, so that makes it super-easy to get motivated and get it done. The hard thing is there are 75 things I want to do at one time, so deciding what to do right now is harder. If I have a target date for a video to come out, I would prioritize that.
Charles: With YouTube, there isn't really a secret formula. You have to tell your story and create content that's helpful for people who will want to watch it and learn and be entertained by it.
It's also being consistent and getting the technical side right. Your audio has to be good, your camera has to be focused. It's good content that is helpful to the community.
It's what you are interested in. I'm not going to start a YouTube channel about flowers. While I think they're awesome, I'm not interested in them enough to learn more about them. I feel like if I have automotive questions, some other people are interested in them, too. Answering questions you have is a great place to start. And then answering other people's questions within reason, too. Viewers will give you a lot of good feedback and ask good questions.
Charles: Really consistency in being there. Interacting with your audience is huge. I try to answer as many comments as I can. The feedback I get is that, “Wow, Charles, it's really cool that you still answer as many comments as you can.” It lets people know you care. They like that, they're here for the community, and they're here to learn.
Charles: No. I did no research going in. I didn't know my market, I didn't know the competition, I didn't even look up automotive YouTube content. The only other automotive content I consumed was a radio show. I went in very blind to what was going on.
I think in a way it was an advantage, because what can happen, say you're a big fan of this other YouTuber, you might pick up a lot of their mannerisms and look like you're copying their channel. I think understanding the space and who is in it is valuable even though I didn't do it, but I wouldn't let anything discourage you from doing it yourself because you might be different.
Charles: I think the gear is far less important than the actual product you're producing. There are plenty of people who are using an iPhone and cheap $200 camera and iMovie on their Mac, and they have a way bigger channel than I have.
I think us as dudes just want to buy cool gear to buy cool gear, because that's what we like to do, but I'm also super-cheap and don't like to pay for anything. I have two Canon cameras, and the best video recording camera I have is the iPhone. One camera I have is an old Canon T3i DSLR I've had for five years. It doesn't auto-focus, so I have to take a picture to focus before I can record. I also have a newer Canon M50 that auto-focuses.
Charles: Get good lighting and something to stabilize the tripod, whether it's a clamp or something to hold it still.
For audio, the headphones that came with the iPhone have a good mic. I personally don't use that because it scratches on my beard, so I use a lavalier mic. If you're just starting out, you probably have a smartphone and probably have headphones that came with it with a microphone in them.
Charles: I use Final Cut Pro for Mac. It's a $300 piece of software that can do more as a piece of software than I can as an editor. I know a lot of people use iMovie and have success with that. A lot of pros use Adobe Premiere.
I started with a free editor, then I upgraded to a $60 editor, then I got a new computer and upgraded to Final Cut Pro X and wish I would have done that a lot earlier. It's like the difference between the trial version of software and the professional version of software. I found to do the things I wanted to do took less time.
Charles: I would say the best advice is not to listen to everyone who pretends they're an expert. I don't even consider myself an amateur in this field. I would get some professional advice.
I would understand you're paying all your own taxes now and get some professional advice for accounting and taxes, and use them as a resource for deductions. Money is well-spent on a CPA (certified public accountant) or tax attorney. That $600 might save you in jail time.
On the other side of that is you want to make sure you're taking out all the deductions you can. Technically what I do is a lifestyle business, so everything I do is part of the business. If I'm going to an event, I'm going for the business.
I don't sell a lot of physical products, so what I do is not sending money out, it's getting money in. Good bookkeeping is vital, and so is getting a good tax person who can help you understand what you can and can't do.
Charles: I would say, for awhile, put that revenue thing in your pocket and forget about it. Now YouTube has certain metrics in order to monetize with ads, so you have to put some work into it to build it up.
It's no different than starting at a shop. You're hourly and are still learning how to fix cars. It's not until two or three years down the road where you can consider yourself a really professional technician. You're learning the craft first, and the money comes down the road.
If you're focusing on your craft on YouTube, the views will come, and the revenue will come. Paid partnerships can be very good as long as you're doing partnerships that allow you to stay true to who you are.
Charles: I spend maybe 80, 90 hours, 7 days a week. I rarely take a full day off. If I need to spend 120 hours 1 week, that's what I spend. It's not like I'm going somewhere to go to work. It's all things I really enjoy.
It's all day, every day, of someone wanting things, but that's what I set up. It's not the kind of stress where I want to quit, it's not worth it, this is too hard. It's the kind of stress like, OK, cool, I have 100 emails I need to answer this afternoon, let me do that. Sometimes I have five videos I want to make. Never is there a time where the stress level gets to the point where I want to quit. If that's how you're feeling, it's probably not worth the effort to put in.
Charles: If things look exactly like they do today, I don't think I could justify hiring someone. Maybe project-based, to have a camera guy come with me instead of filming it myself. If I ever open up any shop or warehouse, that's where I'd hire someone as an employee.
What I do like is contracting things out, but because the brand is me, there's only so much I can hire someone to do. I'm a production company, but it's me.
Charles: I think a lot of people think we poke around on our phone, hit record, it goes online, and we make millions. That may happen for some people, but my guess is it happens for no one.
There's so much that goes into to creating a video and marketing a video and engaging on all the channels that are good for your brand. If I'm creating a DIY video, the job itself is going to take about five to six times longer, and it changes the way you work. When you introduce a camera, everything changes.
It's also talking about the job we're doing. That 15-minute repair of putting an air filter in, by the time you do it (and you're doing it four or five times to get all the angles you want), and then move into post-production, it would be totally reasonable to say that 15-minute job to create a video took 15 hours.
Charles: Thoroughly research the brand, and make sure it fits with you and what your message is. You could easily get approached by a brand offering you money to review their product. Make sure that if it's a review, be honest, whether you do it for free or it's something you own.
If it's product integration, you have to see if the product does exactly what it's going to do. If it's a dry spray lubricant, make sure it does what it says it does before you integrate it into a video. Be cautious.
I'm me, and people either like that or they don't. I know that sounds super-simple and almost overly blunt, but I built my channel how I built it, which is being positive about the things I'm positive about and being negative about stuff I'm not, and that's worked well for some brands.
I look at it this way. I've worked really hard over the last several years to sit in the chair I'm sitting in right now. I'm not interested for a few dollars to sacrifice that. Today's audience knows and sees through when you start bending to the will of other brands, and you sell your audience out. When a brand wants to work with you, they want your endorsement or want access to your audience. If I'm going to give them access to my audience, it better be something that's worth it.
If a brand comes to you, you don't have to sell yourself – they already know you. If you go to a brand, you have to sell yourself. It could work out great or go nowhere. Unless there's a product I want in my community, I let them come to me. If there's a product I really like, I'll buy one. If there is something that is amazing, I'll reach out and tell them I bought their product, here's what I do if you want to work together.
Charles: I had the good fortune of having a really great boss who was a great mentor and who is still a really great friend of mine.
There's a group of peers I have now where we're all in the same YouTube space and offer some mentorship, some peer-sharing. We collaborate a lot.
The more successful people you can bring into your circle, the better you're going to be. It doesn't have to be in your direct business. You could share marketing techniques with people in other industries, for example. Having someone to confide in is valuable.
Charles: You're going to make mistakes, and sometimes it works out really well. Other times you pay the stupid tax and pay for that mistake. I've said things wrong in videos plenty of times. All the mistakes when you're first starting out, nobody sees and nobody cares, so that's a good time to make a mistake.
I'm sure there are 100 decisions with the benefit of hindsight now I would probably make a little differently. But I usually trust my gut with what I feel is right for the community, and I think that helps prevent me from making career-ending YouTube mistakes. I don't dwell on any mistakes once it's corrected.
It's just like working at the shop fixing cars. If you make a mistake, admit it, make it right, never do it again, and forget about it. Having that mentality over the years in the shop has allowed me to make some of those decisions pretty quick.
Charles: Yes, 100 percent. My UTI story is that I knew nothing when I went. I knew a little bit about electrical stuff and car audio stuff, but not to where I could walk into a shop and start talking from authority.
There are plenty of people who do videos and aren't professionals, and they talk about that from their perspective, and that's fine. I think the more experience, good or bad you can gain, the better off you're going to be. There's so much that you just don't know, from how to diagnose crazy car problems to what an effective labor rate is, to where to buy supplies from. Learning from someone else's experiences is far less painful than having to learn on your own.
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John Maxwell graduated from Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida, but he's better known as, "The Harley Tech" on YouTube. This is his story.
Elliott Deane is a dynamic leader, an entrepreneur, and a Motorcycle Mechanics Institute graduate. This is his advice for aspiring business owners.
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