Jana Hisham, Saffron Barker, Hannah Witton, Elle Mills and Hazel Hayes discuss defining success, motivation and what it’s like to be a woman in the industry.
The panel began with introductions to a packed room. Moderator Jana Hisham then kicked things off by asking the panel at what point they felt like they were “successful”.
Saffron answered that it was coming to places like VidCon and that when viewers “become friends with each other… and that’s something that makes me feel like I’ve done something good.”
For Elle, it was the end of 2017 when she felt successful, as “that was when I posted the coming out video and I hit like a million subscribers, and so it was like everything happening at once and I felt like I was getting recognition for my work.”
Jana then asked the panel what they felt was the “most important personal trait for finding that level of success”.
Hannah began by saying, “I think the thing that has helped me to become a success is how organised I am”, which was received with a big laugh from the audience.
She added that having a schedule meant “being able to upload consistent videos” and that while she hasn’t stated anywhere online that she has released videos every Tuesday for the last four years, that personal deadline has been helpful for her.
Elle shared that she thought having ambition and passion was important, and “finding what it is that gives you that drive”.
“You have to believe in your core about what you’re doing,” Hazel added.
She continued and said that along with that “internal drive and ambition”, you need the skills which “comes with experience”.
“I deal with people a lot differently now than I did a few years ago, and that’s just from learning. So, I think a lot of the logistical skills you can learn, but at the core, you just have to know; I’m worthy of this, my story is worth telling, and this thing I want to make is worth it.
“And also, every other creator who has ever created has imposter syndrome. They think they’re not worth it. We all wake up one day going like ‘what am I doing? No one wants to know about this, this is bullshit.’
“So, you kind of need to go into it knowing that whatever it is you want to do is worth doing,” she said.
Jana then discussed keeping the motivation going long-term, such as when things like illness come up.
She asked the panel: “How do you motivate yourself even to get through those times, or to carry on creating content through those times as well?”
Hazel declared that “there’s no point making a plan, because it won’t happen, life will just get in the way.”
Hannah then jumped in jokingly with “but you should make a plan”, receiving another big laugh.
Hazel went on: “OK, make a plan, but know that it will get changed. Know you’re going to have to roll with the punches. You have to be able to adapt.”
She referenced a recent tweet where she detailed how she motivates herself by breaking tasks down into “teeny tiny little steps and get yourself back in to it very slowly and with a lot of kindness.”
Jana later discussed accountability, and that ultimately you need to “get out of your own head and make it.”
Hannah then talked about her health difficulties last year with ulcerative colitis, resulting in stoma surgery. But she didn’t feel like this period blocked her motivation, instead saying “as soon as I was home and I started feeling better, I could not wait to start making videos again. Because for me that was what made me feel normal. And that was part of my recovery.”
Hannah then addressed the audience, asking how many in attendance were creators, with the majority raising their hands.
She then advised directly to “be kind, be compassionate to yourself. But. If you really do want to get shit done, planning…”, which the audience responded to with rapturous laughter.
Continuing after the laughs had died down, she noted that doing things in advance is useful, in case you have an “off week”.
Saffron, building on this, said she does a lot of pre-filming. “I’m very unorganised, but every week I write down what I’m going to film, and I try and get it done towards the beginning of the week so then I have time to have my own private life as well.”
Joining in, Jana stated the importance of sacrifice. “At some point you have to make a decision of what you’re willing to sacrifice for the dream or the goal that you’ve got.
“Anyone who is successful in their field has sacrificed to get there, and if you don’t feel like you are willing to sacrifice that time you’re spending on friends and family, or just downtime, recreational time, then maybe it’s not something that you’re that passionate about in the first place.”
Hazel then discussed the reasons for creating: “I see a lot of people who want the end goal. Even in my personal life I know people who have admitted to me like, ‘maybe what I want is this nice fancy bit of it, but I don’t really want to do the work to get there’. And I’m like, ‘well, reconsider your career in that case’.
“If you’re finding that every single day is a slog, every single day you’re having to bang your head against a wall and you’re like ‘I don’t really like this’ then the money is never going to be worth it.
“So, if you don’t have the bug, I think you know.”
Hannah agreed there were questions you needed to ask yourself: “I think the thing about sacrifice as well is that it does work the other way.
“Asking how much your home life – or your hobbies – how important is that to you. Your relationships with your friends… how important are they to you? And maybe making sacrifices in work, or creating, in order to do those things as well.”
She added she feels she’d be “ten times more successful if I didn’t enjoy weekends.”
Jana then asked if they felt “there are changes that you’ve made to your routine that have led you to the point where you’re getting more stuff done?”
Hannah then explained her routine, which stemmed from doing YouTube as a hobby during university. She equates her university schedule to that of the work set up she has now.
“Whereas like, you may have six hours during the whole week of meetings or events where you have to be here and this time, but the rest of that time you like, do what you want with it, but the more time you put in you’ll also get out,” she said.
Elle then discussed her work routine: “I think I don’t focus on the quantity of videos, I focus more on the quality.
“I make sure not to force anything, because I find that when I’m forced to make content then the quality goes to pieces.”
She thinks this routine has been important in her success: “I do think that having fewer quality videos for me has increased my engagement.”
Her advice is to have consistency from the beginning and to recognise when you’re motivated, “because my default is unmotivated, so when I am motivated that’s when I go crazy.”
The discussion then turned to women, and whether there are advantages or disadvantages to being women in their respective industries.
Elle said she noticed her gender being a factor when she did comedy, saying “when I try to be funny online there is a little more backlash.”
Although the panel then discussed that it can be hard to know for certain that it’s due to gender, with Hazel explaining that women in comedy have “always had it rough”, but then women in the film industry is similar.
She then discussed how she originally wanted to be an actress, but frustrated with the “girlfriend or wife” roles available, she started to write and direct short films herself instead.
She admitted that because of this she may have experienced less sexism, as she was doing her own thing, but when entering the industry, she immediately encountered it.
She then shared a story where she was pitching a film of a remake of an old film that previously had a male protagonist, and “in a totally legitimate way I rewrote it with a female protagonist, for reasons. And he gets on the phone and he’s like, ‘yeah one question: um, why is she a woman?'”
The panel and the audience reacted with shock. Her takeaway for dealing with sexism is to “surround yourself with both great women and great men.”
Hazel also later commented that “the main thing I noticed is we have these panels. I mean there’s no ‘boss ass men’ panel. And it’s like, where are the ‘people who make stuff’ panels?”
She clarifies she thinks it is good to have these panels, and “wouldn’t want these to go away, it’s just interesting that we have to have them. And I look forward to the day we don’t.”
The last question on the emphasis on appearance in the comments for female content creators, prompted a discussion from Hannah about her most viewed video.
Her audience breakdown is 70/30 and, while she’s grateful men are watching as “they need to hear this stuff too”, she is also “very aware there might be other reasons they’re watching.”
Her video ‘Why Having Big Boobs Sucks!’ suddenly increased in views and from her analytics she saw that it was “90% American men, over 40” which she has found frustrating as it has skewed her analytics for her whole channel.
“Brands are like ‘can we see your audience break down’ and I was like ‘it’s not 50/50 male/female, it’s not!’,” she said.
The floor then opened up to questions from the audience. The first involved when to take a job at a company with very few women in it.
Hazel said that “if the job is good, if what you want to do is this job, my advice is take the job, and take those men’s money, and do that job damn well, and maybe they’ll hire more women.”
Jana also emphasised that “you don’t have to be the change”, saying: “You don’t have to be that person who is doing the activism. If you feel like it’s not something you have the energy for, that’s fine.”
The next question was how to get video ideas. Elle admitted she struggles, but that she likes “to brainstorm trends, think about what’s happening in your life, in pop culture. Maybe taking something, someone’s done already and making it your own.”
Hazel advised “anyone who is creative” to “do other things” and that it’s those experiences that will “make up what you make eventually”.
“If you sit in your house all day trying to think of a thing to make, usually that’s not going to happen,” she said.
Jana added to just “try it out”, because “creativity is a bit like a muscle”.
“Train that creative muscle and ideas will start to flow easier,” she said.
Hannah finds videos ideas “one of my biggest hurdles”, but that she writes a list of titles and goes from there.
She noted she’d bought a waterproof notepad for the shower, which prompted laughter from both the panel and the audience.
Closing the panel was a question asking for advice for young people starting YouTube channels. Saffron said safety was the most important advice she could offer.
“Think about what you’re going to be put onto the internet, because even if you delete something it’s always going to be there,” she said.
Elle stressed not to make it a job right away, but to have fun with it. For Jana, her advice is to not be afraid to try things out, even if you think other people have “been there, done that”.
Hazel highlighted her previous point of knowing why you are doing it. “If it’s just fame and glory, one: good luck, because it’s a really tough platform to break into, but also, is that going to be fulfilling for you, and is this the right way to go about it?”
Hannah’s advice is to not be afraid to “be super niche with your weird interests and hobbies.”
“Go niche or go home”, Jana concluded to a final laugh.