Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
In summer 2016, fresh high school graduate Elle Mills decided to make a go at being a full-time YouTuber. She created a carefully-designed filming and uploading schedule, and got to work. Over the next two years, she became one of YouTube’s rising stars, amassing more than one million subscribers, earning top YouTuber Casey Neistat‘s stamp of approval, nabbing Streamy Awards nominations, and announcing a Canada-wide tour.
Then, in 2018, Mills hit a wall.
The pressure to constantly create content to keep her subscribers interested and draw in more viewers put a massive strain on her mental health, and it all culminated in a burnout Mills documented frankly on her YouTube channel. Mills wasn’t the first YouTuber to speak out about the challenges of being a full-time creator, but her raw documentation of her breakdown and recovery was a deeper look than many creators offer up.
Mills ended up taking a YouTube break from May to September 2018. Upon her return, she switched up her content strategy — and ditched the regular filming/uploading schedule she’d kept to since day one — as part of her overall goal to focus more on her mental health and self-care.
Nowadays, Mills is still a full-time YouTuber (and has 1.6 million subscribers). But where before, she generally uploaded at least once per week and her videos tended to follow YouTube trends like reaction videos and challenges, now they’re more like diary entries marking major points in her life. Her more recent uploads include this video about her brother going away to college, this video about coming out a bisexual, this video about her complicated relationship with her ex-best friend, and this video about losing weight.
Mills’ content changeup is understandably daunting — but it helps that she has a full team of what she considers bona fide superstars behind her. Check out our chat with her below about her decision to be a full-time YouTuber straight out of high school, how she feels about making increasingly personal content, and what she’s planning outside of the world’s largest video sharing site.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from? What did you do before YouTube?
Elle Mills: Yes! Hello, I’m Elle Mills and I’m 20 years old, half Canadian and half Filipino, currently living in Ottawa, Canada! I was actually originally born in the Philippines, but have been raised most of my life here in Ottawa. When it comes to life before YouTube, it really was just purely school! I genuinely loved high school. I was president of my school, part of all the clubs, and had the best people surrounding me.
But even during my school days, I have actually always been making videos! In family home videos, you can see me always trying to grab the camera from my mom, and when I did, I made little music videos and skits with my siblings. When it came to school, I was kind of the designated videographer for my school and the person my classmates came to when they needed help with a video project. So even before YouTube, you could always catch a camera in my hands.
Tubefilter: What made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content? Did you have a content strategy when you joined, or were you more winging it?
EM: I was actually a huge YouTube fan growing up, which is why it’s so weird to now be friends with YouTubers I used to watch in middle school! So, being obsessed with the platform and it being the easiest way to share content online, it was just the best fit for me. When I first started posting on my channel, it was more for fun. as I was still in high school. But as soon as I graduated, I had this sudden wave of motivation to try and make it a full-time thing. So, I actually did make a strategy, since I noticed being consistent with your upload schedule helps a lot with audience growth. I committed to posting once a week and stuck to it, and things have seemed to work out pretty well for me so far!
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
EM: Oh gosh, I feel terrible that I can’t really remember the exact details. It must have been either late 2016 or early 2017, and it wasn’t much. It was around the bare minimum it needs to be for Google to send the money through, but I remember being SO PUMPED ABOUT IT! I’ve never had a job before, so earning my own money was super exciting, and I 100% spent all of it at Wendy’s, lol.
Tubefilter: Your content over the past six months has been very personal. Can you talk a little about how you approach making content now, and how you decide on topics for your videos?
EM: It’s definitely been getting more raw on my channel, which is ironic because I hate being raw and vulnerable in person. I think that’s why I’ve been drawn to making videos about subjects that I’m not exactly comfortable discussing in person. It’s therapeutic and an outlet for my thoughts. Making videos now is almost like a diary entry for me. It’s a way for me to explain what’s happening in my life, whether it be my brother going away for college or me experiencing burnout. My videos are really just a documentation of my life, so coming up with topics comes naturally.
Tubefilter: You were one of the first YouTubers to be blunt about the fact that burnout happens. How did you recover (or how are you still recovering) from burning out? Is there anything you think other creators–particularly teen creators–should know about burnout?
EM: Burnout is so prominent in the YouTube community, and is also something that most people will experience in their life. In 2018, I definitely overworked myself. In my video about my burnout, I open up about my workload: the insane amount of travel, events, meetings, and time that went into my videos. It took me hitting my breaking point to finally allow myself to stop and take a break.
I would be lying if I said I’m completely recovered, but I’m definitely way better from where I was then. I’ve been doing a lot of self-care, spending time with family and friends, taking my time between videos, and limiting the amount of travel, meetings, and events I do. All of those things have been so beneficial to my recovery.
And I highly recommend to any other creators who are experiencing burnout to PLEASE SLOW DOWN. It’s okay to take a break! I promise you your mental health is more important, so please prioritize it.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber/creator?
EM: It was actually my first YouTube event: Playlist Live D.C., September 2017. I remember being so excited that I was a featured creator, and that I got to hang with my absolute favorite YouTubers as my peers. I actually cried meeting one of my favorite creators in the green room, and thankfully, she didn’t find it too weird, and she’s actually one of my closest friends now! To be honest, all the creators I met at that event, I am still very close friends with to this day. It was just really surreal to be a huge YouTube fan growing up, and watching events like Playlist through my computer screen, then to finally be on the other side and experience it for myself. I truly felt like I had made it in that moment.
Tubefilter: What’s your production schedule like? Do you have a set filming/uploading schedule?
EM: My videos are emotionally draining, lol. I’m a huge perfectionist and impulsive, so it’s basically one week straight of very tedious work. I don’t have an upload schedule anymore, in an effort to prevent further burnout, so whenever I come up with an idea, I usually just get straight to my notebook and start planning it out. When I come up with an idea, I want it out as soon as humanly possible.
My videos follow this three-part structure: the intro, the setup, and the event. So, whatever idea I come up with, I try and fit it into that structure in my notebook. I then move onto the music. Music is very important in my videos, so a majority of the time, I have the score of my video edited before I have even filmed anything.
After that, I go into prep, as there usually is a big event that happens in the video, so that includes scheduling everything, calling family and friends to help out, buying supplies, etcetera. I’m usually filming throughout all of this, then I film the main event, pop it into my computer, and edit! And editing is the definitely the most tedious part, as I go through every single detail possible. It usually takes me 12 to 36 hours to edit, but it ends up being worth it in the end!
Tubefilter: Is YouTube currently your full-time job? What else do you get up to in your daily life?
EM: Yes! YouTube is currently my full-time job. And when I’m not doing anything YouTube related, to be honest, I’m not doing much lol. Usually hanging with friends and family while I have the chance, going to the gym, watching movies and YouTube videos, and mostly just relaxing!
Tubefilter: Do you have anyone working with you behind the scenes on your videos? What about on the business side of things? Do you have a manager or network?
EM: I don’t really have a team when it comes to the videos. I mostly do that on my own. I do have friends who help out if they’re free, but nothing official. When it comes to photos or graphics for thumbnails, channel art, social media, etcetera, I do have a small go-to team! My cousin Sj Prejola does all of the graphics when it comes to thumbnails, channel art and merch, as he’s EXTREMELY talented. Could not imagine working with anyone else. Equally as talented is my friend photographer Nick Le, who takes all the sick photos you see of me on my social media and is the nicest guy in the world! Super handy to have him around while filming so he can take the thumbnails, and if I need a second videographer during filming!
When it comes to the business side, I do have a killer team. My amazing manager Nick Coffey has been dealing with my shit since 2017, lol. He’s been there since before my channel really took off, so he has a special place in my heart. He’s a machine. He basically takes care of everything outside of the videos for me. He goes above and beyond, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s such a dad, and prioritizes my wellbeing before everything else, and I know he’s always got my back. I feel like he deals with more than what your typical manager deals with, and bless him for doing that. Love that guy, and can’t imagine me getting to where I am without him.
Adding on to the team are some more recent additions: my lawyer Lauren Partipilo, my YouTube partner manager Jessica Atkinson, and my agency UTA! These guys, with Nick, help me get so many SICK opportunities and opens doors for me that I wouldn’t be able to open on my own. Lauren is a trooper for reading through contracts and protecting my ass. Bless her for all she does. Jessica is the sweetest and is the best when it comes to getting absolutely ANYTHING directly YouTube related done. And of course, my team at UTA is the most fun bunch of people in the world. Love just being around them and hanging with them. They always wear suits when I’m with them, and I always tell them this, but I absolutely LOVE IT LOL (shoutout to Ty Flynn for rocking the suit the best). I know my team at UTA genuinely cares about me and my career and helping in growing it. They’ve been so pivotal in helping me get to the next steps of my career, so I’m so honored to have them on my team.
Basically, everyone I work with is the greatest and no one can make me think any differently.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
EM: I think I’m extremely passionate, and I think that shows in my content. I take my time in making my videos and care so much (perhaps a little too much, lol) about the quality of them. I always push myself to think outside the box and am very passionate about creating content I’m proud of, and I think that’s been a huge part in why I’ve had the success I’ve had.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
EM: Definitely still making videos and pumping out content. Like I said earlier, YouTube is an outlet for me and is extremely therapeutic, so I’ll always be doing that. On top of that, I would love to try and create content on a bigger level. I would love to make my own original series or movie one day, and directing has always been a dream of mine. So, that’s the next goal I’m currently working towards, as well as doing some other really cool projects in the meantime that I hope will come out within the next year or two! I’m really just trying to do a bit of everything and get my creative juices going. All very exciting!
Mills is a Fullscreen client.
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