How the Web Developer Finds Stress Relief Through Maintaining A Garden of Succulents.

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February 13, 2021

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

My name is Chuck Cerrillo, a web developer from Melbourne, Australia. I run the Cerriscapades brand as a side hustle. Cerriscapades is a portmanteau of my last name (Cerrillo) and my niche (Xeriscaping). It is short for “CERrillo’s xeRIScaping esCAPADES.” Xeriscaping is about landscaping using drought-tolerant plants.

I do everything by myself, from the actual gardening to filming, editing, and promoting my videos. When I started, I was pushing 4-5 videos a month but have since cut back to 1-2 videos a month with a greater focus on quality.

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory! 

I started gardening and collecting succulent plants as a stress reliever from my day job. I love taking photos, so I started sharing my plants’ photos and wrote blogs and mini guides about them. Eventually, the posts got repetitive, so I created a few videos on Facebook and shared them around. The problem was that these posts were all over the place in various groups on Facebook. So I thought I should establish a Facebook page for my posts. That’s when the Cerriscapades brand was born.

People took notice of my work, commenting on the quality of the videos. One of them suggested starting a Youtube channel, and I did. Then it just snowballed from there. I started the channel by uploading the same few videos on Facebook onto YouTube but forgot about it since I was mostly spending time on Facebook. A few months later, I got an email saying my channel was being reviewed for monetization. That’s when I realised that perhaps Youtube was worth pursuing. 

While going through the YouTube monetization process, I thought hard about my content strategy. My interests lie in acquiring and sharing knowledge, as well as cinematography and storytelling. So I thought that a vlog format is the right intersection of the two. I do everything by myself, from the actual gardening to filming, editing, and promoting my videos. I stopped actively advertising in various Facebook groups and on Reddit by my second year. I just started my fourth year of vlogging, and my style is very recognisable within the succulent gardening circles.

It wasn’t easy at first. Vlogs aren’t precisely attracting colossal traffic. I noticed that growth was very linear, not in surges like other creators. Today the Cerriscapades brand spans across Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. I feel strongly against being a content creator full-time. I believe that my creativity will suffer if I see it as my main source of income. I want gardening to be my stress relief from my day job. I need both to thrive. Without the day job, I think doing YouTube will feel like a chore.

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing.

Around 80% of the time, the inspiration just comes with the seasons, literally. Since my channel is about gardening, there is always something to do in the garden, depending on the season. For instance, in spring, you tend to find yourself doing a lot of planting and growing. For summer, it’s all about protecting the plants from heat waves; in autumn, it’s mostly cleanup in preparation for winter; in winter, it’s about protecting the plants from frost. This regularity helps a lot with figuring out my content strategy. 

I do not follow a rigid script. I usually write an outline in a Google document, switch between my desktop computer and my phone and work on it anywhere. I’m not good at memorising scripts, so bullet points and outlines work best for me. I’m a night owl, so the writing process almost always happens late at night when I’m lying idle in bed.

When I’m out of ideas, I get the other 20% of my inspiration from reading the comments on my videos and private messages. I frequently have people asking me for tips and advice with their plants. Often, I would respond with something really detailed that it is already enough content for a standalone video. When that happens, I copy it over to Google Docs and further flesh it out.

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

To create my content, I have a full subscription to Adobe CC. I use Adobe Premiere for videos and Adobe Photoshop for photos. I very rarely use Adobe After Effects if I am working on an extra special video. I also have subscriptions to EpidemicSound for my audio needs and Tubebuddy to help manage my channel. I used to publish daily posts on Instagram and Facebook. Later.com was useful for this since I needed to schedule things.

When Instagram finally rolled out scheduled posts, I stopped using Later. I also have a Patreon and YouTube membership. For now, I’m not doing member-exclusive content since I cannot currently create extra content. But it is something I’m considering in the near future.

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

I am an introvert, and I am timid performing in front of people. I couldn’t film when my family was around in the garden with me. I was also not used to speaking on camera, and it took me months before I felt confident and a year before I found “my voice.”

A year or so later, people noticed me in other online communities and shared my content with others. My posts were also attracting lots of comments. The comments are overwhelmingly positive. I would get some critical comments once in a while. When I do, I will let the comment stay for a day or two before I respond. That way, I am less emotional and am willing to look deeper into their perspective and respond appropriately. About 90% of the time, the critics will be taken aback and respond favourably and comment about how I’m good at taking criticism constructively.

My video style is continually evolving. Early on, it was heavily influenced by Let’s Plays, where I take footage in the first-person view and do commentary on top of it. I didn’t show my face in the first few episodes. I dared myself to do a face reveal a few episodes in, and the response was outstanding. People like it because it felt more personal and interactive. I also had a passion for photography, but I had little experience of filming. So this led me to watch cinematography channels. I’ve been raising my video quality since these cinematic elements set my channel apart from the others in my niche. It’s now more of a show than a vlog.

How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.

I started by filming things on my phone. Since it is a gardening vlog, 99% of the shots are outdoors. Melbourne is a windy city, so I was quickly running into wind noise problems. I had an old DSLR lying around, so I used my first AdSense paycheck to purchase a shotgun microphone and a lavalier mic. This investment paid off because the audio quality vastly improved. More views were coming in. By the 6th month, I exceeded the monthly payout threshold, so I had a bit of revenue that I could reinvest into the channel.

During my first couple of years, I was uploading very consistently. I was publishing 1-2 videos per week on YouTube and a daily photo on Instagram and Facebook. I have since slowed it down to 1-2 videos a month, while my daily posts are currently on hold. During those first few years, most of the things I did were self-taught from either watching my stats or other YouTube channels.

I eventually found a YouTube mastermind group to critique each other's work and generally help each other grow. Compared to my peers in the group, the first few years were not hard. The first 100 subs came in a few days. The first 1000 went in a few months. There were lots of people interested in my work to get the views and subs early on. However, compared to other genres and niches, gardening is not as huge. So some of my friends caught up and even overtaken me after a while. My growth rate was super consistent and almost linear. There was a dip in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic but has picked up in March as more people turned to gardening as their quarantine hobby.

My most popular video is one of the first few ones I made, a tutorial on plant propagation. It is a highly searched topic within my niche.

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

I would ask them what they are passionate about, whether they intend to turn it into their main source of income, and how much involvement with the community they are expecting. Tutorials and short-form content are great for bringing views in, so I would emphasize creating that sort of content in the first year or so. If doing the voice, invest in a decent microphone because lousy audio is a larger turn-off than bad visuals. Do not be too concerned about likes and dislikes. Any activity is good activity. Maybe at the very least, just make sure that the dislike ratio is not too high because that suggests something wrong with the content.

Be gracious when receiving criticism. If someone posts a very critical comment, take time, and do not respond right away. Allow yourself some time to cool down before replying. Respond calmly and see if there’s any merit to their criticism. I’ve been doing this, and 90% of the time, these people would react favourably after that. Many YouTubers talk about figuring out your value proposition, and I agree with that. Take the opportunity of your first few months as a creator to experiment with different formats and styles and see what sticks or is sustainable. Then slowly trim out the rest as you grow.

You have to be the brand known for a particular thing, rather than just being a generic channel in the crowd.

How did you finally commit to X platform rather than your regular day job?

When I first got my AdSense paycheck, I realised there was an opportunity here. However, I did make a conscious decision that I would just be doing this part-time alongside my day job. I needed this YouTube channel as a stress relief from my day job. I would hate for it to be my source of stress. But in saying that, I will not be one to say no to the opportunity of doing this full-time. I’ll just need to find a way to separate the creative aspect from the business aspect, like getting a partner or a team to help manage it.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

The first milestone perhaps was when my channel got monetized. It came as a surprise because all I did was upload a few videos, shared it a few times, and then forgot about my channel for the next few months. Little did I know my videos were getting traction in terms of views, and subscribers started to trickle in. 

Another milestone I’m proud of was when the channel became self-sufficient. It was earning more than enough to pay for the subscriptions I got for it - Adobe CC, Epidemic Sound, Tubebuddy, website and domain, and email. I used to dig into my savings when I needed to upgrade or acquire new filming gear, but no more. 

The third significant milestone was when I finally got sponsors. I wrote to local landscaping and building supplies centre, and they agreed to sponsor me with their products. Not too long after that, I also got invited by a company that sells grow lights and other indoor growing equipment to use their products and feature them in my videos.

The revenue is not big enough to be considered life-changing, but I am delighted that it is self-sustaining and no longer a money-sink. I have a lot more flexibility when deciding to work on specific projects that would require a bit of funding.

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

My main strategy to getting noticed was by building my reputation among succulent and gardening groups by participating in discussions and answering questions. Eventually, people got familiar with my name and my posts that they would frequently refer questions to me or tag me in discussions. Essentially my advertising was done by word of mouth.

From time to time, I would do collabs with people in my niche and people outside of my niche that would have some intersection. One of the memorable ones was when I was experimenting with growing oyster mushrooms, and my friend who had a cooking channel decided to make a recipe featuring oyster mushrooms. This got some traffic between our channels. Some of my subscribers then became active viewers on his channel.

Collabs on my channel generally do not give me long term viewers so I do not spend too much effort pursuing these right now. If I have more time and resources, then this is something I can focus more on.

I’m a web developer so I worked on my own website (https://www.cerriscapades.com). It has a bit of content that does not come in regularly. I plan to add more content as soon as I get the time towards the end of the year over the holidays.

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

I’m generally not aggressive about this. I just took a chance with one, and it paid off. I contacted my local landscaping and gardening supplies center, and they said yes.

I’ve also been approached by a few brands, offering me their gardening products. One of these conversations pushed through, and they sent me something. I created a video series featuring their product, and I think they loved it enough for them to send more products for me to use. To date, I haven’t had a sponsorship deal that paid in cash. So far, I’ve had products sent to me for review and featured in my vlog.

I’m very aversive to obligations, especially since this is more of a hobby. I do not want to let people down if I can’t fulfill time-based commitments. So I try to keep my sponsors list small and manageable. 

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