I am Rob and married to Jen, and we are respectively known as the Sapper Gardener and Mrs. Sapper Gardener (Mrs. SG). We reside in Northern Virginia in the United States and run a YouTube channel as Essayons Family Garden. On our channel, we do a lot of gardening, cooking and how to videos, with the occasional mail call or product review.
We are part-timers when it comes to being content creators. I work a full-time job in our nation's capital so everything social media related must be planned around my work schedule. But content creation is something the family enjoys, not only my wife and I, but our kids as well. For better or worse, I’m the face of the channel, and do the majority of editing. But my wife and kids help a lot with ideas, photography and recording, especially when I’m in the office.
I am a U.S. Army veteran and our channel name, as well as the nicknames we use on the videos, are all related to my military career as a Combat Engineer or “Sapper.” And the motto of the Corps of Engineers is “Essayons”, a French word which translates to “Let Us Try.” With our channel goal of inspiring others to try growing, preserving and cooking their own food, we thought Essayons Family Garden was a perfect choice for our channel.
My wife and I both come from humble beginnings, me from a poor family in rural Georgia and her from a similar upbringing across the globe in the Philippines. We both worked hard and sacrificed to find success in life through hard work and education. One of the many things the two of us had in common when we were getting to know each other was our love of gardening. I was already growing in a small backyard garden in our previous home in Georgia when we got married.
One thing that quickly became apparent however was how limited certain fruit and vegetable selections were for her, in our local stores and markets. That was the point we really realized we needed to take heart: the mantra, “Grow Your Own.” At that point, I started educating myself more with online seed and nursery companies so we could expand what we grew to include more items my wife was accustomed to.
Part of our research included watching YouTube and Facebook content creators. Over time, we became friendly with many of the like-minded ones on YouTube and were convinced people might enjoy seeing what we were doing. We procrastinated for a while, but after a promotion and relocation to the Washington, DC area, and buying our larger property in Virginia, we decided to take the plunge. We are still learning to find our figurative voice as content creators but thankful to all those who encouraged us to start.
The nature of our channel is mostly showing the seasonal things we do as family gardeners and offering tips and advice. Many people think gardening is complicated or requires a green thumb. We try to break things down so folks can see that is not true. We also try to share our successes as well as the occasional failures. Even experienced gardeners and farmers will experience the occasional fail, sometimes an epic fail, and we want folks to realize that is ok too. But keep trying.
I do keep journals to write down ideas for future video topics, and we do some impromptu brainstorming sessions over dinner. We are monetized, but one rule my wife and I agreed on was not to do a video just for the sake of doing a video.
We like our videos to be organic snapshots of our daily or weekly lives. In fact, I’ll frequently be doing some tasks with my oldest son or preparing a meal, only for him to ask, “Dad, wouldn’t this be a good idea for a video?” And some of the impromptu videos he has suggested have turned out to be our better performing videos. One great feature YouTube has created is the #Shorts video format. We often put out #Shorts videos now when we don’t have substantive themed videos ready or when we may be tired or burned out a bit from editing.
Adobe Premiere and PowerDirector are the two main video editors of choice for me, currently. I use PowerPoint and the Snipping Tool to create images and thumbnails. I have always been into art and took a lot of art classes for my undergraduate degree, including digital art.
We have FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts, all listed as Sapper Gardener. We are in the process of creating a website to post blogs, how-to’s and recipes. We don’t currently use any third party software for scheduling or posting content.
Being introverts, we wondered if we would interest viewers. We had already made friends in the community, as subscribers, but would anyone outside of them watch our family gardening channel? We were pleasantly surprised to find out people were interested in watching us. A lot of our viewers are fellow content creators in the garden and homestead community, but most are non-content creators who loyally follow the things we do and grow in our garden. And for the most part, we have felt welcome into the YouTube gardening community.
We are fortunate to not get a ton of negative comments or trolls on our videos, but racism and bigotry are just facts of life. We employ filter settings to prevent racist or vulgar words popping up in our comments section and block those users we feel are trolls. We also have potentially inappropriate comments and links held for review. We want our channel to be as family-friendly as possible.
I am a self-confessed introvert, as is my wife, but we have both learned to present and speak well in front of groups as part of our current and previous jobs. And speaking on topics we are passionate about, like gardening, makes it much easier to our viewers who share the same interests.
We started off slow but consistent, striving to put out a video each week. And we were fortunate to have already made great connections in the community who helped us grow through channel mentions and shout outs. That is probably the greatest contributor on our journey to monetization, especially as a part-time content creator. Make as many genuine relationships as you can. And pay it forward. Any subscriber we mention during our videos is linked in our description, whether we are answering their questions, sharing information they taught us or during collaboration.
We also agreed to be interviewed by other content creators on their YouTube channels. These helped our channel grow incredibly quick. We reached our 1,000 subscriber milestone many months before hitting our 4,000 watch hour milestone, but made steady gains as we consistently put out more content each week. We also make sure we share our videos across our other social media platforms. This helps to ensure they are noticed by interested viewers even when not on YouTube.
Our How-To videos seem to generally do better overall. We also got interested in how to grow edible mushrooms at home but those videos frequently got flagged for some reason. We successfully challenged each but decided to do those less and avoid the unnecessary stress. We also participate in collaborations with other like-minded content creators when possible. Collaborations can be a fun way to get new eyes on your channel.
I’d advise anyone wanting to get into content creation to do a bit of research, make reasonable goals and start putting out content. Not everyone is going to blow up into a YouTube star overnight. Don’t let the numbers become a source of stress. It takes time to grow and there will be peaks and valleys along the way.
Put out content that you would enjoy watching but don’t be overly critical. If you enjoy the content you are going to put out, chances are others will too. If you struggle to watch a video while you are editing it, take a break and come back to it. If you still don’t like it, don’t post it. We have tons of footage we never used and several videos we put up and then deleted for various reasons like poor sound quality, wind noise or misspeaks on the topic.
I still work full time at a great job that will allow me to retire at a reasonable age. We are committed to content creation on a part time basis until I retire. At that point, we’ll focus more on the YouTube channel, merchandising and other revenue streams.
We have always viewed YouTube as one way of earning passive income but never as our primary way of supporting our family. We hope that our earnings continue to increase with time, and we can include more travel related content using the income earned.
We are fortunate to have avoided major hurdles but do get the occasional negative comments or racist behavior. As a multicultural and multiracial family, we are prone to seeing an off-color comment every blue moon. We quickly delete and block those. And we have sadly had a couple of subscribers with just negative personalities and comments. We try to be open-minded to other opinions and ideas, but if your comments are consistently negative you shouldn’t be subscribing and watching our channel. Those get blocked and deleted too. We try to be a positive influence on social media and are open to opposing views, but pure negativity is not welcome on our channel.
We don’t concern ourselves overly much with the milestones. We know they will come in due time. But it was nice getting monetized. Monetization helps pay for improvements to the content we put out. We hope to eventually earn enough to help us travel and explore gardens and different foods around the world.
We have not done much in the way of marketing yet. We are looking into different merchandise and branding as ways to get our names and brands recognized. We have had several companies reach out to us and offer to market our channel for a fee but are happy with the organic growth our channel has made so far. We certainly haven’t ruled it out for the future.
We know collaborations are not everyone’s forte, but we have gotten a lot of new subscribers from collaborations with larger, more established channels. That is the beauty of Social Media. One positive comment from a channel ten times larger than yours may send you 100 new subscribers in a few days. Those add up and are free of charge.
We are very selective in accepting any brand deals or sponsorships at this time for a variety of reasons. But we will agree to product testing of items we may have a legitimate use for in our garden or kitchen. We get a lot of emails asking us to review items that are not remotely related to anything we do on our channel and quickly decline those.
One piece of advice we would give new content creators is to put a price on your time. Whether that is $10 an hour or $100 an hour. Then figure out the time you will take testing or reviewing a product, filming and editing, and responding to questions on a product. A free $10 or $25 item is not worth reviewing if you don’t really need it and it’s going to take up 4-5 hours of your time. Unless that review goes viral you are giving away free advertising time.
With that being said, we do love supporting small and minority businesses. There are times we will promote companies we buy from and think our viewers can safely support. Over time, we hope this may lead to brand deals and sponsorships as we each grow larger.