My name is Elena Handtrack and I am studying law at St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge. At the moment, I have a StudyTube YouTube channel, a personal blog, a legal blog, and a law revision channel. I started to regularly upload videos when I started university as I wanted to show other students what it is like to study law at Cambridge, especially as a student whose first language is not English.
Although I upload weekly, social media remains a hobby for me and I am planning to do it for however long I enjoy doing it. My channel is mine, but my best friend and roommate has done a few takeovers and filmed a few vlogs on it. It was great to have the experience of another student on my channel since it allowed my subscribers to see how the experience of studying at Cambridge differs for everybody.
Since I am not the most creative person (though I certainly wish I was), I made my channel name Elena Handtrack. I also used my name for my blog (which I started while I was still in high school). I also use the same logo as the watermark on my channel as I use as a logo for my blog:
This logo is made up of the letters M, E, and H. They are my initials as my full name is Maria Elena Handtrack but no one has ever called me by my actual first name. In addition to my blog’s logo, I designed a new logo for the vlogs on my channel to make it more consistent and I based it on various old university shields:
I started creating content online at age 15 when I started writing my blog. Initially, my blog was a way for me to share my photos without them being defined by how many likes they would receive on Instagram. At that point, I was very much into photography, but I was quite shy and I wanted a place where all that would matter would be my pictures. Making my own website where I could just be creative therefore seemed like a good idea. Having that website made me want to learn more about editing and I soon taught myself how to edit pictures better and better:
I do not really have an inspiring quote or another content creator who inspired me to do this - I honestly just wanted to create a space in which I could safely share my art without being judged. But when I started to spend more time on it and life got busy (as usual, commitments and school started getting in the way) and it became a little harder to continuously post. The encouragement I received from my friends and family in the form of them telling me that they really enjoyed reading my blog kept me going. It made me feel like I created something that mattered. And then, about a year after I started my blog, I received my first message from a stranger through my blog. That was the point where I realised that I could make people I did not know in real life happy through my blog and that made me want to continue as it made me see an impact of my work.
I have tried out lots of apps to keep my ideas, but I somehow keep going back to a messy note in my notes app. I love using that app as I have it on all my devices, making it convenient to use. Whenever a video or blog post idea pops into my head, I write it down there. I go through these ideas whenever I have time and if there is an idea which I think would work well, I refine it a little and then I put it with an outline into my Things 3 app (a to-do list app I also use for school). The app allows you to set deadlines for yourself, making it easy to know when to film/post the content.
When I do not have content ideas, I simply do not post. For me, social media remains a hobby and I do not see it as a business (even though I now have a monetised channel and occasionally do sponsorships). I love how I currently use social media and I do not want to put any pressure on me that I have to post regularly - so when I do not feel up to posting, I simply do not.
For photo editing, I use Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. I absolutely love to use these two apps on my MacBook and iPad as they are great alternatives to other programs which are subscription-based. I mainly used Affinity’s website and YouTube tutorials to teach myself how to use them. When I decided that I wanted to start making videos, I watched a ton of tutorials on how to use iMovie and then I started trying to edit myself (it was a long journey but I eventually created something that was somewhat watchable). When drafting posts for my legal blog, I usually write them up in Word first and then I copy and paste them into the backroom of my legal blog.
Weirdly, I was not very scared of what people would think of my content since I honestly did not think that anyone would ever care about it. When I started writing my blog, the only people who read it were my mother, my grandmother, and me. I only realised much later that other people had also stumbled across my website and actually read it.
Luckily, I had almost no negative feedback to deal with for years. In fact, I only started to receive actual hate comments when one of my videos received over half a million views. Once your audience grows, your channel will inevitably also get recommended to people who do not like your content, but I usually screenshot the mean comments and respond to them on Twitter. I find it useful to switch from one social media platform to another when responding to hate comments as it takes away some of the risk of a confrontation in the comment section. It also gives me a chance to defend myself and I am actually glad that I do not just delete these comments since I have learned to stand up for myself and believe in myself by responding to these comments.
In all honesty, I was not really trying to actively ‘build a brand’ (and I am still not). I just experiment a little with new content and do whatever feels right. I saved up some of my pocket money to be able to buy a camera and a tripod to start my blog and then later I saved up for a video camera to start my YouTube channel. I never saw those as investments, but rather as ways to start a new hobby.
For quite a while, nobody other than my friends and family read my blog, but a few years later, when I started using Google Analytics, I found out that I actually had thousands of monthly readers (something I definitely had not seen coming). Since I did not track the audience growth of the website from early on, I do not know what made its audience grow, but I would guess it was a mix of the consistent posting and linking it under my YouTube videos.
On YouTube, my growth was probably connected to the rising popularity of university vlogs and I guess my videos just fitted that format. But my channel was consistently at below 10,000 subscribers for a good year before suddenly doubling its subscriber count due to a ‘Day in the Life’ video which blew up a little in comparison to the other videos on my channel.
The one thing I would have done differently is that I would have researched the legal side of content creation a lot earlier. Once I got my first paycheck from YouTube, I saved it up until I could afford to see a lawyer to figure out whether there was any action I had to take and I realised that there was a lot which had to be done (the GDPR means a lot of work for content creators).
Another thing I wish I had done differently is deciding to use a logo for my vlogs earlier. Rebranding videos later on is unnecessary work and I found that once you use a certain logo for continuously reoccuring formats on your channel, it makes it easier for your audience to identify the content they like from you.
The first milestone for me was the first message a stranger sent to me through my blog. It was at that point that I realised that I could reach other people with my content. Before then, I never thought anyone else would like to read my blog and it felt so great to hear that someone actually enjoyed my content.
Another milestone was a very personal video I posted a while ago about taking a break from university. I was very scared of posting that video since it was incredibly personal and I was also afraid that everyone would start thinking of me as fake since I had tried to seem happy and perfect in my vlogs. That video changed how I use social media and I now use my profiles to portray an honest narrative of my time in university. I hope that that allows my subscribers to see more of themselves in those videos and to see that we all struggle sometimes.
Since I do not really see my channel as a brand, I do not actively focus on growing it as such. I just focus on whether I still enjoy making content and as long as that is the case, I will keep doing it - whether a lot of people watch it or not.
I do not reach out to brands as I am quite busy with my classes and so I usually do not have the time to look into brands I would like to collaborate with. I do not have a type of brands I will accept and reject all others, but I always research the brand and ask myself whether I will use it myself. If it is an app, I will usually try it out first and only accept the sponsorship if I genuinely like it. I never recommend anything I do not use myself or have used in the past.
My first criterion for deciding whether or not to accept a brand deal is the email address from which the offer is sent: If you are a brand and you are serious and legitimate, I can expect you to have a business email address and not merely a Gmail or similar address. Another aspect is how the brand communicates with me - if I get a feeling that they want too much control over my content, I just say no. I trust my gut feeling on all of this and since it is merely a hobby and I am not relying on making a certain monthly amount from it, I have the freedom to do this.
The most difficult question for me is usually ‘how much do you charge?’ Brands will often ask that and in the beginning, I was very hesitant to say that I would charge anything since it felt wrong to charge for something I just did as a hobby out of my dorm room. I still remember one of the first sponsorships I ended up accepting: I emailed the brand that I would charge them 30 USD for a shoutout - they wrote back and offered me 100 USD. The brand treated me incredibly fair and I am still in touch with them today. Had they not offered to give me more than triple what I asked for, I would probably significantly undercharging today. I am incredibly grateful to that brand. Now, I usually give a brand an amount that I think is fair. I am probably still undercharging a little, but I honestly do not mind as I do not want to feel like I am taking more than I deserve.
My best tip for figuring out how much to charge is to get a feel for it through answering the first few business emails and to always be careful to ask what exactly the brand is looking for - are they looking for a shoutout? If so, how long? A dedicated video? Are there supposed to be links in the description box? In a pinned comment? All of these factors will determine how much you should charge. In the end, my best advice is to trust your gut - it is your gut feeling that has made your channel grow so much that the brands are interested in you, so trust it.