Monday, April 2, 2018

How a month of Hardware Reviews changed the way I make videos

The Community survey has a limited number of slots for options, so I had to pick my top 5, and we'll cycle in the others with the next month. Go vote now to tell me what to do:

As this month of hardware reviews wraps up, I've had some thoughts I'd like to share. You wouldn't think that a little thing like this would be a landmark project in the history of my channel, but it may very well have ended up being. The lessons I learned and the way this affected my workflow has been too numerous not to take a second and enumerate.

There were two of factors that motivated March MadMess. First of all, I really did have a lot of 3D printers to review and they were getting in the way, physically and mentally, of what I wanted to do. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get through them. I had a plan to focus on one a week, and try to get them to a state that I could do my usual positive note review, but that just wasn't working. Then my contact at GearBest made a personal request that I help him make more sales. He asked directly for more videos. And that's when it clicked. You want more videos? I can do more videos. Screw making a nicer video, you are getting more videos, good, bad, and uuugly.

And it had the desired effect. I've cleared space in my workspace and increased commissioned sales. However, there were some unintended consequences as well, the long term effect of them may not finish shaking out for a while.

So here's a few things I learned from March MadMess:

Don't Vlog Angry

March MadMess was born out of frustration. Frustration for the mess of 3D printers piling up. Frustration for not having time to give any one of them the effort they deserve and frustration over having printers that just don't work. However, I didn't really admit that to myself until the TEVO Tornado non-review. I got roasted in the comments for that one, and rightly so.

Though I will say that some of the abuse from TEVO users was a bit over the top and unnecessary. What is it about TEVO users? Is it just because you invested so much in to getting your sub-par printer working that you either have to defend it or admit you made a mistake? Hmm. Nevertheless, the advice and direction is appreciated.

Apparently I'm the idiot

The thing is, no one is an expert on everything, even if he is pompous enough to call himself "professor". There's a lot I don't know. And even my attempts to get help to solve these printer problems, outside of these videos, fell flat. But the comments section of these videos have been most instructive. I don't think I ever appreciated my audience as much as I should have. I will not make that mistake again.

I think going forward, I think I'm going to do more videos of work-in-progress projects and ask you guys to help out.

Most of these printers were evaluated since the beginning of the year

I felt like I've been sitting on some of these printers a long time, and some of them I have been, but gathering pictures for the reviews I discovered that most of these printers were evaluated in January and February. Then I remembered that at the start of the year I set a goal to do one hardware review a month. So I'd open one up, putting it together, try them out, have them fail. since I was trying to do a review a month, I'd put them aside and open another one, only to have it repeat.Soon I had nothing to review but a pile of unfinished evaluation units.

Neva was the first to force the issue. They wanted a review quickly. So I reviewed their printer as it was, just like they asked. Well, maybe not just like they asked. But I don't give up editorial control or give my content to a 3rd party for any reason. That's why their review, while technically a part of March MadMess, was before the official announcement. 

After that, though, it just made sense. If I didn't have to keep fighting with machines that weren't working, I could just review a bunch of them. If I didn't have a good experience, why waste my time hoping it'll turn around. If it turns around, I can always do a follow up. And some of these printer will get that experience.

Going forward I'd like to focus on just one printer at a time until I can either decide it's worth pursuing or decide to take it apart, and then move on to another one. No more jugging a dozen projects. Well, not hardware projects anyways.

I am not going into sales any time soon

I'm no sales man. Never have been, and never want to be. I'm not going to promote something I can't believe in. I'm not going to tell you the up sides of a thing with my one hand while hiding the possible downsides behind my back. I'm not above a little click-bait, but I always strive for honest click-bait.

When GearBest asked that I spam my videos with the links to every 3D printer *they* wanted to promote, regardless of whether I mentioned it in that video, or anywhere at all, which included I've only heard of. My response was a very polite but firm reassuring of my stance that I would not be spamming my audience. I still feel my first duty is to the viewer. As a compromise I put some of those links in the write-ups for the videos and referred people to those write-ups as often as I could in the videos.

In the end, I think this worked on several levels. First of all, I had a number of people comment that they didn't know I did these write ups, but that they really enjoyed them. That made me feel good. But also, those who visited the blog post were a little more dedicated and more likely to have the dedication, not just to make an impulse purchase, but to be a thoughtful, long-term customer. Fewer return, fewer negative reports, better PR. At least, that's what I'm telling myself is going to be the result.

Lots of people weren't reading these write-ups

And now they are.

When I started making YouTube videos, my thought was "Hey, maybe I can use this to drive people to my blog". You can even see in my early YouTube videos, there was a huge link to my blog plastered up there. But as the metrics for my YouTube videos went up, and my metrics for the blog more or less remained steady, eventually the blog became in service to the videos. However, I couldn't help, over time, having my blog posts get longer and more deep. Case in point, this one.

Now it's coming back around and I'm making an effort to refer people back to the blog again.

Oh, and this month, I realized I didn't have a link to my most current book in the sidebar. Fixed.

My time is more limited than I want it to be

With as many videos as I produced this month, there was no spoons left for actually doing 3D printing projects. A running 3D printer is a happy 3D printer, and none of my 3D printers are happy right now. I need to give my Davinci Color a good head cleaning before I can use it again. And I haven't really had time to test any of the 3D printers beyond what I did before March.

The shed space is also a problem. That shelf behind me is about 6" higher than I need to to fit all these large format and delta printers that I've got to keep happy. But more on that in a second.

I think I've got enough bandwidth for one experimental printer at a time. So from now on, as I said, that's probably all I'm going to do. Allocate some time for fiddling, and just keep working on one machine until it's where I want it, and then move on. If I hit a point where it's time to do a review and I haven't gotten very far on it, I'll make some kind of video about it. Perhaps a topic video while I fiddle with it, those seems to go well.

I am in badly need of some upgrades

I've never run my 3D printing channel like a proper business, or even like a proper YouTube channel. It just never made sense to me to invest in high end recording equipment, like Joel or Angus or Devin did. It never made sense to me to invest in a setup that can output 4k video like Tom does. Of course all those channels are much more successful than me in a very short time, but I've gotten here without any debt or over extending myself, and it's been mostly self-supporting up to this point.

Still, I'm frustrated that the audio and video quality of my videos aren't what they should be. My interview with Isaac prompted me to invest in some better mic equipment, generously donated by GearBest.

But my shed is also in need of a major structural overhaul. It's a mess. The printer desk is too high, or the shelf above it is too low. It's got holes that let the sun and mice in, and there's hardly any corner of it where it's safe from UV light, which makes the FLSun S Complete a tough one to run. If I can raise some funds, I might be able to get some proper siding and insulation. Heck, while I'm dreaming, maybe I'll be able to tear the whole thing down and rebuild the ultimate YouTube recording set/storage area.

I wonder if IconBuild would like some publicity?

Positive reviews generate sales, Negative reviews generate cred

It's interesting to me that both positive and negative reviews have their place. In the past I avoided making reviews too negative, because I was worried that it would prevent people from sending me additional review units. And maybe that's the case. But those negative reviews also seem to make the positive ones mean more. People appreciate that they can tell when they're getting good advice, because they know you won't hold back on the bad.

Unless you're knocking TEVO for no good reason. Then you just get blasted.

The bills are paid

Interestingly, a month of videos with links to where you can buy them resulted in a lot of commissions. Who knew. But it was, in fact, enough that this month's bills are covered. Not bad for a part-time job.

This point alone is the most difficult one to come to terms with. I don't want my channel to be all hardware reviews all the time. But when your financial burdens are eased by doing a thing, it's hard not to do that thing again and again. Of course, I can't exactly just jump in and do hardware reviews all the time for a number of reason. First of all, I'm out of hardware. Secondly, as I mentioned before, it takes time to properly test a piece of equipment. And it takes time to make a video. And it takes time to do projects. And this is only a part-time gig for me so I have to choose.

Still, this makes me feel like I'm standing at the head of a fork in the road. And while this isn't the path I want to choose, the way ahead has a certain appeal. I think it's unavoidable that hardware reviews are going to be a part of the future of my channel, but I'm going to have to go about them in smart ways.

Let's take one last look at those links:
Gearbest is also having a huge event for it's 4th Anniversary. Check it out:

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