Amazingly Decent and Not-At-All Terrible Fishing
Disclaimer: I also came in to YouTube having spent many years creating video and audio content, doing public speaking and I had spent a life-time learning my craft well before I made my first video. It should be mentioned that because of this I was ahead of the curve when we first started and I was therefore able to capitalize on some things that beginning YouTubers may find difficult. I will explain that below but understand you will need to have mastered at least some set of skills before you are going ot be able to convince anyone to hand you money.
Sponsorships! That's money man! You are an influencer... and while that term gets a dirty wrap these days it is accurate. You are a means of advertising. You produce content that gets seen and those views are worth money to people! But you are under 1,000 subscribers and you only manage to pull maybe 100 views per video, who would want to advertise with you?
Not Wal-Mart... Not Budweiser or Honey. But guess what, before you go big with the advertisers they are going to want to see what you can provide and part of that is your ability to create a successful ad integration for smaller products. Think local; start advertising that small coffee house down the street (FOR FREE!). Provide a genuine and honest review of a good product when you come across one just because (but maybe include an affiliate link). Make it quick, don't waste peoples time. You just want to be helpful and informative. You want to provide good examples of why you can provide value to someone seeking advertising.
But this doesn't make you money? No... but it gives you the portfolio you need in order to show people what you can do so that you can make offers to other people. A big opportunity would be to offer genuine, honest ad integrations for other channels in your niche! If you have 400 subscribers you are a big dog to anyone with 25. And offering them thirty seconds of lip-service for their channel to the tune of $5 is a very fair option. No... $5 is not going to make you rich. But YouTube is all about collecting those micro-revenue streams and this is one option when you are first starting off. As a note it helps to be fluent in SEO (this is where TubeBuddy can help you earn your keep!). If you can manage consistent, evergreen views on your videos then you can offer video services to smaller businesses. Anyone with a small website is fair game and if you have mastered your SEO and can promise a video with 1,000 views per year that includes a direct link and an homage to their website for $20 then it is a win. Not everyone will go for it but honestly... why wouldn't they? They would pay more for an adsense ad and get less in return!
Goods and Services
Everybody wants that passive income. They want that check that just keeps rolling in but when you are starting off and well... when that first check isn't even yet on the horizon you are going to need to take some time and put in a little elbow grease. Turn your YouTube channel into a business front and offer the goods and services that few others can in order to kickstart what is for many channel owners the single-greatest source of income available to YouTubers. Charter Fishermen do it right; they film their fishing trips and post all the amazing things that they do and see offshore only to offer you the same experience... details located conveniently in the description of each video with a link that takes you right to the sign up for a charter fishing trip. Adsense will pay out $12 for that first 1,000 views but the trip itself paid out $1,000 or more.
And you can do the same. If you are doing something worth filming then you need to offer your knowledge, your expertise and the goods that you can provide as the first and foremost means of revenue. If you are a gamer offer a map of all collectible items in the game to your audience. If you are an artist create a Zazzle account and sell copies of your artwork, then go offer the originals to galleries. The main excuse I hear with this is obviously 'my work isn't good enough to go into a gallery' or 'I don't want to take the time to put together a map of the entire game.' Sadly what you are really saying is that you want immediate returns on a skill you don't have. Even if this is the case you can still provide your work but again, your prices are going to have to compete. You may need to provide your artwork on Fiverr for $5 only. You may need to practice writing your gaming tutorial (seriously, I bet that option is a gold mine with zero overhead) in order to do it for the sequel.
While services and products provided far more revenue for us than anything we ever saw from YouTube's ad revenue the smartest thing we did was to be wise with our money. I never relied on my YouTube earnings; everything we made was saved and invested. I signed up for Robinhood and invested every single penny we earned in our first year on YouTube. I spent several months studying up on investment strategies, I waited until I saw a dip in the market and then I put my money into companies that offered a strong foundation of growth with little in the way of value drops over the course of many years. Nothing fancy. Nothing volatile. No Doge or Bitcoin, no Gamestop.
Today that money still sits in stocks and our portfolio is up over 50%. That means that every $5 I charged for a thumbnail was actually $7.50. Every $50 ad integration was $75. I took every dollar that I earned as a result of YouTube and I turned it into $1.50. The majority of creators on YouTube want an additional source of income; they want to be full-time creators because they get dollar signs in their eyes and they just want extra cash. But you gotta have a plan, otherwise you are always looking towards the things you need and not enjoying the things you have. Make smart financial decisions. Take you money and be a businessman about it. Spend time learning smart financial habits. Invest in yourself with knowledge. Combined with some thrifty spending and and a willingness to put in solid sweat-equity the money that can be made with even the smallest of subscriber counts can be far more than you would expect.