OZARK, Mo. – 61-year-old Mike Wiles in Ozark doesn’t have your typical resume. He got his first big break in radio.
“I started out at KTTS as farm news director back before the internet, and worked part-time in sales there,” Wiles said.
One of his sales clients worked for AGCO, an agriculture equipment company.
“When their rep got moved up, I came in and took that job,” Wiles said. “Did that for 10 years.”
At AGCO, one of his dealers at S & H Farm Supply needed a store manager in Springfield. He took the job in 2003. In his 11 years at S & H, he helped what he calls weekend or hobby farmers.
“These are guys or ladies that move out into the country and buy a 10 or 20 acre plot, put their house on it, and about a year after they move out their craftsman lawnmower blows up,” Wiles said. “And they realize ‘I have to have a better product to maintain my property than a lawnmower.’ And, so, they’re in to buy compact tractors.”
Wiles says shoppers didn’t understand the equipment he would try selling to them.
“I was thinking ‘man, it’d be nice if there was a place I could send these people to get non-biased, education about equipment,'” Wiles said. “And there was nothing.”
Until he thought of posting content himself.
“I thought, ‘I could offer that on YouTube and reach these people,” Wiles said.
While still being an S & H manager, Wiles posted his first video in 2012. In that video, he offered advice on what type of horsepower is ideal for a tractor.
“One day I looked at it, had almost 800 views and I’m like ‘holy cow there’s people watching this,”‘ Wiles said. “And, so I posted another video and another on the real basic stuff around tractors and pretty soon I got an audience.”
Once he started building an audience, he created a brand for himself. Tractor Mike.
“I think my brother-in-law may have come up with it, may have been my wife,” Wiles said. “I don’t remember. But, it just kind of fit.”
Two years later in 2014, Wiles decided to move on from his day job to pursue YouTube full-time.
“It was a long decision, but I had total support of my family,” Wiles said. “I knew that if I built a large enough audience, it would have value for somebody. I realized that if I don’t devote my full effort to it, somebody else is going to.”
His family had his back, but his friends doubted him.
“We talk about something difficult to explain to people when you do that, people kind of roll their eyes like ‘oh wow, good luck with that,'” Wiles said. “If you start something like this, you have to have a total commitment and a real passion for it, or you’ll never make it.”
Since then, Wiles has posted one video every Thursday at 2:00 p.m. CT. His videos range from four to 12 minutes.
“I have to come up with a new topic week after week after week,” Wiles said.
His videos are based on questions he gets asked in the comment section of his videos, his Facebook page or his e-mail.
“I’ll probably get anywhere from 2 to 12 questions a day. I try to use my questions to generate future videos,” Wiles said. “Because if I know one person is out there asking this question, then there’s probably other people that have the same question. And so, it’s time to do a video on that. Or, I’ll send them a link to a video I’ve already done.”
In his videos, he keeps his answers to these questions non-biased.
“I don’t endorse any one individual brand because if I said one brand of tractor is better than the other, all of the sudden I’ve lost credibility with people that have bought a different brand. I am totally brand-neutral,” Wiles said.
And it works in his favor. “Tractor Mike” has more than 48,000 subscribers in 2019.
“I think it probably means more to other people than it does to me,” Wiles said. “In North America about every year there’s 70 or 80,000 compact tractors sold. So 48,000 has a lot of room to grow. I don’t prioritize that though.”
Instead, he prioritizes money.
“I get checks from Google every month for ads that they put on my videos. But, in order to make more money, I have to sell my own stuff,” Wiles said. “And, so, I’ve started an online store where I sell various things that apply to the weekend farmer.”
And the feedback he gets on his videos.
“I want to offer good, quality products that people like and if there’s a loser in there I want to get to rid of it. YouTube is amazing,” Wiles said. “There’s a guy in Greece that I helped spread out his wheels so he didn’t tip his tractor over. There’s people in Australia I’ve heard of, the U.K., all over the world that watch my videos.”
If he had to choose between money and feedback, he says feedback is more valuable to him.
“When I post a video and I get a comment from somebody that says this helped me, this solved my problem, this might’ve saved my life,” Wiles said.
What drives his passion for his YouTube career is keep weekend farmers safe.
“A lot of times, people buy these small tractors and don’t know how dangerous they are,” Wiles said. “Agriculture’s always been the top or second-most dangerous occupation. So I can’t help but think my YouTube channel has saved lives and kept people from serious injury. And, that’s why I do it.”