Think that full-time creators have it made? 💸
According to ConvertKit’s State of the Creator Economy report, almost 30% of full-time creators earn less than $10,000 per year..
Surprisingly enough, the next highest percentage was for those earning more than $150,000 per year, at just over 15%.
This leaves over half creators earning somewhere between $11,000 and $149,000/year.
Looking at the numbers, there’s ample room for a “creator middle class”. However, many struggle to convert their creativity into revenue.
Building a sustainable creator business is challenging because you have to:
You know the old saying “money doesn’t buy happiness”?
It may not be accurate for a career as a creator..
The word “career” puts a unique spin on it because when there’s financial pressure on the creative process, it changes how you feel about and approach creating.
More money (to a point) can provide more security - which can create a greater sense of happiness and freedom in relation to your livelihood.
Now that the creator economy has been around for over a decade, more and more creators are evolving past the traditional monetization models of selling merch or relying on ad revenue.
Li Jin, an investor and a creator herself, included this graphic in her latest creator economy presentation:
In this example, Tiago Forte (creator of Building a Second Brain) has 7 different income sources.
This not only helps him earn more, but reduces the risk of one income source (inevitably) slowing down over time.
When you have diversified income, you have power. Power to say “no” to opportunities that don’t align with your brand and power to flip the switch and stop working on projects that no longer bring enjoyment.
Let’s walk through a few different ways that you can make money and build a sustainable career as a creator:
1. Blogging - Affiliates & products
Blogging might not have the same power that it did in the 2000s, but it’s still a viable way to make money as a creator.
There are many ways to go about monetizing written content - one of the most popular is to insert affiliate links within your writing.
The idea is that you write a blog like “best video cameras for creators in 2022” and include affiliate links to purchase the products that you mention. If the post performs well in search or you have a large audience to distribute the content to, you can make a commission every single time someone buys a product from the link in your post.
This obviously has some drawbacks as affiliate links are spammed all over the internet, but it can be a low-lift way to generate income by writing about things you’re already doing or using.
Almost all popular blogs do this, but here’s an example from Art is Fun:
A more effective way to do this that I've seen recently is if you've taken a course: write a review, record a video review, optimize the titles, promote on social media, and include your affiliate link to the course in each piece of content. This not only helps you, but also supports the creator and helps the buyer if it's a good product.
Matt Ragland did this with Ship30for30 and based on the number of views, I would assume that he's had meaningful success using his affiliate link.
Aside from affiliate links, some creators have taken the next step and created their own products.
If you have the traffic and audience to sell to, this is a much more sustainable path to go down. You’re in control of the products being offered, the pricing, and how you position the messaging.
The best example I’ve seen of this is Kevin Espiritu and his blog + store, Epic Gardening.
The blog generates income through affiliates & Amazon, and the store (which is now the main focus) generates over 8-figures per year. Much of their income growth happened after he transitioned into selling products directly to their audience rather than relying solely on affiliates.
Read his breakdown of how (and why) he made the transition here
2. Brand collabs
If you’re a large creator, brand collabs can be an interesting way to make money while reaching a different audience.
For this to work, you typically need to have an established niche & an audience that would make sense for a brand to want to get their name in front of.
For example, Sara Dietschy creates tech and lifestyle videos on YouTube and she partnered with Moment to launch a tech line, Peachy Merch.
3. Brand content creation
Traditionally, you may view brand deals as 30-second sponsored ad reads in a podcast, or a product plug in a YouTube video.
It wasn’t until I received my first brand deal offer that my viewpoint of this changed.
Rather than having to integrate a brand into my own content, I was paid to create videos specifically for a brand’s education platform, while still being able to post the videos on my personal channels.
This opportunity came about because I was already creating financial education videos for myself. The brand was looking to expand their content into financial education and because they don’t have creators on staff, they looked to outsource to those already doing it.
I can’t share how much I get paid for each video, but I can say that it’s equivalent to well over $30/hour. I know that for some brands, the payouts can reach hundreds to thousands of dollars for video creation. Here’s an example of what these kind of videos look like (for me, at least):
Aside from myself, Akta is a YouTuber who landed an in-house content creation role with Passionfroot to write their newsletter, record a podcast, design visuals, and more.
Remember: As a creator, you hold a tremendous amount of value. Even if you don't have a big audience yet, you can still make money through your creativity and skills.
4. Newsletter - Affiliates
Newsletters are a popular way to dodge the algorithms and stay connected to your audience on a more intimate medium. There’s something special about someone opening your email and reading it within their mail app compared to them seeing your content on social media amongst the rest of the noise.
If you’ve built trust with your subscribers, you may be able to earn income through affiliate links within your newsletter content.
Dylan Redekop (creator of Growth Currency) has been a big proponent of creators starting newsletters and is a great example of how to use affiliate links within a newsletter to generate income. You can look at his past editions for inspiration here or follow along with his content as he teaches others how to grow and monetize their newsletters.
5. Newsletter - Ads
One of my favorite newsletter brands is For The Interested by Josh Spector. He’s grown his audience to over 18,000 subscribers and sends an email 6 days out of the week.
Because he’s built an engaged, defined audience, he has the power to charge brands to get their name in front his subscribers.
He’s created a seamless ad buying process on his website, and I can personally attest to the effectiveness of advertising in his newsletter.
It’s also a great source of income for him as he just has to keep writing his newsletter like he has been, and maintain a solid number of subscribers.
6. Newsletter - Paid
Another way to make money by writing a newsletter is to simply charge for it. This takes time to build because you have to show expertise, value, and build trust with those who would subscribe.
This can be a scalable, lucrative way to make money but, you have to be careful of giving yourself another job. If you don’t truly love writing or you don’t have a specific value prop, sticking with it can be tough.
Some of the best paid newsletter platforms are Beehiiv, Ghost, and Substack.
The Van Trump Report is a daily agriculture newsletter that, according to the My First Million podcast, makes $50 million per year.
The creator has been writing daily for years and developed a unique, in-demand content niche. However, even the writer of the newsletter says it’s tough to keep up with. He’s given himself a job that he can’t really quit because it’s such a significant source of income.
Another creator with a unique paid newsletter is Polina Pompliana. She writes The Profile, which tells the stories of successful and interesting people, and charges anywhere from $4-$10/month to read the full newsletter.
7. Long-term brand partnerships
A newer style of monetization, some creators are able to land long-term brand partnerships to help fund their creative efforts and lifestyle.
Colin & Samir were on the brink of shutting down their YouTube channel when a long-term brand deal opportunity with Samsung came from seemingly nowhere.
Also read: Colin & Samir: From Lacrosse to Leaders of The Creator Economy
Prior to receiving the offer, they made the decision to niche down and truly define their audience. This allowed them to create content with target personas in mind:
They were then focused on creating a channel that gave creators the tools they needed to succeed.
To turn their channel into a business, they could then seek other partnerships with brands that were also giving creators the tools they needed to succeed.
8. Buy me a coffee
If you don’t have any products or services to sell, you may be able to provide value and propose a soft ask, like “buy me a coffee (please)”.
Buy Me a Coffee is a tipping service for creatives that lets your audience support you and your work directly rather than having to buy a product or service.
There are unlimited ways to use this tool, but the best way that I’ve seen it used is by Kaitlyn Arford.
She regularly shares freelance gigs and resources on social media for free and in return, if someone finds value in what she’s sharing, they can leave a tip on Buy Me a Coffee (like this).
For those who create adult content, OnlyFans can be a goldmine. A lot of creators choose to be anonymous, which makes the platform a little bit more attractive to newer creators.
How much you can make will depend on your ability to grow an audience, but some OF creators are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, like Lena the Plug (Adam22’s fiancée) - while smaller creators may be able to bring in a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each month.
10. Paid TikTok plugs
As more and more creators build massive followings on the video-based platform, more and more brands want to leverage their audience to sell products or services.
A savvy creator knows this and is able to charge their worth.
Humphrey Yang has been creating personal finance content since the beginning of the pandemic and has landed brand deals with several finance companies, including Wealthfront.
Started by a creator himself, Patreon is an all-inclusive membership platform. Jack Conte launched the business when he was struggling to support himself as an artist, so he was the first customer for his own product. It’s since grown to over 6 million patrons and creators have reportedly made over $2 billion through the platform.
Starting a Patreon and earning meaningful income can be difficult when you have a small following, but it can also be an easy way to offer more exclusive content or creations to your biggest supporters.
My favorite example of this is podcasters who offer an additional episode every week, exclusive merch, or creator access to their patrons.
Andrew Schulz and his FLAGRANT podcast generate more than $100,000 per month through their Patreon.
Pinterest usually isn’t thought of in relation to making money as a creator, but their new ad features could flip the script.
Creators can tag an approved partner brand and then the brand is notified of the potential partnership opportunity. They can then choose to establish a relationship and pay the creator through content promotion.
According to Social Media Today, Pinterest has over 400 million monthly active users so even though it may not be the flashiest of social medias, it has an audience that’s tough to ignore.
13. Sponsored Instagram content
This is the style of monetization that most people are probably familiar with - someone with an instagram following gets paid to promote products or services.
Ally Besse has done this with Alphalete & Ghost and then started her own boutique brand to promote herself, Lil Sunshine.
14. TikTok’s Creator Fund
For those who regularly get more than 100,000 views each month and have more than 10k followers, the TikTok Creator Fund can be an easy way to get paid for the work that you're already doing.
According to their website, this is how payouts are calculated:
The funds that each creator can earn are worked out by a combination of factors; including the number of views and the authenticity of those views, the level of engagement on the content, as well as making sure content is in line with our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.
No two creators or videos are the same, and there is no limit to the different kinds of content we will support with the fund.
15. Twitter Tips & Super Follows
If you spend a lot of time creating content and providing value to your audience on Twitter, the newly-added Tip and Super Follow features give you a way to monetize within the app.
I haven’t seen any creators report this as a significant source of income, but one creator who has the features set up and turned on is Roberto Blake:
16. YouTube - AdSense
One of the top, yet unreliable, ways to make money as a creator is through YouTube Adsense. To reward the people filling their platform with content, YouTube pays out creators each month based on their video topics and total viewership.
For those getting started, YouTube adsense is negligible (if it even exists). According to YouTube, you need to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours in the past year.
To get a rough idea for how much you can make through Adsense, you first have to understand CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions). The average CPM is $2. This means that if you get 10,000 views on a video, you might earn $20.
It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
Different topics, such as personal finance, will have higher CPMs and other topics, such as lifestyle, could have lower payouts.
Watch: Colin & Samir's Breakdown of How Much They Earned on YouTube (graphic below)
17. YouTube - Affiliates
In addition to writing blogs, some creators are finding success with affiliates in niche YouTube channels.
Because niche channels create specific content around a specific topic, like car repair, the viewers are more likely to take the next step and make a purchase based on the recommendations made by the creator.
A great example of this is Diana Gladney’s channel. She’s branded herself as a camera expert and has generated meaningful income through relevant affiliate links.
The biggest thing to be wary of is promoting too many affiliates, or promoting affiliates that don’t match your content or your audience.
This can lead to your content feeling inauthentic and ultimately, the downfall of a channel.
18. YouTube - Shopify
Just announced this week, Shopify now has a direct integration with YouTube, allowing creators to seamlessly sell products from their store on their YT channel. I haven’t seen anyone using this new feature yet, but I could see this being a massive success for creators who lean on merch or product sales to support themselves.
There’s also a live-shopping feature, which I’m assuming was influenced by the success of livestream shopping in China, which makes up 10% of their total e-commerce sales.
19. YouTube - Sponsored
If you’ve watched YouTube, you’ve seen this form of monetization.
“Before we get into the video, I want to thank _____ for sponsoring today’s episode - more on them later..”
Every time you hear this, the creator was paid by brand.
There are countless examples of this out there, but two of the best that I’ve seen do this are Jake Tran and Ludwig. Jake smoothly integrates sponsors into his videos and Ludwig often creates skits for promos, making them funnier and feeling less sales-y and more authentic.
20. Cohort-based course (CBC)
Cohort-based courses have been the talk of the town since the pandemic started.
There are many reasons why cohort-based courses are so effective, but the thing that stands out most to me is that people are together and there’s a purpose for being there.
On-demand courses typically have low completion rates, leaving both the creator and the consumer with a feeling of emptiness.
In successful CBCs, a transformation takes place.
You’re sold on a specific idea - like becoming a better writer (Become 2x Better at Writing in 8 Days by Shaan Puri), or learning how to read your business’ financial statements (Financial Statements Decoded by Kurtis Hanni).
When thinking about what you may be able to create a CBC around, consider this framework:
The best example of this is Ali Abdaal’s Part-Time YouTuber Academy.
He built a huge audience on YouTube, and then went back a created a blueprint for how others can do the same.
Another one is the Brand Deal Wizard from Justin Moore. If you’re reading this article because you want to make money as a creator, I highly recommend checking it out (no affiliate). It teaches you how to find, negotiate, and manage brand deals and Justin’s one of the kindest, most helpful people I’ve met on social media - there’s no one better out there teaching it.
21. Low-Barrier Digital Products
A cornerstone of income in the creator economy is digital products. From eBooks to video-based lessons, thousands of creators have built their careers around courses and education.
One of my favorite creators doing this is Chris Johnson. He falls into a few different categories here as he's sold products, runs a community, and now earns significant investment income, but he also has relatively low-cost financial & business education courses. He's found success because his products are related to his content, so the audience he's building would be more likely to buy.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer who's built a substantial following on Twitter, and she sells relevant writing resources as well as consulting work.
Frances Odera Matthews (creator of The Notion Bar) is a certified Notion consultant and creates content around Notion so from what I can tell, a few ways she's able to earn income are through template/product sales, affiliate sales, freelance project work, and coaching.
22. Selling courses or books
A step above digital products are full-blown courses. You need to have some form of expertise in the subject matter at hand to create a valuable course and if you do, it’s the best way to scale your knowledge. Some creators have taken the extra step and made both digital and physical books.
Stefan Palios has done this with his freelance success and created the Freelance Growth Blueprint, which helps freelancers scale to 6-figure revenues.
Steph Smith writes the popular "Doing Content Right" book and sells it on Gumroad, making over $130,000.
23. Job board
For those who've built a substantial following, job boards can be a unique win-win way to make money.
I'll be honest - I don't fully understand how these work but I feel like if you have an engaged, aligned audience, it prints money.
Your followers gets access to relevant jobs, and you get paid for maybe both the listing and when someone signs on(?).
Some creators doing this are Sahil Bloom, Gaby Goldberg, and Jack Butcher.
24. Paid community
Communities became even more popular as everybody was locked inside, but they’re here to stay.
Everybody wants to belong to something, and the life of a digital creator can be lonely.
Jay Clouse has capitalized on this with his Creative Companion community, which helps creators in 4 key disciplines: Reach, Revenue, Resonance, and Relationships.
25. Selling merch
Most people believe that creator businesses are built on content and merch, and that’s it.
Truth is, to be successful with merch, you again have to have an engaged following (sensing a theme here).
You could design the coolest shirts in the world but if you post and nobody sees them, nobody’s going to buy them. Merch is most successful after building a brand that stands for something, gaining followers around that messaging, and then releasing merch that represents that message.
A beautiful example is Yes Theory and their clothing brand, Seek Discomfort. Their videos are based on thrill and pursuing once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and the name Seek Discomfort matches their brand and audience perfectly.
They didn’t start with trying to launch a merch line - they started with creating content that reflected their values, and then created merch that matched the mission.
26. Freelance work
This is one of the most time-consuming, but reliable ways to make money as a creator. Because you’ve most likely picked up some creative skills on your journey, you can flip those talents into income with freelance work.
Let’s say you’re an awesome video editor - you could reach out to bigger creators who are looking to outsource editing or businesses who could use better editing to offer it as a service.
You may soon realize that being a creator and being a freelancer are two closely connected careers. Making a living solely from content creation can be challenging and many creators recognize this, so they lean into freelance work to support themselves.
This shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing, though.
In fact, I think freelance work can be more fulfilling than creating - and it can give you the income you need to create without financial pressure.
One of the best examples of this is Janis Ozolins.
He creates amazing, simple sketches and started sharing them on Twitter. That led to doing freelance design work for creators like Shaan Puri, Naval, and Matt D’avella. If he never offered the design work to others, he may have never made an income from creating. It could’ve stayed as a hobby and creative outlet forever.
Now, because he found success, he’s using another strategy (courses) to share what he’s learned and to create more income:
27. Ghostwriting social content
Chances are, not every single piece of content written by your favorite creator was actually written by them.
The world of ghostwriting was new to me just a couple of years ago. I became a ghostwriter in early 2021 and I still do some to this day, but it opened my eyes to how content actually gets produced.
Because of how hard it is to be a good writer, many creators are leveraging ghostwriters to help them grow on text-based social platforms, like Twitter or LinkedIn.
One creator who’s taken advantage of this trend is Alex Llull. He’s built an amazing brand on Twitter, written thousands of tweets, and used that attention and notoriety to land freelance content writing roles for other creators.
28. Ghostwriting newsletters
Similar to the last point, writing is hard.
If you can pick up writing as a skill, you should have no problem making a living as a creator.
Since newsletters are such a powerful tool for creators, many are also leaning on ghostwriters to produce this extra piece of content.
Do you subscribe to Matt D’Avella’s Slow Growth newsletter? You may be surprised to learn that it’s not entirely written by him.
Alice Lemée is one of my favorite writers and she’s been the voice behind some of the editions (however, she’s credited at the end of the newsletter so it’s not 100% ghostwritten and we don’t know which newsletters are fully ghostwritten, because that’s the point 😉).
George Blackman is another freelance creator who’s written scripts, newsletters, and twitter threads for creators like Ali Abdaal.
The world of writing is abundant. Go out and claim your space.
Once you’ve established yourself, speaking can be an easy (and potentially lucrative) way to share what you know best and make some extra money.
Whether you have specific knowledge (like how to write better YouTube titles) or you have a large following, conferences are always looking for talent.
You may have to start your career speaking for free, but you could swing free travel and lodging (which would be worth it to me).
As industry conferences keep growing, I think there will be a lot of opportunities for both new and established creators to share their experiences and expertise with the newer generations of creators.
Some industry conferences include Craft + Commerce from ConvertKit and VidCon.
30. 1:1 coaching
Those who have built a loyal following and demonstrated expertise have the chance to do paid consulting or 1:1 coaching directly with their followers.
Justin Welsh has done this with consulting, Josh Spector does this with creative entrepreneurs, and Justin Moore does this with creators & brand deal coaching.
31. Building a SaaS (software-as-a-service)
Depending on your tech skills, this could be of the most difficult ways to make money as a creator. But if you have the money or the talent to create a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tool, you could scale your income much farther than you could with content creation.
Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit, built his email marketing platform specifically to serve creators and has found massive success. Because he’s built a true business, he now has both an income source and a valuable asset.
32. Starting a fund
Starting a fund isn’t for the average creator, but if you have an unwavering interest in money and business, you might be able to launch an investment fund.
There are a lot of legal (and financial) steps to take to create a fund and because the idea of a fund is to raise money from investors and then pick promising investment opportunities that provide a return, it’s a lot of responsibility.
99.99% of creators probably shouldn’t use this strategy, but if you belong in the .01% and have the right audience, these are a few creators who have successfully started and ran an investment fund:
33. Launch a business
Building a functional business from the attention gathered from social media is what I believe to be the final stage of the creator economy.
If you can take online attention and turn it into a cash flowing business, you’ll have a sustainable way to support yourself while having the necessary funds to take a break from content creation without feeling the financial pressure.
Dylan Lemay took the attention he earned from creating TikToks while working at ColdStone Creamery and started his own ice cream business, CATCH’N Ice Cream, which appears to be launching this month (July 2022).
34. Make a consumer product
For those who’ve built a sizable following, branching off into consumer products can help further build brand and establish a presence offline.
These ventures require a lot time, money, and audience interest to work, which is why they shouldn’t be apart of your initial monetization strategy. You need to first figure out what kind of product would match the content you create, and what your audience would most likely purchase.
For Christian Guzman, because he’s spent over a decade building his fitness-focused audience, releasing a modern energy drink - 3D Energy - made complete sense.
For Emma Chamberlain, releasing her own coffee brand was more-than-perfect because she regularly talks about and drinks coffee in her videos.
Logan Paul and KSI dropped their own energy drink, Prime, and Mr. Beast launched his own candy, Feastables.
I mentioned him earlier, but there's one quote that I think about almost daily:
"Get money, buy income"
Unless you plan to monetize your creativity forever, you need to "buy income" (aka invest).
Whenever you get paid, set aside a portion - ideally 15-25% - and first save a 3 month cash reserve, then put your money to work with investments. There are a lot of ways to approach this, but here are a few things to know:
I'm going to write more about the investment side of things in a different post, but these are a few already written that may help out:
Also read - 3 Best investment accounts for self-employed creatives
Also read - How much money do I need to stop working?
There are plenty of ways to make money as a creator, which one(s) will you choose to pursue?