How to Build a Sustainable Creator Business

Treyton DeVore
November 21, 2021

On Building a Sustainable Creator Business

Being a creator is much more challenging than it may seem from the outside.

Being a creator and running a business is even harder.

The biggest challenge in my opinion is balancing between using creative effort and energy, and using the other part of your brain to make business decisions and deal with things like finances. Flipping back and forth between the two is like trying to run a mile and then hold your breath for 60 seconds.

And finding that balance is going to look different for every creator.

You may be more creative than business, so if you're truly trying to grow, it might make sense to bring on a more business or finance-oriented partner/member to help grow the business.

Or the opposite.

But the holy grail in building a sustainable creator business is finding a content format and rhythm that you can do consistently, and building a business that allows you some form of free time to stay creating. Bonus points (and concentration risk) if the content fuels the business growth.

I hate using Logan Paul as an example, but it works really well here:

He started out making Vines and daily vlogs on YouTube and eventually, the output wasn't sustainable. He now has many revenue streams, but Maverick Clothing is his main business on the backend of his content. They sell merch and memberships, but the key is that he transitioned into podcast-only content.

Doing this, he's able to market Maverick with his own ad spots on the podcast and through the rest of his online presence. It can't be too time consuming because at this point he can afford to hire people to manage shipments and orders.

And the podcast is a sustainable form of content because they interview people and talk about relevant topics in culture and news so they don't have to use too much creativity with each episode. They also have a production team, which you most likely can't afford as a young creator, but knowing that if you can generate revenue and hire a team, that may help you create a vision for what can be possible as a creator.


Another interesting way I've seen sustainability be addressed is from TikTok creator, Victoria Paris. She has big goals and has put a priority on finding a way to create while also laying low and building & investing in businesses.

So one option she mentioned she's focusing on in an interview with Colin & Samir is episodic content.


With episodic content, you're being consistent at not being consistent.

Think about our favorite original TV shows.

They would release a season over the course of a few months, go back and create another season, and release it at some point in the 'near' future. Even though it could be a year before the next season comes out, people that care about the show are going to remember the day and time it airs.

And as a creator, you should only be focused on your true fans.

So if you lay it out on the table that you're transitioning to episodic content, provide the why, and deliver high-quality content in episodic format, everyone's going to be happy.

People aren't expecting you to be a robot and create something every day forever.

They're only consuming it because you're providing it at that consistency.

Change it up and be transparent and your true audience won't leave.

Episodic content also creates an exclusivity factor from a brand deal standpoint. If you're someone with an audience who is only putting content in front of them a few times a year, there's going to be higher demand - and ideally higher pay - for the content that you do release.

And most importantly, the episodic format gives you time to build and create things outside of just content - which I believe is essential in building a sustainable creator business.

Another viable strategy is to sign with a long term brand partner. Of course if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. But it's not. To get a long term brand deal you have to build trust with your audience, show that you have "influence", and typically have to be pretty deep into a niche (because brands want a partner that they can count on to market their product or service to a specific audience).

Read more: How Colin & Samir Used a Long Term Brand Deal to Fuel Their Creator Business

To touch on the business and service side, if you have more of a passion for providing a service - such as freelance writing or design - your creator business may appear slightly backwards. Because you focus more on the work, you try to fit in content creation when you can. But if you're more creator-first, you can use skills you've picked up as a creator to provide freelance services. This can help generate income so you can invest back in your creator business and who knows, that freelance work may turn into a business itself.

And last way to build a sustainable business I want to touch on today is through recurring revenue. There are many different ways to create recurring revenue but one most popular sources of true recurring revenue is membership subscriptions. Digital product sales could be considered recurring revenue as well, and we'll dive into the tactics and logistics of both in a future newsletter but I do want to make one point about memberships:

Be careful about the sustainability of recurring membership subscriptions. Depending on what you promise or offer on the front end, that offer may not be sustainable for a long period of time - such as 2 zoom calls a week with the community, or weekly behind the scenes of video creation. Weekly BTS also means you have to create a video weekly. But also, depending on your relationship with your community, some inconsistency may not be an issue and a variety of content is okay.

But recurring revenue may require recurring effort and depending on the offering, it may be tough to sustain.

How Much YouTube Paid

Colin & Samir

Colin & Samir are two of my favorite YouTubers. They make videos around the creator economy and they put more effort into the edits and production than almost anyone. They began their creator careers in 2011 and on April 16, 2018, they officially made $.01 from their YouTube channel.

Now, it didn't take them 7 years to earn $.01 as creators because they were making money outside of YouTube ad revenue, but that was their first AdSense payment on their own channel.

Their ad rates fluctuated from a few cents to a few dollars for around a year because their videos were sporadic and about different topics.

They started to see more consistency in revenue once they narrowed down to their two shows around creator economy - The Breakdown and The Colin & Samir Show and found their creator stride in 2019 leading into 2020.

Highest earning video: $3,805.48 (Why Mr. Beast Will Be YouTube's First Billionaire, 1.5 million views)

Total 2019 YouTube AdSense Revenue: $4,458.76 (3.1 million views)

Total 2020 YouTube AdSense Revenue: $16,543.27 (5,602,786 views)

Now, that could be wildly de-motivating to some. 5.6 million views and only $16,000?

But one thing I like about their creator business is how they view their ad revenue. Samir has said that they have never, and will never, attribute ad revenue to any part of their business. This is because it's fairly small, and also irregular.

So rather than relying on ad revenue like many creators do, they treat it as icing on the cake.

This forces them to build a true operating business and expand outside of just content monetization.

If you have a YT channel, some of the biggest metrics that Colin & Samir have been focusing on to help with growth are:

  • Average view duration
  • Average view percentage
  • Click through
  • Watch time
  • Retention
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