Are you working in the creator economy? If so, it’s your job to create something your audience wants and which you’ll get paid for. Unfortunately, creating and monetizing content isn’t always easy.
You’ll have to come up with an idea and create a product, without many resources, or a clear road map, at least at first.
That said, the work processes of creatives from other disciplines reveal a set of rules you can live by.
1. Skip Waiting For Inspiration
Those aspiring to work in the creator economy say they want to start a new project like launching a podcast or video channel or creating a website, but they don't have the right idea … yet.
So, they put off working in the industry until they find a great idea they can act on. But inspiration doesn't always arrive on time. English playwright and novelist William Somerset Maugham offered this inspirational advice:
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.”
Instead of waiting for inspiration to arrive, turn up early and often. Work a little on your creative project every day.
2. Maintain A System for Creative Research
Starting a new creative project for the blank canvas or blank page is one-party liberating and one-part terrifying. But established creatives draw from a deep well of research.
Comedians like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld keep a personal library of stories and anecdotes they can use in their creative work. So, get into the habit of capturing ideas and research for future projects. It'll help with your content publishing strategy.
On the other hand, turning on a microphone, web camera, or opening a Google Doc is more intimidating if you’ve no idea what to say.
I like using the Zettelkästen method or a Slip box as a system for creative research. Essentially, it involves writing short notes to yourself, interlinking old notes, and writing reactions. It acts as a type of personal knowledge management system you can reference for any creative project.
3. Discount Originality
Creativity is less about finding a new idea nobody ever thought of than combining old ideas in different ways.
Consider McDonald's. We were stuffing our faces on the go for years before Ray Kroc started his franchise business. Kroc’s genius lay in combining standardized food prices, a clean environment, and fast takeaway food.
TikTok wasn’t the first micro-video blogging platform, Vine offered something similar back in 2012, and Instagram rolled out short-form video in 2013.
However, TikTok acquired Musical.ly, tapped into a younger user-base in China, and helped its audience created short-form dance videos more easily.
4. Create Something Everyday
You could try and write a book, learn to compose poetry, or build a niche website in a mammoth blitz of creative work one weekend. But life often intervenes in the form of a day job or personal commitments.
Instead, try working a little on your creative projects every day. Perhaps you could write several hundred words, spend half an hour sourcing guests to interview, or research topics for your latest content website. Stack small chunks of creative work on top of each other until you’ve eaten the entire elephant.
Working a little every day on a creative project also means you're less likely to feel a sense of inertia after a long break.
5. Connect With Other Creators
Creative work involves spending lots of time working quietly in the room and cultivating a state of flow or deep focus. But, it's impossible to release or ship any creative project of merits without the help of other creators.
Even top-tier successful creatives like James Patterson (whatever you think of his books, don’t discount his success) rely on book editors, cover designers, and a marketing team to polish their work before releasing it into the world.
So, ask yourself: What creators can I collaborate with?
Perhaps it's an editor, a designer, or somebody who can take care of different parts of your creative business, like admin or customer support, freeing you up to focus on deep work.
6. Use Constraints
Those new to the creator economy sometimes complain they don't have enough time, resources, or tools to write a book, launch a podcast or create a course. But, if you want to earn a good living online today, you already have everything you need to succeed.
The problem isn't a lack of tools or resources; it's confining yourself to a few creator tools until you gain traction. Constraints enable rather than hinder the creative process as they force a creator to use what’s in front of them. On the other hand, too many options are overwhelming.
Thanks to free platforms like YouTube and WordPress, and smartphones, any aspiring content creator can start a business in the creator economy on a shoestring budget.
For example, you can easily start a podcast using a budget microphone. Then, if your podcast grows, invest revenue into a better microphone, audio production, and perhaps an editor.
Similarly, many YouTubers start their channels with a smartphone or basic web camera. Using everyday tools lends a sense of authenticity to online work.\
Read my guide to creative constraints
7. Keep Focused
New entrants into the creator economy can pick from dozens of opportunities today. You could:
- Start a podcast
- Launch a video channel
- Writing and self-publish books
- Mint or even create a non-fungible token (NFT)
- Selling online course
- Build a membership community
- Build and flip content websites
- build a public speaking business
- Sell creations on Etsy
However, if you want to earn a good living, focus on one or two opportunities that align with your values, area of expertise, and what your audience wants.
That way, you can improve your skills in a single discipline rather than becoming a jack of all trades. Then, later on, when you have more time and resources, try other content formats, platforms, and nieces or genres.
Learn how to focus
8. Allow For Happy Accidents
Creativity is sometimes the result of happy accidents.
James Joyce dictated much of Finnegan’s Wake to fellow author Samuel Beckett. Halfway through a session, someone knocked on the door, and Joyce said, “Come in.” Beckett included that mistake in the manuscript.
The microwave oven is another popular example of a happy accident. In 1945, American engineer Percy Spencer noticed microwaves from an active radar melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. So, he tried cooking popcorn and melting an egg.
Accidents happen regularly in the creator economy too. Perhaps you started a podcast, and now you’re gaining more traction on YouTube or even TikTok?
I launched a tech blog and accidentally stumbled into affiliate marketing and content publishing.
9. Ship Early And Often
It's fun, spending hours working on a creative project iterating and refining until it's almost perfect. But if you want to succeed as a creator today, ship your work early and often despite the imperfections. That's what many successful entrepreneurs from the start-up and tech community do.
Dropbox founders generated hype for their business on the back of an early product demo video for a file-sharing app before even building it.
Rather than endlessly polishing your latest podcast episode or article, or book, send it to a group of early readers, listeners, or publishers. Use their feedback or lack thereof to figure out what to create more or less of.
Shipping early and often also unlocks more opportunities to connect with the marketplace and other creators. Of course, not every creative project is a hit, so why not take more swings while you can?
10. Build Something You Own
Many creators spend hundreds of hours working on a project … and then give away all the rights.
Charles Webb was the writer of The Graduate. He was paid just $20,000 for a film that grossed $100million. And he gave it away. Webb had no regrets. He said.
”When you run out of money, it’s a purifying experience,”
Purification is nice, but if you want to earn a good living, create something you own and keep the rights. In the creator economy, that means building a digital property that generates income each month or sells for a large profit.
It could be an NFT, a content website, or something simple as self-publishing a book.
As the owner of creative work, you hold leverage about where it's used and how to get paid for it. For example, you could turn your latest book into a course, a workbook, an audiobook, and other future formats.
11. Focus On Execution Over Strategy
Ideas are cheap. Execution is hard. Or as British magazine publisher Felix Dennis said:
“Ideas cannot be ‘owned’ by anyone. You cannot trademark or patent or enjoy copyright in an idea. You can only protect the execution of that idea and, perhaps, its look and feel.”
So if you’re working in the creator economy and lack 100 percent confidence in your latest idea, try it anyway. Executing will teach you more about what works and what your ideal audience wants. You can always find and fix mistakes later or even change direction.
That said, Dennis also offers a simple caveat for those who want to earn: Go where the money is. In other words, find a genre or project that’s already selling and creating your version.
Creative Rules To Live By: The Final Word
These are some proven creative rules anyone working in the creator economy can live by. Use them to create engaging content that your audience loves and get paid for doing.
That said, creativity isn't always about following a playbook time. Sometimes it's good to understand what the rules are … so you break them!