I spent much of my twenties barely earning enough money to pay our mortgage and even claimed social welfare for a while. For me, creative work meant writing, and I believed I needed permission from an employer or publisher to get paid to write.
In my thirties, I gradually discovered successful online writers take charge of their careers and don't ask for permission from any publisher, employer, or high-profile publication. And they build a business behind their work. Of course, the same applies to content creators in other fields, too.
Years ago, it was exceptionally difficult to earn money from creative work. You had to seek permission from a gatekeeper like a publisher or an employer before even standing a chance of connecting, let alone selling to an audience.
The cost of creating and distributing meant many past creatives worked around the side of a job or even on the breadline. Worse still, society affixed a type of glamor to the starving artist.
Today, it's an unhelpful cliché to say artists must starve for their craft. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals get paid for their work, so why not creatives?
Thanks to opportunities in the creator economy, it's easier than ever to earn a living from your creative work if you're committed to creating high-quality content and also spend time connecting with your ideal audience.
1. Build a Content Website
A good content website sells for 32 to 47 multiples of monthly profits. That's an insane amount of money for a content creator who's comfortable with the written word or working with freelancers. It's also a better business model than many options online as you own this site rather than a third-party.
A while ago, I interviewed Jon Dykstra of Fat Stacks blog who earns over six figures a month from this approach. When I asked him about building content websites, he said:
“I liken content to a widget. If you’re in manufacturing, you produce widgets. If you’re an online publisher, you produce content,” he says. “There are multiple workflows. I have a couple of in-house writers that I work with.”
2. Set Up Display Advertising
Display advertising is a proven and relatively method for monetizing a content website with traffic. Compared to options like launching a course or public speaking, it's also a relatively stable and passive income stream.
Google AdSense has a low barrier to entry for new website publishers, but it doesn't pay that much. If your site attracts over 50,0000 page views per month, consider applying to MediaVine. AdThrive is a popular option for bigger sites. Then, use earnings from advertising to invest in more content, thus building a content flywheel.
Some personal brands and small content publishers frown on display advertising, but it's how many big media brands earn a return on content (or their case employees). It's a good approach if you're committed to creating high-quality content at scale and enjoy working with freelance writers and editors.
3. Start a Podcast
A reader enjoying an article typically spends two minutes or less engaging with a piece of well-written content. A YouTube user watches several minutes of a ten-minute clip before moving on to something else in their feed. But an engaged podcast listener sticks with an episode for 30-minutes or longer. That's a long time to hold somebody's attention!
If your audience is engaged, you can monetize a podcast by selling promotional spots to advertisers. However, you'll need several thousand downloads per episode for this option to work. Meanwhile, you could promote products and services (or affiliate products) to listeners.
Although podcasts are harder to monetize than other content formats, they still help you build a relationship with your audience, indirectly leading to revenue opportunities later.
4. Become an Affiliate Marketer
I stumbled into affiliate marketing several years ago (read my guide to affiliate marketing to learn more). These days I promote several products as an affiliate, including Grammarly. I'm happy to promote them as I use these products daily in my business.
Affiliate marketing is an excellent way of earning five or even six figures a year from content. Work as normal on your online projects. But also take time to recommend the products and services you use for these projects too. Create content about how you use these products via walk-throughs, guides, tutorials, and reviews.
Affiliate marketing is also a good option for creators because it enables validating an idea and promoting a product without necessarily spending a significant amount of time or resources building one. Plus, you don't need to provide customer support.
5. Join a Partner Program
Many content platforms offer partner programs for content creators. They'll pay you to create content for them.
I'm two minds about these programs. I've earned several thousand dollars from the Medium Partner Program, and some other writers I know earn that much ... a month. It represents an excellent opportunity for writers who need validation that they can get paid for their work. You don't need to write for free anymore.
Similarly, the YouTube partner program pays top-tier creators millions of dollars. But these partner programs are a grind. And you're still building a business for another company with your content. Unless you're Logan Paul, it's far better to think of them as distribution channels that you can use to connect with your ideal audience.
5. Create Digital Products
If you've written a non-fiction book or you write non-fiction regularly, chances are you can turn many ideas in your work into a digital course. This is because Digital products have a higher perceived value than books and retail for more. Plus, your audience consumes and learns information in different ways.
While some of your audience may enjoy written content, others may prefer taking a digital course whereby your thoughts and ideas are organized logically for them. Sure, this information is available on YouTube for free, but students often pay because of an affinity with the instructor.
If you sell 100 copies of a course for $47, that's enough for many creators to live on in a given month. And many top-tier digital courses retail for one or two thousand dollars. Later, you can resell the same course to new audience members or create an upsell for existing students.
6. Write a Book
Podcasting, freelance writing, and blogging are fun opportunities for creators, but a good book reaches more people. They usually have a greater impact on readers and last longer than any viral article or video.
Thanks to the availability of affordable self-publishing tools, you can easily write and self-publishing a non-fiction book in a few months ... without anyone's permission. Although you're unlikely to earn quit your job money by writing one book, many indie authors earn on the backend. Writing a book serves as a calling card introducing readers to your other digital products and services like a course, coaching, or a public speaking gig.
7. Speak in Public
A lucrative public speaking gig, particularly in the corporate sector, can generate several thousand dollars in income. That's more than enough to cover living expenses for a month or two. However, factor in time spent preparing for a speech and traveling. It can also take many months to build up name recognition as a public speaker.
I interviewed one Australian public speaker who earned $500 for his first gig. He told me, "I wouldn't get out of bed for that kind of money today." Today, he earns several thousand dollars per gig.
8. Create Subscriptions
Many creators are a reasonably good living from their fan base via donations and monthly subscriptions. The singer Amanda Palmer reportedly earns over $34,000 on Patron everything she creates a new 'thing'.
I've also interviewed several popular writers who've monetized their work successfully on Substack by creating paid newsletters.
If you have an audience and they enjoy your work, why not ask them to support it in some way? Explain how much time and work it takes to create your content, and you may be surprised by the results. Several dollars from one supporter won't pay the bills, but if you've a bigger audience, it'll quickly add up.
9. Buy an NFT
The art world usually reveals the path for creators. Over the coming years, anyone working in the creator economy will need to embrace non-fungible tokens or NFTs.
Artists and visual content creators are beginning to earn serious money from NFTS. The most high-profile example is the visual artist Beeple who sold an NFT for an astonishing $69 million.
Rather than shying away from this new content format, NFTs represent a great opportunity if you're working in the creator economy. It's relatively easy to create an NFT... although it's harder to sell one, at least right now.
As a creator, you earn a percentage of any future sale too. In other words, create an NFT once and continue to earn years later.
10. Build an Ecosystem of Products
Successful content creators don't rely on a single product or service to earn a good living. Instead, they build an ecosystem of complementary products and services. For example, an author sells books introducing readers to their courses and public speaking packages. Or a visual artist sells prints on ETSY but also explores using NFTs for their art.
Rather than relying on a single income stream, protect the health of your creative business by diversifying. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, he wants to put himself out of business … and he does it by exploring future business models.
It's hard to manage all these monetization options for creators effectively. So, as soon as you can afford it, outsource parts of your business you either hate spending time on or which fall outside your area of expertise. That'll free you to grow a creator economy business by working on higher-value tasks ... or even taking time off.
For example, new content publishers can use earnings from advertising to hire freelance writers or an editor and publish more frequently. This approach should increase their website traffic, which in turn leads and further growth in display advertising. And repeat.
I hired an editor for my podcast and also used business profits to invest in hiring other creators like book cover designers and editors.
Executives in big corporate companies have defined benefits packages, share options, and fat pensions. If you're working in the creator economy, take control over your financial security. Once your business begins earning a good income, invest a portion of monthly profits to generate passive income streams.
Index funds tracking the performance of the S&P500 are proven relatively stable and attractive options. These funds typically generate a return of 7% per annum, which can quickly add up over several years. For example, $1000 invested in an index fund back in 1987 would be worth over $51,000 today.
The creator economy is increasingly powered by digital currency like Bitcoin and Ethereum, the latter of which powers NFT sales.
A thousand dollars invested in Bitcoin in 2016 is worth approximately $5000 today. And if you invested the same amount in March 2020, it'd be worth over $10,0000. You can also stake digital currencies and return a 5% return each year.
I invest 30-35% of my business's profits in commissioning new content for the various digital properties I own. However, I'm under no illusions. The value of one of these websites could be wiped out by a Google algorithm update or an affiliate program changing its terms. So, I also dollar-cost average a portion each month into index funds and digital currencies.
Make Money Being Creative: The Final Word
The creator economy offers many opportunities for earning a good living. Your biggest challenge isn't earning; it's picking one opportunity and focusing on it. With some hard work, you can easily turn one of these opportunities into a lucrative revenue stream for your creative or content business.