Being a content creator requires lots of research, planning, consistency, and keeping up with the latest industry trends. So what kind of strategy do you need to be a successful creator in 2023? There’s perhaps no better person to help answer this question than Jay Clouse.
Clouse is a creator-educator who’s passionate about helping people become professional creators. He writes essays in his newsletter Creator Science and hosts the podcast Creative Elements, where he interviews inspiring creators like Tori Dunlap, Ali Abdaal, and more about how they make a living with their expertise and creativity.
Before becoming a creator himself, Clouse co-founded a ticketing platform and spent time in product management. That experience informs much of the work he’s doing now. His first foray into content creation was a newsletter launched in 2017. Writing those daily emails taught him a lot about creators and what it takes for them to succeed. It’s also inspired Clouse to create his podcast Creative Elements and its accompanying video show.
Below, Clouse shares how creators can set themselves up for success in 2023, along with some thoughts on how the creator economy space will shape up this year.
How to become a successful content creator in 2023
Find your purpose
Purpose is the first checkbox in Clouse’s five-step framework to building a creator business, and for a good reason. Purpose drives everything you do — but how do you find your purpose as a creator?
“In an ideal world, you’d have some type of earned insight you can leverage. Something you’ve uniquely discovered and identified through experience,” Clouse tells us.
But he also says that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. If you don’t have that experience yet, you can position yourself as a beginner who’s eager to explore a specific field, and share your discoveries or lessons you’ve learned with your audience.
Either way, here are four questions you can ask yourself when searching for your purpose as a content creator, taken from Clouse’s framework:
- Who does your content help (and what does it help them do)?
- Why does your content need to exist?
- Why are you the right person to help?
- What is your spiky point of view?
Use the right channels
For Clouse, there’s an easy way to pick the right platform: Go where your audience is. “If you’re serving an audience that doesn’t use LinkedIn, LinkedIn is not going to work as a channel.”
You’ll also need to think about your audience when choosing the type of content that you’re going to create. Yes, your own interests and abilities should be factored in, but it’s important that you don’t ignore your audience’s preferences. “If you love writing, but all the people you’re trying to serve love short-form video, you’re probably going to be more successful going where they are than trying to move them to where you naturally feel better,” Clouse advises.
There’s an advantage to focusing your time and energy on a platform you’re familiar with, but know that it works best when there’s an overlap between that platform and your target audience.
Build trust with your audience
“Becoming a professional creator takes time,” Clouse says. “You’ll only get to that point because you have an audience that trusts you.”
Many creators focus on building the biggest audience they can by attempting to go viral, following trends, and trying to hit whatever niche that’s popular now. While garnering a huge following can certainly help elevate your profile, it isn’t necessarily going to give you the content creation career you’re dreaming of. A lasting, sustainable creator career only happens when you build it on a foundation of trust with your audience. So if you’re an aspiring content creator, you have to be ready to be in it for the long haul.
“This business model, being built on trust, takes a lot of time,” Clouse notes.
The biggest hurdles to watch out for as a content creator
Feeling like you don’t have enough time
“Time allocation is the number one biggest challenge [for content creators],” Clouse says.
Content creation is a time-intensive process, both on the micro and macro level. From actually creating content to building your strategy, the tasks that you work on every day can take a lot of time. Remember that this is a career that’s built slowly, over time — you don’t need to be doing everything at once.
Take Clouse as an example: He started his daily newsletter in 2017, and only launched his podcast in 2020. The takeaway? You can always expand your content offering as you progress and grow.
Trying to go full-time too soon
You might be enjoying some success as a creator, but that doesn’t mean you need to quit your day job right away. Since content creation is a career that takes time to build up, you want to be careful about those decisions you make early on.
“It’s actually really good for people who are employed to start down the creator route, because they don’t have to put financial pressure on their content business,” Clouse says. “They’re able to make the right long-term decisions, and not worry about the timeline of earning revenue from it.”
Being on too many platforms
Some content creators think that choosing the right channel means being on all of them. But for Clouse, it’s more important to focus on mastering a single platform before broadening your reach.
“For you to really win as a creator, you essentially need to be an A+ student in the class that is a given platform,” he says. “It’s possible to take five classes and get an A+ in all five classes, but it’s much easier to take one class and get an A+ in that class.”
That said, if you’ve built up the content creation skillset to a level where you can excel at multiple platforms, go for it! But Clouse wants creators to remember this: “There are outsized returns to being exceptional on a platform rather than being average on several.”
What sets creator-educators apart in 2023
Like us at The Leap, Clouse is a strong proponent that creator-educators — those who teach their audience about a specific topic — have an opportunity to build a profitable business, even with fewer followers than most creator-entertainers. Here’s what Clouse has to say about this category of creators.
Smaller, but more valuable audience
While the content creator who’s mainly looking to entertain is likely going to reach a larger audience, a creator-educator’s audience can end up being a lot more valuable than that of the former.
Clouse explains, “In general, I think that creator-educators can have higher customer lifetime value or average order volume.”
Trying to understand what these business terms mean? Essentially, Clouse is saying that creator-educators can earn more money from individual followers over time, and each purchase from a follower is worth more — on average. That’s because creator-educators are usually selling a product or a course, while creator-entertainers typically rely on advertising and brand sponsorships to generate revenue.
And even if their audience isn’t as huge as that of the biggest social media stars, creator-educators should still have no trouble growing their following. As Clouse notes, “If you do a good job of defining your purpose, then you can find your audience and curate them. They also tend to stick in packs. Reach one person, and now they’re telling their friends that your [content or product] exists.”
Less competition for the top spot
One of the biggest challenges for content creators who are pure entertainers? The massive amount of competition for the top spots.
“If you’re an entertainer on YouTube, you’re competing with SNL and professional entertainers. That’s pretty tough,” Clouse says. “If I’m looking to pass the time, am I going to watch a Netflix limited series with a budget in the hundreds of millions? Or am I gonna watch you on TikTok?”
Creator-educators, on the other hand, are dealing with an audience that’s dedicating their time to learning a specific skill or topic. And if the creator is producing high quality content, they could likely become one of the top creators in their niche.
They sell transformation
Above all, that’s what makes a creator-educator’s content more valuable than that of a creator-entertainer. They’re selling transformation, whether that’s helping their audience become a better creator, or learning how to bake sourdough bread.
Clouse shares, “Transformation is really valuable. To become a better or different version of yourself is something [people] value very highly. And there’s a lot of precedent for people paying really good money for that.”
If you’re a content creator, you need to keep this in mind as you’re creating content. How is your content going to help your audience become their best selves? And when it’s time to work on diversifying your income streams, like creating and selling digital products, make sure whatever you’re offering is contributing to that transformation.
How the creator economy might change in 2023
Wondering what trends will emerge in the creator economy space in the new year? Clouse has a few predictions:
Fewer advertising dollars
“Well, I think we’re already seeing some pullback in advertising spend. Creators who depended on that are going to be looking around for how to replace some of that income,” Clouse cautions.
If you need to diversify your income, check out this guide for five ways to grow and stabilize your creator revenue.
Smaller creator funds
“I don’t know how viable creator funds from certain platforms will be in the future,” Clouse says. “I think those are always on a path to be going down rather than up.”
Both YouTube and TikTok have recently announced new initiatives to help creators make money on their respective platform. However, instead of treating these programs as the main sources of your income, see them as a nice bonus to your total revenue.
A big initial focus on short-form video
“Short-form is great for discovery and reaching new people. It’s not great for developing deep trust and getting somebody to buy a higher-priced product of some sort,” Clouse shares. “I think we’re going to see more people lean into short-form in the immediate term, but not necessarily see a return on that effort.”
If your audience loves short-form video, you definitely don’t want to ignore platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts in 2023. But keep an eye out for other channels that’ll allow you to continue cultivating your audience — think newsletters, podcasts, or other subscription-based content.