The Los Angeles-based creator is a true multi-hyphenate — the web designer-video director-teacher calls herself a “Slashie.” And while she has a knack of creating aesthetically pleasing Instagram content, Puno never thought of herself as an influencer. Instead, she has carved out a unique path as a creator educator. Or, in her words, “an edutainer” who helps people learn new things in a fun way.
After a few years of creating branded content for clients, in 2019, Puno launched her first online course on ilovecreatives.com. She decided to build a course that teaches people how to design Squarespace websites, as there were few resources online for beginners to learn web design. “It was legitimately something I would have paid for if I was just getting started,” Puno shared.
From there, Puno has continued to grow ilovecreatives’ course directory. Collaborating with like-minded creatives, she’s launched others courses that cover topics like graphic design and video creation. Along with earning money from content creation and her design agency, selling online courses and other digital tools has allowed Puno to grow her income from $40,000 to six figures over the last two years.
Below, The Leap spoke with Puno about how she got her start in content creation, and how she’s grown her platform and revenue over time.
What initially inspired you to become a content creator?
I started creating content on Instagram in 2013, but I didn’t know what I was doing. My first few photos were parrots and bread? Headspace-wise, I remember being hung up on whether I should have separate Instagram accounts for personal and business use. I’m glad that I ended up having a separate personal account, because it was a blank slate with no motive. I used it as a testing ground, a place where I could experiment and play, and make friends with strangers.
There was a moment when I just focused on photos and doing little shoots. But when I adopted my Persian cat, she inspired me to not take myself so seriously. That’s when I started making funnier content. It started off with a cat calendar. Then, I wrote a few short skits for my friends that owned Girlfriend Collective. Video really unlocked something in me. I felt like I could finally unleash my personality and have way more fun.
Even though I was making branded content, I never thought of myself as an influencer or sought after it as a career. In a way, I felt like I had to do it in order to keep my internal creative flame going, because I knew that consistent side projects and creative exercises always end up helping me in unexpected ways.
There are so many ways to share content as a creator. What platforms or medium did you start out with?
I started on Instagram, but I’ve also dabbled in YouTube, podcasting, and TikTok. I’ve stepped back on the latter three, but I really love all those platforms — YouTube particularly. It was the place where I could really have a conversation. But since [vlogging] is not my main job, it does get put on the back burner.
Could I do more? Of course! But I’m pretty fulfilled with what I’m doing right now. I think that’s the great thing about content creation. You really can come back to [any platform or medium] anytime you want.
What does your typical work day as a creator look like?
A typical day at work consists of: 50% emails, direct messages, and communication with my team; 25% making IRL connections; and 25% making content or building something. I actually have no idea if that’s accurate, but that’s how I feel!
How did you make your first dollars as a creator?
In the early days, I had a travel app and would reach out to hotels to trade since I didn’t have a huge following. For instance, when I went to South Africa, I reached out to about 15 safaris and two got back to me.
I mostly just traded until maybe 2015, which was two years after I started doing content creation. I used to do this thing where I would jump on hotel beds and a hotel wanted to buy rights to the photo. That was my first 1099 [,i.e. income as an independent contractor].
Then in 2018, I was cast to do a few videos with Google and Girlboss. This was about the time that I started really getting into creating online education. And I became known as an “edutainer.” I ended up getting approached more as “talent,” and would pitch myself as a writer or director than an influencer.
When 2020 came around, there was a huge shift towards diversity and I definitely felt it. That year, I believe I made about $40,000. That’s when I started getting managed by NORA the Agency and it definitely helped. In 2022, I made six figures.
You call yourself a “Slashie,” or a multi-hyphenate. How has that helped you create your own business?
Being able to take photos, design, make a website, write copy, etc. … Really being an autodidact not only saved me cash (that I didn’t have), but it also gave me the opportunity to find my taste and create a brand that was very me.
When I was an art director at an ad agency, I didn’t make the time to develop my own taste. I was always focused on the client’s brand. When you’re building your own thing and you have multiple skills, you can tap into each of those skills as a way to make your business unique. But you have to be relentless and get past the emotional spiral and perfectionism that comes with creating your own brand.
How did you come up with the idea of ilovecreatives?
It originally started in 2014. I was meeting a ton of creative people doing all sorts of stuff, and wanted to figure out a way to connect them all beyond a Facebook group. Over a weekend, I did a mini no-code hackathon with myself using Squarespace and Mailchimp, and created a sort of Craigslist for creative people. I literally did it over a few days, so the branding was definitely MVP (minimum viable product), but the workflow was there.
After a few months, I ended up hiring someone to help me run it. We were breaking even, but it by no means was a moneymaker in the beginning.
What inspired you to create online courses?
About four years after I officially launched ilovecreatives, I was still bootstrapping with freelance web design work, specifically Squarespace websites. I needed a junior designer to help me, and I put an ad on ilovecreatives! It was actually great, not to toot our own horn. I had over 100 people apply to that job, but I realized that 90% didn’t have the portfolio. It was frustrating for me because these people wanted that job but weren’t qualified. And there isn’t really a place where you could learn how to be qualified. So that’s when I decided to build the Squarespace Design Course.
I was super hesitant on creating an online course for a while. The market at the time was very “online marketer” and was a bit off-putting. So, I decided to take all the things I didn’t like about the status quo and create my own creative brief for the online course that I would take. It was the best approach because at the end, I really believed in what I created. No bullsh*t, no icky sales. It was legitimately something I would have paid for if I was just getting started. It scratched that content creator itch too, because it was just another extension of the “edutaining” I was doing as a content creator.
Besides making money from selling online courses, what are your other income streams?
We have a boutique agency called ilovecreatives Studio. I was bootstrapping my business with freelance design work for a few years. When ilovecreatives started making enough money to pay myself a salary, I was still getting inbound clients. Fortunately, one of my first Squarespace student alumni, Mindy Nguyen, is a super talented designer who was looking to go full-time freelance. In 2019, we decided to join forces and create a design agency. Since then, we’ve done some really fun work for KKW Beauty, Kristin Ess Hair, Girlboss, Paris Hilton, Finding Ferdinand, and even The Leap!
Currently, my income comes from three places: content creation, my design studio, and ilovecreatives [selling online courses and other digital and physical goods].
How have you managed to grow as a creator throughout the years?
Consistency is everything. Even if you don’t post every day, keep striving to create something that’s very you. The whole point isn’t to actually create something that is very you, but it’s to strive for it. Then you can look back at all the things you tried, and that’s your body of work.
Some people think that they can think their way through this, but that’s just overthinking. Your work is what matters and the work is how it gets created.
What’s your top tip for creating engaging content?
When I create content, I create it for me. That sounds a little narcissistic, but it’s really more to have boundaries. Otherwise, I’ll feel lost and overwhelmed. I know what I want, and I’m critical enough — but not hurtful — to help guide the content creation process.
At the end of the day, I want my content to be helpful and not take myself too seriously. You know, throw a chuckle or two in there. If I’ve done that, and as I consume it I’m genuinely engaged, then I’ve done my job.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.