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The Creator Economy 101: Why It’s Booming and How to Get In on It

Two creators doing a photo shoot

Over the last decade or so, the concept of “creators” has progressively assumed a center stage position in the economy. Creativity isn’t new, nor is the dream to turn creative passions into financial security, but only recently has the path to success been so beautifully paved. The power and accessibility of social media, the decentralization of “big” media conglomerates via the internet, and then the pandemic (which brought everything and everyone online) are a few reasons why the creator economy, also referred to as the “passion economy”, is booming so wildly — and why now is the time to make the leap into it. 

What is the creator economy, in a nutshell? 

Essentially, the creator economy is made up of individuals with certain skills, talents, community-building expertise and a meaningful voice that use digital platforms to build and maintain their business. There are over 50 million content creators, bloggers, social media influencers, course creators, and other creators that take part in this economy. And it’s valued at nearly $100 billion dollars, with YouTube estimated to account for nearly 30% of that amount.

The advent of the creator economy has provided people with a new work path that sits outside of the traditional 9-to-5 business. Instead, it offers the freedom and flexibility of working how, when, and where you want, and of being your own boss. 

Who can become a creator? (hint: you)  

The short answer is anyone! There’s no job application. Your university degree doesn’t matter here. Anyone with the passion and motivation can become a creator.

The more important question is likely “Who succeeds as a creator?” Despite what it may look like to outside observers, being a successful creator is exceptionally hard. Not everyone has the dedication required to see it through. 

Nor is dedication always enough. The best creators are often naturally engaging, compelling, or have something unique that makes their personal brand sticky — leaving people coming back for more. 

There’s a lot of strategy and thought that must exist if you’re to succeed as a creator. Start by answering the following questions:

  • What gap in the content ecosystem are you filling? 
  • What problem are you solving for people? What value do you bring them?
  • What do you have to say that’s different from everyone else? 
  • What makes you unique? 
  • What type of storyteller are you?

You should feel confident in your answers before you embark on the exciting journey of joining the creator economy full-time. 

Ok, but how do creators earn a living?

This question pops up a lot. How do creators actually make a profit off their content? There are a number of ways you can monetize your digital content.

  1. Brand deals and partnerships: According to the Influencer Marketing Factory, this accounts for 31% of revenue earned by creators — the highest share. When a creator has an audience relevant to a certain brand, the brand might ask them to promote their product or service via their platform, for a fee. 
  1. Their own brand / business: Many influencers eventually create their own brand, accounting for 25% of creator earnings according to that same Influencer Marketing Factory report. If, say, a creator has become known and loved for their recipes, and there is a demand from the audience to be able to easily access them, the creator might consider putting together a cookbook, and maybe eventually cooking ware. 
  1. Creator funds: This refers to funding paid by the platforms being used by creators (including Snapchat and TikTok). This is a means of rewarding the creators that bring traffic and engagement to their networks. This Shopify article sums it up best: “Creator funds are a way of cutting influencers a slice of the profit pie and acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between the two forces: platforms need creators just as much as creators need platforms”
  2. Courses: Digital learning is another great way for creators to earn a living. Whatever the industry, the online course business is an excellent way to monetize your offering, especially as consumers turn more and more to on-demand content that fits into their unique schedules. There are many companies, Thinkific being one of them, that help creators build, promote, and monetize courses.
  3. Events: Events have moved from conference and concert halls to the digital space, leaving a new way for creators to earn a living on their terms. You no longer need a huge amount of funding to gather your followers together for an event. Any creator can host a paid event with an internet connection and a Zoom account.
  4. Paid communities: While many communities are free, influencers are beginning to gate certain aspects of their content as well. Membership platforms such as Patreon and Substack allow creators to charge audiences a fee for exclusive content.

Types of creators in the creator economy 

There are several types of creators that can be considered a part of the creator economy:

  • Influencers
  • Videographers and vloggers
  • Podcasters 
  • Photographers
  • Writers and illustrators
  • Course creators

What all of them have in common is that they are storytellers, creating content that is shared through different digital mediums. Of the different types of digital creators, Signalfire breaks them into two main categories:

Professional individual creators: This group refers to full-time creators and accounts for approximately 2 million of the 50 million creators in the current economy. These are the people that have fully made the leap.

Amateur individual creators: This group accounts for over 46 million creators and alludes to creators who monetize their content on a part-time basis. This is a monolith of a number that only seems to be increasing as people test the waters.  

The state of the creator economy: booming is an understatement

The creator economy is thriving. It’s seen continuous growth over the past decade from both a viewership and creator perspective, with a surge triggered by the onset of the pandemic. When the outside world shut down, everyone was given the opportunity to explore and experiment with the digital world. An explosion of new creators was almost inevitable. 

The growing accessibility of digital channels definitely helped. Not only are most platforms free for both creators and viewers, but the tech and content creation tools available for amateurs to edit and improve their photos, videos, courses etc, are increasingly affordable and user-friendly. 

We’re also seeing some interesting trends emerging. Let’s dig into a few.

In a recent survey, 1,000 creators were asked about their favorite platforms. TikTok clocked in first at 30%, followed by Instagram at 22% and YouTube at 22%l. TikTok is also where creators report making the most money, followed by Instagram and then YouTube. There is definitely money to be made on these hosting platforms, especially with new integrations and revenue-sharing options offered by the platform. 

But creators are no longer tethered to specific platforms, nor are they relying on sponsorship revenue as much as they used to. Loyal audiences will follow their creators just about anywhere. This trend of creators moving their fans onto their own platforms such as websites and apps shows the power of building an authentic community and being a trusted voice. 

We’re also seeing a shift in mindset and approach: from creator to entrepreneur. Creators are building out companies and product lines around their craft, expanding their offer from helpful or entertaining content to tangible, lucrative businesses. It’s a real testament to the power of individual content creators, and the faces behind brands. 

How do you become a creator? We got you. 

It might seem overwhelming, we get it. The industry is more saturated than ever and there’s a lot of noise out there. But there is no such thing as too much good content. 

Here are 7 key points to reflect on in order to get started on the right foot: 

  1. Determine your strengths: What you’re good at usually stems from a passion. What are you most passionate about? Where do you shine? What story do you want to tell? What do you believe in? Having a strong voice founded in what you believe in is the first and most important step.
  2. Find the gaps: Now that you’ve reflected only your strengths, think of how you can bring it to light in a unique way. What is missing out there? What small wedge of a market has been untapped? And what are people missing in their lives? These are big questions and you’ll have to research what’s already been done but also think about what’s most unique about you that you can use to differentiate yourself.
  3. Understand your target audience: Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone, and trying to do so would be a cog in your failure. Ask yourself, who is it that you’re trying to connect with? What do they believe in, what language do they use, what is meaningful to them? This isn’t to say you won’t attract different generations, but have a target audience in mind when getting started to keep your focus sharp. 
  1. Be consistent with posting: To gain a following, you need to be consistent with the type of content you put out, and how often you share it. Consistency helps build brand stickiness, and it will also help you see what people respond well to and what they don’t. The more you post, the more you learn, and ultimately the better you will connect.
  2. Take a pulse on your audience: Ask them what they want! Use polling features to survey people on what they prefer, then give them what they ask for. It’s a win-win.
  1. Be human, be vulnerable: We can’t stress this enough. Don’t strive to be perfect because your audience isn’t perfect either. Authenticity is what builds community.
  2. Choose your medium: Through what medium can you best stand out? Is it visual, written, audio, video? Think of how you’re the most comfortable expressing yourself. Knowing this will also help you choose a platform to get started on.

And there you have it. A high-level take on the creator economy. We hope we answered some key questions keeping you from making the leap. Moreso, we hope you feel inspired. 

If we could choose one word to sum up the creator economy it would be possibility. With the right set of tools, and time taken to reflect on the above questions, anything is possible. 

Alison Robins author avatar
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Alison Robins

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