Content creation is nothing new. From Leonardo da Vinci to Jane Austen and all the other artists, writers, photographers, and creatives in between, people have reaped the rewards of their creative production for a very long time. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the days when only a lucky few could make a living from creating content. Currently, more than 50 million people worldwide consider themselves creators. Here are insights from some top content creators about where they see content creation today, as well as tips on how you can improve and earn money from your content.
A content creator is anyone who develops content in a variety of formats including videos (short-form, long-form, educational, narrative, livestream), images (graphics, photography, drawing, painting), audio (podcasts, music, ASMR), and professional work (ad copy, educational, promotional). Content creators are artists, storytellers, and almost anyone who creates and shares their work.
- An artist: A content creator is an artist, according to Kenyatta (Kap) Houston, a Nascar pit crew member whose content has garnered him 500,000 followers on TikTok and 13,000 followers on Instagram. “Really, if you have an iPhone, you are a content creator,” he says.
- A storyteller: A content creator is a storyteller, says Emmy Award winner for news and documentary programming Lori Neuhardt. The creative director for Lori Neuhardt Design has spent the past 25 years creating content for outlets including NBCUniversal and Disney. “They tell a story around a variety of topics, either for themselves or a brand or a nonprofit,” she says.
- Most of us: Most people are content creators, asserts Dan Milano, a former social media editor for ABC News who now works to help people who struggle with addiction find community through an app called Sober Together. “Who isn’t a content creator?” he asks. “My brother makes mashed potato art every year at Thanksgiving—is it content created for the family that day? Does it only become content when shared on the internet?” Milano admits he may be exaggerating but does question if content always requires an audience. “When we focus on defining it as something that can reach mass audiences, we forget that just reaching your close circle with some content can be equally as valid for personal fulfillment and artistic growth,” he says. “Think of all the content you may have curated for text threads with friends or family. Pics, videos, links, memes. You’re likely a content creator, too, even if you’re not branding yourself as such.”
Over the years, content creation has become more accessible due to democratization and technological improvements.
- Democratization: Thanks to self-publishing platforms, anyone with a camera and creative eye can become a content creator—a far cry from hierarchical content creation in the past. The 2005 launch of YouTube meant that anyone could make a video and then upload it. After YouTube came Vine, TikTok, and any number of content-sharing platforms. Now people from all walks of life can share content and possibly make money at the same time. Contrast that to the early days of content creation, when you had to be lucky enough to be hired by a magazine or newspaper for someone to view your images. Not only did you need an industry contact, but you also needed expensive camera equipment and costly film.
- Technological advancements: Technology has not only granted publishing power to everyone—it has also made refining content easier than ever before. “Part of it is that creation products and apps have evolved,” Neuhardt says. “Today, a storyteller can create engaging content from anywhere in the world at any time with a camera, smartphone, or desktop. For example, I’m able to do all my design, video, animation, editing, sound design and export,” all from a single platform, she explains.
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Content creators can earn money by selling their products and services, partnering with brands, collecting ad revenue, joining creator funds, and myriad other ways.
Selling products and services
Creators can use subscription services to earn money, sell content individually, charge for tutorials and educational content, and otherwise monetize their content creation abilities.
Neuhardt has been on the hiring end of content creators throughout her career. “I’ve hired a variety of photographers, videographers, editors, writers, sound designers, animators, and multi-skilled storytellers,” she says. For this kind of service work, “rates can be anywhere from $50 an hour to $100 an hour, depending on budget and deliverables,” she says.
Partnering with brands
Influencers can partner with brands to promote their products and services and bring in steady income. Content creators should be on the lookout for companies who align with their content and audience, and reach out to ask about potential partnerships.
User-generated content (UGC)
Creators of user-generated content can earn money using platform creator rewards such as YouTube’s Shorts Fund and TikTok’s Creator Fund. “When you post every day, you keep users active, so then you get to share in a pool of money based on your views,” Houston says. “You can make 20 cents a day on up—if you get millions of views, you can get $50 to $100 a day.” UGC creators can also earn money by working with companies to create authentic promotional material.
For online content creators who post regularly, ad revenue can be a great way to earn money without adding additional work. Google AdSense and other advertisement platforms allow creators to place ads and links with their content and earn money per watch and click-through.
Making money as a content creator can be more miss than hit, according to Milano. “The most sure-fire way to do it is to hit the algorithm of a video social network with your creative ideas on a subject that has a built-in audience, and if you take enough swings, you’re likely to have a few videos rise to the top. Then attempt to leverage the popularity of that content to join a company as their social media marketer or distributor,” he advises. “The easiest path (if one exists) to building a money-making content channel of your own would start with picking the social network that is most quickly growing audiences for creators while also promising revenue share. Today that is either TikTok or YouTube Shorts.”
All you need to break into the content creation realm is a smartphone and/or computer, a creative outlook, and a place to create.
- Phone/computer: Houston says all you really need to create great content is a cell phone. “Most of the apps that can enhance your content are right on your phone, such as Picsart,” he says. “You can always use your computer to make content even better with programs such as Photoshop.” Neuhardt agrees that anyone can create engaging content from just their phone or desktop.
- Creativity: Whether it’s aesthetically pleasing images of you posing on beaches across the world, scathing reviews of poorly written books, or welding tutorials, you need a good imagination to create compelling content. Leading with your personal passions is always a good place to start.
- Space: “Having a dedicated space to record will lead to content,” Milano advises. The right space means proper lighting, a good backdrop, and clear audio. “I bought a ring light early in the pandemic and never looked back,” Milano says. As for the backdrop, “If you’re filming with a window behind you, you’ll never feel like you’re in a controlled environment, and you might be less likely to pick up a phone and record your thoughts at the drop of a hat.” Instead, try setting up a background that isn’t distracting but is distinct, with a pop of color. “You’ll want a uniform look if possible—switching up your look a lot can be distracting if you want people to comment on the topics of the content,” Milano says. Finally, “Consider your audio, too—if your room is echoey, look into a small mic you can sync to your phone.”
There are more opportunities than ever before to share your vision with the world. To help you reach your audience:
- Do your own thing: People like seeing content creators who are passionate about what they do. Lean into what interests you and start putting yourself out there. “When I was hiring video producers for news orgs over the last six years, I’d always look for people creating their own polished essays to post to social media. You’d be surprised how few journalists were actually video journaling as a passion,” Milano says. Don’t know where to start? “Write a one-minute script each week on a topic you’re passionate about and publish a trimmed-up video (with pauses removed and subtitles enabled) for a relatively simple exercise that will give you a huge advantage in the content creator job market,” he advises.
- Leave your comfort zone: If you feel shy about putting yourself out there, remember that trying new things means new opportunities. And while the internet is forever, take solace in knowing that you can delete or archive what flops. “You can create a new account and start over anytime. A popular sentiment now is ‘it’s only cringe until it’s popular.’ Embrace the awkwardness of putting yourself out there, otherwise you’ll just remain a content consumer,” Milano says.
- Don’t focus on the money: It can help to keep financial expectations low. Instead of worrying about money, focus on discovering what resonates best with you. “When you create around your passions, your message and content will resonate with your audience,” Neuhardt says. “Create content even if you’re not getting paid. It’ll keep your skills sharp and help define your voice.”
- Get organized and post consistently: “Even though I don’t use a content calendar, I do post daily—usually about what’s going on in the day, often about on the racetrack on the weekend,” says Houston. He explains that content creators should “be consistent with your niche and with who you are and your theme, and then post often.” From there, focus not only on follower growth, but also consistent engagement.
- Stay relevant: Neuhardt says that following news, trends, and pop culture provides opportunities for you to tag into current events. And staying current on the latest rules around social media can pay off. “Platforms change their algorithms, and when they do, it can impact performance,” she says. “Understand how platform algorithms work and keep up to date when they do change.”
- Keep getting better: Think of each day as a chance to grow in your passion and potential career. There are a variety of no-cost online courses that are now available that can help you improve your content. “Stay up to date with technologies,” Neuhardt says. “Even if your brand is authentic, it’s great to know what’s possible.”
Courtesy Kat Blaque/Youtube
Here are just some of the content creators who have found success by following their passions and sharing it with the world:
- Kat Blaque: An illustrator and animator, Blaque also uses her platform for trans activism.
- Ryan George: George’s comedy videos depicting him talking to himself became a huge internet hit.
- Peter McKinnon: Photographer McKinnon captures and posts starkly beautiful images.
- Amanda Frances: The “money manifestation queen” capitalizes on her financial know-how and pedagogical capabilities.
- Mark Rober: Science enthusiast Rober creates videos covering space, gadgets, and mechanical engineering.
- Tabitha Brown: Brown’s humorous and motivational content helped her become a major social media personality.