Content Creator Playbook: How to Get Started and Monetize Your Work
Last updated: October 28, 2021
When Melissa Raimondi became a raw vegan in 2014, she started sharing the details of her journey in Facebook groups and connecting with others in the community.
Her experience inspired so many people — and so many questions — that she launched a YouTube channel and began making videos to address common queries. Interest in her diet and lifestyle only grew from there.
“After a while, people were always requesting recipes and meal plans, so I noticed the need for this in our niche,” she says. “I started playing around in the kitchen and created some great recipes. It has filled a gap in our community for those looking for help when transitioning over to a cleaner diet.”
While there are several words that describe what Raimondi does — author, chef, and coach, to name a few — the one that encompasses all of them is content creator. And in today’s digital world, with the variety of tools and social networks available, anyone can become a successful content creator. Read on to learn how.
What is a content creator?
A content creator is a person who contributes information — such as blogs, ebooks, video, photos, audio, social updates, and more — to a media platform.
There’s no limit to what innovative individuals can create. But the content is often designed for digital media and made with a specific audience in mind.
While ebooks are a popular type of digital content — for example, author Chuck Wendig uses Payhip to sell his craft books and writing tutorials — content creators aren’t limited to the written word.
Quilter Kristy Lea has built a loyal customer base by selling her custom quilting patterns, illustrated above. And Maddy Corbin, an Instagram influencer, makes popular photo filters that fans can purchase and download to give their pictures the iconic look that helped Corbin amass more than 45,000 followers.
How to get started as a content creator
If you have expertise, you can’t wait to share with the world, or a great idea for an ebook that’s just begging to be written, it’s tempting to sit down and start creating. However, if you want to monetize your creations and potentially become a full-time content creator, it’s wise to do a bit of planning and first lay the foundation for your new venture.
Find your niche
You may already know exactly what you want to create, but if you’re still unsure, here are a few tips to get you started.
Consider your expertise. If you’ve worked in a specific industry for years or become a self-taught expert in a certain niche, look for ways you can create content around it. Whether you’re a cookie connoisseur or a product marketing pro, odds are, there’s an audience willing to pay for your knowledge and likely a hole that needs to be filled. “I originally wrote my book Exploring Nature With Children as it was the resource that I so desperately wanted myself as I began to home educate my young children,” says Lynn Seddon, a homeschooling mother who’s passionate about teaching kids about the natural world.
- Follow your passion. Whether content creation will be your side hustle or a full-time job, you’ll enjoy the process — and stick with it — if you’re pursuing something you’re interested in. “What started as a hobby and designing patterns just for my own use soon turned into a business,” says Lea, who’s been designing quilting patterns since 2011. “Designing and making is an essential part of my day. It’s been incredibly rewarding to have turned my hobby into a business and working on what I love every day.”
- Look at content trends. Not sure where to start? Take a look at sites like Payhip, Etsy, Patreon, and Shopify and see what’s popular. You can also check out what queries are entered on Google, view what’s popular on Kickstarter, see which items are moving up Amazon’s best-sellers list, or take a look at what products are most often added to Amazon users’ wish lists and registries. Recognizing what consumers are interested in and identifying trends may spark a great idea for content creation.
Research the market and analyze your competitors
Before you start writing, filming, sketching, or whatever you plan to do, take some time to familiarize yourself with existing content and identify opportunities in your market.
Consider these questions as you do your research:
- How saturated is the market?
- Who else is creating content around this topic?
- What medium are they using? For example, are they blogging about the topic? Podcasting? Creating courses?
- What trends do you see in existing content?
- What’s performing or selling well, and why?
- What approaches are people not currently exploring?
- There may be a wealth of ebooks on your personal expertise, for example, but has anyone created a video tutorial on the topic?
“I recommend doing quite a bit of research,” Lea says. “Look at how others are presenting their work, find a point of difference, and then follow your own path.”
Now that you have an idea of what content currently exists and what space you want to create in, it’s time to identify your ideal audience.
Determine who your audience is
The best way to help you narrow down the composition of your audience is to develop a customer profile or user persona. A user persona is a profile of your perfect customer that details their background, desires, hobbies, values, behaviors, and more.
When you understand your customer, you’re better able to create content they’ll consume. In fact, research by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association found that 90% of companies that create user personas have a better understanding of their buyers.
So think about who you’re making content for and what they need or want from that content. When you put your audience first, you’re guaranteed to create something they’re going to click on, learn more about, and purchase.
With solid knowledge of both the current market and your audience, you can now delve a bit deeper into the content you’ll be creating. This involves not only ideas about what you’ll create but also the unique angle or approach you can take to set your content apart.
Here are a few ways to help you get organized and start ideating:
- Talk to your audience. Often, the best way to find out what kind of content people want to is to ask them. Host your own focus group. Talk to people in your industry or particular niche about what they’re looking for or what they think is missing from current content.
- Do keyword research. Even if you’re new to search engine optimization, it’s easy to get started with SEO and do a little research to determine what people are searching for and how they’re phrasing questions about your area of expertise. Keyword research can also spark new ideas that you may not have considered.
- Look at your competitors. What are they doing successfully? What could they do better? What gaps are in their work that you could fill?
- Consider your medium. Think about how your audience would want to consume your type of content, as well as what medium would convey your particular information best. For example, should you start a blog, launch a podcast, or write an ebook?
- Identify necessary resources. Also, think about what other resources you may need to create the best possible content, such as an audio engineer for your podcast or an editor or cover designer for your ebook.
Platforms for content creators to sell their work
To monetize your content, you’ll need a way to easily sell it. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular platforms content creators use to launch their products.
Users can sell a variety of products, including ebooks, design assets, courses, software, music, patterns, memberships, and more. The platform makes it easy for users to sell their creations directly to consumers with just a link.
Payhip handles file storage, payment processing, and product delivery. And if you’re a seller in the EU, Payhip handles EU VAT on behalf of its users, which is a big plus for users like author Joanna Penn. “It’s a great service that allows payment through card or PayPal, is easy-to-use with built-in marketing and analysis tools, and also deals with the EU digital tax laws, which many other services don’t do,” she writes.
Cost: Payhip takes 5% per transaction.
Learn more about how Payhip works.
While Etsy is primarily known as a marketplace for crafters and vintage sellers, plenty of content creators also sell digital products. Some of the most popular items are art prints, ebooks, templates, greeting cards, coloring-book pages, and crochet/knitting/embroidery patterns.
Cost: It’s free to maintain a shop, but there are numerous Etsy fees for sellers, including listing fees, transaction fees, subscription fees, and shipping fees.
Patreon empowers content creators of all kinds to run a subscription content service, and it’s especially popular for podcasters and creators who work with visual mediums. Users can earn a monthly income by providing subscribers with exclusive perks and rewards.
Cost: Pateron charges three types of fees: platform fees, payment-processing fees, and payout fees.
Here’s how to get started with Patreon.
If you’ll be creating written content, consider launching a newsletter on Substack, a platform that makes it easy for content creators to monetize email subscriptions.
Cost: If you offer a free newsletter, you can use Substack for free, regardless of how many subscribers you have. If you make your subscription paid, Substack collects 10% of your revenue.
Check out Substack’s guide to make your newsletter paid.
How content creators can monetize their work
Content creators can make money in several different ways, but these methods fall into three main categories: sales, advertisements, and donations.
The actual sale of the product created or the service offered is the most obvious way for a content creator to make money.
This could entail the sale of creations such as ebooks, courses, design templates, photo filters, and sewing patterns, for example, while services could include consultations, coaching sessions, and audits.
For example, Raimondi offers both products (her raw vegan cookbooks) and services (her one-on-one coaching sessions).
Another way content creators can cash in is by advertising on their chosen platform, which can take many different forms, such as the following:
- Brand sponsorships: Brands often turn to content creators who have amassed an audience to promote the brand and its products. Often, such creators are microinfluencers — social media users with 1,000 to 100,000 followers — who have amassed a highly engaged niche following.
- Ads: You can monetize traffic to your website, such as your blog or ecommerce store, by running ads on it. One of the most popular ad platforms is Google AdSense, which serves text, photo, and video ads targeted to a website’s content and audience. For example, the Google ads on AdventureCats.org are often for pet-related products and travel gear, as illustrated below.
- Affiliate programs: When you place affiliate links in your content, you can earn a portion of the revenue from sales when a user makes a purchase. The Amazon Affiliate Program is the most popular of these, but plenty of brands invite content creators and influencers to participate in the companies’ own individual affiliate programs.
Several websites and tools make it easy for content creators to collect donations from their followers.
In addition to Patreon, customers can send their favorite creators cash through Venmo or Transpay. And the idea of donating may seem more attractive to some contributors if it’s framed differently — like leaving a tip on tipeee.com.
Anyone can be a content creator
In today’s digital world, there are opportunities for anyone — regardless of skills, interests, or experience — to be a content creator.
However, becoming a successful content creator isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time to amass a body of work, effectively market your products, and build an audience.
For example, ebook authors can’t simply write one book and expect to instantly start accruing passive income. Just like any content creator, they must learn how to convert leads into paying readers.
But with persistence, you may be able to turn your side gig of creating content into a lucrative, full-time pursuit.