How to build your own business in the creator economy
ConvertKit is the creator marketing platform built for creators, by creators. As the hub for creator businesses, ConvertKit centers its platform around your most important asset—your audience. We build powerful tools you can use to learn about, connect with, and easily sell to your audience.
If you want to know how the creator economy is going, try an experiment.
Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up.
In days past, the answers would be big-time aspirational: astronauts, athletes, and movie stars. But more recent surveys show children in the U.S. and U.K. are thrice as likely to respond with “vlogger” or “YouTube star” as they are “astronaut.”
But let’s give the kids some credit: the creator economy has turned “YouTube star” into a valid career choice.
If earning money online once sounded too good to be true, times have changed. In ConvertKit’s State of the Creator Economy Report, the marketing platform found that 22% of creators earn between $50,000 and $100,000 annually. So what are they doing to achieve that success?
Let’s dive deeper into what the creator economy is and explore how creators are taking advantage of this booming industry.
What is the creator economy?
Have you ever downloaded a digital package from your favorite artist? How about signing up for a course from an established coach? Or perhaps you’ve engaged with bloggers and vloggers who’ve appeared in your social media feeds? Without potentially knowing it, you’ve contributed to the creator economy.
The creator economy comprises coaches, artists, digital teachers, vloggers, and anyone under the “creator” umbrella. Often, these cohorts market and sell digital products and content online, using well-known channels such as email, social media, and video to generate buzz and sales for their products.
The rise of the creator hasn’t only changed how we consume content. It’s also changed the average content creator’s perception of what’s possible. Worth an estimated $100 billion, the creator economy is bringing digital popularity to the masses. Anyone with a camera, an idea, and an internet connection can join.
But it’s one thing to hope to be a creator when you grow up. This new creator-led economy still requires a system for creating, publishing, and distributing content, which is where ConvertKit — the first major creator marketing platform built by creators, for creators — comes in handy.
What is a creator?
A creator is anyone who builds a following online by publishing some form of content. Blog writing, coaching, social media engagement, informative or entertaining videos—it’s all a form of digital creation. In the State of the Creator Report, the 10 most common creator types were:
How do these creators earn their money? It varies—a lot. For Daphnee Lagredelle, building her following meant leveraging her Facebook presence. With 62,000 followers on the platform, she needed a tool to move her following from Facebook to her own community. She used ConvertKit’s landing pages to sign her followers up for an exclusive newsletter.
From there, “Daphnee’s Community” (the name of her newsletter) automatically sends out welcome emails or pushes her coaching programs. She’s since built $100,000+ in consistent revenue from this process.
Justin Moore’s approach was similar, though he came from YouTube. But even though Justin built a modest following with his creator courses, it wasn’t until he used ConvertKit’s landing pages that he started to build his own community.
Justin leveraged a lead magnet — a free list of 50 brand deal platforms — in exchange for his fans’ email addresses. And with a burgeoning list, he was able to earn $40,000+ when launching his new course, Brand Deal Wizard.
The roadmap to becoming a professional creator
Let’s say you’ve put the time into creating content. You’ve found a few people who value your brand. Congrats! Believe it or not, you have an audience. Even if it’s only a few hundred people, those followers constitute your first true fans.
Now it’s time to turn your side hustle or hobby into something more and leverage your existing audience into a full-time, profitable business.
If that sounds too ambitious, remember: the economic landscape is shifting. The State of the Creator Economy Report found nearly half of creators are already full-time. And things are changing fast — 24% of those creators launched their businesses during the pandemic.
The four building blocks of professional creators
In any new endeavor, you need to start with the fundamentals. We’ve identified four building blocks that professional creators leverage time and again to build their businesses:
- Structure your business strategically
- Create multiple types of content
- Optimize your lead generation
- Build a product funnel
#1: Structure your business strategically
The strategic approach means creating a conscious plan for audience growth and content generation. You aren’t haphazardly slapping content onto your social media in the vague hope that you’ll build an audience.
Take Cara Chace, whose digital marketing agency includes a narrow focus on Pinterest growth. That strategy came about when she noticed that 80% of her traffic was coming from that platform alone. She organized her business around the Pinterest funnel, set up landing pages to capture incoming traffic, and built a newsletter community.
Chase employs a strategy of increasingly attractive lead magnets and upsells. Then she uses ConvertKit to initiate an email sequence that demonstrates the power of her program, the Pin Power Method. And if people read the emails but don’t sign up, Chace also includes a strategy for them. ConvertKit kicks off a sequence with weekly emails full of evergreen content that keep the leads warm.
Every aspect of the funnel – from choosing a niche to sequences for people who didn’t purchase – is part of the overall strategy. That leaves every incoming lead feeling like they’ve had a newsletter experience crafted specifically for their needs.
#2: Create multiple types of content
What’s the best medium for your content? In a multiple-choice quiz, look for “All of the above.”
The ConvertKit State of the Creator Economy Report found many creators were renaissance people — tackling all sorts of content styles. Most reported using at least three: social media, blogs, and newsletters. Still more use short-form videos, digital products and courses, and even books or art.
Why use multiple forms of content? It means casting a wider net. Daren Smith views every strategy as part of his “media network,” all serving the same essential purpose. And what’s more, the wider net means his business compounds that much faster:
I see all these different efforts—the podcast, the blog, my Twitter—as different shows within the Craftsman Creative media network. They are different types of content, but they’re in service of the same audience, so they all lead to the exact same email course and compound much faster.-Daren Smith
You’ll get more eyes on your content. Plus you’ll run more tests on which content resonates most with your audience. And when you know that, you have another tool in your arsenal. You know how to start your lead generation strategy.
#3: Optimize your lead generation
Lead generation is finding and nurturing potential customers until they’ve taken action, like signing up for a free newsletter. A “lead” isn’t a customer, but they’re no longer strangers.
That still leaves the question of which strategic approach to lead generation is best. For content creator Precious Oboidhe of Content Estate, that means using a framework he’s dubbed “ST3E”:
- S: Show results to build audience trust
- T: Teach the audience how to overcome a challenge
- E: Educate the audience on a new piece of knowledge
- E: Empower the audience by creating content based on this knowledge
- E: Entertain the audience
Once you’ve got their attention and engagement, it’s simply a matter of adding lead nurturing infrastructure. Some people dub this the “product funnel.”
#4: Build a product funnel
Sticking with ST3E, one way to teach your audience is to build a lead magnet. For example, brand strategist Piper de Young encourages people to sign up for her newsletter by offering a free brand style guide.
Kelsey Baldwin recommends focusing on the value of your lead generation offering. To that end, she built a 15-page PDF lead magnet that summarized key topics her students would need to learn before taking her course, dubbing it “Cliff’s Notes.”
“It’s about pulling out a few pieces that might entice them to take the next step and decide they actually want to learn more about the program,” says Baldwin, who ultimately earned $18,000+ in the initial launch of her course.
Creators who build these funnels in advance also have an additional benefit: it works whether or not you’re physically present.
“This is my favorite part of using ConvertKit,” says Jessica Beacom of Real Food Dieticians. “If we decided to shut our doors for a few weeks and take a vacation, we would still have content going out and staying top of mind with our readers. The platform just makes it easy.”
How professional creators monetize their audience
Long-term creator careers have become realistic job options. Call it the “creator middle class.”
The report states, “22% of full-time creators are sitting pretty in that middle-class revenue range between $50,000-$150,000.”
Why does this matter? For starters, the distribution of income matters. If only 1% of creators earn 99% of the money, it doesn’t bode well for a creator platform. As Harvard Business Review noted, Vine was doomed as soon as creators realized there was more wealth on YouTube and Instagram. “Creator platforms flourish when they provide an opportunity for anyone to grow and succeed,” said the review.
You don’t have to strike digital gold to succeed. However, the more common creator success becomes, the more it will change perceptions of content creation as a legitimate career.
Types of digital products creators use to earn a living
So how are these creators earning that middle-class income? Here are some of the top digital products professional creators build:
- Ebooks. Ebooks make great digital products and, with enough information written in, value-packed lead magnets.
- Paid newsletters. What’s the most direct way to earn a living from a community of followers? Paid newsletters keep your income consistent—as long as you deliver plenty of value every time your emails go out.
- Webinars. Some people prefer video coaching. Webinars help you leverage your time by sitting down for a few hours' worth of content—which you can then publish and send out to paying customers repeatedly.
- Podcasts. Audio-only? No problem. Podcasts are great for promoting your community, attracting new visitors, or even repackaging into paid content.
- Online courses. For many creators, the online course is the ultimate destination—the upsell behind it all. By packing in all sorts of lessons and information into an easy-to-digest format, you can build a product once and sell it over and over again. Learn how to set up a sales funnel for online courses.
Best practices for scaling an online business as a creator
- Stay tax compliant at home and abroad. You can automate the tax compliance process with a tool like Quaderno!
- Create loyal customers by focusing also on the post-purchase experience.
- Learn how to sell to international customers so you can enter new markets. (Complying with tax rules in new markets is key, too!)
How to use ConvertKit as the hub of your creator business
You can help launch a new class of creators simply by becoming one yourself. ConvertKit has all the tools and resources you need to create the building blocks of a successful business. From landing pages, funnels, and commerce, you can leverage and grow your audience into a thriving community.
All you need is to add the same building blocks that professional creators use to build sustainable, predictable businesses. Better yet, you can do it from a platform that you control. Sign up for a free trial to test out ConvertKit today.