How to Get Insanely Rich in the Creator Economy
The Ultimate Step-by-Step Comprehensive Guide [Updated for 2022]
You’ve done it. By starting this article, you’ve taken the first step towards becoming a rich and successful member of the Creator Economy. Your life as a basic consumer is coming to an end. You’re going to make things.
And thanks to the Internet, you can make a good living doing it too. Gone are the days of languishing away in borderline starvation, subsisting on a diet of cigarettes and PBR in your New Jersey apartment, waiting for your big break.
The future is here. You can get rich as a creator. And you can do it without anyone’s permission, without THE MAN bestowing his grace upon you, without doing your time, and without even having to get particularly good.
Whatever your art of choice is, there’s a place for you in this strange new world, and it’s possible for you to get wonderfully, fabulously rich.
Are you ready?
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Zero to 10k
You might assume the first step is to start practicing your craft and get exceptional at interdimensional pan-sexual pottery or whatever it is you’ve chosen, but no! Being good is fine. Getting really great is a waste of time.
Your goal isn’t to be the best potter, dancer, photographer, or writer. Your goal is to make enough money to finally feel worthy of love. You don’t need to be great; you need followers. You need influence. And you’ll have to work pretty hard to get it started.
It’s challenging, but the process is simple. Go to your distribution platform of choice, probably Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok these days. Maybe Instagram if you can be a Professional Hot Person. Comb through all the videos of people whose success fills you with jealous rage. Take notes on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
How do they format their content? What’s their lighting and cutting like? What about their thumbnails or hero images? How do they speak? What topics do they focus on? What trends do they jump on?
It will be tempting here to say, “I’m a special snowflake. I’m going to do my own thing!” Don’t do that. Cigarettes and PBR in Jersey, remember? Some influencers will tell you to “be yourself,” but they have survivorship bias. They don’t remember the grind. It’s easy to give that kinda bullshit advice when you’ve already won.
We want a strategy that we know will work, which is why your goal is to feed the algorithm. To figure out not what people like but what TikTok and YouTube and Twitter like so they put you in front of the scrolling masses who can subscribe to you. You thought you were breaking out of having a boss? Hah, no, your boss is now the codebase of hungover 20-somethings in San Bruno. Good luck getting a promotion.
Anyway, after extensive research, you will know how to satisfy THE FEED for your niche, so go make that. Start a spreadsheet where you track everything you create and how well it does in terms of likes and followers, and keep refining around the most successful stuff until you’ve hit your stride.
It will feel awkward at first, but eventually, that little nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “this doesn’t feel authentic!” will get drowned out by an endless stream of dopamine. Every time you pick up your phone, you’ll see some new stranger in Bangalore has opted-in to your rehashing of Wikipedia pages. It’s better than coke.
The magic number you’re targeting is 10,000 on most platforms, except for email, where 1,000 will get you rolling. With 10,000 followers on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram, you have a foundation of initial viewers for any piece of content that increases its potential to go viral. The Feed wants to see what you’re publishing is doing well before it promotes it to people who didn’t opt-in, so the more initial viewers you have to give it those likes and shares, the more likely it is to take off.
At various points in your journey from 0 to 10,000 you will hit a wall. When that happens, you have a few options:
Option One: You can power through, be patient, and recognize that variations in results are normal. The school system and the corporate job ladder brainwashed you into expecting a pleasant, predictable life of advancing to a new grade or earning a 7% raise every year, but the real world is not so linear. You’re in creator land now, where one year you might quadruple your income and then lose 50% of it next year. Once you accept this variance, you can calmly stomach these lulls.
Option Two: You can pay someone to make you feel better about the wait, usually through coaching or courses. There are a few diamonds in the rough of the coaching-creators niche, but many of them are just poorly repackaged information you could have gotten for free. HOWEVER! You do get a certificate.
If you do want to speed things up considerably, though, there is one hack that legitimately works: find someone influential to endorse you. If you can get your content in front of a major creator in your niche and they share it, that will accelerate your growth dramatically. It’s hard to understate how powerful this can be. There are entrepreneur influencers who wouldn’t get invited to a high school guest lecture, but they got one good guest post on Tim Ferriss’s blog 10 years ago, and hey, now they’re famous.
So that’s step one. Get to the 10k/1k mark by whatever means necessary. And, look, it will take a little bit, but it’s not rocket science. Don’t overthink it. Stop trying to be special, figure out what the feed wants, and give it to it. You can have your individuality back later.
Before you hit that 10k/1k mark, it’s not worth thinking about monetization. It’ll be too distracting, and the revenue won’t be worth chasing. But once you’re there, you can start to dip your toes in.
Your initial monetization options are typically:
Go ahead and turn on whichever ones appeal to you most. You’ll have to start making some sales to get good ads and affiliate deals, but it will be worth it to start monetizing your passion. Well, the perverted version of your passion for satisfying the feed anyway.
You’ll probably notice, though, that none of these are paying very much. Say you convert 10% of your email subscribers to a paid newsletter at $7 a month. Now you’re earning $700 a month.
If you’re getting 10,000 YouTube views daily, you’re probably also earning around $700 a month.
Maybe you get some really strong affiliate deals or negotiate ads outside the default ones, but you’re going to have a hard time making more than $1,000 per month off an audience like this. Even with more advanced monetization strategies like merchandise.
One option is to go for the massive audience. Double down on feeding the feed, develop Mr. Beast's levels of obsession with cracking the algorithm, and go for millions of subscribers. Once you get to that level, you’ll be able to make a killing off ads and affiliates and won’t have to worry about other monetization schemes.
The downside of this strategy is that it’s extremely hard. You may have been able to carve out a niche so far, but getting to mass appeal means winning the algorithm lottery. There’s only so much attention and time to go around, and if you want to get into the millions of subscribers territory, you have to be exceptionally good. You can go that route if you feel confident or motivated to pull it off, but the odds are low and it’s a long road.
If your goal is to make tons of money with the highest odds of success, then you’ll want to pursue one of the other main monetization routes. These routes focus on changing your content and audience targeting again so you attract higher value followers you can sell things to instead of just attracting people who like you for your work.
The main routes available to you are:
Joining the Creator Economy Pyramid Scheme
Building a Creator-Based Business
Becoming a Creator-Investor
They typically follow that order, too, though you might skip around depending on your interests and skills.
Joining the Creator Pyramid Scheme
The reason it’s hard to make money off the initial audience of followers is they’re not motivated to spend money.
They’re following you for entertainment. They want to curl up in bed with their phone and forget about their student loans or monkeypox for a bit, and you are their panacea. You’re the jester, dancing for the court’s entertainment, holding out your hat at the end, hoping for a gold coin.
But you can do better than that. Instead of getting a bigger audience, attract a more valuable audience. An audience that wants to spend money because they believe that by spending money, they’ll make more money later.
While continuing to grow your audience, you start sprinkling in content about how to grow an audience. You talk about how you cracked the algorithm, what types of content are working for you, what headlines, hero images, and things like that are moving the needle.
The most important tip for creating this kind of content is to focus on things people think they can do instead of making them feel hopeless. Obviously, the most important part of growing a writing audience is whether someone is smart and has interesting things to say. But don’t focus on that. It might make your potential customers feel hopeless. Focus on easier stuff like building a daily writing habit or removing all the adverbs from their posts. Here are 10 pieces of airport non-fiction you can read that will totally change your life. That will inspire confidence and make success seem much more achievable.
If you’re growing a YouTube audience, discuss the gear you use. Obviously, the gear is why your content is good. If it’s Instagram, discuss how you format captions or your posting schedule. Not the genetic lottery ticket you got from your rich, tall, biracial parents.
You might feel a bit of imposter syndrome when you start doing this. You’re not making much money yet, so who are you to tell other would-be creators how to grow their audience?
That imposter syndrome is just holding you back, though. You need to power through it. When people see a large number of subscribers, they will assume you’re making a ton of money. No one will assume your lifestyle is secretly subsidized by your parents or partner.
Now that you’ve shifted your audience goals from just the mass of people interested in your art form to the additional focus of the other creators in your niche trying to make it, you can monetize much better.
Keep the ads and affiliates and memberships going since they’ll provide some extra Chipotle money, but now you can bring out the big guns: courses and coaching.
Coaching is limited due to its one-to-one or one-to-few nature, and your goal is to scale your business as much as possible. A good course, whether cohort-based or self-paced, can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually with relatively few customers.
The courses you can create for other creators will typically fall into one of three buckets:
How to get started
How to grow your audience
How to be productive
So you might have a course on “how to start your cosmic pottery business,” “how to grow your cosmic pottery business,” and “how to do all your pottery in two hours a day.”
As those succeed and your audience of creators grows, you can branch out into broader topics. Maybe instead of a specific “pottery in two hours a day topic,” you do a “how to be a productive creator entrepreneur” topic. Creators in other niches will happily pay for the same rehashed productivity tips they can elsewhere for free.
The same can be said for the “how to grow your following” content. You start with your niche and then make it broader to attract creators from other niches. You don’t need to have any special magical tactics, hardly any of these courses do, but they sell like hotcakes. People like paying for the sense of progress, and they value the information more just because it’s behind a paywall.
You might think, too, that you should put your best content behind the paywall and give the less good stuff away for free. No! You need the best stuff to be free to attract new audience members, then you can condense and mash it up in the paid material. It’s like luxury goods. People value it because they paid a lot for it. Not because it’s necessarily better. Be sure to pepper the landing page with phrases like “INVEST IN YOURSELF” so it doesn’t feel like they’re spending money.
Now you should be chugging along, making great money, and growing your audience. Your content about the topic you started off with creates the top-of-funnel audience that pumps up your numbers and makes you look successful and authoritative. Then you can sell courses on growing an audience and making money as a creator to the members who decide they want to take the leap too.
You can keep doubling down on this strategy and focus your efforts here, but it will top out eventually. There are only so many people trying to become creators, and you can only produce so much content on the topic before it gets repetitive.
So the next, more lucrative strategy you can pursue is to:
Build a Creator-Based Business
You’ve created tons of content on pottery and on how to grow a pottery audience, but you’ve run out of things to talk about.
You could try to scale way back, put most of your business on autopilot and do the few things you want to do. But you’re looking at all the affiliate revenue you’re starting to drive to other businesses and wondering: “what if I sent that traffic to my own business?”
So you do some research and find a manufacturer in China who can make a version of the pottery wheel you recommend, but with some of your own modifications incorporated. You set up a Shopify store, get your new influencer buddies to help promote the launch, and the business does over $100,000 in sales in the first month.
The first shipment of the product turns out faulty, and you get a bunch of terrible reviews. No worries, though. You hosted this on your own site, so you can just go in and delete all the bad reviews.
Eventually, you’ll figure out your quality control, and the pottery wheels will fly off the digital shelves. Then you can add brushes, stools, organization baskets, paints, and suddenly you have a whole artisan pottery crafts store chugging along thanks to your content.
Maintaining inventory and paying for help is expensive, so you really have to stay on top of your content cadence now. You’ve spread out to every platform available, constantly trying new things, always looking for a new way to game the algorithm so you can keep the stream of traffic coming to your store. It’s not just your salary on the line now, it’s your whole team. One of them just had a kid and another got a mortgage.
The business is booming, but you can only pay yourself so much from it. It turns out that when people told you they were “making millions of dollars” they meant topline revenue, and their net profit was only 10% of that number. You can hopefully sell the business one day, but in the meantime, you want some additional way to make money. So you look around and realize people are following you partly because you’re a successful entrepreneur. And because of your success and influence, people are asking you to invest in their own creator-based businesses.
So, naturally, you can then become a creator-investor.
Becoming a Creator-Investor
“Don’t I need a ton of money to be an investor?”
“Don’t I need investment experience to be an investor?”
Once you write your first $5,000 check into a friend’s company, you’re good to go. Update your Twitter bio and sign up for AngelList, because you’re an Angel Investor, baby. You’re ready to help dole out capital to hopeful entrepreneurs trying to Make The World a Better Place.
Everyone with a new creative business wants your attention because they figure that if they can get in front of your tens of thousands of followers, they’ll get the boost they need to kickstart the word of mouth for their business. So they’re happy to let you buy a little equity since it means they get capital and more attention. Your audience makes you valuable even if you have no investment experience.
How do you get the capital to invest, though? Well, remember: when people see a large number of subscribers or followers, they assume you’re a smart, capable human being who knows what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced investor or know how to do due diligence. You have influence! And your followers will all assume you’re getting fabulously wealthy from the investment deals you access via your influence, so they want a part of it. And lucky for them, or at least you, you can cut them in on the action. As always, the real money is in helping people think they’re going to get rich.
Here’s how it works. You can start an AngelList Rolling Fund, where your followers invest in your venture fund every quarter. They’ll need to be accredited investors, but no one really verifies that they’re accredited, so a bunch of them will probably lie or stretch the truth to participate. Don’t worry, not really your problem.
Then, you get to invest this capital into businesses that come across your radar as an influencer. You don’t have to put in any capital of your own if you don’t want to, and you can charge a portion of the fund per year as your salary for managing the whole thing. If the businesses you invest in succeed, great, you get 20% of the return that you earned by investing other people’s money. If the business fails, you don’t lose anything. It’s a win-win for you, and you have no incentive to limit the size of your fund or even be particularly discerning about what you invest in.
It’s a fantastic way to monetize your influence with potentially massive returns without putting any of your own funds at risk.
It shouldn’t take too much time, too, since you can just toss money into whatever looks good or your other influencer friends are investing in. Kinda like how the content you’re creating doesn’t need to be good; it just needs to satisfy the feed; the companies you invest in don’t need to be good; they just need to be able to attract enough influencer promotion to make it to the next fundraising round where you can sell some shares and earn back a multiple on your investment.
If you decide that the investing thing is fun, you can always double down and become a full-fledged VC or join a VC firm as an advisor. If you get above 100,000 Twitter followers, Andreesen Horowitz automatically tries to recruit you, so you could start by reaching out to them. The game at that level is basically the same, but now you can spend even less time creating since you’re making so much money off investing in tools being sold to help creators sell more creator economy creations to would-be creators. Put out a blog post or two every month about how the Creator Economy is totally democratizing access to wealth and making the world a more equal place. You need people to keep believing that so they buy the fifth Instagram scheduling tool you invested in, not to mention that NFT minting platform.
Eventually, through some combination of courses, coaching, investing, ads, memberships, job boards, affiliates, products, and affiliates, you will hit some level of wealth when you can finally…
Quit the Game
One day you wake up and realize you got into this game to try to make money from your pottery, but you haven’t made a pot in months.
You thought you were quitting your job to pursue your passion, but now you’re reviewing pitch decks and answering AMAs in-between calls with your SEO and Ads agencies. A container full of your artisan pottery wheels slid off the top of the shipment from Asia, and your insurance company doesn’t want to reimburse the $675,000 loss. One of the investments your buddies got you into turned out to be a sketchy pharmaceutical shop. Google changed its algorithm, and you lost half of the traffic you were getting to the “pottery brushes” section of your site.
You’re making an order of magnitude more money than you were when you started, but your costs and your lifestyle have ballooned along with it. You have a team of employees helping with your videos who you have to stress out about feeding. You have a bigger house, nicer car, better restaurant tastes, and you don’t want to go back to lunch from Panera. You have a bunch of other rich entrepreneur influencer friends who you don’t want to lose the prestige of hanging out with.
You traded in one trapped life for another, but you can’t grumble about this new cage you’re in because you built it for yourself. It’s not your parents fault, it’s not society’s fault, it’s not your race, sex, zodiac sign, or that trauma hidden behind your left shoulder blade. It’s all on you. You chased money into this strange new space you’d never expected to find yourself in. But you don’t like this anymore. You want out.
So what now? You say you’re going to try to go back to your roots. Try to get really excellent at pottery, do it right, grow the audience and succeed purely based on your art and skill. No games, no playing in the pyramid scheme, no affiliate deals for products you don’t really like. No more LARPing as Warren Buffet with a pottery wheel. You’re an artist, dammit.
You stop taking deals, you sell off the company, you brush off your pottery wheel and sigh at how thin your calluses have gotten. It’s been years since you started this journey. You made the money, sure. But was it worth it? What if you had spent all that time working on becoming the best potter you could be?
You tell yourself you won’t get sucked in again. But deep down, you know you’ll go back. You have the curse of money now. You know how to turn it on, how to tap into those veins of riches. You’ve seen how the game is played, and it’s going to be hard to say no.
A few months later, you start to think: Maybe if you save up just a little more, your money fears will be gone for good, and you can do your work the way you want.
Just a little more.
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Nat, this is the best/worst thing you’ve ever written. You’ve captured the entirety of “making money on the internet” more powerfully than anything I’ve ever seen.