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How to Run a Creator Business: Monetizing Your Content

On a white table sits a keyboard, a cup of coffee, a pair of eyeglasses, a green leafy plant, and a tablet. The tablet shows a page with the words "online marketing" as a way for monetizing your content.

Did you know that creators make most of their money through product endorsements and affiliate marketing? Some creators do OK with direct audience contributions too. So how do you set these up? And, when you negotiate a marketing deal with a brand or advertising agency, how do you set a fair price? What are some of the things in a contract you should pay attention to? We answer these questions on monetizing your content for you.

This blog post is the third in our series on How to Run a Creator Business. Our first set of articles explained the fundamentals of intellectual property law because creators make IP. Understanding IP will help you design a good business plan. It’ll also help you negotiate your contracts.

Our second set of articles profile different content platforms that you can use to share your content. We point out which platforms will pay creators for creating content.

In this third set of articles, we’ll go over some of the ways a creator can make money that do not involve the content platforms. These include setting up donation services, doing affiliate marketing, and making direct deals with brands for endorsements or ambassadorships.

Let’s start with a quick review of the different ways you can monetize your content.

Creators Can Monetize Their Content in Many Ways

Earlier in our How to Run a Creator Business series, in the intro article on content platforms, we went over a list of different ways a creator can make money from their content. As a review, here’s the list:

  • Endorsements. You’re paid by the brand to do general advertising for the brand.
  • Affiliate marketing. You earn a commission for each sale of a specific product or service.
  • Platform ad revenue/revenue share. You’re paid by showing ads alongside your content.
  • Direct payment from audience through platforms. The audience rewards you for great work on a case-by-case basis.
  • Subscriptions. Your audience pays per issue/episode much like buying a magazine, book, or newspaper. Some subscriptions include special content made only for subscribers.
  • Audience support. Your audience sends money to you to keep you going. This can be one-time or recurring payments.
  • Merchandising. You sell items such as T-shirts, hats, etc. The merchandise usually shows your own artwork, photo print, and similar.

We went over platform revenue share, direct payments from audience through platforms, and subscriptions in our articles on content platforms. This is because you need to work with the content platforms to set up these ways to make money.

But you can set up endorsements, affiliate marketing, and audience support without the content platforms’ help. Yes, some platforms will help you connect with advertisers. But, mostly, you’re on your own looking for and setting up these ways to monetize your content. Our articles linked from this post will give you the details.

A Quick Word on Making Money Through Merchandising

Before we dive into endorsements, affiliate marketing, and so forth, let’s quickly cover merchandising. Some content platforms like YouTube will help you with merchandising. They have deals with various vendors where you can print your logo or artwork on hats, T-shirts, mugs, and similar. You can then place a link to your store while your video is showing and sell your merchandise this way.

But most platforms won’t have the software functionality to help you set this up. Still, nothing prevents you from selling your own merchandise through a link from your video, your article, your podcast, etc. This is no different from selling any merchandise. You’ll have to contact suppliers and pay for the inventory. Or work with print-on-demand services. Then, you set up an online store and ship what you sell. We’ve also seen writers work with big publishers or self-publish and then sell their books or printed material (e.g. calendars) this way.

If you’re interested in selling your own branded merchandise, we’ve got a lot of articles on this website that can help you with the process. For example, here’s the start of our series on setting up online stores. Here are some articles on how to take DIY product photography for your online store. This article is on product packaging tips. And, if you’re going to sell merchandise, we encourage you to formalize your business by setting up an LLC or a corporation. Just go to our Blog section from the menu and look through the intro articles. All the detailed explanation articles are linked from the intros.

But merchandising can get complicated. So, if you want a simpler way to monetize your content, you might want to start with direct audience support.

How to Set Up Direct Audience Support

A time-honored way for a creator to make enough money to keep creating is through audience contributions or tips. Lots of content platforms already help creators do this. The platforms collect the contributions and sometimes take a fee before passing the money to the creators.

But, if your content platform doesn’t have this service or if you don’t want to go through the content platform, you’ll need another way to collect the money.

There are platforms especially designed to help creators take audience contributions. Probably the best known one is Patreon. There are a few others that provide similar services. We profile a few for you here:

Best Crowdfunding Platforms for Creators

Once you’re set up on one of these audience support platforms, you can put a contribute button on your website or mention your page on your podcast and get support this way.

You Can Monetize Your Content Through Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is another popular, platform-independent way for creators to monetize their content. Essentially, you sign up with businesses that have an affiliate marketing program, get a unique link, and get a commission for any sale finalized through that link. Usually, you can sign up for as many affiliate links as you like.

It’s up to you to find companies that offer affiliate marketing and then sign up to their program. You figure out the niche you want to sell in and do your own research.

Affiliate marketing commissions are set by the company offering the marketing. Usually, you won’t be able to negotiate the commission percentage.

The typical affiliate marketing commission ranges from 5% to 30%. Amazon has a table for their standard affiliate rates. Target pays up to 8%. Walmart pays up to 4%. Many other businesses offer affiliate marketing opportunities as well. Usually, there’s a link somewhere on their website that will take you to their program.

With written material, affiliate marketing can be done through a text or image link. Some video platforms like YouTube will help you display affiliate links as your videos play. With podcasts, you might have to read out a link along with an offer code.

Brand Endorsements and Brand Ambassadorships Offer Creators Lucrative Marketing Deals

According to this Deloitte study, one of the most lucrative ways for creators to make money is through brand endorsements and brand ambassadorships. A brand endorsement can be a one-time deal while a brand ambassadorship tends to be a longer term deal, sometimes giving you a steady income stream.

Deals with brands are more tailored to the situation and to the project. So, unlike the other ways a creator can monetize their content, there’s no standard percentage of rev share or commission that’s offered to everyone. The final price often depends on the number of your followers, the audience engagement rate, and various other factors. You’ll have to negotiate your fees for each deal.

Price is an Important Part of Any Marketing Deal

When most people negotiate business deals, they focus on the pricing. If it’s a deal for services, they’ll usually also pay attention to what the services are, and whether the price is appropriate for the level of service.

They’re mostly right.

Where it comes to business deals with an IP component, however, there’s more to negotiate. IP is worth money, so the final price can go up or down, depending on what IP rights are included. We’ll focus on IP rights in the next section. We bring it up here so you understand that the pricing we’re looking at in this section—price-per-follower-count and price-per-engagement—isn’t everything in a creator’s marketing deal.

So, how do you find the standard price for a post or the usual price for a customized video? For every industry—including the marketing industry—there usually is a range of “standard pricing.” But this range often isn’t publicly available.

There are two ways you can find a rough range for standard pricing, though. One is to get someone or an agency to represent you. Industry insiders usually know the range because they negotiate a lot of deals with a lot of advertisers. The other way is to chat with your competitors or peers. Some of them may share the information with you.

We dug through various websites and a lot of industry news articles and found some leads for you. Read this article for the details.

How to Set Your Influencer Rate

Your IP Can Help You Raise Your Price

Once you find a price range for a post, a video, etc., most people simply ask for the high end of the range. The brand will probably counter with a lower range. Maybe you go back and forth a little bit on the price and the work included for the price.

But, if you only negotiate price and service, you’ll be missing a lot of items you can use to raise your price at no cost to you. This is because there’s IP involved in the project. And where there’s IP, there are some natural questions you can ask to create added value to your services. These questions include:

Do you own the Instagram post? Does the brand? If the brand owns it, can they repost it anywhere and at a much later date? If you own it, how long does it have to stay in your feed? Can you take it off after, say, 6 months? If they want you to keep it in your feed for longer, should they pay you extra? If you own the work product, can you modify it later for another brand?

We’re sure you can come up with similar questions. And the answer to each question can be worth money.

We go over the ways to negotiate these items as well as explain some contract terms you might encounter in our article on negotiation tips for creator contracts:

How to Negotiate an Influencer Contract, for Creators

Most Creators Don’t Get Super Rich, but Some Will be Able to Make a Living

We’ve all heard of those reports about a creator earning six or even seven figures per Instagram post. Sure, some mega influencers can earn this much. But most creators earn a few hundred or a few thousand dollars per project. Or, if you do affiliate marketing or take direct audience support, you might make a few thousand dollars a month. While creators aren’t the stereotypical starving artists, most aren’t getting rich either.

Depending on which source you look at, a mid-tier content creator can make somewhere between about $35,000 to about $60,000 per year. The information isn’t clear on whether this is before or after paying taxes, however.

All this is to say, every piece of information we’ve presented in our How to Run a Creator Business series can make a difference for you to earn enough to make a living as a creator. We know that there’s a perception that creators—at least, the influencers—make easy money. But when you look at all the types of content the creators make, being a creator is more about working hard on something you’re passionate about that entertains or informs others in some way.

Being a creator isn’t a get rich quick scheme. And monetizing your content can be very hard work. But it can be worth it.

Next Up

This is the end of our creator series. Next, we turn to something every small business can use: bookkeeping.

When you’re just starting a business and are in the prep stage, you’ll likely only need to keep a very simple set of books. This is mostly to keep track of the money that’s going out. After all, you haven’t opened for business yet. At this stage, you might even be able to just keep track of your money with a generic spreadsheet.

But, eventually, you’ll start taking in revenue. With some types of businesses, you’ll have a handful of invoices per month. It’s not that hard to keep track of this yourself and input the revenue by hand. But with other types of businesses, you’ll have (hopefully) hundreds of receipts per day. It would be impractical to enter the receipts manually.

The good news is that there are a lot of bookkeeping and accounting software with automated features to help you keep track of your money. We’ll take a look at how small businesses can set up an accounting system next.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

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