How to make money as a content creator: How we made $250k in one year


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If you would have told me years ago that I would one day become a content creator I would have thought you were crazy.

Back then, I didn’t even really fully understand what a content creator was, or how they made money. I certainly didn’t think it could be a lucrative career for the average person.

But then, in 2020, everything changed.

I was a full-time graphic design freelancer who was experiencing a bit of professional burnout. I just wanted to find a way to create a bit of passive income for myself so that I wasn’t so reliant on client work.

And so, I, along with my husband James and my sister Alaina launched TheSmokies.com – a regional travel blog about my home state (Tennessee).

Little did I know at the time, how that little travel blog would change my life.

a man smiles while working on his computer
(photo by Roman Samborskyi/shutterstock.com)

How much can you make being a content creator?

Professional content creators can make anywhere from a few hundred dollars a year to several million dollars per year.

The amount of money you can make is directly correlated to the amount of effort you are willing to put in.

It took four months of dedicated work on our first blog (TheSmokies.com) before it even qualified for ad monetization on a premium network. And even after getting accepted to Mediavine (our first ad management program), it barely produced enough money to pay for its own expenses (hosting, e-mail, freelancers, social media ads, etc) for months after that.

We didn’t even pay ourselves for the first year we were in business despite each of us putting in around 8-10 hours of work on the site per week – in addition to our day jobs.

However, despite the site’s slow start, by our first full calendar year in business (2021) we generated over $250,000 in revenue.

That’s when we knew we were onto something.

an excited woman poses for a picture inside of a mock instagram frame
(photo by Roman Samborskyi/shutterstock.com)

How do I start as a content creator?

To get started as a content creator, you simply need to choose a niche and figure out what sort of type of content you’d like to create.

There are a variety of mediums available for aspiring content creators including blogs, video-based sites, podcasts and social media.

And while most professional content creators tend to dabble in a variety of these mediums, I strongly suggest primarily focusing on one at a time when you’re just getting started.

It’s important, in the early days when your resources (including time and money) are limited, to narrow your focus and avoid spreading yourself too thin.

Odds are, you won’t become a full-time content creator overnight.

Speaking of limited resources – if you don’t have the funds to hire out for help, in the beginning, you’re going to have to get scrappy. Most content creators start out as solo acts and only scale as they can afford to do so.

In this article, I will list some of the most common mediums for content creators, what you’ll need to get started, and monetization methods for each.

First, let’s take a closer look at a few popular mediums.

1. Blogs

If you think blogs are a thing of the past, think again.

The fact that you’re reading one right now is proof that blogs are still relevant, and, in my opinion, quite lucrative.

So lucrative, that after we started seeing some success with TheSmokies.com, we ended up launching additional sites including:

Skills required to run a successful blog include writing, coding, design and SEO. If you are unfamiliar with any of these topics, I suggest either learning or hiring professional help.

You will also need a few basics: A domain name, a quality web hosting service (like BlueHost or BigScoots), WordPress (the industry standard for bloggers) and a lightweight WordPress theme (like GeneratePress).

I also recommend if you can’t take your own pictures, that you subscribe to a site like Shutterstock for licensed stock photos.

At the time of this writing, our primary sources of income on the blogs are ads and affiliate sales. However, we hope to break into digital downloads in the near future.

Read Also: Is it worth it to start a blog? How we made $250k

2. Video

It seems like everyone wants to be a professional TikTok Influencer, a Twitch Streamer or a YouTuber nowadays. And the truth is, you can make a lot of money if you know what you’re doing.

However, there’s currently a lot of competition in this arena which means that it can be difficult to break away from the pack, but it’s not impossible.

Ideally, you will need to be at least somewhat familiar with video and audio production to make money as a video content creator. But you really only need your smartphone, a computer, and perhaps a good microphone to get started.

At the time of this writing, our primary source of revenue on YouTube is Google Adsense.

3. Podcasts

Podcasts are another great option for content creators. Especially for those who aren’t particularly fond of writing (blogs) or camera work (video).

Ideally, you will however want to be somewhat acquainted with audio production, as churning out consistent, quality sound is key.

To launch a new podcast, you’ll need to subscribe to a podcast hosting service like Buzzsprout to publish your podcast episodes. You will also want to invest in a decent microphone (the Samsun Q2U is great for beginners).

4. Social Media

And finally, we have social media.

To be completely candid, I am not the biggest fan of using social media as an exclusive form of content creation because it’s too reliant on 3rd party platforms that you cannot control.

I’ve heard hundreds of horror stories over the years from creators who were making money, living the life, until their accounts were randomly deleted, stolen, or deactivated.

Social media influencers are also at the mercy of constant algorithm changes. One week Facebook is pushing your content to the top of the feed. The next week, your posts are nowhere to be found.

I also see social media as a form of active income versus passive. Bloggers, YouTubers and Podcasters can create content a few times a month that lives on the internet forever and is capable of making those creators money while they sleep.

Social media is less evergreen as it requires constant upkeep.

Regardless, every major platform – including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – all now have some form of built-in monetization. And with a large enough following, the sky is the limit as far as your earnings are concerned.

This brings us to the next topic…

a podcaster leaps into the air with his microphone
(photo by Roman Samborskyi/shutterstock.com)

How do content creators get paid?

Here are a few popular monetization methods for content creators.

1. Ad Revenue

Sure, content ads can sometimes be a bit annoying. But they are one of the best sources of passive income you’ll ever find.

At the time of this writing, Bloggers, YouTubers and Twitch streamers can all benefit from ad programs.

In fact, ads are often the primary source of revenue for most bloggers.

Popular low-barrier-to-entry ad programs include Google Adsense and Ezoic. Premium ad networks include Mediavine and AdThrive. At the time of this writing, you’ll need 55k-100k pageviews per month to apply for a premium network as a blogger.

YouTube channels qualify for Google AdSense ads after they are accepted into the YouTube Partner Program. To qualify for the Partner Program and start receiving ad money for your YouTube videos, your channel has to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours.

Twitch streamers also qualify to run in-app ads upon acceptance into the Twitch Partner program. To be eligible to apply to the Twitch Partner program, a streamer must have streamed for at least 25 hours, on 12 different days, with an average of 75 qualified concurrent viewers.

Both Facebook and Twitter also support video ad monetization.

2. Affiliate Marketing

This is another great source of passive income for any content creator.

Affiliate marketing refers to the process of content creators and publishers promoting a third-party product or service in hopes of converting that promotion into a sale. If the sale is successful, the content creator receives some sort of monetary kickback. Popular affiliate programs and marketplaces include Amazon AssociatesCommission Junction (CJ)Impact and Awin.

3. Brand Sponsorships

Many content creators regularly partner with third-party brands through direct connections or influencer marketplaces to produce sponsored content like blog posts and social media posts that promote a product or service.

While any medium can benefit from brand deals, sponsored content is huge for TikTokers, Instagrammers and YouTubers.

One of the easiest ways for YouTubers to connect with brands is through sponsorship websites like YouTube BrandConnectArtbrief and Scrunch.

TikTok creators can also join the Creator Marketplace. TikTok’s Creator Marketplace acts like an influencer agency, connecting creators with brands for sponsorship opportunities.

Instagram also has its own Creator Marketplace but at the time of this writing, it’s invite-only.

4. Creator Funds

Creator Funds are exclusive to TikTok but worth a mention in this roundup as I suspect that other mediums may one day follow suit with similar programs.

The Creator Fund is TikTok’s way of rewarding consistent usage of the platform and quality content. TikTokers who have accumulated at least 100,000 authentic views in the last 30 days are eligible to apply. You can apply within the TikTok app by opening your account settings, clicking Creator Tools, and then TikTok Creator Fund.

5. Events

Content creators who have a large, dedicated following will have an easier time pulling this one off. But I’ve personally met several content creators over the years who have made a small fortune hosting ticketed events like dinners, conferences and themed cruises.

6. Online Courses & Coaching

Online learning and webinars are huge right now.

So if you have a decent following on any blog, streaming service or social media platform, you may want to consider offering online courses or coaching services.

Not sure where to start? Consider filming a short video series on a subject matter of your choosing and offering it for sale either on your own website or on an online course marketplace like Teachable or Podia.

7. Products & Merchandise

All content creators can sell digital products (like digital downloads and online courses) and physical products (like merchandise, t-shirts and mugs).

They usually use 3rd-party marketplace sites like Etsy and Amazon or print-on-demand companies like Bonfire. Sometimes they even sell directly from their own websites using WooCommerce or Shopify.

YouTubers who are members of the YouTube Partner Program are even able to sell directly through on the platform via YouTube Shopping.

8. Subscriptions (In-App)

Some platforms, like YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, offer your audience the chance to subscribe for premium and/or member-only content.

YouTube uses Channel Memberships but creators must be part of the YouTube Partner Program to offer memberships.

Twitch subscriptions require acceptance into the Twitch Affiliate Program. Twitch streamers may offer their subscribers unique perks including custom emoticons, badges, ad-free viewing and exclusive streams.

Facebook also offers your fans a way to subscribe to premium content via the “Become a Supporter” option on the creator’s Facebook Page.

Instagram also offers your followers a way to subscribe to premium content (including reels) and participate in subscriber chats and special subscriber badges.

And on Twitter, your followers can become Super Followers for $2.99-$9.99 per month to receive bonus content and interactions.

9. Subscriptions (3rd Party)

Not using a platform with a built-in subscription model? Or maybe you just find the idea of managing multiple subscriptions to be headache-inducing? No worries – just use a third-party service like Patreon.

Because Patreon is a completely stand-alone service, you can promote a Patreon subscription on any platform and any medium.

With Patreon, you can customize a premium experience for your members with exclusive content, downloads, and discounts at multiple price points and multiple tiers.

For example, I use mine for virtual coaching.

10. Virtual Tip Jars & Donations

Creators can also ask their most loyal and appreciative followers for tips and donations. In fact, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all have this feature built-in to their respective platforms.

During YouTube live streams and premieres, viewers can purchase Super Chats and send Super Stickers to draw attention to their comments. However, acceptance into the YouTube Partner Program is required to offer this feature to your viewers.

Twitch Bits are a form of virtual currency that viewers may use to send a Cheer to the creator during a live stream on Twitch as a way of showing appreciation. Acceptance into the Twitch Affiliate Program is required to start receiving bits.

Eligible TikTok users (personal accounts 18 years of age or older with at least 100,000 followers and an account in good standing) can add a virtual tip jar directly to their profile as well as receive Virtual Gifts during live streams that can be converted into cash.

On Facebook live streams, viewers can buy and send Stars and Virtual Gifts. These virtual items act like a form of digital currency. At the time of this writing, streamers receive $0.01 for each gifted Star.

On Instagram, viewers can buy Badges to support their favorite creators during live streams in increments of $0.99, $1.99 and $4.99.

And Twitter integrates directly with a variety of third-party payment platforms including CashApp, GoFundMe, Patreon, and Venmo to help its creators cash in on tips. Qualified Twitter users can add this tip button to their profiles by clicking on Edit Profile>Tips>Allow Tips.

An overview of monetization options by platform

BlogsYouTubeTikTokTwitchPodcastsFacebookInstagramTwitter
Ad Revenue*****
Affiliate Marketing********
Brand Sponsorships********
Creator Funds*
Events********
Online Courses & Coaching********
Products & Merchandise********
Subscriptions/Memberships (In-App)*****
Subscriptions/Memberships (3rd-Party )********
Virtual Tip Jar/Donation ******

Did I leave anything off of the list? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to connect with me on social media.

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