Are you secretly sad to see your competition seemingly swimming in ad dollars while you struggle to get more than a few clicks?
Do you get frustrated with how little tangible reward you get from all your effort?
Many people dream of the day when they can be a full-time content creator. Some people seemingly achieve that dream … on the surface.
Unfortunately, the reality for even YouTube and Instagram “Influencers” is their content doesn’t pay enough directly to live on, and earning an income to keep the lights on is more work than just creating good content.
And … It gets worse …
When people do start making money they can have it ripped from under them by the platform changing their rules or enforcement of them.
YouTube encourages engagement, which has lead to people having to artificially lift their engagement with more and more polarizing and click-baity content. You also need a huge audience to make money from ads, even with their videos being interrupted by them more and more, so content creators are having to sell sponsorships and hope those sponsors don’t do something to make the YouTubers that promoted them look bad.
What does earn money?
Build a list. At the very least to insulate you from losing your audience due to the whims of YouTube/Instagram/etc.
For years my entire family income was from the exposure this very blog generated.
- Selling ebooks and courses, mainly Authority Blogger.
- Consulting, coaching and other services, such as site reviews.
- Affiliate income from things like web hosting and email services.
Obviously it is contractually tricky for me to do many of the things I used to do while self-employed due to being employed full time now (hence this site no longer having product links or fresh content for that matter!)
I can tell you what still works now in 2020 though.
Using Affiliate Promotions as Content Creators
With the right combination of product, affiliate program, audience, and presentation, you can make good money with affiliate marketing versus other efforts.
This can often lead to impressions of bias, so you must be careful how you work the promotions into your content, and disclosure is legally and contractually required.
Supporter, Subscription, and Patron Programs for Content Creators
Ko-Fi and Patreon are popular ways to supplement income from content creation. Essentially it is intended to be anything from “donate the equivalent of a coffee to keep this channel going” all the way through to “subscribe every month for $x to get these rewards”.
In my experience the latter works better than the former. My experiment with Ko-Fi earned me $8 after a month and $12 over a year on Patreon 🙂
What did I do wrong with my Ko-Fi and Patreon tests?
- Topics too broad – Maker Hacks is a trailing indicator of my hobby whims, primarily. I would need to choose one sub-niche to attract people who see high value. For example, I have been teaching a retro computer programming language, talking about making circuit boards, writing my own C64 and Nintendo Gameboy games … who exactly is it for? Who knows!
- No exclusivity, scarcity, or urgency – People who design and share D&D 3D models for 3d printing, or exclusive early access to software do well on Patreon because there is a high perceived value exchange, and if you miss out you really feel like you missed out. Other Patreons do well because it is the only way to get real access to the creator behind the content.
Using Your Content to Sell Your Own Products
Selling merchandise can work in some cases, but only if you have a brand that people want to wear on their body, you have a large enough audience, and if you are careful to avoid copyright issues.
What does your audience most want? Can you make something that will solve a problem for them that they are willing to pay to have solved?
Once you have an audience, and maybe even some affiliate sales under your belt, you ought to have good idea of what your audience most wants and needs.
Selling something you put together, make, or brand, that other people strongly desire, can earn income far better than anything else.
It’s just good business, because you are reducing down the competition, and hopefully increasing your own margins. People will perceive your products as trustworthy and low risk based on their ongoing experience of your expertise and/or experiences that you share.
While affiliate links and subscriptions are obviously easier and less time consuming, especially when it comes to customer service issues, a product that you own can sell for a lot more and make you stand out from the crowd.
If you are running an educational channel then ebooks, courses, kits work well, otherwise you might even consider a Kickstarter and make it an event.
And you do need to own it. I love to make nerdy things using other companies IP, but if I tried to sell anything using that IP I would get sued out of existence quicker than you could say “It’s a me Mario”.
Some people successfully combine option 2 and option 3, and have a recurring subscription that offers products. Perhaps a “of the month” club. There are in some cases opportunities to add a bonus in return for using your affiliate link, combining option 1 and option 3.
What I do to make money from my content now
In my case, my YouTube channel doesn’t have enough watch hours before they will even monetize it, but even if they did, with only 2,500 subscribers and extremely sporadic video-creation, it wouldn’t be worth it anyway. Heck, I get more insults about my accent than I do subscribers 🙂
Outside of my day job, my earnings now come from people buying my old courses through the links that still exist out on the interwebs, and especially from affiliate links.
That affiliate income can be quite a lot, though it is not reliable – especially this year. I got a massive spike when the USA gave stimulus cheques, and there have been very lean months.
99% of the affiliate sales are from just a few reviews. This means SEO is still vitally important at the time I write this, despite “SEO is dead” headlines every year since the 90s.
My Glowforge laser cutter review ranks highly most of the time, even though the videos and a big website have pushed it off the top spot. My Prusa 3d printer reviews often ranks highly but instead of being a direct source of much income, it has brought in free products from competitors to review 🙂
The best thing about the affiliate income is the work involved, after the initial content, is to keep your site running and relevant, which is a lot easier than a constant treadmill of YouTube video editing!
I’ve sold electronics kits as part of my in-person teaching, though that hasn’t happened in 2020 for obvious reasons. This works well because the students get exactly what you are talking about without having to hunt down part numbers, and you know intimately what they are using to learn your materials with.
My wife has a wonderful online store selling laser-cut and engraved products. I am not allowed to link it because her family has members that pull her down at every opportunity and she doesn’t want them yucking her yum.
Her sales were growing to be a really nice business but she had to take a break during the early lockdowns seeing as most of the income is tied to her or her customers doing in-person markets and craft fairs. It’s starting to show signs of picking back up now.
Scaling up to sell my own physical products has been something I have been figuring out (aka “analysis paralysis”) in own niches for a while too, I just have more ideas and niches than time, so watch this space once I make a decision!
Bottom Line for Content Creators
People will mostly be happy to reward your content at best with a like and a share. More than that will require you to appeal to their self-interest.
- Is there a way to add an exclusive tier or reward level for people who are willing to pay a bit to see you continue?
- How can you make something they are willing to pay for?
- Can you get them to buy from you rather than anyone else?
Answer these questions and you can at least mitigate being reliant on platforms and services that don’t have your best-interests in mind!