When you think about making money from content, your mind probably jumps to starting a YouTube channel, Instagram or TikTok feed, live streaming on Twitch, or a blog or podcast, where you will release entertaining or helpful videos, articles or podcast episodes.
Maybe you already do these things, but you’re struggling to make any meaningful income.
If you become an ‘influencer’ and have a large enough audience, you can become rich. We all know this today because there are enough examples of the creator economy minting new millionaires when their social media channels explode in popularity.
Sadly, the truth of the creator economy is that only the top 1% (or far less) make any real money. No one shares the stories of those who try and fail to make much money.
I spent a decade as a ‘micro influencer’. I built an audience through blogging content, a podcast and growing my email newsletter.
I discovered early on that my audience wasn’t large enough to make the kind of money I wanted to off the back of advertising and sponsored campaigns alone. I also didn’t like that the only way I could make money was by promoting other people’s stuff.
Thankfully I was exposed to an alternative income stream — I could sell my content. I could create a subscription club or membership site, a course or coaching program, and sell these directly to my audience.
As a micro influencer this strategy worked well. I didn’t have millions of followers to make the big money from advertising and sponsorships, but I did have a few thousand people who were willing to buy content from me.
From Micro Influencer To Content Business Owner
I can remember the day I promoted the first product ‘made by me’.
Up to that point I earned on average $2,000 a month from my online content, mostly from ads placed on my blog, affiliate promotions (other people’s products I promoted where I earned a commission for each sale) and a few sponsored posts I would write now and then and make $200 to $500 per article, although these were few and far between.
At first I was absolutely overjoyed that I could make anything from my content. What a miracle that was!
As the months past I grew more ambitious. I wanted more than just a side-hustle income, I wanted to earn enough to not need a job — or even more! I wanted to be part of the 1% who could own a real online business.
Although this was the early days and the idea of being an influencer as a career was new, enough people were starting to earn serious money — hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars.
Once I reached the $2,000/month level, I seem to hit a plateau. I needed to grow my audience more and to do that I needed to produce more content. I was already feeling the strain of my existing content schedule, so adding more to it seemed like a formula for burnout.
Thankfully, I was learning about an alternative income model for content creators like myself.
Instead of giving away all my content for free, which I had done up to that point, I could charge money for some kind of premium content.
It took me two years to reach the point where I was ready to sell my own content product.
It’s ‘safer’ to rely on ads that sell other people’s products and services. You’re not responsible for handling the customer or delivering the product or service. You don’t have to worry about taking payments, figuring out how to securely deliver something online, handling refunds, returns, and all those basic support questions that come in.
In short, you don’t really have to worry about ‘growing a business’.
For me, the goal of breaking through $2,000 a month to $5,000 a month and then $10,000 and beyond pushed me out of my comfort zone.
I decided to create a subscription product. I would charge $27 a month and send my paying customers new premium content once a week. It would be an experiment, one I was ready to make.
Of course I was extremely nervous, wondering if anyone would pay for my content when everything I had ever created I gave away for free up to that point.
My Subscription Product Succeeds… Then Doesn’t… Then Does!
I won’t dive into all the technical steps I went through to set up and sell my premium subscription content in this article. I’ll cover tech setup in a future update.
The short story is after three months of learning and experimenting and then finally settling on a technical setup, I was ready to sell a monthly subscription product — a weekly ‘insiders club’ newsletter.
To promote my product I wrote blog posts and sent emails to my free newsletter announcing the release of my subscription offer. I ran this marketing campaign for two weeks, and then closed the doors to my product so I could focus on delivering the content to my new, hopefully large, paying audience.
I honestly had no expectations regarding how many paying customers I would get. Of course I crunched the numbers — 10 customers would add about $250/month to my income after transaction fees, 100 would be $2,500/month and so on.
In my mind, 10 people would be enough to keep going. 100 would be a success and something I could build on. Any more would be, frankly, life changing — enough to quit the two part time jobs I had at the time.
As the final days of my marketing campaign arrived I was ecstatic. I’d already surpassed 200 paying subscribers and things were not slowing down. The final day in particular was incredible. I sat at my computer, refreshing my email inbox every ten minutes, watching as new people joined.
By the time I shut the doors I had almost 400 paying customers. I’d already made $10,000 in initial sales and in theory, I’d keep making $10,000 a month as long as they stayed subscribed.
Financial freedom, here we come!
Or at least it looked that way, until the cancellations started coming in.
The first month was amazing. I was riding a high from the success of my product and happily delivering content to my new customer base.
I was also super stressed.
I was still working two part time jobs, publishing all the free content I usually released, and now releasing one premium newsletter a week and supporting all the new customers — there were so many emails coming in every day it was overwhelming!
I’d considered quitting my jobs, but I wasn’t ready to make that jump just yet. I wasn’t ready to cut the safety net of job cash flow. To become 100% self-sufficient was a dream and although by the numbers I could at that point, it was a leap I didn’t feel ready to make.
As the cancellations started to come in, it became clear something had to change.
My product was a premium content ‘insiders club’ (monthly subscription) where I was teaching people how to grow an audience and income stream from a blog, following the exact steps I’d used during the previous two years of growing my own blog.
Based on feedback, customers loved the content, but they didn’t want to stay subscribed forever. I inferred from this feedback that I’d have more success if I offered them a course-like experience instead, with a clear beginning and an end.
With this theory in mind, I restructured my premium content into a course, and six months later sold it again, this time with a different pricing structure and more features.
The new price was $97 per month for six months or $497 one time payment. On top of the course, I also decided to do a monthly group coaching call where customers could ask me questions.
The course didn’t get as many individual customers as my subscription insiders club did, which was not surprising with the higher price and the fact that I was going back to my same audience, but in terms of income, I’d actually made more money.
I had about 150 new customers, with 25% of them opting for the upfront one time payment option. That translated to about $18,000 from upfront income from the one time $497 customers, another $10,000 in upfront income from the monthly purchases, and in theory, about $10,000 a month to come in for another five months, minus cancellations/refunds.
With this new course format, cancellations and refund requests were much lower — under 10%. As a result, once the six months were over, I’d made over $75,000 from just this one course launch. That was much more than a yearly salary for me at the time.
Because I had more cash in the bank and the confidence from selling my course, I made the leap — I quit my two jobs. That was the last time I ever had a job in my life and I was still in my 20s. As I type this, that was fifteen years ago.
What Content Product Is Right For You?
I share this story from early in my content business career for three reasons:
- To show you that as a creator there are other income streams beyond advertising and sponsorships
- As a micro influencer, with a following that may not number in the millions but is at least in the tens of thousands, you can build $10,000/month income streams
- What product/service mix is right for you will take some experimentation
Although in my story I explained how I switched from subscription club to course, over the next ten years I sold basically every kind of content product you can think of.
I’ve sold three flagship courses, two micro-courses, a subscription of the month audio product, three ebooks and one big membership site. All of these were content products, either my writing or audios/videos I produced and sold to the audience I grew publishing free blog posts, videos and social media content.
In total, these products resulted in over $2.5 million dollars in revenue for my content business over a decade. I kept close to 70% of it as profit.
Some of the money went to the small team who I hired to help me set things up and provide customer service. I also had affiliates, who I paid 50% commissions on the sales they brought in. Later in my content business career I spent money on paid advertising and for services like copywriting. I also gave a good chunk of my income to pay taxes — about 25% to 35% of my profit.
Despite these expenses and taxes, because I made the decision to start a premium content business, I became a millionaire. I could never have reached that point with my small audience just running ads and sponsorships.
To clarify what I mean by small audience — I’ve never had more than 100,000 followers. In fact, most of the time I’ve had about 20,000 core followers, and about 2,000 paying customers. I was, and continue to be, what I would call a micro influencer.
When calculating these numbers I focus on email subscribers. That’s where most of my income came from and email subscribers are the followers I value the most.
You may count your own followers including subscribers on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and so on. Sadly, not all followers are created equal.
We’re not going to dive into the difference between email and social media for making sales today. All of these tools and platforms have their uses.
For now I just want to point out that my success came because I used my blog and social media to grow my email list. The emails are what led to most of my customers buying my products.
Without wanting to overwhelm you, I’ve also leveraged my content to sell one-to-one coaching at $1,000 an hour, a software plugin I charged $99 for that I had a developer code for me, and to grow two service agency businesses – an essay editing company in the early 2000s, and another I still run and own today that provides email virtual assistants.
Right at the very start of my online career in the late 1990s as a teenager I ran an online magazine, a content site I created long before there were blogs and social media. I used the website to get customers for an e-commerce card game shop where I sold Magic: The Gathering cards.
To cut a long story short, I’ve used online content in some shape or form to grow an audience, as products to sell to that audience, and as a way to reach people to sell other things like agency services, software and even physical cards.
Content has literally changed my life and I know you wouldn’t be reading this far into this article if you didn’t feel the same about how it has changed your life, or could in the near future.
The important question is what product or service should you sell if you are a micro influencer today?
Unfortunately I can’t answer the question I proposed above for you. I don’t know the right content product you should sell, especially without knowing more about who you are, what kind of audience you have and why they care about your content.
I can’t tell you which is the most profitable type of content product because every situation is unique.
Some creators do really well with just one membership site like a fan club or insiders club. Others make the most money with big expensive flagship courses or high-end coaching programs. Others sell lots of low cost ebooks, or software, or e-commerce products (often called DTC – direct to consumer). Some use a combination of products, or move from one to the next.
What I hope I have done is opened your eyes to the potential of what content may do for you in the near future. I truly believe content based products can become the most profitable income source for you and you don’t need to have millions of followers to earn a full time income.
P.S. One of the best income sources for a micro-creator/influencer is to sell access to you.
That can be one-on-one coaching or chats with your fans, small groups, masterminds, or behind-the-scenes premium content memberships.
To help you get started with any of these ideas, you can use Candid.is. It’s a platform I created that you can use to make money from conversations you have with your fans and followers.
You can learn more here: Make Money From Candid Conversations