Eight months ago, Riana Singh joined an eclectic group of storytellers, dancers, pranksters, and A-list entertainers: she started a TikTok. Today her account has nearly 11,000 followers and 1.1 million likes across the vertical videos where she gives career advice and shares her life in New York City. She even has a viral video that made the news under her belt.
But Riana isn’t a full-time creator. Instead, she’s building a career in tech, having worked at companies like Headspace, AngelList, and Postscript. She’s currently plotting her next career move and using TikTok to court the attention of hiring managers and share the highs and lows of her job-hunting process with followers, while also giving viewers the behind-the-scenes of minting brand deals as a micro-influencer.
@rianasingh_ Happy Monday 😛💗 #SmoothLikeNitroPepsi #TheAdamProject #adayinmylife #adayinthelife #nycblogger #nycbloggers ♬ Drop It Like It's Hot - Snoop Dogg
“The great thing about TikTok is that you don’t need a lot of followers for your video to get a lot of views and do well,” says Riana. “It was motivating to see the time that I was spending creating content was actually paying off.”
Riana is part of a growing cohort of everyday creators—individuals working 9-to-5 jobs while spending early mornings, evenings, and weekends as influencers on TikTok, personalities on YouTube, streamers on Twitch, writers on Substack, and podcasters broadcasting to your favorite audio feeds.
Unlike mega-creators with tens and millions of followers and six- or seven-figure brand partnerships, everyday creators aren’t becoming millionaires off their online exploits. However, they’re seeing professional opportunities and meaningful income. With just a modest following across channels—tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands on the high end—everyday creators can sign brand deals with companies that are priced out of working with mega-creators, see the benefit of working with authentic small creators with an engaged audience, or target influencers who are popular within a particular niche.
Despite the all-consuming cultural pressure to go “all in,” everyday creators are paving part-time creative entrepreneurial paths and carving out their own space on the crowded internet.
Social platforms, keen on driving the development of user generated content that make them digital entertainment destinations, claim that anyone can be a creator. In a sense, this is true. Indeed, anyone can pick up their phone to record a video, choose a popular video game to play on a livestream, or fill a blank digital page with prose that gets published as a blog post or newsletter. On the part of the public, the desire is there too. Fifty-four percent of young Americans, given the opportunity, would become an influencer. Twenty million Americans already monetize content in some way online, either part time or full time.
But not everyone can build an audience. And very few creators actually find the financial success that makes being a full-time creator a viable career path. The creator economy has not escaped the power law of nature: a few top creators receive outsized attention and compensation for their online work, while the rest receive little, if any at all. Very few online creators build a following in the millions, make hundreds of thousands of dollars from AdSense, or ink brand and media deals with companies like Dunkin’ and Hulu.
When Twitch payout information was leaked online in late 2021, it revealed that the top 25 creators on the platform had individually made anywhere from $2 million to more than $9 million between August 2019 and October 2021. But many small streamers make much less or nothing at all. A small but insightful survey of 276 members of the Stream Scheme Discord channel found that 72.8% made $0 per month streaming on Twitch, while 15.2% made $1 to $25 per month. Another study found that full-time creators in the US generate an average of $768 per month.
But the growing cohort of everyday creators are pursuing a different path. Despite the all-consuming cultural pressure to go “all in,” everyday creators are paving part-time creative entrepreneurial paths and carving out their own space on the crowded internet. They’re embracing the relative security that comes with working a full-time job. But they’re also making time for the creative side hustles that come with benefits: creative self-expression, building a differentiated personal brand outside of a single employer, and professional and financial opportunities that make their careers antifragile.
Creative expression beyond 9-to-5
The millennial side hustle is not new. The push to earn money and seek out opportunities outside of formal work—driven by reasons ranging from financial precarity of modern jobs to mounting student loan debt in the United States—is pervasive amongst the generation before Z and increasingly common amongst zoomers, too.
But the creator side hustle, enabled by social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Substack, and Twitch, is distinct from freelancing, babysitting, tutoring, or gig work. Personality driven and public facing, creator side gigs are aimed toward an audience and allow for uninhibited creative exploration. Having a job that lets you explore your interests and passion is a privilege that not everyone can find or afford. Everyday creators use their side gigs to relish in creative pursuits that might be absent from their 9-to-5.
“I started on YouTube because I knew this was going to be a very transitional time in my life,” says Sally Kim, an employee at a big four accounting firm who also creates content across her YouTube channel, TikTok, and Instagram account. “The office was starting to open back up, my fiancé and I were talking about getting engaged, and I knew I would be moving out within the next year.”
Sally creates YouTube lifestyle content, including videos about the planning process behind her upcoming wedding and days in her life living in California. But she also leans into a category of content that many everyday creators do: content about their day-jobs. She shows her followers the behind the scenes of working as an auditor during a busy season, masked in an office at a computer screen and often working into the evening. “I didn’t plan on making content about my work specifically, but naturally it just kind of happened, since it’s such a big part of my life,” she adds.
White collar everyday creators—law professionals at notable firms or tech employees showing behind the scenes of companies like Google and Uber—frequently build a following by giving audiences a glimpse into their day job. But everyday creators exist across the economy, using platforms like TikTok to give audiences a look into their work lives.
Real estate agents have a stronghold on TikTok, filming glamorous house tours and giving advice to prospective home buyers on debt-to-income ratio and choosing the right starter property. On other corners of the app, traditionally blue collar workers have built big followings, creating content that audiences find “oddly satisfying.” Pool cleaners like poolpromj, show the process of fresh water startups, reviving decrepit pools back to blue sparkling waters. Professional house cleaners like Kaylie of tidycademypro show the transformative power of their work, arriving at messy residences and leaving them tidy and pristine. Increasingly, everyday creators of all stripes are emerging across the internet, creating a diversity of content.
@poolpromj Reply to @user5092171292095 FRESH WATER START UP #poolcleaning #fyp #pooltok #theblueway ♬ original sound - MJ The Pool Pro
When Joshua Ogundu was working at TikTok as a Product Operations Lead, he wanted a creative outlet separate from software. He turned to TikTok, the very platform he was working on at his day job.
“I thought that someone should make more funny things about working in tech. So I took it on myself,” says Joshua of starting his account. “There’s a lot of content about tech out there that’s informative. It’s actually a small, small amount that’s entertaining.”
Donning a classic tech professional Patagonia blue fleece across most of his videos, Joshua’s content on TikTok parodies Silicon Valley and the wider tech industry. His videos take aim at some of the industry’s quiet secrets and absurdities, finding humor in saying the quiet part aloud on topics like all-hands meetings and the sometimes contentious role of product managers in the industry.
His content has resonated on TikTok, where he’s garnered nearly 15,000 followers. But his videos have also found success and virality on Twitter, where people in tech hang out as a virtual water-cooler. Whether you agree with his content or not, the tropes he pulls apart and his tongue-in-cheek commentary is instantly legible to anyone following or working in tech.
@silly_con_valley It’s truly a blessing to hear from leadership #tech #startups ♬ original sound - SillyConValley
Joshua left his full-time job at TikTok in December 2021 to launch his startup, Heart to Heart, an audio-based dating app available in New York and Los Angeles, that has raised $750,000. Despite the hecticness of building a startup, he still makes time to be an everyday creator on TikTok. “If I don’t get to have my own creative outlet and interest outside of the company, I can see that being a detriment to the company overall,” says Joshua.
For many everyday creators, striking the balance between their full-time work and their creative projects is an art form. Bijan Stephen works full time at Campside Media as the host and executive producer of the show Eclipsed, writes the Side Quest column for The Believer, pens music criticism for The Nation, teaches at NYU’s Game Center, and is currently acting in a play. To top it all off, he’s also a player on the RPG Fun City podcast and streams on Twitch.
Like other everyday creators, Bijan is driven by a desire to create beyond his day job. “It’s fun to teach! It’s fun to think about video games critically alongside an editor. As it turns out, I found out it’s really fun to stream on Twitch and grow a community there,” says Bijan. “It’s fun as hell to act, to pretend to be someone else. And a lot of that stuff that you just can’t do at a full-time job, unless you’re exceedingly lucky.”
Crafting a personal brand—and career—as an everyday creator
Instead of tying their professional identities to a single employer, everyday creators are building differentiated personal brands that set them apart. Some have misgivings around the concept of a personal brand. But it can be as simple as sharing your professional interests, passions, and ideas in public. If you leave a job, your personal brand accompanies you, helping you find the next opportunity. Rather than crossing your fingers and adding your job application to an infinite digital pile, hiring managers reach out to you.
To everyday creators like Bijan, “personal brand” isn’t an unspeakable word. “It’s more important than ever to have a legible brand—especially if the work you’re doing isn’t the work that you want to be doing,” Bijan says. “If you can build a profile doing the stuff you actually want to do in the future, you can get hired because of it.”
“The people inside your company should not be the only people who know your interests and what you're good at,” says Joshua. “Having your personal brand tightly connected to an employer isn’t actually in everyone’s benefit.”
As more and more people see the value of becoming a part-time creator and building a personal brand, not all employers are embracing the idea of their employees stepping outside the shadow of their corporate brand and building their own audience that they can take with them when they leave the company. Some companies want their employees all in—dedicated entirely to the business, and feel side-projects, particularly public-facing ones, compete with company interests. But some employees are fighting back, often by simply finding somewhere else to work.
“At this stage of my career, I would absolutely not take a job at a company that didn’t allow side projects,” says Charli Marie Prangley, a Creative Director at ConvertKit who creates videos on YouTube about design that have garnered her over 200,000 subscribers. She also hosts the Inside Marketing Design podcast, co-hosts the Design Life podcast, and writes the Marketing Design Dispatch newsletter. “It’s fair to have rules in place like ‘no freelancing for a competitor,’ but in my opinion, companies who outright ban employees from side projects will find it hard to attract and retain their team as more and more people start dipping their toes into the creator economy.”
Some workplaces are embracing the idea that they need to allow their employees to moonlight in order to retain the best talent. At TikTok, Joshua experienced a company culture where creative side hustles were encouraged, not reprimanded. Similarly, Sally has seen support from colleagues at her accounting firm. When forging brand deals, she’s restricted from working directly with the firm’s clients, but otherwise has a green light for her creator side hustle. The shift is slow, but happening.
“At one point, I almost felt like I needed to hide my side gig of creating content, because I didn’t want my managers or peers in the workplace to think that that was distracted from my full-time job,” says Riana. “But especially since the pandemic, where we see a lot more people working remotely, and also creating content … it’s become a lot more acceptable, and more employers expect or assume that their full-time employees might be working on something on the side, as a monetary project or as a passion project.”
Bijan has experienced the same embrace of side projects at his own company, with leadership leading the way. “I love my job. It’s really fun to make a show with extremely talented people,” says Bijan. “My boss, Matt, hosted the podcast Suspect, which was incredible, and while doing that somehow found time to write features for The New York Times Magazine. How even? Very impressive.”
Building the “business of me” as an everyday creator
Building a personal brand as an everyday creator can generate an abundance of tangible opportunity, in the form of a broadened professional network and additional income through brand deals and audience subscriptions.
For Joshua, his TikTok chronicling tech culture has led to opportunities in the same industry that he’s softly poked fun at. He suggests that being a creator would not have led to internal mobility as an employee at TikTok. However, being visible online as an everyday creator has been impactful as an entrepreneur and founder, allowing him to build connections that helped when he went on to raise venture capital funding for his startup.
For everyday creators, often what they’re 'selling' as entrepreneurs is their ability to be knowledgeable about a certain area, showcase a level of authenticity that’s hard to replicate, and package these talents into a TikTok video, a podcast, a livestream, or another social medium
“Pretty much everyone on our cap table I originally met through Twitter,” says Joshua. This applied to his connection with Charles Hudson at Precursor VC, who found Joshua’s TikTok videos, saw his impressive background in the tech industry, and eventually led Heart to Heart’s recent fundraising round.
“I landed my job at ConvertKit back in 2016 as the second design hire, because of my personal brand and side projects,” says Charli Marie. “I’ve also landed speaking opportunities and freelance work as a result of the reputation I’ve built up through the content I produce, and I often get emails from recruiters about other full-time roles too.”
Small creators also can see money from subscribers. Bijan streams on Twitch regularly, playing storytelling games, and has seen additional income from his creative exploits. “I am indeed seeing a bit of income from doing all the things I’m doing, mostly from subscriptions. And honestly, it’s made me very good at keeping up with my taxes,” he says. “A free tip: pay them quarterly.”
His advice speaks to something broader about everyday creators and creators in general: they’re also entrepreneurs, building the “business of me.” For everyday creators, often what they’re “selling” as entrepreneurs is their ability to be knowledgeable about a certain area, showcase a level of authenticity that’s hard to replicate, and package these talents into a TikTok video, a podcast, a livestream, or another social medium.
A similar strategy from Riana has been effective, resonating with women online who are less interested in polished curation and more interested in the complexities of life: both the highs and lows. While her TikTok following is modest and she doesn’t see money from TikTok’s Creator Fund, she’s gained discoverability that has piqued the interest of companies that want to work with her. She regularly received inbound requests from brands looking to partner with her on paid campaigns, a process that she’s even demystified on her TikTok. Her work in tech and her experience living in San Francisco has made the creator entrepreneur parallel clear.
@rianasingh_ this isn’t always the outcome but I wanted to show a real example. #ShowUsYourDrawers #microinfluencer #microinfluencertips #microinfluencertiktok ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show
“Unless you’re big enough to have a team that represents you, you’re negotiating all your deals, you’re putting yourself out there, you’re serving as your assistant, your strategist, your editor—you’re wearing so many different hats,” Riana says. “If you’re a content creator, you are an entrepreneur and building a business.”
Creators are entrepreneurs
The label of everyday creator extends to millions of people around the world who have something to say or show, and leverage platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, and Substack to do it. In the process, some are building solo businesses as part-time entrepreneurs, using their passion and authenticity to build an audience and stand out.
Everyday creators like Charli Marie have embraced an entrepreneurial spirit. “When I started out on YouTube I wasn’t thinking of it as an entrepreneurial venture, but eight years later, it’s turned into a business that I’m running on the side of my full-time job,” she says. “It has around a dozen different income streams and new ones being added each year, as I act on more ideas. Creators are definitely entrepreneurs.”
Illustration by Brian Stauffer