If you’ve got the urge to create, becoming a professional content creator can allow you to earn money through a variety of creator revenue streams, connect with audiences that share your interests, and delight in the fundamental human activity of using your brain to make something entirely new. In the guide ahead, learn about what a content creator does—and the steps to take if you’re interested in becoming one.
Table of Contents
What is a content creator?
A content creator is anybody who creates a piece of communication intended for public distribution. Digital content creators are individuals who create content for distribution on digital channels. In the broadest sense, the term “content” encompasses any form of communication—paintings, ballads, novels, TikTok videos, blogs, graphics, images, and radio broadcasts are all types of content.
Successful content creators can make money in a number of different ways—either through full- or part-time employment, as a freelancer or independent contractor, or as an independent media creator and publisher (i.e., an influencer or blogger). Some also pursue multiple monetization avenues. For example, a full-time social media manager—in essense, a content creator on behalf of an employer—might also work on establishing an independent following on social platforms and building authority in a particular niche in order to secure paid brand partnerships.
What does a content creator do?
A content creator’s exact activities depend on their business or employment model, the forms of content they create, and the scope of their role. Here’s a general overview of some common creator tasks.
Develop content strategy
All of a digital content creator’s efforts should be guided by a strategy—meaning that every piece of content published should have a purpose. This applies to independent content creators like influencers and creators who work for a brand.
A content strategy can be simple or complex, but at its core it should answer three questions:
- Who is this content for?
- What value will it give its target audience?
- What value will it deliver to the business?
Influencers will want to answer the final question as it applies to their personal business, while strategic content creators working for a brand will answer it as it applies to the brand. The resulting content strategy will often be mapped out in a document or slide deck.
Actually creating content is one of a content creator’s primary responsibilities. Depending on the content type, this can include filming and editing video, writing copy, designing graphics, taking photos, and recording audio.
Common types of digital content include:
- White papers
- Web copy
- Email copy
- Social media posts
- Short-form videos
- Explainer videos
At a large scale, content creation can require many contributors and resources. Professional content creators can help big-time influencers or brand marketing teams increase their content production capacities—either by freelancing or by filling a full-time role. For example, a freelance content creator might author an influencer’s Instagram captions, or a staff writer at a brand might author SEO-optimized blog posts.
Content creators also think about how content pieces will reach their audiences. Common distribution channels include email, organic social media channels such as Instagram and LinkedIn, and paid advertising on social media or Google Search (SEM).
Optimizing content that’s published online for discovery via search engine—known as search engine optimization, or SEO—is another popular distribution channel. SEO tactics include keyword research and competitor research—both of which help creators understand what their audience is searching for and what kinds of content rank for those queries.
Platforms for independent content creators
Content creators use digital platforms to create content, distribute content, sell products, and connect with potential clients. Here are a few types of content creator platforms and popular examples of each.
Social media platforms
Content creators use social media platforms to connect with audiences, distribute certain types of content, and drive traffic to other content distribution channels. YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook are all popular with content creators.
Membership platforms allow creators to charge for subscription-based content. Popular examples include Patreon, Kajabi, and Substack. Patreon and Kajabi allow creators to charge for access to online courses and content, and Substack supports subscription newsletters and audio channels.
A content creator’s website is a critical content distribution and revenue generation platform. You can use yours to sell products, publish blog content, or host your portfolio. Content creators often use website builders (like Shopify) to easily design and launch attractive, functional sites. For example, Shopify’s website builder includes an online store and a blogging platform and offers integrated hosting, domain names, and a drag-and-drop editor. If your website gets enough traffic, you may be able to host ads.
Influencer marketing platforms
Influencer marketing platforms help content creators and brands connect. For example, joining Shopify Collabs allows creators to view recommended partnerships, apply to work with brands, and receive and manage payments. Creator.co and Impact.com are also popular influencer platforms.
🍜 Success Story: How a Vegan Chef Built a Business on YouTube
Wil Yeung dabbled in everything from dropshipping violins to developing his own consumer goods. The serial entrepreneur and self-taught chef built his latest business with a YouTube content strategy. He now sells his recipes as books, ebooks, and online courses. 👉 Read Wil's story
How to become a content creator
Although the exact steps you’ll take to become a content creator vary by content type and monetization strategy, these three basic steps can benefit all digital content producers.
1. Define your brand
The first step in becoming a content creator is defining your personal brand. If your goal is to be an independent publisher, create your own brand guidelines, including visual and written style guides, your core values, and your mission statement. These tools can help you develop a unique brand identity, maintain consistency across your public-facing materials, attract and retain loyal followers, market merchandise or products, and pitch yourself to potential sponsors.
If your goal is to blog for an agency or become a graphic designer for a company, your personal brand might be less important, but it still matters: Brands often consider how you represent yourself and your work online when hiring creative employees.
2. Build your following
Elevating your brand profile can help you to monetize creator revenue streams. First, record baseline numbers, considering the following key brand awareness and engagement metrics:
- Follower counts. Social media follower count is a critical metric for content creators. The influencer marketplace even categorizes social media creators by number of followers—typically, the more followers you have, the more you can charge for a brand partnership.
- Engagement rates. Your social media engagement rate is the percentage of people reached by a post who interact with it via a like, comment, direct message, or share. A high engagement rate can increase your likelihood of securing a paid partnership and, in some cases, allow you the charge more for sponsorship activities.
- Subscriber counts. Some creators offer free or paid subscription content, such as a newsletter, podcast channel, online course series, or subscriber-only web content. Increasing free subscriber counts can help you raise brand awareness and demonstrate your authority with target audiences to potential sponsors, and increasing paid subscriber counts can directly boost your income.
- Site traffic. Measure organic traffic to your blog, website, or online store. Like subscriber counts, these metrics can help you attract potential sponsors and increase awareness of your brand.
🌵 Success Story: TikTok’s Plant Mom Spun Online Virality Into a Brand
Get inspired by Sonja Detrinidad, a mortgage professional turned succulent influencer who monetized her audience to start her business, Partly Sunny Projects. She buys wholesale plants in her native California and ships across the US. 👉 Read Sonja’s story
Once you’ve established a baseline, set targets to increase these metrics as applicable to your goals. Here are a few tactics to try:
- Publish frequently. Elevate your social media presence by regularly posting high-quality content to your social media accounts, blog, or creator platform. If you operate a paid subscription channel, you can increase publication frequency to raise the value of the subscription.
- Interact with audiences. Engage with audiences on social media platforms and other channels to boost your follower counts and engagement rates.
- Advertise on social media. You can also use organic social media posts or paid social advertisements to promote off-platform content, such as content hosted on your site or on a membership platform.
3. Build your portfolio
Your portfolio is a curated selection of high-quality work that represents your abilities to potential clients. Depending on the types of content you create, your portfolio might include links to published articles, a gallery of photography, or a collection of graphic design projects. It might also show off your previous brand collaborations, if you have any. You can build a portfolio from scratch or use an app like Elfsite Portfolio Gallery to add a portfolio to your online store.
How to monetize your work as a content creator
- Pursue paid partnerships
- Start an online store
- Create subscription-only content
- Look for creative services work
Successful content creation doesn’t stop with a gorgeous portfolio—it also involves getting paid. These three strategies can help you monetize your content creation efforts.
1. Pursue paid partnerships
Many content creators earn money through paid brand partnerships. Essentially, a brand will pay you to create content that features the brand’s products or services. For example, a company that makes boutique ice cream sprinkles might pay a social media content creator in the hosting and hospitality space for a series of posts that showcase their products. Content creators can pitch individual brands or sign up for an influencer platform to pursue paid partnership opportunities.
2. Start an online store
Some creators monetize their followings by launching products or by selling branded merchandise online. For example, YouTube creator Mr. Beast sells branded merchandise through ShopMrBeast and a line of healthy snacks called Feastables.
If you’re considering a product launch, look for a relevant tie-in with your current audiences. For example, if you’ve attracted a loyal following for your reviews of gardening tools, you might monetize your audience’s trust by designing and selling your own watering can, rake, and trowel.
Some types of content creators can also sell creative content online. For example, if you create visual content (such as stock photos or graphic art), you can use your online store to display and license your products.
🐶Success Story: How an Internet-Famous Corgi Led to a Viral Dog Backpack Biz
Bryan Reisberg’s adorable corgi, Maxine, won over hundreds of thousands of dog- lovers on Instagram. His efforts to keep her safe while traveling through Manhattan led to a massively successful backpack company powered by Shopify. 👉 Learn about Little Chonk
3. Create subscription-only content
Some creators generate money through paid subscription content, such as a newsletter, podcast channel, online course series, or subscriber-only web content. In many cases, these creators also offer free content—the free content raises brand awareness and builds a loyal following, and the subscription content converts loyal fans into paying customers.
4. Look for creative services work
Many content creators earn money as freelancers or through full- or part-time employment. You can apply to open jobs online or query your network about opportunities. If you feel that your work is a particularly good fit for a brand or agency without a posted job opening, you can even approach them directly and include a link to your online portfolio. Many businesses maintain active freelancer networks, and companies that aren’t currently hiring may need to add to their teams in the future.
What is a content creator FAQ
What skills are required to become a successful content creator?
Successful content creators require six essential skills:
- Content strategy
- Content creation
- Business development
- Marketing and promotion
- Project management
Do content creators get paid?
Yes. Content creators can earn money in a number of different ways:
- Through full- or part-time employment
- As freelancers or independent contractors
- As independent media creators or publishers (e.g., influencers or bloggers who might seek brand partnerships or sell ad space)
What qualifies someone as a content creator?
A content creator is anybody who creates a piece of communication for public distribution.