This is a long post at 3000+ words. I wrote it as a resource that you can learn from and come back to in your journey as a creator.
Ryan Holiday, Austin Kleon, Seth Godin, and Tim Ferriss.
What do they have in common?
They are all professional creators.
They have been sharing their thoughts and knowledge with the world. In the process, they have built interesting bodies of work, and got people eager to hear what they have to say.
All of them write blogs and books. Seth and Tim also host podcasts. Seth does a solo podcast, whereas Tim interviewers other creators and experts.
Ryan Holiday has written 8 books in 7 years and all combined has sold 2 million copies of these books.
Seth is among a small number of daily bloggers. He has also written 19 best selling books and built a series of businesses. His latest is built around workshops.
Austin Kleon appeared on the scene in 2010 with Newspaper Blackout, a collection of poems made by redacting the newspaper with a permanent marker. He has since written 3 more books. His books have over a million copies in print.
Tim has written multiple best selling books and during the past few years built one of the world’s largest business podcasts with 400 million+ downloads.
The success of these well-known creators is a result of years of consistent creation. It is not the only force at play there, but it is one of the major ones.
Being a creator is not limited to being an author or podcaster. You can be a video creator, YouTuber, musician, visual artist, blogger, community builder, writer, journalist or even a startup founder and still be a professional creator.
Building A Career As A Professional Creator
If you are a professional creator yourself and looking to find the success like Seth, Tim, Ryan, and other established creators, here are some thoughts on how to go about it.
1. Commit To Create
Your journey to become a professional creator starts by creation.
Make a commitment to creating on a regular basis. Set goals, find an accountability partner, or join a class. Do whatever gets you to create. Nothing happens if you don’t create.
2. Invest Time
This is the ground rule of finding success as a professional creator.
You can’t find success without spending time on your chosen form of creation. You will see fast growth if you invest time for deliberate practice to improve your craft.
If you are hard-pressed for time, commit to doing a little every day. And, one or two days a week, do a long session.
3. Show Your Work
If you are a hobby artist it is ok to create and keep your creation to yourself. But if you fancy turning a pro, and enjoy the rewards that come with it, you should show your work.
It means publishing your work in a place where people can see it. When you show your work, you get feedback and appreciation. If it is good those who see can also share it.
4. Become Really Good At What You Do
No one likes to use a sloppy product unless there is no other option in the market.
People will not pay attention to your work if it is not good. The world is turning into a meritocracy. So, there is no choice but to get really good at what you do. You don’t need to start at the top, but aspire to reach there with regular learning and practice.
5. Get Permission To Send Updates
When you show your work, get permission to send updates.
It is important because people are busy and on their own, they may not come back to see your work often even when they want to.
Don’t download the list of contacts from LinkedIn and send them an email because being connected with someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you can email them. Same goes for people you meet at a conference and exchange business cards with. Having a person’s business card does not give you the license to spam them.
Do it right. First, get permission to send updates. Ask over email or message them if it is ok to send updates.
6. Send Regular Updates
Once you get permission, make sure that you send out regular updates.
I have shared this as a separate point because often after people get permission they don’t send updates. I have made this mistake.
Pick a frequency that you like, it can be once a month, fortnightly or weekly and send updates. I’d suggest weekly. A lot of creators wait until the final version of their work is ready. But you can show your work in progress and involve people in your process.
If you are YouTube creator or make art and publish it on Instagram then get people to sign up to receive notifications. For other creators, an email newsletter is good to send updates.
You can use email marketing software to send the newsletter. I have used MailChimp, CampaignMonitor, and ConvertKit in the past. They are all good. MailChimp has a free version. Campaign Monitor is good if you want to use a design template. ConvertKit is good to send an email that looks like plain text and appears more personal.
If you don’t want to deal with a lot of technology and want a hassle-free system then use TinyLetter. It is a free service offered by folks at MailChimp. It has fewer bells and whistles than Mailchimp but works fine to send updates.
If the content is your product then use Substack. With Substack, you can run a paid subscription-based newsletter and monetize your content.
Tools keep changing but these are the good ones that have been running for a while now and have a substantial user base so they won’t go anywhere in the near future if you choose one of them.
Some creators only rely on social media to share updates. They don’t realize the importance of email. But newsletters are superior to social for sharing because the social algorithm is tricky and it shows your updates to only a fraction of your followers.
7. Have Something To Say
Having something to say is more important than the tools you use.
Explore and learn every day, and build new perspectives and views about your chosen space. Then articulate those views through your work.
You may not be an authority yet. While you work at it, choose the voice of a learner and share your learning with others.
8. Think Of Yourself As A Niche Media Publication
A media publication publishes on a schedule and tries to put out work that is well thought. That’s what you should also do.
With mobile phones everyone is creating so you need to work harder than before to get people’s attention. Routine creations are no longer enough.
Figure out a way to distribute your work. Distribution through partners may be smart in the beginning but keep building your own channels.
9. Create A Homebase
Your homebase is your own website.
How much time you invest there depends on what you make as a creator.
If you do long-form writing then a website is more important than if you create videos. As a video creator focuses on YouTube because it has the audience, distribution and monetization all built-in.
You can create your website in an hour or two, with software like WordPress and Squarespace.
To build a website you need a domain name. It can be the same as your name or a brand name if you have one. It can even be based on your alter ego. Go for .com if it is available. If not then choose an extension like .co or .io.
These days a lot of discovery happens through search. When people want to find my website in search they don’t type the complete web address (MohitPawar.com). They just write ‘mohit pawar’ in the search bar or say ‘mohit pawar blog’ or ‘mohit pawar website’ using voice search and click on the first result. For this reason, make sure that your website is the first result when people search for you.
If YouTube is your main distribution channel then show a clearly visible link to your YouTube channel on your website even when most people will find it through YouTube search.
10. Stand Out
Find out your unique angle and your strengths.
Create something that is useful or entertaining. Then find a way to show it to those who need to see it.
Standing out may be risky but that is how you build a brand, by taking responsibility or being accountable. That’s what people like Oprah, Elon Musk, Kanye West and Richard Branson have done.
11. Don’t Ignore Your Brand
Your audience should recognize your name and relate it with the quality or whatever you stand for.
Start by creating solid work that you can be proud of what the author Cal Newport calls becoming so good they can’t ignore you. Then build on it by consistently putting your work out. It creates awareness and recall for your brand.
If you want to learn and do more, pick up a copy of ‘Building a StoryBrand’ by Donald Miller and read it to get started.
12. Connect With And Learn From Other Creators
Growth does not happen in silos. Find mentors and advisors who can guide you. Create connections with your fellow creators and exchange your learnings. Discuss with them, when you are looking for options and answers.
You can join a professional mastermind to that end or even go wider than your existing network and use an app like Daisie to connect with other creators.
13. Double Down On One Platform
It helps to be everywhere and feed your Facebook, Instagram, YouTube with interesting updates all the time. But you don’t need to start that way. In the beginning, start with one platform and only move to the next once you have built a considerable following and engagement on it.
If you are active on LinkedIn and get engagement there then double down on it before you add a new platform to the mix. Do the same if Instagram or YouTube is working great for you.
14. Master Your Chosen Platforms
Platforms keep changing their algorithms.
When you decide to go deep on a platform take it as your responsibility to master how it works.
Medium right now works great for long-form content, but to stand out as a new creator there you need to post often, once a day if you can. It may change tomorrow but that is how it is today.
Tweetstorms are working great on Twitter. So your words converted to tweetstorms will work the best there.
Instagram users love visual content, with thoughtful and witty captions. They engage a lot on once they connect with your thoughts. If your posts are short and pithy and you can convert them into pictures so they will do well there. You can post a poem there with an opening in a picture and rest in the caption. To take your reach and engagement to the next level, use Instagram stories and IGTV content.
If you are confident about your work then break rules, while still respecting the platform. I like how Seth Godin is publishing mini-books on Instagram now.
15. Don’t Worry About A Platform Going Away
Not sure if you have thought about it or not but yesterday’s platforms like Myspace or Friendster don’t exist anymore. Have you heard about Ryze, a precursor to LinkedIn? May be not. It is tough to predict how long a big platform will stay relevant for you as a creator.
Facebook or YouTube may not be here in 10 years but what you learn about building a presence on a platform or creating content will stay with you. You can take those skills to whatever new platform comes along. Keep honing them without worrying about the life of a platform. And, when it goes away for you, it will go for others also. So, don’t worry.
16. Distribute Your Content Outside Traditional Social Channels
Don’t stop at publishing your content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter.
Explore online media platforms relevant to your niche. For example, if you are a content creator or an entrepreneur then you can publish your content in places like Thrive Global and Thought Catalog. After you get some bylines there you can pitch for bigger publications.
17. Create First For Yourself
Don’t play for the gallery. Create what makes you happy first. If it does not, you won’t be able to do it for long.
Be careful about mixing what you do for feeding the soul and what you do for the money. Great if both of these turn out to be the same.
You can try finding a middle ground or do what I did. For example, I am a professional marketer but I love thinking about life and mindfulness a lot more. Still, I wrote books on digital marketing and entrepreneurship first before I came to a place where I am ready to write a book about meditation.
Choose the path you take based on your current situation and state of mind.
18. Don’t Feed The Devil
Procrastination and internal resistance are real.
But know in your heart that they will not win every time you set out to do important work. If that was the case no important work will ever be done.
I continue to move between two points. One, where I explore ways to stop procrastinating and another where I accept that procrastination is in our genes by way of our ancestors and surrender to it. Starting the workday with minimum viable output in one such strategy that helps us get over resistance.
It is no fun to create if you are not financially secure. So I thought of sharing how you can make money through your work.
How to Monetize Your Work As A Professional Creator
It may take some time to reach the stage where you are financially secure if you are just starting out. But you can be methodical about it if you realize that your earnings are based on your mindset and your expertise.
Mindset wins are mostly about how you value your own work and get paid not based on the time you invest but based on the value you create.
Expertise is a function of intelligence, the time you invest, and deliberate practice to improve on areas where you need improvement. By understanding the concept of microskills you can make this part simple. Your big goal should be to be among the top 5-10% in your field.
There is hope if you are not there yet but you gotta keep working and creating constantly.
Meanwhile, here are the paths you can take to make money. A large number of professional creators use them for monetization.
1/ Find Patrons for Your Work [Subscriptions or One Time Support]
This works after you build a body of work and build a tribe around it. Once you have done that you can go out and ask your fans to support your work.
Maria Popova of Brainpickings has been using this model for long.
My friend Nik Goeke also recently started using this model with his Substack powered paid newsletter.
Patreon is pretty popular among creators for getting ongoing support.
2/ Launch Products [And get support through Crowdfunding]
Another option is to launch products aligned with your work and values.
You can even get support to build your product and presell it if you have built an audience around your work.
Seth Godin launched The Icarus Deception on Kickstarter and raised $287,342. Leo Babauta launched The Zen Habits Book and raised $224,255 to make it.
Pat Flynn, an established blogger and podcaster, and his partner Caleb Wojcik created a new kind of tripod and raised $415,748.
3/ Establish Your Expertise And Use It To Build a Business Around Your Creation
You can write a book, and use it to get consulting and speaking gigs because a book establishes you as an expert and helps in commanding attention, increasing demand and asking for higher fees.
There are other ways to establish your expertise. Like getting interviewed or featured in print, TV or online media. A book is a better bet though because it has a much longer shelf life than a TV or print interview. People are still reading books than are 10, 50, 100 years old, we can’t say the same about TV though.
4/ Teach What You Know
It is an extension of what I have shared above.
Convert your expertise into seminars and workshops and sell them to those who want to learn from you. You can do it face to face or online after doing 2-3 test runs with smaller groups.
5/ Get Sponsors and Build Partnerships
This works well for podcast creators after they get to a certain reach. YouTube creators can also get into partnerships with brands and feature them on their channel.
This is how you build a career as a creator. In the end, I am sharing a list of tools that you can use as a creator, to get your name out there and to monetize your work.
Apps You Can Use As A Professional Creator
I have already shared some of these above. Repeating them here so that you get a consolidated list.
Emails/Newsletter. Use MailChimp or ConvertKit to get people to subscribe to your updates. Tinyletter is useful if you want a bare-bones version of email newsletter software.
Paid Subscriptions. Memberful or Patreon to get monthly support. Patreon is is easier to get started than Memberful. You can also use Substack to run a paid newsletter.
Podcasts. Anchor is the easiest way to make a podcast. Spotify owns it now. It can help you host and distribute your podcast.
Video Calls. Zoom is the most loved app for video calls now. You can also use Krisp to remove background noise when making calls in public spaces.
Audio. AudioTrimmer is good for slicing audio files.
Transcription. There are a lot of services that offer transcription but Rev is the best among all I have used. There are also AI-powered transcribers. I like Otter.ai over others.
Pre-selling/Crowdfunding. Kickstarter is what most creators use.
I hope this post helps you in your journey as a professional creator. It may take longer than you think it will so hold tight and move forward one day at a time.
If you are still testing the waters and not sure of your chosen path then create on side and do something to pay the bills while you build your career as a creative.
You may not be able to absorb all that I wrote here in one go so save it for later and come back for another look.
Email me if you plan to use some of the ideas here or if you have questions!