If you have a Smartphone and an internet connection, you can create digital media and reach a global audience. Anyone with a knack for creating audio, video, text, or visuals can become a content creator and build their personal media empire.
While it may not seem like a big deal, the democratization of distribution is momentous for creators. Not so long ago, you needed to go through middlemen for broadcasting any kind of information.
Now, without spending a penny, you can create media assets and find an audience interested in consuming it through various marketing channels. Why is it then that only a few content creators rule the roost? For instance, over 90% of pages on the internet get zero traffic from Google!
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In this article, I’ll share a few controversial tips on how to become a sought after content creator in your industry. Let’s begin with answering a few FAQs:
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Frequently Asked Questions About Content Creators
If you’re new to the world of content creation, let’s get you to speed and address common objections surrounding the occupation.
A content creator is a professional who crafts digital media assets — text, video, or audio — for a specific audience. Companies generally leverage the services of such creators to generate brand awareness and kick off a relationship with their prospects.
Zippia, a jobs portal, found that 65.5% of content creators have a bachelor’s degree. But numerous writers, YouTube creators, and podcasters thrive in their careers — earning six figures — without being a Communications major. Creating a commendable body of work or building an audience through your content are both sufficient to have a successful career.
The job description of a content creator includes creating blog posts, email newsletters, social media graphics, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, whitepapers, and other digital marketing assets. Among other tasks, you might be expected to distribute your content on social media, understand SEO, and collaborate with sales and marketing teams.
Primarily you’ll need excellent communication, relationship building, and storytelling chops. Learning SEO, mastering marketing on a social media platform, finding your way around software such as WordPress, and building a portfolio can all come in handy, though.
The salary range for the average content creator in the United States falls around $35k and increases with your work experience. But it’s heavily dependent on your audience size and body of work. It’s not uncommon for self-employed freelance writers to make six figures, and YouTube creators earn millions in revenue from their channels.
Google Documents, WordPress, Grammarly, Elementor Pro, Ahrefs, and Google Analytics are some of the top tools for textual content creation. For crafting visual and video media, TubeBuddy, Canva, Tailwind, and Adobe Premiere Pro will come in handy.
You need to build assets such as a decent-sized audience and a commendable body of work to become a sought after content creator in your niche. But it starts with honing your craft by creating something regularly and putting it out to your audience, then learning from the feedback you receive.
In the next section, let’s look at a few habits, principles, and tools required to become a high-quality content creator. I might mostly refer to textual content creation in the pointers below, but the overarching ideas are valid to video creators, podcasters, and all kinds of creators.
If the advice below seems counterintuitive, then read through the examples and supporting ideas again. Off we go!
1. Niche Down So That You Can Scale Up
When I began content creation, I got paid a tad over 50 cents for a 500-word blog post. To date, content mills and freelance marketplaces continue paying $5 per article to new writers. In the iWriter pricing plans below, look at the pay for the “Standard” tier.
Working for such content creation companies that deem it as a commodity is a huge mistake. It shouldn’t be on your cards (barring a few decently paying gigs at Upwork). But can you get paid well at the beginning of your content career at all?
It’s a reaffirming YES. Begin by niching down. Don’t try to please millions, rather, find those 1000 true fans you would genuinely love to have a conversation with. That’s not a big ask given that even appealing to one-in-a-million people of the world would leave you with 7000 people.
Tim Ferriss, author and entrepreneur, lays down the importance of finding this ‘narrow niche’ for yourself — about aiming for a readership that LOVES every piece of content you create.
I rescued my freelance content career by specializing in writing digital marketing articles and later SaaS content marketing. That’s how I raised my rates by over 2000x and scaled up my content business.
Whether you’re producing videos for your YouTube channel, starting a podcast, or engaging in any other creative endeavor — niche down. It’s going to build a strong foundation for scaling up your audience or your pay later on.
Want to create a persona of your “true” fans? Get started with this free Make My Persona tool by Hubspot.
2. Build Streaks To Gain Momentum
Whenever I’ve set huge goals for myself related to creative projects — be it writing or producing videos — I’ve felt overwhelmed. I almost always backed out even before starting the project. I learned the hard way that the key to flexing your creative muscles is just by showing up regularly and completing mini-tasks.
If you’re getting started with a blog, you need not write 1000 words every day. Just promise yourself to put down 100 words a day and build a streak of the same. The idea is to set the bar so low, you won’t feel any resistance in showing up.
Especially at the beginning of a creative project, such streaks help you feel confident and gain momentum. I’ve found them helpful in building an appetite for taking on bigger challenges. For instance: Once you get the foot in the door with those first 50 words — you’ll feel inertia to continue writing. Who knows, you might even complete a whole article.
I like using the Strides app (available on iOS and web) to keep track of my habit streaks. Here’s a preview of me trying to “play the guitar” every day. I’m trying to improve the percentage of days I show up.
Building such streaks can also take a weekly form. James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) chose a frequency of publishing two articles per week at the beginning of his blogging journey. That has paved his way to becoming a bestselling author and a super successful blogger.
One fine day, James didn’t feel like he had any great ideas and wanted to give up.
So what did he do?
He used some grit and wrote anyway.
Later in the article, I’ll share another application that will help you understand your body’s internal clock so you can build your writing routine accordingly.
3. Copy Badasses In Your Industry
Maybe you’re a video creator and connect with someone like Gary Vaynerchuk. He shares valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, which is such a common subject. But his videos have a characteristic GaryVee exuberance, so you dissect that by watching his videos.
His tone overflows with energy, swearing, and hustle. He isn’t worried about being politically correct. He doesn’t want to appeal to everyone. So you can take the best parts of his approach.
For a content writer, it could mean reading articles at the New York Times or their favorite blog, then dissecting their usage of punctuation, framing of arguments, sentence structure, and even memes. You can do this for a bunch of your favorite writers.
Conduct the above exercise whenever you want some inspiration — until you realize that you’ll only fail at becoming these artistic folks — and in the process, you find your style, your voice.
It’s combinatorial creativity at work. As Maria Popova, author and the founder of Brain Pickings, puts it: “We take information, from it synthesize insight, which in turn germinates ideas.”
Note: Especially while creating content in crowded industries such as business and marketing, it’s important to speak and write from personal experience, all while taking inspiration from the greats you feel inspired by. Your authentic voice is your only defense against competition.
4. Leverage Data To “Inform” Your Content Creation, BUT…
Content is a marketing channel. So it’s important for your writing, videos, or any other creative project to help the business bottom line and data can be a great indicator of it. For instance, you can measure:
brand awareness (traffic),
leads (newsletter signups, product trials and demos, and the like),
and sales (direct revenue).
So, install Google Analytics (GA) on your website to keep track of your content performance and insist your clients do the same. Besides your website, all other platforms (YouTube, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, you name it) you create content for will have dedicated analytics.
For instance, here’s a snapshot from GA for my article: things to write about. It gets pretty slick engagement, but I can work on reducing the bounce rate of the article.
Indeed, depending on your goals, you can set up key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate your content. It can include product trials generated, newsletter signups, average engagement rate, and the like.
Let me share an example to illustrate a few KPIs:
- A comparison review article like “best online course platforms” will appeal to course creators who want to purchase course software. It need not generate a lot of traffic, but it should generate product trials.
Now consider an informational article like “getting high-paying ghostwriting jobs.” It should appeal to freelancers who want to make money writing. If the readers find it valuable, it should generate newsletter signups.
For content creators, traffic, pageviews, search traffic, keywords ranked, and such could be decent starting points. But if you’re not a publisher monetizing your content with advertisements, then these are all vanity metrics — because none of them would directly be attributed to the revenue you generate. Choose a metric as close to your bottom line as possible.
At the end of every month, you can review your data, check the performance of your content against your KPIs, and try to answer questions such as:
- What kind of content you created is performing the best vs. the worst?
- How many articles is a typical website visitor reading when they come to your site?
- What is the difference in behavior between a mobile vs. desktop visitor?
You’re looking to accrue insights from these questions so that you can iterate your process of content creation. It might mean you find something that goes against your gut. What should you do in such situations? Well, you need to:
5. Create A Body Of Work You’re Proud Of…
Your intuition can derail you, so coupling it with data for informing your content creation is all fine and dandy. But let’s look at a special scenario:
Data says that certain kinds of review articles are performing the best. You feel bored exclusively writing them alone, though. You want to experiment with newer and exciting content formats.
Well, for me, the joy of creation can’t be compromised consistently. If you want to play the long game, some stats about YouTube or best practices about adding tags in your videos can’t be your guiding light.
A creative career in content calls for building a strong body of work — something you feel excited about even while putting sweat equity and something you feel proud of — and that can’t happen with “safe” career choices and “proven” frameworks alone.
You need to take risks and let your curiosity guide you — maybe even when data tells you otherwise and even when it doesn’t seem to have a financial potential. Remember your portfolio reflects your creative potential and will result in career opportunities of that magnitude.
6. Don’t Work On Your Content Creation Skills
When I first started a creative career, I felt outraged at creative professionals who I “felt” were undeserving of their fame and wealth.
My judgemental notions were brought to rest when I read a thing or two about gatekeepers — the influential people who control access to audiences, evaluate the quality of work, and decide who becomes the next BIG thing!
Beyond your core content creation skills, becoming a successful content professional calls for working “on your career.” You need to understand what Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, calls meta-knowledge.
Here’s how he defines it: “Meta-knowledge is knowledge about how your career works. For example, which skills matter, and which you should ignore, and how best demonstrate your talent in your particular industry, and so on.”
So do yourself a favor by understanding the business of content marketing. Building a reputation for yourself requires networking with influencers. Having a decent-sized email list and snagging appearances in industry publications (through interviews, guest posts, collaboration, and the like) also helps.
Think of someone like Aaron Orendorff who is currently the VP of Marketing at Common Threads Collective. He began his journey as a copywriter and guest posted on every major marketing blog you can imagine.
It not only gathered social proof, but he understood the kind of writing expected by these established brands. He got to refine his skills based on feedback from editors and gatekeepers from huge publications. And his focus on quality helped him get “discovered” by Ann Handley, a marketing influencer — that’s when his career gained momentum.
Influencer outreach, relationship building, and collaborating with other creators is going to pay you off — oftentimes even more than creating content. Alongside this, if you can start an email list, you’re giving yourself all the security you can get with a creative career.
Those were all of my tips for becoming a successful creator. In the next section, let’s look at a few software that will help you put your best foot forward.
Content Creation Tools That Will Save You Time And Effort
Here are a few tools and apps to streamline your digital content creation in all formats (text, graphics, audio, and video). I’m assuming you’re using WordPress as your content management system — it’s free, robust, customizable, and extendable in functionalities.
Hands down the most useful SEO tool for performing keyword research, competitor analysis, and tracking search rankings. I check it almost every day to evaluate how my top articles are faring for their target keywords.
I also use the Ahrefs SERP overview when creating outlines for my articles to:
- get an idea of how the top-ranking content on the subject is structured, its comprehensiveness, and trying to find a unique angle,
- find related keywords and topics to include in my articles (taking cues from the articles currently ranking).
Here’s an example SERP for the article “Freshbooks review” that I wanted to write about.
Alternative: Answer The Public
Another great keyword research tool to find the exact questions people are asking on a subject and get a comprehensive list of phrase variations for a seed keyword. I use it occasionally to substitute the research I did with Ahrefs. Here’s an example of questions that pop up when I type “Freshbooks” inside the tool.
I relied on Microsoft Word about six years ago, but now my go-to writing software is Google Documents. It’s intuitive, collaborative, and makes the process of creation a breeze. You can mark comments to leave instructions for publishing, editors can make suggestions, and the like.
The best thing about the tool is you can insert quick screenshots and paste photos from the web without downloading them.
Top It Up With Trello
To manage your content creation, project management software such as Trello can be really handy. It’s the place where your whole content team (editor, content manager, designer, SEO, and anyone else) can put together an article, attach deadlines to tasks, and more.
Here’s a screenshot of my editorial board where we try to run every article through five stages by using lists. Starting from the first “Tasks” list, an article runs through various lists and is pushed to a “Done” list finally.
Almost none of the articles on my website go without a check from this headline tool. Granted writing is qualitative and sometimes the score can be misleading. But couple it with your judgment, and you’ll be able to write captivating titles every single time.
I try headline variations and try to touch a score of 70. Or hover around 60 when the keyword for my article doesn’t allow creativity (such as “best” software review articles).
I like to run almost all of my articles through Grammarly Premium, but don’t accept all of its suggestions. Its weekly reports, writing tone and goals analysis, and a mobile app for grammar checking writing on the go are cherry on the top.
It’s become more important than ever to focus on the user experience of your visitors. Elementor Pro has slick drag and drop page building features for WordPress. Its set of widgets and layout customization options can make your articles visually beautiful.
It’s even possible to create “single post templates” on the top of your WordPress theme then reuse it across your site. For instance, I created a “top features” widget below that I can now reuse in my software review articles.
Top It Up With Shortpixel Image Optimizer
When you’re writing technical articles, they are usually accompanied by numerous screenshots showing features in action. While graphics are great additions for breaking your content into readable chunks, they are heavy in size and increase the loading time of your pages. It makes for bad user experience and can impact your search rankings.
So I use the Shortpixel Image Optimizer plugin on all the images I upload — it works its magic to compress them without sacrificing the quality. Look at the disk space and bandwidth that this plugin has saved me.
Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful tool to measure traffic on your website, top referral sources, the engagement on your top pages, and the overall content performance.
I like to keep tabs on how the website visits per day and week are faring (though it isn’t as essential). And the average “time on page” that people are spending on the top articles for my website and if it’s unusually low, then diagnosing why.
There’s so much data inside GA that you can get overwhelmed. This is why custom dashboards created by other professionals such as this Pinterest Dashboard by Kristie Hill come in handy.
If you’re a video content creator, then YouTube could be a source of evergreen exposure for you — it’s the third biggest search engine in the world after all. TubeBuddy is a top YouTube SEO tool for dissecting the phrases to go after so that you rank in YouTube search. For instance, the keyword below has an overall “Poor” score, so I won’t consider going after it.
I was successful in ranking my first video because I had carefully chosen my phrase and used it in the YouTube metadata. Besides SEO, the tool has robust competitor analysis, productivity, video optimization, and other features.
Another top YouTube tool, vidIQ, has almost the same features as TubeBuddy. I use both the tools in conjunction with YouTube. But in the vidIQ scorecard, I like the “views per hour” metric as it shows the current popularity of a video, which is more useful than lifetime views a video has accrued.
If you’re a social media content creator, Canva is a Godsend. It’s hands down the best graphic design tool with a plethora of templates for your blog posts, social media, marketing brochure, and everything else under the sun. Even without prior design experience, you’ll be able to create attractive visuals through its intuitive interface and range of free images/templates.
Alternative: PlaceIT and Envato Elements
Want to add even more color to your social media content creation? Then PlaceIT and Envato Elements offer even more templates.
PlaceIT with its library of over 50k templates could help you design graphics for Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media in seconds.
And Envato Elements is more holistic in offering stock video, audio effects, and other digital media assets.
Content creators for social media can’t always stay online to post updates and interact with their audience. But guess who can? That’s right, a social media scheduling and analytics tool such as Tailwind. It’s great at ensuring my Pinterest account keeps sending fresh content.
It also sends nifty weekly reports to analyze the performance of my pins and my scope of improvement. Tailwind can also handle your Instagram, but for scheduling updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn you’ll need to use another tool like Buffer.
All digital content creators need to understand their internal body clocks — specifically the times of the day when they are the most productive. I’ve relied on RescueTime to track all my logged in hours on my laptop for over five years and love its weekly email reports.
With tracked data, you can dissect the times of the day when you’re the most productive vs. distracted. For me, evenings and late nights work the best.
In the long-term, such insights could help build better work habits. And hey, if you tend to open distracting websites during your work hours, then FocusTime (a RescueTime Premium feature) can block’em for designated hours for you.
If you’re looking to create professional-grade software walkthroughs, video tutorials, or presentations, then Camtasia’s powerful suite of tools is perfect. It’s a powerful screen recording and video editing software. Functionalities include the addition of filters, effects, animations, and even recording your face with your screen (to give your videos that personal touch).
Alternative: Adobe Premiere
Want high-end video editing capabilities and don’t mind a steep learning curve? Look no further than Adobe Premiere Pro — it’s the global standard. Creators relying on Adobe products for other projects will feel especially at home with its user interface. Though expensive as compared to its competitors, its lightning, audio, and color tools are top-notch.
If you want to launch your own show (or create audio content), then you need a podcast host. Buzzsprout (review) is an affordable host with all the necessary podcasting features you need to get started. It makes podcasting fairly straightforward and even if you get stuck the company offers robust customer support.
Considering doing webinars for your audience? Then get WebinarJam. It’s top-rated webinar software with a plethora of features to completely customize the webinar experience of your audience. You can engage your audience with surveys, polls, send out handouts, and even request an attendee to speak through its “Attendee Spotlight” feature.
Online courses are a cash cow for content creators as you can command a premium for them. And Thinkfic, with its drag and drop course builder and ready-to-use templates could serve as the ultimate course creator to get you started.
It also has a nifty site builder for designing your course website. But the marketing and selling tools on the platform will win your heart — you can offer discounts, onboard affiliates, package your courses into memberships, and much more.
Successful Content Creators Take An Audience-First Approach…
It’s about your audience after all, right? So building a successful content creation career starts with pinpoint them. From there, it’s about finding inspiration to create regularly and finding joy in the process. During your career, go with your instincts but don’t forget to mix it up with data.
Also don’t keep pressing publish alone — build an audience, collaborate with other creators, build relationships with influencers, and keep getting feedback about your work. All along, don’t mind using a little help from tools to automate tedious bits from creation.
Have you got any additional tips for becoming a rockstar content creator? Please share them with me in the comments below.