According to a recent study, more than half of children aged 6–17 surveyed chose content creator as their most desired career. 99% of them are in for a rude awakening. I know because I’ve met their future selves many, many, many times. They almost always have the same mindset—the wrong one.
Whenever someone asks me how to be a successful writer, nine times out of ten they don’t really want to know. They want a response, but they really don’t want to know what it actually takes to succeed.
They want an answer that makes them feel good, even if it’s not the entire truth. They want a response, but they also want to filter out any of the advice that goes against what they want to hear. They want the easy way out.
These people are not going to make it.
I’m not trying to be harsh for the sake of being harsh, but I’ve been in this game for years. I’ve seen it eat up pretty much everyone who tries. You have to go through the wringer of tedium and do things that you don’t want to do so you can achieve your ultimate goal.
So today we’re not going to talk about the glitz and glamour that comes with creating content for a living. We’re going to talk about the skills it really takes to win.
1. Become an idea machine
If you want to be a successful content creator, you have to be able to come up with good ideas consistently. Many new content creators wait for good ideas to fall in their laps. This causes them to be inconsistent because they’re always waiting for inspiration to strike instead of being on the constant hunt for ideas.
Regardless of the format, you can create a process that allows you to build a catalog of amazing work overtime.
Some practical tips for coming up with good ideas
The idea machine technique – I learned this technique from prolific writer and podcast host James Altucher. Every single day, he writes down 10 ideas. The ideas can be about anything you want, but I personally use this tactic to come up with ideas for pieces of content. To make the process work, you must be willing to fight through the bad ideas to get to the good ones. Usually, one or two of the 10 ideas I come up with are good, but that’s all I need.
Understand that everything is material – Many creators carry around a notebook to jot down ideas that come to them as they go about their daily life. Good artists train themselves to see the potential for ideas everywhere they go. I’ve used many random moments in my life as fuel for content ideas—conversations, observations I’ve made from people-watching, and even random pop culture references from movies and T.V. shows.
Become a good consumer to become a good creator – Some argue that you should create more than you consume. I disagree. You should consume just as much as you create. I create my best work when I’m adding new ideas into my mind by reading books, listening to podcasts, watching videos, etc. I take all of that raw source material and use it to connect different ideas together.
2. Steal like an artist
Building on the last point from above, if you want to become a successful content creator, you must develop the skill of becoming a thief. Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly.
A quote from Pablo Picasso says it well:
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Never plagiarize another creator’s work, but draw from a wide variety of sources so you can create original work. Another quote explains how the process works:
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.
When I write books, I use thenotecard technique that I learned from bestselling author Ryan Holiday. He will read dozens of books while researching ideas for his books. Whenever he finds a passage that stands out, he’ll highlight it. Once he’s done reading the book, he will let it sit for a week and then revisit the areas he highlighted.
When he finds sections and quotes that still stand out after letting the book sit, he’ll write them down on a notecard. Each notecard will have a label with a category he plans to write about in the book. By the end of the process, he’ll have hundreds of notecards labeled and organized by category. By the time he sits down to write the book, he’ll have a ton of different ideas and themes to insert and remix into his work.
You’ll rarely find ideas that have never been covered before. At best, you can seek to combine ideas in unique ways to come up with different angles for topics that have already been covered. So many great artists and creators have come before you and shared amazing insights, why start from scratch?
3. Harness the power of the internet
Today’s content creators are blessed with different tools and platforms to help them succeed. For writers, there arepersonal blogs and platforms like Medium, Quora, Substack, Amazon Kindle Publishing, and more. Video creators can harness the power of YouTube. Podcasters can use Apple and Spotify. All creators can use social media to spread the word and market their content.
Each of these different platforms has techniques you can use to be successful. Each has algorithms that can help promote your work to new audiences. There are tons of different technical tools you can use to improve different aspects of your content like email marketing software to build an audience, plugins to improve the performance on your website, or design tools like Canva tomake your content more visually appealing.
Many content creators fail because they claim they aren’t tech-savvy enough to learn how to use and take advantage of these platforms. If you don’t develop technical skills, you’ll have a hard time succeeding as a content creator, period. You’ll have a hard time being successful in today’s fast-paced work environment, period.
The good news? There’s a ton of different resources you can use to develop these technical skills. I’ve taken online courses to learn skills like search engine optimization, self-publishing books, mastering YouTube, and setting up WordPress websites, just to name a few. Sometimes the steps are tedious to learn, but all of the steps are learnable if you have patience. Instead of just throwing your content on these platforms and crossing your fingers, understand how these tools actually work so you can share your work more efficiently.
4. A crucial skill you can’t do without
Many content creators fail because they don’t understand marketing and sales. They’re unwilling to learn these skills because they’re afraid of being “sleazy” or too promotional. They believe in the faulty “build it and they will come” mentality.
If youcreate content, your content is a product. If you want to make a living with your content, you must treat it just like any other business. Successful businesses have customers. They all need a process to attract, land, and retain those customers.
Marketing is the process of making people aware of what you have to offer. Sales is the process of getting people to pay for what you have to offer. You can make an income from your content in different ways, but you’ll have to use both skills to do so.
Examples of marketing your content
Creating persuasive posts on social media
Posting content on popular platforms or your website to attract attention
Getting people to sign up to your email list
Creating messaging for your email list to get them to know, like, and trust you—while building awareness of the products or services you have to offer
Examples of making sales and money from your content
Creating products to sell based on the type of content you create—i.e., books, services, coaching, affiliate promotions, or subscriptions to your exclusive content
Creating launches for your products
Getting on sales calls to offer your services
Asking for a sale with different calls to action (CTA) in your content
Creating paid advertisements for your products
The graphic in the middle shows the entire picture of the different ways you might bring someone through the different stages of awareness—from not knowing who you are to eventually becoming a fan and customer. Find enough raving fans, and you have an audience you can use to make a living from your work.
Kevin Kelly says you need 1,000 true fans to pull this off. Let’s end this section with a quote from the article that talks about this process:
Depending on what you create and how you sell it, you might not need that many people in your tribe, but you definitely need to build a tribe of people who love your work. Without a solid understanding of marketing and sales, this will be really hard to pull off.
5. Turn pro
Last, you need to develop the skill of turning pro. What does turning pro mean? Here’s the definition from Steven Pressfield, the person who came up with the phrase:
When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.
If you want to create content for a living, you can’t have the attitude of an amateur. When it comes to the job you currently have, do you go even when you don’t really feel like it? Yes, because you need to eat and have a roof over your head. You don’t debate whether or not you’re going to show up because it’s necessary.
Until you treat content creation as a necessary part of your life, you’ll stay stuck being an aspiring content creator instead of a real one. You don’t need credentials or the fancy label of “expert” to become a professional.
You’re a professional as soon as you decide to be one.
You need a professional attitude to make it through the ups and downs of building a career as a content creator. The content creation game isn’t for the weak of heart. It requires a ton of patience, another important life skill that’s not just for content creation but also for becoming successful at anything that takes time.
It’s easy to look at content creators with massive followings and think to yourself “I could do that too.” But whenever you see someone with a large audience or a solid business behind their content, you’ll almost always find that they’ve put years of work into getting where they are. You should be willing to put in the work because you enjoy it. Don’t do it for the glitz and glamour.