Even though the title of this article has the word rules in it, you should treat them as recommendations for success in the creator economy. All advice is more effective when you apply the principles in an original context.
- Question the validity of these rules in the context of your life and work.
- Modify, rewrite and adapt them so they work for you.
These rules are not a formula but a framework for producing value in the creator economy.
Rule # 1: Great Content is Not a Competitive Advantage
In our conversation on the Deep Questions podcast, Cal Newport said Democratizing Access Doesn’t Change the Dynamics of Winner Takes All. Everyone has access to the same essential tools, resources, and distribution channels in the creator economy.
Your work must be exceptional, extraordinary, and remarkable to create content that captures people’s attention and touches their hearts. Producing great content doesn’t give you a competitive advantage. It’s a basic requirement.
As the economist Tyler Cowen said Average is over, and it has been for quite some time.
Rule # 2: Loyalty is More Valuable Than Reach
Democratizing access to tools, resources, and distribution channels led to fragmentation of the media landscape over the past 10 years. Individuals with limited resources and unlimited imaginations have the same power as organizations with limitless resources and limited imaginations.
Whether you want to write a book, host a radio show, have your own TV show, you there apps and tools that will enable you to go from idea to execution faster than ever. Content creation tools that become cheaper, faster, and easier to use will increase the fragmentation of the media landscape and impact building an audience in the creator economy in three significant ways.
1. Retention Will Matter More than Acquisition
In the past decade, audience growth was all about acquisition. In the coming decade, it will be about retention. When consumers have millions of options for podcasts, books, youtube channels, blogs, and newsletters, creators who retain their subscribers will have a massive advantage over those who acquire lots of subscribers but retain very few.
2. Engagement Will Matter more Than Reach
Their relationship with their audiences gives individual creators a MASSIVE advantage over the big media companies who view their audience as eyeballs instead of humans. To quote Seth Godin, “would they miss you if you were gone?”
- If Buzzfeed went out of business tomorrow, it might make headlines for the week. But we wouldn’t miss it much if it’s gone.
- But there’s no question that those who have benefited from Seth Godin’s generosity will miss him when he’s gone.
A true creative legacy is about having the kind of impact that lasts long after you’re gone.
3. Hearts Not Eyeballs
Content is a vehicle for transformation. And we transform people’s lives by touching their hearts. What Austin Kleon said is more true now than ever before. “You want hearts, not eyeballs.”
100 true fanatics who will move heaven and earth to support you is far more valuable than 1 million people who pay attention today and forget about you tomorrow.
Rule # 3: Only is Better Than Best
Trying to become the best at anything is a zero-sum game because there’s always someone ahead of you and always someone behind you.
This is true for authors on best-seller lists, billionaires on the Forbes lists, and companies on Inc Lists. Competing to be on these lists will become a bigger dick-measuring contest than it is today.
Once whatever you create becomes a commodity, there will always be an alternative that’s cheaper, faster, or incrementally better. Standing out in a sea of noise is no longer a matter of success. It’s a matter of survival for every brand, business, or creator.
When nobody does what you do in the way you do it, your competition will become irrelevant. Only is better than best.
Rule # 4: Solve Problems Instead of Selling Products
According to author Emily Heyward, to build a brand that people love from day one, you have to Start with The Customer and The Problem You Solve. People download apps, listen to podcasts, subscribe to newsletters, and purchase products to solve THEIR problems.
Crowdfunding platforms deluded many creators into thinking the kindness of strangers would enable them to monetize their work. While super fans might spend money to support a creator, they’ll always pay more when creators solve their problems.
Solving someone’s problems is the key to what Victor Cheng calls Extreme Revenue Growth. But the benefits of solving your customer’s problem have to be greater than the cost.
- People take Ramit Sethi’s copywriting course to increase conversion rates (the problem).
- The price of the course is a little over $2000 (cost).
- For our team, the benefit of taking the course has been over $20,000 in additional revenue.
Because the benefit was ten times greater than the cost, investing in his course more than paid for itself. Producing Value in the creator economy is about who you want your fans, followers, and subscribers to become due to your work.
The greater the benefit to the audience, the bigger the payoff for the creator.
Rule #5: Mastery Over Metrics
What we overlook about most successful creators is that we see the result, but not the work.
Iconic creators and successful entrepreneurs spend decades putting in the work, paying their dues, and mastering their craft. There are no shortcuts or foolproof formulas for accomplishing something extraordinary.
The pursuit of internet fame causes many aspiring creators to focus on meaningless vanity metrics.
Measurement indeed improves performance. But what improves metrics is a commitment to mastery. To produce value in the creator economy, artists need to measure hours of deep work and deliberate practice instead of meaningless vanity metrics. They need to focus on mastery instead of metrics.
Rule # 6: The Audience Defines the Brand
The paradox of a personal brand is that it is not about you at all. It’s about your audience. As a creator, you need to stop asking “what’s in it for me” and start asking “what’s it in for them?”
Creating value in the creator economy will no longer be about uploading pictures of your life to Instagram for other people to envy.
- The day and age of “isn’t my life fabulous, yours could be too” is over.
- Nobody cares about how extraordinary your life is.
- They care about how awesome you can help them make theirs.
Value in the creator economy is less about your personal vision and the vision you have for your audience.
Rule #7: Active Participation Over Passive Consumption
In a conversation I had with him years ago, the graffiti artist Erik Wahl said, “live music has engaged participants, and keynote speaking has passive consumers. There’s room to be explored in how we bridge the gap.”
The same will be true for everything from books to online courses to produce Value in the creator economy. The more that consumers actively participate in consuming content, the more value creators will capture.
Consider the example of online courses. DIY courses have passive consumers. In one of their newsletters, the team at Virtually said this about DIY courses.
According to a recent study, the average completion rate for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is approximately 15%. These refer to self-paced courses where video is the primary way that your learners digest content.
Not only is that an abysmal completion rate. But it degrades the value of an online course for the creator and the consumer. Cohort-based courses produced more Value because both the creators and the consumers are engaged participants.
For creators to produce value in the creator economy, their audience will need to become engaged participants. The more engaged the audience is, the more value you’ll create.
Rule #8: Creativity Over Technical Competence
When my mentor Greg traveled around the country between 2010 and 2013, he would ask people if they knew how to use the internet. After they looked at him somewhat dumbfounded by what seemed to be an idiotic question, he would ask them to show him something they made using the internet.
As tools become easier to use, technical competence will become less critical, and what will matter more is a creator’s ability to imagine what’s possible with tools at their disposal. The question creators need to ask every time they discover a new tool or platform is, “what could I make using this?”
Rule 9: Use Distribution Channels That You Rent to Promote Assets You Own
Distribution is a foundational element of growth. It doesn’t matter if you write a book worthy of Pulitzer or make a movie worthy of an Oscar.
Without distribution, no creator can reach or grow an audience. A lousy product with excellent distribution will always outsell a superior one with subpar distribution. Good distribution is why movies that suck become blockbusters and brilliant works of art linger in obscurity.
Hidden Vulnerabilities of Distribution Channels You Rent
Amazon, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, and Medium are distribution channels that creators rent with their time, money, and attention. When creators become overdependent on these channels, they’re at the mercy of the companies that own them. All of these channels democratize access, but they also put creators who depend on them at risk.
A glitch in the iTunes store led to a MASSIVE decline in podcast downloads and ad revenue in the second and third quarters of 2021. Podcasters were at Apple’s mercy until they fixed the glitch.
While these kinds of glitches are negligible for a company like Apple, they can be detrimental to the livelihood of creators.
Algorithm Driven Consumption
The weakness of this system is that users rarely see anything outside of their interest areas and can get locked into filter bubbles; popular creators are further amplified, making it challenging for newcomers to break out. However, when algorithms do the searching for users, there are more opportunities for niches to thrive. -Li Jin, The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class
Because algorithms drive consumption, organic reach is virtually non-existent on many social platforms.
- Our Facebook page for Unmistakable Creative has over 7000 fans. But only 2 or 3 people click on any link that I share.
- The only way to reach more people is to spend money on ads.
Even popular creators with massive audiences are at risk, and one change in an algorithm can cause revenue and traffic to plummet overnight.
I was one of the first 500 writers on Medium. My article about how writing 1000 words a day changed my life went viral and led to a book deal with a publisher. When people learn about stories like mine, platforms eventually become saturated.
Medium was one of our most significant sources of referral traffic and newsletter subscribers for two years.
- As more writers joined Medium, our referral traffic declined.
- Despite having 50,000 followers on Medium, the impact on our referral traffic is negligible
- When I send a newsletter with my latest blog post, I no longer send my readers to Medium.
Platform saturation is another vulnerability that decreases the Value of rented distribution channels.
The copywriter Dan Kennedy said, “anytime you have layers between you and the people who give you money, you have problems. Platforms have ownership of the data, which creates a layer between creators and the people who can give them money. As long as platforms own the data, creators will be at their mercy.
Distribution Channels You Own
An email list and a website are channels that creators own. If creators move to a different web host or email service provider, they can take their audience and content with them.
Every piece of content a creator produces is an asset they own, and a Facebook fan page with millions of fans is an asset that Facebook owns.
When you own the distribution channel, you control your destiny as a creator.
Use distribution channels you rent to promote assets that you own.
Rule 10: Automate and Delegate
In the value chain of content creation, there is only one task within any creator’s zone of genius: creating the content. Even though we need to edit the audio, write episode descriptions, design the cover art and upload the audio to our podcast host, the highest value task in this process is conducting the interview.
Every moment you spend completing a low-value task that you could automate or delegate is a moment you could have spent working on your highest value tasks.
By automating and delegating less cognitively demanding work, creators can reallocate their mental bandwidth for deep work.
Rule 11: Exceed the Limitations of Your Medium
Basecamp founder Jason Fried once said, “When you make something, you make something else. Just like they say, you can not not communicate, you can not not make something else. Everything has a byproduct. Observant and creative entrepreneurs spot these byproducts and see opportunities.”
Every creator will have a primary medium of expression. But those who exceed the limitations of the medium and recognize opportunities their byproducts generate will gain greater leverage from their body of work.
Hollywood has capitalized on the byproducts of other mediums of expression for decades. TV shows like Gossip Girl, Harry Potter, and Friday Night Lights originated from books or true stories.
Audio is a medium of expression with multiple potential byproducts.
Spark My Interest is a podcast where the hosts choose three stories they discover on the internet and discuss them on air. The hosts could easily repurpose every episode into a weekly newsletter for people who prefer written content over audio.
Our team at Unmistakable Creative has repurposed the content from our show into free e-books, animated shorts, audiograms, blog posts, and more.
To exceed the limitations of a medium, creators will need to think from first principles.
- Identify the raw materials of the content
- Determine the potential byproducts
- Repackage and repurpose the byproducts into multiple formats
The creator economy makes it possible for every aspiring creator to publish, promote, and share their work.
But producing Value in the creator economy ultimately comes down to one key idea:
Profitable customer transformation that makes as much wealth for the audience as it does for the creators.
Want to Learn How to Create Value in the Creator Economy
I’m the host and founder of the Unmistakable Creative Podcast, where I have candid conversations with insanely interesting people ranging from porn stars to presidential candidates. Click here to Subscribe.