Opportunity cost is notoriously difficult to nail down.
The problem is that missed opportunities are invisible: you don’t see what you’re missing until you’ve set up systems to tap it. No one ever knocks on your door, hands you a check, and says, “Here you go! Here’s the money you should have been earning for the past five years.”
Yet if you’re a creator with at least a modest audience, this invisible revenue is everywhere around you.
Consider NYC-based fashion and beauty content influencer Austen Tosone. She makes the most from direct sponsorship deals with beauty brands. With thousands of subscribers on YouTube, no one would blame her if she stuck to what’s already working.
Yet in a recent video, she highlighted six other streams of income that have been worth her while:
- Workshops, using the platform Speakeasy
- Platform incentives, such as a tipping system or Pinterest’s creator rewards program
- Digital products (an eBook for pitching brands launched on Pitch)
- Advertisements (ads on YouTube’s partner program and Adsense)
- Affiliate marketing
Combined, these six alternative income streams match Tosone’s revenue from beauty sponsorships. By tapping into these alternative monetization streams, Tosone almost doubled her income.
How can content creators do the same? How can you leverage existing platforms and add income streams without burning out?
1. Create a scalable business model
If monetization is so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? One word: time.
Setting up a new income stream requires some upfront legwork. And wasn’t freeing up more time the point of becoming a creator?
Khe Hy of RadReads initially started his business to escape the nine-to-five drudgery. The aspiration behind RadReads wasn’t to grow, grow, grow.
It was to find the answer to a simple question: what kind of life do you want to live?
Hy initially created the company to free his time for morning surf sessions. Instead, he found himself spending vacations creating payroll schedules or reimbursement policies.
His solution: to find the “embedded flywheels” in his audience to scale himself. Hy recommends collaborations, affiliate marketing agreements, referrals, and brand ambassador programs.
The key, Hy said, is to look for business ideas that don’t require your presence to create the product.
Putting the business ahead of your life goals, Hy discovered, is not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for burnout.
When you’re a creator, you can do the same. You only need to learn how to scale yourself.
Scalable content helps you leverage your time
Creators—all 50 million of them—don’t have too much trouble finding a platform to launch themselves. ConvertKit. Patreon. YouTube. TikTok. Twitch. Pinterest. Instagram. Podia. The list of audience-building platforms goes on and on.
The trouble comes when creators run out of days in the week.
There are generally two options here:
- Increase audience size (easier said than done)
- Stop trading money for time
The solution is to expand by pivoting into scalable products and services, such as:
- Affiliate programs
- Switching from one-to-one consultations to webinars and workshops (with unlimited attendance)
- Focusing on platforms with additional incentives (such as Clubhouse tips or Twitch streams)
- Launching digital products
- Setting up recurring subscriptions to the same offerings
- Joining advertising programs that pay you for the traffic and clicks you generate
Your goal: Find a way to leverage your presence to create maximum returns on your time.
Remaining authentic and transparent as you scale
What if your audience isn’t receptive to your new scaling and monetization efforts? What if you’re afraid of losing your wholesome, personable persona? Isn’t that what helped you earn an audience in the first place?
When you add scaling and monetization to your business, be honest about what you’re doing—and why you’re doing it.
Money blogger Jordan Page, for example, tells her audience about how she monetizes her blog without losing her personal touch.
In “The truth about how my blog makes money,” she tells readers exactly how she makes money: Sponsored posts. Sponsored product reviews. Giveaways. Ads. Affiliate relationships.
Blogging is not easy. The honest truth is that there are many times where I long for the early days when I had an ugly site, had no idea what I was doing, and blogged away with blissful ignorance.
– Jordan Page
Page doesn’t hold back out of fear of looking inauthentic. She’s upfront with her readers about why her emails ask for a click on her website. She tells readers why she hosts advertisements on the website itself. It’s her way of scaling the business without asking readers for money.
But what if you’re comfortable asking for money? You can start selling content that scales.
Shift your resources toward digital product sales
Steph Taylor is a content creator focusing on launch strategies for online businesses. She’s mastered the scaling game by de-emphasizing her one-on-one services. Instead, she focuses on digital products that cost nothing to reproduce, giving her immense leverage over her income.
8% of my income is from info product sales. 21% of my income comes from affiliate programs and affiliate launches (mainly from referring people to a course, and from SaaS referrals). The rest (about 1%) is from services—I very rarely work with clients.
– Steph Taylor
Does this get in the way of a more personal, authentic presence? Not according to Shawn Blanc of The Focus Course. He redirected his efforts to the more “personal” aspects of his brand capable of scaling to larger audiences.
“We stopped monetizing the content and now focus only on monetizing products and events beyond,” said Blanc.
This insight means you don’t have to sacrifice your friendly persona. You can still have a personal presence as long as you leverage specific events in the digital world, such as:
- Live events
- Online courses that feature you talking, as though one-on-one
For Jean Wandimi, a digital marketing creator, relying on a single source of income isn’t just a bad idea. It’s a direct threat to her livelihood. Wandimi says advertising money trickles slowly in her home country of Kenya.
Wandimi recommends seeking out communities and creating new content for them, such as Facebook’s managed groups. Twitter’s Ticketed Spaces are another potential source of revenue for creators with high-leverage social media accounts who aren’t sure how to monetize the small communities they’ve built.
Wandimi expanded her outreach to publish insights for these communities, giving fans an opportunity to pay her back with increased engagement and even digital tips.
Brands have noticed that they need to tap into communities now, not just posting things on social media. But if they find a community, for example…they can reach out to the moderators or admins of that group to do an ad, and they can pay them.
– Jean Wandimi
2. Create branded product lines or engage in brand collaborations
One of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to secure the rights of “Star Wars” merchandise. Had he not taken ownership of the brand, he would have earned roughly $100,000 for directing one of the biggest movies of all time. Instead, he sold it to Disney for $4 billion.
Maybe you can’t have the next Star Wars. But you don’t need it, either. You only need ownership or stakes in your next brand collaboration.
Leverage ownership: creating your own line of merchandise
Do you have a large audience? Are you in a niche with obvious merchandise tie-ins? Then you’re at an advantage.
Consider NELK, or the Nelk Boys. The Canadian comedy troupe’s forte? Pranks and party culture—natural fits for merchandising via their brand Full Send. Drinking games, keychain multi-tools, T-shirts, hoodies: their audience eats it all up.
According to some sources, the Nelk Boys earn some $70 million a year from merchandising alone.
But brand ownership like this is worth more than just a hefty share of the profits. It also means:
- Quality control over your products
- On-message, brand-specific targeting
- Building a company with an exclusive customer base already in mind
The good news: you don’t have to launch your own brand at first.
But as time went on, Perkins realized she didn’t have to rep other brands. She had enough influence to start one of her own.
For a long time, I helped many brands build their businesses through promotion and endorsement on my social channels. I was fortunate enough to earn a living through that and slowly save until I had enough to build products of my own.
– Desi Perkins
The result: brands like Dezi Eyewear and Dezi Skin.
Yet even with millions of social media followers, Perkins built from the ground up with five initial employees, three of whom were Desi, her husband, and her little brother.
Now, every time you see a caption on Desi’s page like the above, her promotion goes to one source: the brand she owns.
Partnership: leveraging an existing brand’s infrastructure
Desi didn’t start her own company until she’d built experience working with other brands. But you don’t have to create your own company to monetize the following you’ve built.
Leverage the existing structures of brands by negotiating exclusive tie-ins.
That’s exactly what Camila Coelho did with Revolve. Like Desi Perkins, Coelho didn’t dive head-first into the deep end of the pool. Coelho’s fashion and beauty YouTube channel started small, with makeup tutorials in the early 2010s.
But she grew her channel and started testing the waters. She worked with Lancôme and Brazilian luxury designer Carol Bassi. Once she was ready, she introduced her own beauty line with Luxury Brand Group and Revolve, the eCommerce retailer. The result: the Camila Coelho Collection.
Coelho said it was these early experiences that gave her the confidence for a new line:
I had worked with Revolve for many years before partnering with them on my collection. By then, I had already grown to love and admire the team at Revolve. It felt like such an organic partnership due to my existing relationship with the brand.
– Camila Coelho
Working with Revolve meant Coelho didn’t have to build her own company. But she still had control over what the line became, inspired by Coelho’s Brazilian roots.
Find the best partners for your audience
Chamberlain Coffee is the brainchild of a YouTube coffee influencer named Emma Chamberlain. Chamberlain parlayed her infectious passion for coffee into a legitimate company all her own. Yet even with that ownership in place, she took a lesson from her influencer days. She remembered the power of collaborations with other brands.
Chamberlain Coffee teamed up with GoPuff. The key? A natural collaboration: Chamberlain Coffee delivered through the GoPuff app.
This is a great example of a win-win. Chamberlain Coffee earns wider distribution. GoPuff reaches a new caffeinated audience.
Find the win-win scenarios for your own target market and reach out to the brands offering a complementary fit.
3. Ask for equity as a brand ambassador or advisor
How do you start a brand collaboration if you’re new to the idea? As it turns out, you can just ask.
That’s what Chloe Morello did to help create Face Halo. The beauty school dropout-turned-influencer had tried Face Halo herself and loved the product. She didn’t wait years of audience-building; she simply reached out to Face Halo and asked if she could help sell it.
But she didn’t ask to be another influencer. She wanted to become part of the company.
Seek power beyond pay-by-the-post
Morello’s intuition led to something more powerful than the typical influencer pay-by-the-post models. Rather than renting out a small chunk of her time, Morello became part of the company itself. Morello worked alongside Face Halo when launching Face Halo X, helping to test nine prototypes during development.
With a large enough audience, you may have more leverage than you realize.
Not every company will be up for giving away equity. Nor is it easy to part with a percentage of the profits.
But some companies will be more than happy to trade equity for a creator who believes in their brand. By vesting an influencer into a new product line, they don’t just acquire that influencer’s audience. They capture the influencer’s interest in making the product line a success.
For Morello, who often tags the makeup products she’s wearing in her Instagram photos, equity in Face Halo means she’s now tagging her own company.
LS and Nemesis, two Twitch streamers, secured a similar deal with Mobalytics. Rather than accept flat payment for their influence, they became part-owners of Mobalytics. In exchange, they promised to promote Mobalytics’ League of Legends companion app.
Taking on equity deals also helps creators leverage their time, scaling their business. Think of it this way: brand promotions expire, but equity endures.
Align with the brands you help
You don’t have to ask for ownership to take long-term ownership of your clients’ success, either.
Consider marketer Cody Plofker. He extended his income by taking on side gigs consulting with companies.
“For two software companies,” said Plofker, “I’m paid to do some content with them every month…expected to help them spread the word [and] advise on product roadmaps.”
Companies are already on influencer platforms like UpFluence or Aspire IQ to identify creators. But one-off deals have two disadvantages from the company's’ perspective:
- They’re short-term. Once a sponsored post is finished, there isn’t any lingering interest from the creator.
- They’re often paying a premium for a sponsored post, whereas long-term deals can be a bit like buying creator influence “in bulk.”
Equity deals and partnerships are win-win situations. They reward creators while giving companies long-term engagement with a new audience.
If you take away nothing else from the Chloe Morellos of the world, remember this: it never hurts to ask.
4. Go real-world: expand into real estate
Some audiences are begging for a real-world experience. And for Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman of A Beautiful Mess, there was a natural fit between their advice on style, recipes, and decor and an indoor experience.
The two co-creators decided to purchase a duplex in Nashville and rent it out to anyone in their audience who might be interested:
They also tied the duplex into their brand: because they’re co-creators, the duplex features a contrasting side-by-side experience. Renters can choose whether they want the Elsie Larson side or the Emma Chapman side. It’s not just a rental—it’s a visual representation of the “Beautiful Mess” experience.
Whether you’re going full “Dollywood” or simply promoting rental, one thing is clear: you don’t have to stick to digital real estate. Instead, you can use your popularity with an audience to lend some buzz to an entirely new venture.
5. Add sponsorships to newsletters, podcasts, and more
Celebrity sponsorships have been around since the days of Roman gladiator combat.
Fortunately, sponsorships have evolved a bit since then, becoming more accessible for everyday creators. Smaller influencers—more “niche” celebrities than the silver screen stars of the past—are gaining new traction by niching down and finding more targeted sponsors.
Find your sponsorship niche
Let’s take a huge industry—esports, an industry worth billions of dollars and full of consumer enthusiasm. (One survey showed one out of every ten adults across the globe follows a gaming influencer of some kind).
If you’re an esports creator, great. You have a huge market.
The problem is, everyone else knows it’s a huge market too.
The strategy is to “niche” down. Zoom in one category and look for sponsors in your unique space.
Take Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who, despite his 13 million+ followers on Instagram, still finds sponsors for esports-related niches. Browse Blevins’ Instagram and you’ll find people are following for more than gaming. They’re looking for:
- Information on setups and gaming gear
- Gaming-ready snacks (like a sponsored post with Takis)
- Brand collaborations (like a rare Xbox and Gucci crossover)
The list goes on and on.
But what if your target market isn’t as big as the world of esports, and you don’t have an Instagram following of 13 million?
Find sponsors for newsletters, podcasts, and other digital content
Just as every lock has a key, every niche has a natural sponsor.
That’s what Harlow found with Freelance Writing Coach: a natural fit. Harlow, a software company built for freelancers, might not want to sponsor a general “business/entrepreneur” podcast.
But a freelancer podcast? *Chef’s kiss*.
Because of this match between sponsorship and content, the CTA is far more natural. Freelance Writing Coach offers access to a free month of Harlow with a newsletter signup.
Newsletters, podcasts—it doesn’t matter where you find your niche audience. What matters is that you curate sponsorship pairings that fit your niche like a glove.
6. Expand into software and applications
You have a vital message you need to send to the world as a content creator. You want to shout it from the rooftops. You want to change lives.
If that’s the case, you’re not going to change the world with one-on-one sessions.
Dunlap, a personal finance expert, traditionally worked one-on-one with women. She coached these women through the process of building wealth. But there was still a challenge. How could Dunlap scale what she does?
Dunlap turned to a downloadable app. This created digital leverage:
- Educational videos and articles that taught Dunlap’s core concepts
- Investment management tools community members could use themselves
- Leveraged Q&A sessions that worked like consultations—but to larger audiences
Dunlap didn’t create it from scratch, either. She partnered with Treasury’s co-founders, Elias Rothblatt and Ivar Vong, to create the investing community. This community will be exclusive to Dunlap’s “Her First 100k.”
Or consider two familiar names: Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman of A Beautiful Mess. They founded A Color Story, application tools for color designs, social media filters, and photo processing. In other words, they created apps specifically designed to appeal to their audience. A Color Story is free, but its in-app purchases create an additional revenue stream for A Beautiful Mess.
Diversify your income, not your time
Diversifying your income isn’t about the money grab. It’s about reclaiming your time to help avoid burnout. It’s about scaling your offerings so you can reach more people. It’s about giving yourself more security in case your usual wells run dry.
As a creator, you know what it means to take a risk or two. It means trying new things, leveraging the connections you already have, forging partnerships—and sometimes simply having the audacity to ask for what you want.
Now all you have to do is find the income stream that makes sense for your time and your audience. And with ConvertKit's creator marketing platform, you can build the hub of your creator business from relationship building through email and automations, promotion with landing pages, and monetization with Commerce. Our easy to use tools will help you stay focused on what you do best- serving your audience.