Here’s How Long It Takes Creators To Launch A Profitable Business, According To A New Survey

Tirachard Kumtanom/Shutterstock, DEEMKA STUDIO/Shutterstock, Alisa_Elly/Shutterstock, Remix by Caterina Cox

Although it’s easier than ever to start a career as a content creator, the path to becoming a financially successful one remains fairly opaque. Understanding how much content creators make, how long it takes their content to profit, and what else goes into that process is difficult when everyone’s journey is so different—and when we hear more about the outlier overnight successes than the average creator.

Fortunately, a recent survey from The Tilt of 1043 current content creators seeks to change that, compiling data and averaging it for aspiring creators to at least get a ballpark of some of the numbers that might help you set goals for your own careers.

How long will it take to make enough money to support yourself?

Supporting yourself as a content creator is the dream of many who pursue this path. But it takes time to get there—and that time is usually spent either living off of savings, a partner or family member’s income, or working multiple jobs to keep things afloat.

Creators who currently consider this their primary or only job said that it took an average of 18 months to get to the point where the income they were earning from content creation covered their living expenses. 

Beyond that, it took five months for them to see any money from their work, a year for the amount they were making to exceed the expenses that went into their creations, and a little longer than that to make the jump to creating content full-time.

One potential takeaway from this timeline seems to be that there came a point for many creators where they had to take a leap of faith and switch over to full-time content creation before they were fully supporting themselves financially with it. That’s not an easy choice to make—and it’s certainly a risk that some might prefer to mitigate by continuing to work part-time or freelance jobs while creating—but in either scenario, creators had to recognize when that moment arrived and commit to treating their content as a full-time job for it to ultimately pay out like one.

Do you need money to get your business off the ground?

Depending on what type of content creation you’re interested in, you may not need any money upfront if you plan on treating it like a hobby, side gig, or just taking it slow and seeing where things go.

But if you want to approach this as a business and move from starting in content creation to profiting from it in the quickest, most efficient manner, there are going to be upfront costs.

Creators say on average it takes $10.7K to get off the ground, which includes expenses such as branding strategies and designs, working with an accountant and an attorney, and other professional services. Tech gear alone costs around a thousand dollars per year, although that amount reportedly doubles after year three, presumably as the needs of a successful content creator expand.

A full 66% of creators say they injected their business with startup cash from their own savings, with another 23% admitting to putting expenses on their credit cards or taking out loans, 13% getting help from friends and family, and just 5% working with either angel investors or venture capitalists.

But there is a bright spot here, and it’s that 19% of those surveyed said they didn’t need startup money after all. So if it’s out of reach, that doesn’t mean all is lost.

How much money does the average creator make?

We’ve all seen the lists boasting the top-earning influencers and creators across social media, with some making into the millions. Realistically, that’s not in the cards for most people, and the amount earned varies heavily. 

But an average can be a great number to shoot for, and The Tilt’s “all-in” creators, or the ones who consider content creation their primary or only job, report having made an average of approximately $86K last year. This year, they’re expecting roughly $108K in revenue, paying themselves around $62K after all is said and done. It may not be the millions dreams are made of, but it’s a living.

How are creators monetizing their content?

How are creators even making that money? Most people’s minds immediately go to ad revenue and brand deals when it comes to YouTubers and TikTokers raking in the bucks—but that may not actually be the most profitable method of monetization for the average content creator.

According to the survey, the top three monetization tactics that creators deemed the most profitable were consulting & coaching (49%), selling books (37%), and offering online courses or workshops (35%).

The more familiar methods of affiliate marketing and links (35%) and advertising/sponsored content (26%) ranked next, while donations held up the lowest rank at just 15%.

Offering ebooks or coaching may not jive with your particular brand of content creation, but if your goal is first and foremost to make a living doing this work, this is a good time to remember that content creation goes beyond just making dance videos or comedy sketches. There are tons of creators out there who may not be doing work that seems as splashy as that of the more prominent influencers, but they’re doing it well, and the money reflects that.

And of course, there are creators who make the majority of their living off of Patreon, funded by a dedicated and engaged audience, proving that averages are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

What else can we learn from the creators surveyed?

Understanding the financial figures from The Tilt is important, but it’s not all that matters when determining a game plan and a timeline for taking your content creation career to the next level. Let’s look at some additional data that might be helpful in your journey.

Small audiences can go a long way. 

Of the creators surveyed, the median number of followers they had across all platforms was just 4000. This seems like nothing compared to the millions of followers on some of the biggest accounts on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, but it also shows that having an engaged audience—one that purchases products and services, gives to a Patreon or tip jar, or otherwise does more than just provide a view—is a bigger benefit than simply having a large audience.

Successful creators work at it full-time.

Creators who consider this their primary or only source of income say they work an average of 36.5 hours a week. On the one hand, having flexible hours that still clock in under what’s considered the norm in the US—40 hours per week—is a good trade-off for most people. On the other, if you’re hoping to coast by on fewer hours and a bigger paycheck, it might be good to readjust your expectations, at least for the time being.

Most content creators have goals beyond financial independence.

While 39% of “all-in” creators said that earning more than they would make at a traditional job was one of their top priorities in pursuing content creation, that ranked seventh compared to other more meaningful goals including enjoying the work they do, having flexible work hours, and pursuing their passions. And there isn’t necessarily a wrong reason to aspire to be a successful content creator, but having other priorities in mind can help keep you going while you take time to grow the financial aspect of your work.

Are creators using AI tools?

AI is getting a bad reputation among creatives these days, and for good reason. But there are ways to utilize AI that serve to make your job as a creator easier, rather than exploiting the work of others or replacing a job that would otherwise be paid. Currently, 76% of content creators say they use AI in some capacity, including brainstorming ideas, researching topics, and generating keywords to help with SEO. If you decide to use AI, just be cautious and thoughtful about your approach—a potential audience can quickly sour on your work if you cross certain lines, especially when the result devalues the work of other creators.

When determining your own path forward with content creation, keep in mind that this information isn’t a guide to what will unquestionably happen for you, but just data that can help you have an idea of what others have experienced, and offer ideas on how to proceed. There are seven million content creators making money off their work in the United States alone, and this survey only took a sampling of around a thousand. It’s important to aim high, but it never hurts to keep your expectations grounded, too.

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