The Only 3 Ways to Make Money as a Content Creator

Uncategorized Apr 23, 2020

A deep dive into how YouTubers, bloggers, and Instagram influencers make a living

Every major advance in the internet has lead to faster and faster spread of knowledge.

Starting with a simple emailing system, the internet allowed for text-based communication with anyone on the planet within several minutes.

Followed by email was Blogger. Then Facebook. Then Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest…

And with each step, the ability to spread information has gotten easier and easier.

But here’s the thing: We’ve started to reach a plateau.

As of 2020, anyone connected to the world wide web can spread information accessible by billions of people in mere seconds.

The next stage of the internet is not to empower the spread of information. We already have that power. The next stage of the internet is empowering content creators.

Helping content creators to more easily share and monetize their work is what I predict will be the next step in the evolution of the internet.

In 2020, content creator is not just a profession, but quite a profitable one if executed correctly.

What I’ve included below is a comprehensive guide to all the ways that you can make a living as a content creator. And I really do mean comprehensive. If you have any interest in building a six-figure business as a content creator, keep reading. You’re in for a wild ride.

All revenue streams that one can receive as a content creator falls into one of the following categories:

  • Advertisement—Payment for the promotion of a third-party individual or business
  • Donations — Payment received from supporters with little expected in return
  • Sales —Payment in exchange for a product or service

1. Advertisements

Through advertisements, you receive payment for the promotion of a third-party individual or business.

Let’s face it. As creators, we have a love/hate relationship with advertisements. On one hand, we can’t help but love seeing the dollar bills trickle in and fill our bank accounts; however, there feels something inherently wrong about letting a business push their product onto your audience.

In 2020, advertisements and brand deals are still the no.1 way content creators make money online.

Advertising has evolved and appears in a few different forms for content creators:

  • AdSense
  • Brand sponsorships
  • Affiliate links


Google, Facebook, or another ad distributor puts ads in front of your audience. You split the profits with this distributor~50%.

Originally introduced by Google in March 2003, AdSense allows website publishers to monetize traffic to their page by serving ads on behalf of Google. In return, these website publishers retain a percentage of the ad revenue earned by Google.

AdSense used and still uses CPC (Cost Per Click) and CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions) to dictate how much Ad Revenue is earned for the website publishers.

AdSense became an immediate success and accounted for 22% of Google’s total revenue by 2014, with annual earnings of $3.4 billion.

After Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006, the AdSense program was brought over as a way for creators on the platform to monetize from their videos.

It could be argued that it was at this very point in history where the content creator profession was born. Finally creators had a way to earn cold hard cash for their work.

YouTubers who started out making cat videos, vlogs, or any other random video for the internet started to make money for their work. Soon enough they started making as much if not more than through their day jobs. And then one-by-one they started to quit to become full-time content creators.


  • Simple to set up and use
  • Passive income


  • Low margins (revenue is split ~ 50/50)
  • No control of the content being advertised
  • Very little return for new creators

Brand sponsorships

In brand sponsorships, a business pays you a certain amount (usually a flat-fee, though highly dependent on the size of your following) to promote their brand.

As more and more content creators started to pop up, brands started to take notice. Sure, they could pay for a banner ad on some random app or website, but an endorsed message from a creator would result in 10x return on investment.

Basically, if your favorite YouTuber told you about this cool new face cream, you were 10x more likely to buy it than if you saw a banner ad for it while taking the lastest personality quiz on Buzzfeed.

Fast forward to 2020. Brand sponsorships are huge. Dozens of companies have popped up, creating marketplaces for influencers to connect with brands. Even YouTube got in on the action with their latest platform, FameBit (Note: As an influencer, you need at least 5,000 followers to join the marketplace).

Anna Akana promotes Squarespace at the end of her video


  • High return (Lots of $$$)
  • Free products


  • Requires a critical mass of followers before brands even consider reaching out to you
  • Requires you to endorse a product that you may not actively enjoy using
  • Not usually recurring for smaller creators

Affiliate links

With affiliate links, you get a revenue share of the sales that you help drive to a business.

The most common affiliate program that you’ll see creators use is the Amazon Affiliates Program. This is mostly because people already buy from Amazon and are familiar with the platform.

Affiliate links can be quite powerful, but they come at a cost. On the bright side, you get a cut of sales that you drive for an indefinite period of time (months, if not years).

But if it turns out that nobody is really interested in buying the product that the affiliate link is promoting, then you’re out of luck. You just promoted a product for free.

I’d even consider the Medium Partner program as a type of affiliate program. As a writer, you agree to put your content behind Medium’s paywall in exchange for a revenue share of users’ membership fees.


  • Passive income
  • Can be aligned to fit your audience and niche


  • No income if you don’t actually generate any income
  • Usually low margin: < 10% revenue share

2. Donations

With donations, a supporter shares funds with no expectation of a return.

Donations are nothing new. Artists of all kinds have relied on donations from their most avid followers to support their work.


Patreon allows you to create a membership program for your fans. Patrons pay something like $1 per month and get access to exclusive fan perks. You can have multiple tiers to allow for different levels of patronage, each having their own perks and benefits.

The creation of Patreon was a big breakthrough for content creators who previously didn’t have a great way to make money from their work.

Matt D’Avella makes bank using Patreon (~$10,000 /month before transaction fee)

It’s able to leverage the subscription model used by so many new startups to allow for recurring donations.

This is particularly important because donations do quite little to support creators in the long run. Creators need recurring income to continually be able to create.


  • Monthly, recurring income
  • Great way to connect with most avid followers


  • High transaction fees
  • Most people will donate in the lower tiers (~$1 / month)

Tips jars

Tips jars allow you to accept donations on your own personal website without dealing with transaction fees.

So if you’re not a big fan of the Patreon transaction fees, you could theoretically create your own custom donations solution, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Patreon has created a single platform for creator donations. That means if someone already supports another creator on Patreon, they’re more likely to support you as well, being familiar with the platform and already having their payment information stored on their account.


  • No transaction fees


  • No recurring revenue in most cases
  • Lower conversion rate
  • No Patreon community tools/support

3. Sales-Based Income

You’re receiving sales-based income when an individual makes a payment in exchange for a product or service.

More recently, a new form of monetization has emerged on the internet (well it’s old as humanity itself, but it’s new for content creators): selling something.

The most powerful asset that you have as a content creator is your audience. Your followers listen and respect your opinions.

One way to monetize is to let other companies sell to your audience and keep a fraction of the revenue, or to sell something yourself and keep all of it.

Many content creators are drawn to this strategy because it feels more authentic. It feels a lot better to sell your own value than push on the products/services of another business that you may not totally trust.

It puts the control in your hands and makes you more trustworthy to your followers.

Now, there are only two things you can sell in the world: products or services.


Products are physical or digital goods that have some inherent value to the end customer.


  • E-Books — Podia or Gumroad seem to be two great ways to sell digital goods.
  • Courses — Teachable is the best platform I’ve found for selling an online course.)
  • Newsletters — Substack makes it stupidly easy to start your own paid newsletter.
  • Bobbleheads
  • Macaroni art


  • Keep 100% of profits
  • Can create an automated system to generate passive income


  • Upfront investment to build the product
  • Time intensive
  • Requires distribution channel
  • Need to deal with billing


A service is a task that provides some inherent value to the end customer.

Service-based income, which is exactly what it sounds like, allows content creators to trade services for income.

With service-based income, content creators will do something on behalf of their client (followers). While there are many types of services-based income, by far the most popular for content creators is coaching.

In order to build a large following on any type of social media platform, content creators must provide something of value to their audience.

This could be a comedic skit that makes them laugh, a short movie that entertains them, or a tutorial that teaches them something new.

The third group is a class of content creators that I call online educators.

To become an online educator, you must have domain expertise in whatever it is you make content about. It could be multi-variable calculus, credit card churning, or even doing Christopher Walken impressions.

If you’re in this category of content creators, then you should consider coaching. Coaching is a way to provide expertise on a topic for an individual or group.

Coaching can take on two forms on the internet: group coaching, where the coach will provide training to a group of people or, the more common one-on-one coaching, where the coach works with an individual to mentor or advise them through a series of obstacles. 

Other forms or service-based income are :

  • Speaking engagements
  • Virtual assistance
  • Freelance writing


  • No upfront investment needed
  • Easy to get started


  • Can be time-intensive


Well, there you have it. There's a ton of ways for content creators to make a living on the internet in 2020. The three main revenue types are Advertising, Donations, and Sales. You can go all-in on one or diversify and try a bit of each.

Some of these tactics lend themselves better to some niches than others. The only way to find out is to experiment and try which ones your audience best resonates with.

Which path will you choose?

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