Ask any vlogger, artist, or musician—it’s really, really difficult to make money as a creative.
People often think that if they just post decent content occasionally, or sign up for the right platforms, they’ll blow up just like Alessia Cara or Bo Burnham. But that’s really hard to do.
Follow Ladders on Flipboard!
There are more social media platforms today than ever, but each platform only does one or two things well. For example, Instagram is good for pictures, but less so for videos. Twitter is good for writers, but not great for photos.
And even if you do everything right on the platforms you’re using, algorithms can bury visibility by limiting reach—meaning you’ll only make it so far.
In other words, the digital side hustle economy just isn’t working the way it should.
My company, Collide, was designed to fix it. Specifically, we handle the infrastructure, logistics, and administration so creatives can better monetize their connections, interactions, and expertise. But platforms aside, there are a few basic, tried-and-true steps creatives can take to maximize their reach and keep their fans interested.
Make sure you’re in it for the long haul
A side hustle is more than just a side gig.
Picking up a few extra hours at the coffee shop is not a side hustle. Jumping on TaskRabbit or Uber when you feel like it isn’t a side hustle, either. A yard sale isn’t a side hustle. A side hustle is neither a hobby nor something you’re just doing to earn some extra cash—it’s a living.
You don’t work for your side hustle; your side hustle works for you. No one can pull the plug on your side hustle either. You control what you create, how you share it, and when you post. And it takes care of you.
To make this work, you have to believe that you’re in it to win it.
Be strategic about how you market your side hustle
To make a side hustle profitable, you basically need two essential elements.
First, you have to let people know what your side hustle is. In other words, you need to market it.
There are a number of ways to go about getting the word out—some more useful than others. You can use email lists. You can use Instagram or Snapchat. You can reach out to your friends and extended family, or network. You can buy ads. Whatever you do, you’ve got to find a way to tell a lot of people you’re doing something.
Second, you need a platform.
This is where I think the current digital side hustle economy is broken. The only people who can really make money right now are the top .1%. And while there are a ton of apps out through which you can market your art, music, or photos, most of them deliver poor value for your time and effort.
If you’re going to make real money from your side hustle, you need a place to do commerce—much like a brick-and-mortar store. You need a place where you can bring people to what you do. If you’re on a bunch of digital platforms and making no money, you’re no different from The Gap—which is closing down storefronts all over for lack of sales. If you have multiple storefronts but are gleaning no value, you have to consolidate.
And in the digital world, your storefront is whatever platform—or platforms—you’re most active on. But to really get the most value for the least effort, narrow your digital side hustle to just a few.
The point is: no matter what your digital side hustle, treat it like a brick-and-mortar store. If your multiple storefronts aren’t generating business—consolidate.
Show up and be consistent.
You can’t just show up to an office job whenever you feel like it, and that’s true of side hustles as well.
Say there’s a guy on Collide who creates homemade candle holders. To make a living, he has to consistently post for his fan group. He also has to set up reliable expectations for them, perhaps by telling them: “Hey, I’m going to post new candlestick designs every Monday or Tuesday.” Consistency and managing expectations are a must if he wants people to come back regularly. If his fans show up at his page and there’s nothing new, they’ll lose interest. Even brands won’t come back to established influencers who aren’t consistent.
To make your side hustle into a money-maker, you have to be consistent and to let your fans know what to expect. It’s essential to build trust.
Give your fans a glimpse into your life
Remember that your followers aren’t just interested in your craft—they also want to know what’s behind the curtain.
In other words, they want to get to know you.
What’s an average day like for you? What are your habits? Who are your friends? How’s your love life? What motivated the latest piece of content you created? If you’re a fashion-related account, they want to know where you shop. If you’re a wellness brand, they want to know what toothpaste you use. If you make perfume, they want to know where your scents come from.
Everyone’s craft is repetitive to some degree. Audiences want to know about you, and how it translates into those pieces of content or advice they really like. That’s why tabloids and paparazzi exist—so people feel like they have access to the person behind the veil.
Be willing to evolve, but don’t alienate your core supporters in the process
A lot of creators don’t understand how to evolve with their fans’ taste.
You can’t capture fans for the long-haul if your content becomes tedious. You need to branch out to other avenues and avoid just sticking with what’s worked in the past. Take risks. If you mostly share photos, experiment with video.
But you also don’t want to alienate your core group. Keep your original point of view, but branch out with the surface stuff. If you make candle holders, for example, start recommending candles to put in them. If you’re recommending great products, experiences, art, food, and blogs, people won’t leave.
Don’t be afraid to showcase what’s inspiring you.
Your fans are more interested in a multi-faceted approach than in seeing the same kind of content over and over again. If you do a good job and do it regularly, your fans will stay with you because they love your point of view.
If you’re strategic about it, manage expectations, show yourself, are dedicated to putting in long hours—you can make your side hustle work for you.