Are we in a recession? It depends who you ask. But with inflated costs on groceries, gas, and other goods, many of us have been feeling a pinch for a while, and even if we aren’t technically in a recession right this minute, many economists predict we’ll be there soon.
As households tighten their budgets and brands become more skittish about spending, many content creators, including podcasters and writers like me, are feeling it from both sides: we’re starting to see a slowdown in advertising revenues at the same time that our audiences have less disposable cash to support our work directly.
So if you want to make sure your favorite podcaster, Instagrammer, blogger, or TikToker is able to continue to inform, inspire, or entertain you throughout rough economic times, it’s a good idea to think proactively about ways to help them!
As you’re looking at your 2023 budget or thinking about your intentions for the upcoming year, there are lots of things you can do – some that will cost you money, others that only ask your effort or time – to help creators stay afloat.
How content creators earn money
While every creator has their own unique mix and some are likely doing things to earn money that I haven’t even heard of yet, most of our revenue streams fall somewhere within these broad categories:
- Sponsorships. Broadly, this means a company is paying a podcaster, blogger, vlogger, social media influencer, etc to promote their product or service. Sometimes the brand supplies advertising that is wrapped around or embedded in content, or sometimes the content is provided by the creator, but typically there’s a direct exchange of money for delivering brand messaging to an audience.
- Affiliate partnerships. These can look or sound very similar to an ad, but with an affiliate relationship the creator only gets paid if people click a link or use their unique promo code to purchase. These should be disclosed, but if you aren’t paying close attention or don’t know the lingo, the disclosure language may sound very similar to a paid ad or sponsorship.
- Selling and/or promoting their own products and services. From books and courses to premium content, this is a broad category that encompasses all the ways a creator can make stuff and sell it directly to the end user. While there is typically another platform involved (like E-junkie or Etsy, for example) the creator is making and selling their own stuff, and the platform acts as the marketplace.
- Creating communities and membership sites. Bringing people together around a shared love of a specific topic, goal, career, lifestyle, or even appreciation for a specific content creator is a big job and offers a much different kind of value than just providing content. Sometimes communities and membership sites also offer premium content or other perks as well.
- Donations. This category is tricky because, while crowdfunding platforms like Patreon can allow you to donate to creators with no expectation of additional value added, many (if not most?) creators do offer some additional benefits to their patrons and donors and often there is both a premium content and community aspect wrapped up in that “donation”. More on this below.
- Rich aunts and uncles. I’m adding this here mostly as a joke, but it’s probably worth mentioning because – yes, there are some content creators whose work is entirely subsidized by a partner’s income or generational wealth. There are also content creators who do this work completely on a volunteer or hobby basis. In those cases, the creator may not need your money to survive financially – but their work still has value, and is worth supporting in an intentional way.
The myth of “free” content
We’re all bombarded with content all day long, much of it seemingly “free”. It’s important to remember that what we as an audience may perceive as “free” content is always costing somebody something, whether it be the time, energy, skill and talent provided by the creator, dollars coming from an advertiser, purchases of products or services from the audience, sale of both the audiences’ and creators’ data to marketers, or some combination of the above.
Often, the work we creators get paid for subsidizes the work we are then also able to do for free. In other words, if the dollars start to dry up on the paid side, the content creator may have to shift their model and won’t be able to continue to keep creating as much of the free stuff.
How an economic downturn impacts content creators
Navigating the relationship between paid content, sponsor-supported content, and “free” content can be a delicate dance, and most creators I know are constantly tweaking their personal recipe to make sure they react to changes in the industry, and keep serving their audience’s needs while still caring for their own financial necessities.
During an economic downturn, the balance between free, paid, and sponsor-supported content may shift quite dramatically as advertisers pull back at the same time that potential customers are tightening their belts at home.
In addition to being a resource we’re happy to offer our audiences, free content is often a marketing tool that helps drive audiences toward paid offers, or helps us grow our audiences so that the sponsorship work we do commands a higher income. When there isn’t as much paid sponsorship work out there, though, that model doesn’t work as well.
So if you see a lot of creators starting to invest more of their time into making premium content or paid communities, or if they post “free” content less frequently because they’re investing more time in paid freelance work or other income generation, it’s not that creators are suddenly getting “greedy” – it’s that the current economic reality means they are having to pivot and find new ways to support themselves.
How many creators should you support?
I certainly don’t think it’s realistic to expect the average person to financially support every creator whose work they enjoy! But if everyone who enjoys content from independent creators went out of their way to directly support one or two – even in small ways like purchasing a single ebook – it would make a big difference in aggregate. And most of us can at least do that, if we’re being really honest.
Personally, I’ve cleared a certain amount in my budget for investing back financially into a handful of creators whose work really impacts my life (note: I was actually able to increase this amount for 2023 by clearing some dead weight by doing some streamlining, detailed at the conclusion of this post.)
And of course, several of the suggestions below don’t require you to pony up any cash. There are lots of other creators who I don’t regularly support financially, but who I will make an effort to support in non-monetary ways (detailed below.)
How you can help support content creators during a recession
Some of these suggestions will cost you nothing at all but a little forethought and a few minutes. Some will cost you a little more time, and others do require a monetary investment.
1) Use content creators’ promo codes and click our links
Not too long ago, my sister asked me if it really matters whether she uses my unique link or promo code when she buys a product I recommend. I understand the question: the relationships between brands and creators can be confusing, and it’s often easier and quicker to just make a mental note of the product and search for it later when we have a moment. And many of us now have deal-finder apps installed on our browsers which will search the internet for the best coupon codes and promos on whatever we want to buy.
But – the answer my sister’s question “does it matter if I use your code or link” is…
PLEASE use our promo codes and links, whether they are marked as part of an affiliate relationship or not. If it’s an affiliate partnership, the creator literally won’t get any payment for the referral at all unless you use their link and/or promo code – so yes, that click or code are crucial! But even if the creator gets paid either way, advertisers often use promo code redemption and/or clicks to gauge whether the campaign has been successful and decide if they want to renew.
I’ve been a podcaster for quite a long time now and there are a lot of limitations when it comes to how podcasters currently get “credit” for connecting advertisers to audiences. And with aggressive promo codes widely available all over the Internet, content creators face an unfair disadvantage. We have a long way to go to fairly credit creators for the work they do to promote brands, and hopefully attribution tech will catch up – but in the meantime, keep clicking and using those codes. It helps so much, and often it’s the only way we get compensated for our work.
2) If you love a product/service a creator has promoted, say so!
Send the creator an email or post on social media, tagging both the creator and the brand if possible. Many creators use those interactions as a way to show their advertisers and sponsors that their partnership is having an impact. It can also remind other readers to check out the product and use the creator’s promo. And it’s always nice to hear when the products we recommend land well with our communities (and helps us shape future content and partnerships as well.)
3) Purchase a content creator’s products or services.
Almost every creator I know has something available for sale, whether it’s a book, a course, or maybe even a physical product that they make or source. Finding their “for sale” stuff may take some digging, because we creators often prioritize “free” content over the stuff we’re selling, and our websites and social accounts are organized with that in mind. And sometimes we’re shy about asking audiences to support our work financially. But remember what I said above about “free” content? Nothing is free. If you think a blogger, podcaster, vlogger, or influencer is contributing to your life in a meaningful way, it’s worth clicking around their site a little to see what else they may have to offer you.
4) Join a creator’s membership community or subscribe to their premium content.
From Patreon to Substack to Mighty Networks and more recently, Instagram Subscriptions, many creators offer a variety of ways to more directly support their work. Sometimes this looks like a donation: plenty of creators offer a “tip jar” type option where you can donate a dollar or two each month just to support their work. Others offer a specific amount of exclusive content for a monthly cost. Still others lean in hard on the community-building aspect, providing a place for others to learn, grow, and connect (as I’m doing with the MOR Community.)
A note: I talk with other creators all the time about the tension around around pricing our subscriptions and premium content. It can be scary to put a price tag on your offering when the “competition” seems to be huge media companies that are able to offer low prices for tons of content. Instead of wondering what I’m going to “get” for the cost of membership or subscription, I ask myself what I am willing to pay to support a specific creator and their entire body of work – including the stuff that’s not being monetized.
5) Share a creator’s work with others.
The size of a creator’s audience or the reach of their content is often directly related to their ability to earn money from it. Sharing their work on your social channels or directly with a friend helps a lot. Leaving a rating or review for a podcast, or emailing the creator with a testimonial about their product or service is also very helpful.
6) Tell creators how your work has impacted them.
Content creation may seem like glamorous work from the outside. In my experience, it’s rewarding work that can also be really difficult.
Content creators deal with a lot of challenges, like scrambling to keep up with algorithm changes, adapting to shifts in the industry, or figuring out how to serve ever-changing audiences. When the revenue streams that worked for a while start to dry up, we’re accustomed to shifting gears – but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to stay positive while we’re struggling through.
When times are tough, an email or DM with a sincere message of gratitude can be such a blessing and remind us that what we’re doing matters and is appreciated. And best of all – saying “thank you” is one thing that actually is totally free.
How I’m personally planning to support independent content creators in 2023
As both a professional content creator and a content consumer heading into a recession, I’m straddling the line between needing to tighten up my own household spending and while also knowing how important it is to support the work of the creators I follow.
So I spent some time over the weekend considering my personal budget and scouring bank and credit-card statements, and was able to shave a surprising amount of money off by cancelling subscriptions and other recurring charges that aren’t adding enough value to my life. That meant cancelling a couple of streaming services I don’t use much in order to prioritize the work of independent writers, podcasters, and other creators. The way I see it: Netflix or Hulu are going to make it whether I subscribe to their services or not. For an indie creator, my investment makes a much bigger impact – just like their work makes a much more meaningful impact on me.
Since I also need to think ahead for downturns in my own business, my plan is to split the difference: half of the ‘found money’ I recovered through streamlining will go into my rainy-day fund, and I’m reinvesting the rest right back into creators whose work impacts my life.
When I’m really honest about where my money goes, I have to admit that a lot of times I spend it on things that I’m either not really using, or that doesn’t actively make my life better. So I’m asking myself: who are the creators whose work I interact with every day – and how would my life change if their work disappeared?
Thinking about it that way, it makes the choice to click, “like”, subscribe, share, support – and yes, to buy their stuff – pretty easy.