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Why creators are in less of a rush to quit their day jobs
There are benefits to traditional employment that are incredibly difficult to replicate when you’re out on your own.
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Why creators are in less of a rush to quit their day jobs
Ask most aspiring creators what it would take for them to leave their day jobs, and they’ll give you a predetermined number. They calculate that number in different ways, but it’s almost always at the forefront of their minds.
What number do I speak of? It's the amount of monthly revenue they’d need to generate from their content to justify giving up a steady paycheck. In most cases, they don’t need to replace their current salary entirely, but it must be high enough to signal to both themselves and their loved ones that a career as a full-time creator is at least feasible.
But there’s an emerging crop of creators who not only don’t keep a number in their heads, they also don’t have any intention of leaving their day jobs at all. The Creator Economy newsletter Passionfruit recently profiled some of them:
A small percentage will make enough to quit their 9-to-5 and pursue content creation full-time. However, a growing number of so-called “influencers” are rejecting this move, even when their follower count indicates they could be earning enough off social media alone. Instead, they are opting to keep their day jobs, and, for some, it’s proving lucrative.
I’ve noticed this trend as well and even wrote a little about it before with my piece on “the rise of career-adjacent creators.” In that essay I focused mainly on the ways creators mine their work experiences for content fodder, but I think it’s worth exploring all the reasons that a creator might not be in a huge hurry to hand in their two-weeks’ notice. While the life of a full-time creator can appear to be glamorous and creatively freeing from the outside, there are benefits to traditional employment that are incredibly difficult to replicate when you’re out on your own:
A sense of camaraderie
I left my last full-time job in August 2014, and for the most part the change in lifestyle has been tremendous. I don’t miss the daily commutes. I enjoy not having a boss or engaging in office politics. And most of all, I love the flexibility in how I structure my workday.
But that’s not to say there aren’t things I miss. Most of my adult friendships, for instance, came from my day jobs, and since striking off on my own eight years ago I’ve struggled to make new ones, a situation that’s become especially vexing given that I live in a transient city where it’s quite common for people to move away. I certainly miss the impromptu after-work happy hours and the day-to-day watercooler discussions that naturally sprung from close human proximity.
It’s not just that though; I miss collaborative work. There are so many days when I wish I had someone else to bounce ideas off of. I also hate that my business comes to a standstill whenever I have to take time off…whether it’s because I’m sick, on vacation, or have some other obligation. Having a team means someone else is always there moving the ball forward, even when you’re away.
One of my most consistent themes I hammer on in this newsletter over and over again is the importance of revenue diversification. Many creators like having their day job paychecks to maintain a steady baseline of revenue and benefits, and at the same time it gives them more flexibility with their content business models. As the Passionfruit article notes, “influencer-workers can often be more selective about what partnerships they take on, demanding higher pay when they do.”
This is especially true for creators who don’t particularly love the idea of running a business. Ernie Smith, the writer behind the popular newsletter Tedium, told me he really has no desire to leave his day job precisely because he doesn’t want to worry that much about money. “I think at some point doing a full time job while leaving the creative work off to the side allows the side project to meet the goal of being creatively fulfilling rather than merely putting food on the table,” he said. “If it was my job I would have to make different decisions on what the final result might look like. There would be more ads, and the support pitch would be more aggressive. But because it doesn’t have to carry that weight I get more freedom to do work I’m proud of without having to be as worried about the money part.”
One of the fastest-growing niches within the Creator Economy is what I’ve called “career-adjacent” content. It basically involves leveraging workplace experience — whether it’s from being a real estate agent, a doctor, or a Wall Street banker — to create highly-specialized content.
For those kinds of creators, their workplace serves as both a source of ideas and grants them credibility. One of the creators profiled by Passionfruit spoke to that dynamic:
Twenty-eight-year-old Leigh McClendon from Louisiana is a fourth-grade elementary science and math teacher with 3.6 million followers on TikTok. He started posting videos to TikTok in 2019, and one day, he woke up with 10,000 views. This quickly spiraled to 100,000 views. Since then, Leigh admitted in an interview with Passionfruit, “I’m addicted.”
McClendon said he now makes the bulk of his total earnings from posting to TikTok, with sponsored posts from the likes of Captain Crunch and Grammarly. However, he is continuing to work as a teacher full-time. Mainly posting comedy skits to his TikTok, McClendon is constantly fed inspiration for his videos from the kids in his class and has no current plans to give up the day job.
Some creators also benefit from synergies that feed into their day jobs. Real estate YouTubers, for instance, often leverage their content to generate client leads, both in the form of buyers and sellers. For these kinds of creators, the content is essentially a marketing vehicle for their day jobs.
Whenever I tell strangers about what I do for a living, I usually receive two types of responses.
Some express jealousy that I get to be my own boss and engage in creatively rewarding work. Others declare they could never follow that career path because they simply don’t have the discipline to do so.
Every day, I drag myself out of bed at 7 a.m. and tackle a long list of tasks. I do this regardless of whether I’m feeling inspired that day, and sometimes I work very long hours so I can meet my weekly production goals. This takes a tremendous amount of self-motivation and discipline, and that’s not something that everyone has.
A lot of people enjoy the structure of the workplace — so much so that they hated the pandemic-induced work-from-home policies. They need deadlines and bosses breathing down their necks, and for some reason they don’t mind wasting hours each week driving to and from the office. For them, the day job is a feature, not a bug, and they don’t have dreams of working in coffee shops and trapezing around the globe. They’re perfectly fulfilled creating their content on nights and weekends, and any revenue they generate from that content is just an added bonus.
All this begs the question: could I ever take a full-time job again? Could I convert this newsletter back into a part-time endeavor and then go to work at a traditional media company?
In 2019, I almost did just that, and I now shudder to think about what my life would have been like — spending the better part of two hours each day on the metro; working on projects I didn’t particularly care about; navigating the interpersonal dynamics of both my coworkers and outside clients.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to work on a team again, but I don’t think I’d do so without extreme flexibility and some ownership over the creative process. There was a reason I was drawn to this career in the first place, and I don’t think there’s an alternate universe where I could thrive on the corporate ladder. I’ve come to accept that it’s not in my DNA.
Let's talk about running a successful B2B media company
B2B used to be the least sexy space in media, but in recent years we’ve seen a new crop of B2B media companies that are proving to be far more innovative than their B2C peers. I'm hosting a Zoom call this week where we’re going to talk about all the various aspects of B2B media — running events, launching paid subscriptions, finding sponsors, and building out niche editorial products.
Login details can be found over here.
"Everyone will tell you that the TikTok creator fund is more like a little bonus, but it’s nothing significant. I would never be able to pay my bills with that." [Passionfruit]
More and more YouTubers are launching non-English channels, a clear sign of the Creator Economy's maturation. [Tubefilter]
"I can’t help but think that the last great day of [David Zaslav's] career was the day that deal closed. Every day since has been a shit show." [LA Mag]
There are a lot of synergies between podcasting and live events. [The Guardian]
Punchbowl is allowing its paying subscribers to opt into breaking news text alerts. An interesting approach to strengthening engagement and audience ownership. [Axios]
CEO Tomiwa Aladekomo walked me through the company’s origin story, explained why he joined in 2018, and outlined its monetization strategy.
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