How to monetize your content

monetize your content

I’ve had some amazing experiences connecting to young students and entrepreneurs over the past weeks and several of them asked me this question: How do you monetize your content?

The very short answer is: You probably can’t.

At least not directly.

But lots of valuable revenue can come from content indirectly and I’m living proof of that. Let’s have a content monetization throw-down today.

The challenge of direct

Here are all the ways I can think of that you can directly monetize online content — meaning that you create something in writing, video, audio, or visually (like Instagram), and you are paid directly for that content.

  • Paid subscription
  • Advertising impressions
  • Affiliate links
  • Gated content community
  • Patreon donations
  • Earning a share of creator fund contributions through a platform like Substack, Medium, or TikTok

Monetizing in these ways is possible, especially if your name is Malcolm Gladwell or Brené Brown. Generally speaking, you have to be a wildly successful celebrity with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of followers to make serious money directly from your content.

It’s not impossible to make a living this way, but to level set the conversation, I’ve been blogging since 2009 and podcasting since 2013 with hundreds of thousands of fans and followers and there is no way I could stay above the poverty level through direct monetization alone.

The main problem is, if you think you can charge somebody for your content, there is probably somebody down the street who will give it away for free. So what you provide has to be extremely scarce and elite.

Same with ad impressions or affiliate links (which are in a monetization death spiral).

I would put being a professional writer in a different category. If your content is your full-time job, you might be able to make it, but most of my friends who have aspired to this career have a difficult time. Really hard to do, but again, possible.

However …

I make an extremely good living by indirectly monetizing my content. So let’s get into that MUCH more interesting topic.

The gold in indirect monetization

The big, bold, beautiful idea is that in this world — for the first time in history! — you can become known through your content. If you’ve followed me for any period of time, you’ll know this is a major theme of my writing and my passion. For a deep dive into this idea, please refer to my book KNOWN.

If you are KNOWN, which means you have the authority, reputation, and presence to give you the best chance to get your job done, you can begin to monetize in indirect ways.

I’ll provide a mini case study of how this works.

  • In 2013, a marketing executive from a Fortune 100 company started reading my blog. I didn’t know it because I don’t stalk people on my email list but that’s when our relationship started, unbeknownst to me.
  • In 2015, I came out with a book called The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, marketing, and business. Through my blog, he learned about the book, read it, and sent me a lovely email telling me how much he loved it. This is the first time I knew he existed.
  • In 2017, he needed to reorganize and re-energize the content creation activities in his marketing department and he hired me to do a day-long workshop with his team.
  • A few years later, I came out with my book Marketing Rebellion book. By this time, he had been promoted to CMO of his company. He went wild over this book and asked me to give a speech to his global team and provide consulting services to help his company transition to a more human-centered marketing approach. This was a six-month consulting effort.

In review, I never sent this man one piece of sales material. He never saw an ad from me because I’ve never paid for a Google or Facebook ad in my life. But by knowing me and trusting me through my blog, he:

  • Bought books
  • Paid for a day-long workshop
  • Hired me to speak
  • Brought me on as a consultant for six months

Accumulated over a period of years, I earned a six-figure income from just this one company … and it all started with my free blog posts. Giving away content lets potential customers experience what I have to offer.

That’s how it works.

Creating for the people

To earn an audience who loves you enough to buy something from you, you have a big decision to make. Do you create content for SEO, or do you publish content in a way that makes people fall in love with you? You probably can’t do both.

At least for me and my kind of business — providing personal services like speaking and consulting — I have to build a relationship. People hire me because they trust me, and they trust me because of my content they read over time.

Once you earn an audience who loves you, you can eventually direct them to things they can buy from you, such as:

  • Online courses
  • Books
  • Consulting
  • Coaching
  • Webinars
  • Merchandise
  • Sponsorships
  • Mastermind groups
  • Conferences
  • Speeches
  • Work as an influencer
  • Private communities

I’m sure there are more that I’m missing but you get the idea. Your most powerful business asset is a content-driven personal brand that leads to trust.

Final thoughts

Some final advice on monetization.

You can have a great career that is enabled by a content-driven personal brand. But it’s unlikely to happen quickly. It will take months and maybe years of consistent hard work to earn an actionable audience. You can read more about this type of effort here: The key factor in monetizing a personal brand.

Too many people try to monetize too early. I had a friend who did a magnificent job creating an online course but had no customers. Why? She wasn’t known! Would you rather spend your training dollars on an unknown person or a well-respected authority in the industry? Further reading: Five questions to answer before creating an online course.

Creating content takes a lot of work and determination. But it’s worth it. When the pandemic hit, I was able to turn my business around because I was known. I realized that all these years, every time I created content it was like making a deposit in an insurance policy for my career. You can read my personal account here: How I was saved by my personal brand

I hope this provides some insight and clarity on how to monetize content in the real world. Now, get started!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

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