It has been over a year since I quit my job to pursue a career as an online creator. When I started, I thought I'd do it for a few months to see if I liked it. I loved it, so I’ve been going at it since then.
Despite making good progress, I’m not even close to financially supporting myself with it. However, I’ve learned many important lessons over the past year which hopefully will speed up the rest of my journey.
If you are an aspiring creator or you’ve recently started your own online project, I want to share with you what I've learned.
Lesson #1: Approach creativity from a place of abundance, not scarcity. There are always more ideas to share. 💡
When you think you don’t have anything else to say, think twice. Creativity comes from a place that is infinite and abundant. If you call “the Muse”, she will answer. But you have to be serious about the work.
Lesson #2: Parkinson’s Law is a real thing. You can produce more content in less time. Give yourself stricter timelines. ⏳
Many creators, including me, believe at first that you can’t force creativity with deadlines. But that’s not true. For example, last year it would take me two to four weeks to make a video from start to finish. Then this summer I challenged myself to make one per week for three months in a row, and I was able to deliver (while preserving quality). The lesson? “Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.”
Lesson #3: Learn to love the obscurity, aka lack of engagement. As David Perell says, it’s an opportunity to find your voice and what you're really good at. 📣
It's humbling to work a full week on a video only to get 20 views and 1 like. Of course, the value of a video is never just in its metrics. But that obscurity can be challenging, so you must learn to reframe it. “No one watches my videos? Cool, I don’t have the pressure to deliver and I can still play around to find my voice.”
Lesson #4: Double down on content that makes you think more clearly. The effort to crystallize your thoughts is invaluable. 💎
Whether you succeed or not as a creator, growing your ability to think more clearly will do wonders to all aspects of your life.
Lesson #5: Double down on content that leads you to acquire long-term skills you care to learn. 🔨
What expertise do you want to develop? For me it’s writing, storytelling, video making and more in general, communication. In this sense, making more content is always worth my time and energy. Maybe you care about hosting and presentation skills, so doubling down on podcasts and interviews should be more of your focus.
Lesson #6: Quality or quantity? Both. Take time to make really good content, but ship some consistently. Quality builds trust, quantity builds authority. 🏆
Making quality content is great, as it leads you to discover your creative potential and your audience becomes fascinated by your work. However, in the beginning it's a bit of a luxury. Quantity is preferable because it helps you build momentum, refine “your niche”, and test which content resonates the most with your audience.
Lesson #7: "Content is king, distribution is God". Making good content is useless if you don’t promote it effectively. 📡
Some peope say that creating good content is 20% of the job, the other 80% is the distribution part. It's kind of true, and I hate it ‘cause I find it weird to promote my stuff. However, it is necessary: lower entry barriers to content creation makes it harder to get people's attention. You must find ways to show your work to as many people as possible. Ideally, make content that people are excited to repost (basically doing the marketing for you), like a Twitter thread, a visual, or a quote.
Lesson #8: Low to no income? As long as you still have fuel in the tank (read: money, mental energy) keep going. At the same time, "don’t expect a baby to provide for you". 💸
Dreaming is great, but you also have to look at the numbers. How much money can you make, how fast, and at what mental cost? It might be unwise to put too much pressure on a newly started project.
Lesson #9: You are a company. If you don't work, no one does. Learn to know what’s the next ‘most important thing to do’ and have a sense of urgency to do it. ☝🏼
It’s hard to be both the manager and the employee. For me it was useful to apply the ‘pressure to deliver results’ of my previous job to my creative work. I also started to use tools like Notion and Google Calendar to manage my workflow more professionally.
Lesson #10: Find passive mentors, people ahead of you and whose steps you want to follow. Copy exactly what they do (e.g. website, content, products) to move faster. 👣
To give you an example, this website was inspired by the work of Nat Eliason. Of course, in “copying the path” I gave it my own twist and personalized it.
Lesson #11: Join communities with other creators. Whether on Discord or IRL, surround yourself with people ‘making stuff’ for inspiration and support. 🤗
In January 2021 I joined the Visualize Value community as a gift to myself. Fast forward one year later, I gained a lot from it. I can’t say the same for the Ness Labs community, which I found harder to engage with so far. Overall, I believe being part of inspiring communities helps a lot.
Lesson #12: Create digital products. Making your first dollar online is a life-altering moment. Reselling a product at no marginal cost is magical. 🌐
Lesson #13: Build systems. Create standard procedures (e.g. in Notion, Canva, Obsidian) to facilitate your work in making and sharing new content. 🔗
This year I layed down the structural work to be more productive by leveraging tools like Webflow, Figma, Obsidian, Notion templates and more. Another seemingly small yet important thing I did was to properly order my folders to facilitate work.
Lesson #14: Relentlessly work through blockages of shame, self-doubt, and criticism that prevent you from being creative. 🌞
This is more personal, but I realized I have several “internal breaks” when it comes to confidently creating and sharing content. Sometimes it still takes some conscious effort to put myself out there. In some way, creating is therapy for me.
Lesson #15: Be extremely patient. Focus on the progress made and the long-term vision of your ideal work, as opposed to short-term results. 🌳
The most important lesson is to accept that this journey takes time. I found wisdom in a tweet by Shopify CEO Toby Lütke, who says:
“People overestimate vision and underestimate what you can build when you follow your curiosity one step at a time for a decade.”
Alright, that's a wrap. I hope you learned something valuable. To a prolific and creative 2022!