The Resilience of Creators in the Face of Recession

Pile of global currencies with transparent rainbow overlay

Talk of a recession in the U.S. and global markets like the Euro-Zone is constant and some believe one is already here. With the job market remaining red hot and the Fed concerned about rampant inflation, the growth in real living wages and any worker leverage that was gained during the Great Resignation might already be shifting.

But it’s not all doom and gloom yet. While inflation is rising and the Fed is raising interest rates to cool off the U.S. economy, there’s still a chance the U.S. could enter a shallower recession, delay economic downturn into 2023 or even avoid one entirely. As job and stock markets shift, it’s critical to come up with strategies to cope with a recession regardless of how imminent it may or may not be.

Freelancers and gig workers have traditionally been able to adapt during economic crises, and the rise of the creator business has given talent even more flexibility when it comes to monetizing content and diversifying revenue streams

“Freelancing in a recession can be a strategic approach. Whether freelancing is done alongside a full-time job or you’re a full-time independent contractor, the agile lifestyle of independent work can be a way to recession-proof your income,” shared Forbes Finance Council Member Lamine Zarrad, at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns.  Since the onset of the Great Resignation and rise of remote work during the pandemic, content creation is a more common career choice that can provide flexible, diversified income during economic stagnation or downturn. 

Whether you’re a content creator yourself or work behind the scenes as a content producer or marketer, here are some key components of a recession-proof career in content creation.

Perfect Your Portfolio Through UGC

Never underestimate the value of your content.

UGC, or user generated content, used to be primarily sourced from audiences who reposted or created content with a branded product. In the age of the content creator, however, influencers can film and produce video advertisements for brands independently.

For Latasha James, content creator and founder of marketing agency James + Park, leveraging UGC that she was already creating has helped her grow her business. In her video on leveraging UGC as a content creator, she shares, “You’ve seen ads on Instagram. You’ve seen ads on TikTok or Snapchat or Facebook that look like a normal person is doing an unboxing, but it’s actually a boosted or paid piece of content. If I had to rub my marketing crystal ball, I would predict that this format of content is only going to grow and be in higher demand than ever before.”

Creator and marketing professional Latasha James discusses the value of UGC.

So how does UGC recession-proof your creator business? 

Introducing a new revenue stream of branded content is a great way to build relationships with brands, but you’ll need to focus on streamlining your content first. Find your top performing, most innovative and well-produced pieces of content and roll them into one UGC portfolio to pitch to brands.

Instead of being overwhelmed by your entire library of content, brands can determine if you’d be a good fit for their company by browsing your most relevant brand collaborations first. 

Start by highlighting the following:

  • Key metrics. How many consumers did you reach? How many sales did you drive? How many website clicks? Get specific about how your content has shown results for brand collaborations.
  • Brand alignment. Why are you a good partner for the company you’re pitching UGC to? This could be your niche—say, beauty—and a specialty, like cruelty-free skincare, or it could be shared values: think transparency or inclusion. Shared goals and viewpoints could make you an ideal brand ambassador.  Be clear about what makes you a great partner.
  • Professional media. Audiences don’t necessarily need high-quality production to identify with your content or purchase a product, but they do require clear messaging and authenticity. Give direct links to pieces that you’re proud of and high-quality files that brands can access in the event of changes in URLs, or if content is whitelisted on a brand account you don’t manage.

Once you’ve built a UGC portfolio you’re proud to share, don’t just twiddle your thumbs and wait for brands to come to you. Now it’s time to pitch.

Pitching, Networking, and Community

Be proactive, not reactive. Build relationships for the long haul.

A huge factor in creating a sustainable business as a creator is consistency. Creating a regular outreach strategy to reach out to brands and collaborators will give you a strong support system to lean on when times are tough.

Professionals who can support you during a recession or lean periods as a creator aren’t limited to brand marketing teams. Don’t underestimate the value of coffee chats or collaborations with other creators who might be able to give you valuable advice or opportunities via word of mouth. Referrals can keep your business going through uncertain times if you’ve taken the time to build trust.

Reaching out to brands and fellow freelance creators is a long-term strategy. You wouldn’t expect a job after meeting someone once, so treat networking as a creator the same way. Build a long term relationship by determining whether or not you share the same values and goals before pitching a collaboration.

Four people sitting at a table discussing the creator economy in a room full of colorful posters at the Jellysmack Creator Lounge at VidCon 2022
Networking with fellow creators and industry professionals at events like VidCon can generate referrals and new opportunities. 

Here’s how to build a network that can support you during every season of your creator business:

  • Be direct. Try using email grabbers like Snov or Hunter to find the direct email for someone you want to reach out to. Getting into someone’s inbox may give you a better chance to connect with them vs. a DM. 
  • Research, research, research. Make sure you understand how the person you’re reaching out to fits within their marketing team or creator business, what you can bring to the table and how you’d best work together. This will save you both valuable time and ensure you’re entering a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Set clear targets. The best way to build a supportive network is to reach out on a regular basis. You’re not likely to see results from pitching UGC to 50 brands once a year. Ever heard of the saying that a job search is a job in itself? Treat your creator business the same by scheduling time each week to reach out to new collaborators and business partners. Try a smaller amount of weekly pitches and add on more companies each week (as long as you’re not sacrificing quality of outreach).
  • Reconnect and follow up. The best way to burn a bridge as a solopreneur is to make relationships feel transactional. You’re providing value and giving back to your audience every day, and your professional relationships should be the same. Don’t be afraid to check in and provide resources, tips or encouragement when someone in your professional network shares an update. Communicating regularly will net you more substantial opportunities instead of one-offs.
Expand to Digital Products

Infinitely scalable and easily accessible, digital products are the gift that keep on giving.

If you’re an established creator, you’ve likely expanded your product or service offering beyond your content. While there are more and more robust creator funds for influencers to access across platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat, it’s still critical not to rely solely on ad revenue.

If you feel like digital products like e-books, courses, or templates would be a fit for your creator business but aren’t sure where to start, here are some helpful questions to ask when brainstorming your digital offering:

  • Which content has performed best? Your best performing pieces of content can provide valuable insight on what digital products your audience might love. If you’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback on your recent Instagram posts, you could sell Lightroom presets that can get your audience the same look.
  • What can take my audience to the next level? If you’ve created videos on organizing a brand photoshoot but your audience wants more help creating their own, a Notion template for planning a photoshoot could move them from your free content to a paid purchase.
  • What actions do I want my audience to take? Digital products can be a great way to build authority with your audience at a lower price point. Once they’ve purchased your digital product, what do you want them to do next? Subscribe to your Patreon? Take your live cohort-based course? Think about what relevant digital products can lead your audience to a higher-ticket offer.
Creator Authority As a Service

Monetize your expertise.

If you’ve built trust with your audience, provided valuable content and shown your knowledge, you’re likely ready to expand into services. Building a creator business with both digital products and services is a great way to build multiple income streams in preparation for economic uncertainty.

“For those of you who are out there who are coaches or consultants, I don’t think you should actually sell your time for less. I think you should sell your time for more, and I think there’s nothing wrong with increasing your rates if you’re a coach as a hedge against inflation and also to extract more value,” Roberto Blake, a full-time YouTuber and educator, shares in his podcast on coping as a creator during recessions. He notes that increasing your one-on-one rates is critical since it takes time away from creating content.

If you raise your existing coaching rates or add service-based packages to your creator business, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can offer. This might feel overwhelming, but here are two service categories to get you started:

  • One-on-one coaching. This is great for providing clients with bespoke, tailored advice and building relationships. If you love teaching and mentoring but don’t feel group settings are a fit, this can be a great entry point.
  • Content consulting. If UGC or coaching isn’t for you, showing clients a portfolio of work that’s driven results could net you consulting gigs for e-commerce or retail brands.
Creator and educator Roberto Blake cautions against undervaluing your coaching rates. 
Platform Diversification

Never put all your eggs in one basket.

Ultimately, creators don’t have control over social media platforms. If you lost your primary channel for content creation, would you still be able to turn a profit?

This is a huge consideration when recession-proofing your creator business. Think about ways you can guarantee a connection with your audience without being at the mercy of algorithms, like starting an email newsletter or subscription platform). 

Jellysmack is now working with TikTokers to expand to additional platforms and increase monetization opportunities, maximizing content reach and revenue through diversification. 

You don’t have to be on every platform known to man, but do consider combining multiple platform categories to create a sustainable online presence:

  • Discovery platforms. These search-based platforms can get you an audience by solving a common problem. Think YouTube, a self-hosted blog or even LinkedIn, which are all heavily SEO optimized.
  • Nurturing platforms. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have content that’s shorter and easier to digest. This type of content and algorithm is great at getting you in front of your audience in regular, bite sized chunks.
  • Get-to-know-you platforms. This category will build a deeper relationship with your following and help create true fans. Long-form content tends to be effective here, longer YouTube videos or blogs can help your audience feel connected to you.
  • True fan platforms. Once your audience knows and loves you, they’ll likely want to get exclusive access to your content. Consider newsletters to keep them up to date on any launches or a Patreon or YouTube Channel Member subscription so your community can get an inside look at what you’re creating.
Cash In On Your Video Library

Offload risk and get money upfront.

If you’re a creator in need of some cash, options can be limited. Traditional banks aren’t exactly jumping to issue loans to people without a W2, and Venture Capitalists seek a stake in your business in exchange for money. 

But since Jellysmack was built by creators, we understand the needs of creators. Our Catalog Licensing solution offers money upfront in exchange for licensing the monetization rights of your past YouTube videos. So instead of letting your YouTube earnings trickle in over time, Jellysmack uses predictive analytics to determine the value of each video and can pay you that money all at once. 

What can you do with the money? Whatever you want. Hire a team, get office space, buy new equipment, launch a new product, or take a long vacation to recover from burnout. There are no stipulations and it doesn’t have to be paid back. It’s designed to give creators more freedom and flexibility without giving away ownership in their brand. 

“Many creators are unable to access loans or investments to grow their businesses,” shares Jellysmack President, Sean Atkins. “The creator economy has grown so rapidly that many traditional funding options haven’t caught up. Our catalog licensing offers a much-needed option for creators to add cushion to their income on their own terms.”

Jellysmack President Sean Atkins and TechCrunch reporter Amanda Silberling sitting on stage in front of a colorful backdrop at VidCon 2022.
Jellysmack President Sean Atkins talks creator financing solutions with TechCrunch’s Amanda Silberling at VidCon 2022.
You Have the Tools, Now Go Make Some Magic

Recession talk can be scary, but while economic downturns like the 2008 Financial Crisis were severe and long lasting, there are opportunities within the creator economy that simply didn’t exist before. In 2008, building a full-time career as a content creator was a distant dream… now it’s a reality. 

With the rise of remote work, more and more Americans going freelance and choosing careers as content creators, now is the time to create a backup plan for your creator business.

Take steps forward to diversify your work as a creator and you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.