Core Concepts · · 5 min read

The five stages of being a creator

Every creator's journey is unique. But it's helpful to understand where you may be on your journey so that you can navigate your next steps.

In my experience, there are five typical stages of the creator journey:

  1. Consideration
  2. Finding Fit
  3. Finding Traction
  4. Going Pro
  5. Scaling

You do not need to achieve all five stages in order to be successful. Many aspiring creators never make it past stage one or two.

But for a creator to build a comfortable, sustainable living, they will likely need to achieve stage four – going pro. For many creators, that's enough. For others, they aim to go even bigger and scale their business as a creator.

Let's explore these stages, their common hallmarks, their challenges, and what success looks like at each stage.

Stage One: Consideration

Everyone begins at the consideration stage. This is when you recognize other people taking content creation seriously and start to wonder, "Could I do that too?"

People in the creator stage have not yet decided that they will pursue being a creator, but they're actively considering giving it a shot (even part-time or as a hobby).

Common Challenges

  • Self-confidence. People in this stage often wonder if they are capable of becoming a creator.
  • Lack of knowledge. People in this stage aren't certain how to start.
  • Fear of time commitment. People in this stage aren't certain how much time they would need to dedicate to this pursuit.
  • Lack of direction. People in this stage aren't certain what they'd create.

What Success Looks Like

Success in this stage is simply making a decision. People in the consideration stage can either decide to move forward or not.

If they decide to move forward, they move onto stage two...

Stage Two: Finding Fit

Once someone decides to pursue a future as a creator, their next step is finding fit. Some people call this "product-market" fit, others call it "customer fit" or even just "market fit."

In any case, your goal is to design how you and your content fit into the world.

Remember, people pay attention to you when:

  1. They have a clear problem or desire
  2. You present a solution to that problem or desire
  3. They trust you

It takes time to build trust, but none of that matters if you don't present a solution to a clear problem or desire. Not only do you need to provide a viable solution, but you need to carve out how YOUR solution is a different or better option than existing alternatives.

Common Challenges

  • Creator identity. Creators in this stage wonder who they are as a creator – how to speak about themselves, their purpose, and their visual identity.
  • Customer identity. Creators in this stage may not yet be clear on their customers and their needs.
  • Differentiation. Creators in this stage may struggle with knowing what makes their content or products different.

What Success Looks Like

Success in this stage is finding clarity on your purpose as a creator. Defining your purpose is described in the PARTS framework as answering these four questions:

  1. Who do you help (and what do you help them do)?
  2. Why does your content need to exist?
  3. What is your Spiky Point of View?
  4. Why are YOU the right person for this message?

If you're in this stage, you may be tempted to "choose a niche."

That's directionally correct, but I think choosing a niche is the wrong approach.

Instead, I recommend choosing a purpose (as defined above) and leaning into your unique personality and voice for differentiation.

Stage Three: Finding Traction

Once you feel that you've found clarity on who your customers are, how you serve your customers, and what makes you different, you're on to stage three – finding traction.

By this time, you should have some signals that your content/direction/vibe is resonating with your target audience. Maybe it's positive feedback from a prospect or someone sharing something you've made – but there should be some signal from your target audience that you're on the right track.

In stage three, you'll work to consistently receive positive feedback from your target audience.

Common Challenges

  • Audience discovery. Creators in this stage often struggle to consistently get their work in front of a new audience – this can feel like shouting into the void.
  • Audience retention. Creators in this stage often struggle to retain the attention and interest of the audience they attract – this can feel like a "leaky bucket."

What Success Looks Like

Success in this stage is consistent audience growth (even if it feels slow or small). In the traction stage, you should be experimenting with ways to get your message in front of a new audience (through discovery platforms like social media) and paying close attention to how well you're retaining audience attention through your retention platforms (like email, podcasting, or SMS).

If you choose to start monetizing at this stage, you should be able to successfully generate some revenue.

Stage Four: Going Pro

This stage is where amateur, part-time, and hobby creators decide that they want to level up and become professional creators.

In this stage, creators lean into the traction they've begun to experience and double down on what is working. This is also the stage where monetization becomes a major focus.

Common Challenges

  • Financial stability. Creators in this stage have successfully generated revenue, but it may not yet be consistent or sustainable enough to cover their expenses.
  • Audience discovery. The need to consistently attract new audience attention doesn't go away in this stage – it may become even more important.
  • Revenue model. Creators in this stage have proven that they can generate some revenue, but designing and implementing a revenue model that transforms attention into a sustainable income may still be a challenge.
  • Business building. To this point, creators may find success simply by creating compelling content – but to go pro, creators need to embrace their role as an entrepreneur and treat their operation like a true business. The financial, legal, and administrative needs may seem daunting.

What Success Looks Like

Success in this stage looks like consistently earning enough revenue to support you (and potentially a small team). The creator should experience reliable audience and revenue growth. Succeeding in this stage also requires the creator to begin thinking as a business owner (even if they hire or partner with another operator).

Stage Five: Scaling

This stage is where creators truly become media companies. As professional creators experience more and more success, you start to feel growing pains. Often, the systems built to get to (and through) stage four are not strong enough to support a scaling business.

Things that break down include:

  • Automations
  • Customer service/support
  • Bookkeeping
  • Payroll

Even seemingly basic things like content planning and publishing can break down as more people are brought into the process.

Common Challenges

  • Content expansion. Creators in this stage realize that the business grows as more content is published – so they look to increase the frequency of publishing.
  • Team building. Creators in this stage realize that they can accomplish much more by building a team – but hiring, training, and delegating are entirely new skills.
  • Financial growth. Creators in this stage want to build that team, but they first need to see revenue growth to support that team's growth.
  • Back office operations. Creators in this stage can get consumed by all the administrative needs of the business (like finance, accounting, payroll, HR, operations, etc.). These needs likely require fractional or full-time staff.
  • Bottlenecks. With so many things working in concert, there will be systems and processes that slow down the rest of the system. This creates a bottleneck – and often it's the creator themselves (making decisions, signing off on things, recording things, etc.). Identifying and removing bottlenecks allows the team to continue scaling.

What Success Looks Like

Success in this stage looks like successful team and business building. The creator may want to hire a General Manager, Operations, or Administrative lead. This person should be able to assist in the screening, hiring, training, and operations of the team supporting the creator.

When done right, this frees the creator from the day-to-day and allows them to focus only on their zone of genius – which often looks like 1.) creative work and/or 2.) relationship-building.

Success in this stage may also look like higher output, accelerating audience growth, and accelerating revenue growth.

Conclusion

These five stages are linear – you will experience each of them on your journey (even if only for a short period of time).

Your journey may end or linger in one of the earlier stages – not every creator wants to go pro and not every professional creator has ambitions for scale.

But by understanding these stages and the unique challenges they present, you should have a better understanding of where you currently sit and how to move up the ladder.

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