August 13, 2021
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Creators Need Niche Partners, Not Generalists

Being a creator and a media executive during this time of heavy investment in the creator economy space has been an incredibly enlightening experience. By day, I run a business and understand the importance of a diversified team of people that specialize in doing things they excel at. But by night, I am stubborn and feel the need to own everything.

This is why I had to put my podcast on hold. On Mondays, I would record a podcast and then write my newsletter. On Tuesdays, I would edit the podcast and write a piece about it. On Wednesdays, I would publish and try to promote the podcast. On Thursdays, I wrote another issue of my newsletter. And then I had the weekend.

It was too much.

Naturally, the advice someone gave me was that I needed to relinquish some of the control over the podcast. Rather than doing everything, just do what I excel at. For the rest (the editing, writing a recap, and publishing), I could hire people to help me.

It’s the right advice and, when you think about it, this is exactly what a media company is. Those that create the content and those that do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work are different people. It’s why 1+1=3 at a media company.

Understanding that creators need help, there has been a major influx of participants trying to offer solutions. I have seen far too many people trying to create a CMS for newsletters. There are others that are trying to be the complete business side for creators. There are now multiple registration tools all competing for the creator’s business.

What do you choose? How do you decide which way to turn? These questions become increasingly complicated because the person making the decision—the creator—may not have the experience required to actually make that call. They’re creators.

Brian Morrissey has an interesting analogy for what creators need:

Media businesses are full of partnerships, whether between sales and marketing, editors and reporters, designers and developers with everyone, the newsroom and producers. Those partnerships will evolve in micro-media businesses. I see most of these partnerships becoming more like a running group. We all do the majority of our training separately, but if you’re going to run two miles all out or a 20-mile long run, you come together with others.

I agree with this. Creators are going to need to partner with people that excel at specific things. But I fundamentally disagree with the current argument being put forward that creators need to relinquish all responsibility of thinking about the business side. “Just create,” some would say, “and we’ll handle the rest.”

This reminds me of sports players who have flashy business managers. “Just play ball,” they say, “and we’ll manage your business for you.” Is it any wonder that so many players go bankrupt after they stop playing? Is it any wonder that some of the wealthiest sports players take an active approach in running their businesses?

What sports players realized—and creators will too—is that ownership of the intellectual property (themselves) requires strategy when deciding what to pursue. You can’t just focus on creating. You have to also understand how you want to grow yourself.

Whether creators want to admit it or not, they are the CEO of Self Inc. The buck stops with them.

That’s why I think many of the ways people are trying to support the creator economy is all wrong. Trying to be the be-all-end-all partner for a creator is trying to convince them that they should give up the responsibility for their business. And that’s the wrong way to tackle it.

Instead, good partners will fit one of two buckets, and creators need both. Niche operators that can help with the various aspects of running a business or separate partners to help me augment my business through expansion.

In that first bucket, we’ve already got people who are great partners for creators. They go by names like lawyer, accountant, head of PR, and agent. These are people that are very good at specific tasks that any creator needs when building their business. A generalist can’t tell me the right way to charge sales tax for a subscription newsletter; however, an accountant with media experience sure can. An agent will be able to best negotiate a contract, understanding the intricacies of IP ownership and protecting the creator from abuse.

The second bucket is what I believe are the best opportunities that exist for anyone that wants to be a partner to creators. But it’s not one size fits all. Instead, creators are going to have many partners to help them with different parts of their business.

For example, when Covid is over, I believe that creators are going to want to take their brands live. We’ll start to see some of the best creators launch events where they do live recordings of their podcast, host panels, and people will pay to attend—not to mention, sponsor.

I don’t expect a creator to know how to host an event. But I would be surprised if there is not an agency in the next 3-6 months that launches exclusively focused on taking a creator to a physical environment. It’s a huge opportunity. Perhaps some of the events professionals that lost their jobs during Covid will be the ones to jump into this arena.

Another example would be me launching a really in-depth community (something that makes the Slack look pitiful). I could do this myself, but it would be a huge time suck. There’s a lot of work that goes into building a community where I charge four figures per seat.

The alternative? I could partner with a company like Community.co. They focus exclusively on building communities. That’s it. They do nothing but that. That’s the kind of partner that would help me augment my business through expansion.

Why do I call this “augmenting my business through expansion?”

I have my business today. I have my newsletter, my subscription business, even some ad sales (coming in September). But what I don’t have is the time or energy to take my newsletter into an entirely new format. That’s why the podcast got shut down. It became too much.

Having a partner that can help me strategically extend my business into an entirely new product is something that could be appealing. It doesn’t exist today, so for them to take a percentage of the revenue is a no-brainer. I either don’t do it because I’m alone or I do it with a partner and give up a cut.

There is no denying that creators need partners. Doing it on our own is a lot and the reason we’ve built the infrastructure we have in my day job is that it helps us scale faster.

However, creators should not have partners that take management of the business out of their hands. Instead, they should have a vision for what they want to accomplish and find very specialized partners that can help with those specific aspects of the business. For the run of the mill back-office operations? Find a good lawyer, agent, accountant, etc. For everything else? Find niche partners to help extend the business. That’s the future of creator-led businesses.

Thanks for reading. If you have thoughts, join the AMO Slack channel to share them. I hope you have a great weekend and see you next week.

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