I received an email the other day from a member of The Tilt community. Six months into their content creator journey, they were, frankly, struggling with revenue streams.

They thought by now, they would be earning more revenue from the content business. So, to pay the bills, they had to go out and do some non-content creator odd jobs. 

It’s tough, right? And I’ve been there. I remember the days when I was maxing out the credit cards and depleting the savings – just holding on to grow an audience and drive some kind of revenue. 

Today, we know it takes an average of 17 months to break even and 25 months to build a profitable business, according to The Tilt’s creator economy research. But knowing that doesn’t make the struggle any easier.

But what can you do to buy more time? How do you create more runway so you can become a successful content entrepreneur someday?

.@JoePulizzi offers 2 unexpected revenue streams so desperate content creators can keep the lights on. #ContentBusiness #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

These two unexpected revenue streams for desperate content creators to keep the lights on.

Pitch creator-related work with a deep prospect dive

After leaving my publishing job to become a content creator, I was desperate for revenue at about the 12-month mark.

Luckily during this time, I created some relationships with larger companies. One day, I listed these companies and asked, “What is their biggest marketing problem?” I wrote an answer next to each.

One company had a content champion but not a cohesive content marketing strategy.

One organization had a solid plan but really needed a subscriber generator or lead magnet to make it work.

A third one desperately looked to fill a few roles in their marketing department and had no luck because they required specialization in content creation.

Here’s what happened.

With the one that needed a plan, I reached out and said I’d help them create a strategic framework. I told them how I’d do it and what I would charge. After a little back and forth, they agreed. Job No. 1.

With the second that needed a lead magnet, I reached out with a couple of ideas around original research and how a research project would serve them well as a subscriber generator. I told them I could help them execute it, partner with a few friends, and get it done quickly for them. Job No. 2.

With the third that sought to fill roles, I told them I’d be happy to help them, and if they found prospects to fill their open roles, I just charged a small fee. Jobs No. 3 and 4.

Those projects kept us going long enough until a crazy idea called Content Marketing Institute started to work. 

Are you looking for some revenue opportunities like this? List the companies you have relationships with, then list their pain points. Brainstorm what might help them. Then reach out.

Unexpected revenue idea from @JoePulizzi: List the pain points of companies you have a relationship with. Brainstorm how you can help. Reach out with proposal. #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

You’ll be surprised by the positive reaction, and it just might be what you need to keep you in the content entrepreneur business without having to spend time in a non-content creator role.

Adopt a limited-inventory model

In the life of a print advertising salesperson, inventory always exists. The magazine publisher will gladly add more pages if new revenue is on the way. Sure, you have sales targets and anticipated folios (the page count of the magazine) to achieve, but you can always sell more ads.

It sounds like a great thing for the salesperson, right? You can just keep selling and selling. But there’s a problem. With an unlimited advertising or sponsorship inventory model, you can never charge a premium for space. 

Online publishers make this mistake, too. They accept a horrible CPM (cost-per-thousand) rate to compete with other content creators and media companies. I cry every time I see an amazing content creator selling advertising space for $50 or $100. What a waste!

Enter limited inventory.

A limited-inventory business model lets content creators charge a premium for ad and sponsorship space, says @JoePulizzi. #CreatorEconomy #ContentEntrepreneur Click To Tweet

When we built the Content Marketing Institute revenue model, we developed a limited-inventory model:

  • We didn’t call it advertising. We called it sponsorship.
  • We limited the number of available sponsorships per month to six.
  • Sponsors received a logo at the bottom of every page and were listed as “CMI Partners.”
  • Each sponsorship received one-sixth of the inventory, meaning each sponsor received a digital advertisement promoted to one-sixth of all the site visitors and email promotions.
  • We charged significantly more for these sponsorships because only six spots were available. When they were gone, they were gone.
  • We offered category exclusivity for a 50% increase in investment.

We priced these a year-long sponsorship at $10K. Within a few weeks, we sold out. This strategy enabled us to fund our business model and keep going.

Here’s what the CMI Partners bottom banner looked like in 2010. (The six sponsors included GoToMeeting, Open View, Story, My Brain Shark, Ricoh, and Alinean.)

Graphical user interface, text, application

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As we grew the Content Marketing Institute, we continued to use the limited-inventory model for webinar projects, research, and even events. Limited inventory works almost every time.

Even if you don’t have the type of audience or traffic yet needed to sustain the business, limiting inventory can at least get you to sponsorship rates that keep the lights on.

Keep the lights on with content ingenuity and unexpected revenue streams

I get it. You might have an idea of how you should make money, and it probably doesn’t include these two ideas. But you have to push those feelings aside and realize that you need to drive revenue no matter what it takes. If you really want to become a successful content creator – a content entrepreneur – getting revenue creative is a must. And to be honest, there’s nothing like a little desperation to get you there. Good luck!

Keep your eye on the content business prizes. Joe shares the seven steps to building an audience and beginning to generate revenue for your content business in this free online class.

About the author

Joe Pulizzi is the founder of The Tilt, author of seven books including Content Inc. and co-founder of speech-therapy fundraiser, The Orange Effect Foundation.