Corey Wilks, Psy.D.

Helping Creators Reach Their Potential

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Why Most Content Creators Go Broke and Give Up

1.5 billion.

That’s how many abandoned social media accounts there are…

Just on Twitter (defined as not having logged in for the past 6 months).

Obviously, some of these are bots and people who’ve passed away, but how many of them are the result of creators—with tons of potential to bring value to the world—giving up?

I asked myself this question, then came up with two follow-ups:

Why do so many creators give up?

Because they go broke.

Why do so many creators go broke?

Because they think of themselves as just content creators, which is a mistake.

Here’s why…


The “If I Post It, They Will Come” Mentality

Too many aspiring creators see their favorite celebrities post random stuff and get millions of likes, then copy their example expecting the same results.

But this isn’t that “If you build it, they will come” scene from Field of Dreams.

After two weeks of cramming their IG reels with day-in-the-life vlogs and reposting empty motivational quotes, they get discouraged when they don’t magically have millions of followers.

This is an example of the “Spotlight Effect,” a psychological phenomenon where we tend to overestimate how much others notice what we’re doing.

When I first started creating content, I debated how large of a business mailbox to get. “What if the 3 inch by 5.5 inch box isn’t big enough to fit all my fan mail?” Because I was following YouTubers who would do videos opening all the kickass fan mail they got, so I naturally expected I’d get the same treatment because I’m awesome and everyone would immediately recognize how awesome I am and send me tons of kickass stuff, too.

Arrogant? Maybe. Naive as fuck? Oh yeah. To this day, I’ve never gotten anything close to fan mail in that mailbox.

Luckily, I don’t do this for fan mail.

No one is waiting for your next post, especially when you’re a new account.

So when new creators get hit in the fucking face with this realization, they get discouraged and give up.

Content creation is a long game, and most people are too impatient to play it.


Building Moatless Empires on Sand

Warren Buffett popularized the term “economic moat,” which refers to a business’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage over its competitors to protect long-term success—like how castles had moats to protect people inside from outside attacks.

A “Creator Moat” is similar, but most creators don’t think about building a moat by creating unique content that resonates with people, deepens affinity, and sets them apart from everyone else.

Instead, they post platitudes and controversial (read: douchey) content that gets picked up by the algorithm and gets them tons of low-quality followers. But they see the vanity metric of likes and follows, so they think the strategy’s effective and keep at it.

Because they haven’t built a moat, nothing separates them from the next anon account posting bullshit platitudes. The followers they do get don’t care about them and don’t buy anything they put out (which is also why most of these accounts, at least on Twitter, sell retweets and bullshit growth hack courses).

But even worse than this—they become reliant on a single platform. All it takes is one subtle algorithm change, a shadowban, or getting hacked, and their entire operation is gone.

Do you know why it’s a terrible idea to build a castle, or anything, on sand? Because it’s unstable and constantly in flux. Relying on a single platform, or any platform where you don’t own direct access to your audience, is the equivalent of building your empire on sand.

If today you have 100 million TikTok followers and tomorrow it gets banned, then tomorrow you have 0 followers and 0 way of contacting them.

But if you convert social media followers into newsletter subscribers, now you have direct access to them anytime you have something valuable to share. Even if your email service provider (ESP) shuts down cough Revue cough you can still export the .csv file with all their contact info and take it with you wherever you go next.

Social media platforms own the contact info of your followers, not you.

But building an email list means building your empire on a solid foundation. Protect this foundation with your Creator Moat and you’re on the right track.

Most creators neglect these two pieces, which is why they go broke and give up.


Functionless Content

One strategy psychologists use to get to the heart of any behavior is called a functional analysis. All you do is look at a behavior and ask, what function does this serve—what is its purpose?

Every piece of content you create should serve a specific function.

Too many creators make shit for no reason other than to make it. Don’t get me wrong, creating for creating’s sake is awesome—and the world needs more pure art. But this approach rarely pays the bills (hence the starving artist trope).

A pretty visual on self-care here, a random thread on the top “Chrome extensions so good they should be illegal” there, a few bullet points on how to be more productive over there—these serve no function, don’t connect to each other, and do nothing to support your ability to pay the bills as a creator.

“But Corey, those posts got a bunch of likes!”

Yeah, but likes and follows don’t pay the bills.

Every piece of content has to serve a function if you want to make it as a creator.

One of my goals this year is to grow my audience (newsletter subscribers, Twitter followers, and YouTube subscribers). But I’m not chasing vanity metrics.

A larger platform translates to:

  • An increased likelihood of getting a traditional publishing deal.
  • Better distribution for ideas and increasing “luck surface area.”
  • Easier to leverage into partnerships, sponsorships, etc.

According to my ConvertKit dashboard, my average LTV per subscriber right now is ~$47 (it’s higher, but this is just what I have connected to ConvertKit). So every new subscriber, on average, translates to another $47. So another 10,000 subscribers could translate to a good bit of money—not including the increased luck surface area, sponsorship opportunities, increased likelihood of a traditional book deal which would come with a book advance, etc.

Think about someone like James Clear who has over 2 million newsletter subscribers. As soon as he puts out his next book, it will be a bestseller. If he needs to sell 10,000 copies of a book to get on the NYT Best Seller list, that means he only needs to convert 0.5% of his newsletter subscribers to pick up his next book.

Every piece of his content serves the function to get people to subscribe to his newsletter because he can convert his newsletter subscribers into buyers.

So yes, likes and follows don’t pay the bills outright—but you can leverage them into revenue by being strategic and making sure every piece of content serves a function.


Wrap Up

These are the biggest mistakes I see most creators make, which leads to them going broke and giving up:

  • Thinking they’ll be rich and famous after a few posts because an army of raving fans is eagerly awaiting their content (Spoiler: They’re not).
  • Using bullshit growth hacks to get tons of low-quality followers instead of sharing unique content that resonates with a high-affinity audience.
  • Being overly reliant on social media algorithms instead of getting people to their newsletter list so they own direct access to their audience.
  • Creating content without a specific function instead of being hyper-strategic with how the content they create can translate into income, impact, and opportunities.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a creator:

Don’t just think of yourself as a content creator. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur who creates content.

If you do that, I’m fully convinced you’ll succeed.


Question for the Week

How can you incorporate a functional analysis to create more strategic content?


If you’re curious, here are a few courses to help you level up your life and business:

  •  Core Value Toolkit : Ever wanted more clarity on which direction to take your life? I call that your Core Value, the single most-important value a life well-lived must be built around. This toolkit is the first step to clarifying yours.

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