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How to make a living as a creator and not burn out

A woman with purple hair and red highlights sits with her hand against her face.

VidCon Abu Dhabi, here we come! This week, the Google for Creators team is excited to be heading to the highly anticipated three-day video content conference, where we’ll join some of the world’s most influential creators, along with brands, industry experts and fans, to celebrate the best and brightest in digital media. Of course we’ll be enjoying all that VidCon has to offer — the meet and greets, panel discussions, entertainment and more — but we’re thrilled to be featured presenters ourselves. On December 3, we’ll be speaking at two separate sessions, co-presenting with two talented creators.

Both of our talks will share insight and tips to help creators build their brands and monetize their content. Google for Creators writer Crystal Lambert will be joined by lifestyle and beauty blogger Kaya Marriott to explain why content bundling is the secret sauce that every creator should learn to do. But first, Head of Creator Relations at Google, Paul Bakaus, will be joined by legendary cosplay designer Yaya Han to discuss Becoming a Sustainable Creator. If you’ve ever wondered whether anyone can actually make a living as a creator without burning out, you will not want to miss this talk.

We caught up with Paul to hear more about his upcoming VidCon appearance.

A bearded man in glasses wearing a t-shirt and blazer gives a presentation on stage.
At VidCon Abu Dhabi, Head of Creator Relations Paul Bakaus and cosplay legend Yaya Han will discuss how to have a sustainable career as a creator.

As the head of Google’s Creator Relations team, what’s your main concern and focus when it comes to helping creators?

We’re a relatively young outreach team, and I’m still talking to all types of creators every week to find out how we can help best. One of the things I hear most often are sentences like, “I don’t know how long I can do this” and “I wish I had more time” and “I feel pretty lonely in this.” When you look at the loudest voices speaking for the creator economy on Twitter and beyond, most either advocate for complete independence on the Web3, or going all in on platforms, but what I found creators actually want is a sustainable work-life balance. Rather than going completely independent and having to manage their entire platform and business themselves, they want a healthy middle ground, where they are in control, but offload all the non-creative work to others.

At Google, we’re very well positioned to help with this, because we don’t have to advocate for a single app or proprietary platform. We can tell people “use social media and platforms for x,” but also “use your own website or this particular service for y.” Over the upcoming months, expect to see a whole lot of educational content from our team that leads creators away from burn out, and towards a more sustainable creator life, and ultimately more time to create.

Who are you trying to reach with your talk and why do you think this group of creators needs help?

Maybe you’re familiar with the Gartner hype cycle and its five phases? It describes how new technologies get hyped first, then there’s a wake-up moment when folks realize not everything is amazing, and then we go past the hype to a sustainable, productive conversation. I think this cycle can be applied to the creator economy, and the journey of a creator as well. Right now, it feels like we’re just over the first hill, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, and we’re starting to see the cracks that will lead many into the Trough of Disillusionment.

Our target audience isn’t necessarily creators just starting out, as they’re simply excited to get going, but the creators who are already deeply invested and are realizing that this life comes with a cost. We’ll help them make it through the Trough of Disillusionment, to the Slope of Enlightenment and ultimately, to a Plateau of Productivity.

Alt-text: A woman wearing a headset and a revealing silver and pink space-themed jumpsuit holds a pink ray gun.
Yaya Han is one of the most well-respected and well-known cosplay designers. At VidCon, she’ll share lessons from her long career as a creator.

Why did you ask Yaya Han to join you to discuss this particular topic?

A while ago, when thinking about how to bring creators back to the web, I became convinced that we need to look at narrow niches that have historically done well on the web, but that have now largely moved on to social media. My theory is that if we can find one of the most well-respected creators in that niche and turn them into a living case study, or “beacon,” on the importance of being on the web, it would yield better results than trying to cover broad topics in broad niches.

To test this theory, I needed to find a niche I was familiar with, that’s sufficiently popular with GenZ and beyond, that’s visually appealing and comes with hugely popular social media influencers. I’ve had a longtime interest in Japanese pop culture, and noticed that cosplay grew from a seemingly obscure niche activity to a massive phenomenon over the years. Many cosplayers had websites a few years back, but nowadays, almost all activity is on social media. Cosplay was an ideal test niche.

I then identified the most well-respected cosplayers with websites to find that “beacon creator.” They had to be popular with fans and respected by other creators. And they had to use their website as part of their overall strategy. Yaya checked all the boxes, and when we met a few months back, we realized that we both have the same burning desire to revitalize the web while helping the cosplay community and the larger creator community get onto a sustainable, healthy path.

Even Yaya will say that her long career is a rarity in her industry. What can new creators learn from people like Yaya, who’ve made it as a creator for years? And what can longtime creators learn from the modern influencer?

I’ve chatted with Yaya about how every creator, including her, had to learn at some point to not obsess over follower counts, but instead look at what actually makes you attractive to brands and paying customers. That’s just one of many life lessons Yaya had to learn as a career creator, and because Yaya has done it for a much longer time than many others, she can help inspire a new generation of creators who are struggling because they rose to fame too quickly. These creators are all at risk of burning out, and Yaya, together with the Google for Creators team, and soon creators in all sorts of niches, can help them find a sustainable path to a long, successful career.

Your talk focuses on some really difficult challenges of being a content creator. Fortunately, you and Yaya have a lot of solutions, some of which may surprise the audience. Your focus is more on the long-game than short-term solutions.

That’s right, and best of all, some of these solutions are very easy to implement! For instance, getting a domain name to put in front of your link-in-bio takes probably less than 10 minutes, but ensures that you own that funnel or connection point. Now, whenever you switch link-in-bio providers, your links on all talks, videos, posts and so on will keep working and redirect fans to the right new home.

The most surprising realization for many will be that they don’t have to become outrageously famous to make it as a creator. There are tons of career creators out there who make more money with a few thousand fans than a big influencer with millions of followers. They do it by focusing on providing real value to their true fans, oftentimes with the help of their own website.

Thanks Paul for giving us a taste of what you’ll be talking about on Friday. Break a leg and have fun at VidCon!