There are a lot of platforms out there that will happily give you a space to exhibit your content. YouTube, for example, is the most popular at them moment. You can even earn some revenue for the ads YouTube shows in front of, during and after your content. Sounds great, right?
Well, not so much. The truth is that these platforms only pay you a sliver of what they actually take in. You’re doing all the work and they’re taking most of the money. Sure, they provide a service, but is that service worth the cost? Personally, I don’t think so.
I think that if the platform’s portion of gross revenue reaches a certain threshold on a particular project – say $10,000 – that’s too much. You ought to be earning the money yourself and using it to pay qualified people to help you make your content. YouTube claims to give creators about half of the ad revenue generated by a video, but other platforms aren’t so transparent.
But cost is only part of the problem. By publishing your content on another platform, you lose control. You don’t have any way of contacting the audience outside of that platform. If you decide to leave the platform one day, you lose access to the audience you spent time and money to build.
So how do you earn more from your content and retain control over your material and your audience? By building your own platform and selling it yourself. To do that, you’ll need a few tools that create awareness and drive demand. Next, I’ll run through the six tools you need to sell your own film content.How do you earn more from your content and retain control over your material and your audience? Click To Tweet
1. You Need a Platform That You Control
Your first step is to develop some type of platform where people will find your content. You need a website that either works great on mobile or has its own native app.
There are a lot of website builders out there that don’t require coding knowledge: Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, etc. They all have unique features and workflows. I won’t review them all, but I will say that my favorite is WordPress.org because you get total control over the site’s look and function. There are thousands of plugins you can install to add features.
Once you decide where your platform will reside and how you’ll build it, you’ll need to develop a brand – the look, design, and feel of your site. As a content creator, you should have the skill to develop these elements, but you can always hire people to do it for you. For hiring help, I like services like 99designs, Freelancer.com, and Upwork.
Keep in mind that if you hire people to help you build a platform, you’ll need separate people to handle the tech and the design. Those are different skill sets that rarely overlap well.
2. You Need a Paywall System
Your platform needs a system to create memberships for your audience so they can pay you to view your content. The term is “digital rights management,” but it just means setting up a paywall so they have to send money before they can enjoy your stuff.
If you use any of the platform builders I mentioned above, they all have native or third-party tools to add these paywall systems. In fact, they all have multiple options, so you can find the one that best suits your needs. I recommend and use the MemberPress plugin on WordPress. If you decide to build a totally custom platform, you also have to design a custom paywall system, which is a huge pain in the ass.
3. You Need a Way to Collect Money
Your next step is to use a credit card procurement system to receive payments. There are several mainstream payment systems, like Stripe, Square, Authorize.net, Braintree, etc. There are lots of others if you’re willing to look around a bit. Some specialize in digital goods, others are made for high risk industries, etc.
If you’re thinking about PayPal, think about something else. I never recommend PayPal because they’re too eager to hold your money over perfectly normal and legal activity. They call themselves a money transfer service, not a bank, which is how they skirt appropriate regulations. They once held $16,000 of my money (for WEEEEKS!) after I sold some unused camera equipment until I threatened to contact regulators. They were trying to stop fraud on their platform and I got caught in that dragnet.
When you work with a payment processor, be prepared to jump through hoops and answer their questions about your business. They are naturally skeptical of all of their customers. If you aren’t running a scam, you shouldn’t be put off by these questions.
Once your credit card procurement system is set up, don’t forget to run a test transaction on your own card. You don’t have to spend much, just $10 to make sure the whole process works. In other works, processing a transaction takes your money, gives you access to the content behind your paywall that you just paid for and deposits the net revenue (the credit card processor will take 3-5%) in your company’s bank account.
4. You Need an Email System
Next, you’ll need a way to capture and communicate with your audience. As you bring people into your business, you’ll want a way to connect with them over and over so you can nurture them and let them know when new content is available to purchase. If you sold something to someone for any amount of money (no matter how small), you want to be able to reach out to them again without violating spam laws.
An email marketing service provider is a fairly simple tool. It collects email addresses on your site and stores them in a database. Emails are collected anytime someone makes a purchase or submits a form.
Through the tool, you can send regular messages to your list of subscribers. The subscribers can remove themselves from the list by clicking the link in any of your emails (this is the law in most states). These tools offer plenty of advanced features as well, like segmentation and automation.
5. You Need a Marketing/Ads System
Marketing is a big discipline, so what you use to satisfy this requirement can be a lot of things. It might be publicity, paid ads, social media, influencer marketing, or something entirely unique.
Regardless, you need to figure out a way of getting your product (your show) out to the world and communicating your story. You absolutely must be creative here. You can’t do the same things the studios are doing because they will outspend you. Those guys will drop, and often do, $100K on a poster and another $1 million on a trailer, so you must compete creatively.
I never advocate for using the social networks as your platform to deliver all your content (you need your own site that you control, like I said), but they do have audiences of billions of people. You should use sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter to drive traffic to your platform. Just make sure you aren’t giving away so much free content that people don’t need to buy your stuff.
6. You Need a Business Structure
Never work as a sole proprietor. There are a thousand ways that can screw you. Did you know the IRS can unilaterally decide that a sole proprietorship is not a business, forcing you to pay extra taxes and fees? Yeah, it’s stupid and I’ve seen it happen to a friend and client. The ONLY exception to this rule, is if you don’t have the roughly $1,500 to create the entity (and annual fee to maintain it), but as soon as you have the money – transition to a business entity. And Honestly, setting up the company is the first step I do when getting a project started.
Fortunately, this tool is pretty simple to get. It can, however, take some time (1-8 weeks) depending on the state and how busy they are. During the pandemic, this process went from taking two days in CA, to two and as much as ten weeks. I always recommend setting up an S-corp. Put all the banking and revenue generation under this entity when operating the business. If you find yourself accumulating more than $200K in annual profit, you should add an asset protection layer to this structure. A good law firm that specializes in Asset Protection can help you based on the state where you live and are organized.
If you put all of those systems together, you’ll have everything you need to sell your own content (after you create the content, of course). Just remember to test everything thoroughly before driving traffic to your site. You don’t want any snags that prevent the revenue from flowing into your company operating account.