It takes a village: A look at the hidden teams behind successful creators
As much as creators create content because it’s their passion, the ones who are serious usually want to turn it into a full-time, profitable business. The problem is knowing what roles to hire for that business, when to hire them and how to find the right candidates.
Since the creator economy is still such a new industry, there is no playbook of tried and tested ways to build those teams.
Digiday asked four recruiters and creator professionals to see how creators have gone about doing this.
What does the ideal creator team look like?
When it comes to a creator’s behind-the-scenes team, there are two elements to consider: the creative side, and the business.
Paddy Galloway, a creator in his own right, who has also worked with influencers including MrBeast and set up the YouTube creators’ jobs board YT Jobs last year, would always recommend an editor as a creator’s first hire.
“Having an editor could save them significant time so they can focus on higher leverage tasks,” he said. “In an ideal world, all the creator should be doing is recording and making final decisions on things. It usually does start with the editor as being the first step to getting to that place.”
Next is a creative director — someone who can connect the dots between the creator themselves, the editor, and whoever else might be within the team. “They’re almost like a go between that is responsible for building out the vision and ideas for videos,” Galloway added.
For those few creators, who are lucky enough to be earning six figures or more, Galloway recommends a freelance consultant who can act as a second set of eyes across all content and concepts to ensure all videos are top quality and in line with the creator’s vision and brand.
“A head of thumbnail role is another great shout that ensures there are enough decent photos to use as thumbnails on the creator’s channel. Then as the business gets bigger, they can have various designers reporting to them,” Galloway added.
While it’s important to prioritize production and video editing, creators often don’t have finance or legal support. Many creators started their channels or platforms as a hobby from a young age. So invoicing for brand deals and doing taxes is usually an afterthought, despite creators operating as freelancers.
“A lot of creators don’t understand they need to invoice to get paid and brands can be hesitant to pay them unless they’ve followed all the right steps.” said Darren Lachtman, co-founder of Goldenset Collective, a platform which supports digital creators by becoming equity partners in their businesses.
But Sherry Wong, a YouTube creator as well as founder and CEO of roster, a recruitment platform for the creator space, highlighted a new role that is emerging for creators: chief operating officer.
“Beyond a certain point of bootstrapping, creators find themselves in a position where they need help scaling,” she posted on LinkedIn. “After all, it’s not possible to do brand deals, events, licensing, people management and IP expansion opportunities on their own.”
So when should a creator start hiring?
While there’s no specific moment when a creator should expand their team, they commonly hire early. Galloway, for example, often meets with influencers who have less than 100,000 subscribers on their channels, but already have a full-time editor as part of their team.
A key moment usually comes after the creator has decided that creating content is no longer a side hustle, and they’re wanting to build a long-term business. It’s just a matter of whether they can afford to pay a team.
“Are they at a level where they can live within their means and lifestyle? If they can actually pay their bills and afford their cost of living, it’s time to move to the next level,” Galloway said.
Before this happens, creators usually reach a breaking point in which they’re spending so much time with business issues that there is no time left to develop, plan for and shoot new content. Or they need to make a difficult business decision and they don’t really have the confidence to make the call on their own. They’re almost heading for burnout and forced to get support.
“If they deprioritize video creation then the whole business can implode,” said John McCarus, founder and president of executive search and advisory firm Content Ink. “Every creator faces this challenge at some stage.”
Are creators self-aware enough to make the call?
While some might be savvy enough to know when they need help, many creators started out with their home setups and no real business experience. And while that’s not a bad thing, it does mean they’re not necessarily able to see their work through a business lens.
Galloway believes creators are pretty bad at recognizing when to expand, after facing the same challenges as a creator himself.
“Quite often, people that end up being YouTubers for example, are not entrepreneurs,” he said. “The reality is lots of creators are people who are good at making videos. Sometimes they’re not the people who have read the business books and understand how business works or understand leverage and all these different things.”
Another challenge is usually about giving up control. When creators have relied on tight networks of friends and peers to build their teams, they’ve retained nearly all decision-making control. So the idea of giving up some of that power can be daunting.
“Smart creators will learn that they need to give up some control over the business to stay focused on creating,” said McCarus. “If they can’t get over this hurdle, they may implode or stall out. But if they hire the wrong person for the wrong reasons they may find themselves in an untenable situation.”
Finding the right candidates
Unlike other industries where job applications are a numbers game, once a creator reaches a certain level, it’s likely that they’ll have management teams like Night and Gleam Futures approach them, offering their services.
“Once a creator has reached about 100K followers, they’re on our radar and we [at Goldenset] will approach them,” said Lachtman.
But the biggest challenge with this approach is knowing whether or not those offers are coming from genuine and trustworthy companies and individuals. In LA, for example, Lachtman explained there are a lot of people trying to make a quick buck, who don’t necessarily have creators’ best interests in mind.
“We always advise creators to be especially careful,” he said. “This industry is still so young, so there isn’t that esteemed history of knowing who is legit, and who’s been in the game for a while, and for the right reasons.”
Which is why creators often heavily rely on word of mouth recommendations from peers in their networks.
The other side of the coin is what talent is actually available.
From what Galloway has seen via his YT Jobs business, while there are tons of jobs posted, the caliber of those applying doesn’t necessarily match. And given how quickly platforms like YouTube accelerated during the pandemic, this changed the needs and expectations of creators in terms of how they hire, how big their teams are and how they approach business and their channel. It essentially means creators now prefer to hire people who have years of experience, especially if they’re aiming for a lean team. But there are very few people that are applying for the roles that have been working on YouTube for three or four years that have the experience of growing big, successful channels.
“The problem is there’s lots of people on the entry level side who just want to get a chance on YouTube,” Galloway said. “But YouTubers don’t want to take a chance on entry level talent because it requires a lot of training and complexity. Whereas if they hire someone with three to four years of experience, it’ll be a far easier setup.”
There’s also the cost factor. Similar to other freelance industries, roles in the creator economy don’t have benchmarks or guides about how to price the roles a creator, at any level, might need. For example, one remote, full-time video editor role advertised on YT Jobs is offering $24K per year, while another full time onsite video editor role lists the salary between $60K to $75K per year.
“On hiring, I’m likely to pay between $200 to $300 per thumbnail, and I’m probably going to be paying between $500 to $600 per edit,” said Galloway. “But I work with big people, and a lot of creators get talent a lot cheaper than I do.”
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