The Great Resignation and what it means for the creator economy
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The Great Resignation is happening all around us. Millions of people are voluntarily leaving their 9-5 jobs every month in search of greener pastures.
In fact, the latest figures show 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November 2021 alone. Health and tech have had especially high turnover rates, with a 3.6% and 4.5% increase in year-over-year resignations respectively.
So…what’s going on? Are people really dropping out of the economy completely, or are they just changing jobs?
The statistics alone don’t tell the full story. The truth is, the economy is shifting. Employees are free to find followings online—and with those followings, they can leverage new opportunities.
Jay Clouse has seen it first-hand. Clouse worked at Smart Passive Income where he lead its Community team. He saw people quitting their jobs and becoming creators…and decided to try it out himself.
After building a personal brand and following online, his side gig with Creative Elements eventually became too lucrative to ignore—he could either work two jobs (with the requisite time spent away from his family) or join the Great Resignation.
He says he was able to join the creator economy thanks to one important factor: his followers trusted him, which meant they were willing to support him.
“[Trust] is everything. People buy from people they know, like, and trust-building a following on social, email, and podcasting has built a trusted relationship at scale. My existing audience supports me as a creator TODAY, and there is so much room to grow.”- Jay Clouse, Creative Elements
It wasn’t that he disliked his old job. But according to Clouse, “For me to continue to capitalize on the momentum I was building, I needed to reclaim hours in my week to invest in content.”
His experience highlights a new truth about working in the 21st century. People don’t always resign when they hate their old jobs. They join the Great Resignation when the increased agency, flexibility, and opportunity in the creator economy give them better options.
First: No one is “resigning” from the economy
Before we get too far into this topic, let’s be clear about what the Great Resignation means.
When we talk about the Great Resignation, we don’t mean it literally. People aren’t retreating from the economy entirely. Instead, they’re redefining themselves and their definitions of fulfilling career paths.
There are more paths than ever for creators to monetize their passions.
- We’ve seen Instagram creators curate moodboards to build their streetwear brands.
- We’ve seen Wall Street types monetize financial advice that technically “is not financial advice,” leading to the rise of “FinTok,” or the Financial TikTok segment.
- We’ve seen Coinbase designers sell NFTs by building huge followings on Discord.
In short, it’s not just more opportunity. It's more diversity of opportunity.
The creator economy brings platforms for distributing retail, entertainment, and content to the masses, shifting power away from giant corporations and brands toward individual producers. Thanks to modern tools like social media, Shopify, and Etsy, millions of consumers aren’t just buying from two or three big retail chains. They’re now buying directly from millions of independent creators. And it’s not slowing down.
“While 2020 saw a jump in new creators, it wasn’t a one-time spike. A year later, creators are still coming online at a record clip: the number of creators is up a whopping 48% year-over-year… In the US, the number of creators earning a living wage has increased 41% year-over-year.” - Edwin Lee, Stripe
Why people are now taking the leap into the creator economy
The Internet has been around a while. The Great Resignation is new. That leads to an obvious question: why now? Why are people no longer waiting to build their own dream jobs?
It’s a simple question—with multiple answers.
Time has become the limiting factor
In years past, the location of a job was one of the most important limiting factors. But with 45% of Americans working from home in some capacity last year, the digital age has decoupled our work from our location.
Now? The key issue for many creators is time.
Matt Ragland, for example, held roles at software companies ConvertKit and Podia. Leveraging what he’d learned about email newsletters, building audiences, and personal productivity, he launched a side hustle: coaching creators himself. But even though he was earning more at his primary job, it became an issue of time:
“I ultimately had more things I wanted to do on my own than I had time if it was staying a side hustle. I either had to work more or sacrifice even more time with my family, and I wasn't willing to do that.” - Matt Ragland
Ragland branched out on his own, focusing on building an audience through YouTube and newsletters. But his experience highlights what traditional jobs can’t give back to creators:
“I basically earned a solid wage for my family,” Ragland said of his new creator status. “But it was less than I made in 2020 at Podia. Even so, I don’t regret the decision. It was time.”
The traditional office job demands eight hours a day—more if you count long commutes. It asks for our undivided attention. But for creators, even a small sacrifice in income is worth getting back that critical element of time—especially when selling their passion, and the work becomes more rewarding.
By following their own passions, on their own time, creators are finding more fulfillment than with traditional jobs.
Passion—and connection with an audience—is the currency in the creator economy
Natalie Spotts, the creator of Funny Pretty Nice, was working as a designer at DTC razor brand Billie in 2019. There weren’t any glaring problems at Spotts’ job, except one element missing.
It wasn’t her passion.
Thrifting, however, was. Spotts was curating thrifting recommendations on her Instagram page. This passion led to “micro-influencer” status, according to Spotts—a small crowd of fellow Gen Z thrifting enthusiasts.
“Because I had that community I could reach, it spread really quickly.” -Natalia Spotts, Funny Pretty Nice
Spotts started selling to this audience, and her success was almost immediate. Given her passion for collecting vintage clothing and selling it to friends, it’s no surprise why: she really, really dug thrifting.
“Pursue your passions” isn’t new advice. But micro-influencers who connect with their audience like Natalie Spotts are becoming more common. In years past, a thrifting business might have sounded like a nice hobby, but with the caveat: “Keep your day job.”
However, Spotts went on to further test her thrifting business online. That meant making direct-to-consumer sales before ever taking on the major risks we associated with entrepreneurship. No major business loans, no expensive retail space, no “hoping for the best.”
She started with an online store. When that was a success, she launched pop-up shops. When those succeeded, she opened full retail stores in New York City. With those ventures a success, she now has a new flagship store set to open for business in 2022.
Spotts’s social media accounts (including over 21,000 on Instagram) gave her a captive, ever-growing audience that trusted her recommendations. That provided a direct path between her passion-based curation skills and online sales conversions. (See also: income.)
The reality is, thanks to social media, creators who can build a following don’t go back to square one when they quit their job. Instead, they can rely on the audiences they’ve built up as a springboard to a new career path. Today, all you need is a passionate following to build your own creator economy opportunities.
How creators with massive followings create profitable career paths
The Great Resignation has implications for the creator economy at all levels. In some cases, leaning into this divergent career path has produced major success.
Take creator Charli D’Amelio, for example. This Gen Z influencer leveraged her massive social media following into partnership deals with brands like Pura Vida Bracelets and Dunkin Donuts, which both generated income and furthered her influence.
But not every massive influencer achieves instant success. Emma Chamberlain is another example of a creator leveraging a large online audience: With nine million followers on YouTube and a book deal, she used her platform to launch a coffee brand at the age of 19.
It’s easy to assume the massive audience meant instant success for Chamberlain Coffee, but Chamberlain wasn’t happy with the brand at first. “We realized down the line that there was a lack of personality in the brand,” she told Refinery29.
So Chamberlain revamped the brand—but not the product—with a full reset, treating it like a new company. “To realize that a rebrand needs to happen and that we might've done a few things wrong, to admit that to yourself is tough.”
Now, Chamberlain sees the coffee side-business as a potential full-time income-generator. She’s a classic example of striking while the iron is hot with a full social media following, and sticking with the side-gig until it becomes tenable.
“One day everyone could wake up and say "Eh, I don't want to watch her [YouTube channel] anymore." Nothing is promised in any of my endeavors so it's all going to be about finding that medley of what I'm passionate about.”-Emma Chamberlain, Chamberlain Coffee
The key to successful creator careers without a million followers
Not every successful creator participating in the Great Resignation has a million-plus followers.
Snack curator Andrea Hernández built a loyal following tweeting about snack trends, but it didn’t happen overnight. Even today, her Twitter follower count is about 15,000, but her influence has landed her features on TV shows and the New York Times.
Hernández went on to launch a subscriber-funded newsletter, where she could own the platform as well as the message (and earn revenue along the way), which today has thousands of subscribers—including executives at major food and beverage corporations.
The bottom line here: You don’t have to have the massive following of an Emma Chamberlain or a Charlie D’Amelio to branch out. With an audience, creators now have the power to monetize their influence at any level.
Keys to success: Becoming part of the Great Resignation
“Don’t quit your day job” is still good advice—if you don’t have a side-gig as a creator. But how do you start when you don’t have the following of an Emma Chamberlain or Charli D’Amelio?
Build trust in a following of passionate fans.
You don’t have to have a million followers. You just need an intense following—a group of people who trust what you do. For Andrea Hernández, that came from expressing the passion she already had for snacks. Just look at how she starts talking about how some snack companies made false claims:
“At one point I was like, ‘I'm going to start just calling the BS.’ And I started tweeting about it more and realized there was a lot of interest in it—that there was obviously some sort of unfulfilled niche.” -Andrea Hernández, Snaxshot
For Andrea, her passion was her connection to the unfilled niche that Snaxshot now fills. This concept dates back to the idea of 1,000 true fans: as long as you have a group of 1,000 passionate fans, there’s room for you to find success within the creator economy.
For Jay Clouse, this means reinvesting his resources into the quality of his content. “More listeners means more sponsorships as well as more relationships built for the rest of my digital product business,” said Clouse.
Watch your ROI on both resources and time.
Make no mistake: joining the creator economy doesn’t happen by accident. If you’re sticking to your day job, you have to manage your time and your resources well.
For Natalia Spotts, the three-year journey from passionate thrifter to opening a flagship store meant constant testing. She set up online shops first. When those succeeded, she sought out pop-up shops in retail. With proof of concept, she could reinvest in her success, doubling down with permanent locations.
Don’t resign your job because you’ve heard of the creator economy. Dip your toes in the water first and get proof of concept before going all-in.
Leverage the platforms available to you.
For Andrea Hernández, who lives in Honduras where online payment processing tools like Stripe weren’t available to her, she had to get creative. For her, that meant leveraging Twitter and a private newsletter and alternative payment/membership options to monetize her audience.
For Jay Clouse, a consistent podcast attracted an audience he could rely on.
It’s different for everybody, but that’s for a reason. There are more platforms for creating than ever before.
Navigating the Great Resignation and creator economy
The Great Resignation isn’t happening because there aren’t good, traditional nine-to-five jobs out there. There are. People are leaving their jobs because they often find something better and more fulfilling—creator careers that provide more professional agency.
Whether that means side-gigs on freelancing websites, sales on Instagram, newsletters they build with their Twitter audience, the proliferation of today’s digital platforms means one thing: Today, the creator is running the show.