Most creators’ audiences believe it is nothing more than getting a bunch of freebies, spending some time on social media, while living a life of luxury in grand locations — all the perks you’d expect celebrities receive.
As Influencer Danielle Gilbert (@danigmakeup), who accumulated 574.5K and 187K followers on TikTok and Instagram respectively, pointed out, she often sees comments on social media from people saying they’d love to be an influencer, as influencers have it so easy and earn loads of money. “A lot of sacrifices go into it and it’s actually the opposite of what people think,” she said.
With that in mind, Digiday wanted to get to the bottom of what it really takes to be a creator in today’s world, and specifically all those hidden costs that no one ever speaks about. So we spoke to eight creators, some of whom are managed by X1 management, to ask them just that.
So what are those hidden costs?
Equipment & subscriptions
Streamers need a powerful computer because as Twitch streamer Scott Freear (@TCFreer) – who has 17.8K Twitch followers – pointed out, a gaming PC and a streaming PC are not the same thing.
To achieve a state of the art setup, Freear recently worked with fellow streamer Greg Storey (@Mrgregles), who has 59.1K Twitch followers and is proficient in audio and visual engineering. “We spent about £1300 just to get it how I wanted it,” Freear said.
But before splashing cash on fancy computers, creators need to figure out the type of streaming they want to do. For YouTube, for example, a capture card for game play could potentially make or break a creator’s performance, while those who want to be on video themselves will need a high quality camera or webcam.
That said, “Around 90% of the time, people aren’t engaging on Twitch, they’re listening to Twitch,” Freear explained. “It’s more about going live on time, being entertaining and providing the best audio experience you can.”
And he’s not wrong. Saqib Ali Zahid (@Lirik), who is arguably one of the more popular Twitch streamers with 2.9 million followers, doesn’t have a camera, yet still does remarkably well.
So it’s all about audio for some creators. Brandon Stennis (@IAmBrandon), who dabbles in Twitch (41.9K followers) and TikTok (27.8K followers) pointed out some headsets come with microphones, but they only work for creators who are just trying to get their feet wet.
“You could spend anything from £50 ($62.16) on a cheap USB mic up to £200 ($248.66) on an XLR broadcast mic,” Freear added. “If you choose XLR, there are additional costs such as microprocessors, audio decks and so on, for them to work. That could quickly amount to £400-600 ($497.32 – $745.97) for an audio setup your audience won’t see, they’ll just hear the difference.”
Amelia Sordell, who is a highly regarded LinkedIn figure with more than 130K followers, noted her own Rode microphone cost £500 ($621.64), while camera lenses cost her more than her first car.
And how else could creators connect to their global audiences without the internet?
Freear explained it’s not the download speed but the upload speed that needs to be considered.
“If you’ve only got a 20MB upload speed, half the upload is taken with your stream straight away,” he said. “If you’re using more than that, your streaming will suffer in quality.”
Since most design and editing software has become cloud-based, users now have to commit to a monthly (or annual) subscription to use them.
Twitch streamer Nikki Stout (@Camillapanda), who has 3.4K followers, noted subscriptions for these services add up; one often becomes two, which quickly becomes three or four. A yearly subscription (billed monthly) to the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps for photo and video editing, for example, costs one user £78.98 ($98.20) for a rolling monthly subscription, £51.98 ($64.63) if a user signs up to an annual subscription but pays monthly, which totals £623.76 ($775.51) for 12 months, or £596.33 ($741.41) if they pay for the annual fee upfront and want to save a few dollars.
Similarly, fellow streamer Stephanie Austin (@Imfamousx1x), with 3.7K Twitch followers, highlighted additional costs of post advertising, as well as social media scheduling programs.
Getting started & building relationships
One thing that is vastly forgotten about, is how newbies break into the creator sphere. As Gilbert pointed out, income in the early days isn’t always steady, yet you have to still keep producing content.
“Being in the beauty industry myself, in order to keep up with the latest trends, I have to buy the latest products,” she explained. “I don’t always get sent them, so those costs have to come out of my own pocket. If I don’t get paid much in one month, that can start to get tricky.”
Similarly, influencer Sophie Hughes (@sophwithlove), who has 31.8K Instagram and 9847 TikTok followers respectively, agreed that as a creator, you have to invest in some of the brands you want to work with initially, in order to make any money.
“I currently have an huge ASOS parcel of clothes to use for a brand haul video for example, which cost around £400 ($497.32) so I can do a bunch of styling videos in December as it’s a quieter month,” she said.
Added to that, the unspoken rite of passage that is unpaid work. “There are a lot of times you have to work for free or do giftings so you can build up those client relationships if there’s a big brand you want to work with,” Hughes added. “You can’t necessarily expect to receive a budget from them straight away.”
Financial & business element
One point that is often forgotten is that being a creator isn’t just about having fun – it’s a business. And with business comes the financial element.
Hughes noted she’s got an accounts team which organizes and addresses her quarterly and annual filings to ensure she doesn’t get any surprise tax bills.
“That service costs me a fortune each year, but you need to be so careful and treat being a creator as a business,” she said. “I think less experienced content creators who don’t necessarily treat it as a business yet, could get a nasty shock at the end of the financial year.”
Stout agrees that this would likely happen to those creators who didn’t expect their content to take off as well initially and as such haven’t paid any self-employment taxes in their respective state or country.
And just as with any industry right now, creators are also hit by the cost of living crisis. Hughes has already witnessed brands pulling back on budgets as we head into a recession, particularly on Instagram and TikTok.
“Myself and creators I know have already received emails whereby rates that some brands have agreed to pay us for the year — those same brands are now saying they won’t be able to afford those prices and we’re going to have to reduce our pay,” she explained. “But people forget, we still have bills to pay like everyone else. So my choices are, do the same work for less money or know my worth and say no – but it’s a very fine line to tread.”
Time & boundaries
Money aside, while typical nine-to-five jobs have a set hours, creators often don’t. In fact, they’re “on” 24/7.
As Sordell pointed out, a huge cost is the ongoing investment of time, to ensure you’re posting frequently and responding to comments. “That’s on top of the content creation time – which is a cost in itself,” she said.
As the power of social media and having an online presence continues to increase, so do concerns around mental health.
Twitch streamer Stephanie Diaz (@SakiSakura), who has 5.4K followers, noted how emotionally and mentally taxing being a creator actually is.
“You have to be able to take criticism while also making changes to your content to improve and continuously grow,” she explained. “Managing, creating and even promoting content is imperative. But it takes up a huge chunk of time. You have to be ready to handle it without burning out.”
Similarly, Stout highlighted personal space and privacy as being a top hidden cost because followers frequently test boundaries, whether it’s during live streams or via comments on content posts. “It can be as simple as continually asking if you are dating anyone or if you have kids, to trying to find out every detail they can about you,” she said. “It is uncomfortable but despite the parasocial relationship you have with them, many viewers still feel weirdly entitled to you.”
And that is a cost that takes a real toll.