Written by: Diana Nkhoma is a multi-discipline digital content creator from Malawi. She is passionate about digital storytelling with a special focus on sharing the African perspective.

The term “Malawian Creative” is such a broad and undefined term, often when conversations in our creative community take place there isn’t enough specificity to address the context of each creative community. As a digital content creator, there are conversations that are specific to this community that I wish were taking place. I believe we are close to and capable of having a booming digital content industry in Malawi, and this possibility excites me. 

When I started creating online content 7 years ago, we did not have as many creators and platforms as we do now. Our current environment is probably the most diverse that the digital content creation community in Malawi has seen. We have a wide range of YouTubers, podcasters, TikTokers and Instagram influencers. As exciting as all this diversity is, I also believe we are still in the developing stages of our industry. As such, it is important that the creators who are leading the way have a solid understanding of how the creator economy works and how best you can participate as a Malawian.

We live in a world that has a buffet of social platforms to post content. There are those who post on these platforms in a way that grows an audience that they can leverage for income. These individuals are what make up what is called The Creator Economy; an emerging business sector that includes various creatives. Included in this are podcasters, YouTubers, influencers and every other creative medium that is shared online. According to a report carried out by NeoReach, the estimated global market size of The Creator Economy is $104.2 billion. Being an influencer, creator, podcaster, or YouTuber can be an actual full-time job for people in those countries. If you are an online content creator, I do not need to tell you this. If you are someone who creates content for your growing audience or if this is something you are interested in, then you probably already know this. You probably know how much money Jackie Aina, MKBHD or even African creators like Mihlali Ndamase make.

This is the kind of economy we aspire for our country to have and for us to contribute towards. Unfortunately, we are just at the start of this. Many of us are creating in fields that are yet to be saturated in Malawi. We have digital content creators, but not many are making money directly from their content.

There are several odds stacked against us as digital creators in Malawi; our economy is one of the worst in the world, lack of access to the internet by a majority of our population means that growing your local audience will be challenging and lastly, you are creating online content in a country with some of the highest data charges in the world. These are just a few of the environmental challenges that we face as digital creators in this country. The creator economy itself has its own challenges that are beyond the scope of this article. In a practical sense, this means as a Malawian creator, you already have double the odds against you. On top of that, you still have to go through the psychological challenges that come with being a creator. Although this is the reality, all hope is not lost.

As someone who has been creating online content for a long time, I have seen and experienced the power online content has to connect you with people. Digital connections make people tangible and accessible. Regular people can be at the forefront of influencing your thoughts and decisions. Even if your content primarily exists to entertain people, you are making a direct impact on people’s lives. Content is king, as it is often said in this industry, because of the power it has to connect people and make us all feel seen. This is why despite all the challenges we face, we continue to create. I have hope and reason to believe that it won’t always be like this. The greatest thing about The Creator Economy is that everyone can participate. If you have the tools to create and post online you stand a chance, which makes it one of the most accessible forms of business. Harder than taking a picture and posting it is growing your audience, making sure your content is engaging and adding value in people’s lives. That is part of the recipe for being a full-time online content creator who makes money from it.

As I have said, it is possible to make money online from your craft while here in Malawi. It just requires us to carve new paths that fit the unique challenges we meet here. With that said, I’ll end with a few things I think any Malawian creative who makes content online should think about if they desire to make money from their content. Because of how broad the term “Malawian Creative” is, these points apply mostly to those who are primarily online content creators. 

The first place every digital creator should start with is your “Why?”. This is the thing that got you into content creation; the very reason you are creative and have a desire to create on a professional level. Knowing why you are doing this helps you to know what value you are bringing to your audience. An audience is built when you consistently post content that adds value to people’s lives. Quality content attracts your audience, the value keeps your audience, and having an audience gets you noticed and paid. If you are a travel blogger, for example, great pictures from your trips attract people, and giving them valuable information about the locations you visit makes you valuable to your audience. Your audience will then enable you to take sponsored travel content. You cannot bring value if you are not in tune with what drives you to create online content. Without value, there is no audience.

Once you know your why and the value you are bringing your audience you can move on to choosing the primary platform that your audience will find you on. For instance, if comedy is your avenue for creativity, you might choose to do what Macheza did and make video your primary medium for delivering your jokes. In addition, you could choose TikTok as the primary platform where you upload your content and have every other platform feed into your Tik Tok page. Making money from online content requires you to be creative, add value, but also be skilled in your field. Spend time learning and mastering how the platform of your choice works; algorithms, best practices and who the key players are. Creating quality content helps you compete globally; even if your audience is local, many of them consume international content as well. The expectation is that your content will be as good as the global standard of what is good in your field. Knowing your why, adding value and mastering your craft all contribute to growing your audience. Having a growing audience is how you get paid, especially internationally. YouTube, for instance, only pays creators with more than 1,000 subscribers and 2,000 hours of watch time. As far as mainstream digital content creation goes, the motto is “Men lie. Women lie. But numbers don’t”. As we established earlier, our internet costs are not only exorbitant but the connection itself is inaccessible. Less than 15% of our population has an internet connection (source: World Bank), which slows down your audience growth by a mile compared to creators from countries that don’t have these challenges. This does not mean you can’t find alternative ways to ways to make money from your craft. Your capacity to make money from creating content while in Malawi heavily relies on your ability to find new ways to make money.

If you are skilled in video editing because you make YouTube videos, you can outsource those services to make you money (i.e. gig economy). You can also consider leveraging your skills to create for companies and organizations that could benefit from that skill set. The Creator Economy has centered digital content as a result, you have more companies and organizations who want to create online content. That is where you as a digital content creator , an leverage your skills to make money because you are an expert in this field. Your online audience and the quality of your content can act as proof of your ability to deliver.

International opportunities exist for African creators in the form of grants, sponsorships, and collaborations. These opportunities give you a chance to make money from creating content although it might be in a different form than you’d prefer. However, they allow you to have the financial resources to invest back into your content so you can grow your audience.

Lastly, being a Malawian creative who wants to participate in The Creator Economy requires a lot of patience and tenacity. Many of us are firsts in our respective fields. This is still something very new especially on our side of the world. Building an industry takes time and a level of selfless dedication. We are laying down a foundation and trailblazing for each other and the next generation. Our thriving in this environment gives permission to those who come after us to thrive. There are ways we can contribute to solving the challenges we face as possibly the smallest creative segment in Malawi. The future is going in our direction, we just need to be proactive and innovative in the ways we choose to create sustainable careers in The Creator Economy.