How I Made a Six Figure Side Hustle Creating User Generated Content

  • Kelly Rocklein has been a creative director and creator of user-generated content for over nine years.
  • Working 10 to 15 hours a week, he earned more than $100,000 in 2022 creating UGC for clients.
  • She is now also a UGC Coach on TikTok and offers coaching, newsletter and other resources.

This essay is based on a discussion with Kelly Rocklin, a 28-year-old user-generated content creator in Bend, Oregon. Insider has verified her income with documents. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m a creative director with a part-time gig as a user-generated content or UGC creator. UGC is something of a misnomer in digital marketing because it’s actually user-generated content combined with a creative strategy that performs for customers. There are two types of UGC: organic, which is posted to a brand’s feed to increase its following; and paid media, which is an idea launched as advertising to generate sales. I specialize in paid media.

I dropped out of college in 2015 to pursue UGC, video editing and creative strategy. I am entirely self-taught and over the past nine years, I have worked with over 500 brands in fashion, skincare, makeup, health, technology and consumer products.

I charge between $500 and $2,000 per idea because my ideas lead directly to sales – the top two UGC ads for one of my clients brought them over $10 million in revenue. In 2022, while working 10 to 15 hours a week and taking more than six weeks off throughout the year, my UGC company brought in more than $100,000. I can work such few hours because I’ve built my business to the point where I no longer have to cold approach — all my current clients come from referrals.

I started doing UGC and video editing for fun in 2014

woman recording herself making content

Rocklein content creation.

Photo by Miranda Kelton

At the time, I didn’t know the term UGC and just referred to it as content creation. I didn’t have an understanding of this term until I got involved with the company and became familiar with the creative strategy I’ve been doing all this time. In September 2015, I took a gap year in hopes of turning my then hobby into my career. I told myself, if he doesn’t make it with the annual marker, I’ll go back to school.

From then until May 2016, I worked part time, lived at home and built my UGC portfolio. I thought the only way I would get hired was if I had a portfolio that was attractive to the brands I wanted to work with. I created concept examples with products I already had in my home and enjoyed using.

In less than eight months, I secured my first client and was able to afford to leave. In the summer of 2016, I moved to Los Angeles to build my career as a creative marketing professional.

In the fall of 2018, after working as a creative contractor up until that point, I started working full-time at a digital marketing agency as a senior direct response video editor. I started at a new agency in the summer of 2020 and in the fall of 2021, I became the creative director for a direct-to-consumer brand while still building my UGC business on the side.

I make my UGC ads feel natural

Although my UGC ideas are presented as ads, I make them feel like your friend posted it. Most best practices revolve around the immediate response formula: a compelling hook in the first three seconds, both visually and aurally.

I share a problem the viewer may have had and follow up by explaining how this product is the solution. I present the value proposition or what I like to refer to as “unique selling points” that set the product apart from the rest of its competitors. For example, if there are already a million lotions on the market, what makes this lotion unique?

I also sprinkle in additional social proof. For example, if the product has over 100,000 verified five-star reviews, I’d say, “Not to mention, they’ve received over 100,000 verified five-star reviews — that many people can’t be wrong!”

I always end with a call to action, or CTA. Something as simple as “Get yours today for only $x!” or “Click the link for a special offer” works.

Either I incorporate these elements into scripted readings or by taking a native trend on TikTok, like a “get ready with me” video, and infusing it with marketing best practices to increase the likelihood of more conversions. My other services include script writing for $100 a script, which takes me about 15 minutes, and whitelisting, where I charge $500 a month for my clients to run ads on my Facebook and Instagram.

When I started, there were almost no useful resources

YouTube was really the only free resource, and back then it was like looking for a needle in a haystack for a suitable tutorial. I struggled my way through Adobe’s PremierePro for years, and it was painful at first. The more I practiced, the better I got.

Before approaching a brand, I researched their current ads, who their competitors were, and what they did better or worse than those competitors. Contractors are meant to be a solution to an internal problem the brand may be experiencing, so I made sure to strategically position myself as the solution to a problem I discovered during my brand analysis. It really wasn’t until 2020 that I started to see some of my hard work pay off. I only closed $20,000 that year. In 2021, I doubled that and made almost $40,000 before breaking six figures in 2022.

Working full-time at reputable digital marketing companies helped accelerate my learning curve and made me a stronger marketer because I had so much exposure to brands in such a short amount of time. Now, as a full-time creative director for a single brand, freelancing as a UGC creator keeps me sharp.

I kept seeing blatant misinformation being spread about UGC on TikTok, so in June 2022 I created an account to help reset expectations and share industry best practices. People kept asking questions and that quickly turned into people asking for additional resources like one-on-one coaching, newsletter writing, and portfolio audits, which I started offering in August 2022.

You don’t need a college degree to be successful

One thing I learned is that it’s not about where you went to college or even if you have a degree — it’s all about your portfolio and case studies. Brands are going to hire the person who shows that their work delivers a return on investment — in marketing, brands want to see case studies that show ROI.

As a UGC creator, you need to be aware of the latest social trends and marketing nuances. When you start this, you become an entrepreneur and it’s not for the faint of heart. Founder’s depression is real. Rejection hurts. Not always having your ads perform sucks. This is work. What you choose to do after those punches is what separates the UGC creator who quit after two weeks from the creator who makes four or five figures a month.

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