I was 20 years old when I logged online to cam live for the first time from an empty apartment in a Chicago suburb. I remember taking that leap of faith like it was yesterday. I told my mom I was moving out and spent every cent I had to my name to buy a laptop and a USB WiFi internet connection, then put down my first and last month's rent on my first apartment.
I didn’t know if it would work, but I'd heard some people were earning upwards of $30,000 a month as cam models online, and I figured, well, if they could do it, then I could too.
The Sex Work CEO brand isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about dismantling the gate-keeping and giving back to the community all of the things we all wish we had in the very beginning.
My first night of camming was really overwhelming. I didn’t know what buttons to push, or what it meant to go into a “private chat” with someone. I had people offering to buy me “wishlist gifts,” and I didn’t even know what a wishlist was. Mainly, I remember thinking, even from my very first night on cam, “Why aren’t there more resources to show me how to do this?”
That thought never went away for me. It stuck with me through every new corner of sex work I ventured into. I remember attempting to film my first-ever videos using my webcam and reading an actual manual on how to edit them in some free video editor. I remember Googling bits of code so I could edit my webcam profile, because the only way to do it was via HTML/CSS. I remember searching for apps that could split my 10-minute Snapchat show video into one-minute clips, so I could upload them one at a time.
All in all, my career has made it impossible to forget how “forgotten about” the sex work community is, despite our online presence accounting for a global marketplace that makes billions. Yet the creators within it have rarely been provided tools, resources or education on how to do it in a way that empowers us as independent creators. We stumble through our individual journeys, making mistakes as we go and learning hard lessons along the way.
Although my career has had many ups and downs, I’ve been very fortunate that my hard work has paid off and I’m able to live comfortably, launch other businesses and wake up when I feel sunshine on my skin and not when an alarm goes off on my nightstand. It’s made me look for corners of the adult space where I could leave my own mark and make a positive impact. After all, for an online sex worker who’s never set foot on a mainstream porn set, I’ve been able to build something substantial, and I feel I have a debt to pay to the industry that gave me quite literally everything I have.
In the past year, the pandemic accelerated the adult landscape’s evolution towards individual content creators, which is exciting, because it came with the power shift we’d all been waiting for. But the outcome wasn’t what I’d personally hoped. I thought when more of us broke into six- and seven-figure incomes, that we’d self-fund community resources or lobby for changes in legislation, but I didn’t see much of that. This was a sad realization for me, because even with power and money in our reach, the tides weren’t turning. So, I started to wonder what I could personally do. How could my own money and knowledge make a difference? Where could I put it to effect change?
I often attribute my successes to the fact that I approached this industry as a businesswoman from the get-go. Even during the first week logged on cam, I set a schedule for myself, documented my hours and earnings, analyzed them for patterns, set goals and so on. In fact, I’ve held onto those notebooks all these years to look back at when I feel demotivated or burnt out. They serve as a reminder that, no matter where you started, if you stay consistent enough over time, you will prevail simply by the law of averages.
Then it dawned on me: Why can’t I take the skills I have, and teach them to the community to raise the law of averages? Maybe the current top models who’ve earned hundreds of thousands just don’t take the same interest in politics or legislation, but if more sex workers had those kinds of resources to effect change, maybe more would.
Obviously, I'm not a stranger to the educator role, due to my previous work with Centro University. I love the courses I built there and the information will go quite a long way for new and veteran influencers alike. However, if I wanted to help educate creators on skills that I believe led to my own success, that starts with “Business 101.” This made me realize I should launch my own educational platform with resources for sex workers, because I had to help them shift their paradigm from “sex worker” to “Sex Work CEO.”
On June 2, International Sex Workers Day, the Sex Work CEO platform went live, providing free industry-wide, multi-platform education, advice and resources to empower sex workers as independent entrepreneurs. The platform is entirely free to creators and I’m currently in talks with a handful of potential sponsors to help keep it that way. The sponsors we move forward with undergo thorough vetting from myself and my team to make sure they truly want to impact the sex work community in a positive way, with pure intentions, and will help us in our mission.
Sex Work CEO courses will include the basics, like how to create content and be successful in the industry, but it will also go beyond that, into how to truly build a brand and empire that can outlive your time as a performer. For example, future courses we plan on releasing are “How to Build a Shopify Store” and “How to Launch a Podcast,” which can be leveraged to grow adult businesses, or even to launch a mainstream one. Many of our courses are built around me actually going into community forums on Reddit etc., identifying pain points creators are talking about amongst themselves and building a course around it to provide possible solutions. I will be sharing all the information I’ve learned and mistakes I've made over the years in an effort to make as many creators as successful as I can, both inside and outside of sex work.
While I will be producing courses for the platform regularly, education shouldn’t begin and end with me. I don’t know everything, and I still have so much to learn from others in our space. For this reason, I’m also working with many other creators in the industry to help them create and teach meaningful lessons on the Sex Work CEO platform. So many creators have taken different journeys and followed different paths than I have, and they too can and should share their lessons. If you’re a sex worker and you feel you have something important to teach our community, reach out to me; I will extend this platform to you. The Sex Work CEO brand isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about dismantling the gate-keeping and giving back to the community all of the things we all wish we had in the very beginning.
Beyond the courses and resources on the website, I’m also actively working with a team to develop a traffic tool that will eliminate the need to gamble on buying shoutouts or rely on social media to grow our adult businesses. I believe that tool alone will be a market disruptor and could further shift the adult industry in favor of independent small creators. I am also working with that same team to build out a model content system to help manage and distribute our creative works in a way that could help limit and prevent piracy. There are so many things in the works for Sex Work CEO, but one that I’m most proud of already exists right there on the platform: the Influencer Advocacy group we created.
The Influencer Advocacy program is essentially a panel made up of a diverse group of sex workers of various genders, sexualities, races and industry niches that combine to make an incredibly well-rounded group of creators. This panel can then be hired as a “focus group” for new or established companies to use as a sounding board, providing feedback and suggestions on how to improve their products and make them more valuable to the creators that will be using them. Ideally, this will allow, for the first time in our industry, independent creators to truly shape the future of sex work.
Companies can then take our feedback back to their teams, improve their products or services, and this in turn will improve our success as creators. The companies that choose to work with us also have the added benefit of saying they consulted with the community to build their products, leveraging the reputation of our Influencer Advocacy group to build trust when releasing their product into the marketplace. It seemed to me to be a perfect and long overdue solution to a glaring gap in the market.
While Sex Work CEO does have an established Influencer Advocacy panel, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need more advocates. There may be companies geared towards specific niches in the industry that some panelists may not be a good fit for, or that might overlap with panelists' own side projects, causing a conflict of interest in terms of consulting. So, if anyone reading this would like to be an Influencer Advocate, and get paid for consulting for these companies, please contact me using the form on SexWorkCEO.com. The advocates that aren’t selected for a panel can still make their voice heard, and can provide feedback via surveys and polls. Our voice as a community matters, and I can personally assure you, Sex Work CEO is listening.
Ultimately, the reality is, since my first time online back in October of 2011, I’ve learned a vast set of skills that made me successful in this space. I know how to build websites, create graphic design works, film, edit and produce audiovisual content, grow and monetize an audience, implement sales strategies, do digital marketing, handle traffic acquisition, employ customer service, do accounting… the list goes on and on. However, those skills are extremely undervalued in adult, while mainstream corporations pay entire departments of people to do what I can do on my own with an iPhone and a WiFi connection. In fact, it’s what most sex workers are capable of.
Sex Work CEO’s mission is to fill the remaining educational gaps and make as many sex workers into full-fledged CEOs as possible, while leveraging newly educated creators to help shape the future of sex work. After all, if independent creators aren’t the ones shaping the future of sex work, how can we really trust the people who are?
Follow MelRose Michaels on Instagram and Twitter at @MelRoseMichaels, and Sex Work CEO on Twitter at @SexWorkCEO, or visit SexWorkCEO.com.