Porn stars' best business advice: Diversify

Not too long ago, the chief requirement to become a porn superstar was to have sex on camera, and do so in an enticing fashion to win over fans.

Today, the rules have changed.

The barriers to entry in the porn world are considerably lower—with every newcomer hoping to become the next Jenna Jameson or Jesse Jane. But for wannabes who hope to become bonafide stars, rather than simply getting by in porn, sex appeal is secondary to business savvy.

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Adult film actress Jesse Jane.
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Today's big stars aren't just performers. They're also directors, sex educators and lecturers. They oversee huge social media empires on Twitter, Instagram and their own websites. And they license their names to adult novelty companies in return for a portion of the sales of their branded sex toys.

"Years ago, the big superstars were contract girls [performers who negotiated contracts to work with a single production company, rather than getting paid on a per-scene basis]," said sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals, who studies the adult entertainment industry.

"Even if you were a medium star, you had a contract somewhere. It was more of a conventional job. That's not how it works anymore," she said. "In order to stay relevant and make a living, you have to diversify."

Jessica Drake, role model

Jessica Drake
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Jessica Drake

One of the role models for diversification in the industry is Jessica Drake. A performer since 1999, Drake is something of an exception in porn, having worked exclusively for Wicked Pictures since 2003. But rather than simply staying in front of the camera, she expanded her focus.

Today, Drake directs and oversees a line of sex education films for Wicked called "Jessica Drake's Guide to Wicked Sex." The most successful was the most recent, which focused on sex for plus-sized individuals.

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"We immediately sold out of our initial run of the title and are now in our second run," said Steve Orenstein, president and founder of Wicked Pictures.

Drake says the move to sex education (she also lectures on the topic around the country) was done for two reasons: to fill a void she saw and to further her own brand.

"Girls get in and don't understand what they're doing," she said. "They think they're going to get in, make a lot of money and get out. I don't think it works that way. ... As far as building a brand, I see a lot less of that today. New girls don't understand that at the end of the day, it's hurting them. ... I always say I'm not the hottest chick in the room, but I work hard."

Chanel Preston, another top-tier adult actress, has approached diversity in a different fashion. She's not a contract performer, and thinks the days of world famous porn stars could be over, making it more important to approach the industry from several angles.

"I don't know if there are any porn superstars anymore—and I don't know if there will be," she said. "Girls have to start their own niche businesses.

"I learned very fast I needed to carve other avenues for myself. I asked myself what am I interested in doing and how can I set myself up?"

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She eventually decided on a Web series, "Naked With Chanel," that examines beliefs and attitudes about sexuality. She also recently began directing adult films and is a regular spokeswoman for the industry on cable news outlets.

Breaking down stigma

Other examples include Joanna Angel, who is a performer and owner of her Burning Angel studio; and relative newcomer Bonnie Rotten, who, after just two years in the industry has already launched her own production company, named Mental Beauty.

The additional projects aren't always about doubling down on income. In some cases, they result in significantly less income than acting jobs. But they do help build awareness.

"It's important to branch out beyond the porn industry, whether its through sex education or movies, because it breaks down that stigma associated with performers," Preston said.

And in the long run, breaking down that stigma could result in other opportunities, noted Tibbals.

"I wonder how long it's going to be before someone bites the bullet and says, 'We're going to have a social media seminar hosted by a porn star,'" she said.