12 ways to make extra income for your creative business
So you want to pursue your dream to become a [insert your dream creative profession here] but don’t know how that can pay the bills until you’ve become established and hired? Perhaps you’re like me - starting from scratch in a new field, with no existing client base, no prior experience or renowned education to lean on, but still feel that this is something you really want to do? That you have to do your you'll eventually parish and die?
Yeah, the beginning is a tricky part and the reason why a lot of people feel they can’t take the leap, quit their boring or uninspiring jobs and start working with their passions instead.
If you’re like me you want to spend your days doing something you love instead of wasting them on something that feels meaningless or uninspiring, right? Perhaps you (want to) quit your commuting office bound job, or work part time to be able to pursue your dream to become a pattern designer or some other creative work? Perhaps you’re worried about if it’s even possible to make a living out of it even if you ”make it”? Will it render enough money for letting you have a satisfying salary in the future?
I mean, how many prints can you sell in a month? How much licensing revenue can you collect every quarter?
Especially now when there is a boom of people just like us wanting to become pattern designers too. One can’t help but wondering if we all are going to be able to live off of this profession?
I know, I know, I shouldn’t have these downputting thoughts, but hey, dreams and positivism don’t pay the bills right away, do they?
And the non-romantic pattern designer truth is, to be able to live our dreams we have to sell stuff and generate revenue. Otherwise we will have to go back to that cubicle (oh horror!).
So how can we create enough revenue to make it possible for us to first of all start up a business from zero and then be able to continue that creative journey until we have managed to build a solid base that will generate some level of frequent income?
Because all we want is to find a way to give ourselves the chance to see if we can become successful doing what we love, right?
So, now let’s put all of those doubts, self critiquing, negative and disheartening thoughts aside and take a look at the opportunities that are available for us. Let’s find a way to do this, a solution for being able to do what we love no matter the circumstances.
Become a revenue octopus
Today there is a smörgåsbord of services that can help us create alternative and additional income - and still be working with something creative. It may mean that we can’t create patterns 100% of our days, but the variation can be a great thing as long as it’s balanced (and this is a topic that could be a whole article on it’s own. Hm, perhaps it will…).
A great strategy for a freelancer is to have multiple sources of income. When one stream of revenue is low one month, another may be increased. I’d like to think of my business as an octopus with several arms that I can use.
With many income sources you become less vulnerable and it will also create a better platform for scaling your business, and by that I mean finding areas of your business where you can increase the volume, or number of sales in an almost explosive way. That’s how to make the big money nowadays.
It’s a jungle out there
Since I started my own creative journey in 2014 I have come across a row of activities that you can do to create extra income. Some I’ve just read or heard about, some I’ve tried myself. Some I’m planning to try out in the coming year. So to keep track of everything I started a list of all these things.
Some of them you definitely know about and have probably already tried or do, but here I try to give it a realistic approach by discussing if it’s worth doing or not, grading the possibilities for revenue.
Other things on the list you may have heard of but never tried. With this article I want to provide you with all the information, knowledge and experience I have gathered to make it easier for you to decide wether it’s something that could work for you.
And hopefully, some of the things on the list are completely new to you, and I have managed plant some new useful ideas into your head.
Perhaps you have some suggestions of your own to add to this list? Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com and tell me all about it and I’ll add it to the list. As I’m discovering more things that can add extra revenue I’ll add it to this list as well.
Because for us pattern designers, illustrators and other creative professionals, it’s a jungle out there, so let’s help each other navigate it like savvy jungle bears!
Octopus, bears? Yep, I’m into animal parables.
12 ways to create extra sources of income for pattern designers
(and other creative professionals)
1. Running your own web shop with physical products
Every pattern designer needs to have a web shop offering printed products with your designs, right? Or?
This is a question I’m struggling with myself. A lot. As fun as it is to see your design on a real product, it also takes a lot of time, effort and money to run a web shop where you sell physical products:
- time & effort for photographing each product, edit images, publishing and making it available, finding suppliers for the materials needed, ordering the material or product, making products, packaging the item, going to the post office to send it, marketing your stuff.
- money invested in materials, products and keeping a stock, making products, postage and possible returns. Money for making sure people will find your shop = marketing.
So on the bottom line the profit isn't really that great compared to the effort you have to put in to get an acceptable revenue from this.
But on the other hand, producing and marketing products with your own prints is a great way to spread your designs to consumers instead of just targeting companies with your pattern designs. And if you want to make PR activities and collaborations with other companies and bloggers having physical products to offer as incentives, prices and content is essential.
Revenue possibilites: low
This is depending on so many factors it’s hard to predict. But a general rule is that just because you start your own shop, customers won’t just show up and buy. You have to let the right people know you and your shop exist - your ideal customers who are interested in that kind of stuff - and then convince them to give you their money in exchange for you product.
There are some great examples of people making good sales, but to be honest, they are a few. But with some hard work you can absolutely create an additional income this way, even if it’s only a few bucks a month in the beginning. A web shop takes time to build and there is a lot of competition to be aware of. But if you have a loyal tribe or network of fans you have great possibilities.
My experience of running a web shop
I have a Tictail shop and a shop on my Squarespace website but want to end up with only one place, only I haven’t decided yet on how to solve everything, considering that I live in Sweden and international shipping is too expensive for people from let’s say US and Canada.
But besides that issue, the sales from my web shop has been embarrassing low (hence my grading of revenue possibilities). To tell you the truth I haven’t been engaging that much in my shop either and could do a lot more, hopefully increasing sales at least a little bit.
An important thing is to market the right type of products to your ideal customer, and try to find something that makes it a bit original, to differentiate your line-up from everybody else's.
2. Selling on Etsy
It seems like almost every pattern designer starts out or ends up with an Etsy shop and from what I’ve heard it was a great opportunity to sell your stuff a few years ago, but the market has ben quite saturated lately and the big deal now is digital products.
For you who don’t know about Etsy it’s a digital market place where you have your own Etsy shop where you sell products that you have created or produced. It can be anything from art supplies, furniture, home decor, art - to vintage clothes.
In general it’s like running your own web shop, but with the benefit of being a part of a huge market place with large traffic. The key is to come up in the right searches and get exposure.
Revenue possibilities: low
As I said before, it was easier to sell on Easy a few years ago and in general, unless you prepared to do a lot of work on getting exposure, you should probably be prepared for a quite humble stream of revenue.
My experience with Etsy
Absolutely none apart from that I do have an Etsy shop where I have posted a couple of products two years ago that probably no one have seen. Right now it’s just another bad conscience in the back of my head, but I am curious about what it could bring and might just try to activate it in a near future.
3. Print on demand services
As you know there are alternatives to running your own web shop and Etsy shop where you can skip the time, effort and money parts and still sell physical products with your print on them - using Print-on-demand services aka PODs.
There is a lot of PODs out there in all kinds of shapes and forms, offering the opportunity to print your designs on all kinds of products and make them available for purchase to the consumer.
All you do is upload your design, making it available for other to order through your POD-account/shop and the POD will charge the customer, print, package and deliver the ordered item and then give you a small kickback for every sold item/yard.
If you google print on demand services a ton of companies will show up. It’s another jungle out there.
Read more and get a list of 10 print on demand services here >>
Revenue possibilities: low
Again, unless you already have a huge following or been working up a loyal fan base that jump on every thing you put out for sale out there, selling on POD’s won’t make you rich either. Perhaps you can create a few dollars here and there and add to your multiple income sources strategy (many small streams make a river). And as with anything on this list, it all depends on your engagement, the work and effort you put in and how well you are able to spread the word.
My experience with PODs
I have shops on Spoonflower, Roostery and Society6 but the sales from these sites are minor, a couple of dollars here and there. Again, I can probably step this up a bit if I work on it a lot more. I know there are a few people having great success, making it possible to travel the world - for example Cat Coquilette as a Society6 success story.
4. Digital markets
Digital markets are online marketplaces where you can buy creative assets like brushes, textures, fonts, mockup and stock images but also seamless patterns to use for your projects and art work. You can sign up for a seller account where you upload digital products that you have created.
As with any digital product you create it once, publish it and sell it multiple times with no extra effort for every sale. This is the essence of selling with no ceiling or so called evergreens.
To provide digital products to a digital market you need to know how to produce professional and user friendly digital files.
Here are a few examples of digital markets where you can apply as seller as well as finding resources for your own art work, but google these types of products and you’ll find tons more.
Revenue possibilities: good
This depends on the price you can charge as well as volume. Looking at Creative Market as an example these products cost from $5 from to up to $100 and sometimes more, and then you get a percentage of this, levels I’m currently not aware of. Digital product can be sold as singles or in bundles.
I see potential here, there is a great demand for unique and beautiful images and textures. And since there is a very large customer base (ahem, us) the volume can be there.
Besides buying a lot of stuff myself, none, but I am curious about trying it out.
5. Selling digital products on your own platform
If you have a web shop with physical products, adding digital products to it will be a piece of cake, considering that your web shop solution supports downloadable products. If it doesn’t it’s time to switch.
I honestly think this is the way to go for any struggling designer trying to make ends meet. You have nothing to loose except the time it will take you to create your own digital products and publish them to your own digital marketplace. But then you’re all set with products that can be sold over and over again with no extra cost or effort.
You have to promote the products of course, as with anything else you want to sell, but there are so many sophisticated ways, automated systems, cool search engines like Pinterest that are perfect for creating pinpointed marketing campaigns completely free or for a low cost. And as a creative yourself, you probably know what others like you would like and need and there is a great chance you have already started to build a network of peers that you could market your products to?
So what products can you create and sell?
Oh, where to begin… Anything that can be digital and that others may have use for. Here is a list of digital products from the top of my mind:
- Mockup images and templates for visualising patterns and prints on all kinds of products
- Stock images. If you’re a decent photographer this is a no brainer. Just do it!
- eBooks on topics ranging from artistic, creative, crafts, business, marketing, art supplies. There are so many areas where people need information, learn how to do stuff, get guidance, tips and tutorials.
- Colouring books; an extension of the eBook could be a version filled with cool designs to print at home and colour.
- Templates & charts for planning, organising and even colour swatches for different medias like markers and watercolour
- Sewing patterns
- Sewing tutorials
- Fiction stories (yeah, why not do the ultimate self publishing?)
- Video tutorials (bordering to online courses, see paragraph above on the subject)
Revenue possibilities: good
If you manage to market it properly, making sure people will find your little digital marketplace. Starting with your own channels and social media, to putting some money behind it, to advanced Pinterest strategies.
My own experiences with selling digital products
None, yet. This is a work in progress though and I have some plans for a bunch of digital products that I will add to my web shop. I have a little bit experience of creating digital products and all it takes is a little bit of brainstorming ideas for content, dedicate some time for making it wether it’s writing copy, filming, drawing, designing and layout.
An eBook can be as simple as creating a pdf from 5 up to 100 pages. It doesn't have to be more advanced than that.
Tip! A good start with selling digital products is to consider what you would pay for and set the prices to an attractive level as a start just to see if it’s sellable or not.
Sharing what you have learned and know, how to do something, how to acquire a specific skill is not only a great way to get some extra money, it also helps you build your brand and grow your own following (to use as leverage in your portfolio and pitch to companies + a pool of potential buyers of your products.). And perhaps even more important, it’s a great feeling and very rewarding to be able to inspire and even help people on their creative journeys.
There are several ways to teach, here are a couple of examples
- create classes and publish on established platforms like Skillshare, Udemy and Modeskeppet (Swedish).
- create classes and publish on your own platform using services like Teachable, WordPress plug-ins or Memberspace.
You could of course also teach by uploading tutorials on YouTube, but unless you are a sponsored youtuber with ads that wouldn't generate any revenue which is what I’m focusing on in this list. But posting a freebie on YouTube could be a great way start out and to drive traffic to a paid class on your website for example.
Revenue possibilities: good
With Skillshare - quickly explained - the money you get paid relies on how many minutes people watch you classes, so it can range from a few dollars a month to up to $1000 and even more for some of the top teachers. Revenue at Udemy is based on the same principle. Other platforms charge a fixed sum for each course that you get a percentage of.
For some people teaching even develops into being the main source of revenue and can even become a large figure income. Ok, that last part is difficult of course and demands a great deal of work, but with today’s platforms it’s totally possible. Hello Bonnie Christine, Jenna Kutcher, Ashlyn Carter just to mention a few of my favourite examples. They have created and published on-line courses on their own platforms and together with strong marketing campaigns and large followings they have been able to create huge success.
My experiences with teaching
I have tried Skillshare and love it, can only recommend trying it out. The income I get from Skillshare at this point (from month to month) is about 50-99% of my total income, depending on other commissions and sales and if I have released a new class recently or not.
I haven’t tried Udemy but heard a lot of good things about them.
Moderskeppet seem to be a great place too for Swedish speaking creatives.
Read the extended section about teaching here (including my journey to become a teacher) >>
Want to become a teacher on Skillshare?
With the link below you can let Skillshare know and hop on board a coached program they provide for all new teachers. This means that they will take you by the hand and help you from start to finish until you have your first class up and running and making your first teaching salary (unless that day-job is teaching…). They new teacher program includes workshops, classes and guides on how to create class outlines, script, filming, recording audio, editing with free software like iMovie and similar and how to publish. You’ll even get a teacher handbook to refer to.
7. Affiliate programs
Apparently this is big business now. I get captions and suggestions on Pinterest all the time on how people make a lot of money by joining affiliate programs. So what is it?
Affiliate marketing as it is called, is when you get paid a commission for promoting products or services for other companies.
What it really means is that you help a business to drive traffic to their site so they can sell more products and services, so it’s a way for that business to have other people market their stuff. I guess you can compare it to a Tupperware party, only online.
The efforts that are rewarded to an affiliate can be ranging from making people click a link - to an actual conversion where a visitor you bring to the site makes an actual purchase.
Read an extended article on affiliate marketing here >>
Revenue possibilities: great
According to some bloggers using affiliate marketing it’s the way to paradise, with little or almost no effort at all… Yeah, hm… We should review that with a pinch of cynicism though, since I think it could be categorised into the ”too good to be true” area. But depending on your efforts to market and spread the affiliate link, it can generate anything from a few bucks to a lot of extra cash.
My experience with affiliate marketing
Currently my only real experience of something that resembles affiliate marketing is together with Skillshare. For every new student I recruit for them I get a small kickback of $10. And if I ever recruit a new teacher for them I also get a small commission.
I have joined a couple of affiliate programs recently but haven’t started working with them yet, so I’ll get back on this when I have some more experience of what it’s like and how it has worked out.
8. Selling your designs to external pattern banks
Another possibility for making a bit of extra cash as a pattern designer is to submit your designs to pattern banks, making your prints available for companies to search and buy to use for their products.
Patternbank: a database where companies and other businesses can buy or license patterns and prints for different purposes. The designs you provide have to be original, never before sold or licensed and not available or viewable anywhere else. You get 50% provision on all sales.
To sell on pattern bank you create an account and apply for selling your designs by submitting some samples that will be reviewed and if they are approved you can start selling.
The Pattern Agency: A Swedish version of patternbank who targets product companies in need of prints and patterns for their products. In their stable of designers are both big and established as well as newcomers.
Revenue possibilities: good
On Patternbank the prices for purchasing or licensing is between $40 and $100 depending on what type of level your design will be categorised to and then you get 50% of that…
My experiences with external pattern banks
None so far, but very curious and will see if I can try both of the above out if I get accepted. So to be continued!
Additional comment: Even if the provision isn't as high as you’d like it’s at least a way to get some of your patterns out there, to be viewed and perhaps even licensed and onto real products. So in terms of generating revenue it can be a good long term alternative that can help you build references and brand - that in the long run can help you get in contact with companies and be able to charge a more reasonable sum.
9. Sell your designs on your own pattern bank
As an addition to a web shop or digital market on your own platforms you can also create your own pattern bank. You can either make it fully official and available to all to view and purchase from, or you can create a closed section of your site that can be accessed with a uniquely generated login for each company that you want to give access to.
The benefit would be total control of your designs, licenses as well as pricing and provision. You can dictate the terms and how to sell your designs - on license or proprietary exclusive rights.
Revenue possibilities: good
The same principle applies here as to any other channels owned by yourself: Just because you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come. You will have to do some marketing activities in order to attract companies to your pattern bank. Perhaps with personal invitations to creative directors and purchase managers and assistants. This could be an alternative to sending your portfolio.
But if you do manage to build your own little list of companies that are interested there are great possibilities to sell and up-sell your designs and a great way to serve your business clients providing a really nice service.
This also calls for creating a business newsletter promoting your new designs, seasonal updates, capaigns and other fun stuff to connect to your client companies. I think it can have great potential in the long run.
Well, none. Yet, but this is definitely something I’m planning to pursue further and have quite advanced plans.
10. Graphic design commissions
Why limit yourself to only design patterns and illustrations? When you can expand your graphic skills to helping other small companies with all kinds of graphic design needs as a side thing - from creating advertisements to logos.
Create a smoking LinkedIn profile, a section on your website dedicated to this and put a little money behind it for marketing on your social media and you may get some commission work requests… Or ask around among your friends and network if their businesses or workplaces need any help with creating marketing or other graphic assets - big or small. They will most likely hire you rather than some unknown person. Recommendations is everything nowadays.
Charging your clients and getting properly paid
Make sure to charge enough, not selling yourself short just because graphic design and commission work like this feels out of your ordinary scope. Ok, you may not want to charge the same as a long experienced GD, I get that, it’s how I feel myself, but set an hourly rate or fixed fee above what you think it should be. This will set the right standard from the start.
I was recently given a recommendation to a podcast about running your own graphic design business (Thank you Marianne!). It’s called The resourceful designer by Canadian graphic designer Mark Des Cotes. All episodes are really helpful in learning how to work as a GD but especially the episode called Pricing Strategies For Your Graphic Design Business will give you some really useful tools and tips on how to get paid reasonable for your work.
Revenue possibilities: great
Even though there are many people and companies out there that think graphic designers should work for free, graphic design is viewed as a real job and there are also a lot of companies used to hiring consultants and other services that cost per hour, and they know commission work will take a few hours.
Let’s say they want you to whip up a Facebook ad - a banner with an image, copy and link. With a low time estimate it could look like this:
- You will have to spend at least two hours on the brief provided, doing some research, asking questions and thinking about how to execute this.
- The there will be at least a couple of hours of designing, probably more.
- Then another two or three of adjusting and testing, proofing between you and the client. So in total you may put in let’s say at least 6 hours and with an hourly rate of say $55 / €50 / 500 SEK (also on the lower end) you could charge up to $330 / €300 / 3.000 SEK for not even a full day of work. Imagine being able to have 10 chargeable hours in a week (low estimation again) - that would give you about $2.200 / €1800 / 20.000 SEK a month! Now that would be a pretty cool extra income and still have a lot of time for your core business.
My own experience of graphic design commissions
I do a few of them now and then and besides the income it generates it’s fun as variation. I’ve also found that I learn a lot by doing this and I still get to be creative and a bit artistic.
I also make it a thing to serve my clients as good as possible, remembering how it was on the client side. I know what is appreciated, what will give that little extra edge that will make the client more than happy with the work. Always surprise with delivering just a little bit earlier than the deadline, with an extra little thing as a bonus - an extra alternative to consider, an idea, initiative, tip or something they didn’t expect. And always try to be as self going as possible, not bothering them with unnecessary or minor questions. This will make them want to hire you again.
11. Work as a virtual assistant
This is new information to me but apparently also a huge thing right now. It borders to the previous section on graphic designer but the tasks of a virtual assistant is a bit broader.
What is a virtual assistant then? Is it that avatar woman popping up on your computer on some websites asking if you need any help? Well, yes that’s also a virtual assistant, but the one I’m referring to here is a person who helps businesses with administrative tasks online instead of physically sit in their office. Being a virtual assistant is similar to what a secretary or assistant would do in person at an office for example.
An in demand service
The need for virtual assistants at small businesses is growing right now and is becoming a more common way to hire help. Most virtual assistants are self-employed / freelancers and work from home and to some extent creating their own schedule. As long as they get the work done in time they can do the work at evenings or at nights, in different time zones, when traveling the world.
Some of the tasks can be handling emails, graphic design, managing social media accounts, writing articles, editing copy and presentations and bookkeeping, just to give some examples.
Revenue possibilities: great
I would compare it to other freelance jobs, like a graphic designer, you charge an hourly rate or other agreed upon and work a set amount of hours that will generate a stable extra income. And since it seems to be in demand today the prospect of finding clients is good.
So with a little effort to let people know your virtual assistant services are available you can easily create an extra revenue with as many chargeable hours you and your client agree upon.
And I also think that because of growing demand you probably can charge an even higher hourly rate than a graphic designer. So let’s say you can charge $70 / €80 / 800 SEK per hour (just as an example, I actually think you could charge even more, but that’s probably depending on the size of the company), working 10 hours a week (25%) as a virtual assistant will give your business about $2.800 / €3.200 / 32.000 SEK extra a month!
My own experience
I haven’t formally worked as a virtual assistant, but do help a couple of companies with a few things now and then like copywriting and creating marketing assets. I think it’s a great way to get some variation into your weekly tasks and get extra money for your business.
Tip! Try to find companies to work with that sell products and services that you like and find interesting yourself though, it makes it a lot more rewarding and you get to learn new things, businesses and industries that you might have use for too in your own business.
Another upside to this is that even though you work from a distance you will have more contact with other people compared to when you are in your studio immersed in your art work on you own.
If you have a loyal fan base and following - big or small - offering some kind of value to them through a membership seem to be a great way to create an additional revenue as well as getting a whole lot of love and support from your tribe.
I just learned that Patreon exists. And it seems amazing. Patreon is a website, a platform where artists and creatives run a membership business for their fans. In exchange for exclusive content like stories, images, videos, webinars,exclusive behind the scenes content, work in progress and other things they are interested in - they sponsor you with a sum of their choice every month in terms of a subscription to your Patreon membersite. They become your patrons that allows you to continue your work on your own terms.
The important thing though is to really put in the work to create something valuable, usable, fun and lovable for your patrons. They want more of you and your work, that’s why they will be your patrons.
Revenue possibilities: good
Apparently patrons are willing to pay on average even more than thew pay for streaming services like Netflix and Spotify. So let’s say you have 20 patrons who pay on average $11 / €9 / 100 SEK a month, this will give you $242 / €180 / 2.000 SEK a month. And I think there is good potential to build and increase the number of patrons and the level of engagement.
My own experience
I know someone who's running a Patreon membership and she loves it. My own experience is zero, only just heard of it. But it sounds really interesting and fun and from what I’ve heard it’s a really great and friendly world to be a part of. Like having your group of cheerleaders. I will definitely look into this some more myself.
Summary and my list of priority
So if I were to summarise this list and rank the different options - because it's probably not possible to do it all - where would I start, what would I invest my time and efforts into and what would I hold off?
Now, three years into my own pattern design venture and with the perspective and experience I've gained so far these are the actions I would start out with:
1. First of all I would produce and teach courses on external platforms like Skillshare.
2. Then I would produce a variety of digital products and services on my own platforms, including a pattern bank and online courses.
3. I would also dedicate a few hours a week as a virtual assistant or doing graphic design commission for other companies.
With this I would have a great platform to start from, with multiple products and services to sell with no ceiling generating multiple sources of revenue to lean on while also working to become an established pattern designer.
Next in priority comes trying affiliate marketing and memberships like Patreon, but since these activities are unknown waters for me still they may as well move up once I have evaluated what they can bring in terms of revenue vs effort. The same goes for external pattern banks.
I actually will put selling physical products on the bottom on my list, only because the low profit opportunities and the money and efforts you have to put into it in order to succeed on an acceptable level.
I'm so curious to know what you think about this list, how your priority list would look like, so make my day and give me a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me all about it or ask me anything.
xo / Bärbel