Working as a freelance designer has its pros and cons. On the plus side you get to work on lots of creative projects and work on your own time. But freelance work isn’t always consistent and that means money can fluctuate from month to month.
If you like the freelance lifestyle but want more stability then you’ll need to build some extra revenue streams, more specifically passive revenue streams.
In this post I’ll break down 5 of the most popular alternative revenue streams for freelancers. You can try following any of these paths or even try many different options to see what you like best. The goal should be consistency with enough side income to sustain you when work gets low.
1. Premium Products
The first and obvious choice is to earn money through direct sales. If you have design talent then you can build quality premium resources like print templates, custom fonts, UI mockups, iconsets, and even full website templates.
If you can make the time to build these products then you’ll have lots of options when it comes to selling. You can sell on a per-item basis or create your own marketplace with a monthly subscription fee. We actually have the Vandelay Shop built in this style.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
You’re just taking something that people want(premium design resources) and creating them for a price. If you have skills in many areas then try creating multiple products. You’d be surprised how much you can make with premium iconsets or website templates.
This is especially true if you have a large social following where you can blast your newest products to your followers and get the word out.
If you don’t have the means to create a personal shop then I’d recommend selling on other marketplaces. You’ll have a much easier time reaching customers and you can test the waters to see if anyone’s even interested.
Here are some premium design marketplaces to consider:
We actually put together 15 digital marketplaces that allow you to sell any digital products on the web. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of resources then definitely check out that post.
2. Write E-books
Can you teach something very specific that’s not covered elsewhere? Do you love to write and enjoy teaching? Then you might like writing an e-book related to your area of expertise.
It’s a lot easier than you’d think and if you already have the knowledge it’ll be fun putting all your ideas down into writing.
Design products like I mentioned before are sold as resources for others to use in their projects. Most e-books are sold to educate and inspire others who want to learn whatever you can teach.
Are you good at online marketing and branding? Or do you love Android/iOS app design? Maybe you have a soft spot for grids on the web, or copywriting for the web, or basically anything relevant to designers/developers.
Don’t be afraid to test your knowledge and put it down into a book. If you have a unique perspective on the topic and if you can provide real value then people will buy.
You can sell e-books on your own through a direct PayPal link. Or you could work with a network like Gumroad to handle payments & direct downloads.
Or you could even work with a publisher like Leanpub specializing in digital e-books covering a variety of topics.
Distribution is one of the simplest methods for getting your content out there. Don’t worry so much about distribution and pricing because this can all come later.
Just think about what you could write about that’d be valuable and how you would write something that stands out against other books.
Technical consulting for client work is often different than freelance work. Most freelance jobs ask you to create something for the client—a website, a branding/logo, or maybe some icons/illustrations.
But consulting can also be a transfer of knowledge where you teach others how to do something. This consulting could be one-on-one or with a larger team or company. The clientbase varies wildly based on what exactly you’re helping with.
Consultants are not just teachers and they’re not just contract workers. They’re often a little of both.
But most commonly people hire contractors as specialists in a particular field. So a design agency might hire a copywriter to write bangin’ web copy. Or they might hire a type designer to craft a unique font for a branding project.
Contractors might also be hired by a company to come in and teach their design team a professional web design workflow.
Consulting jobs can be product-oriented where you’re delivering a final product. But they can also be task-oriented where you’re teaching others how to do something, like manage a server or architect a user experience.
If you have a big name for yourself then you might even take contract gigs for speaking arrangements. These could be speaking gigs at conferences or private events for larger companies.
If you don’t feel comfortable presenting yourself as a contractor then hold back on this strategy. It’s best to see yourself as an expert in the area before pushing more contract work. But if you can offer specialized advice or techniques in a certain area then consulting is a great way to add money into your monthly coffer.
4. Affiliate Marketing
Many designers don’t even know how affiliate marketing works which is quite shocking.
This is where you help sell other people’s products and you get a percentage of each sale.
There are tons of quality affiliate programs out there in the design/development space. You just need to be willing to search and find the programs that are worth trying to promote.
A good rule of thumb is that you can’t sell garbage, so if a product sucks then you won’t make money as an affiliate.
But if you find any creative products that offer real value and seem fairly popular you should see if they have an affiliate program and try signing up.
There are two difficult steps in this process. First is finding a product or service worth selling that offers a decent affiliate payout. Second is figuring out how to market to actually see conversions.
If you’ve never done this before then you should spend time reading about affiliate marketing to see how it works. Unfortunately there are way too many “guru” blogs that simply make money selling products that teach you how to make money.
Affiliate marketing is simple once you get the hang of it. You should not spend any money on affiliate guides or guru products. Just search Google and be specific with your questions. The /r/juststart community is a decent place to ask questions and learn from others.
But if you’re willing to check out different products here are some design-related affiliate programs to get you started:
There are so many programs out there with new ones popping up all the time. It’s more important to learn how to market products before picking which products to market.
Google is your best friend for this and you should research while you learn. Nobody is an expert because the affiliate space changes so often.
Just know that if you can help market a product that offers value and sells well then you can see a decent passive income on the side of your freelance work.
5. Managed Monthly Services
There’s good reason to setup a monthly billing cycle for recurring services. This helps your clientel worry less about certain tasks, and it helps you plan for a guaranteed $X amount per month in revenue.
Monthly services vary a lot from hosting fees to maintenance & upkeep fees. You could also charge monthly fees for handling a client’s marketing, copywriting, e-mails, or social accounts. The list is basically endless and it mostly varies based on the client’s goals.
But keep in mind that most clients won’t think of these options themselves. You’ll need to present these options so that the client knows they can hire you on a monthly basis.
The best part is once you get a couple clients happy with your work it becomes easier to land others. Then you’ll have a couple happy clients that might provide testimonials and recommendations to other potential clients.
Over a few years you could build up a pool of clients paying monthly for website updates, server management, brand management or blog writing.
Think carefully about how much work is required and how much you’d charge for each task. Don’t undersell yourself but also try to be reasonable for long-term clients.
This is one of the most practical ways you can build a consistent income because you’ll already have a rapport with each client and you’ll be helping their business too.
Go Build Your Income!
All of these different income streams can boil down to one statement: money exchanged for value.
If you can provide something of value and make money without consistently chasing work then you’ll have a nice side income stream. This side income can give you peace of mind for each month’s bills and helping you maintain the freelance lifestyle.
I would highly recommend that all freelancers try at least one of these different income streams at some point. Once you have a little extra money coming in you’ll be surprised how freeing it can be.
And if you’re looking for more freelancing advice check out our related articles: