There are a number of different ways to make money as a web designer aside from simply creating websites for clients. Many freelancers choose to supplement their income from client work by doing some other things, like creating and selling digital products. These products could be marketed towards end-users or towards other designers.
Almost 10 years ago, I started selling digital products by launching Vandelay Premier, and it’s been an important part of Vandelay Design ever since.
If you’re interested in creating and selling your own products but you don’t know where to start, there are two main details that you need to figure out. First, what types of products are you going to create? Second, where and how are you going to sell them?
This article will help you to answer both of those questions. Let’s start by looking at some of the types of products that you can create.
1. Website Templates
HTML and CSS templates have been a popular item for years, and there is still money to be made here. Your templates may be purchased by businesses or organizations that are looking for a website on a tight budget, or they may be purchased by other designers who will use them in their own client work to speed up the process.
The downside to creating and selling templates is the potential for excessive customer service needs. If you’ll be selling on a large scale, you’ll need some sort of plan for providing service to your customers or you will become overwhelmed with support emails.
2. WordPress Themes
While HTML website templates are popular, WordPress themes are even more popular. A WordPress theme is more practical for most customers than an HTML template because the WordPress theme is ready to be used with a CMS (WordPress) immediately.
Your customers can purchase and download your WordPress theme and have it implemented on their live website in a very short amount of time.
Like HTML website templates, WordPress theme sellers are often going to have extensive customer service requirements. Almost every customer will need assistance at some point, and you’ll need to be able to provide basic customer service.
Although the customer service requirements can be high, the income potential is also equally high.
3. WordPress Plugins
Another option for WordPress designers/developers is to create a WordPress plugin. The customer service requirements and income potential for plugins is very similar to that of WordPress themes. Successful plugin developers can make very large sums of money, but you’ll need a system (and probably a team) to provide adequate customer service.
4. Shopify Themes
Shopify is a massively-popular ecommerce platform that also presents an opportunity for designers and developers. You could design and code Shopify themes that other people could use to easily create their own ecommerce website.
You could sell your themes on your own, or apply to get your themes listed in the official Shopify Theme Store. Your themes will need to be updated from time-to-time and you’ll also need to provide customer service.
5. HTML Email Templates
Another type of template that you could create an sell is an HTML email template. Email marketing is a critical aspect for many businesses, and the look of an email can have a big impact on its success. As a result, many entrepreneurs and businesses will buy templates that they can use to easily create great-looking emails.
6. PSD Files
The first five items on our list all involve coding. The level of customer service for these products tends to be high because customers will need help, and because there can be differences between browsers, servers, and other technology. Now, we’ll move into some types of products that generally have much lower customer service demands and can provide income that is more passive in nature.
I’m calling this product type “PSD files”, which is kind of a general way of classifying a lot of different types of products that can be used in Photoshop. UI sets that can be used in web design are extremely popular, and PSD mockups that allow users to display a product in a realistic-looking way are also popular.
7. Photoshop Brushes
Photoshop brushes make it easy for users to add different types of effects to their designs. You could create brushes for watercolor effects, paint strokes, splatters, and many different types of effects. Just about anything can be turned into a brush, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a painted type of effect.
8. Icon Sets
Icons are used on a high percentage of websites, but most designers don’t have the time or ability to create their own custom icons for every project. That means that you can design and sell icon packs that will speed up the design process for others, while generating income for yourself.
The possibilities here are endless. There are many different types of icon packs that you could create (blogging, business, financial, ecommerce, travel, food, etc.) and many different styles and types of icons.
9. Vectors and Illustrations
Vectors and illustrations can be used in all different types of web and graphic design projects. If you have some skills with Illustrator, this is a type of product that you may want to consider. Even those designers who have the ability to create high-quality vectors and illustrations may not always have the time to create custom graphics, so the products that you sell could be in great demand.
10. Logo Templates
Custom logo design services can be out of reach for some small businesses. In these cases, the business owner may opt to buy a logo template at a fraction of the price of having a logo custom designed.
Additionally, some designers will purchase logo templates to be able to quickly create attractive logos for their clients who do not already have a logo.
Textures can be used by designers in their own designs and creations. Textures can be created with a camera, scanner, or simply by using tools available in Photoshop (or some combination of these).
Creating textures was actually how I first got started with Vandelay Premier. I found textures to be fun and relatively easy to create. Just take your camera and get some quality images of concrete, wood, metal, rust, or any other type of distressed or textured flat surface. Once you have the photos, you can work with them in Photoshop to create a texture that other designers can use.
12. Brochure Templates
While most of the options we’ve covered so far have focused on web design, creating resources for print-based design is another option. You could design templates for brochures and other marketing materials (flyers, business cards, etc.).
13. Social Media Image Templates
You could design cover images that can be used for Facebook pages and profiles, as well as other image templates that can be used with social media.
Another option is to create your own fonts. Many fonts are available for free and others can be purchased. Your fonts will need to be of high-quality if you’re going to be able to sell them, but popular fonts can generate a lot of revenue for their creators.
15. Ebooks and Courses
The last option we’ll cover is to create your own ebook or online course. This is a lot different from the other options listed above because it is an educational product rather than a design resource. If you enjoy teaching and you’d like to teach some particular aspect of design or development to aspiring designers, this could be a great option.
When you’re deciding between writing an ebook or creating a course, there are a few key factors you should consider. First, courses tend to be higher maintenance than ebooks. Selling ebooks typically requires very little customer service, but courses tend to bring more potential issues (like login and access issues), and many courses also involve private groups (like Facebook Groups) that bring additional work.
However, courses typically sell for higher prices compared to ebooks, so you may be able to make more money which offsets the extra work.
How to Sell Your Creations
Now that we’ve looked at some of the different types of products that you could create and sell, let’s take a look at the options related to selling your products.
Your Own Website
The first option is to sell your products on your own website. This is ideal because you’ll be in full control over details like pricing, sales and promotions, marketing strategy, and refund policy. You also want have to split the revenue with a third party (aside from payment processing fees).
The downside to selling through your own website is that you’ll be solely responsible for driving traffic and making sales. Selling at your own site can be very lucrative if you have an established website, but starting from scratch can take a lot of time and effort.
Another potential con to selling at your own site is a greater time requirement for administrative tasks related to the products and the shop.
Through a Marketplace
Another option is to sell your products at a marketplace. There are many different options here. You could sell certain types of products through a large stock photo website. These sites can provide a lot of exposure, but there are millions of other products on these sites and they generally pay low commissions per sale.
Other marketplaces like Creative Market and Envato still offer plenty of exposure and generally higher commissions than most stock photo websites. Smaller marketplaces like FilterGrade can offer you a higher percentage of each sale, plus less competition from other sellers.
There are a number of benefits to selling at a third-party site like a marketplace or deal site. Most importantly, those sites already have established audiences and it’s possible for you to make some sales without building up an audience of your own. If you hope to have long-term success at a marketplace, you should plan to be active and work to establish your profile at the site, but you’ll benefit from the established audience of the marketplace.
Another significant benefit is that you won’t have to deal with issues related to payment processing and basic customer service related to particular orders. You may need to provide some customer service related to the products that you sell, but everything related to the transactions will be handled for you.
Bookkeeping is also easier, as you’ll typically be paid once per month in a lump sum for all of your sales rather than having lots of small transactions.
The downside to selling on another site is the fact that you’ll be sharing the revenue, which means you may make significantly less from each sale. Hopefully, the exposure provided by the marketplace can offset that by helping you to make more sales.
Another factor to consider is that you may or may not have control over the pricing of your products that are sold at a marketplace. Each marketplace is different. Some give product creators the right to set their own pricing, but others will control pricing for you.
On a Freelance Basis
Although the two main options are to sell your products at your own site or sell them at another site, there is a third option that you may want to consider. You could design or create products on a freelance basis for other businesses that sell similar products. For example, many of the products that are available at Vandelay Premier were not created by me. I’ve hired a number of different freelancers to create products specifically to be sold in the shop. I know many competitors operate the same way.
As a designer, this gives you the option or opportunity to do some freelance work. You’ll give up the ownership to the product once you are paid, but you can earn a flat fee for your work similar to what you would be doing with other types of client projects.
Creating and selling digital products may not be the right fit for every designer, but I can say from personal experience that there is plenty of potential and it can be a great way to supplement your income from client projects (or even to earn a full-time income). If you’re ever considered ways to make money as a designer aside from client work, this is something that you might want to look into.