There’s nothing more rewarding that getting paid to work on design projects you’re actually passionate about.
Then there’s the reality of working as a creative. Whether you have your own design business or you work in-house for a company or agency, it’s possible you’ve found yourself frustrated at least once with how much you get paid.
And sure, money isn’t everything. Far from it. You can count yourself among the blessed few people in the world that actually enjoy the work they do day in and out. But there’s nothing evil about aspiring to have a bit more of a financial cushion. You’ve got bills to pay — maybe even mouths to feed (at a minimum, your own).
In the spirit of improvement, I’d like to share a few ways you, as a designer, can make more money this coming year than you did last year. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
1. Say goodbye to bad clients
The Pareto Principle says you most likely get 80% of your income from 20% of your clients (this is of course a little different if you’re not a freelancer). In theory, then, you could actually fire 80% of your clients and still make 80% of the money you’re currently making.
From there, things get magical.
Not only do you keep making close to what you were making before, but you free up 80% of your client base which opens the door for new, better clients. Clients that will pay you more, respect you, and help you achieve your goals. It can be scary saying goodbye to bad clients, but it’s also liberating and empowering. Try it with even just a couple of your worst ones and you’ll see what I mean.
2. Increase your rates with current clients
Another obvious (but pretty scary) option for making more money as a designer is to send all your current clients a price increase letter. This goes for any incoming clients too.
My friend Andy quit his job a few years ago to start freelancing full-time and he quickly doubled his rates. Then doubled them again a few months later. Then again a couple months after that. Soon, he was making way more than what he originally charged and his clients didn’t even bat an eye — the clients worth keeping, that is.
An interesting thing happens when you raise your prices: the low-balling, tire-kicking clients (the kind you had to fire in point #1 of this article) stop coming around. Instead, you’re approached by real companies with big budgets who want to work with a professional. If you’re not a freelancer, consider what this might mean for your day job.
Despite what some people say, design is not a commodity and good designers — ones that make a real impact on a company’s bottom line — are in short supply. Lean into that by tactfully asking for a raise, a promotion, or more workplace perks.
3. Optimize your portfolio for more conversions
If your business relies on an online portfolio to generate new business, then focusing on conversion tactics could mean a major payoff this year. And optimizing your online portfolio for conversions doesn’t have to take a ton of time or effort. Even just a few, well-thought-out adjustments can make a huge impact on who visits your online portfolio and what they do when they get there.
To get started, install Google Analytics or another analytics software you trust and just start watching how people interact with your portfolio. From there, use other design portfolios as inspiration, make hypotheses, test those ideas, and iterate as needed. If you’re not sure where to start, try watching my portfolio critique in the Design Cuts Community Hangout Call.
4. Add upsells to your design workflow
If you’re serious about making more money as a designer this year, you may want to think carefully about where you can add upsells to your current workflow. Upselling your services (like asking “would you like fries with that?”) can be a quick way to boost your profit margin without adding too much extra work to your plate.
Of course, you have to be wise about it by providing extra value without adding more hours to your schedule. If you need a few ideas to get started, try reading my article on how to upsell your design projects and boost profit margin.
5. Generate Passive Income
Similar to building extra cash into your income through upsells, there’s almost nothing as magical as passive income for designers.
While building streams of “passive” income take a lot of work upfront, they can really pay off in the long-run. One of the most basic and effective ways you can build a passive income design business is by creating in-depth, high-value digital design products and then selling them on marketplaces like Design Cuts. You might also consider developing design courses that you can create once and sell over and over again to eager learners via marketplaces like Udemy.
There are countless passive income ideas that work well for designers, you just have to find the ones that work for you.
6. Automate time-consuming aspects of your work
Whether you work for yourself or work in-house, it’s almost guaranteed there are tasks that suck up way too much of your time. These tasks might include invoicing, paperwork, backing up files, searching for new business, researching, and more. But just because you’re leading a design project doesn’t mean you have to do every little aspect of the work along the way.
In fact, there’s a lot you can automate in 2020.
With everything from apps and tools to help you get the job done on autopilot to inexpensive assisting labor on sites like Fiverr, “not having time” just simply isn’t a good excuse anymore. The more time you can free up, the more time you can spend on billable hours or on growing your business. And more income and satisfaction will follow.
Why care about more money as a designer?
Most designers are artists, and most artists don’t care nearly as much about making money as they do about their craft and industry. I’m with you on that, but the truth of the matter is: making more money can open up all kinds of opportunities for you and your craft.
Designers who make more money can choose to dedicate some of their extra time to pro bono work for clients that make a difference in the world. Designers who make more money do better, more creative work because they’re not worried about where their next non-Ramen-noodle meal is coming from.
Money is not the goal here; it’s a means to an end. Whatever that “end” is for you — more stability, more opportunity to serve, more creativity — I genuinely hope you find it in 2020.
This article was contributed by Preston Lee, the founder of Millo, where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. If you’re ready to level-up your freelance business, subscribe to their newsletter for freelancers.