Working as a freelance designer can be an absolute dream. For many of us it means working on projects we love, from wherever we want in the world, often times making more money than we could as in-house designers.
But building a list of design clients takes time and continuous effort. Freelance designers soon learn that just because you had design work this month, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it next month.
It can be wise to build in a few extra passive income streams that will bring in a foundation of predictable revenue each month almost entirely on autopilot. Once you’ve built up this foundation, you can round out your income with freelance graphic design jobs you find on job boards, at local meetups, or through your online networks.
Together, a smart passive income strategy and a continuous client-outreach plan can assure your freelance design business stays viable for a long time— affording you the career and lifestyle you want.Today’s article will walk you through a simple step-by-step process for growing your passive income as a designer.
Here we go:
1. Understand how passive income works
Before we get into too many tactics, it’s critical that you understand just how passive income works. To be honest, “passive income” is a bit of a buzzword that gets tossed around in online business. Why? Probably because the whole idea of making money without working is pretty alluring.
The reality is: passive income (at least most forms of it) can take quite a bit of work and effort in the beginning. But it pays off. Why? Because instead of trading money for hours, which is what most freelance designers do, you’re investing hours upfront and then reaping the benefit of your investment for years afterward.
Your business models goes from this: Do the work once; get paid once.
To this: Do the work once; get paid forever.
Of course, that’s still a bit lofty and unrealistic to say you “never have to work again” because there’s always improving or promoting your work down the road. At its most basic, though, passive income differentiates itself from hourly work by offering the potential of exponential revenue as opposed to 1-to-1 payout ratios.
2. Explore and brainstorm passive income ideas
Now that you see why passive income is worth pursuing for designers, you’ll need to brainstorm a few passive income ideas that will work well with your current workload.
For example, you may want to consider selling your digital designs in marketplaces like Design Cuts where customers can shop for, buy, and download your creative work. Or you may want to try upselling your clients on little extras that will add to your profit margin without expending extra effort on your part.
There really are lots of easy-to-try passive income ideas that you can explore. For more ideas, try my list of passive income ideas for designers.
3. Prove the passive income model(s)
Once you’ve brainstormed some good passive income ideas, it’s time to try and prove that at least one of them will work. This may take some time — and that’s okay. Remember the fast way to build a freelance business is to build up a list of design clients. You should keep doing that while you work on your passive income models on the side.
The long-term (think of it as an investment) way to build your business is to integrate and test these passive income ideas you’ve been brainstorming.
So you don’t burnout, start with the idea that makes you the most excited, or, so you hopefully see success early on, the idea that seems the most plausible. Avoid trying too many ideas at once as it may lead to burnout and failure.
4. Constantly add to your passive income streams
Once you’ve got at least one passive income stream working in your favor (remember this may not be instantaneous), it’s time to start adding to your passive income stream. Because the goal is to build a predictable, reliable passive income, you should avoid resting on your laurels once you build one successful line of revenue.
I’ve known too many business owners who follow this path and end up bankrupt when a Google or Pinterest algorithm changes. Instead, you must diversify.
For example, if you’re already selling your digital designs online, consider adding your products to multiple marketplaces or expanding your current offering on the marketplace you’re finding the most success with.
Keep adding new passive income streams as small tests and, when one succeeds, continue to pursue it as a major part of your overall passive income strategy.
5. Continue to adjust and iterate to optimize your passive income
From there, it’s just a matter of how much attention you want to give your passive income streams. Of course, I recognize the irony of dedicating time and resources to your “passive” revenue strategy, but remember what I mentioned in the beginning of this article: Passive income is about investing time and resources now to establish a long-term revenue stream over time.
There are lots of adjustments you may need to make along the way. You may find, for example, that the design products you’re selling do really well one year and then start to taper off the next year because they’re not as “on-trend” as they used to be. Traffic to your marketplace listing may fluctuate. Affiliate offers may get cancelled or changed. Client projects may demand more of your time in some months than in other months.
Things change. And that’s fine. You just have to learn to change, adjust, tweak, measure, and respond at the right pace for your design business.
6. That’s it.
Depending on how much time you put into it, building passive income as a designer can take a lot of time or it can happen really quickly. The key is to stick with it, watch your results, and make smart improvements where possible.
Above all, remember: you can do this! Thousands of designers are building passive income into their design business and sleeping a bit better at night.
With hard work, smart thinking, and real talent, so can you. I know it.
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.