Image: Juri Zaech, Realtime Stencil
One of the most sensible things you can do as a freelance designer or illustrator is diversify your income. Even if you’re in full-time employment, it makes sense to use your skills to boost your salary. So what are the best ways to make more money in 2017?
Whether you’re looking to seriously generate more cash or after some zero-stress, extra streams of revenue that slowly but surely trickle in each month, we’ve explored some of the most effective ways to make more money as a designer or illustrator this year…
First things first, let’s talk rates. Are you underselling yourself? If you feel the service and value that you're delivering to your clients is under-rewarded, then raising your rates is entirely acceptable – as Computer Arts’ article, How to get paid more in your design job, makes clear (scroll down for freelance rates).
Conversations about money can be awkward, but the key is to remain confident, logical and brief. Clearly explain to existing clients why you’re increasing your rates (perhaps you haven’t raised them for a few years or your costs have risen, for example) but don’t over-explain your decision – and be open to discussion.
Not all your clients will be able to afford higher fees, of course. Be prepared to negotiate a new fee or different way of working – perhaps you could deliver less for the money. Ultimately, however, if you’re serious about earning more and can afford to walk away, be prepared to do so.
Another way to raise your rates is to bump them incrementally with each new client. It’s a slower process, but just as effective in ensuring your value doesn’t decrease over time.
Remember: raising your rates doesn’t just make sure you’re being paid fairly, it also signifies experience, quality and professionalism to prospective new clients. Working for a higher rate also means you can take on fewer jobs, which means you’ll have more time for family, friends and those all-important side projects .
Top read: Computer Arts’ latest issue, The Designer’s Guide to Money, is packed with advice for making more cash – both for yourself and your clients. At $16.99 (inc shipping) it isn’t the cheapest for American readers, but it’s a belter of an issue. (And the embossed cover is a stunner!)
One brilliant way for designers and illustrators to make more money is through teaching. Signing up to be a guest lecturer or to teach a module at your local college is a fantastic way to give back to the industry, and will keep you in touch with tomorrow’s creative superstars.
Alternatively, anyone can apply to teach at online education platform Skillshare. It takes a bit of effort up-front – the minimum requirement is 45 minutes of lessons broken into 4-9 minute videos – but you’ll be paid monthly for every student who takes your classes, forever, according to the site.
Online learning and teaching marketplace Udemy is another option to look into. The minimum requirement here is 30 minutes of work (60 per cent of which must be video) and there’s no cost to set up a shop.
If you’ve got a stunning personal illustration just sitting on your site (or festering in a folder on your desktop), why not sell it as a print? E-commerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce or Big Cartel make it easy to create your own online store, which you can link to from your existing portfolio website; while third-party sales platforms like Redbubble, Society6, Fine Art America or Zazzle make it even easier to start selling your prints online and will take care of things like printing, packaging and shipping for you.
“Have art prints available on a variety of websites,” recommends Seattle-based designer and illustrator Evan Luza. He sells his via online gallery Inprnt, and was the grand prize winner of Threadless’ 2015 Raglans challenge – picking up $1,000 in the process.
Bear in mind that third-party sites tend to take a large cut, so it’s worth shopping around for the best options, and always check shipping costs before signing up. Also, be very wary about signing away the rights of your artwork: if royalties aren’t an option, consider licensing usage to a set time period or specific print run.
Pros of third-party platforms:
Pros of your own on-demand, drop-shipping store:
Image: Simon Oxley, Society6
Sites like Society6 and Redbubble don’t just enable you to sell prints – you can apply your illustrations to all manner from products, from pillows to iPhone cases, totes, coffee mugs and beyond.
Which platforms are best? In an article looking at how to sell your artwork online, Digital Artist recommended the following: Society6, Caseable, This is a Limited Edition, Design by Humans, Redbubble and Threadless. – you can read the pros and cons of each here.
Meanwhile, you’ll also find plenty of great options in Creative Bloq’s useful article: 15 great places to sell your design work online.
“Don’t be afraid to collaborate – it can help generate bigger paying jobs,” advises award-winning Toronto-based artist and illustrator Alexei Vella. Best known for his striking use of texture and antiquated surfaces, his clients include Scientific American, Monocle and Wired UK.
“I recently had an advertising firm ask me to illustrate and animate 10 short five-second videos for a client. Being primarily an illustrator, I’m not a skilled animator – so I asked an animation buddy of mine to help,” he explains. “Yes, we split the fee, but it’s a job neither of us would have got on our own.”
“Think outside the box a little,” adds designer and illustrator Evan Luza. “For instance, I put about five sticker packs on the iTunes app store, ranging from a dollar to two dollars in price, in addition to selling a texture pack on Creative Market.”
“My advice is to diversify your avenues of income by creating a variety of content that will bring in more money, and also simultaneously advertise your work.”
One artist who really knows how to diversify is Swiss art director Juri Zaech. While he works primarily in advertising, he also designs typefaces on the side, which he sells through the likes of Creative Market, HypeForType, YouWorkForThem and Fonts.com. His best advice for anyone wanting to make more money through selling their own typefaces, is to offer demo fonts – after all, it can be difficult to know how a typeface will behave in a specific layout without trying it out first.
“As a type designer, there are a couple of ways to make designers’ lives easier – and increase the chances of selling your typeface over others,” he explains. “You could offer a demo version with a reduced character set. Usually this font includes the base characters and punctuation, but no accents and extended punctuation.”
“Another way is offering one style of a family for free. This can be, for example, a light weight or one part of a layered type system. The advantage here is that it contains all characters and OpenType features.”
“No matter what way you choose, demo versions offer a huge advantage for the user by letting them test the fonts and create layouts for presentations without having to invest upfront. It’s a good idea to think of ways to create client relationships based on good service, generosity and trust.”
Finally, don’t forget stock websites. If you have a brilliant icon or logo from a rejected client pitch lying around, or another cracking design asset that wasn’t used in a project, consider converting your unused files into cash through a stock website.
Adobe Stock is the biggest new player in this market, letting you sell photos, videos, vectors or illustrations. You get a 33 per cent commission for photos and vector art, and a 35 per cent commission for videos based on the price of the image.
There are lots of other options too, but as Simon Oxley points out, don’t expect to make your living from stock sites. “I sell products on iStock, which used to be great in the early days, but now I only see $100 a month, and it’s the same for Shutterstock. Those stock sites have become saturated by great imagery from an increasing contributor base.”
However, there are hidden benefits too: “These sites enable me to broadcast to many people from a variety of fields of focus, which occasionally leads to contract work,” he adds. “I try to diversify my offering in terms of style and messaging, offering mascot design, graphic design, photography. Recently I’ve been designing emoji, stickers for text messages and quirky humorous effects.”
Of course, there are tons of other ways to make more money as a designer or illustrator that we don’t have space to cover here – affiliate links, for example, if you have a popular blog; you could publish an ebook; public speaking; consultation; up-selling your services to existing clients… The list goes on.
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