It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that the only way to make more money as a designer is to get more clients, bigger projects, or work significantly more hours. While those will likely add to your bottom line, there are other ways to earn money as a designer, some of which require much less time and effort with a higher return.
Whether it’s selling templates, teaching design to others, or selling affiliate products you already use and love, there are additional income streams all designers should consider.
1. Selling templates
While an original website design might earn you thousands of dollars, selling an individual template is more likely to earn you somewhere in the range of $25-100. It can seem like a waste of time and resources to create designs that sell at such low price points, but when you consider that each template can be resold dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times, economies of scale kick in and it all starts to make sense.
Taking time to create original templates for everything from websites to resumes can be a lucrative side hustle (or even full-time income) for designers. But also consider reusing design elements that have been rejected on previous projects. Maybe you created an icon set that the client hated, or a layout that they just didn’t love. Take some time to polish those rejected designs and sell them as templates. It’s a quick way to get started and test the waters without starting from scratch.
Consider reusing design elements that have been rejected on previous projects.
Selling through established marketplaces is the quickest way to get started with templates. There are multiple reputable marketplaces online. The downsides are that you’ll be competing with tons of other designers and you’ll have to give a cut of each sale to the marketplace. But the upside is that your designs will be more likely to show up in front of people actively looking for templates.
Teaching formal design courses isn’t for everyone. But the concept of teaching can take on many different forms, and one of them might be a good fit for you.
Part-time teaching gigs can often be found at local colleges, adult education centers, or design “bootcamp” training programs. If you have an advanced degree in design (or a ton of experience or recognition in the industry), these can be a great option. In some cases, the curriculum will already be figured out for you, while in others you’ll be creating your own syllabus.
Keep an eye out for adjunct teaching positions, too. Adjunct teaching positions sometimes have lower education requirements than more traditional teaching positions.
If teaching at a local college or adult education center doesn’t appeal to you, consider creating your own courses or tutorials. Courses can come in a variety of formats, from interactive websites to videos to simple text-based walkthroughs. You can set up your own site to sell courses through, or use a site like Udemy to host and sell them.
The concept of teaching can take on many different forms, and one of them might be a good fit for you.
Video tutorials can be ad-supported or you can charge directly for them. If you build up a large enough catalog of tutorials, consider providing them on a subscription or membership basis. Just keep in mind that anyone paying a monthly membership fee will expect new content to be delivered regularly.
Finally, another way of teaching to earn extra income is to write articles about design topics. Online design publications are always looking for expert contributors who can provide high-quality content for their audiences. These sites pay anywhere from around $50 to a few hundred dollars (or more) for good articles. Develop a relationship with a few of them and you can pretty easily increase your monthly income significantly. Plus, writing articles keeps you at the forefront of design trends and advancements.
If you don’t have any writing credentials, you can start out on a site like Medium to build a portfolio and prove you’re capable of creating high-quality content. You can submit to design publications such as
UX Planet or UX Collective on Medium to get your articles out to a wider audience. Medium’s Partner Program lets you earn money on what you write from premium members, based on a number of factors such as read time and how many “claps” an article gets. This might only add up to a few extra dollars per month, but there are writers earning hundreds or thousands of dollars each month on Medium.
Pssst! Want to get published on Dribbble’s blog? Here’s how to submit an article.
3. Affiliate programs
Think about the services and apps you already use. Is there a template shop you often pull from for clients with lower budgets? Do you prefer a particular web host for hosting your clients’ websites? Are there apps you use that others might also find useful?
Check with every company you do business with and would want to share with others to see if they have an affiliate program. Sometimes affiliate programs will pay you actual cash, while others will just give you free products or services (which is great if you’re already using their offerings). Either way, it’s more money in your pocket.
Sometimes affiliate programs will pay you actual cash, while others will just give you free products or services.
Keep in mind that there are ethical and sometimes legal implications for affiliate links. In some countries (including the U.S.), you’re required to disclose any affiliate links and your policy surrounding those links. Basically, any time you receive value in exchange for linking to a product or service (including free products you might receive to review), you have to let people know when you link to them that you’ll receive compensation.
Even if you’re not based in a country where this is required, if you’re marketing to people in a country where it is, the laws may still apply to you. Regardless, it’s unethical to get a kickback from a company without letting your readers know about it.
When you need additional income as a designer, there are plenty of options to consider. Some can add a few hundred dollars to your bottom line, while others could add thousands (or even replace your current income and way of doing business). Experiment with different avenues and see what works for you!
About the Author — Cameron Chapman: Editor. Blogger. Author. Designer. Copywriter. Marketer. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Consultant. Coach. I wear a lot of hats. What most of them have in common, though, is storytelling.