I just reached my 1K USD milestone of selling iMessage stickers and I thought I’d share the experience! This basically is a documentary – a post that I would look back on to remember the things that I learned and areas where I made mistakes.
I was introduced to iMessage stickers by a friend who wanted to collaborate. I did the design and he packaged it into an app. We released the sticker pack for free and got good results – in the Philippines at least.
It was fun designing the sticker pack. A breath of fresh air, especially for a UX designer like me who’s been concentrating on interaction design and focusing so much on interface design the past couple of months, even years. This new experience sparked an interest in creating my own iMessage stickers.
I already had a mac and my trusty old design software, all I needed was a developer account and I was set. Learning Xcode was easy. There was no coding required. Once you had the stickers ready, everything was almost drag and drop with not too many configurations.
My goal was simple: practice design and earn at least 99 USD (around 5,000 Php) which was the cost of an Apple developer account. The only success measure was the 99 USD which would be used to renew the developer account. The timeline I set for myself was a year, September 2016 to September 2017.
My first sticker pack was Player Expressions for CSGO. I simply love the game! I was stoked! I released the sticker pack hoping for the best. GLHF – Good luck, have fun!
It flopped. Weeks past, no one bought it. I took long designing the pack, like 4-6 hours from designing to deployment. I thought it would be easy money. I was wrong.
Being part of startups, I knew I needed to make something people would use, something that people would love. Well, I did love the game and I know a lot of people did too but those stickers were not solving any problem, not addressing any need. It was supposedly there to enrich the way people express, “spice up” conversations, make it more fun and, in some cases, easier. My “GG” or “GLHF” stickers weren’t doing that. It was easier to type them than to look for the sticker and drag.
October 2016, I decided to make a How I Met Your Mother sticker pack. Given the popularity, I knew there was a big audience. I knew that there was some emotional connection that I could tap. I could create something that the audience could relate to – something that resonates with them. I decided to create a catchphrase sticker pack.
I believed it would work. There was a specific audience. The pack was usable, it could be part of everyday conversation. It was reminiscent of the well-loved TV Series. It could be “evergreen” like the show was! True enough, I started seeing people buying it. 1 – 5 times a week. 99 cents (70 cents after Apple tax) at a time. Very small amount, but it was confidence-boosting.
I was happy. It was a taste of passive income.
Before I continue talking about the experience, I’d like to share my thoughts about passive income. Passive income, as some imagine, is not just doing nothing and getting returns. Think of it along the lines of investment. You still have to give, use, or sacrifice something. It could be money, effort, time, skills or other assets. The point is you are using your resources that you have right now, so you can gain something in the long run – even if those resources are not available to you anymore later on. Right now I can use my time and skills to create iMessage stickers. Even if I stop making stickers due to lack of time, the stickers that have been created would still, potentially, be making me money.
In fact, my “best-sellers” are the ones I made months ago. The ones I’m making now could be my best-sellers a year or two from now.
Setting New Goals
November 2016, I stopped creating new stickers and focused on preparation for my wedding (more details in another blog post).
After the holidays, I came back with a new and very specific goal: earn USD 7 per week.
Before 2016 ended, I fell in love with salad! I never thought I would, considering that I grew up avoiding vegetables and my parents happen to be vegetable dealers. The salad was an unexpected pleasure. I was addicted! Good addiction, I justified to myself. The problem was that it was expensive, USD 7 (Php 350). If you are Filipino, you know this is on the “higher ceiling” for a single meal. To keep this treat, I decided I would eat salad once a week, every Friday, and I’d make sure there would be no change in budget and savings (I’m a family man now!). I was going to earn the USD 7 through my stickers!
The goal was clear. It was measurable and time-bound. Whenever I got a new idea, I listed it down – no matter how crazy or simple it was. I started sharing promo codes on Reddit and Facebook Groups. I still haven’t done any paid marketing but will be exploring it in the future. I also made personal guidelines:
- Sticker pack must only take 2 hours to do from design to deployment. Any pack that I think would take more than that is given low priority. This basically means 8-15 stickers per pack depending on quality.
- Sticker updates should only take 30 minutes from design to deployment. 2-5 new stickers per update.
Setting goals and rules are very important even for side hustles. If I didn’t have any goal, I probably wouldn’t have known if I was doing alright or not, if I had to change strategy or just stick it out. And without rules, I probably would have been spending too much time on a single pack than necessary (I tend to binge-design at times).
I learned a lot more than just designing and deploying my work. I learned to look for target markets, niches, trends, things that I know well theoretically and now put into practice. I learned how to put necessary limits and be more creative in the process. I learned to take the side hustle as it is, a “side” hustle.
If you are in the same position as I am, someone with a full-time job, and would like to try creating your own stickers, I definitely recommend it! Since January 2017, there has never been a day when I have not sold a sticker pack.
I currently have 20 sticker packs. I started September 2016 and had 2 sticker packs by the end of 2016. The other 18 were made from January to June 2017. That’s around 3 stickers per month. For these 18 packs and following my personal rule of spending only 2 hours per sticker pack, I spent approximately 36 hours creating the sticker packs and around 8 hours for the updates (44 hours total). Earning 1K USD and working for 44 hours means I earned USD 22 per hour spent. Not only that, but the stickers are still there and are still up for sale!
1K USD (around Php 50,000) may not be big but it is definitely helpful! To put it into perspective, that could cover 5 months of our apartment rent or 10 months of our monthly bills (electricity, internet, and dues).
Tips on Selling iMessage Stickers
- Try to find an audience first before you create a pack. It doesn’t matter if it is pretty if no one is going to use it. Remember that even if you make it free it doesn’t mean people will download it.
- Remember that people will find your pack organically, meaning mainly through searching. Unless you have a big following or a partner, you would have to rely on organic traffic. Make sure you have the proper tags and good presentation. Iterate when it is not working.
- When you create a pack, don’t go all in. Remember that stickers go through an approval process and if your pack is based on something popular, you are at risk of copyright violation and Apple is quite strict. Try to minimize your pack so you can deploy it swiftly and see if it gets approved. If it is denied, at least you didn’t spend too much time on it. If you need to revise it, at least you only need to edit a few stickers. Plus it is always an advantage to update often rather than to release and forget about it. So for example, release the pack with 10 stickers and do 4 updates until it reaches a total of 30 stickers rather than releasing it with 30 stickers all at once. I find that when I release an update, people download it more on the day of the release than on any other day. I have yet to learn the correlation between the time of release and the resulting download spike. I’m guessing Apple’s algorithm rewards updated apps in terms of search results.
- Create a community around your sticker pack. In your description, mention that you are taking suggestions and will be happy to recognize them in release notes if you decide to apply their suggestions. This creates a feeling of ownership for the users. You’ll be amazed at how much people love to improve a product that they already use and enjoy! To thank them, I reward helpful users of my sticker pack by giving them my other sticker packs for free (which becomes free advertisement for me too)!
- Take advantage of complaints. The number one problem, which I hope Apple would fix soon, is that it is quite difficult to locate newly installed sticker packs. All the support email I have received were about this one particular issue. I would respond to these users by sending an already-crafted email containing links of my other projects as part of my email signature. Through support email, you can advertise your other packs or your website for free!
- I should have probably started a social media page long before I created my stickers. A good number of followers and the extra traffic are always helpful!
- Find a process that would allow you to reuse and exploit some of your designs. That laughing emoji looks good with a hat? Create new designs out of it! Try to sell it without a hat or with long hair.
- If you want to do this full-time, you need to hustle a lot more than I did! Selling iMessage stickers is good as a side project. At the moment, I can’t imagine doing it full-time.
- Selling iMessage stickers is a viable source of income – excellent source of passive income in fact.
- It is easy to create and sell sticker packs, and the learning curve is low.
- It’s a good avenue to practice different skills – design, research, marketing, and time management.
I’ll update this post after few months. I’m looking forward to learn more! If you have any questions or insights, feel free to chat!