This is arguably the best time to be a graphic designer.
- Tutorials are freely available.
- Freelancing platforms are becoming huge.
- Salary of corporate/agency designers is relatively competitive.
- Many marketplaces are available to sell design and potentially make passive income.
I know a lot of designers have side gigs – often providing a range of design services. I’ve had a fair share of freelancing years. It was like an extension of my full time job. It was like having 2 jobs really. I learned a lot, earned a decent amount, and made a lot of connections… but I was almost always tired.
This is one reason why I’m so grateful for the abundance of marketplaces. The idea of creating once and selling it over and over again to me meant that I could save more time and still earn. Marketplaces allow designers to have their own products or assets that earn money over time. There are different types of creative marketplaces: merch designs (shirts, mugs, etc.), application extensions (iMessage stickers, line stickers, etc.), creative assets (vector stocks, photos, etc.), and application resources (3d models, brushes, game assets, etc.).
The initial return obviously is not as big as a freelance project. Profit might be small, but it will compound and become almost perpetual. For example, a logo might give a young designer a one-off earning of 500 USD. A shirt design in the marketplace might make him 5 dollars per week. If he wanted to earn 500 USD from the shirt design, it would take him several weeks. But imagine if that same designer had a hundred shirt designs online earning a steady 5 dollars per shirt per week. It would be a compounding passive stream of income of 500 USD per week. Easy… ideally.
The truth is that selling something can be quite challenging. I know a lot of designers who have tried selling in marketplaces and stopped after 3 or 4 designs simply because they weren’t getting anything in return. No one was buying their designs and it seemed like they were just wasting their time. Why is that?
Well, the amount of competition could be one reason. Market saturation is real – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Another reason could also be a lack in marketing skills. While there may be several reasons why designers struggle to sell, I believe the main issue is mindset.
Creating designs as an employee or as a freelance designer is in a way easier. There are goals that are set, requirements are defined, and even if you do X number of revisions, eventually someone is going to say “this looks good” and you are done.
Selling in marketplaces is different. There are no restricting requirements, no defined goals, and it is the market that decides which designs make it.
By default, an artist creates art as a form of self expression. While people may see the art as beautiful, they won’t necessarily pay for it. Maybe it’s not for them. Why? Because the art resonates with the artist but not with the audience. No emotional connection is triggered. The art simply does not relate to something they love or like. They just don’t see the value that the art brings.
Look at it this way. Would you be excited about wearing a statement shirt that says something that you don’t believe in? Or would you pay 30 USD for a shirt that has a cartoon character that you don’t even know? Probably not.
The key to making designs that sell in marketplaces is by bringing value through emotional triggers.
Look at Designs that Sell
On the left is Adam Ellis’ design on Teepublic. It’s very simple yet it is one of the site’s bestsellers.
I believe the audience is clear: male plant lovers. “Plant Daddy” is definitely something that the audience can relate to. It might even be something one buyer suggested he make.
Create something that you yourself would buy and wear. If you are passionate about something, you can be sure that there are others that are passionate about it too.
Adam has a lot of followers and that probably also boosted his sales, but you get the idea: create something that people are passionate about. Engage with a community of people passionate about something particular and learn their language – what they always like to say, what they laugh about, the inside jokes, the catchphrases, the symbols that they use, the images that each of them are familiar with, the scene that they always go back to – anything that you need to know to be a part of the community.
Finding and understanding your audience (a niche if you’d like to call it that) might need a bit of extra work, but once that is set, you can continually design for that target audience in mind.
Learn for Yourself What Sells
Taking a look at bestsellers is a good starting point. Find out more by gathering data. The great thing about most marketplaces is that they have their own analytics built in.
A simple strategy could be doing more of what works – “follow the green light” as they say. That could mean designing more for a particular niche. It could also mean using the same design template but with different colors or text.
Learn to analyse trends. As you keep selling, you end up getting a “feel” of what people like to buy.
If you are new to marketplaces, you can get started right now!
- Sell merch! I recommend Teepublic (sign up).The UI is very simple. It will only take you a minute to upload a design. Bulk uploading is available too! You can earn around 4 – 21 USD per item sold, lower if it’s sale period.
- Create iMessage Stickers! The only obstacles here are that you have to own a Mac and that you have to pay an upfront cost of 99 USD per year. You’ll get it back almost certainly if you keep pumping out sticker packs. Here’s my post of how I earned 1K USD selling iMessage sticker packs.
I mentioned that there are different types of marketplaces, but I have only tried two so far. I will definitely update this post as I explore new ones.
Happy selling! Feel free to ask me anything!