Tips on how to make the most of your graphic design work

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March 23, 2021
5 minute read

When it comes to running a freelance graphic design business, there’s a lot of work involved. You have to wear all the hats, from marketer to customer service specialist to accountant and everything in between. Not to mention the actual graphic design work for clients.

When you design something great, you want to make the most of your hard work. Below, we lay out all the ways you can earn money and recognition for your graphic design work.

Why license your graphic design work?

Licensing your graphic design work, or any creative work for that matter, essentially says you are the original creator and you also own all the rights to the creative. When you own all the rights to the creative, you have the right to recreate, distribute, publish, market, and monetize it — as well as the right to decide who else can do the same.

As a freelancer, you may be tasked with creating eye-catching designs for other brands. But you shouldn't shy away from opportunities to create and license your own work.

When it comes to licensing your graphic design work in the context of this discussion, you’re preventing someone from stealing your idea. If your work is unlicensed, someone else may use it and even profit from it. In worst-case scenarios, they may even license it themselves and prevent you from using your own creation.

So while it may seem overboard to license your graphic design work, it’s important if you have plans to diversify the income from your graphic design business.

How to license your design work

A Creative Commons license ensures creators always receive credit for their work and helps them “retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially.” These licenses are global and last as long as copyright lasts, and give creators control over how their work is used.

You can go to the Creative Commons website to choose which licensing rights are best suited to your needs, and then follow the steps to file for your license.

Note: Be careful to avoid licensing work you don’t own the copyright to. In some arrangements, the clients purchase the copyright to the work, so they then have the freedom to choose where and how the design is used.

Revenue streams to consider

Merchandising

One quick way to turn your graphic design into passive income via ecommerce is to turn them into tangible products. Print-on-demand is the perfect model for this type of business and monetization.

And it’s exactly what Kubashi is doing. Co-founders Dexter and Chris Adams flex their creative muscles to create inspired designs for a range of products. They’ve put their graphic designs on apparel, hats, and phone cases.


The best part about this business model is that you can sell products without needing to make massive investments in product development, inventory, or fulfillment. Everything is done for you by a third party, so you can focus on promoting your goods and collecting the profits.

If you don’t want to or don’t have the resources to create your own site from scratch, you can explore third-party marketplaces. Etsy is an ideal spot to sell your graphic design work, and you can also use platforms tailor-made for designers like you, including Society6 and Redbubble.

New York City-based graphic designer and artist Camilo Perdomo sells a variety of merchandise products on his Society6 store. His designs are featured on print-on-demand products including stationery cards, pillows, tote bags, and phone cases.


Coaching and/or teaching

Now that you have the skills necessary to do your own job and fulfill client requirements, you can share those talents with the rest of the world in a different way—through teaching. An additional revenue stream for your freelance graphic design business could take some form of mentorship or instruction.

Former creative executive Michael Janda now focuses primarily on teaching, coaching, and training—less so on the creative execution of work. For something less intensive, SlideRabbit does presentation workshops to help teams improve their design skills.


The idea of coaching and teaching can also expand into public speaking. Andrea Trew, for example, gives talks at events and conferences about graphic design and her work.


If you’re not sure where to start, consider a platform like Patreon. Essentially, people pay a monthly membership subscription fee to gain access to all of your content. The idea is that the content is exclusive and won’t be available anywhere else, and it also gives subscribers access to a real community.

Resourceful Designer with Mark Des Cotes is one example of a Patreon for graphic designers. He charges tiered fees that give subscribers varied access and content.


Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is when you earn a commission each time you refer someone to a business and that person ends up making a purchase with said business. Essentially, you recommend a product or service to your audience, your audience buys it, and you get paid for it. Some affiliate models are based on traffic or leads and don’t require an actual sale.

Affiliate marketing is a viable idea if you have a sizable and/or engaged audience. If you don’t have a digital presence in the form of social media, a blog, an email list, or some other medium, you’ll have to work harder to find people to click through your affiliate links.

If you think it’s a fit for you, consider the products, services, or brands you currently use and stand behind. Then investigate if they have an affiliate program you can become a part of.

Some affiliate programs have a vetting process, while others are open to pretty much anyone. The Adobe Affiliate Program, for example, requires an application so they can review and determine your eligibility.


Digital products

Digital products are an excellent way to make your designs go the extra mile and fuel another stream of passive income. Plus, there are no shipping and fulfillment fees or logistics to figure out—all you need is a way to send the digital products to customers after they’ve successfully placed an order. And you can automate that entire process.

There are so many ways you can go in regards to digital products for your graphic design business:

  • PowerPoint/Google Slides templates
  • Templates for invitations and events (placeholders and welcome signs, for example)
  • T-shirt and other product design templates
  • Custom fonts
  • Social media graphics
  • Designed email templates
  • Books and courses about how to do graphic design

Once you have your digital products ready to go, you'll want to list them either on your own site or on third-party marketplaces (or both). Etsy is one great place to list your templates and digital products, as well as GraphicRiver.


Moving forward with your freelance graphic design business

Growing a service-based business doesn’t have to mean working more hours and taking bigger jobs. There are many ways you can leverage the work you’ve already done and squeeze every last bit of profitability out of it.

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