Making money as a designer doesn’t have to be confined to either working in-house or going out on your own as a freelancer. Picking up a side business that utilizes your design skills, is a great way to increase your income and reach your financial goals faster, whether that’s eventually going full-time for yourself or jetting off to Thailand next summer.
But here’s the eternal challenge: Keeping up performance at a demanding full-time job and making meaningful progress with your side gig can be extremely difficult.
Here are nine top side hustles that hardly feel like work, because they align with the skills and interests you’ve been consistently building over time as a designer. While a few offer more earning potential than others, each of these share low barriers to entry and the flexibility to work as little or as much as you’d like.
1. Create Digital Products
If you have a knack for creating widely applicable design templates, icons, and other graphical elements, there’s a huge market of business owners and lean marketers who are in regular need of these products. As a low-effort starting point, sign up to sell your templates, icons, backgrounds, and other graphical elements in the Design Cuts Marketplace, on Creative Market, or GraphicRiver where you’ll earn either a commission or fixed fee for each sale of your design elements.
If you want to scale this model, consider selling directly from your own website to begin building your own personal brand. Then, if you work hard and create enough connections with like-minded designers, you can take this to the next level and spin your library of design resources into a full-time online business and marketplace of your own, like Design Cuts has done.
2. Take on Freelance Projects
Choosing to start a freelance business, has been by far one of the most positive career decisions I’ve ever made. Aside from the obvious monetary benefits of taking my skills out to the marketplace for hire at significantly more than I make at my day job, freelancing has helped me build relationships with high-growth startups in my niche, New York Times bestselling authors whom I’ve looked up to for years, and it’s helped me build my personal brand in a thoughtful direction for my future business goals.
Just take it from freelance designers Preston Lee and Paul Jarvis, who’ve used their vibrant freelancing careers to launch themselves into other successful businesses down the line.
3. Teach Online Courses
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the term, “passive income,” because I feel that it often understates how much work goes into running even a somewhat self-sustaining business. However, taking your skills and packaging them into high-impact, actionable lessons to help other professionals (or beginners) in your space, can become extremely lucrative while keeping your day-to-day workload to a minimum.
Test your way into selling online courses by launching on platforms like Udemy and Skillshare, then work your way up to teaching for larger audiences on sites like CreativeLive. Once you’ve grown an audience of your own, transitioning over to selling courses on your own site will become the most profitable in the long run, and Teachable is building a suite of tools for online educators to host courses with relative ease.
4. Start a Blog
While it’s typically a much slower path to generating than other side hustles, starting a blog and organically growing a loyal, dedicated audience within your niche can be a massively profitable business in the long run. If you can create content, whether written, visual, video, or otherwise, that provides value and engages a well-defined, specific audience, over time you’ll have a lot of monetization options.
Take it from Jake Jorgovan, whose post on how to make $1,000+ per week on Upwork, has helped him open several revenue-generating doors. From affiliate deals, to sponsored content, targeted advertisements, and your own line of digital products, once you have your own audience built, the monetization possibilities become endless.
5. Build a Membership Community
Designer Hangout, billed as the premier UX community on Slack, boasts a membership of over 6,000 UX designers that come together to discuss everything under the sun as it pertains to user experience. While one option could be charging membership fees to join your community on Slack, Facebook, or elsewhere, Designer Hangout has opted to take a completely different route to monetization. They rigorously vet all new membership requests, and instead of charging to join, they make money through partnerships with companies like Adobe, around their regular event series and featured listings on their job board.
6. Teach at General Assembly
General Assembly has long been a powerful force in the design education world. If you’ve got the experience within your area of specialty, they’re frequently looking for talented new teachers to lead classes in over 15 major cities around the world and online, on topics ranging from UX to basic design principles, web design, and more. Depending upon the frequency of class sessions, General Assembly instructors can make anywhere from a flat $500 for teaching an online class, to tens of thousands for taking on a more immersive class with multiple sessions per week.
7. Become an Online Coach
Career and life coaching has exploded as a lucrative field in recent years, with the advent of easy-to-use online tools and marketplaces like Coach.me and Savvy. With the opportunity to leverage your skills and expertise in a way that gives back and helps others make meaningful progress in their careers, becoming an online coach can easily be one of the most rewarding side hustles. Most online coaches charge either by the hour or per session, and offer topic-based packages that help their clients achieve a very specific goal by the end of the engagement. Check out how Ramona Fellermeier formulates her coaching sessions and give Regina Anaejionu’s post on how to start a creative consulting business a read.
8. Launch a Podcast
Podcasts have never been more popular. Like the Despreneur Podcast has done very quickly, if you’re able to make a connection with your audience and create value-packed episodes, you can easily grow your listenership into the thousands. Once you’ve built an established audience with similar interests and demographics, brands and useful product & service providers will gladly pay sponsorship fees to get their offering in front of your hyper-targeted audience. If you’re able to make the list as a top 10 podcast for designers, your listenership growth will skyrocket.
9. Create Physical Products
Designers have a serious advantage when it comes to creating aesthetically pleasing physical products. Business skills can be learned, but it’s much more difficult to hone your ability at designing products people will inherently love. If you have a knack for creating clever illustrations, a side hustle as a greeting card designer could be right for you. Start by submitting your designs to sites like Ohhdear to have them turned into cards without much personal involvement. Eventually, you can print your own through small bath print shops like Mama’s Sauce and make higher margins by selling your cards direct to consumers on Etsy.
For more ideas on how to earn more money on the side, check out this comprehensive list featuring over a hundred more side business ideas.
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