My secret to making steady money as a freelance designer

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I share money-making tips here at GDB all the time. They include upselling your design projects, generating passive income, specializing in a particular discipline or skill, and many many more.

But there’s one key to making money that I fear I haven’t been very clear about.

It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything from you – I want you to be successful too! But it’s something that I have just kindof been doing all along and never really thought to talk with you about it.

So what’s the secret? I diversify my income.

Same ol’, same ol’

It’s really easy to fall into the same old routine as a designer. You find a client. You work on a project. You get paid. And then you start all over again.

But if you want to make more money and make money more regularly as a designer, you’ve got to think outside the box and find more ways to make some cash. And I mean lots of different ways. Not just two.

A penny here, a penny there

I have actually gotten to the point where my side-ventures make me more money than actually doing design work. I make money from blogging (both here at GDB and for other bloggers who are willing to pay me), I make money from affiliate work, I make money from referring some clients to other designers, and I make money from many other little avenues of income.

And the little bit of cash I make from all of these different avenues (blog advertising, sponsored posts, paid writing, consulting, referrals, etc) bring in a significant amount of cash each month.

Sure, I only make a little from each one of them every month. But since I have taken time to diversify, I have money coming in from many different places at once – and it adds up. Some people recommend budgeting software to help keep track of the different sources of income.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

See, here’s the trouble with relying solely on design projects as a source of income. What if your clients run out of money? What if you suddenly suffer a terrible accident and lose your site, or motility in your fingers?

Heaven forbid any of these things ever happen to you, but what if.

If you only have one source of income and you lose the ability to milk that source of income, you’re in big trouble.

How will you diversify your income today?

I’m giving you a challenge: Find a way to diversify your income as a freelance designer today! Don’t put it off. Don’t let it sit on your to-do list for months and months.

Find a way to diversify your income today and then share your decision with me in the comments of this post.

Good luck!

*Please note, in keeping with my advice, the link above to Quicken is a paid link advertisement and helps me pay the bills for this blog. Thanks for reading!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee


  1. And here I thought you were going to give me a get-rich-quick idea! Silly me.
    I have a couple of passive income products, but they haven’t really taken off yet, and I’m working on more, but it’s a slow process. Like you, I’m hoping that generating several smaller streams of income will eventually add up.

    • @Theresa Sheridan,
      If you don’t mind my asking, what are the sources of passive income you currently use? Are they working well for you?

      • @Preston D Lee, I resell domain names and hosting accounts, mostly to my clients at the moment. I also have some things on Zazzle, and I have an eBook about SEO. The products on Zazzle don’t do much, but I don’t work at promoting them because I’m just too busy. The eBook is starting to do a little better, but the domain names and hosting do the best at this point. It’s just so hard to promote everything at once, and still promote my design services as well. Oh and school. Oh and the part time job I still have for the time being. Can we say burn the candle at both ends?

        • David Rouri says:

          You won’t make money on sites like zazzle or other sites. Any digital is not worth money because it can be reproduced to other people for free and it has no physical property that can pass from one person to the next. The best advice is to take up oil painting and paint on canvas. If you work doesn’t sell in oil paint it means you need to practice more. You will have to sell your artwork locally and go to public auctions, galleries for artwork sales. You can create actual 3D signs made of plastic, metal, etc..or even letter fonts which alot of businesses are more interested in than just a digital copy and you’re giving them the final product. Nothing digital will sell unless you are a big corporate.

  2. Can you give a ballpark figure on what you earn on each of those different venues?

  3. This “article” is pretty skint on usable information. Not really worth anyone’s time, is it?

    • @dsr,
      Your comment is a little ‘skint’ on usable information as well. How would you suggest I make this post better. I would love some constructive criticism.


  4. I agree some more info would help.. all you mention is you do “side ventures” but not how those actually make money. For example I run on the side using cafepress.. and it brings in a few dollars a month. some months better than others..

  5. I’m thinking to make a side business too beside my steady income using my design skills. Hopefully it will work out slow but sure. Thanks for the article though.

  6. i liked this article, a venture to generate passive income will help me alot, however the venture is my choice and which ever direction i want to give that, it is for me to find out. cant ask more from an article!


    • @maria,
      I appreciate the kind words. A few people thought it was vague, but you understood the point of the article. Find something that works for you. The tips I use to diversify my income may not work for you and vice versa. The idea is just to diversify. Best of luck!!

  7. My situation is a little different… I’ve been there and done that. Had to pull over and actually take a hiatus because my site was too popular (without the education). Now I’m just building a database of content for the years ahead after getting some professional training. AdSense is starting to come around again using different methods without a web server. Still, there is a lot of problems yet with the way advertising money is being distributed. IMHO, TV ads should be worthless compared to YouTube ads which have REAL numbers. View counts are the most important factor when broadcasting your content.

  8. So this isn’t really a blog about making money as a designer, more about making money with other projects and working as a designer on the side!

    • @Si,
      I guess it depends on how you look at it. Just because I make money from my design blog, does that mean I’m not a designer? I would say no. I guess what the post is really about is adding to your repertoire of work as a designer.

    • @Si, Exactly Si. Title should be changed for a more accurate read! “Part-time jobs to get you through.” Of which I entirely agree with.

      //Beth @ the Phoenix Marketing Agency

      • I’m afraid you both misunderstood. All of my diverse income still stems from design. I blog about design, I consult designers. Just because my other projects don’t involve me aligning elements and choosing fonts, doesn’t mean I’m not working as a designer, right. What do you think?

  9. So Preston, what’s a designer got to do to get a referral from you?

  10. I take Up your Challenge !! ;)
    Thankx so much for the Heads up . I was solely Dependent on my freelancing work for the inflow of Money, But you are Completely right in saying to not to keep all my eggs in the same basket.. i am trying to diversify my income.

  11. I recently toured 6 industrial design offices with my nephew; I’m a longtime freelance designer and he’s a freshman in ID at Syracuse. Much of what I saw bears out in this article, only more so. Design consulting is basically not a viable business model right now for many companies of all sizes, for a variety of reasons.
    The industrial design offices we visited have leaned hard on their affiliated services, such as engineering, manufacturing partners, other design disciplines, and spec projects. Spouses with benefits figured large!
    Recurring themes were diversifying their service offerings, selling up to old relationships and cultivation of symbiotic relationships, building bridges to China, and limiting spec devotions to 10% of working hours.
    My spec efforts include a travel comfort invention, a fundraising system for farmer’s markets (plantacarrot on youtube), a new decking system, and a security system for protecting copper plumbing in HUD foreclosure properties.
    Shameless self promotion: visit my website and let’s talk about how I can boost your product line’s orbit.

  12. Hey there…. I run my own studio designing for the music industry and I agree that finding passive income to supplement your income is the way to go. One way I’ve had some success, is through Art Licensing. For those not familiar with this, It’s creating artwork & designs and then putting deals together with manufacturers that want these designs on their products. You usually get an advance up front and royalties on the products sold. This does take a bit of time to get rolling, and There are trade shows to attend as well (LICENSING SHOW in Vegas and the SURTEX show in NYC) which are not too cheap. But if business is slow, and you have time to create new lines of art, it can be a very cool area to pursue. I actually get some pretty nice royalty checks from designs for kids school folders and cell phone case graphics.

    There are a few sites out there with alot more info on this topic if you’re interested. (

    Good luck out there…

  13. I have been looking for a way to make income all my life. I started a blog to get a following, but that has not exactly panned out yet.

    I sell on etsy and on ebay and that is not awful but I cannot live on it, and I work as a restorator for an antique lighting store. That one used to be a real job and now it is less so. I need about 3 more jobs and then I might be getting somewhere.

    Thanks for asking.

    • @meg,
      The idea is also not just to keep adding more work to your plate, but to find passive income streams that will help you make more money without putting in more hours. Good luck!

  14. plz i need ur help am in a state where there is no mush money an am a graphic designer what can i do.

  15. I really liked this article for a couple of reasons. It helped me not to feel like I was the only designer who also does non-design related work. (I’m currently waitressing part-time.) This article also helped motivate me to come up with other ideas to diversify my income, maybe not a blog or paid writing, but SOMETHING. Thanks :)

  16. There is no money in web design.. web design is a joke industry.. no one pays real money anymore to have a site designed. They just go to places like template monster and buy a site for $60

  17. Actually your vague ideas could be summarized thusly, ‘do other stuff besides be a designer’, which is kind of, duh. Nice google traffic driving story title, though!

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Sorry you feel that way. My real message here is to diversify your income as a designer. Good luck!

  18. I think this post was great! It’s kind of a “duh” subject, haha. Some people are complaining because you don’t give out specifics, but I find it motivating to have to be creative and find out what can work best for me as a designer.

    It’s been difficult lately. Putting out $10k websites for $2500… And no passive income. It’s hard, but I do need to take the time NOW to find other ways to bring in money and not put it off. Simple, but awesome post. Thanks!

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Totally agree. I guess I could have written a long list post of 100 ideas, but I’m sure some people would complain about a list post too. Can’t please them all. If people wanted to get something out of this, they did.

  19. I think the article was just fine, it was short and to the point. Everyone is different and excels in different areas, so how can one expect you to tell them what to do for a stream of extra income? If they can’t figure that out for themselves…. well, it makes me question how creative they really are.

    Myself, I’m still in the process of figuring out how to build my client base but I am always thinking of ways to bring in extra income. My current way is by making and selling gourmet cake balls (a 2-3 bite sized ball of cake, flavorings, frosting and chocolate in the shape of a ball)…. they are absolutely amazing!

    This is my first time on this site and I have found a few great articles to help me with my freelance design business, Spotted Banana Creative Studio. I look forward to all the future posts!

  20. I’ve been a web designer for 8 years and I can assure you that there is no money in web design unless you are employed full time by a company making a salary. Web design is joke. Nobody pays real money anymore for web design. They just go to any of the big template shops and pay $60 for a design then have them customize it… or hire some college kid for 100 bucks to build a site.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Sorry you’ve had some bad luck. I still make pretty good money as a web designer. I think it’s all in how you market it!

      • I agree with you, Preston. Freelancing as a web designer isn’t a joke, it’s just a lot of work. I know so many amazing freelance designers that make just as much not if more than a salary paying job. You need to have a high quality portfolio and the right marketing strategy for yourself. If you complain and don’t work towards your own goals, then you’re absolutely going to fail. It just takes a lot of time! That full-time position didn’t pop out of no where, that company had to start from nothing and take the time to build. Just like you do, as a freelance designer.

  21. Sorry, did I miss something here? Your article title is “My secret to making steady money as a freelance designer”, but youMy secret to making steady money as a freelance designer haven’t actually given any specifics?

    You’ve just sort of alluded to something people could do?

    Maybe the content of the article should be summarised thus “think of a grabby blog post title, waffle a bit, get sycophantic readers to provide real content for you”? I think that’s the real secret!

    @dsr – I’m with you mate – this is tosh!
    @adam – you too mate, you+nail+hit+head.

    • Preston D Lee says:

      Hey ian,
      Sorry if you missed it, but my point is bolded above. Check it out and read a little slower. I’m sure you’ll get it. Good luck!!

  22. Preston this was a great post. Too bad some folks didn’t “get it.” Losing my job 3 months ago opened my eyes that you really shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. I believe I read about diversifying your income in The Millionaire Next Door. I think diversifying keeps you well rounded with money in your pockets.

    I’m a crafty person. In addition to my budding design business have a ribbon shop on etsy. While that’s not passive it allows me diversity in my workday. Also another income stream I’m looking into is becoming a fitness instructor. While its not passive it allows me to get away from my desk, get out of the house, and get some exercise. I guess it would be considered passive if I created exercise videos and sold them on my site.

    Once again I really enjoyed this post and I enjoy reading your blog.

    • Shop Girl,

      I’m a referee/umpire for youth sports and high schools – I love it because it gets me away from my desk and moving/getting exercise, too! (It’s not passive, either.)


  23. Hi there! I have worked as a graphic designer for almost 25 years in Sweden, and seen it all! 15 years ago we decided to move north to my wife’s hometown, away from my rather big job market in Stockholm. I new it would be hard to get a good job, and well, after 3 jobs as art director lost due to lack of clients at the agencies I worked at, I popped out on the unemployed market, no jobs as a designer to get anywhere due to a small town with small opportunities. So, I drive a taxi, to be able to pay my share of the household (got two kids), and the rest of my time goes to my work as a graphic designer at freelance bases. But then Sweden is an expensive place to live in, and having a family you need to do what has to be done to keep the money coming! I really wish I can live of my design in the near future again, and I work hard for that.

  24. Hi there! I just recently graduated with my Associates Degree in Graphic Arts, and I’m good with the Adobe Creative Suite programs (i.e. Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator), is there anything I can to make money until I do land a “dream” job. I’m thinking about designing letter-headers, bumper stickers, and maybe do resumes for people who don’t have time to do them. Is there anything you can suggest?

  25. Your article just got right in. My income depend mostly on ONE client, although I have started to diversify.
    If something goes wrong, if my client has an accident, it all goes down the drain. I have known that for years
    Hope to open a webshop, and I am also doing a site for graphic freelancers for job seeking, news and offers.
    Thanks for reminding me

  26. There are a lot of ways for designers (and anyone else) to make extra $$. A good designer is creative. So be creative. Look at coming up with ideas to make money as a design project.

  27. Sound advice for anyone, web designer or not. Gone are the days when you could rely on your employer (LONG gone) no matter if you’re a consultant or salaried at whatever you do. Always be looking for little jobs and opportunities. I know of really no one that I would consider wealthy that has 1 job, and that’s it. Side investments in real estate and consulting gigs can pay off. Look down the road, not only for the short term and plant seeds if you’re young.
    Coincidentally, I just published a post on a site of mine explaining how to become an Amazon affiliate for beginners (–probably too elementary for this crowd, but a penny here and a penny there all adds up, and a year from now you’ll wish you had started today.

  28. Yikes, Preston, lots of negative vibes coming at you from the comment section… I personally think the title was fine, and the content useful, although I was expecting more but I think that would actually be spoon-feeding.
    Anyway, I just wanted to ask how you go about getting to guest post on other blogs? Do you approach bloggers with your ideas or concepts of what you’d like to bring to their blogs? Have they all approached you? I have approached a few sites in the past and got no response, so I’d like some advice on how you go about getting them to take you on and pay you.

    Thanks for a great site!

  29. i’m using designcrowd and graphicriver (evanto)

  30. i wouldnt ever advise anyone to become a web designer. one of the worste career fields around. everyone and their dog offers cheap web design everywhere these days.

  31. You are right Preston, it’s a must to have more than one income. As long as all roads lead to Rome ( my bank account). I also design accessories. I love merging designing with fashion. @Preston, could you explain how buying domain names and reselling them works. Thanks Happy New Year

  32. I really like the idea of multiple streams of passive income. I’ve sold some of my photography through stock photo agencies. I’m currently working on producing some stock audio recordings, to market through stock audio companies. I’m keenly interested in finding many more passive income sources. Diversity is a great asset!

    Say, I noticed that this blog is using my initials for its name. I don’t suppose I could talk you into paying me royalties for that little privilege? ;)

  33. Preston, I’m with the positive commenters. This is a good post and when you talk about “My secret…” to me that means you’re talking about what works for YOU, which may not necessarily work for everybody else and their sister. Everyone is different, so yeah, put your brains to work to get some creative ideas on what could work for you, negative folks!
    Still, it’s good to have a balance in the comments, because I learn from that too :)

    Best thing about this post for me? To know that I’m not alone, trying to make money in different ways, while having a (full-time) job. I’m a translator, virtual assistant, customize WordPress sites, use Adsense, affiliate links, sell on eBay, etc. (Don’t ask where I find time, LOL). I thought I was crazy to try it all, but your post reinforces the idea NOT to depend on one source of income. So I’m on the right track, and not crazy at all :) Thanks again!

  34. Hello,
    I am freelance Graphic/UI Web Designer. My freelancing is not as static as I expecting need some tips and guides from you guys.Hope to get something useful & helpful


  35. I’m completely new to this. Have a small portfolio, and not allot of cash to begin with. I’m a good designer, though I lack the idea’s required to really make money at this, working on a few sites like zazzle and what not putting designs on products to sell. Want to know if there is more that I can do so if you can help would be amazing.

    • @Wes as a freelancer myself I generate other income from also reselling marketing products that my clients need. I diversified by business by not just selling design but selling marketing solutions which include print, promo products and even trade show accessories like banners, displays etc. Hope that gives you some ideas..and good luck!

  36. Great post Preston!

    The information was very helpful and I appreciate you sharing this :) As Designers, we have endless opportunities and sources for earning extra income. I’m a newbie when it comes to earning extra money online ; my day job and freelance keep me busy but when I get some good personal work done I like to turn them into something I can sell on

    Thank you again for your wise words. It’s always great reading your blogs!

  37. Hi all, great input. Do you love design? Well passion is power…stick with it…live it, talk about it wherever, add to it, like: email marketing (create adverts for companies, business card designs, logo designs – AAA logo maker…Wordpress surveys and polls on yr blog. Set up a community website and put useful affiliate links and get paid commission, eg. Rent a car, health products, gym, accommodation guest houses, hotels, etc.

    Resell created templates online. Start a business listing site free and paid listings. Do a review site and get paid by restaurants, hotels, etc to boost their exposure, ie first page placement at the top. Get money back from sending print jobs to printing companies. Sign up with Adwords and promote your design services…go past a school or high traffic area and ask to put your design services sign up and pay the school or residential home owners a small instalment per month…make it a win win deal.

    Do referrals whereby people that promote and get you design business will get paid…be honest and pay the guys even if they didn’t know that their referral gave you business…remember the law of the universe knows to give back:)

    P.s I think Preston has long since left or moved on from this post…but left a great legacy…thanks to all of you!

    • Dean, Thanks for helping keep the conversation alive! I wish I had time to respond to all the comments on all of our 500+ blog posts. I appreciate the extra help and keep up the amazing work, everyone!


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