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5 Strategies to Help You Build Your Design Side Hustle

5 Strategies to Help You Build Your Design Side Hustle

Growing a side hustle is one of the fastest-growing ways that creatives are generating income. It requires no clients, little upfront investment, and, once you’ve built a product, it takes little maintenance for the product to continue making money.

What exactly do I mean by a side hustle? There are many, but they tend to break down into a few categories:

  • Digital downloads (brushes, textures, actions)
  • Fonts
  • Courses
  • Merchandise
  • Subscriptions

For example, my business, RetroSupply Co., sells Illustrator, Photoshop, and Procreate brushes, textures, fonts, and templates. Currently we have approximately 100 products that brought in $390,000 last year. I spend time on the business every day, yet I’m confident I could stop doing anything and the business would make money for years.

Here are five simple strategies to get you started that have been used by many people I know with successful side hustles. If you want to dig in deeper into the possibilities of a side hustle, be sure to check out my course on LinkedIn Learning.

1. Be an opportunity hunter

Successful creative side hustles start by spotting opportunities that come in the form of tiny problems that your audience is struggling with.

A great example of an opportunity hunter is my friend Jeremy Vessey of Hustle Supply Co. Jeremy is a lettering artist based out of PEI. He mixes his love of hand lettering and nature photography to create beautiful work.

Since he first started lettering, he’s participated in Facebook lettering groups and forums. One day he noticed that a lot of lettering artists shared one of his frustrations. They hated making the small filler words between the fun, swooping cursive words.

Jeremy saw an opportunity. He purchased a copy of Glyphs Mini and made a simple hand-lettered font for creating filler words fast. He opened a shop on Creative Market and posted the font, where it became a best-seller that has generated well over $20,000. It was also the beginning of his popular font foundry Hustle Supply Co., where he makes a full-time living today.

Profitable side hustles start by carefully observing your community.  Be on the lookout for little problems and annoyances. When you find one, be the one to create a solution.

2. Reveal your tricks

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You look at a post on Instagram or Dribbble, and, in the comments, someone asks a question:

  • What font did you use?
  • How did you add that texture?
  • What tool did you use to get that effect?

The creator has responded to every bit of praise on the piece but doesn’t answer questions.

A lot of designers feel that sharing secrets will cost them clients and money. This is crazy. No successful designer’s career has been built on a secret font or technique.

Design is not magic. You’re rewarded for revealing your tricks. Share your secrets with wild abandon. People will thank you by following your work and supporting and purchasing your projects.

3. Be a capitalist

If you want to make money with your side hustle, you need to be a capitalist. That means you need to get comfortable continually asking people to open their wallets and purses and give you money.

I send emails, Instagram posts, tweets, and Facebook posts every week asking people to buy RetroSupply products. They don’t get mad. They like buying useful, interesting, and fun things — just like I do.

So how can you strengthen your capitalist muscles?

Here are a few ways to grow your side hustle:

  • Share your products where your target audience hangs out.
  • Ask people to buy. Your customers aren’t mind readers. Tell them you want them to buy and exactly how to do it.
  • Read books on entrepreneurship, sales, and marketing. Learn about sales funnels, copywriting, risk reversal, and pricing strategies.
  • Pay attention to how companies sell you things. How did you first learn about a product? What grabbed your attention? What made you decide to buy?
  • Start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. Successful side hustlers know that entrepreneurial skills are as essential as a good product.

4. Start before you’re ready

I started my side hustle in the coffee shop near my house. My first product release was scary. My inner critic was fighting me the entire time I started RetroSupply.

  • What if people called me out as fake?
  • What if I got bad reviews?
  • What if real designers put me in my place?
  • What if my product didn’t work right?
  • What if I made a fool of myself?

I didn’t feel ready. But I was also broke, had a baby on the way, and was desperate. My fear of not providing for my family was more intense than my fear of looking foolish. So I launched the business before I was ready.

It turns out it was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family.

Did I make mistakes? Yeah, I made a ton of them. But I also found out that I was better than I thought. People were happy to give me feedback and help me improve my products.

Start before you’re ready. There’s no other way to start.

5. Create a mini-distribution system

One of the hardest parts of growing a side hustle is getting traffic. This isn’t “Field of Dreams.” If you build it that doesn’t mean they’re going to show up. So what’s the secret to attracting customers who want to buy?

My friend Tom Ross shared a strategy with me that is practically guaranteed to work. Tom realizes the power of a single relationship. When he started his business, DesignCuts, he built relationships with his audience one by one.

He found his audiences-chosen platforms and then became a friendly and helpful member of that platform. What a concept, right?

Here are some of the things Tom did every day while he built the business:

  • He commented on people’s work.
  • He asked questions.
  • He shared his knowledge.
  • He got on Skype calls with creatives.
  • He connected people that could help each other.

Not once did he ask for anything. He was being part of his community. When he finally launched his first bundle on DesignCuts he had hundreds of buyers.

He knew what his audience wanted. He had built trust. And when he released the product, his audience shared what he had made with their friends (and they bought, too). This wasn’t because they owed him a favor, but because his tribe trusted him and liked him. And all things being equal, we help people we like.

Don’t be one of the 95 percent that mess this up

I’ve taught workshops, created courses, and given talks on building a side hustle for five years. I’ve seen more than a thousand people try to build a side hustle. Only 5 percent of the people make even a dollar. Why?

Ninety-five percent of people don’t ever start. They come up with ideas and names for their business. They might even come up with a first product. But none of it sees the light of day.

Be the person that launches stuff. Make your product and put it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of 95 percent of your competition.

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