When you run your own businesses and work entirely for yourself, the biggest challenge is ensuring you have more money coming in than is leaving your business. You’re human, and sometimes you can fall behind on bringing in enough income, especially if you lose site of your income goals for each month or if your clients temporarily dry up.
There are moments when you think: ‘holy shit, what do I do next?’
Most of my income over the last five years has come from graphic art commissions from a range of clients. Sometimes I haven’t done enough to ensure that enough clients are aware of my services and I’ll have months where I don’t earn sufficient income.
Sometimes you prepare poorly for unexpected bills, like I did in the summer of 2014 when I was living in Saigon.
I didn’t set aside enough cash reserve to account for a successful year of income in 2013. As such, I got hit by a much larger than expected tax bill and I had only two weeks to find about $10,000 usd.
It’s experiences like these that are blessings in disguise for requiring you to act quickly, urgently and creatively to make the most of what I had right then and there.
The following ideas have benefited me specifically and worked because of my particular set up and circumstance, but I share them because it might spark some ideas for you too.
1. Writing paid reviews/reports for people
When I found myself needing to make cash fast in 2014, I decided to use my expertise in marketing and attracting clients. Up until then, I’d only shared my knowledge through guides and courses.
I have to admit that I was initially a little anxious to do face to face coaching, so I decided to charge $250 for in-depth written reports for my audience to help them win more clients. The reports meant me looking over their sites and brands and reviewing how they were doing.
Bear in mind I had already built up a newsletter of 12,000 people and a Twitter following of over 100,000 followers at this point.
I joined forces with a social media marketer friend in Vietnam who would contribute to the appraisal, which I tastefully called ‘Client Accelerator’ and set to work on a landing page to advertise the appraisal reports.
I included a couple of other additional bonuses to sweeten the deal including a previous ebook I’d written and a week’s worth of email consulting. With solid, persuasive marketing copy on the landing page, the page converted well when shared to my newsletter and social media following of creatives.
This must have earned me around $4,500 within a couple of weeks, but obviously it helped to have built up trust with my audience through my blog and previous products for a few years.
Sadly the remaining $5,500 had to be earned through rather unsavoury means through my services as a male gigolo. I joke.
Right now, I offer video appraisals for people who want an expert’s pair of eyes on their work and website.
2. Going all in on promoting my own illustration service
Many of you have skills that you can provide solutions to for others as a service, whether that be as a coder, chef, accountant or designer. If you’re not actively working on becoming better at something useful, I’d get started.
For me, I’ve spent most of my twenties honing my skill and style as a digital illustrator, so I have made use of that service to make money — in serious times of need, as well as when business has been less urgent.
Many services are structured so that you get paid after the project is finished, and often weeks after (try your best to avoid this set up). This is the case for much of the illustration work I do, so it’s not ideal for earning quick money.
Nevertheless, there have been occasions in the past when I’ve been struggling financially and I’ve worked to make use of my illustration skills.
The trick is to get your name out there, land jobs and then try and secure at least a proportion of the payment for the job in advance.
When things are urgent, you need to crack open your contacts list and reach out to everyone you know. Not just that, but follow up too, more than you feel is comfortable. Ask people whether they know anyone who might want to work with you.
You need to be really hungry and committed here to finding clients in a short space of time. Don’t worry too much about coming off as needy. Just be honest with what you need and your situation.
Some industries are better suited to being paid for your services before the work has begun, like coaching. Either way, providing a service to the right kinds of people can be one of the best ways to generate income quickly.
Look to areas that are underserved rather than saturated. A lot of illustrators and designers struggle to find work because they produce things that are simply too heavily competed for.
Add as much value and credibility as you can to your service brand, and go out and talk to the people that need you. Don’t stop until you land a new client.
3. One-to-One Coaching/Consulting
In a similar vein to offering my illustration and design work to prospects, I’ve made money quickly through offering one-to-one skype coaching.
I made a lot of money in early 2015 in Vietnam by offering coaching to clients around the world. If it weren’t for the shitty Vietnam Internet connection it might have been even more efficient. I made about $7,000 from coaching work in January of 2015, all of which was paid in advance via Paypal.
I’m working on a course about creating good money from coaching, but the most important thing to know about it is that you only need to be one small step ahead of your client to be a useful coach to someone.
That means you don’t need to be a genius or a total expert in a particular area in order to provide value to someone who is willing to pay for it. You just need to know a little more, and have a little more experience then your client.
That was certainly the case with me and my coaching. I train people on how to gain more clients. I’ve never taken a course in marketing or business. It’s all based on my few years experience as a freelance illustrator and thinking about the topic quite a lot. I also write about it over at Red Lemon Club.
The cool thing about coaching on skype is that you can do it completely remotely, from home, and you can choose how much you want to do each month, and when.
What experiences have you had that you have seen some success in that others would find useful too?
You don’t even need a website to offer coaching, though it helps to show your face and some credibility in the form of testimonials from other happy clients, though it’s not a must.
You can even use a platform like Craigslist or Twitter to generate coaching jobs.
I’ve also found coaching to be a great way to build confidence in talking to — and meeting — new people, so it could be a really meaningful thing to do for a lot of you.
4. Pushing sales of current ebooks and courses
Over the past six years, I’ve self published five or six books and courses that I host online.
So this income-generation method will obviously suit those of you have already have written ebooks or courses, especially if you already built up an audience interested in hearing from you.
It is best to add more value to the sale of a course to make buying it even more attractive.
So, in the past I’ve offered a free short appraisal of someone’s website in addition to buying a $39 course. This means a lot of work over the few weeks following the sale, but it had the additional bonus of leading to more coaching jobs because of being able to demonstrate my value through the appraisals.
5. Writing/creating a course
I once wrote a short ebook when I found myself low on cash. It was called 9 Steps to Becoming Your Most Powerful Creative Self. It’s no longer available because my ideas have changed a little, but did well at the time.
I wrote the thing out in about five days, cutting out all distractions and just smashed it and did my own illustrations for it. Then I grabbed a few reviews from people I knew and shared it with my audience, making about $3,000 in those three weeks.
Places like Udemy or Skillshare were not around at that time. If they were, I might have recorded a quick course and then made it available there and had access to their large pre-built audience on top of my own. Or you could write a short ebook, and have an additional video course on top of that.
It’s amazing how much you can do when you cut out distraction and go all in on something.
Make sure you choose an idea that is highly specialised and solves a specific need. You can go broad, though you will find people are less willing to jump on those ideas because they are available everywhere, often for free.
Ask people what their problems/needs are, identify a solution that you specifically can help with, and make a course or guide on that. My example from previous is way too broad but still made money.
6. Doing a sales push for someone else’s affiliate product or scheme
Don’t forget that hundreds of people out there have made courses of their own that they have made available to resellers, like potentially you.
Udemy offers commissions on any sales you refer to their courses, so you could promote some of their courses for an affiliate cut.
I’ve made money (close to $3,000 in November 2015 on Red Lemon Club as an example) through promoting the courses and products of other people.
Obviously it helps to have an audience already in place, especially a specific type of audience. In my case it is my list of 15,000 creative freelancers who benefit from learning about things tailored to them, like Paul Jarvis’ course for creatives.
The good thing about digital products is that there is no additional cost to the creator of the product to sell additional products. This is why reseller/affiliate commissions of digital products are often quite high (I’ve seen 80%, but 40–50% is more common), and you can take advantage of that.
Don’t forget that if others are offering reseller options for their products, you can do the same via third-party market like ClickBank or E-Junkie.
Other ideas I have yet to try but considering or actively working on:
Taking advance orders for an online group class
As of today, February 24th 2016, this is something I’m actively working on setting up. I have an idea for a course on winning clients that I will offer as a 3 hour, 2-part live course that I will teach in a webinar format.
The idea is to make a slide presentation live video while viewers watch, live, in the comfort of their own homes. The live format is so that I can take half an hour of questions from participants at the end, giving them an extra incentive to listen live.
The classes will be recorded, so that I can earn more through offering the course offline in the months following.
I will set up a landing page with all the details of the class, including testimonials from previous courses and coaching, and take orders before I’ve even created a concrete plan for what I’ll say.
This way, I can take all the money up front, with a money-back guarantee offer in place, as I have faith in my material, and plan the course while I take orders.
Of course you can choose what the format of the course or class will look like, including taking advance orders for classes in real physical spaces in your town.
Another thing I’m considering is offering group coaching of 3–5 people at a time via something like Google Hangouts, or a webinar set up.
This is a particularly good way to make a little more per her of coaching, while making your services available to people who might otherwise have not been able to afford my full one-to-one prices.
Offering a marketing service
I have a site that shares quality work from illustrators around the world called Ape on the Moon.
Right now, we feature art in the form of blog posts for free.
I intend to make it possible for some illustrators to get more exposure by showing their art in a more visible ‘exclusive’ gallery, as well as promoting their work through other channels like our Twitter.
Overall, this would mean that people who otherwise would not have been featured by us for free, get a chance to have a greater number of impressions, and more opportunities, for a monthly fee.
It’s a good way for Ape on the Moon to make a small monthly income.
Starting a Kickstarter campaign for a book or product
If you have a skill that could lend itself to an interesting book or physical product or invention, you could use a platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to generate funds for the project before you’ve gone all in on completing it and offering it for wider sale.
Making use of a crowd-sourced funding platform allows you to spend a minimal amount of time on a ‘prototype’ or a sample of something that could prove valuable, before committing to spending a lot more of your time and energy on something.
At the same time you could stand to earn a lot of money in advance quite quickly.
This is something else I’m working on. I plan to create a printed book (with digital version, even potentially an app) that makes use of my illustration and writing skills and my knowledge on running creative businesses. It will be a picture book for creatives who want to more visually learn the principles of business and marketing in a nice colour book that they can keep.
I’m working on a few samples right now that I will show to attract interest in what I’ll be working on when the funds start coming in.
Obviously it could take a few weeks to a month to have the money in your account, if indeed the target funding is reached, but it’s nevertheless a good way to make money on a project, fairly quickly, on a project that might otherwise never have happened.
If you’re feeling brave, you might take pre-orders on a book, product or course you haven’t even written yet as a way to get funds in quickly in order for you to be able to write it.
This could be done through a crowd-sourced platform or simply in the form of donations on your own web page.
There you have it. If you are reticent to try any of these, start small. Give yourself reason to celebrate a small success and go from there.