8 Sure-Fire Ways Freelance Designers Can Earn Passive Income

Why wouldn’t you want to make some money on the side while you’re building your freelance business? Got your attention yet? Good.

As a freelance web designer, I can speak from the heart when I say that there are times in my business building process that I just wish I could work on things I liked all day long and not have worry about anything else. Passive income is the answer to that problem and since I’m sure that I am not the only one who has thoughts similar to this – you need to continue reading :)

passive income

In this article I am going to list and discuss 8 different methods we can earn some passive income and build the ultimate side hustle. In my opinion, a side hustle like this is a must have for any freelancer, because we all know about the feast or famine cycle and the troubles that come along with depending on one source of income. You know the phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket“? Yeah, we’re not going to be doing that anymore.

If at the end of the article you come across some questions or would like to discuss things further, just drop a comment and let me know and I’ll answer any questions you may have.

Stock Photography

With the relative low cost of a decent quality camera these days, anyone can take it outside for an hour or two and shoot some pictures to sell on stock photography websites. One site that sticks out in my mind is iStockPhoto.

Imagine uploading 10 photos a week for an entire year. At the end of the year, you’ll have over 500 photos that people can purchase and you can make money off of. This will take a minimal amount of time on your part and will also give you the added benefit of actually getting away from your computer and getting outside.

Vector/Graphic Files

We’ve all heard of Envato and their huge list of marketplaces that totally dominate the entire world, right? (ok, so they don’t dominate the world, but you get my point)

Why not take some of your old designs that clients didn’t accept, polish them up and place them on sites like Graphic River or Video Hive to see if you can earn some extra cash?

Reseller Hosting

Any web designer out there can utilize this method of passive income to the fullest. Places like This* Web Host (aff link) offer super low cost reseller hosting packages that you can use and sell to your web clients.

Now, you don’t have to build an entire web hosting business (you know, domain, logo & website), but by simply letting your web design clients know that you offer hosting, you can earn some really nice passive income over time. Imagine having 20-30 people paying you $10.00 per month hosting – thats an extra 2-3 grand per year in your pocket.


No matter if you’re a web designer, logo designer or anything in between, we all have creative juices that sometimes just flow out of control.

Put that extra energy to use and design some t-shirts. Make them for yourself and you never know who else might love the design. Places like Design by Humans have members vote on t-shirts and the winners win money. The shirt of the day wins $750, the shirt of the week wins $1,000, and the shirt of the month wins $1,750.

How To’s & Ebooks

You know a lot about your line of work, right? Could you put 20-30 thousand words together in ‘how-to’ form and tell people how to do what you do? Our friends over at Freelance Folder put out the Unlimited Freelancer book and I am sure are making some great passive income from the sales of the book.

Price your book right and pack it full of kick ass information and it can earn you some nice bank while you’re away from your computer doing something else you love.


Along the lines of the method above, why not take some of your knowledge and teach others how to do things the right way.

Do you know how to market a freelance business properly? Sell consulting services that teach other freelance business owners how they can make more money by marketing the right way. What about design/coding consulting? You could turn your knowledge into a pretty nice bank account by offering classes/seminars and giving out tips/tricks on how to design better.


There are two choices (in my opinion) that you can follow here. One, you can create templates (xhtml/css) or themes (wordpress, ecommerce, ect) and sell them on sites like Theme Forest or you can build your own brand up and sell premium themes like Woo Themes and StudioPress.

Yes, if you build a quality brand the work involved may be big, but in the end you’ll have the freedom to design things you love and not have to answer to clients – plus, if you’re that busy building themes, you’re obviously making good money, so stop complaining :)

Affiliate Marketing

No matter if you’ve only got a website that is your portfolio, you can place affiliate links to your web hosting company and other things like the invoicing software your use or premium membership sites you belong to, in the footer of your site where people usually place the “powered by” text.

You can also offer affiliate links during conversations through email/social networks/forums when you’re giving out advice. Make people aware of the links (like I’ve been doing in this post) and you’re good to go. The more your affiliate links are out there, the more likely you are to make some money from them.

So What Are You Waiting For?

Get out there and make some money! Any other tips you’d like to share? I’m sure we could all use some of your wisdom, please share your ideas with the rest of us! :)


  1. says

    This is the same thing I’ve heard for designers, but I’d really like to see a passive list of income for front-end developers. I specialize in css/html and WordPress and haven’t seen anyway to have passive income without design being involved (maybe there isn’t a way). It would be cool to code a simple two column layout with a header and footer and sell that code as a template. Maybe I just hit on a good business idea :P

  2. says

    Hey Amber, you can always try the theme forest idea – or build your own theme business. Theme frameworks are big and people still do buy xhtml/css layouts. I covered that in one of the spaces above in the article :)

    You could also couple your xhtml/css skills with a designer and build up a kick ass theme company where you code a great framework out and they put the designs into them and you split the profits 50/50.

  3. Andrew says

    Well Amber to answer your question : you could team up with a designer, and have the designer make you a design and you code/program one of his as a trade of sorts.

    Or possibly start a psd –> Xhtml/Css or WP Coding site, I don’t have any examples off the top of my head but I’m sure you have seen one of these types of sites.

    Also maybe a design only site, for designers where people can pay them to only design a .psd.

  4. says

    There’s nothing passive about Reseller Web Hosting – every time their email stops working or the website goes down they’ll be ringing you up. You’ll be responsible for something you have no control over if there is a problem. Throw in a bad hosting company that provides mediocre support and your life will be hell. I certainly wish I’d never done it.

  5. says

    I’ve read this before. It might be entirely possible, but it’s time consuming. Affiliate Marketing is the most difficult thing to sell especially targeting without a niche market. I am very connected via social media but I have never generated any passive income using affiliate marketing or any other technique. Every time I submit to any tee contest it’s rejected which is nothing more than a waste of time to me sans using the image for my portfolio. As for stock (anything) it’s not worth it to sell your work for these low low prices only to generate a small amount of income.

  6. says

    Amber – Have you ever thought of creating an e-book/how to guide on how to teach designers how to take their files and turn them into WordPress? Or a PSD to XTML and CSS? I have actually been looking for just that and haven’t been able to find a good resource. I normally design web sites and then job out the programming, but have recently been thinking of learning the programming as well.

  7. Darpan says

    Hi, Nice Post Mike, I was really lookin for such stuff. I have recently joined my dad in his business cause the job (Online Promotions and Branding) was not Financially beneficial. However lately i have realised that tho it wasnt but i really enjoyed doing it cause it was creative… Now i am really lookin forward to strike a balance between enjoyin my work and earning handsomly from my business.. Among few of the plans i have worked out, one is to start freelancing for Social Media Marketing and Graphic Designing, i have collected a lot of info on the same, but i would really like to hear what all options can i consider at this point of time, in terms of passive income..

  8. says

    Awesome post. These are some really good ideas. Another thing is that being freelance designers, our advertising costs are super cheap because we do the design work. I make fliers and contact cards and hand them out at places or go to businesses and offer promotions. We can develop captivating campaigns and materials and the only expense is printing costs. We can promote ourselves with professional design and expand our clientele.

    I’ll be sure to check back, thanks!

  9. says

    I appreciate the motive here, but I’d agree with previous commenters that some of these options aren’t passive — they require a lot of selling, which can be the most costly, labour-intensive and least rewarding work you can do.

  10. says

    I have often thought that photos taken from a shoot could be uploaded to istock, especially being that most of my shoots are done because istock didn’t have a suitable image. But I gotta say that no matter how many times I’ve submitted photos they never get pushed through.

    But I keep trying, as far as the brandstock and digital assets, I kinda feel that its a waste as well, in terms of work that rarely becomes profitable. I am intrigued with the idea of the ebook idea, I have been collecting some ideas for vlogs and podcast. That I can easily see translating these into an ebook, especially if the ebook references the other channels.

    At first I though this was creating “more” work for me, but instead it has become quit fun to do, basically I document the work as I do it through a screen cast, which is the “source” for my tutorial, this helps me kinda “standardize” my creative process, which helps in the normal day to day workflow.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Thanks and Regards

    Noel for Nopun.com
    a graphic design studio

  11. says

    Awesome Article Mike, highlighting some key facts in building your Freelance business on the side. I did a Article on Creativeoverflow where I mentioned 10 Ways a Designer could make some Extra Money. If the Advice is taken up and you do follow some of the suggestions you will definitely have some extra cash each month to spend on something that you previously couldn’t have.

    Keep up the great posts bro.

    Jacques van Heerden

    That link to the article is listed below.

  12. says

    I think it is very hard for a designer to generate any money from selling stock photographs. Let’s face it – to be actually successful you have to be good. And if you’re a really good at photography – you are probably a photographer, not a designer.
    I think it makes sense though to generate your own library of stock graphics. For example icons, or vector collections for t shirt design and then sell those. And I would recommend selling those and promoting them on your own instead of trying to compete on sites like istockphoto and such. It is definitely harder. But if you want to make money you have to be ready to work hard.

  13. says

    This is great info!

    I experienced submitting 3d models in turbosquid not thinking about the potential and I eventually forgot about it. After a year when I visited again it generated passive income. Great feeling!

  14. says

    Hi Mike, good article. As an adjunct to passive marketing folks should consider recurrent income streams, such as subscription models. This is an area I will be developing for my business.

    With regard to affiliates your readers may be interested in becoming an affiliate for my application Surfulater. Surfulater enables people to capture content from Web pages, Word Documents, PDF’s etc. edit it, add notes, tag and organize it and quickly find information again. It empowers anyone who uses the Web for any type of research activity.

  15. says

    Excellent post. I have become engrossed in passive income streams for two years now. I have a full time job in the design field but the passive income can really generate a substantial amount if you put the effort in.

    For sites like istock, it’s not always as easy as snapping a photo and throwing it up there. Istock’s standards have increased tremendously in the last year. I know a photographer who just got into the field and he’s having the hardest time getting his photos accepted. Even then, you’re still not guaranteed a sale.

  16. says

    Thanks for the post, Mike. Nice tips!

    Stock photography stuff, to me, seems like the most feasible one. Its a hobby I used to have, and something I have to get back to (after reading your post).

    Go out. Have fun shooting stuff. Come back and sell ’em. Sounds like a plan to me. ^_^

  17. Dan says

    @ Andrey Smagin

    It sure doesn’t hurt to read up on some photography techniques to take some fantastic photography.

    I say Envato is the hardest place to make any money unless you are really good at what you do, or know enough about making designs and stuff. I don’t really think envato is that good for making passive money at all.

  18. Richard H says

    The Stock Photography idea is a bad idea. If you spend 5 minutes looking through any photo community website asking about stock photo sites like iStockPhoto you’ll discover that they are pretty much universally loathed. They are known as microstock sites, and the problem is as you’ve outlined – anyone can grab a camera, take some photos and upload them. While some other commentors have experienced problems getting images published, by and large the quality published is not great, and they also pay you an absolute pittance for your photos. Other “proper” stock libraries (for want of a better word) will also tend to disregard any connection with you if they find out you use microstock sites. The microstock sites undercut everyone else and are driving the better quality images out of the photo community.

  19. says

    Great post, already taking advantage of a couple of the points mentioned, but will definitely need to get outside with the camera and try my hand at the route as well. Do you personally sell stock photos, is so what is your ball park return.

  20. says

    Excellent ideas!, something that is missing is Adsense, we’re doing good money with it. To make it work, you must dedicate it some time and effort, like for everything…

  21. says

    Hi Mike,

    This information is a definitely MUST-READ for any freelance designers out there! Great Info, mate.

  22. says

    it’s just a shame there’s not enough cash floating round the industry to keep us all in constant design work, like most things now-a-days you have to diversify to get anywhere

  23. says

    Great to know it is possible to earn extra money doing what you love. I really would love to add my names to the list above. But on a serious note im working pretty hard to earn some extra income online, this resource has been very helpful

  24. says

    I’ve been into affiliate marketing at the beginning of this year and all it has given me is frustrations. It is very hard to make a sale, my first sale, and all these so-called gurus are always in your face giving out freebies and selling you different stuffs promising to earn you a lot of money. Right now, I settled on the traditional way of selling. I have a product then sell it directly to prospective customers, not the way these gurus are telling us to do. But I haven’t found the method yet, but maybe someday I will.

  25. says

    These are good for freelance writers as well. I am interested in affiliate marketing, ebooks and resell hosting.

  26. says

    That’s a nice list. For anyone wondering iStockPhoto has a hug amount of vector stock aswell. There may be alot of designers/illustrators who have some work to submit there. There are also alot of metaphorical images listed as “photos” – another opportunity to use some leftover client work.
    The hardest part for me has been finding the time to polish up that old work and actually do something with it :)


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