Most artists try to start building passive income early on in their business. I mean, it’s smart, for sure. And I recommend that my students find passive income sources to balance their freelance efforts. Y’all know I love creative businesses with multiple income sources!
But here’s where I think it goes off the rails, the advice to build passive income: no one tells you that it’s not just set it and forget.
Years ago when I was selling art prints and stationery in my Etsy shop, I kept reading about Society6 and how it was so easy to just set up a shop and start earning money from you art! And I thought ‘hey, cool, I can offer my art on products that I can’t afford to source on my own and I’ll make some easy money too!’
After a week or so spent formatting my art for Society6 products, uploading my images, and getting my listings set up, I was ready to sit back and watch my bank account fill up.
Which. Did. Not. Happen.
My Society6 shop was active for a couple of years or so and during that time I averaged about $50/month in earnings. So much for set it and forget it.
Because that was the problem. I expected to build a shop on Society6 and then just let the magic happen. Sure, I mentioned my shop on FB (yes, this was before I was even on Instagram!) and maybe on Twitter. Like once or twice. When my shop initially launched. And then I didn’t mention it ever again.
Because I truly believed that passive income meant set it and forget it. I thought that was the deal.
Have you ever been taken in by the easy promises of passive income only to be disappointed by the results?
I see it a lot with print-on-demand shops like Society6 and Redbubble. Or with selling clip art, Procreate brushes, or other digital products on Etsy or Creative Market. Or with teaching an online class at places like Skillshare.
The promise of easy money. It’s so alluring, isn’t it?
What I’ve learned in my 14 years as a fulltime artist is that while the set-it-and-forget-it passive income idea is a myth, it is possible to build passive income into your creative business. It takes a little more work up front and some careful tending here there, but it can be done.
As of this writing, my passive income streams are brush and texture sets that I sell on Creative Market, Skillshare classes (I make about 1 or 2 new classes each year and still earn a regular monthly income when I don’t have new classes), and Photoshop for Illustrators classes. My non-passive income streams are illustrating children’s books, teaching live classes like this creative biz class for children’s book illustrators, and licensing greeting cards (which does have a level of passive income when contracts get renewed every three years or so).
Let’s leave Skillshare out of my passive income equation because I’m no longer making new classes and no longer promote my Skillshare channel. So let’s just focus on Creative Market and Photoshop for Illustrators. Between the two, I earn at least $10000/year in passive income. That’s only about 5% of my total earnings for the year, but it’s 5% that didn’t require much hands on effort for me. And it’s 5% with growth potential!
Want to know how I’m earning money on those digital products and classes?
Well, first of all, I link to them in my IG profile and from my website. It’s always a good practice to have multiple ways of sending folks to your products or services.
But the big deal for me and passive income has been my email list/newsletter! Not only am I able to build deeper connections with my community through my newsletter, thus better understanding with they need to explore their creativity and build their art businesses, but I can use automated email sequences to help new subscribers find the exact product that will make their life easier.
A good example of this comes from the Procreate brushes I sell on Creative Market. I use Pinterest to share a free download of Procreate shape brushes. To get the free download, folks sign up to my email list. Once they’re signed up to my email list, they get added to automatic sequence that does a few things: delivers their free download, points them in the direction of some useful Procreate tutorials I’ve made, and then let’s them know where they can buy my Procreate brush sets.
This all happens over the course of a few days, automatically, without any extra effort from me. And yeah, not everyone buys the brushes, but some folks do buy the brushes, thus earning me an extra few hundred dollars each month.
You can use a similar set up with any passive income source you’ve got going right now by using automated emails to direct potential buyers to your gorgeous products. I guess you can actually earn money while you sleep, can’t you?
It does take some patience during the initial set up phase, but a good email list can truly bring that set-it-and-forget-it passive income that you’re dreaming of, no matter what you’re selling. You can build up your revenue streams and serve folks in your community by helping them find exactly what they’re looking for.
You truly deserve to earn as much money as you want in your art business. You deserve a business that supports you living your best life. You deserve some passive income streams that give you space to focus on other aspects of your art business.
It may not be as super simple as throwing a few things in a Society6 shop and hoping for the best, but if you’re willing to show up for yourself and your art and do the work, you can make your passive income dreams come true.