Let’s start by uncovering the mystery about selling your creations without having a business, an email list or doing any kind of marketing… Let me introduce you to the concept of passive income.
This is by far my favorite business model because:
- It allows you to create freely, without a briefing or a client imposing their opinion
- It can bring infinite sales without you having to work more
- You can literally make money while you do other things (sleep, travel, spend time with your family…)
And how does this happen?
Well, by selling digital products through third marketplaces. These marketplaces are online websites specialized in selling these types of products. For example, in CreativeMarket they specialize in selling clipart, fonts, templates… In Shutterstock, they sell photos, illustrations and videos. In ThemeForest they sell Website Themes.
You get the idea, right?
These platforms are already doing their marketing, so all you need to do is create an amazing product, describe it the best you can, and they’ll bring the traffic (and sales) for you.
Why would they do that?
Well, because they get a commission. It’s how their business grows. They benefit from selling your products, so if you do your job well (creation) they’ll help you thrive.
Now that you know the strategy, how can you benefit from it? You need to identify your talents.
It may be that you are a multi-passionate creator like me and you have multiple creative talents that can be turned into digital products. That’s awesome! Take notes of all of them, we’ll go back to that list in a later step.
If, on the other hand, you have a primary talent, don’t worry at all! Congratulations, you are ready to move to the next step.
for artists, designers, photographers, makers…
I’ve decided to recap my experience as a creative business owner to help you understand all the ways you can possibly make a living from your talents.
Step 1 - Investigate
The first step is something that most of us try to avoid but it’s key to success: research.
Start by looking at what’s trending in your niche.
Pinterest is a good place to do this exercise. Create a new board (it can be secret if you don’t want to mess with your curated aesthetic) and search for your talent. Whatever that comes up that can fit the definition of a digital product, save it to the board.
At this stage leave your taste aside. We don’t want to save only what you like, the key here is to save what appears in the first results because these are things that many people are saving – meaning they are trending.
Can you identify something you could do? Perhaps you can even do a better version? Is there a gap in the market?
For example, when I used to dedicate most of my time designing branding and webs for other entrepreneurs, I loved presenting my proposals with photo mockups because that really helped my clients visualize the end product.
After doing some research I realized most of the mockups people were selling were too impersonal. They had a white or plain background.
I wanted something beyond that, I wanted to tell a story and to represent the personality of the brand I was working for. There was a gap in the market. And since I’m a photographer’s daughter and I was traveling at that time, I saw the opportunity to fill that gap.
I decided to create my own mockups and, why not, sell them to other people like me. And it was really successful!
So if you find there’s something you wish you could buy but you can’t find it online and it’s easier for you to create it by yourself… Go for it and turn it into your passive income machine!
Step 2 - Decide your product
It’s time to decide what product type you will focus on. Start by brainstorming all the possibilities. If you don’t have lots of ideas, I recommend you to download my free list with 40+ ideas for different creative niches.
Keep this list somewhere handy, as you may want to come back to it in the future.
Now go through the list and start highlighting those that excite you. For each one of them, ask yourself: does this fit with the passive income digital product definition?
You can watch this video to understand what makes it a good digital product:
As a summary, your product must be:
- Ready to download after the payment is received
- No need for you to do any changes afterwards
Download this free list of digital product ideas
I always recommend starting with the lowest hanging fruit, meaning the easiest.
You’ll have plenty of time to learn new skills and investigate new techniques. Remember, the goal is to get your first sales as fast as possible, so avoid anything unnecessary for now.
What’s something you are good at? Something you can do faster than the other ideas on your list?
Start with those because it will make the rest of the process much easier.
If you start with something absolutely new to you, it may end up taking ages to complete a single product and by the time you upload it for sale you’ll be discouraged to continue. You’ll start thinking it’s not worth the time, and this is not what I want for you. That’s why I insist that much to keep things simple, because I want you to succeed and be motivated to continue.
Finally, consider a product type that can turn into multiple product variations. It can either be different topics, for example with clipart kits; or different styles or aesthetics like you would if you decide to sell WordPress themes; or simply different purposes and uses, like for example if you plan to design fonts or Procreate brushes.
It’s important that the product type you decide offers the possibility to create lots of different products and even bundle some together to sell at a discounted rate if you ever want to.
Step 3 - Decide the marketplace
Step 3 is all about deciding where you’ll sell your new digital products.
This guide is focused on bringing passive sales for you, which will come from third marketplaces specialized in your type of product.
That’s why you won’t need to have an audience, an email list, do any kind of marketing or even have a business if you don’t want to.
I have a full training called the Beginners’ Guide to Passive Income in which I review and share my experience through all the platforms I’ve tried, but if you want to do your own research this is what I would do:
First, search on google for your decided product. Open the links that come up in the first results and take notes of all those that are marketplaces.
Then, go through their web page and search how to apply to become a seller (it usually is at the footer of the website). Take notes of the requirements and apply as soon as possible.
Do not postpone this step. Even if later on you decide to not sell on their platform, it is better that you do it now rather than waiting until you have your product fully created. Many of them will need to review your application and this may take days, sometimes even weeks. That’s why the sooner you apply, the better.
Do not forget to review their commissions, licenses and terms & conditions. Most of them do not require exclusivity, meaning that you can sell your same design/product in other marketplaces if you wish to. But there are a few that want to get exclusivity on what they sell. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth your time, but my recommendation is to always try everything you can. You never know what’s going to work and what not.
Remember that if you want to learn my exact experience with income reports and pros vs cons evaluation of each platform I’ve tried, you are welcome to join my course the Beginners’ Guide to Passive Income.
Step 4 - Create your first product
While you wait for your applications to get accepted, it’s time to focus on creating your first digital product.
Think as a user: what do they need? What will they use this for? Will they know how to install or use it? Will they need some kind of instruction?
As experts, we may assume everyone will know what we do, but if they are willing to pay for it, chances are they may need more instructions and help than we expect.
While you design your product, take notes of everything you do. Even the smaller step! Sometimes I record my screen and save the video in case I need to review how I did something later on.
The ideal is that once you create your first product, you keep creating more regularly and this routine helps you avoid forgetting your workflow.
But the reality is that you’ll take breaks, and believe me… You’ll be grateful to have those notes to come back to when that happens.
When you have your product ready, think about the delivery.
Unless the platform you decide only requires you a specific file format (Adobe Stock for example does that), my recommendation is that you ZIP everything together in a folder with a descriptive name. Inside that folder you can add an extra PDF with instructions and, if you think it’s necessary, the license rules.
Step 5 - Describe the product
This is one of the hardest parts, I know it because I’ve struggled with it for a while and because it’s what all my students struggle with the most.
But I’ve found a workaround to turn this daunting task into a quick and systemized one.
You need to create a template for yourself. This means that you’ll put most of the effort on creating the first product description, but later on you’ll only need to tweak a few words, copy and paste the rest, and you are good to go.
In order to start creating that template, you must start considering the following questions:
- What is it that you are selling?
- Why did you create it? What’s the inspiration behind?
- Who is this for?
- What exactly do they receive after purchasing your product?
- How can they use your product?
- What can and can’t they do with it?
- Any extra specific FAQs your product may have.
If you want to use the template I created for myself and my students, you can get it as part of the Digital Product Creator Toolkit. It’s a swipe-file document with instructions and examples to help you create your own description. And remember, once you create the first one, you’ll only need to change a few words for each new product you create.
This Toolkit includes many other things, but a top favorite is the list of keywords and hashtags. Which brings me to the next point.
You want to use descriptive and trending keywords on your description. Especially during the first sentences, because that’s what usually Google indexes.
If you don’t know how to do your own SEO research, the toolkit is again your best friend. Inside you’ll find a list of trending keywords that do not have lots of competition, together with Instagram hashtags in case you want to promote it on your social media profile too. It also includes a video tutorial teaching how to find more relevant keywords for Etsy.
(Optional) Step 6 - Design the promotional images
Some platforms, not all, require you to upload promotional graphics. Sometimes they call them images, sometimes thumbnails… but the end result is the same: they are meant to convince the user that your product is the best solution to what they are looking for.
I have created a free guide (also included inside the Digital Product Creator Toolkit) which explains the most important things to consider when designing your promotional graphics. You can download it for free through this link or get the full toolkit for only $27 to unlock other tutorials, the description swipe-file and keyword lists.
FREE Guide to design promotional images
Obviously the key of these images is to describe your product without needing words, but another thing you want to make sure you don’t forget about is to stand out from the competition.
It’s good to start by doing some research, selecting those images that you either find attractive and/or are explaining very well what’s included in that specific product.
Use them as inspiration but find your unique style so that they don’t get lost in between other similar looking images.
An exercise that’s very helpful is to take a screenshot of the first results on the marketplace of your choice when searching for your particular product, and add your own images in between the results.
You can quickly do this in Canva or Photoshop, it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s a private exercise, nobody else needs to see that image, but it will really help you see if your image stands out or if unfortunately it doesn’t capture your attention.
In this case, you need to work a little bit harder on it.
Step 7 - Create a system to repeat
Once you publish your first product you’ll have a mix of emotions. You’ll probably be proud, excited, but maybe also tired and conscious of its worth because of the time and effort you put into it. Do not let these feelings stop you from what’s important now: You must continue.
A mistake I often see (and I’ve done it myself too) is to publish 1-3 designs and wait to see if they bring sales in order to decide if that’s worth our time or not. MEEEH! Error! If it brings sales in the first days or even weeks, you must celebrate like if there were no tomorrow… because that’s not common.
And if it doesn’t, do not throw the towel. It doesn’t mean at all that your designs aren’t good or that there’s no market for you.
They probably will sell in the future, but you need to give them time. One of the reasons why they need time is because they need to be indexed by Google and other search engines, to get enough data so that when someone searches for your keywords they can show your product to them.
It also helps a lot being consistent. Publishing one product or a collection every week will help you grow much more than you expect.
I’ve tried it myself with multiple marketplaces and it always works like this. Moreover, it helps the algorithm notice you more than if you were posting one product every month or even every year.
Also, it gives more variety and opportunity to cover different needs. It may be that what you consider to be your best design is not what your customers are looking for. By offering lots of products you are increasing your chances to match their desires.
A good way to be consistent is to commit to a goal. I usually set myself a number goal, which I later increase when I reach it, and a timeframe. For example, when I decided to give back the opportunity to Shutterstock. Long story short: I made the previous mistake. I uploaded only 3 images, saw I only sold one and decided it wasn’t worth my time – but then 4 years later I decided to follow my own advice and give it enough products and time to test, and now I’m so glad I did it!
The number goal really varies depending on the product type and the platform.
For clipart kits and CreativeMarket, I think a first good goal is 25 items.
But for patterns in Spoonflower or Shutterstock I think you’ll need a minimum of 100. And if we talk about Print on Demand websites like Society6, Redbubble or Zazzle, then maybe even a 1000 (counting that you’ll use the same design in between 25 to 100 different physical products).
When it comes to time commitment, my recommendation is to give it around 3 months.
That should be enough to start seeing recurrent sales (if you’ve been posting regularly) and then it’s time to evaluate if it’s really worth your time and effort.
Remember, even if the first platform you try doesn’t reach your expectations, do not throw the towel. Once you have the products created, you can upload them to multiple other marketplaces (unless they require exclusivity, of course).
This will be just a small percentage of work compared to the one you put up-front creating the products themselves.
And if the first platform is bringing you the success you wished, consider also transferring those products to other similar platforms and start comparing the results. The more places you sell, the better. It’s the way to scale and grow a passive income business.
Inside the Digital Product Creator Toolkit you’ll also find a spreadsheet calculator and tracker to keep notes of each sale you do. It will compare the earnings of each platform and your monthly income. It’s one of my favorite tools to use and I would love for you to have it too!
As you see, the first product creation is the hardest one because it requires much more research and you need to test your process.
But once you start, do not stop there! Continue refining your methodology and growing your digital product collection at least during 3 months until you have enough to analyze and conclude if it’s worth your time or not.
After that, expand your reach through new platforms until you arrive at a point where you can take a break or even stop creating products forever.
I’m now at that point with many of the product types I sell, but if you are anything like me your passion and creativity will never die so you’ll probably always have new ideas, products and platforms that motivate you to try and start over with them.
I hope this guide helps you and motivates you to start your passive income journey. It’s definitely the best thing I did for my creative business and I regret not having started earlier. That’s why I’m on a mission to convince every creative out there to hop on the train 😊
If you want even more help, here you have a list of the mentioned resources: