If you’re a creative professional, chances are you have a number of hard skills that should make it ridiculously easy for you to make money online.
But there’s a catch…it is very difficult to make enough money for long enough to truly earn a living based solely on online revenue sources.
In this article, I will explore some of the opportunities available to creative professionals to generate income online, and some of the reasons why it’s so hard to earn enough money to truly make a living.
How To Make Money Online
As a creative professional, think about all of the things you do on a daily basis that are totally beyond the reach of the average person.
Because, we handle these tasks routinely, it’s sometimes hard to believe that these skills are valuable – but with some hustle it’s pretty easy to make money online.
- Stock Photography and Video: You can actually make a decent amount of money selling stock photography and video online. Micropayment agencies like Adobe Stock (nee Fotolia), Shutterstock and iStock are a waste of time (unless you like to earn whole pennies per sale), but premium agencies like Stocksy United, Offset and even the 500px Marketplace pay fair rates.
- Teach Online Courses: Everyone wants to be a photographer, retoucher, cinematographer, graphic designer, painter or sculptor. If you already have those skills, why not make a little cash showing others how it’s done? Don’t bother with “monetized” YouTube tutorials that pay nothing – you can make good money with online learning platforms like Skillshare and Udemy.
- Graphic Design: As a creative professional, you probably already do all your own graphic design right? So charge others for work you already know how to do! Great graphic design is truly a special talent (and totally beyond my skillset), but if you’ve got a knack for it, you can find clients willing to pay you for it.
- Writing For Blogs: Do you write a blog for your business website right now? Well, believe it or not many of the bigger blogs do pay writers. Pick a subject that you’re genuinely interested in and knowledgeable about – creative fields or even tech, politics, cats, parenting – whatever – and pitch your work. The pay isn’t much ;) but it helps boost your personal brand too. [editor’s note, this is a blatant lie, JP just bought three houses and a yacht]
- Social Media Specialist: Speaking of boosting your personal brand – I bet you handle all of your own social media across multiple platforms, and know how to work the system like a boss. Right now, there are businesses in your community who would love to pay you way more than you think it’s worth to manage their social media accounts. (I honestly did not believe this until talking to a few friends who own quite small retail / cafe local businesses – they pay some serious coin for their social media presence!)
- Website Design and Retail: You run your own website, you probably run several websites – chances are it wouldn’t take much to escalate those skills to a full fledged website design and retail business. Of course, you have to have a certain level of technical know-how and you can’t exactly sell people Squarespace websites (or maybe you can…) but if you’re already working with WordPress or have your own server space (or rent server space), website design and retail can earn quite a bit of money (even if it is a huge pain in the a$$).
- Fine Art and Direct Sales:
Selling fine art photography, painting sculpture etc. is a tough hustle – but if you cultivate a network of local galleries and retail outlets you can make a respectable amount of money. The same goes for direct sales – getting your work in front of buyers without an agency takes a lot of work, but you get to set the prices and keep 100% of the sales. And forget about Etsy, I don’t know anyone who actually makes money selling on Etsy.
- Pursue Copyright Infringements: If you publish your work online (and who doesn’t), there is a very strong chance someone has used your work without permission. It can be surprisingly profitable to use a service like Pixsy to pursue payment for those infringements.
Why You Can’t Make A Living In The Online Economy
This could be a stand alone article, but there are five main reasons that I see making it nearly impossible to earn a living based solely on the online economy.
- Rampant Copyright Abuse: The single biggest problem with the online economy is the pervasive idea that if it’s online, it should be free – leading to the normalization of copyright theft and a massive devaluation of creative content (and everything else that is bought and sold online). The fact that the biggest online tech businesses in the world – Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube etc. all rely on the publication and distribution of copyrighted material without compensation (or minimal compensation) to copyright holders makes copyright abuse an inherent quality of the online economy.
- Volatile Platforms: The online economy is fickle – what is popular today can be gone tomorrow (or sold and disbanded). You could spend years cultivating sales or a following on one platform (such as with a preferred stock agency or social media platform), only to see all that work disappear tomorrow – it’s like a game of Snakes and Ladders, sooner or later you’re going to land on a snake end up right back on start.
- Skewed Supply and Demand: The perception is that there is a massive oversupply of creative works available – photographs, video, graphics, illustration, painting etc. Therefore, in order to compete, prices must be low right? Wrong. The reality is that there are a very small number of creative professionals who actually produce great work on an ongoing basis and demand for that work is larger than it has ever been – but prices don’t reflect reality.
- Economies of Scale: The giant tech firms that dominate the online economy are all based on economies of massive scale – quantity over quality. Consequently, every online business seems forced to use a similar business model (how else can you explain mobile apps that never cost more than $1.00…if they’re not free). The perception of cost is set by the giants at free or nearly free – and individuals can never reach sales volume that make it worth the time to produce the product in the first place. The bottom line is that it pays to be a content distributor, on the backs of content creators.
- Competition for Brand Relevancy: The online economy is populated by a very small number of winners (brands that are popular and profitable) and losers (everyone else). This is the opposite of landing on a snake in our volatile platform analogy of Snakes and Ladders – to be relevant you need to land on a ladder and shoot to the top – a viral image, working with a startup platform that hits the big league, an feature by one of the giants etc. You can improve your chances of hitting a ladder by strategic hard work – but in the end it’s impossible to predict when (if ever) you will gain enough cachet to make a profit.
Is It Possible For Creative Professionals To Make Money Online?
Yes, it is possible to make money online – but it is very difficult to make a lot of money, or a lot of money for long enough to earn a living.
What suggestions do you have for making money online? Have you been successful?
What do you see as barriers to earning a living in the online economy?
Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!