We are living in a time where making money online from your creative skills is easier than ever. Even better, there are multiple ways in which you can make money.
I’m going to try to cover all the types of passive income for artists you should be considering and which I will be personally pursuing, as in the process of researching this article I found some avenues of income I was unaware of.
The list is in order of most importance, not in terms of easiest, as I believe creating a website should be foremost on any creative’s list of things to do first.
It’s good practice to diversify your income streams, so while I wouldn’t advise trying to do everything on the list straight away, concentrate on the first five and then as you build your business start incorporating more.
Table of Contents
What is Passive Income for Artists?
Some say there is no such thing as passive income. This is just semantics. When I am speaking about passive income in this article I define that as income that can be generated from a completed work. Something that you don’t necessary have to keep returning to.
Having said that, that doesn’t mean you never have to revisit that completed work. You may need to update it, or tweak it at some point.
So now we understand that let’s start!
One of my favorite phrases is ‘you don’t build a house on rented land’. Concentrating solely on building your business on social media is dangerous.
Social media platforms aren’t perennial. Just ask influencers who had millions of subscribers on Vine or MySpace to have them disappear when the platforms folded.
You don’t want to be in that situation, so spreading your reach to multiple relevant platforms is the best strategy.
Another issue is you are beholden to algorithm changes and issues with rules. There have been many million subbed channels that are taken down for breaching rules.
Or have their income reduced with rules changes like the YouTube children content policy.
A personal website is fully under your control, not someone else. You decide what content goes where, not an algorithm. And as long as you pay your hosting and other fees, no one can take it away from you.
Obviously the reach isn’t the same as a social media platform, but with good SEO, sharing strategies, and utilising social media you can generate incredible traffic from organic search and social to your website.
A website gives you further authority and professionalism. Having a portal for anyone to find you on search engines is important.
It’s your job to make it easy for clients or customers to find you. It’s not their job to hunt your content down.
2. Amazon Affiliate
I’m going to separate the Amazon affiliate program from other affiliate programs, mainly because it’s possibly the best converting website on the internet.
It’s definitely the easiest affiliate program to create, maintain and make money from.
And the first of any affiliate program you should look to. As a creative or artist, your audience will want to know about your thoughts on various products and also what tools you use.
Viewers or readers will expect links to these products, which will most likely be on Amazon. It makes sense to make those links affiliate ones. An affiliate link makes no difference to price.
One big issue with being an Amazon associate is the commission rates are very low and Amazon are continuously cutting them.
You need to make a lot of sales to make meaningful returns. Fortunately Amazon converts really well, so with consistent content being uploaded, you can scale the sales with time.
3. Affiliate Programs
Once you’ve got yourself going and have either an audience or have traffic coming to your website and social media platforms, you can really start to hunt around for affiliate programs.
And the great thing is most big web based services will have an affiliate program. The best ones will even provide media kits with banners, logos, screenshots etc. to help you promote their product.
The best way to use an affiliate program effectively is if you already use the product. This makes you more genuine and honest.
Promoting a product you have never used means you can honestly give an approval of a product as you don’t have experience with it.
Don’t forget you should always make sure you are clear to your viewers when you are using affiliate links. This is usually a legal requirement.
4. Website Adsense
With a website you can start adding ads to the web pages or posts straight away with Google Adsense.
However I would probably hold off on using Google Adsense. The return is so small for smaller websites it’s almost not worth the effort.
Your website needs to be getting around 10,000 viewers at a minimum to start returning good adsense revenue.
And at that amount of viewers you start qualifying for better adsense programs like Ezoic or Mediavine.
With these adsense programs you can start generating much better revenue from your ads.
5. Referral Programs
These are similar to your affiliate programs, except that you have to be an existing customer.
You can then ‘refer’ someone to make a purchase. The incentive being that in return you can receive a commission, or gift card or discount etc.
Referral programs work best when you have an existing relationship with your referrer, they might be a fan, family or someone else that you know, whereas with affiliate programs you do not need to know anyone.
For this reason affiliate marketing has more scope to scale for more revenue.
eBooks used in this method do not have to be too long. I’ve signed up to mailing lists to receive six page ebooks.
5. Email List
Building an email list is one of the most underrated assets you can have.
Even if you for some reason lost your website and social media platforms and access to all your followers. Having an email list means you would still be able to contact your audience.
How often do you check your email? With an email list you have direct access to someone. Imagine being able to get content straight to someone’s inbox with a message, product or offer.
There are some really clever software tools that help you manage emails to an email list. You can create sales funnels to maximise conversions and sales, guiding a customer through a sale from being unsure to being upsold on a product.
I recommend starting with Mailchimp which is free for up to one thousand email members.
Convertkit is another email list service that has some better tools but it is a paid for service.
6. Write an eBook
If you’re starting a business based on your creative skills then you will be better than a novice.
You have some skills and you know more about your craft than the average person.
If that’s the case then you will be more than qualified to offer advice and tips. One of the best ways to package that information is in a book. In this case an eBook.
The reason for an eBook and not real book, although that’s perfectly fine too, is the smaller costs involved. You don’t have to print an eBook.
Lots of people like to digest information in book format so offering this alternative to your content is a great idea.
The main reason I think an eBook is a great idea is using it as an incentive to join an email list. Offering it as a free resource once they’ve signed up means you can build a contact list of people who may be interested in your future paid content.
7. Online Course
Similar to an eBook if you know more than someone starting out in your niche, then you have something to offer for them to learn.
And there will be people who are prepared to pay for your knowledge and insight.
Of course an online course is a huge undertaking and will take a lot of planning and effort.
But it’s a great tool in your arsenal of passive income tools and will also translate that you are an authority in your craft.
This is definitely one income I am keen to add to my own list and I will most likely opt for Kajabi.com which seems to be a popular online course software.
With Kajabi you can create a course with their software then they can host a website and then create sales funnels to navigate clients through a sale.
8. Print on Demand
A good friend of mine who is a fantastic artist runs his own business selling prints of his artwork.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to subsidize his artwork by offering a cheaper alternative to his original artworks which go for much much more.
He personally uses Shopify with a printing service which works seamlessly for him.
I would advise using this income avenue once you have established a good fan base or audience.
9. Clothing Merchandise
This is similar to number eight in that selling clothing merchandise will only work well to an established fan base.
The type of audience that will buy merchandise will be the type that one, wants to support your brand, perhaps because of the value you provide them in return.
Or two, as a fan, they want to show that they like, love, adore, your brand.
The go to merchandise are t-shirts, hoodies or tops, with branding or a logo.
This is not the same as a clothing line, in which that becomes its own brand as opposed to a way to ‘wear’ your branding.
11. YouTube Adsense
YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google, so I have always advocated that any creative should be on YouTube in some form.
Now video might not be part of your craft, but there are always other opportunities to include video as part of your content strategy. Like vlogs, behind the scenes, outtakes, how to tutorials, montages etc.
If you can create consistent content on YouTube and build a substantial audience and fulfil the YouTube requirements for monetization of 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours in the last 12 months.
YouTube pays really well when you have a large audience and depending on which niche you pick, you could earn more.
For instance a business niche channel will get paid more per 1000 viewers (CPA) than a gaming channel would per 1000 viewers because of the buying power of each audience. But bear in mind, gaming will have larger audiences anyway.
12. YouTube Memberships
YouTube has recently introduced membership levels for subscribers who want to support and get access to more content from the channel.
This similar to Patreon, which is another passive income on this list, and is great for building more of your relationship with your hardcore supporters.
Extra content you could offer could be bonus videos, live streams or access to private areas within the membership area.
13. YouTube Superchats
For a while YouTube has offered this great opportunity for YouTube live stream watchers to instantly send money in the chat to the channel.
This can be done for multiple reasons, for support, to say thanks, or to get attention for a question.
It’s not a scalable or consistent passive income and it’s also barely passive in that you still need to be present for superchats to work.
10. Stock Photos
You don’t have to be a photographer to qualify to upload to stock photo sites.
This is a brilliant way to utilise the photos you have, as someone may want to use those photos for their own work.
I personally use:
- Getty Images
11. Stock Video
Again just like with photos, the market for video is arguably just as big.
Video is huge.
People are looking for all sorts of video, stop motion, slow motion, regular motion, drone footage, footage of things you might think is mundane.
Some tips are: do your research, make sure what you are uploading, is something someone is downloading. Be clear with your video, what is and who it is for.
Licencing can be done for nearly any work, photos, video, music, illustration and almost any form of art.
You can grant a licence for a particular use of your work, and the fee charged will vary according to the type of use required.
You write a licence defining the usage right which your client has purchased, which gives both artist and client protection regarding the usage. Some limits of usage will be actual use, area, duration and exclusivity.
Again this is not as passive as some other streams of income here, but because the work can be done and you can make multiple licences for that work it’s not something to overlook.
Patreon is a membership website, which is best utilised when you have already established an audience. Not organic traffic to a website, but actual fans invested in your work.
It works by establishing levels of membership, in which subscribers pay a monthly fee to support the creator.
The level of membership determines the amount of content available to the subscriber.
The most common strategy is for 3 tiers of membership, with the bottom tier getting access to a bit of content for a small price and the top tier access to a lot of content for a larger price point.
This is entirely dependent on what type of creative you are. But for artists, offering templates as a digital product is something that is sought after by other artists. So is an opportunity not to be missed.
Specifically for photographers. LUTS are look up tables used to add a ‘look’ to a color graded photo in Adobe Lightroom.
Photographers like to emulate other photographers and LUTS are the best way to do this.
Presets are custom filters or actions that perform certain tasks within software applications.
I used them in all Adobe software from exporting presets in Premiere Pro to editing presets in Lightroom etc.
This is specifically for Adobe Photoshop, Procreate and other drawing applications.
This is something I personally want to get into. Typography is such an interesting subject, and if you have a talent for letters, numbers and symbols, this is a unique digital product to sell.
I hope you’ve got lots of ideas of avenues of income you can now explore. If you are just starting off check out my pillar article on How to ‘Start a Creative Business‘, in it I link out to multiple resources and articles to go further in depth on everything you need to be successful.
Also don’t forget to check out my creative business content in video format on YouTube.
Artist / Photographer / Videographer