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How Designers are Monetising their Skills

Four ways to use your design skills and augment the earnings from your day-job

While there is no denying that economies and spends are contracting, there are several opportunities out there that can help designers top-up their earnings. Some of these are new, but many have been around for a while. We talked to a bunch of creators and brought you the findings. It’s a long but rewarding read, so strap yourself in.

1. Play the Stock (Image) Market

As a designer, you probably go to stock image sites frequently to search for images, but have you ever thought of them as a source of revenue? Starting only with photographs, most stock sites have expanded into illustrations, video, vector graphics, icons and templates – all assets that an enterprising designer can create without too much effort.

How it works

The bigger players like Shutterstock, iStock and Adobe Stock have stringent acceptance guidelines. While they have the most traffic, you will also face the most competition there. Smaller stock sites (Dreamstime, 123rf, Bigstock, 500px) exist too, though there is no definitive answer to which one is best for buyers or contributors.

Signing up can be one-click (500px) or might need an application review (iStock). Most sites have fixed pricing, which varies depending on whether the purchase is one-off or part of a subscription / pack. On iStock, you can choose to be an exclusive contributor, which will earn you more per purchase.

It can be complicated, so we did the math for you.

  • A beginner can make anything from ₹16-₹250 per image, or ₹210-2010 per video license. Why the range? It depends on whether the buyer purchases one-off, or as part of a pack, which you do not have control over. More often than not, it will be the latter, so account for the lower end, at least to begin with.
  • It also depends on whether you’ve chosen to be site-exclusive, an option provided by iStock. For example, a beginner’s minimum earning per photo on iStock can increase from ₹16.5 to ₹27.5 per image, and ₹414 to ₹518 per video if they opt for exclusivity on the site. 
  • Payouts can also vary if someone chooses to buy an extended license of your work. The same image that earned you ₹33 under an Adobe Large subscription could make you ₹1848 if bought under an extended license.
  • Typically, the more you sell on a site, the more you earn. For example, royalty on iStock triples if you’re part of their ‘most-downloaded’ contributor tier.

THC Advice

Stock is very much a patience and volume game and rewards those who are in it for the long term.

In the first few months we would see 1-2 downloads per month, but now we see upwards of 100.”

Charudatta Rane, Co-founder, GetMyStock, one of the top Indian contributors to Shutterstock
  • To begin with, put your work on multiple sites. Take the time and effort to tag and name intelligently to increase discoverability.
  • Identify gaps by studying what is trending. (Google Trends and Shutterstock’s Shot List are good resources). For example, India-centric imagery and vectors with Indian motifs were not very common across the sites we studied.
  • Have additional skills like coding? Shopify or WordPress templates greatly expand the marketplaces available for listing your work
  • Consider free platforms like Pixabay, Pexels and Unsplash. While they will not make you money, they are a good way to see what works and boost your  visibility.

“When I used to work in marketing, I used Pexel’s images a lot. Now I am providing my own images as a way to give back.”

Vikas Sawant, one of the top Indian contributors on Pexels

2. Preach What You Practice

Teaching can be a rewarding way to make money, as well as boost your reputation. With the options available today, you can start off as small as you like and scale up if things go well.

How it works

There are two broad routes you can take:

1. Live sessions: Test the waters by going live to your own friends on your social media platform of choice. For inspiration, watch creators like James Stewart, creator of the popular Hey Buddy comic strip, conduct behind-the-scenes workshops on Instagram.

If you are confident of developing a more formal course or workshop, move to live Zoom / Webex sessions. You can market this yourself, or list on a platform like PaytmInsider or BookMyShow.  For example, watercolour artist Vikrant Shitole offers a two-hour basics course on Paytm Insider. The platforms have different deals on offer – from free listings to paid marketing support.

2. Pre-recorded videos: You can record videos at your own pace and host on a MOOC platform like Udemy, Skillshare or Unacademy. This demands considerable effort and requires  good recording equipment and professional editing.  Platforms will typically take 1-2 days to approve and list the course.  Another option is to host for free on Youtube and monetise via ads or branded promotions, but this is only viable if you can command healthy organic traffic.

What you can earn

This varies greatly depending on what you plan to teach, for how long, and at what level.  Illustrator Abhijit Kini, for example, charges ₹300 for a cartooning course listed on PaytmInsider. Most one-hour sessions on the ticketing platforms range between ₹100-₹250, with the platforms taking a 5% commission.

If you are listing a course on a MOOC platform, you will need to experiment with pricing. Udemy normally takes a cut of 50% on your course price. Skillshare works differently, offering a 30% (of memberships) royalty pool to instructors and additional payouts depending on the course attendance.  YouTube offers $18 per 1000 ad views.

THC’s advice

  • Identify a niche you can credibly own: For example, Niteesh Yadav, Product Designer at Headout, channeled his typography experience into a 90-minute workshop which he listed on PaytmInsider for ₹399-₹599. This initial course was successful and he plans to scale it up to a larger one. 
  • Identify a gap: Is there a space, skill or angle you think is missing? Perhaps a crash course (“Figma in an hour” recommended a UX designer friend). Another approach may be to think of regional language content – only 58 of Udemy’s thousands of design courses are in Hindi. 

In fact, some of the most popular standalone design-coaching channels on YouTube are in Hindi. One such channel, with 271,000 subscribers is run by designer and filmmaker Rajeev Mehta. His channel features instructional videos and tutorials in Hindi. These videos, he says, fills a gap created by mostly English content. Mehta tells us that 10% of his subscribers have paid ₹1000 for his paid typography course, comprising a video that can be downloaded from his site.

Merch to be Gained

Admit it – most designers harbour the secret desire to create a physical product that brings joy to other people. The ‘merchandise from Indie designers’ scene in India has been slow to take off, but this may be set to change. From wall art to stationary, home decor to lifestyle accessories, an increasing number of designers are creating and selling merchandise

How it works 

Again this depends on your skill and confidence. You could adopt any of the following routes.

1. The DIY Way: Most people start by gauging demand via their social media profiles. Showcase your products on Instagram, Facebook or Whatsapp and accept payments directly or  via payment platforms like Instamojo or Razorpay, which will take a percentage fee (around 2%) as commission. Designer Daribha Lyndem and visual artist Errol Crastra sell  rugs and artwork respectively, using only their social media pages.

When you’re ready to up your game, you can consider more feature-rich options such as Instamojo Stores or Facebook Shops (yet to launch in India) to list your products. 

2. Curated platforms: Indian platforms like KultureShop and Propshop24 curate merchandise. The latter, for example, has products from more than hundred independent Indian creators. There are also global marketplaces like Etsy, which favour crafted jewellery, clothing and collectibles and have hundreds of products shipping from India.

“The platforms provide convenience with production, sales and logistics support that otherwise become a headache for designers to figure out. It’s a decent in-between option (between selling on social media and having your own site) for people who are simply looking to make a sale.” 

Nikunj Patel, Mumbai-based artist who sells on KultureShop.

Your own site: And finally, when you’re ready to take the leap and turn this hustle into a business, consider opening your own online shop! Good examples of these are Alicia Souza’s eponymous accessories site, photographer-turned-leather designer Khyati Dodhia’s The Black Canvas or photographer Jugal Mistry’s instantly identifiable Bombay Trooper accessories. 

Leather accessories from The Black Canvas

Dodhia’s project, for example, started off as a hobby. “I was working as a photographer and taking up little commissions on the side to paint customised shoes. The custom shoes led to making customised leather journals on requests from friends and it got popular from there.” she tells us. She views curated platforms as a great way to test the market and advises transitioning to an owned platform later for more control on content and brand building.

What you can earn

On curated listing sites, platforms will take cuts which could be anywhere between 5% to 30% of sales. Etsy, for example, charges a listing fee of $0.20 per items and a 5% cut of the sale. If you are on your own, your biggest headache (apart from the creation of the merchandise) will be marketing and distribution costs, which can be significant.

THC’s advice

In our experience, designers tend to get caught up with the process of creation, something they have a natural affinity for. The hard truth, however, is that  getting paying customers is a long, hard trudge, with many forks in the road. Instead of jumping in with a big investment, start small, gauge interest, build a community of advocates and grow from there.

4. Paid Content & Patronage

Lastly, you can develop content and either put it behind a paywall, or make it free and rely on patronage.

How it works & what you can earn

Paid content: New platforms like Substack have made it easy for content creators to distribute and get paid for their content. (Substack charges a 10% commission). You can also go completely ‘low-tech’ and use a closed Whatsapp or Facebook group, using payment platforms or direct transfers to collect the money. At the end of the day, your audience pays for the quality of content and the convenience of accessing it. 

Engineer and maker, Anmol Maini’s experience running a paid Whatsapp-based newsletter of Indian startup news is encouraging.  Maini tells us that the initial subscription of ₹99 sold out in half an hour, as did those with subsequent price bumps. Currently, he prices the newsletter at ₹299 and has just hit an annual revenue of ₹1 lakh.

Anmol Maini, author, Keeping Up With India newsletter 

Patronage: For creators seeking patrons for free content, Patreon is the big daddy, built for recurring support. Rachita Taneja, freelance artist and human rights activist who is the brains behind the webcomic Sanitary Panels collects monthly patronage of $315, to help sustain her comic. Similarly, satire filmmaker Ramit Verma of Peeing Human fame has 431 months patrons who help him turn his hobby into a full-time job. This writer himself co-runs a satire newsletter, which has raked in ₹40000 in patronage over 3 years. It is a good practice to offer your patrons something in return – be it exclusive content or early access. Verma, for example, has a closed Facebook Group for $3+ contributors. 

THC advice

  • Own a very tight niche: People will generally pay for content that has a clear raison d’etre. The more specific and niche, the better. This will help you find a community and grow from there. 
  • Be consistent and regular: If you are charging a fee, then your audience expects to hear from you regularly (being consistent about when you post is advised) and will be quick to point out any perceived lapses in quality.

Go Do It

As more ‘creators’ look to monetise, more platforms will spring up to address this need. Facebook, for instance, is experimenting with Facebook for Creators, a monetisation platform for video creators. This is a good time to start thinking about what you could offer. The important thing is to focus on what you create and why you think it adds value to the audience you are addressing. It’s not an easy road, but if you persist, it could be a rewarding one. We hope we’ve inspired you to at least think in this direction and we look forward to seeing what you create.

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