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The sales cycle for service businesses, such as graphic design, takes a long time. “Long time” means six months to a year or more from first contact to closing the deal. Yikes! Here’s more not-so-good news to consider. Many freelancers and small studios only have a handful of clients. Typically, one in that handful is the cash cow, representing the majority of revenue for the designer.

Picture this. You’re happily designing away for Cash Cow, Inc., minding your own business, when the phone rings. It’s Ms. Big at Cash Cow telling you they’re going with someone else. You start doing the anxiety dance. There are all sorts of reasons this can happen, many of which are unavoidable. Nonetheless it happens, and you need to be prepared.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you did something once and money kept rolling in, month after month, year after year. You’re in luck. You already have the skills. It’s called Passive Income. It also goes by other names such as; additional revenue streams; residual income; multiple streams of income, etc. But, the bottom line is to create once, sell many.

Let’s take a look at a few ways designers can virtually make money in their sleep. Well, there is a bit of work required such as marketing and promoting.

Design and Sell T-Shirts and Other Merchandise

CafePress, Etsy, Shopify and other resources make this [almost] a snap. You focus on your product(s) and they focus on payment processing and fulfillment and other day-to-day operations.

CafePress has been around for quite a while and offers more than just t-shirts. Your delightful designs can be emblazoned on mugs and other drinkware; posters; various types of accessories; iPhone and other types of cases and more.

You could create a design theme or character and have it printed on several products to sell on your CafePress store. Stores are pretty easy to set up. You buy products from CafePress products and you mark them up.

Design and Sell Greeting Cards

As with t-shirts, there are several places online where you can print and sell your greeting card designs. CafePress and Zazzle are two. An online search will find more on-demand printers for your designs.

Another option is licensing your designs to various publishers. Pick up a copy of Artists Market and look up some companies that buy designs and illustration.

Then there’s always the do-it-yourself method where you have your cards traditionally printed offline. But, this can be a fairly costly method, both in terms of money and time. You’ll not only need to have the cards printed and market them, you’ll also need storage space. Plus you need to do the fulfillment shipping.

Develop and Sell Digital Products Online

Designers can develop all sorts of digital products such as tutorials; membership-based e-courses; plug-ins; apps; forms and/or templates for designers and other creatives.

I sell an hourly rate calculator online. I originally developed it for my design business. I set it up to sell through my site and the payments are processed through Paypal. The calculator has been featured on many sites and blogs over the years. I won’t get rich on it, but it’s nice to get an unexpected, “You’ve got money,” message.

Selling Unused Designs

If you’ve been a graphic designer or illustrator for any length of time, you probably have several designs that never saw the light of day. They might be brochures, logos or various vectors. With a bit of work to make them generic, why not sell them on your site or one of the many stock sites online. If you also do photography, this is a natural.

Selling e-Books, Reports, White Papers and Articles

Release your inner Hemmingway and start writing. Writing’s not for everybody, but there are plenty of outlets where you can generate some extra income.

E-Books are all the rage these days. They’re relatively easy to produce and distribute, plus they can help to position you as an expert. Clients tend to love hiring experts. Everybody’s an expert at something or at least they know more about a particular topic than most.

You could sell it on your site or a third party site. Then there’s Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing;;, powered by Barnes and Noble and many more.

Another product idea is selling reports and white papers. They focus on a specific topic and are usually six to eight pages. Topics for designers might be working with a designer; print production tips; web design tips or similar topics. Additionally, white papers are often structured in a “problem – solution” format or case study.

Writing articles is an excellent way for a graphic designer to position themselves as an expert. Poke around the web and you can find sites that pay for articles. They don’t pay as much as print magazines, but a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. Plus, these sites have a built-in audience.

Become an Affiliate

Many types of companies use affiliate programs. Essentially you sell their product and they pay a commission. Some programs pay just for sending traffic. popularized the idea way back in 1996. Since then it’s become a great way for companies to market and sell their products or services while site owners make a bit of passive cash. There are loads of affiliate programs out there. Odds are, there’s one or more that are a perfect fit for you.

Many hosting companies offer affiliate programs. That’s a natural for web designers. ThemeForest is another one. If you design e-newsletters, Constant Contact might be a good one for you. is yet another possibility for graphic designers, as is

With a bit of creative thinking you can likely come up with other passive income ideas. So, when the phone call from your cash cow client comes in you’ll be in a much better position.