Looking to learn how to make money as a digital designer?
A digital design business may include making things such as graphics, printables, planners, t-shirt designs, calendars, business card design, social media graphics, stickers, logo design, and so much more.
The opportunities are endless with a digital design business and this can be a great small business idea where you can work from home.
In today’s digital world, the demand for eye-catching and captivating designs has never been higher.
However, starting a new business can feel overwhelming (and even scary!), especially when you’re not sure where to begin. That’s where this How To Make Money As A Digital Designer guide comes in.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps and answer questions you may have when launching a new creative design business.
Today, I have a helpful interview about how to start a digital design business with Kelli Mitchell. Kelli is the owner and principal designer of Pink Lemonade Company.
Kelli started her creative business offering website design and business branding in 2011. As her work and brand grew, Kelli focused on creating commercial use graphics, design, and business courses, and helping others grow their own online creative businesses.
Today’s interview on how to make money as a digital designer answers questions such as:
- What is a design business? What does a design business sell?
- Why do people buy designs?
- How much money can a person earn by selling designs?
- Can someone with no tech skills become a designer?
- Is there enough room for new digital designers?
Today’s in-depth interview will help you get started with learning how to start a design business and perhaps even introduce you to a new way to make money from home.
You can learn more about how to start a digital design business by signing up for a free training from Kelli by clicking here. In this training, she shares the steps she took to start designing for others and how she grew her business to over $100,000 per year. She also shares the different design ideas that you can create and sell.
How To Make Money As A Digital Designer
1. Please give us a little background on yourself and how you got started. How much have you earned from your design business?
Hey there! The idea of my design business began because I needed a way to make money from home. I had been working 12-hour shifts at the local hospital, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my job, I needed to earn more, and I needed more time to be with my kids. And while it was scary in the beginning, it has paid off well – in so many ways. PLC consistently brings in multi-six figure years with the bulk of my income coming from the graphics I design.
My business started somewhat as a side hustle offering design services and business branding because my full-time job was taking care of three small children. I wanted to be able to create a business that would give me plenty of time to be a mom. It was important for me to create a business that would work around my life, and not have all my hours consumed by my business.
When I first started out, I quickly became obsessed with Photoshop. I realized that I could create something in Photoshop, and turn around and sell it online. It became apparent that Photoshop was a playground where I could take my ideas and turn them into income. That fact really made my imagination come alive. Creativity turned into possibility and, as a result, my life changed rather drastically.
And, I must admit, I didn’t consider myself creative in the beginning. I often doubted myself, and questioned whether I was creative enough to make this happen. I had no experience in running a business. But I gave myself permission to follow what felt fun and I made the decision that I was committed to making it work no matter what.
2. What is a digital design business? What does a design business sell?
A design business can really be so many different things, which I think is great for people who are wanting to have a creative business since they often have a lot of ideas and want to try so many different things.
I have, personally, sold a variety of different things in my own design business from website design and business branding, to digital papers, graphics, printables, t-shirt designs, sublimation design files, digital journal pages, and more.
One of the things I teach my students now is that by learning some solid design skills, you’re able to go in so many directions, create different products and services, and let your imagination run wild.
Since Photoshop is an endless playground and blank canvas where ideas can come to life the list is essentially endless. There are so many things that someone could create and sell with some skill and imagination.
Here is a list of 15 potential ideas for digital and graphic design:
- t-shirt design
- chore charts
- mug or tumbler design file
- business card design file and other marketing materials like gift certificates, price tags, and sales flyers
- social media graphics
- print-on-demand product files
- home decor such as wall art and pillows
- journal pages
- website design
- greeting/holiday cards
- digital or printable stickers
- coloring book/pages
- logo design file
3. Why do people buy designs?
Since the products and services that can be created from designing are so endless, there are a lot of different reasons people buy designs.
For example, they might buy a birthday invitation design from Etsy, or they might want to use a digital paper as a supply to create a holiday-themed printable banner. When I started out, I offered fun, brightly colored business card designs. I was able to bring a sense of fun to my work and, in turn, to somebody’s business branding.
A quick search on Etsy for “digital downloads” or “digital designs” can shed light on just how many types of designs are available and what different things they can be used for.
It’s such an open, endless field with so much potential – for the designer and the buyer.
4. How much money can a person earn by selling designs?
The answer to this is dependent on a lot of factors, of course, such as how the designs are promoted, the marketing strategy involved, and quality of the designs but there are many people making really good money selling designs online.
Once I learned how to sell my designs effectively, I quickly went from bringing in around $8,000 a year to cracking that $100,000 a year mark.
My motto over the years has become ‘my ideas are limitless therefore my income is limitless’. And, it rings true.
5. How can a person make semi-passive income with a design business?
One of the great things about having a design business is that you can design and sell digital download files. That gives you the option to mass sell one file. So, the file can be created once, and sold over and over again for passive income. You put the work up front, and then sell the file as many times as you want.
I will never forget when I sold my first graphic on Etsy. It was a $3 file and it felt like I had won the lottery because it was the best feeling in the world! I knew if I could sell one file, I could sell thousands.
When we tap into that potential, we can essentially create a business that doesn’t have an income cap. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to put in the work, but we can design our businesses to serve us and our lifestyles along with serving our customers.
In the private community where I hang out with my students, we often celebrate when someone makes money in their sleep because that’s one of our fun goals that we set in my course – Design Business in a Box. That kind of freedom is what I love helping people with because it changed my life and I love seeing it change other people’s lives, too.
6. Can someone with no tech skills become a designer?
Absolutely. I did.
More important than tech skills are a willingness to learn and a strong commitment to making it happen. And, sometimes we just need to start telling ourselves we are creative and go for it.
Self doubt can kill a business quicker than anything else. We have to let ourselves be bad at something so we can get good at something.
7. What do you like about selling designs?
Ya know, I could probably list 100 reasons.
I’m very passionate about this because it really changed my life and how my family moves through life. But nobody has time for my list of 100, so I’ll give you my top three.
One big reason is that I still see Photoshop as this open space for my imagination where I can create something and sell it. And it still feels like so much fun.
The second reason is that I know I can have designs on my website, or in my membership site, and I can make money in the background while I’m out and about with my family and friends.
And reason number three would be because not only can I pay my bills, and have money to make my life easier, I also get a sense of creative fulfillment and that has been very beneficial to me. I still get to show up to work excited and feel this enthusiasm for what I get to do. I’m really grateful for that.
8. Is there enough room for new designers?
Yes, 100%. I don’t believe in the idea of market saturation.
I believe there will always be room for more art, more books, more creativity, etc.
Now, I will say that I think you need to know not only how to create designs but how to sell them as well. I believe that once you know how to sell your designs, implement marketing strategies that work, and how to call in your audience, then you can make it work for you.
9. How does a person come up with new ideas for designs?
I think having an awareness and appreciation of life and all that surrounds us is the quickest way to come up with new ideas. I always keep a notebook or the notes app on my phone filled with ideas as they come to me.
I don’t usually follow trends or try to stay ahead in that way, I usually just pay attention to what feels fun to me and what I feel called to design.
If I’m stuck on what to design next, that’s when I know I need to get out from behind my desk, and go play, do something fun, or go for a walk and let inspiration come to me.
10. What equipment do you need to start a design business?
Fortunately, because of where we are with the internet and technology today, you don’t need much.
A computer, Photoshop, and an Etsy shop was all I started with in the beginning.
11. How much does it cost to start a design business?
Not a lot, especially compared to how much money you would have to have to start a business even 30 years ago, for example. There isn’t a need to go take out a large loan and set up a brick and mortar on main street. I was beyond broke when I started out on my venture.
Designing digital files doesn’t require a large warehouse for physical inventory and you can run this business from your kitchen table, like I did in the beginning.
So, while you’ll need some money to begin with, it will vary depending on what you use in the beginning, the start up costs are considerably nominal.
12. Can you list the steps needed to get started with a design business?
For sure! Before getting started, I recommend doing a little ‘pre-work’. Just allowing yourself to dream a bit and think of the possibilities will be helpful.
If the idea of earning a living or starting a side hustle in designing appeals to you, then make a commitment to yourself. I had that ‘line in the sand’ moment where I made the decision and just went all in.
I also made a list of why I wanted to do this – and how my life could change for the better if I made this work. I really recommend doing that so you can start with some momentum, and then you have a list of your big reasons why you’re doing this when your momentum starts to wane a bit. Really zeroing in on what you could gain from having a successful design business could be immensely beneficial.
Once you’ve done the pre-work, you’re ready for the next steps!
Step One – Do some online research. You can start by searching on Etsy or browsing Pinterest for different design ideas. Take notice of what feels fun to you. This really helped me not get overwhelmed in the beginning since there were so many different things I could potentially create and sell. I was drawn to designing for other businesses, and helping people get started with business branding. I loved the idea of creating a logo, with business cards, and matching marketing materials. So, make a list of what feels the most fun for you to create and start there. You can always add to the list, or try something new down the line.
Step Two – Learn how to design. I’m a big fan of Photoshop, but there are lots of options out there. However, I would not be doing you any favors if I didn’t mention this (because I always get asked about this). Canva is great. I use it myself for certain things, but Photoshop is an industry giant and there are things it can do that Canva just can’t. Can you use Canva for designing? Of course, you can. But just know it has its limits. With Photoshop, you’ll get professional level editing and complete creative control.
Step Three – Set up a website or Etsy shop. There are lots of online videos and articles to help you find what options would be best for you. Google can definitely be your best friend when starting a new business. I would use Google endlessly when I first started. Pinterest also has some excellent tips for new business owners, too.
Step Four – Set up your social media presence. Whether that’s Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, any and all of those and more, social media can help you share your designs and connect with those who are needing what you have to offer.
Step Five – Start building an email list. This is something I didn’t do in the beginning that I should have. Growing my email list has been one the most helpful things in my business. I can share what I’m working on, market to my loyal customers, nurture my new subscribers, and more. I use (and love) ConvertKit, but as I tell my students “D.Y.O.R.” Do your own research to find a solution that will work best for your business.
Step Six – Create and Deliver. Create amazing designs, and deliver an amazing customer experience!
13. What other tips do you have to share?
A little belief in yourself will go a long way.
I didn’t know what my business was going to look like exactly but I made the decision to try. I had a lot of fear but one thing that helped me move past the fear was to get excited about what could go right, and how this could really change my life.
I also recommend finding a community of creative business owners who can help encourage you and give you inspiration for what is possible for you. I’d love to welcome you into my private community where I help aspiring and seasoned designers alike.
14. Can you tell me more about the training you have?
Of course! I have a free training where you can learn more about digital design and getting paid to create. I’m sharing more of the steps I took to start designing for others and how I grew my business into a brand that brings in multi-six figures a year.
We’ll also look at some different ideas that you can create and sell. I’ll send you a short video a day for five days. You can join us for free here if you’re interested.
Are you interested in learning how to start a digital design business and how to make money as a digital designer?