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5 Things I’ve Done to Increase my Revenue as a Digital Illustrator

An illustration of a cake with a dollar sign birthday candle on top with the title 5 Things I've Done to Increase my Revenue as a Digital Illustrator

Maybe you’re just starting to think about selling your art and aren’t sure where to begin, or perhaps you’ve been at it for a while and are looking for ways to generate more revenue. Whatever stage you're at, I’ve outlined my top strategies that have brought me the most financial success as a digital illustrator in hopes that they will help you grow your creative business.

Disclaimer: If you’re looking for quick and dirty tips, or gimmicky shortcuts, keep looking because you’re not going to find those here!

1. I found my niche

If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. Zoom-in and find a niche you’re passionate and/or curious about, and bonus points if it’s different enough to have minimal or no competition on the market.

Finding your niche is easier said than done and here's the best way I can describe it. You know when you’re single and everyone tells you that you’ll meet someone when you least expect it, and all you want to do is roll your eyes because that information is not helpful at all? But then one day you meet someone and realize they were right all along and you even go as far as to give the same seemingly ridiculous ‘advice’ to your single friends? Well that’s how I feel when I tell you that if you haven’t found your niche yet, one day when you’re not expecting it, it’ll find you. If you’re rolling your eyes right now, just you wait.

An illustration of a hedgehog made out of sprinkles

Years ago I was at my desk trying to concentrate on my tasks when my niche idea hit me like a ton of bricks. I finally had my aha moment and it was all I could think about. I create junk food inspired designs that combine my love for food with everyday objects in often unusual or punny ways.

A good rule of thumb is to create art that you would buy. At the risk of sounding vain, I’m my own biggest fan when it comes to my art and I feel like that’s the way it should be.

2. I built this website

Too many artists are relying solely on social media. Spending all of your time and resources building a social media following is like building a house on rented land.

Algorithms change, how audiences consume content on social media can change (e.g. Instagram announcing they’re becoming a video sharing platform), and even though you feel like your profile and followers belong to you, the reality is that they don’t. Social media is becoming more ‘pay to play’, organic reach is dropping, and we really don't know what the future holds. One day we could wake up and POOF! Our social platforms are trapped behind a paywall or gone forever.

Okay, that was a bit dramatic… but what I’m trying to say is that social media is good but email subscribers are better because you have more control over it. Social media is a great tool to point potential customers to your website.

Also, one way to drive more people to your website, add authority and boost SEO so that you can be found more easily on the search engines is to incorporate a blog (kind of like this one!)

3. Multiple revenue streams

I manage multiple revenue streams, which means that if one is drying up a bit I have the others to help balance it out. On the flip side, if one is doing particularly well, I can lean into it through my marketing.

For me, my artwork is available on various products via Society6, ready-to-print digital downloads can be purchased through Etsy, I do commission work (mostly people and pet portraits), have dabbled in NFTs, and have partnered with various online and brick and mortar retailers. Some streams are more seasonal than others, others allow me to make passive income when my life is too busy to take on additional commissions, a couple require more effort on my part, but all of them have been worthwhile learning experiences.

Diversification doesn’t happen over night but it’s something to keep in mind and strive for.

4. I didn’t quit my day job

If you’re looking to make money from your art, do yourself a favour and do some quick math before you decide to quit your day job.

If you are hoping to make your creative business your main source of income - that’s exciting, but first you’ll need to figure out how much money you need to make on a monthly basis to live comfortably. Then if you’re worried about hitting that amount, I’d suggest determining and focusing your sales efforts on your low hanging fruit. This does not necessarily mean that this is your cheapest offering (in fact, it could be the complete opposite), it just means that it's the easiest thing for you to sell. This is also helpful in predicting future income. In my case, my pet/people portraits are my low hanging fruit.

An illustration of two dogs standing beside one another

From my personal experience, nothing sucks the fun out of running a creative business more than having to make enough money from it. I accepted work that didn’t excite me and worked with clients I knew I shouldn’t have. Now that my maternity leave has come to an end and I have returned to a full-time Marketing role, I have drastically reduced my commission work, which allows me to focus on my niche.

Being in a good place financially allows for freedom in your art. Don’t be a starving artist if you can avoid it!

5. Delight my customers

An illustration of a piece of toast with peanut butter on it with the words Spread Positivity written in jam

Of course you need to reply to messages in a timely manner, deliver work on time, ensure accuracy and quality, etc. But I’m talking about those little extras you can do to delight! The most efficient and effective way to get new customers is through your past/current ones. Here are a few examples of ways I’ve surprised clients:

  • If a client can’t choose between two background colour options, I send them both.

  • I always include an extra file, sized perfectly for a phone wallpaper.

  • I provide printing tips and recommendations.

  • Occasionally I’ll provide a time lapse of me creating the piece.

  • Sent promo codes to receive future discounts.

  • I give a shit. I like to understand why I’ve been asked to create a piece and the meaning behind it. If there’s any way I can sneak something special into my illustration that maybe only they will notice, I will do it.

Now there will always be those people. Someone wanting to pay you in free exposure, use your work inappropriately, not wanting to pay a deposit upfront, etc. To ensure your stellar customer service doesn't result in people trying to take advantage of you, set expectations in advance, learn from your mistakes and remember that one of the great things about running your own business is that you get to make the decisions!

To recap, find your niche, take control over your marketing, be strategic, be smart, and delight others. Doing things the right way takes patience but if you leave with anything today it’s that you get out of your creative business what you put into it.

Thank you for reading my top strategies for increasing revenue through my creative business and I wish you boatloads of future success. Lastly, if you've received value from this article, I'd love for you to subscribe to my blog (at the top of this page).

About the author

My name is Michelle Alexander and I'm a Canadian artist with a sweet tooth. I started MishiMoooDesigns in 2020 and specialize in combining my love for junk food with everyday objects in unusual and often 'punny' ways. If this sounds interesting to you, I'd love for you to check out my Gallery and/or follow me on Instagram @MishiMoooDesigns.

I'm proud to be included in Feedspot's Top 30 Digital Art Blogs and Websites To Follow in 2021.

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