In the second part of our ‘Passive Income For Creatives’ series, we’re going to delve into the growing landscape of digital products and how they can create passive income and scale your business. For this post we’re focusing on digital products such as PDFs, templates, printables and everything in between and have kept out education and courses which are coming up later in the series!

I remember the first time we sold a digital product, a moment forever etched into my memory. This story starts in the summer of 2017 whilst living at home with my parents, with little or no money to our name we decided to take some photos in my parent’s garden shed. With nothing to lose and honestly no idea what we were doing, we thought we’d put them online and see what happened. Fast forward a couple of months later, we were trying to figure out what we were doing with our lives and thought we’d contemplate this whilst living in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. One night in October, we were sitting in a bar nursing a beer and an email popped up on our phone saying that we’d sold our first (and only) product on Creative Market. Our mind was blown and from that moment on a whole new world of possibilities opened up. Here we were, sitting at a dive bar in Budapest and someone, somewhere in the world decided they like something we created enough to buy it.

Since then, we’ve dedicated the past few years to digital product creation.What started off as a pursuit of passive income, has developed into a full-blown passion. Not only because it’s incredibly rewarding – something you create has the potential to inspire or give value to others, but it offers an unrivalled freedom too.

Selling digital products on your own website or an online marketplace like Etsy or Creative Market is a great way of channeling your creative skills to add passive income to your business revenue. Once you have created your product, it has the potential to be sold years after it was initially released meaning that products like these offer a fantastic ROI of your time and creativity.

In fact, we know many creatives (us included) who bypass client projects altogether and work entirely off this model of digital product creation. Now more than ever, there is a growing need and appetite for digital products and tapping into a large international audience as a new creator has never been more accessible.

Product creation:

First and foremost, who are you creating a product for? From the beginning define who your customer is so that you can identify their pain points and create a product that solves a specific problem. For the most part, we’re going to assume that your aim is to create a product for other business owners. As a business owner yourself, you have tremendous insight into the struggles of running a business which can be of huge value to entrepreneurs, i.e. your potential customers.

When it comes to digital product creation, start by conducting your own market research, identify a need for a product that isn’t yet available and combine those with your own strengths and skills.

Whilst it may initially seem daunting brainstorming what to create, chances are you already have an awesome product under your belt that simply needs to be packaged in a way that can be marketed. If you’ve developed a skill or expertise in a specific area, that knowledge can be shaped into a product. Think of things that you already do or use in your own business. What templates, practices or systems do you have in place that streamline your workflow that could also help someone else with theirs?

To ensure that your product is providing value, be sure to ask if your product will:

  • Save your customer time?
  • Help to grow their business?
  • Help them to gain a new skill?
  • Inspire the customer to create or take action?

What’s the format of your digital product?

Once you’ve decided on your product idea and defined who exactly it’s for, you’ll then need to consider in what format are you going to deliver it to your customer. When we talk about the format, we’re referring to how the product will be packaged and delivered. Will it be a PDF file, a Canva template, an Adobe Illustrator vector file etc? It’s also especially important to consider the format, depending on the audience you intend to sell to and where.

For example, if you’re a designer and want to market to other designers, then it’s likely that they will be comfortable with the design programmes that you already use. So, if you want to sell an InDesign branding template on your website to fellow designers, then that’s completely appropriate. However, if you’re a designer but want to create templates for other niches (let’s say social media templates for beauty businesses) then possibly a product in a format like that may be a barrier to an audience who don’t have experience with a certain programme (especially paid ones).

This is even more important to consider if you intend to sell on third party marketplaces. For example, Creative Market is aimed at creative professionals and so generally speaking their customer base will be familiar with certain design programmes like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc. Etsy customers on the other hand may be more familiar with free, more accessible programmes like Canva. What format you package and deliver your product may be shaped by your ideal customer and where you plan to market and sell the product.

Creative digital product ideas:

If you’re a graphic designer you could create pre-made logo designs, social media templates, branding questionnaires, onboarding/offboarding templates, lead magnet templates or moodboard templates.

If you’re a designer who loves customising typefaces, you could create and sell your own font.

If you’re a photographer you could create a Lightroom preset to sell, a pricing proposal template, a guide to poses, a wedding shot list checklist, booking enquiries email response templates.

If you’re a web designer you could develop a website theme to sell, package and sell shortcodes, or create a website design checklist.

If you’re an illustrator, you could turn your illustrations into vector graphics, or create social media icon sets.

If you’re an artist, you could sell your artwork as downloadable prints, or create brushes for Procreate.

If you’re a copywriter, you could sell pre-written copy templates such as social media captions or content templates, email templates for specific niches or for various email sequences.

If you’re a social media manager, you could compile a hashtag guide for specific niches, a social media calendar guide, Canva social media templates or workbooks on how to create your social media strategy.

Be original. Always.

Whilst it is useful to look at popular existing products on marketplaces or to look at the digital products your creative peers are selling, always be sure to lead your ideas from a place of originality first and foremost. A marketplace full of the same products is no good for anyone, and won’t help to differentiate you from other sellers. With digital products, especially those that are creative and visually driven, there is a real opportunity to create customer loyalty. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to harness this. To maximise this opportunity for customer loyalty it’s important to produce original products and to combine it with exceptional customer service.

Whilst it can be tempting to emulate existing products (it’s faster, it’s easier) this is not a long term strategy for success. It’s one thing to be inspired by someone’s work and another to copy it. As creators, we should all know the difference and respect these boundaries. If you’ve ever experienced seeing your work copied, you’ll know how gut-wrenching that can feel and how you’d never want that inflicted on someone else.

As creatives, we know that from start to finish the creative process can be emotional, exhausting but in the end oh-so rewarding. That’s why we do it. When you copy someone else’s ideas, not only are you devaluing your creative abilities but you by-pass the essential ‘messy middle’ development stage that makes your arrival at the finish line rewarding. So, avoid the temptation to duplicate current popular products and spend that extra bit of time to develop a concept that’s truly unique. It’ll be worth it in the long run, and will ensure that you and your products stand out from the crowd.

Selling on marketplaces

No following? No problem. If you don’t yet have a website or large audience, marketplaces are a fantastic way to get eyes on your product without the need to have an online shop, social media following or an email list.

As a creator on third party marketplace platforms, you have your own shop profile page where you upload, list and manage your products. Typically these marketplaces take a percentage cut from sales, for example Creative Market currently takes 40% and you keep 60% off the sale price. Etsy currently takes just 5% of the transaction fee, but it does require a $0.20 listing fee per item. However, what’s great about these marketplaces is that you as the seller get to set your product price, so you can price it at whatever feels comfortable to you.

A major benefit of having digital products on third party marketplaces is that you get to take advantage of a large international customer base meaning that your products have the potential to reach a wider audience faster. These marketplaces also have big marketing budgets that can certainly work in your favour if you start to produce innovative or popular products.

One of the greatest benefits of selling on a marketplace is that you get to focus your efforts on the thing you love to do most: creating. From product hosting to sales processing, these marketplaces have this entire infrastructure in place which means that you also don’t need to set up your own website to start selling. Whilst you will have to offer customer support, you don’t need to worry about things like taking payments and website updates so you can concentrate purely on product creation.

If you’re prepared to spend time researching markets and developing original creative assets, you can turn supplementary passive income into full time income. In fact it’s perfectly possible to create an entire career from designing and selling creative assets on marketplaces. Top sellers on Creative Market, who create innovative and high quality products are able to consistently earn over 5 figures per month, which is pretty mind blowing.

Selling on your own website

If you already have an audience, whether that’s a social media following, an email list or (better still) both, then you may wish to sell your digital products on your own website. If you’ve already built an authority in your niche or if you have an engaged following, then this is definitely something to consider as it can offer some major wins for nurturing customer relationships.

The benefit of selling on your own website is that unlike selling on marketplaces, you have a direct communication line with your customers via their email. Whilst it’s more responsibility and may take more time to set up, you have total control over the whole transaction process. This is a huge bonus as it means that you can keep your audience in the loop with updates as well as future product releases that you think they may be interested in.

Selling on your own website will require that you set up an online storefront and go through the typical process of being able to accept payments. However, depending on what platform you use this can easily be added to your existing website.

Packaging your digital product

So, you’ve gone through the development stages, dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s and your product is all wrapped up. You’ve created your awesome PDF/template/worksheet so now you need to consider how you’re going to present and sell your product and offer an amazing experience for your customer, too.

Depending on the format of your final product, you may wish to provide some support materials for your customer. For example, if you’ve created a website template you may wish to create a video to guide customers through the install process or how to change certain features. If you’ve created Canva templates, it would be beneficial to supply a PDF guide with screenshots on how to edit and customise them. The more help you can provide, the more confidence the purchaser has to use the product and this will also help to minimise customer service too.

We also recommend to make sure that beyond email, you have an opportunity to say thank you. This can be included with the purchases as a separate PDF or even a video. If you can, it’s always worth adding a personal touch to create a positive experience for the purchaser and to nurture customer loyalty.

Be transparent

As well as the sales copy, describing what the product is and how it can help your customer, be sure to include all of the technical details about the product too. When writing the copy for your product description, describe exactly what the recipient is going to receive. Be as transparent as possible so that the customer has a clear expectation of what they are to expect when they make their purchase. That may include file format and size, possibly specify what programmes they will need (if any) to access the product. Being upfront and clear about this from the very beginning will help to minimise customer service and avoid possible disappointment from the customer.

Selling your digital product

Unlike physical products which can be photographed, digital products require a helping hand when it comes to presenting them and communicating the contents. Using mockups is a great way of presenting digital products as it helps potential customers to visualise the product and you can contextualise it as effectively as possible.

So for example, if you’re a photographer selling a Lightroom preset, you may use an iPhone mockup to show a before and after of an Instagram grid. Or if you’re a web designer and you’ve created a website theme or template, then you could use a laptop or iPad mockup to show what the website would look like on different devices. By mocking the product up, not only are you bringing it to life but you’re also showing it in the best light possible, making it visually appealing and tangible to the buyer. Don’t be tempted to skip this part, as it’s worth investing as much time as you can afford into presenting the product as best as possible.

Launch it

Now that your digital product is all wrapped up and ready to go, it’s time to launch it finally and share it with the world! That first sale of a digital product is a truly momentous occasion, and one that is to be celebrated. (Definitely don’t skip this step!) This is a business milestone and the start of a new exciting chapter!

Once you start creating digital products, you’ll never look back as it becomes a passionate pursuit. Something you’ve created, where you’ve passed on your knowledge or allowed your skills to create an accessible asset, have provided tremendous value to someone somewhere in the world. You’ve helped them to grow their business, or save them time or inspired them to create whilst doing something that you love, too. Pretty amazing, right?


Header image taken from The Carmen Collection

Coming up next:
In the next part of the series we discuss how to create passive income by turning your creative skills and knowledge into courses and educational resources. Stay tuned!

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  1. Amazing and informative post! It’s really got me thinking of how to explore creating digital products as an architect/designer. I’m grateful.

  2. Amazing post guys! Super informative and inspiring! Definitely going to explore creating digital products!

  3. Thank you for creating this series. I am developing my first templates and it is very helpful to learn from your experience and expertise!

  4. Thank you so much for this! We’ve already started dabbling in online resources, but this gave us some more ideas (and confidence) to go forth with building out our shop. Yay!

  5. This is really comprehensive, helpful and inspiring. Thanks. I like how you made suggestions for different types of creatives.