Freelancing is mostly associated with active income – you get paid for the hours you put in or for a certain workload, ideally a finished project. However, there is another way to earn money with freelance passive income.
Passive income is something you don’t put direct effort into once it is established as a source of revenue, but once you go through the effort of setting it up, it will bring in money.
As with most things that seem a bit too good to be true, it is quite difficult to start earning a significant passive income. If you do it right though, your efforts will eventually start bringing in money while only requiring minimal work towards maintenance.
- Are Freelancers Happy With Their Income?
- Worldwide income satisfaction
- Freelance income satisfaction in the DACH region
- Freelancer income satisfaction by industry
- How To Maximise Your Income As A Freelancer
- Client work
- Sell physical or digital goods
- Consulting and coaching
- Keep learning new skills
- Find a niche
- Take on some small projects regularly
- Passive, recurring income
- Passive income opportunities
- Passive income options for web designers & developers
- Passive income ideas for freelance writers
Are Freelancers Happy With Their Income?
Freelancing is not for everyone – it can get lonely sometimes handling everything on your own. You also need to be patient if you don’t have clients or projects in the pipeline and there’s always the uncertainty of having to deal with ups and downs in your income, etc.
But besides the cons mentioned above, freelancing comes with many benefits too. Over the years, we’ve asked our freelancers one of the most important questions posed to freelancers; and one you should ask yourself often: Am I satisfied with my income?
Worldwide income satisfaction
In 2021, 1,731 freelancers were kind enough to share their thoughts on their income satisfaction and these were the results:
About two-thirds of all freelancers said they were happy with how much they were earning.
This is pretty great news! While freelancing is about more than just money, having a good level of income gives you the security to experiment and grow your business.
A third of our survey participants, however, didn’t feel like their freelancer income was enough.
66% of freelancers are happy and satisfied with their income.
Did income satisfaction change over the years?
According to the surveys we conducted over the years, in 2019, 68% of freelancers were happy and satisfied with their income while 32% were not. In 2020 however, the number jumped a bit – 71% of freelancers were satisfied with their income while 29% were not.
The result of this can be viewed in two ways:
The positive way is: Freelancers always strive for more and are never completely satisfied with how much they’re getting out of it.
The not-so-positive way: Obviously, there are also people who are simply not happy with the payout and freelancer income they get from their freelance work. And that’s a problem.
Freelance income satisfaction in the DACH region
Our survey results from 2021 show that almost 69% of freelancers in the DACH region are satisfied with their income. Just like the results above, this is a slight drop from the 71% income satisfaction in 2020.
It is important to note that those who were not happy with their income were primarily freelancers with relatively fewer years of experience and by extension, lower hourly rates.
Freelancer income satisfaction by industry
Another interesting takeaway is the level of satisfaction by industry or field of the freelancer.
Those in the IT infrastructure industry claimed higher levels of income satisfaction, followed by SAP industry and Consulting and Management roles. Freelancers within the Graphic, content, and media industries came in last with less than half (44%) of freelancers being satisfied with their level of pay.
How to become happier with what you earn
If you are unhappy with your freelancer income, there are a lot of things you should consider doing to solve this problem:
- Drop your lowest-paying clients: Low paying clients are slowing you down, concentrate on the “bigger fish”. Here’re some tips for terminating a freelance contract and saying goodbye to a client.
- Increase your rates: As the months and years go by, you get better at what you do. You can leverage those skills for better pay and raise your freelance rate.
- Try new things: If you feel like you’re not getting enough out of your current freelancing niche, acquiring new relevant skills can catapult you to a better position, even in a new niche.
- Learn from other freelancers: Working closely with others is invaluable when you are trying to better yourself. Seeing how you do things wrong isn’t always easy when you’re just looking inwards.
💡 Want to take a closer look at all the freelancing insights gathered via our surveys? Download the freelancermap freelancer study!
How To Maximise Your Income As A Freelancer
One of the best ways to build a stable, reliable income as a freelancer is through diversification. As the saying rightly goes, “you shouldn’t put your eggs in one basket”, and that’s true of freelancing as well. Your ‘eggs’ will be spread across several baskets, so if one should disappear, you won’t find yourself broke. Here are 6 ways to diversify your freelance income effectively:
#1 Client work
For the vast majority of freelancers, client work is what brings in the lion’s share of their monthly income. If until now you’ve been working primarily with one main client, consider branching out. Clients will come and go, and it takes some time to build a relationship with someone new.
The goal is to have a network of regular clients that you can rely on to bring you work, rather than just one who, in theory, could go out of business one day and put you out of a job. Make use of online job boards (e.g. the freelancermap job board), talk to other freelancers, put your portfolio out there, and leverage your existing contacts to start generating enquiries.
You should also consider getting value from old clients. Some freelancers unfortunately tend to forget about a client once their work is done and the check is in the mail. This is a grave mistake that could potentially rob you of many future possibilities. Try to get referrals from your client – nothing is better than seeing that others who have used your services were not only happy with it, but actually took time to write about you as well. Furthermore, old clients may often attract new clients. Keep in touch with the ones you’ve worked for and aim for long-lasting business relationships.
Client work isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. If you’re a fairly good writer, you can generate further income as a freelancer through writing, both for yourself and others. Blogging has become one of the top ways to earn money online, and what’s more, it’s a great way to make a name for yourself as a professional.
A good blog can be monetized in various ways: you can opt for on-page advertising, affiliate marketing, or accepting sponsored posts. You could also offer your services as a freelance guest writer for other websites. Unique, high-quality content that makes a difference to your users is the benchmark to aim for.
#3 Sell physical or digital goods
The next step up from blogging is to venture into the big wide world of ecommerce. It’s super easy for anyone to get set up on a marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Etsy, but if you’re serious about generating some brand equity, then it’s better to make a home for yourself online with your own branded ecommerce store. Platforms like Shopify and WordPress make this considerably easier than it used to be.
It’ll take some work for sure, and like any new venture, you have to treat it like a business. You’ll need a strong brand, a supplier for your products, and somewhere to store them (unless you take the dropshipping route). Some entrepreneurs choose to buy existing stores through website sellers.
The benefit of buying a readymade store is that you won’t waste precious freelance hours setting up the website, and what’s more, all the products and suppliers are already in place. They range widely in price, from cheap starter stores at around $50, to high-end stores turning a generous profit going for ~$10,000.
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If you have the necessary skills to take a website and improve on what’s there, then buying and selling websites can be a great side hustle – and you’ll learn a lot about online retail in the process. Even if you just buy a website and not sell it, if many people visit your site, online ads might be worth looking into.
Of course, you don’t have to sell physical goods to get into the ecommerce game. Digital products such as downloads, webinars, e-books and e-newsletters are all things you can create yourself to sell online. Put the time and work into them upfront, and you can continue to make money from them again and again, with very little maintenance.
The options don’t stop there: if you’re a designer, for instance, you can look into creating graphics, typefaces, templates and themes. If you’re a dab hand at photography, you could sell photographs. Consider the skills you already have and how you can package them in a useful way for others. These little financial boosts will naturally grow as your business does and can be quite helpful for your income.
#4 Consulting and coaching
Speaking of skills you already have, another great way to diversify your income as a freelancer is by providing coaching and consulting services for others. It’s also one more way to monetize your blog, which can be used as a platform to advertise your services.
As an authority in your niche, your expert advice is valuable. You can charge others for your consulting and coaching services, all while spending more time on the thing you love doing. Consulting is not only profitable – it can help you network and build relationships too.
How you charge for your coaching services is up to you. Many choose to operate per-project, rather than charging a flat hourly rate. Make sure you’re charging enough to make it worth your time.
Whether your niche is health, digital, business, marketing, or whatever, there will be people out there willing to pay a professional to learn more. Killer case studies will help you prove your professional credentials.
#5 Keep learning new skills
If you want to keep diversifying your income, then another approach is to keep diversifying your skills. Online learning is so accessible now, that it’s easy enough to teach yourself new things. Websites like Futurelearn and Lynda offer free courses in everything from creative arts, to tech and coding.
There’s much to be said for being a competent all-rounder with a few strong specialisms, especially if you’re looking to set up on your own. This is what will set you apart from the rest of the freelance crowd.
#6 Find a niche
This is true for any business, but a freelancer’s flexibility allows him or her to go about looking for a market niche or “gap” more easily. A niche is where there is high demand but little quality supply. As a freelancer, hitting that sweet spot with your services can be very beneficial.
Looking for a niche can also be as simple as just specialising – sure there are a lot of freelancers that can write. But, you could be one of the few in your region who can write about a certain, niche topic, because you recognized the market demand and specialised in that area.
#7 Take on some small projects regularly
Aiming for huge clients is a natural tendency as your freelancing business starts growing. However, taking small projects can have a lot of advantages. They allow you to diversify your income. If you get bored or just block on a certain big project, working on something different might give you back the motivation you needed to keep going on.
Furthermore, they are a great way to find potential new clients. They might want something small at first, but impressing them with what you do and suggesting further work you can do for them can lead to bigger opportunities.
Why Passive, Recurring Income?
The benefits of passive income almost speak for themselves, but here are a few of the top reasons that generating a recurring, passive income should be on your list of priorities:
- Stabilize your income: One of the biggest downsides to being a freelancer is that your income will not be stable month to month, especially in your first few years. Losing a client or not winning a pitch can make your income drop drastically, which is not a great position in which to put yourself.
- Work once, earn forever: There are only so many hours in a day, which means that your active income is always going to have a limit. Passive income, however, requires a lot of initial work – but once you have it set up, you simply need to put in a few hours of maintenance here and there to keep things afloat.
A stream of passive income provides a more stable, recurring means of earning money that you can rely on when the freelancing side of your business gets quieter.
Passive Income Opportunities
Got you interested?
Then check out these ways of earning passive income as a freelancer and see which one suits you most. We’ve also included some niche examples for different freelance fields.
1) Selling ad space on your blog or site
One of the first things that come to mind when it comes to passive income ideas is monetizing your marketing instruments. Your blog or website can serve twofold: first and foremost, it attracts customers.
With enough visitors, you can turn it into a revenue source for yourself and other companies, too. Selling advertising space is a great way to earn some money on the side while continuing to build up your audience.
2) Guest blogs and eBooks
Another way of generating passive income is by selling your know-how and experience in the form of guest posts. If you publish informative and helpful articles on your blog anyway, why not trying to sell them to others?
Not only can you get an extra income source, but you also attract more attention to your own services.
If you really enjoy writing, you can also try publishing an eBook. As a freelancer in your particular niche, you probably have a lot to tell others who would like to walk the same road. It takes a lot of effort to create an eBook, but they also have huge potential if successful.
You may think there are already enough resources available out there, but everybody has their own way to explain similar concepts. Share your experience adding your own note.
3) Affiliate marketing
Becoming an affiliate of a potentially-helpful service for your clients is sometimes frowned upon, but it can be a good, honest way of earning some extra money. Recommending a hosting site of your choosing to clients can save them a lot of research time.
You can also recommend services that you use or have used or a certain book that you found extremely helpful. Be upfront about earning a small cut on a sale, though. If you can earnestly say a service or product is worth it and earn something doing it, go for it!
Here’s an example of an affiliate disclosure you could use on your blog:
Please note that some links below are affiliate links, so I may receive a commission if you take action – e.g. signup or make a purchase – after clicking on one of the links. This has no extra cost for you, though!
Remember, affiliate marketing doesn’t have to be something sleazy and dishonest. If you pick products that you like, know are good and genuinely feel are good advice for people to buy, there’s nothing to feel bad about. Look at it as a service you’re providing – you know what your audience is looking for and know a product that fits their desires and you trust. Maybe you can’t afford to test each and every product personally – then do extensive research instead. There’s nothing worse than putting your name and brand behind something of bad quality.
And while we’re on the topic of quality, let’s not forget the foundation of good affiliate marketing: the website it’s put on. Beware of intrusive advertisements cluttering your website and taking away space from the actual content. After all, people will ideally click on your affiliate links for two reasons – they trust your judgement and they want to support you. Those are two things that are built by providing good, quality content.
4) Selling unused work
Often freelancers will create things that don’t make it into the final version of a project. Whether it is photos, graphs, written content or anything else, you can probably find a buyer for it somewhere on the internet.
Be careful about what your contracts say, however; you can only sell content that you legally own. As long as that’s the case, don’t let your unused work gather dust. Turn it into a profit instead.
Read more: IP rights for freelancers
5) Create subscription models
Subscription models or memberships can entail a ton of things depending on your freelancing field. Whether it is site maintenance, SEO work, extra content on your newsletter, or something else, a subscription means you offer some amount of work or an extra piece of content on the side but won’t have to worry about finding clients for it.
If you can establish yourself as someone with expertise, people will be willing to pay for additional content from you. Those small monthly payments add up, but make sure you consider the time spent communicating with your clients as to not get underpaid. Make that extra content worth your time. You may want to check how to use Patreon for freelancers.
Another way to share your experience or expertise in your field is through e-courses. These require a good amount of effort to set up but can become a great source of passive income. There are a lot of ways to go about offering e-courses: depending on your business strategy you can try sending them per mail, posting them on YouTube or selling them on a dedicated platform like Fedora or Udemy.
7) Sell templates or WordPress themes
This one is especially important for graphic designers and developers. Themeforest or Envato are good sites where you can sell your templates and create passive income. As WP themes are very popular at the moment, these are a very good passive income source for freelancers.
8) Video Content: YouTube
The way people are consuming video is changing a lot. TV is taking second place and alternatives such as Netflix or YouTube are entertaining people now.
If you like being in front of a camera, creating YouTube videos can be an alternative to create income streams. If your videos get lots of views, you can benefit from ads. You can also try other approaches such as sponsorships or affiliate programs.
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Passive Income Options for Web Designers & Developers
There are multiple different recurring income opportunities specifically for web designers and developers. A few popular ideas include:
#1 Website maintenance
Website maintenance includes carrying out any necessary updates, tweaking the layout and back-end of a website, monitoring security, and ensuring the website is running and working as it should be. Some clients will pay a monthly or weekly retainer to have you responsible for the maintenance of their website, which will include being on-call should anything go wrong.
Although it requires a bit of your time every once in a while, it can also be a passive income when everything works just fine.
#2 Website hosting
Offering web hosting to your clients can be a lucrative means of passive income, but you’ll need to know what you’re doing to ensure that if something goes wrong, you are able to protect your client’s website with minimal downtime.
#3 Flip Websites
Designers and developers have the huge advantage of knowing how to create and set up a website to have it ready to go far quicker than the average person. Many people are willing to pay to have a ready-made website that they can simply start adding posts to, rather than having to deal with the hassle of arranging hosting, designing the website, and all the other backend elements that go into web design and development.
Flipping websites – which means buying a domain, setting up the website, and then selling it for profit – can be a great means of passive income if you are quick at getting websites up and running.
Passive Income Ideas for Freelance Writers
While the ideas listed above (guest blogging, writing an eBook, etc.) are applicable to freelance writers, there are a few other passive income opportunities perfect for your skills.
#1 Write and Publish a Book
Writing a book does not equal instant passive income. It is hard work pitching your book to agents, editing it, and even then, there is no guarantee the book will be a hit.
That being said, writing a successful book can be a fantastic stream of passive income for many years to come. If you already have a platform such as a popular blog, you may find that getting an agent is easier than cold pitching an idea.
#2 Self-Publish a Book
These days, it is easy to self-publish your own book, either turning it into an eBook, an audiobook or a printed book.
The two most popular options to self-publish your own book is to go through either Amazon or to publish the book yourself on your own platform (i.e. if you have your own blog already).
Have you got any questions or other suggestions on earning passive income? Get in touch with us via the comment sections below, we are always happy to hear from our readers!