How to monetize design with no clients

Default avatar.
August 24, 2012
Whether you're just starting out or have hit a dry spell, there may come a point in time where you have to find a way to make your money without design clients. Let's face it, the search for clients can be harsh. There are tons of different avenues you can take and picking the right one makes all the difference. On top of that, once you get a nice lead, that doesn't guarantee you're going to be doing work for someone--how many times have you entertained someone for a week only for them to choose someone else to design a logo? If you can master it, client work is great and can be rewarding. If you don't get it quite right, there's no need to pack it all up and quit. There are so many avenues online and offline that can either hold you over or, depending on your ethic, turn out to be extremely lucrative. We all dream of landing that great client that wants to pay thousands of dollars for you to design something for a well publicized brand. However, that may not be a reality for all of us.


There is no need to be locked into the idea that as a freelance designer, one must have tons of clients. It's nice, but if you can do it another way, I'd recommend doing it and trying to do both. The great thing about many of these ideas is you may have a better idea of what you can earn monthly rather than trying to guess how many clients you're going to get and what they are going to pay you. If that type of thing interests you, then read on. However, if you like clients and aren't really into working and pushing your ideas, don't even worry about this post.

1. YouTube

When anyone wants to come online to start making money, the first place they should start is YouTube. People are really earning money with YouTube. People absolutely love to come here and hear and see about their favorite whatever. Most times, we believe the YouTube community is about posting silly videos to get some laughs and some quick views, but there's so much more than. If YouTube recognizes someone is making decent quality videos and getting some decent views, you can upload videos at any length and become a part of their Partner Program. This basically means if you make a video that 100% belongs to you, you can make some money off it. Now, I'm sure you know that when you create a web site, you can bring in some dough by adding Google Adwords to it, and when folks click on some links or banners, you get a couple of cents. This is the same concept, just used on videos and this is probably the easiest way to make money. The first thing you have to do is figure out what kind of videos you're going to do. Figure out what designers are receptive to and make something like that. For example, every so often, I'll do a tutorial of some great technique I utilize in Photoshop or Illustrator. Maybe you want to do the same — teach viewers about a secret or technique you use by using a screen recording application. Maybe you want to make process videos. Maybe you want to turn your web cam on and actually sit down and discuss different design techniques and trends — the best part of this is not just the views but actually initiating dialogue with viewers via comments and video responses. Maybe you do video work and just want to share some things. Whatever it is that you do, you must always always make sure it's quality. In the beginning, you will check your Google Adsense account and make about $0.10 a day, but if you push your product and make quality videos, this will easily increase over time.

2. Sell designed products

You are a designer, so you design. It is my personal belief, that if you have a bit of free time, you should always work on something that isn't client related. It gives you the opportunity to practice your craft, try new techniques and be as free and creative as possible. Now, what to do when you're finished making this great design? You put it on a product and sell it. Of course we know about sites such as and where all you have to do is upload your design and pick a product to put it on. That's a great and feasible idea. And if you can think of a real promotional plan it can be lucrative as well. There are tons of blogs that go over this process online, so I won't waste your time. But what about selling offline? You might be surprised to know that brick and mortar stores actually love acquiring new products worth selling. Perhaps there's a small boutique in your town or even a store in your local mall that carries locally made clothing and products. T-shirts are not just popular because they're not expensive to make, but because people actually buy them. Are you clever with words or a great designer? Make it a shirt. Make it a mug. Put it on a calendar and sell it in a store. Yes, this idea does require some front money, however you might be able to link up with a quality screenprinter who's willing to go half with you. Or, if you want it cheap, try a place like — you can get at least 24 shirts printed up, with 1 or 2 color ink for less than $250, which is about $10 a shirt. That's not bad if you can profit more than $10 from your shirts. Get an idea, print it up and approach a store manager about what it takes to get your product in the store. Start small, of course, and watch it grow. A good marketing and business plan will make this idea work, but if you can get a shirt line or whatever product line to catch on, you could monetize nicely.

3. Write

The great thing about design is you have two audiences that you can create for; the consumer or the colleague. As much as you want to turn on the consumer, you should want to do the same for the colleague, because if they believe in you, everyone else will. Writing is an awesome way to appeal to that group, as well as to find out more about your favorite topics. Of course, you can write for blogs. Prices vary amongst different sites, if they're even paying. But I must say, don't pass up the sites that don't pay just because they don't pay, write for them and get noticed. Editors who needs writers could end up approaching you and putting you in a better position. Just make sure you understand all the terms and conditions of writing for a blog or online magazine. And trust me, it isn't as easy as it looks, but I'm not complaining. And if you're not down with writing for someone else or you feel like your niche has not been covered, of course, you can start your own blog. You can't write without reading, so if you have a favorite topic, read up on it and write about it. It can be a little weird subtopic of a subtopic but become an expert in it and write about it. If you don't want to write for an online magazine, consider penning your own e-book. With sites like or, you can self-publish your own books and sell them, not just online, but offline as well. You can write about your area of expertise and ask people to pay $0.99 to download a copy of an e-book (which typically has no production costs). Or if you have a great topic, let them have an e-book for free and make the hardcover book purchasable. Again, appealing to colleagues can get you into higher places than you've imagined. Many people who started out blogging now get paid well to show up and speak at conferences, graduation ceremonies and more. The key is not just to write to make pocket money, but to become an expert, get people talking and thinking and eventually, making a difference in the design community.

4. Become a teacher

No matter how long you've been designing or even developing, there's a large amount of people out there who have no clue how to do what you know how to do, and they want your skillset. So give it to them. Far too many people believe this is a bad idea because you're giving up your secrets and all that fluff, but don't entertain that — you can't teach talent or flavor. At any rate, there are many different ways one can go about this. You can do it online, by utilizing YouTube and other video sites, but we already discussed that. If you do it online, it's not just a way to teach, but it could also be a way to network and find those clients that you're looking for. I also believe that teaching is the best way of learning — if you can't explain it in your terms, you have no idea what you're doing. Right now, there are many art summer camps going on. Contact them and pitch to them a graphic design course or perhaps you know how to work within some other fine arts. Whatever the case, try to come up with a price to share your knowledge. There may be other non-profit camps that go on throughout the year, or even recreation center classes, that would be great for your skillset, just find them and make your pitch. There are many ways you could do it without the help of others by being a tutor or putting on your own classes. Many websites like and make it possible for you to offer classes to individuals and allow them to pay online. Post up a class teaching Photoshop 101 or jQuery for Beginners. Again, with great marketing and promotional techniques this an idea that can really go through the roof.

5. Team up and create something

We all have those ideas for something that we may think is a little farfetched. Every so often I have an idea and say, "Oh, that would make a great app" or "That would be a great website", but never do it because I lack the skillset or time required to complete such a task. The truth is, many of the ideas you and I come up with in passing are great ideas that other people would partake in. But you're short handed, so what do you do? You get a partner or you find some partners. Of course, you'll probably have to pitch the idea and come to financial terms, but creating a great product isn't just lucrative but it's rewarding. Your stupid idea could be worth millions. I mean, Instagram had all of 8 employees and was bought for a billion. That could be you, but you'll never know unless you try. It could be iOS applications, Droid applications, web sites, Wordpress themes, short films or whatever you want. Besides creating something, you can probably learn or become extremely familiarized with a new skill set, which is great when you start to bring in the clients. Finding a partner can also help you bring the clients in — it's not just about the work but creating a great relationship with someone. If you want to find a partner, ask around. I've actually found great partners using my local Craigslist classifieds. The truth is people want to be a part of something great just as much as you want to. Sometimes it just takes a few people getting together to make things happen. Team work makes the dream work, right?

Use all you have

If you are looking to monetize without clients, you are going to want to utilize every part of the skill set you have. Maybe you design and code, too. Maybe you design and make music. Perhaps you can design and do some grade A woodwork; whatever it may be, you have to figure out how to make yourself stand out by using all that you have, making it into something great and selling it. If you want to try to monetize your talents and get clients — it's definitely possible. You have to be just as creative in finding clients as trying to sell a product; just this time the product is yourself. Try to figure out some aggressive promotional and marketing techniques. Make yourself easily available and visible. Make connections and get your work out there. The great thing about monetizing without clients is that it helps you attract clients because if you can get your work out there, they will come to you. And if you know anything about freelance design, attracting clients is a lot better than trying to run after everyone who says they want something designed. Attracted clients are familiar with your skills and want what you have--most times all you have to do is set the price.


Quite frankly, if you make it happen without clients, you may never need them. I actually find it much more rewarding when I hit a goal from something that's primarily self-based, but that may be just me. It's also a great principle that you want to do something that's going to attract your clients rather than having to chase after them. The chase is extremely stressful and you can really end up doing things you don't want to do just to make a dollar. Many designers have been programmed to believe that the best way to become successful is to have a load of clients, but that isn't necessarily true. The truth is we all can't do it, and we all can't work with clients. I'd be lying if I said I've loved every single client that has walked through my door. I'd also be lying to you if I said monetizing without clients is extremely easy. You have to figure out what you want to do and what you are willing to do in order to become extremely successful. There's absolutely no reason to give up on making money as a designer. Personally, I've tried plenty different things and have found what works and doesn't work; however the truth is you have to find what works for you as an individual that translates into your brand.

Kendra Gaines

Kendra Gaines is a freelance designer from Virginia, USA. Connect with her.

Read Next

15 Best New Fonts, May 2024

In this month’s edition, there are lots of historically-inspired typefaces, more of the growing trend for French…

20 Best New Websites, May 2024

Welcome to May’s compilation of the best sites on the web. This month we’re focused on color for younger humans,…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, May 2024

This year, we’ve seen a wave of groundbreaking apps and tools. AI is reshaping the industry, enhancing productivity,…

Using AI to Predict Design Trends

Design trends evolve at a blistering pace, especially in web design. On multi-month projects, you might work on a…

15 Best New Fonts, April 2024

Just like web design, type design follows trends. And while there’s always room for an exciting outsider, we tend to…

3 Essential Design Trends, May 2024

Integrated navigation elements, interactive typography, and digital overprints are three website design trends making…

How to Write World-Beating Web Content

Writing for the web is different from all other formats. We typically do not read to any real depth on the web; we…

20 Best New Websites, April 2024

Welcome to our sites of the month for April. With some websites, the details make all the difference, while in others,…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, April 2024

Welcome to our April tools collection. There are no practical jokes here, just practical gadgets, services, and apps to…

How Web Designers Can Stay Relevant in the Age of AI

The digital landscape is evolving rapidly. With the advent of AI, every sector is witnessing a revolution, including…

14 Top UX Tools for Designers in 2024

User Experience (UX) is one of the most important fields of design, so it should come as no surprise that there are a…

What Negative Effects Does a Bad Website Design Have On My Business?

Consumer expectations for a responsive, immersive, and visually appealing website experience have never been higher. In…