6 Creative product ideas to supplement your service-oriented business

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Whether we consciously realize it or not, the truth is that we creative-types have been blessed with skills that not everyone possesses — or, at least, that they don’t utilize. We are, in many ways, special.

As such, our skills are valuable and desirable, and people will pay us to put those skills into action for their benefit. Without a doubt, people need our services — and we should provide them.

However,  if you look at services from a business and financial standpoint, you’ll discover — as I have — their shortcomings.

But as creatives, what can you and I do about that? Our creativity manifests itself as actions. We offer services. It’s what we do. It’s all we do…right?

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

Well, it’s true that we do offer services…but we don’t have to offer only services. There are options — although understandably, when you’ve only been doing things in a certain way for a long time, those options might not be apparent.

I’m going to shed light on a different way of making a living as a creative. But first, let’s look at how our services do us a disservice.

The problems with services

If you are busy and making a good income from your services, you might not be buying what I’m selling (pun somewhat intended). But consider the following:

You only have so many hours to provide your services

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Services take time to perform. It’s a hard fact that they take place within a time continuum. They can be measured by using time as the increments.

And unfortunately, it’s also a hard fact that we only have a finite amount of time to spend on those services.

We all have the same 24 hours, and frankly, if we hope to be both happy and healthy, not all those hours can be spent delivering services to our clients. Ideally, no more than eight hours would be spent working each day, while another eight hours are devoted to our personal lives, and the last eight, to sleep.

Immediately, from a business perspective, you can see there is a growth issue here. You’re one person. You have eight hours. When those eight hours are full, your bank account still might not be. How do you make more money without more time to perform more services?

Of course, there are some possible answers. You could hire people. But hiring people can become extremely complex — and most freelancers are freelancers in part because they like the simplicity of being solo.

You could charge more. Or can you? What if your price is already at the top of what your market bears? What if your clients can’t afford you at a higher rate? What if your competition is poised to consistently underbid you, if you raise your quotes?

You are burning out

For creatives just at the beginning of your career, burnout might not appear to be on your map. But trust someone who has been in the business for more than 30 years — it’s on your horizon.

Depending on workload and schedules, it hits some creatives sooner than others.

Much of that burnout comes specifically because we creatives are service-oriented. Our work takes time, energy, and concentration. We are constantly looking for inspiration. Much of what we do is problem solving — and that can be mentally exhausting. 

And often, we are doing repetitive tasks — some of which could be best compared to assembly line work. Conforming to naming conventions on documents, applying the same action over and over again in Photoshop, placing boilerplate text into InDesign files — these menial and redundant tasks can be just as taxing as the more cerebral ones.

Have I convinced you yet that your services don’t always serve us well? If so, let’s explore what else you can offer to your clients that, in the long run, will save you time and make you all-the-more money: products.

Adding products to the mix

Products are your growth solution. But how does a creative who’s been offering services, perhaps for years, offer products?

It’s time to count the ways we can do what we do best — create — and make products that can increase both our income and our time. 

1. Produce an evergreen online course

When Fred Astaire co-founded his dance studios in the late 1940s, he did so with the sincere belief that the ability to dance was not pure talent. He believed dancing was a skill that could be learned. Now, 70 years later, the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, which continue to live on and bear his name, along with their successful students, are the evidence to that truth.

As I mentioned earlier, we creatives, like Fred Astaire, also have our skills. They are special. They are unique. But it would be probably awfully heady of us to not admit that, as special as those skills are, they can indeed be learned.

Who better to teach those skills to others than us?

And who better to have the skills to create a course than us?

We are, after all, the content specialists! We write, we develop, we design, we illustrate. And if we don’t specialize in a particular creative aspect, we know people who do. 

Teach what you know — create a course built around your own personal knowledge. Make it “evergreen,” which means the course can stand alone and teach students without being live. All the information is recorded and accessed as needed by the student. Then, market and sell the course for residual income.

2. Publish a book

Similarly, you can express your knowledge and your experience in the form of a book. Within the last decade, self-publishing has become easier than ever. And as creatives, we have all the skills and tools necessary to pull it off.  

To be most cost effective, you can go the digital route and offer ebooks (rather than hard, printed copies) — either via your own website or through bigger third parties who accept a commission to sell them online.

3. Design templates for printable pieces

Let’s face it… Laypeople are trying to do what we professional creatives do every day.

Do they do it as well as we do? No. Will they keep trying? Yes.

Why? Because, at this particular point in their business career, these people have way more time than money.

They believe they can’t afford professional help. But they need the marketing collateral. So, they are going to continue to attempt to design their own brochures and fliers — no matter the end result.

Why not lend them a hand by designing and selling lower priced templates that can help these potential customers look as polished and professional as possible? It brings to mind the old saying: If you can’t beat them, join them. If they won’t (or can’t) buy your services, help them by selling them your products instead. By doing so, you’ve just created a source of income, where before, none existed.

4. Create design elements

As with templates, not everyone has the skill or the time to create illustrations and mockups. Even talented professionals will admit that, rather than spend hours drawing icons and line art, their time is worth way more than the money buying a few pieces will cost. Often, that money spent is billable anyway.

Why not try to cash in with products that, as such, are already desirable and have an existing market of buyers? To distribute them, you can create your own website as a vehicle, or you can use a third-party website.

5. Develop a new font family

It seems like a designer’s appetite for new fonts is rarely satisfied. We’re always looking for that perfect font with just the right feel for every project — that doesn’t make it feel like every one else’s design.

As trends come and go, unique, fresh fonts are always in demand.

6. Shoot some photos

If you are a creative, you’ve been there — looking for just the right image for that brochure, magazine, social media post, or website landing page. You know what you needed then, and you probably weren’t the only one looking for that particular image.

Assuming you are decent with a camera, you can turn the process around, and shoot the photos you were looking for. Chances are good that someone else needs them as well.

Upload the images to sites that sell stock photos, and reap the rewards when other designers find that you took that perfect shot.

Think residual, not passive, income

“Passive income” — what a misnomer!

As it’s probably evident in these steps, the income that comes from creating products is hardly passive. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “passive income.” Somewhere along the line, work and time is spent. You can’t be any more lazy about producing a product than you can be about providing a service.

However, with products, you “batch” your efforts. Rather than the constant, continuous grind of providing services, you create a product, and it’s done. It’s concrete. It’s finite. And as such, the income these products produce is “residual” — the money can keep rolling in, as long as the products keep selling.

Admittedly, as the product sells, the income can feel “passive,” especially during those times when you are literally sleeping and someone is online buying your product. But, by that point, we know better: The time and hard work necessary to produce a good, marketable product will have already been spent.

Of course, there are other elements of selling products that go deeper than creating them. Marketing the products and providing good customer service are both necessary for success.

But you have to begin somewhere, and step one is the product’s creation.

You have knowledge. You have creativity. You have skills. You’ve hit the trifecta that makes producing great, sellable products possible. Put all three to work to increase your bottom line while gaining the time that’s so valuable to all of us.

What ways do you create residual income to your creative business? Comment below!

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About Patricia LaCroix

Patricia LaCroix has had a career in marketing and publishing for longer than she cares to admit. But, despite that it reveals her age, she’s willing to say that she’s been working a creative business from home in some way, shape, or form since 1986. Her creative skills run the gamut and include expertise in both visual and written forms of communication. Patricia’s entrepreneurial yet giving spirit drives her to help others learn how to work from home and create their own “lifestyle” careers.

 

More about Patricia’s business: LaCroix Creative is a full-service creative business in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Patricia leads a talented team of associates who assist her in creating effective graphic design and written content — in print and online. Decades of experience — partnered with caring, personal attention — make LaCroix Creative especially well equipped to serve solopreneurs, start-ups, educators, coaches, healthcare professionals, and self-publishing authors.

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