Turning one-time design projects into continuous income machines

GUEST ARTICLE by Leighton Taylor – If you would like to write for Millo, contact me.

The best clients are those who return for your services again and again. However, sometimes clients will hire you for one project and then move on with life, and you are stuck continuously searching for new clients.
While it’s great to turn clients into repeat customers, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Fortunately there are techniques for turning one-time design projects into income machines, so pull up a chair and let’s talk about a few.

Include a credit line in client projects

A credit line is just a small line of text giving you credit for the work you’ve done. Example: in the footer of your client’s website, include the text “Website by YourWebsite.com.” You should ask for your client’s permission to include a credit line, and this is usually negotiated before the client signs a contract.

If your work is excellent, this link should send visitors your way who are interested in hiring you! Even if the original client never hires you again, that link is sending traffic your way, and people who click on the link have already been impressed with your design skills displayed on the client’s website.

Sell your unused work

Let’s say a client hires you to create a logo for his company, and you come up with 3-5 good concepts. The client chooses one, and the rest are forever entombed on your hard drive. Why not bring in some cash by selling the unused concepts?

Brandstack.com allows you to sell logo designs, and logos typically sell for $300-$1500. This can be a great way to bring in cash on the side from work that you’ve already done.

There is some serious debate about whether selling logo concepts like this is a good practice—some valid arguments are made that it devalues the design industry. If you feel that way, you can always stick with selling more generic things like textures and other graphics at GraphicRiver.net.

You can also sell website templates and WordPress themes at ThemeForest.net. You can sell PSD templates, WordPress themes, website templates, and lots more. Authors receive commissions of 40-70%, depending on sales volume.

Reuse work

While most of your work cannot be reused for more than one client, certain types can be reused. For example, I recently designed a wedding invitation for a client. Within the next few months, I have several more wedding invitations to design. Once I have 5-10 wedding invitations designed, I can show them to potential customers and resell whichever design the customer likes, simply changing the names and photos. Since I am not selling to a business with competitors, and since I retain rights to the design, I can resell the design over and over.

Get referrals

Similar to the credit line mentioned above, referrals are simply new customers that find you through your one-time client. Referrals differ from the credit line in that they are word-of-mouth, which gives you even more credibility with potential clients.

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So how can you encourage your clients to give you referrals? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Just ask. Ask your clients to send their friends your way.
  • Give your clients an incentive to refer you (20% discount off next project?)
  • Consistently follow through and deliver excellent work, and your clients will be excited to recommend you to their friends
  • Communicate quickly and clearly
  • Go the extra mile. Impress your clients with your excellent customer service.
  • If you would like to learn more, you can read more on how to get referrals here.

An additional tip from the editor:

Create passive income

Leighton has made some great suggestions on keeping cash flowing as a designer. I would also like to add the tip of creating passive income. Passive income essentially means that you create something that can be sold over and over again. While many design services are a one-time thing (web site design, logo design, etc) there are many things you can do to gain perpetual income with little or no extra work (comparatively speaking). Leighton eludes to these possibilities is his section titled “Reuse work”. Here are a few more ideas for creating perpetual passive income for designers:

  • Write and sell an eBook
  • Design a flash, wordpress, or HTML template
  • Create and sell premium screencast tutorials
  • Write for blogs that pay you per pageview

While the design industry doesn’t tend to be one with a lot of possibilities for passive income, be creative. You’ll find a way to do it.

That’s it. What do you think?

So what are you going to do in order to turn your one-time design projects into continuous income machines? Share with us your plans and add suggestions to the ones mentioned above.

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About Leighton Taylor


  1. Hi Leighton,
    good points, well written. We usually manage the hosting for the websites we design and code, thus clients come back for renewal each year and sometimes ask for some more projects or for updates. Anyway up till now, the best sources of new project for us were: word-of-mouth from client to client and good relationships with freelancers from other fields (photographers and movie makers).

  2. Nice post. I couldn’t agree with “Sell your unused work” more.

  3. Some good thoughts.

    Yeah, I’m one of the jerks that says it’s not the best for design in general to sell a logo off to someone it wasn’t created for. But while it may not be in the purchasers best interest, it certainly is a great way to supplement your income as a designer.

    Thanks, Leighton!

  4. As an incentive for referrals I offer my client a five percent referral fee for any new client I am able to sign because of their introduction. This has worked fabulously well with one client bringing me enough new work to pay for nearly half the cost of his next project!

    • @Ed Rooney, Awesome! Yeah, a small commission is a great way to motivate clients to refer you. It’s a win-win.

      It’s good to hear how that strategy has worked for you Ed. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great article Leighton!

    Personally, I have had no luck with ThemeForest and GraphicRiver approving my work. Each time I submit graphics or templates, I have been denied. I’m not blaming the Envato marketplaces, it just makes an obstacle for creating a passive income for myself.

    • @Nicole Foster, That’s really interesting. I’ve heard that it’s hard to get into those sites. I’ve bought from them, but have never sold anything. Thanks for your perspective and good luck with Envato in the future.

  6. Great guest article! Good job Leighton. All are very good tips and so often we overlook the obvious potential with existing clients.

    • @Design That Rocks, Thanks for your comment Craig. It’s true that existing relationships are great to invest in! Once you have that established trust with someone, it’s much easier than trying to build trust with a new client.

  7. Great list and its certainly what im going to start doing. Will start producing my templates for sale on websites, as well as offering commission to previous clients for referrals, like said above.

  8. Good piece on passive income. This is something I need to start doing and working into my regular work flow.

  9. I think selling your unused designs is a double-edged sword though. On one hand it’s great to create some extra revenue but in reality you are selling your creativity at bargain basement prices.

    • @Frequency Design, Yes, you’re absolutely right; selling your work on these online marketplaces comes nowhere near repaying the value of your creativity.

      When you’ve already created something, would you say that it’s better to do nothing with your unused work or sell some of it for at least a little income? I guess from a purely business aspect it seems like it’s better to have some cash than none, but obviously there is more that goes into that decision than just the money. What are your thoughts?

  10. I have been lucky with most clients. They seem to come in two’s for me. Someone will want me to build one for the company they work for or their organization and then another one for their personal business. Works out great! Plus, I offer reasonable updating prices so I have hourly work when I am not designing. I also create basic tutorials for Dreamweaver & Fireworks.
    Great article!

    • @Christina, Awesome! Sounds like a great bundle package! 🙂 That’s another good idea—having one price for your original design and then lower updating rates, to encourage them to keep paying you. Thanks for the input Christina!

  11. Sometimes those of us just starting out need to see the “obvious,” thank you for your post. It has prompted me to think of ways to be proactive in designing “pre-client” also. I know of several areas I want to target, in which I do not yet have clients, and where I have yet to design even concept pieces to target them with. Time to get on the ball!

    Well, again, thank you for the post. Keep up the great work!

  12. Thanks Mike. Glad it was useful for you.

  13. i do most wedding invitations on photoshop and also on MS Word~,’

  14. we like to make customized wedding invitations at home,”;


  1. […] this I’ve developed a marketing plan designed to encourage existing clients to refer new ones and turn one-off projects into repeat clients. I’ve also launched my website and my first blog […]

  2. […] I’ve developed a marketing plan designed to encourage existing clients to refer new ones and turn one-off projects into repeat clients. I’ve also launched my website and my first blog […]

  3. […] I’ve developed a marketing plan designed to encourage existing clients to refer new ones and turn one-off projects into repeat clients. I’ve also launched my website and my first blog […]


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