A common response I get to Learn Lettering is “I don’t plan to make a living with hand lettering.” Neither did I!
Who in the world makes a living as a hand lettering artist? Most people haven’t even heard of hand lettering!
Well for one, I’ve been able to. And so are many others. But I’ll get to that more in a minute.
Let’s be honest: hand lettering may be experiencing a resurgence, but if you ask anyone on the street, they most likely haven’t heard of it. Hand lettering is still fairly niche.
The good news is you can still make a living at something super niche.
And let me just say one more thing before I tell you exactly how to do this: even if you aren’t planning to make a living as a hand lettering artist, you’d be making a mistake to ignore these very real streams of income you’re missing out on.
Ok, so you don’t plan to be a hand lettering artist vocationally. Would you still turn down an extra $1,000 a month? How about $2,000? What if it was entirely passive?
The most common mistake is assuming that all your money will come from one stream.
Are Products A Good Way to Start?
Let’s say you decided to make tshirts with one of your designs and sell them. What would it look like in order for you to make $1,000/mo by selling one tshirt?
Well, there are a lot of factors and variations, but let’s simplify this and say you bought 96 shirts at $12 a piece (since you wanted quality fabric). Let’s assume you sold them for $31 each. Let’s also assume you offered free shipping in your own country and ate the cost (for me, that’s the US and it’s roughly $3).
That leaves us with $16 profit, but don’t forget you have packaging costs and let’s also assume you threw in some stickers and buttons to sweeten the deal, made custom tags, and we’ll add a buffer to cover payment processing fees.
Let’s make this really simple and say you end up with 100% profit: $12 a shirt. How many shirts do you need to sell in a month to make $1,000?
You’d need to sell 84. That’s roughly 3 shirts a day.
Not an easy thing to do.
Products can be great for profits if you’re in it for the long haul and willing to make an investment, but products are not so great for quick turn around—especially if you’re just beginning.
There’s also digital products, but that’s a story for another day.
Fortunately, it’s not the only way to bring in revenue. There are three ways to make money doing what you love in any niche pursuit (I call this The Trifecta):
Client work is the easiest one to get started with and the quickest way to begin sustaining yourself. You don’t need to sell a ton, you only need to sell your services to one person.
You also don’t need an audience—you just need a body of work. The body of work is key: it attracts clients to you instead of you chasing the clients. This is absolutely critical which is why I’ll be explaining it in much more detail tomorrow.
Lettering is mostly a hobby for you right now, right? Even if you’re making some money now, I’m going to assume it’s not your full time job. Likely, you have another job or work paying the bills.
The nice thing about your situation is you don’t really need the initial money you’ll make from lettering. It’s extra. That means when you make money from your first clients you can potentially invest in products. Maybe spend your first $1,000 on a run of tshirts that you sell to people who follow you. You can do that because you already have a day job paying your bills.
Once you’ve reached a point where you have spent thousands of hours practicing, and getting good a skill, and working with clients, and selling products—you’d better believe you’re going to have learned a LOT!
At this point, you have something to teach. That’s the final piece of The Trifecta: Teaching.
That’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
Money Every Quarter for Old Work I Did?
I made good money with lettering commissions. I got to where I was charging 5-figure rates with clients. I show you how to approach pricing and client communication inside the Learn Lettering Master Class.
I continue to make money from my products every single day. Not only that, but I also get a check in the mail once every quarter for work I did 3 years ago. How? The power of licensing.
I had a client commission me to create a design. They wanted to pay me a flat rate. I asked them what they were going to use the design for. They said they were going to put it on products to sell. Most designers just take the flat pay—in fact all of the other hand letterers they worked with did this. They said I was the only one. But I understand the selling power of hand lettering and why you should be licensing designs that will be resold. Because of my knowledge of licensing, I drafted an agreement and negotiated an ongoing commission. Because they wanted my work, they agreed to it. The up front pay was slightly lower, but after several months, I broke even. Now, three years later, I’m still getting paid.
I’ll be sharing more about licensing in an upcoming post, but I also teach you the how to license your work in the Learn Lettering Master Class: I explain all of the terms, how to negotiate, and when to recognize opportunities to license.
It was only after some years of doing this successfully that I realized I was completely ignoring that third piece: Teaching. Sure, I was making my living as a hand lettering artist just fine with #1 and #2 of The Trifecta, but what I didn’t capitalize on was all of the people who wanted to learn what I knew!
After you put in the time and effort, you’re going to have that knowledge. I never thought of myself as a teacher. Then again, I also never thought of myself as one to make a living as a hand lettering artist and you saw how that turned out!
Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a teacher. That’s ok. I really just sort of came into myself. I figured out a lot of things the hard way and in doing so, I acquired a lot of knowledge. I thought, “Man, you know what would suck? If other people also had to go through this the hard way just because I didn’t write about my experiences.”
- Share what you learn.
- Teach everything you know.
I just started giving it away and the results… well… you’re here reading this right now!
You don’t need to sell 1,000 shirts in a month. You don’t need to be charging 5-figure client rates right off the bat. What I’m getting at is the small wins add up. Don’t think of it as “making a living” if that sounds too ambitious to you right now. You’d simply be remiss not to acknowledge the revenue potential here—even if it’s just some extra on the side.
Hopefully you’re starting to see the possibilities opening up. I’m looking forward to sharing with you exactly what kind of selling power hand lettering has and how you can leverage that with clients!