Lesson 4: Creating Revenue Streams

What You’ll Learn: As a creative, it’s easy to think about selling your work as a simple, one-time transaction. But these days, there are ways you can monetize your work through multiple channels, reselling and repurposing it to create a steady stream of money coming through the door.

Creating Revenue Streams

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

~ Thomas Edison      


As a creative, you know how hard it can be to make ends meet. If you’re running solo, you are continually in a sales-production cycle, finding a client, doing the work and then moving on to the next project and client. If you’re lucky, you’ve found ways to streamline this, especially if you are producing tangible products that can be cranked out in limited production runs and sold to galleries or through your own sales channel. If you’re in the performance arts, supporting yourself can be even more complicated since you are at the mercy of doing the audition circuit, then waiting for that gig you’re perfect for to finally get the green light. The ability to create revenue streams is an essential part of your ability to make a living as a creative. Ideally, you have multiple channels that you can tap so when one falls silent, even momentarily, others can fill up your time and bank account.

Multiplying Opportunity

If you’ve ever gone fishing, you understand the importance of casting a wide net. If you want to maximize your take on the day’s catch, you want the net to be as wide and deep as possible to get the maximum yield. Yes, you’ll catch other things in the net that you don’t need or want, but it’s a lot easier to throw something back than to pull up an almost empty net.

Some are drawn to the creative economy by a desire to explore who they are and what they can do without punching a clock. Others want to build a life around what they do rather than doing it for others. And others, well, they just want a paying gig that fills their soul with joy and their pockets with some cash.

Yet, obligations still exist, and the days of a hippy commune filled with peace and love are long gone. Whether we live in the basement of our best friend’s home or a view condo in Friday Harbor, there are still bills to pay, commitments to keep and food to put in the refrigerator.

As noted earlier, it’s darned hard to continually be in a sales/work mode, pitching new business and then doing the actual work. This not only gets old after a while, but it also creates a feast and famine existence where the money rolls in, then rolls out like the tide.

It’s certainly not an efficient way to fill the net so that income continues to roll in while you are reeling in more fish.

A Lesson Learned

This happened to me in the early days of running my creative business. I didn’t really think about where I’d get a sustainable amount of clients. Initially, I did work for some of my past employers and coworkers who went on to other positions in other companies. Not exactly a big net.

When I moved to a small town on the western side of Puget Sound, my net got a bit bigger. I was involved in the chamber of commerce and other organizations and inevitably started doing work for other businesses in town. This would have been awesome if I lived in a place like Seattle, but Port Orchard at the time had a population of about 6,800. Not exactly a big net.

This was about the same time that our main source of revenue – film production – dried up. Gone were the $5,000 checks for a week’s work. There were times when there was about a hundred bucks or so in the bank account, and eventually, we had to lay off what staff we had.

Thankfully, the Internet arrived, and the phone began to ring off the hook, asking us if we could build a website. This included Progressive Insurance and other big corporations. We didn’t know how to build websites, but we said, “Yeah, we can do that!” and worked day and night to learn how. It saved our creative lives.

Eventually, that dried up too. By then, we had gotten smart and opened multiple channels to draw work from, including places like Elance.com (now Upwork) and Guru.com. Every time I logged on to one of these sites, a new fish had jumped in the boat, asking us to do a writing project, marketing strategy, new print collateral, and of course, websites. This work supplemented the work we were doing for existing clients, and we didn’t stop selling our services. The multiple revenue streams evened out the cash flow for the next decade or so, and best of all, we got to work on some amazing projects with clients all over the world. Not bad for small-town creatives.