4 min read
One of my favorite new personal finance blogs to pop up over the past year has been Accidental FIRE. At FinCon this year I ran into the man behind the site, Dave, and we had the chance to talk about personal finance, work, and life in general on several different occasions.
During each of our conversations I couldn’t help but notice that Dave was wearing the coolest t-shirts with designs related to stoicism, index funds, and retirement. I eventually found out that Dave made the designs himself and even sold them online.
I recently got the chance to catch up with Dave and ask him some questions about this side hustle. In this interview, he shares how he got started selling graphic designs online, his plans for expanding this business in the future, and lessons he learned along the way.
Zach: What exactly is your side hustle and how did you first come up with the idea for it?
Dave: Besides my blog, my side hustle is graphic design. I sell designs on print-on-demand sites such as Redbubble, TeePublic, and Amazon Merch. Basically I just make a digital design and upload it to those sites, and they sell it on t-shirts, coffee mugs, ball caps, or whatever. I’ve also started doing some custom logo design for blogs etc.
Some of my favorite designs by Dave:
Zach: How long did it take for you to land your first sale?
Dave: I actually made sales as long ago as 2008, but I only put the designs up for myself. At the time I wanted a few stickers for my snowboard so I made the designs and bought them myself. I never had the intention of taking it anywhere.
But the designs started selling here and there, and I thought “Hmmm maybe I could expand this”. I sat on it for another 5 or 6 years or so and didn’t really start to make lots of designs until 2016.
Zach: How much do you typically earn per month from selling graphic designs?
Dave: Right now I’m in the $300 – $400 range most months but the holidays should be big.
Zach: What are your goals for the future with selling graphic designs? Is it something you only want to do on the side or would you consider doing it full time?
Dave: I definitely want to keep expanding it for sure. It’s fun and very hands off. By hands off I mean that I don’t have to deal with clients, or anyone really. And I only work on new designs when I want. If I stop, the money still keeps coming in from the hundreds of designs I have for sale. It’s a great side hustle for an introvert like me. As for full time, I’m not sure I could do that, but I would like to get it to about $1,000 a month of income ideally.
Some of my favorite non-finance related designs by Dave:
Zach: If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Dave: I would have done my early designs at a higher resolution. I was only selling on 2 sites in the beginning and I made designs that satisfied their resolution requirements.
Now I’m selling on 8 or 9 sites and many of the new sites demand higher resolution artwork. I can’t simply just “blow up” those old designs as that makes them fuzzy and degrades the quality, so I’d have to go back and redo many of them.
Zach: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from this side hustle?
Dave: One lesson is to just put yourself and your ideas out there. Don’t be afraid. I’ve finished quite a few designs only to look at the final image and think “Nahh… that kinda sucks.” But I almost always force myself to put it out there. And nine times out of ten someone buys that design that I wasn’t really happy with.
Another lesson is that art and design (or any end product from a creative endeavor) have value only in the eye of the beholder. I stopped solely designing for myself and have made an honest effort to think of what others might like.
I sometimes see someone wearing a t-shirt in public that I would never buy, but I’ve learned to try to get into that space. Just because I’d never buy it doesn’t mean others won’t, and if you want to make money doing this you have to open your aperture.
Zach: What are your favorite aspects about this side hustle? What are your least favorite?
Dave: I love the autonomy and independence of it. Unlike many other online side hustles I don’t even need to be connected to the internet to be productive. I just need my laptop, so I can even make designs when I’m out in the mountains far from internet service. Also I love being creative, especially since my chosen career was very technical. It satisfies the other side of my brain.
My least favorite is that I’m beholden to the rules of the print on demand sites. Since they have the website where the design sells and they do all of the shipping etc, they can also change the rules of how things work and sometimes do. Sometimes a design of mine will rank high in search because it’s selling well, and then all of sudden they redo their search algorithm and it no longer ranks.
Another thing I hate is thieves. There are lots of bad players out there who steal your artwork and put it up for sale themselves, and you have to patrol that and file copyright complaints.
A few more of my favorites from Dave:
Zach: Any advice for other people out there looking to start selling graphic designs or something similar online?
Dave: Learn the basics, both aspects of design and the software too. But mainly be yourself and let your creative juices flow. Most people who think they don’t have any artistic or design talent probably do, and they’d be surprised to see what others will buy. Just put yourself and your ideas out there and see what happens. There are literally billions of customers out there.
Be sure to check out Accidental FIRE to learn more about Dave, his financial journey, and his side hustles ventures. You can find all of his graphic designs on Redbubble, TeePublic, and Amazon Merch. And specifically, you can find all of his “money type” graphic designs directly on his site.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
Although the bulk of his net worth is invested in index funds, his favorite place to invest in individual stocks is M1 Finance, a site that allows you to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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