When I made the jump back into freelance work in March of this year, I didn’t have much time to get my plan of attack in order. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just started taking on clients again without really giving it a second thought. I had only been out of the game for a year after all. But a lot can happen in a year when you’re talking technology and the internets. When I realized I was a sinking ship, I started to evaluate myself and how I conduct business. That’s when I realized I had been making mistakes left and right. These past couple weeks have been spent trying to turn those mistakes around, and I’m already seeing results.

Stale. Wait, is that Mold?

The first thing I had to do, was get get people talking about my blog and my work again. It’s been a while since I’ve done something or rolled out a project that’s received a lot of attention, and my previous design was quickly approaching it’s three year anniversary (November 1). The response to this new design has been amazing and I’ve already been featured in a bunch of showcase galleries and mentioned in a handful of articles, which has resulted in a substantial increase in traffic. Whoo!

I Probably Should Have Hung Onto…

One thing I took for granted over the years was passive income – making money from projects that require little-to-no maintenance. When Feed Icons was in its prime and prior to the Google smack-down on the text link ad services, I was making $500-$600 each month from ads. Sure, those aren’t huge numbers, but that’s enough to cover a few bills or purchase eight or nine full priced games.

In the late months of 2007, shortly after launching a redesign, I decided to sell Feed Icons. I banked half of the money to help prepare for my wife’s maternity leave, and picked up a glorious 40″ Samsung TV. Clearly, I don’t regret making that move. But I soon realized just how nice it was to receive a couple hundred bucks each month from the AdSense on that site.

In my last post, many people suggested re-introducing ads by way of a service like BuySellAds.com. I signed up and was approved for a beta account the same day. After spending a bit of time setting things up, I thought it was foolish to use this service and lose 25% off the top of every sale, when I could host and manage the ads myself. Sure, there’s a bit more maintenance involved and I spent about 6 hours setting it all up, but I get to keep 100% of the profit. Once I found my way around, OpenX proved to be just what I needed to get the job done. Now it’s dead simple to swap ads in and out, and even schedule them so I don’t have to remember when to take them down. It’s been about 48 hours since I soft launched, and 6 of 8 of the ad spots are already reserved.

Keeping Up Appearances

When I made the switch to working for a design firm back in 2007, I stopped maintaining a lot of my online profiles on social networking sites. So, to anyone new that came across my blog, work, or caught wind of a project I was involved in, it appeared I had fallen off the internet. Again, I took services like Carbonmade and LinkedIn for granted. I’ve been using both for years now, and have made several connections with both new clients and freelance allies through them. But when I stopped maintaining them, I stopped making new connections. A couple days after giving my Carbonmade portfolio an overhaul, I received a very promising lead from someone who found me there. Granted, that was by way of the interview I just did a few days ago, but still. Had I not updated my portfolio, I doubt they would have wanted to speak me.

But Wait, There’s More…

I’m feeling pretty good about the progress I’ve made in improving my online presence and generating a passive income revenue stream. And that’s just in the span of a couple weeks. Here’s my short list of other ways to expand and grow…

Release Some WordPress Themes

I like to think that my rates are reasonable, but I don’t come cheap by any means. It’s always a drag when I’m replying to a new lead and I know full well I won’t be hearing from that person again. Although I’ve started offering customization of premium themes, there are still a lot of people who want something designed by me but don’t have the budget for it. I’m going to release both free and premium themes in the very near future. Some of which will be inspired heavily by some of my more popular work.

Start a New Side-Project

I thought this was going to be difficult, but I’ve already established a partnership relationship with a developer and we’re well on our way in the brainstorming stage. While this will be a side-project, it will be seeing some dedicated time from myself and the developer over the next couple months.

Share My Knowledge and Experience

I wish I had more tutorials and tips in my archives, but I’m lacking that department big time. I’m going to make an effort to release more of that sort of content in the form of articles and screencasts in the coming months. The topic of freelance seems to be one that many people are willing to chime in on, so I’m thinking of keeping the flow of posts like this coming as well.

What Do You Want to See From Me?

I can come up with whatever ideas I like, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to fly. After-all, most of them rely on you to accept and desire them to be truly successful.

I’ve thought of taking my design skills in different directions, like branching out into the real world and trying my hand at some posters, buttons, and other geek merchandise. But would anyone want that sort of thing? Perhaps there’s something else you would love to see my trademark grunge style inflicted on?

46 Comments

Another good read dude. I reckon if you designed some t-shirts/posters/buttons and had a little store on your site that might be good for some passive income.

Also I feel designing random stuff like that helps you be more creative working outside a web environment for once. Just look how well avalonstar t-shirts sold.

Anyway best of luck.

Ben

Ah, t-shirts! I hadn’t thought of that. Indeed, that would likely do alright. Something (else) to consider.

I’ve thought of setting up an affiliate based shop with a bunch of items that I recommend or use myself, but having some of my own stuff would be better. Or at least, have my own stuff at the forefront.

Glad to see things looking up, Matt. Like always, still a big fan of your work.

Can’t wait for some tutorials and tips!

Looks like you’re doing a serious housecleaning of your business practices.

You might want to read "Good To Great" by Jim Collins. What you’re going through happens to small business and giant corporations. That book examines the process of how some businesses made specific changes for the better.

Since you’re a fan of video games, I’m sure you’re familiar with mistakes that game manufacturers have made going all the way back to the 80s. Anyone here still have their E.T. Atari ROM game?

You’ve been very open about your mistakes. You’re not pointing fingers at anyone but yourself and you’re not wallowing in pity. You’re moving forward and putting a plan into action. That’s one of the benefits of being a freelancer: you’re the boss, so changes can happen swiftly.

You might want to take what you’ve written here and maybe write an article for a magazine like HOW or maybe even write a book. You’re both a designer and a writer. A very potent combination.

Again…my best of luck to you. Thank you for sharing your story. As you can see by the comments, you’ve touched a nerve.

Thanks for the recommendations, Charles. I’ll look into Good to Great, and seriously consider writing some follow-up articles after this all plays out. Either way, I’m sure people would be interested in hearing what worked and what didn’t.

Keep up the great work Matt. You continue to be an inspiration to me (and I’m sure other individuals) with each update you post.

I think if you made some posters or prints they’d sell for sure. Your ‘Design is…’ wallpaper was awesome, so I know you could definitely make some kick-ass posters.

Besides that, I know a ton of people (myself included) would love to see some tutorials on WordPress, Photoshop or freelancing.

Also, congrats on the new site – it’s ridiculously good.

Such a positive post Matt, glad things are starting to look up. You sound much more positive.

Your work is outstanding, I will be interested in hearing more about your side project etc.

As far as "What Do You Want to See From Me?", i know i would buy a poster/print or a t shirt, as i am sure the many people that you inspire would as well.

Good luck in all your ventures.

Chris

As Charles G said, writing and designing are a potent combination. There are a lot of avenues for a designer/writer + freelancer to go down to make some extra money and get more noticed.

Smashing Magazine, Freelance Switch and PSDtuts are just some that you could write articles for on your strongest subject, and I believe they all pay pretty good money for sitting down and writing an article.

I also liked the t-shirt idea it sounds good to me.

One thing I noticed when running myself was the separation of time between networking, getting leads and working on the ones you have, how many leads you expect to win and why, the difference between good and bad clients, tire kickers and interested parties. If you advise on these people would like to read it.

I’m glad everything is working out!

Gavin

See, if I were going to spend a bunch of time writing up an article, I would just post it here. While it wouldn’t provide instant revenue like writing for one of those sites would, it adds value to my site. Good suggestion, though.

One thing I noticed when running myself was the separation of time between networking, getting leads and working on the ones you have, how many leads you expect to win and why, the difference between good and bad clients, tire kickers and interested parties. If you advise on these people would like to read it.

I’m going to write on the freelance topic more often, and I’m sure this will come out at some point. Handling clients and managing leads really is an art form, and while I haven’t mastered it by any means, I feel that I could at least share my experience and refer to some sources that I’ve received guidance from.

Great post, good luck with all of your future projects – I agree passive income is the bomb.

I’ve also been working on creating some WordPress themes (free and premium) to release soon, I guess I’ll have some competition in that arena. Friendly, I hope. 😉

I hope things work out for you and I’m excited to see what you bring. And thanks for being an ongoing contributer to the grunge design world, heling to keep that trend growing, evolving, and moving forward.

And thanks for being an ongoing contributer to the grunge design world, heling to keep that trend growing, evolving, and moving forward.

My pleasure! I feel that I haven’t been exercising my grunge muscles enough these days, or at least not with my client work. I really pushed myself with this design and kept going back to add more detail after I thought I was done. There will most definitely be some grunge themes in the works.

You’ve probably heard this a couple times from Chris Davis, already… but I’d love to see you produce a Habari theme.

Also, how about some t-shirts?

I’m not sure that I’d branch out into doing themes for other publishing platforms, but I wouldn’t be opposed to working with someone to do some ports.

Hey Matt,

There’s a few things that I really like about what you do.

1. Is your amazing ability with CSS.

I work with my brothers doing freelance webwork and out of the three of us, I’m the one who can really do CSS well, but you have it down extremely well. So, I think some more CSS explanations of how your new site was composed would be awesome.

2. I’m in the process of starting to redesign my new site, because my current site doesn’t allow for any expansion of any kind. But what is really slowing me down is my inability to come up with a good graphic layout. Maybe, I’m just not artistic enough, but it’d be cool to know where your inspiration for cool graphic designs come from and how you actually create them.

Wherd, Peace.

Yo Nick! Thanks for the suggestions. Writing about design inspiration and process is really hard. I’ve tried before, but as you can see by the lack of design posts in my archive, failed miserably. I hardly ever just sit down and come up with something right away. There’s usually a couple failed attempts before I get on the right track.

I have a couple posts started on the topic of my redesign. One pertaining to CSS trickery, the other focuses on the back-end. Not sure when I’ll finish them, but keep an eye out.

Great to hear you´r comming back on track – even though I don´t know you more than what we all can read here, I couldn´t help but to feel a little sorry for you…

I would love to here more about you freelance experience, I think it exciting to here how you get about making a living from what you love, not knowing if there will be enough $ to pay the bills next month … maybe I´m taking this stuff in so much because I don´t have the nerves to do the same (just yet), stille I think it´s great reading.

no offense meant, and certainly no insensitivity (ive been in the same boat many times), but i’d like to see much less of the "what does it all mean" and more of the "this game is sick!" maybe that’s the problem? all this buildup to the next crop of games and the waiting has thrown you into depression and huge life questions?

you kick ass, man, just keep doing it. there is no try. there is only kick ass.

btw, any chance of you returning to music television?

You must be Canadian. Nope, no chance of returning to music television. Have you seen the state of it? Not interested at all. The one thing I love about not being involved int he music industry at all, is being completely oblivious to the garbage that’s out there. Someone asks me, "hey, have you seen that awful new insert artist name video?" and my answer is always no. I like it that way. 😛

One thing I like to see on websites I frequent/admire is what’s under the hood, or how they’ve cleverly structured certain parts of the website. Even just a list of links in the About section highlighting the plugins or notable techniques you use would be cool. It’s always interesting to see what other developers have in their toolkit.

I think I remember you mentioned something a while back about your newer CSS reset file, too.

Best of luck. Good to hear things are looking up!

I think I remember you mentioned something a while back about your newer CSS reset file, too.

Ah, thanks for the reminder! Totally forgot to write about that. Indeed, I expanded my "Barebones Stylesheet" into a pseudo template system.

Great Ideas for putting some juice back into your business. I wish you the best of luck.

As for what there should be more of, I can see one thing missing from your site. Auto-Discovery of your feed:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS#Including_in_XHT

I haven’t used any of your themes yet, but you’re doing yourself (and possibly your users) a disservice by not having this bit of code in you themes.

wait a sec… now its showing. nevermind the last bit … i guess firefox was wonking out for a sec. 🙂

Looking forward to free WordPress themes and tutorial blog entries. Your future plan sounds very exciting!

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I have never and never will click on an advertisement on a website, it’s just something that’s just not appealing to click, especially if its a Google ad.

So, I’m incredibly shocked to hear you were making $500-$600 on your site? I mean the only people to visit that site would be people seeking the icon so, that’s only people who are designing sites etc, but regardless of the audience, would they really click those ads?

I’ve stuck ads on loads of sites, and while they may not have had crazy traffic, they had over 200 dedicated visitors and I never got shit in terms of clicks on my ads.

I’d love to know how you have managed to get your ads to generate so much cash!

x

dRiZ,

If you put up a large advertising poster in a city centre how much do you think it’s worth? $1, $250’000? You’ll be looking closer to the $250’000 because of the amount of people viewing it, anything after that (monetary value if people click) is purely theoretical.

Adverts have to have a price incomparison to how much they are viewed, I would expect Matt did some research to see how much his were worth in relation to how many page views / unique visits he was getting and set the price accordingly.

Gavin

Yeah but that’s when you take a payment to display an ad, say $400 lump some for displaying an image. Matt was using Google Adsense right? Whereby you gather revenue based on the amount of clicks, NOT that your actually displaying the ad! x

200 per day, month, year? no matter how you slice it – that’s not a very high number, even if it was 200 per minute.

Not true! It’s not what you know, but who you know! You know someone in a high place and gives you priority for high place jobs your in with the dollars! The only way your ever gonna make money on your own if you have something totally unique on the market, otherwise your stuffed!

Depends on who you work for! Many companies, Google is a good example allow you free time (in work hours) to work on your own ideas, and they allow you to use their resources etc, and take absolute no ownership of your creations, literally if you went and built some amazing product worth millions, Google would happily let you walk out of the door with it and create your own business, they wouldn’t try and steal it from you. x

That’s not really true. GMail came out of the "20% of your time should be spent pursuing your own ideas" but they most certainly don’t let it walk out the door. I’m sure Paul Buchheit was paid handsomely for his time at Google, and possibly got a bonus for Gmail, but he also had to stay there developing it for many years before it even got out the door to the public. Indeed, his money was made on Google stock, just like the Microsoft Millionaires before them, but they are hardly the rule, but the exception to it.

You have some valid points there, but Gmail isn’t something you’d pursue on your own, it needed the G branding, otherwise it wouldn’t of really taken off.

Good stuff I’m glad to see your recovering quite nicely from the potential "Def-Con-Five" situation.

I like this post, thanks for sharing the advice. I’ve now set myself up over at CarbonMade, not sure what to expect, but it can’t hurt!

Thanks for sharing. Thanks for your honesty. You’ve given me some good ideas…I need to get out of my own very dry spell 😮

Your site redesign is great! Mine has been in the photoshop phase for a looooong loooong time. Redesign is a good way to utilize down times for sure! Thanks for the inspiration.

With your design style, I’d LOVE to see some t-shirts and would buy every single one 🙂 I’d also love to see some tutorials on design/wordpress as well.

Hey Matt,

Came across your site while surfing the net. You have a very nice site and I hung around checking things out for longer than I planned. I even read your whole spill on this post.

You seem to have pretty good skills and motivational and I will be back.

Nice design on the Rss Icon!

I do like the look of this site and brown is not a color I usually go for.

Hey Matt in regards to building traffic on your site do you submit your content to social media and user generated content sites or do you rely on your user base to do that for you?

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