6 Ways to Cash in on Creativity

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The advent of the Internet brought great things: blazing fast news, answers to all of our questions, pictures of cats – and, if you’re the creative type, access to millions of potential customers.

Gone are the days of selling your original work at someone else’s shop for a measly commission. Today’s modern creators have online portfolios, manage their own websites, and run stores on sites dedicated to selling homemade wares. They’re reaching more customers than ever before. Take Etsy, an online marketplace for homemade goods, for example: The site recorded gross merchandise sales of $76.2 million this August (the amount of goods sold on the site after refunds and cancellations), up 70 percent from August 2011.

If you’ve got a talent, you can take it online and make some cash doing what you love, whether full-time, part-time, or just on the side. Check out these six real-life examples.

1. Custom jewelry

Angela Falcone started making jewelry in 2005 after relocating to Memphis, Tenn., shortly after Hurricane Katrina. At first, creating jewelry was just a way to relieve stress and take her mind off the situation back home, but it quickly developed into a passion. Not long after, she started selling her pieces to buy better equipment and materials, and a business idea was born.

Today, Angela works full-time as a personal lines account manager for an insurance company. On the side, her eye for finding beauty in gemstones and metal has turned into a profitable way to make extra cash. She runs a booth at a weekly arts and crafts show, hosts home jewelry parties where clients can make their own pieces, creates custom designs for brides, and makes jewelry design on commission.

“The best part of my job is being able to work with my hands to create wearable art that other people enjoy,” Angela says. “I especially love seeing people I don’t know wearing my jewelry.” As for the worst part, she says it’s when a creative block strikes: “Trying to come up with new designs when the feeling just isn’t there is near impossible.”

How to sell: Most of Angela’s business connections are made through her own website, AngelaFalcone.com. Having your own site is ideal if you’re selling something visually appealing – like jewelry, artwork, or photography…and can drive traffic to it. A personal website is also a great way to showcase your wares for stores or other sites. Even if you’re not tech savvy, you can display your portfolio through a site like Wix or start a webstore through a hosting site like Yahoo! Small Business.

Startup costs: Jewelry-making requires a lot of supplies, but startup costs can still be low. Entrepreneur says you can get started for about $500 to $1,000, or even less depending on the size of your business.

2. Photography

Mckenzie Snelson is a full-time college student with a job and a budding photography business. While she is currently taking classes in photojournalism, she is mostly self-taught. Currently, Mckenzie is working on a per-request basis, shooting photos at private events in the Orange County area and doing photo shoots for engagements, school graduations, and other special occasions. She also sells her original work through her own website.

“Seeing the world through a lens is better than any other job I’ve had,” Mckenzie says, adding that she loves meeting new people and helping them look their best on camera.

How to sell: Like Angela, Mckenzie uses her own website, Mckenzie Snelson Photography, to connect with potential clients. You can also showcase your work on sites like Flickr, 500PX, and even your own Facebook.

Startup costs: Since most photography has gone digital, you’ll need to buy some pricey equipment – like a digital camera and a laptop – to get started. Your costs can be as low as $500 or exceed $2,000, depending on quality and quantity.

3. Tattoo artist

Ryan Adams started working as a tattoo artist nine years ago when he was offered an apprenticeship. Today, he works at Marvel Tattoo in South Bend, Ind. Ryan works on commission and tips. Each piece is priced for size and complexity.

To become a tattoo artist, you’ll need a talent for drawing and sketching. You’ll also need some formal training, usually done through an apprenticeship program with a seasoned artist. While the road getting there isn’t easy, Ryan appreciates that there is always a new project to work on. “No matter what I do, it’s never the same and never gets old.”

How to sell: Many of Ryan’s clients found him through his tattoo shop’s website at Marvel Tattoo. As you build up a portfolio, you can also find clients by posting photos of your tattoos on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Startup costs: Your startup costs will depend on where you find an apprenticeship. While some tattoo artists offer free training, many will charge for their time. However, you can cut some of those costs by negotiating.

4. Artwork

Original artwork can be done in dozens of different ways. Jeanine Nahra, for example, creates scratchboard art, a medium she’s worked with since high school. Scratchboard is a bit different than other types of art. A thin layer of black ink is put over a layer of white clay, and then the artist uses a pin or sharp tool to scratch a design into the surface. Jeanine’s designs are highly detailed, sometimes even requiring a magnifying glass to get to the finer points.

Jeanine sells prints of her original work at arts and crafts fairs and art markets. She’s sold pieces to private customers and corporate collections, and has even had a collection of collector’s plates and pocket knives published by the Franklin Mint. Recently, she’s also branched into printing her designs onto functional pieces like coasters, cutting boards, and keepsake boxes.

Artists often work long hours, deal with creative block, and struggle to find their first clients. It isn’t perfect, but Jeanine enjoys bringing passion to her work. “Plain and simple: The best part of my job is doing something I really love.”

How to sell: Jeanine sells most of her artwork in person, which is a great way to meet customers, but she also maintains her own website at ScratchBoardArt.com. You can also sell your own original designs at sites like Society6 and DeviantART.

Startup costs: Your startup costs will vary depending on your medium and how much you plan to sell. However, you can cut down on some upfront costs by selling through an established website. These sites handle printing and shipping for you.

5. Custom clothing

Olga Degtjarewsky, the owner of French Market Stitch, got her start one Halloween when she couldn’t find an affordable costume she liked. Being crafty, she made her own burlesque costume and headed out. She got so many compliments on the design that she decided to try out selling a few. Today, she runs a burlesque costume business in New Orleans and sells her handmade clothing and accessories online through Etsy, a marketplace for handmade goods.

In my opinion, Olga’s success is a combination of amazing talent and good business sense. Her costumes are beautiful, but her prices are also reasonable. And while having a keen business sense helps her make more cash, Olga most enjoys “creating new styles and receiving compliments from buyers.”

How to sell: Olga runs her own Etsy store, French Market Stitch. Etsy is a good place for selling handmade products like clothing, since the site already has a large customer base. As an alternative, you can submit your designs to a website like Fabricly. If chosen, Fabricly will produce and sell your designs.

Startup costs: Startup costs can vary from a few hundred dollars for a few pieces to thousands of dollars for a full clothing line. Check out this article, The Costs of Starting a Brand. The founder of One Hundred Apparel does an excellent job of breaking down his expenses.

6. Filmmaking

Movies aren’t just for big Hollywood production companies. Every year, dozens of small, independent film companies produce some great flicks, and if you’ve got a passion for screenwriting or directing, this might be the job for you. Take screenwriter Doug Raymond, for example. His most recent project, Red Dawn of the Dead, is part spoof, part horror comedy. After writing the screenplay, Doug paired up with director Matt “The Mongoose” Marvin to start creating the film. Currently, the two are working on finding funding.

For many people, the hardest part about filmmaking is finding funding and then working within a shoestring budget, but the Internet has made that a lot easier. Doug uses an online funding platform, Kickstarter. He sets the goal amount, creates prizes for donations, and posts a start time. Donators browse the site, find a project they like, and pledge to donate. If the goal is met, payments are automatically withdrawn. Check out Doug’s current Kickstarter campaign for Red Dawn of the Dead to see the funding platform in action.

Filmmaking and screenwriting is hard work, but Doug says it is well worth it. “No contest, creative collaboration is the best part of the job,” he says. “What I love is seeing other people’s takes on my ideas and helping those come to life. That’s what a movie’s all about.”

How to sell: You can either work on an existing project, sell your ideas to an independent film company, or produce your own ideas like Doug does. If you plan to produce your own ideas, peer lending and funding sites are a great source of revenue. Check out Kickstarter for an example of a funding site and read our article 4 Things to Know About Peer Lending for more details.

Startup costs: You only need a computer and some free time to write a screenplay. If you plan to direct and film your own production, costs can climb up into the thousands. Doug estimates his current project will cost more than $8,000.

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