How to create a sustainable career: collaborating to create passive income streams

How to create a sustainable career: collaborating to create passive income streams

By Laura Mulhern


Laura Mulhern, founder of Plan Make Do explores how to manage the financial peaks and troughs of a freelance creative career by creating passive income streams.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘burnout’ was recognised as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ in 2019. And as lockdowns have drastically affected our work-life balance since, at least 1 in 5 people feel unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work.

Furthermore, as a creative freelancer your income and work opportunities can fluctuate, especially when you’re first starting out, so a natural reaction can be to work all hours in order to make a living.

However, in order to be our best selves and avoid the ‘burnout’, our priority needs to be our mental and emotional energy, our creativity and our overall health.


Get creative with passive income

There are a number of things we can do to manage our time better and learn to manage the peaks and troughs of a freelance creative career. But in truth, the more reliable your income streams are from various sources, the better.

One such route is passive income; basically earning money while you sleep or while you are doing other things, like pursuing your passions and creative practice. Some top benefits of passive income include:

  • More freedom to pursue your personal projects and creativity
  • More time with friends and family
  • More down-time to relax and unwind
  • Less reliance on the monthly paycheck
  • Providing opportunities to get creative and collaborate with others


Passive income through collaboration

Collaboration can come from many places. In my case, it started from finding a friend on Instagram and then a podcast invitation during the peak of the 2020 pandemic.

Isabel from I Like Networking is Brazilian and I am Irish, so we both like to talk! Mostly with our hands. Somehow that translated over Zoom and led us to have endless chats about life.

As two self-employed professionals, we were both having to grapple with that new reality and trying to find support and connection in new ways.

This relationship grew to scheduling in regular creative chats to support each other, which eventually led us to want to open up this conversation and share our learnings and experience on an actual product: The Creative’s Guide to Networking

Months and months went into the planning of this guide, and even when restrictions were lifted in the UK we still had to do it all online as we live in different cities.

However, after this front-end work, our first ebook is now out in the world, being sold on a daily basis and fast becoming a go-to resource for emerging creatives on how to build your networking skills and attract long-lasting relationships with clients.

This amazing partnership and now a new product that we both financially benefit from, all started from reaching out on social media and an invitation to have a chat on a podcast.

You can also develop passive income streams individually too. Here’s some more ideas you can consider as a freelance creative:


Create your own e-books or guide

Your skills are wide-ranging as a creative. And there is no doubt plenty of useful insights you can share as an e-book or guide. This could be anything from your creative practice to top tips on how to use a certain software for example. Yes, there is plenty of free advice out there but not everyone will know your particular skills or knowledge and if you are able to present this in a digestible comprehensive manner, people will be willing to pay for it.

You can either create the e-book and sell via your own website or if you wanted to attract a crowded marketplace you can also list it on popular platforms such as:

Kindle Direct Publishing

Barnes and Noble

Ingram Spark



*Make sure to read the small print when you use these platforms - most have commission fees.


Earn through stock images or designs

If you have amazing photography skills or designs skills then you can make the most of stock imagery sites to essentially sell your images to whoever needs that aesthetic. A lot of companies use these sites so if you have enough listed on various sites, there’s a good chance you can roll in a nice amount each month without needing to do much.

Some favourite stock imagery sites include:

Shopify Burst





Adobe Stock



License your illustrations or designs to clients

Some clients might prefer to license designs directly from you for their business; the bespoke element can be better for them as opposed to searching on stock imagery sites. If you are an illustrator for instance you can charge a license fee for a particular design to a company who can then sell the design on merchandise or similar. You can either request an upfront fee for this or ask for a percentage of sales on any of the products your design appears in. This can be a cheaper option for a start-up business but a better longer term influx of money for you.


Sell your unused design elements

Places like Creative Market are a great space for other creative freelancers to purchase design elements, vector graphics, product mockups etc. It’s also a great place for you to sell those unused elements from previous projects.


Affiliate marketing links

If you have a blog with a decent following online you might want to think about setting up some affiliate marketing links - so when anyone clicks through from your site to a recommended product, book or service, you get a nice kickback.


Referral fees

This isn’t as common as it used to be as the creative community is always willing to refer people to each other for free. However, there might be an instance where you can refer a creative colleague to a client you know or already work with for a project - and you can take a cut for the introduction. Sometimes it pays to know the right people.

Laura Mulhern, Founder of Plan Make Do

Laura Mulhern head and shoulders

The Creative’s Guide to Networking is a collaboration between Plan Make Do and I Like Networking, who support creatives in all stages of their career through resources, talks, workshops and programmes.



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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2022