I always love digging in to the data and writing these annual reports after the close of my business accounting year, but I’m even more excited than usual for this one. I’m pleased to report that I more than doubled my side hustle income in the past year.
My side projects earned me £41,580 on top of the £126,420 from my work as Creative Director at ConvertKit for a total income of £168,000 for the 2020/21 accounting year.
After earning £19,638 from side projects the previous year, I’m thrilled with all of the income streams I’ve been adding and developing to increase my earnings. In this report you’ll see the details of what these streams are, and what drove this 112% year-on-year growth.
As per usual all graphs are reported primarily in percentages, because I believe the most valuable thing about reading an income report from a creator is understanding where they put their focus and how big a pie-slice each income stream makes up. Maybe it will give you some ideas for things to try for yourself!
You can read on for the detailed insights, or watch the video for an overview if that's more your style.
The income breakdown
Overall my income grew 25% in the past year. Not my biggest year of overall growth (which was 27% in 2018/19) but still a lot. 75% of this income came from my ‘main hustle’ at ConvertKit, and 25% from my side income streams. As I already mentioned, that side hustle income was up 112% on last year, but my ConvertKit income grew too, up 10% thanks to larger profit sharing checks and a salary increase.
Here’s the income broken down into my usual categories of design, content creation, community membership fees and products.
As per usual, design income makes up the largest percentage of my total work. Unlike in previous years however, I did no freelance work for clients so we don’t see any design income in my side hustles.
My side hustle income was dominated by revenue generated from content. This is the largest slice of the pie content has ever had in my income report, and we’ll get into why that is when we break down each category.
Taking a look at how the earnings in these categories compared to previous years, this increase in content revenue is even more obvious. This view of my income data also makes the downward trend I’ve been seeing in community membership income more apparent. We’ll go in to the why behind that too.
Let’s break these categories down
My work for ConvertKit makes up the entirety of the design category this year.
ConvertKit pays standardised salaries based on market data, and lucky for me market rates for web designers rose in the past year and I got a pay bump in November, which brought my total salary income up 8% on last year. I changed roles this year to become ConvertKit’s Creative Director which turned out to be a lateral move salary-wise unfortunately, but with much more future earning potential.
Twice a year the ConvertKit core team is paid a percentage of the company profits and this year I received a total of £19,924 in profit-sharing bonuses; the largest amount I’ve had since I joined the company in late 2016. This income slice was up 10% on last year.
Content is where I earned the bulk of my side hustle income last year. It’s a category that has grown a whopping 174% on last year, representing 22% of my total income and 89% of side hustle income at £36,900.
My income from content falls into these categories: YouTube sponsorship, podcast sponsorship, content hosting, ads, affiliate links and speaking.
Right at the start of my financial year Figma signed on as the title sponsor of my YouTube channel.
I’m so proud of that “Powered by Figma” you see at the start of my videos. They’re a great company, building a product I use almost every single day; it’s the perfect fit! They pay a monthly fee to sponsor my channel as a whole, and it’s a partnership that seems to be working out well for both of us (I constantly see people tweeting about how they’ve gotten their team using Figma at work because of my videos). This sponsorship represents 51% of my content income, and 45% of my overall side hustle income.
The consistent revenue this channel sponsorship brought in was key for driving growth for me this year, not just for the income itself but for the freedom the consistency gave me to explore other income streams.
Individual video sponsorships have been a main source of content income for me in the past. They’re a lot of work, and although very lucrative if you can find the right company to partner with; I still find that most brands greatly undervalue video sponsorships, so you end up spending a lot of admin time going back and forth only to find it’s not going to work out. The channel sponsorship from Figma allows me to easily turn down the majority of other video sponsorship opportunities that arrive in my inbox (a huge time saver!), but every now and then there’s an opportunity that’s a great fit I will choose to take on. This year there were two: a sponsorship from .store domains, where I made a video about selling my font through Webflow Ecommerce, and Hotjar, where I made a video about improving the conversion rate of my font sales page.
In these partnerships the company is sponsoring a single video (and some social media posts about it), and this income represents 7.9% of the total Content bucket. I’m going to continue to raise my standards for video sponsorships and going forward I’m only interested in taking them on if the company has a budget of at least $2,500 for the partnership.
As you may know, I stopped putting ads on my YouTube videos in 2016, so this income represents views on older videos. But despite this, my Adsense earnings grew almost 80% this year (I guess due to more people being stuck at home watching YouTube) and at £5427 it’s a meaningful amount of money. I won’t lie, I’ve considered turning them back on for more of this truly passive income, but for now all the reasons I turned them off are still true.
The earnings here increased around 10% on last year. I’m definitely interested in exploring more affiliate programs in the future, but I didn’t add any new ones this year.
Amazon and Webflow remain the most lucrative affiliate programs I’m a part of, though the earnings from each were less than last year. Treehouse (an online code school I highly recommend) and Contract Shop (where you can buy templates for all sorts of creative work contracts) both grew and, while small amounts, still earned me more than last year.
(Those links are my affiliate links FYI)
Hosting content for brands
For a couple of years I’ve made an annual ‘web design trends’ video for Webflow to post on their YouTube channel, but I think I grouped the income from it in with their sponsorship. This year I’ve done enough content hosting for it to warrant it’s own line-item in my spreadsheet!
I earned £2796 this year from filming videos for both Figma and Webflow’s YouTube channels. I’m the host of ‘Coffee with Charli’, a series presented by Figma where I interview designers about the intricacies of their design systems. I adore connecting with other designers so it’s been a fun series to create!
In this partnership I act as host: setting up the time to record with the guest, getting to know their story and making them feel comfortable, conducting the interview and getting all the files to Figma’s team to manage the edit. This accounted for only 7.6% of all content income, but as is often the case with new income streams, I’m excited to do more of this in future!
After zero paid speaking gigs last year followed by a global pandemic, I was surprised this year to have earned £2356 from speaking opportunities conducted from home!
I spoke on:
- a livestream for Webflow
- Figma’s Config Europe virtual conference
- UX Hustle’s virtual conference
- and a ticketed livestream event that I ran alongside some wonderful design YouTubers.
That last one is by far the one I’m most proud of! It was so fun to work with Alexa, Femke, Maddy & Sara to put together a valuable event for designers wanting to build audiences through creating content. We sold tickets for $10 each and had 230 attendees (plus 34 people purchased access to a replay later)! A small amount of income overall once the earnings were split five ways (just £341 each); but as I keep learning it’s not the amount I earned that makes me proud of a project, but the experience of bringing it to life!
Design Life is not a ‘ad read for Blue Apron/Squarespace/whatever other product you’ve heard about on every show you listen to’ type of podcast, but this year Femke and I accepted a couple of month-long sponsorships from companies we know and like. We took the approach of just chatting about the product and thanking them for their support instead of reading a script, which suits us better. We only charged $500 per episode for these, and that’s something I’d like us to work on raising in the future as we take more on. Overall this new stream of content income accounted for 3.9% of my total earnings from content.
Previously called ‘Community’ in my reporting, this is the category that shrunk the most in the past year. It accounts for just 1.7% of total income and 6.8% of side hustle income and represents about £2833 (that’s 22% less than last year).
It’s been a tough year financially for a lot of people, so understandably I saw a lot of cancellations across both my own Patreon and the Design Life podcast Patreon (although the latter has seen more new people sign up too so it ended up growing by 2%). I also didn’t have the mental energy to provide a lot of extra content to patrons, so both Patreon’s now exist as ‘tip jars’ which is honestly how I prefer it; they’re a great way for people to support my content if they feel so inclined (and I’ll always appreciate the support!), but I don’t have the mental capacity or energy to be creating extra content.
One new addition to the Memberships income is Twitch subscriptions! I only earned £97 from these, but it’s been fun to have people support this new venture. I’ve loved streaming as I work (or play games on the weekends). (Follow me on Twitch if you’re not already)
In almost every year of these reports I’ve talking about products being a category I want to grow.
With the release of my font, Grayscale, just before the end of the last tax year I saw some increases in this category, but I’m especially proud of the £1845 of product income this year. It represents 121% growth, and people purchasing my font throughout the year, not just during the launch month!
I had no idea what to expect with selling a digital product like this, but throughout the year I’ve had on average about £100 in sales per month and it’s truly been the passive income I was hoping for. Now to continue growing it!
Femke and I didn’t release any new Design Life products this year, but we sold a few of our pins & stickers, my half of the proceeds making up a mere 1% of my product income, but it’s still cool to have people wanting merch from our show.
Something I haven’t done in previous reports is talk about what I spent to run all these income streams. This year however I heavily invested in outsourcing, so I felt it was important to share.
I spent about £19,804 in the past year on equipment, software and contractors to efficiently run my side hustles alongside my main work at ConvertKit.
There are other expenses my LLC incurs, of course, but I felt it most useful here to report on the things that I invest in for my side hustles specifically.
As you can see, contractors helping me with video & podcast editing and content management (VA’s) are my main cost. I wrote about the tasks I outsource for my business here if you want to dive deeper into how I work with these wonderful people, but it’s been a worthy investment for me. Producing content is a lot of work, and as my main side-hustle income driver it’s something I want to continue to do to a high standard. It just wouldn’t be possible for me to do that alongside my role as Creative Director without handing off the time-intensive pieces of the process to others.
What will it take to double my side hustle income again?
This years report includes far more income sources than I’ve had previously. Even though some of them only brought in a few hundred pounds, it’s been a great experiment to add more revenue streams because they all add up in the end. While I’m interested in adding more, I also want to be careful that I don’t split my focus too much and instead really lean in to the streams that are working. So I’ll limit myself to just a few new income stream explorations in the year ahead:
- launching a marketing design job board on Pallet
- offering 1 on 1 coaching sessions with web designers
- hopefully launching my book about marketing design and getting some sales revenue from that!
As for doing more of what’s working: I want to find some great-fit companies for a maximum of 3 high-value video sponsorships in the coming year, as well as continuing my partnership with the wonderful folks at Figma. I want to do more content hosting, and find more podcast sponsors too. And although product sales didn’t bring in a lot of pounds, I want to release at least one new product to keep fuelling that income stream.
And I’ll continue to look for ways to outsource the things that don’t require me specifically to be the one doing them so that I’ll have the time for all these ideas alongside growing my skills as a manager at ConvertKit.
This is the most transparent I’ve ever been when it comes to sharing the real numbers behind my earnings. It’s a little scary to put out there to be honest, but it’s always been my approach to create the kind of content that I’d find useful to see myself. And I’d love to see this detail from other creators.
I hope you found this income report useful. I’d love to hear your main takeaways from it. Please tag me in a tweet or an Instagram story (I’m @charliprangley on both) and let me know what resonated with you, or what ideas it gave you.
Previous income reports