9 Tips for Creating and Maximizing a Steady Income Stream by Selling Stock
As I covered last week, selling stock and digital files is a neat way for freelancers to build a steady income stream to supplement their regular income. By using your off-hours, regular skillset and even work that wound up on the cutting room floor, you can piece together a solid portfolio of creative goods to generate a steady bit of cash on the side.
There are sites out there to help you sell everything from website templates to photographs to flash components to 3d goods, and plenty in between. It's a growing digital economy and one that can produce anything from a nice holiday fund to a fullblown primary income source.
It's a growing digital economy and one that can produce anything from a nice holiday fund to a fullblown primary income source.
Like anything, selling stock is something that you get better at over time. In my job working on ThemeForest, FlashDen and AudioJungle I get to see a lot of the things people do to maximize their income, some of them are quite ingenious. Since it benefits us if we have clever authors on our sites and it benefits Freelancers interested in selling stock, I've put together my top tips for selling well on stock sites.
Tip 1 - Solve Problems
Selling creative stock is about solving problems. For example, the highest selling photos on iStockPhoto tend to be the ones that are useful in the most situations. As a designer I know there have been innumerable times that I've needed some sort of generic "business" photograph, and guess what? They outstrip almost any other category of shot.
So how do you know what problems need to be solved? To do that, you need to get in the heads of buyers. On iStockPhoto I have a portfolio of (not particularly well drawn) vector illustrations. The ones that sell the best are the ones that I needed myself. For example I really needed a vector graphic to represent "News", so I drew a little newspaper and it's been selling well ever since - 500 sales at last count. Turns out I wasn't the only person who needed to represent "News".
Of course you can also find people in your buyer market and ask them what they need. Or just figure it out by logical deduction. So if you're selling WordPress themes and you've noticed that bloggers are really into magazine themes, you might decide to build one of those figuring there's a good market there.
Tip 2 - Cross Sell
When a person is looking at one of your items, it's an excellent time to show them a few of your others. One of my favourite authors on FlashDen - triworks - does this on every item. For example have a look at their: Elite XML Website item, scroll down and you'll notice a bunch more thumbnail images leading off to other items. Of course when you're looking at those, you can easily scroll down and click on yet another of their items.
Sites like iStockPhoto and FlashDen offer collection or lightbox features, allowing you to create groups of items and then link off to those groups. So you might create a "XML Templates" public collection, create a graphic for it and then link to it at the bottom of every item of yours that is an XML Template. You could even go one step further and partner with another author to do this.
Tip 3 - Title and Describe with Keywords for SEO
Every month around 500 people type the words "Flash Video Gallery" into Google and arrive at FlashDen. What page do they arrive at? This one:
Dynamic Flash Video Gallery by Wangruyi
Not only has the author used well searched for keywords, he's also included a thorough description summing up the item's features that include even more. With those keywords in the title and header and with FlashDen being an "authority" site to Google, the page gets a really high placement in the search results.
Of course the keywords have to be relevant to the item to convert well, and in this case they're spot on. Since it's a pretty neat file it's not surprising that it's sold almost a thousand times.
Tip 4 - Create a Brand
Branding is a powerful tool in any situation, be it branding a business, branding yourself or branding a product. On stock sites there are often ways you can create a brand for your goods. A great example comes from another FlashDen author named Chuckanucka.
Chuck has developed a visual style for his items and includes a small "Ch" icon and border around every thumbnail. The result is when you look at a page of items, you can quickly spot a Chuckanucka product. If you've purchased from him before and liked what you bought, there's a good chance you'll give one of his items a whirl first.
Have a look at his portfolio here to see what I mean.
Tip 5 - Provide FAQs / Documentation / Support
For file types like Flash Components, Templates and CMS Themes, it makes sense to provide lots of help and documentation. If you're a hands-off seller you might do this in the form of FAQs (write once and forget about them), if you're always around on email and the forums you might do this through email support as well.
Again the FlashDen user Triworks provides a great example of this. On their page is an FAQ section that's even downloadable as a PDF. They answer many common questions and provide a special email address just for support questions. As a customer, this is a brand you quickly learn to trust and in the long run this generates both more sales and happier customers.
Tip 6 - Provide Customer Updates
From looking at our sales stats on FlashDen I know that many buyers are repeat buyers. In fact many buyers do so repeatedly from the same author (see "Create a Brand" above). So it makes sense that if you can find a way to provide updates to those customers on your new products that you'll get quick early sales on new items.
A good example of a FlashDen author providing updates via an RSS feed is DigitalScience:
who publishes an RSS feed here of new items he's released on the site and then advertises it on his profile page.
Of course some marketplaces won't offer RSS updates for authors, but you can always provide email updates by offering a mailing list they can join.
Tip 7 - Sell Exclusively or Sell Everywhere but Do One of Them
Most marketplaces offer some sort of exclusivity program where authors can choose to sell their goods solely through a single marketplace in return for better rates. On FlashDen for example you receive 25% if you're a non-exclusive author, however if you agree to only sell through that site then your % jumps to 35% and climbs up to 50% as your sales rack up.
I advise new authors to choose early on if they are going to sell exclusively or alternately to make sure they take advantage of all competing marketplaces and show their goods in the most locations possible. So for example there are other marketplaces for selling flash components, including UltraShock and FlashComponents.net.
Of course we work hard to make sure that selling exclusively on FlashDen is more profitable than selling on all three sites. But certainly if you're not planning on using the exclusive program, you may as well take the time to upload everywhere and maximize your potential sales.
A good strategy is to upload a test item to all sites in a niche and test out how sales come in. With some quick math you can figure out what's going to be the most profitable avenue. If you're selling Flash I'm confident you'll find FlashDen outstrips the others even when they offer a higher % :-)
And don't forget that another option to selling on other marketplaces is to sell on your own website where you receive the full 100% of your efforts. On our sites and probably most other marketplaces we don't allow linking out to competing sale locations, but that doesn't mean you can't do it on your own with say a blog or some marketing. If it goes well, you may find you don't even need the marketplaces you were selling through before.
Tip 8 - Make Customizable Items
When I buy illustrations every now and then I find the vector work I've bought has been "flattened" in Illustrator. This means shapes get knocked out of each other and merged together and makes them much harder to customize and therefore much harder to work with. As an author you need to think about how your item is going to work for your customer. Figure out how they can alter and use it with the least troubles and you'll have a return customer.
Items like this top selling website template on ThemeForest offer multiple colours and instructions on alterations to make life easier for a buyer. After all people using stock are also looking to make sure the end result isn't just off a factory line. So if you give them the tools to make your product "theirs" then you're creating a more saleable product.
Tip 9 - Use Referral Programs
Almost all marketplace sites that I know of offer a referral program of some sort. On FlashDen/AudioJungle/ThemeForest we offer 50% on a referral's first deposit. With authoring rates climbing up to 50% for exclusive authors, this gives people a chance to take pretty much the whole 100% coming in from a new buyer. We can afford this because we count on those buyers becoming repeat buyers.
One of the cleverest uses of the referral program I've seen lately is when FlashDen authors all started listing their FlashDen items on the Adobe Exchange. Exchange is a directory that lists components and items for Adobe products, but the point of sale is still off on FlashDen.
By using their referral link this meant any visitors who had looked at their item on Exchange and who then clicked through also generated referral income. It's easy, doesn't take much time and not only increases item sales, but also creates a second stream of money.
Get Out What You Put In
At the end of the day selling stock is like anything, you get out what you put in. For some, you might be like me - happy to do absolutely nothing after making the actual products, but in turn only make a couple hundred dollars a month. On the other hand the triworks and digitalsciences of the world who put in a mountain of effort also generate huge five figure returns every month.
I wouldn't ever say selling stock is easy, because you still need to be a talented author to make things that actually sell. But I certainly would say that with the number of marketplaces around, it's pretty simple to put up a few files and see if they sell.