Why It’s Okay to Accept Money for your Notion Templates

Frances Odera Matthews
10 min readJun 6, 2021

Before you dive into this article, think about how you probably wouldn’t blink twice at paying xx £/$ for a ‘fancy’ blank notebook, containing no internal value. That’s because paying for physical products has been ‘normalised’, but it hasn’t for digital products.

Notion is powerful software that’s essentially ‘LEGO’ and a blank digital canvas, where you can build a limitless range of digital products (just a few listed below) that you can share as Notion templates for people to download. You can try Notion here for free using my #NotionPartner link.

A tweet about the endless uses of Notion!

Sharing templates has been instrumental to Notion’s growth. The community shares their work in forums like Reddit or Facebook groups, often for free, with no option for payment.

Notion templates are valuable, and depending on what the template is, can help the people who duplicate them (Notion speak for ‘download’) save X amount of time, money or even quadruple their income! Even if it isn’t a ‘productive’ template (I built a ridiculously popular Travel Bucket List ), you’d probably still pay money for a physical kitsch item/tool/toy.

We’re essentially in a free template ‘bubble’ where a lot of people are giving things away for ‘free’, because it’s ‘cool’. I say ‘bubble’, because while it’s gaining hype now, it’s unsustainable, as it’s devaluing hours of extensive work it takes to publish a Notion template.

On the flip side, creators opening their ‘free work’ to donations (or direct payment depending on what it is), gives creators incentive to keep working on their craft, leading to more innovation and therefore longevity for the Notion Community. Case study? Myself. I wouldn’t have carried on working on my craft and built all the ‘cool’ templates I’m known for, if I didn’t start accepting money through donations. Even the smallest amount makes your favourite creator think ‘ooh, maybe I’ll keep doing this’. Your favourite creators would just stop producing Notion templates if they earned no money. No power users, no community — simple.

I propose an incredibly simple addition to our vocabulary. Instead of talking solely about ‘free’ vs ‘paid’ templates, let’s introduce a third separate category: ‘donation-based’ templates. There are tons of business and moral cases for more people accepting donations which ultimately end in more producer innovation and less consumer overwhelm. Both are great things for the Notion community:

Free T-Shirt Effect

If you think about the ‘free t-shirt’ effect — the first one is cool, but there’s diminishing returns as you collect more and more free t-shirts, because while they’re technically ‘useful’, you never valued them in the first place i.e. people getting overwhelmed and leaving the app.

As a consultant, I’m already seeing an increasing number of requests from people who are overwhelmed by all the free Notion templates they’ve downloaded. They can afford our services — I’m imagining a silent majority who have given up altogether.

I take a very design-thinking approach with my clients and ask them to reflect on what they need from these templates and then delete/archive what they won’t use. You can explore my popular course on how I merge design-thinking with Notion here.

Inequitable Bottom Line

There are two reasons why people give away their work for free: ‘business people’ give away their work for free often as a lead magnet or growth strategy, while ‘hobbyists’ give away their work for free because it’s the ‘cool thing to do’.

The issue here is, the ‘business people’ have the loudest voices, and you can argue are indirectly influencing the ‘hobbyists’ to do the same. However, what most hobbyists don’t realise is there’s a value exchange worth potentially upwards of 5 figures when business people give away stuff for free.

The pie is therefor far from equal and hobbyists should be educated that they can have a piece of the pie, through donation-based or paid templates, if they want it. To not expose people to that fact that people might pay them is selfish and community washing at best. The usual winners win and the usual losers lose. Donations will produce more interesting creations from people from all walks of life.

Money Left on the Table

I feel physically sick when I think about the ‘naked’ links on Reddit/YouTube that have been duplicated 10s, maybe 1000s of times. So much money has been left on the table.

POV (yes the conversion rates might not be exactly right, but you get what I mean): those viral ‘Notion Set-up with Free Template’ YouTube videos with no pay-what-you-want wall or BMAC link. Let’s say 50% download the template. Loyal fans (30% ) drop an average of $5. The video has 450,000 views… that’s $675,000 from one video. That’s life changing money that’s potentially been missed out on, due to the current culture, which largely excludes donation-based products, and it’s heartbreaking.

Tools for adding donation options to your templates: Gumroad, Flurly, Buy Me a Coffee, PayPal.Me, Ca$happ, Venmo

Plagiarism

Apparently, people are starting to resell free templates, which makes this attitude shift more pressing. Like any digital product, you can never stop this, which is why the original creators of these great products should be encouraged to accept money for them in the first place.

Template Creators are doing 5 highly-paid tech jobs at once

Any Notion template builder has the responsibility to accept the work they’re doing is not worthless. You’re doing the job of a UX + UI designer, marketing expert, copywriter and programmer. Let’s not get into the conversation of the typical hourly rate for those jobs…

Spam Bubble

No one could have predicted what Notion would turn into in the beginning, but it’s now our responsibility to accept its fate. Resourceful, networked & largely privileged people (to some extent, myself) are making 1000s of dollars from templates and that’s not small change.

Paid Notion templates are becoming trendy (Product Hunt may as well become Notion Hunt), but as more free templates spam the market, naturally, people will stop using paid templates and the attraction of the Notion ecosystem will wear off due to the ‘Free T-Shirt Effect’ mentioned above.

‘Buzz’ can only keep a business going for so long — there will always be other shiny products out there. You need to give people a reason to stay by adding value to the ecosystem.

A diagram to show how accepting donations helps you and the community

Come for the Product, Stay for the Ecosystem

Notion is at a critical point in its growth, where if it’s going to get taken as seriously as other productised services, think Wordpress, Shopify, App stores etc there needs to be a culture shift in the community.

Promoting the language of ‘donations’ now, before it’s too late, is more sustainable and will also reduce the risk of the ‘market for lemons’ economic pricing problem, as more paid Notion templates enter the market. As through donations, everything will be seen as having some value, somewhat levelling the playing field.

If Shopify app developers never accepted money, its app store would be filled with a bunch of mediocre apps and Shopify wouldn’t be the powerhouse it is today. The monetary value, occasionally exchanged, breeds more innovation in the ecosystem and convinces people to stay and ‘grow with it’.

Remember, by default, donation-based templates are free. The people who can and are willing to pay always will (if you can’t afford it, that’s fine). Why block your blessings?

Haters (so far) will say:

  • “What about lead magnets” — sure, that’s fine but a) the value/content of the template you give out should be lightweight, and maybe a teaser to something else, otherwise you’re selling yourself short b) it’s a valuable exchange — as the subscriber, you’re the product
  • “Notion templates are like growing too many vegetables — it’s something extra you made for yourself that you’re happy to ‘give away” — Digital products are not like ‘extra’ food — they don’t have an expiry date and can be used an infinite amount of times
  • “I’ve bought a bunch of templates before and haven’t used them” — this is basic consumerism and a ‘you problem’, not a template problem — see above for the ‘Free T-Shirt Theory’
  • ‘There’s no value because I can just make it myself’’ — you can say this about any pre-packaged consumer good. By this logic, you wouldn’t go out to restaurants or buy art. We pay for convenience everyday and everything someone spends time on for other people has value. Just because something is digital doesn’t make it less valuable. Also, more Notion templates are becoming content-based/mini-ebooks and courses i.e. you can’t replicate it.
  • “Shopify/other services have ‘free apps’ in their marketplace “— these are a) always filled with ads b) are generally lead magnets (told you lead magnets are fine) that direct you to some kind of paid service c) let’s be real, they’re probably selling your data — again, you’re the product
  • “You can’t expect to earn that high of an income from it so you’re setting people up to be disappointed” I made a simple language change and posted my Skin Care Diary on Reddit as ‘Pay What You Want’ — and not a ‘FREE’ naked link like everyone else — I got sales! Sure, it didn’t make me a ton of money, but enough to afford takeaway that night for dinner — see, multiplier effects (lol, can you tell I’m an Economics major)! I don’t think anyone finds ordering food, or if it goes viral, accidentally making rent, disappointing.
  • “People might do it for fun’”— I make most of my Notion templates for fun and really don’t expect to earn ‘real’ money from them (but do somehow!). I give people the option to donate to respect the art form. Additionally, we are not the only people who put meaning/value on our work and we are doing ourselves a disservice if we think that we are. Arguably, Notion templates are more valuable (or at least more useful) than the weird world of NFTs , but look how much money it’s generated.
  • “My work’s not good enough” Looking back, my templates sucked (by my ‘standards’ now). At the beginning of my journey with The Notion Bar, I had barely any followers, yet people still chose to pay for my templates (sometimes). Just start, you’ll always improve later. If I hadn’t opened myself up to donations, I wouldn’t have been motivated to keep practicing and produce the higher-quality content I produce now and even branch out into Notion coaching and becoming a Certified Notion Consultant.
  • “Most Notion templates suck and are the same” — yes, this was the very disappointing (and disrespectful) rhetoric of someone in the Notion Made Simple Facebook group. While their choice of words was wrong, what they (hopefully) meant to say was the community could be more innovative. Well if you want someone to be incentivised into making things ‘cooler’ — pay them. Basic opportunity cost theory — we’ve all got bills to pay, so most of our valuable time will be focused on that instead spending the extensive amount hours it takes to become a ‘good’ template creator .
  • “Donations are unnatural” Perhaps in an unequal capitalist society they are. Donations actually benefit small-time creators by realising there is (occasionally) value in their work. You can also see it as a form of communally-backed R&D. Some people (maybe they can’t afford to donate right now) won’t donate and that’s fine! You’re still making your work accessible to the masses, you’re just getting paid for it (potentially a lot) by some people.
  • “I just don’t want to accept money for my work” — If after reading this article you want to remain true hobbyist, that’s fine. The whole point of this was so to educate people into not blocking their blessings — especially if your template is helping someone else make money. Otherwise, you’re bordering on self-exploitation and you deserve the option to be compensated. Historically, womxn and POC, who already make make less money, are worse at this.

What Now?

It would be great if we could all lead this shift in culture towards a more ethical approach of distributing templates. We have now communally engaged in a ‘race to the bottom’ and it’s going to take communal effort to come back from it, with a simple language change.

The crux of my request is that ‘donation-based’ templates are separated from ‘free’ templates . Due to priming, people are less likely to donate by lumping them in the same category. Please consider using the language of ‘Donations’ instead of ‘Free’ and if you see someone using the word ‘Free’, and think their work is dope, ask them to do the same.

The longer people make ‘earning money from templates’ a taboo subject in the Notion community, the longer we uphold systemic financial inequality. Because whether we like it or not, right now is the time when (the usual) people, with access to resources and networks, are starting to rake in serious cash. Therefore, it’s important the information on potentially monetising templates, or at least introducing this honour-based system, through donations, needs to be encouraged, become common knowledge and normalised.

Why will it work?

Currently, community members haven’t been primed their work might have value, when it does. If anyone isn’t familiar, priming is a really powerful behavioural tool, and right now a lot of people are being primed that the work template makers do isn’t valuable.

Also, big tech companies already do it. Again, I’ll refer to the example of Shopify who actively promotes the value of the themes/apps in their stores and is respected by its creators. Additionally, Twitter and Clubhouse also introduced ‘Tip Jar’ functionality to support its creators. Finally, for a slightly different reason, Apple realised they needed to make a simple language change , away from free, in their app stores to encourage more mindful downloads.

In conclusion, Notion users are awesome and it's the perfect type of community for donations. Research shows that in the right circumstances (a community of communal + pro-social people aka Notion users), donation-based models can earn more profit than fixed price models, while leveraging the attention-gaining power of ‘free’, which only devalues services in the long run.

While this article is about Notion templates, this could also be applied the whole ‘digital product’ community. Now time to get paid doing what you love!

Thanks for sticking with me — I can’t wait for you to dive in and start working on your Notion pages.

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Frances Odera Matthews

certified notion consultant. founder of thenotionbar.com. aesthetic digital product builder. gen-z/millennial cultural commentator.