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Sharing what I know about type-based illustration while helping creatives do their best work

You’re Not Just An Illustrator

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I never thought I’d be the type of person to do business or even consider myself as someone who runs a business. There were many reasons why, but mostly the businesses I came in contact with didn’t align with my values of what a good business is or how a business person should act. To others, business is natural thing for them.  

Call it ignorance, but I believed you could earn a living by just creating work and people pay you money for it—which is essentially how business works when you boil it down. I hold my hand up to being one of those designers/illustrators that think of themselves as just a designer/illustrator.

All businesses are evil! Or so I thought

I used to think business was evil. I’ll blame all the films I watched when I was younger. You would see these deals being made in secrecy and someone of unknown great importance would call all the shots. Usually there was some consequence if the character wasn’t able to pay up. So many shady deals. I felt a sense of shadiness and an unlevelled amount of seriousness involved. So when I relate those type of scenes in the real world, my thought was just oh hell nah, I don’t wanna deal with that. 

As well being a naive illustrator, and it has nothing to do with the industry I’m in, the idea of “money” is a sensitive subject. I still kind of shudder when I talk about money. But why? Why do I fear money, what did money do to cause me to turn a blind eye? For some reason, creatives feel a sense of guilt when they ask someone to pay up. It feels unnatural? I don’t know, I was honestly afraid to charge for my work. 

The thought of money intimidated me.

The irony, I want 6 figures in my account. The ideal position to be right now, is hiring someone else to handle my accounts and client relationships for me so I could focus on what I do best—create. And I’m positive that’s how most creatives feel. 

I was then slapped in the head (metaphorically of course).

If you want to make money, you have to be willing to spend money. 

First of all, money shouldn’t be the goal of your business. 

I understand for some people it is and that’s fine. I learned that money is an enabler. When you realise money is just an object, money has no feelings and money gives zero f’s about you, you start understanding the real value. You use money to create something of value that you then provide to the world. 

If someone is paying you to create a piece of work, you are a business

I learned this while I was researching how to start a clothing brand (which is one of the many things I want to do but is currently on the back burner) Jeff Finley introduced me to the three roles, the artist, designer and entrepreneur. The artist is who we are, the design is what we do, the entrepreneur is our driving spirit to “make it big” and we should embrace all three.  

But I just want to draw and paint all day

I know, you’re an illustrator and you want to be paid for your services and want full control over how you run things. The craft is important to you and you want to just illustrate, draw and paint. But with that comes the responsibility of the facets running an illustration business or any creative business for that matter—contracts, marketing, accounting, finding clients and promoting your services. 

Illustrators struggle to take their business to the next level because they don’t have the business chops to go out and sell their work. That’s why I’ve spent the last 18 months learning (and still learning!) about the business of illustration so illustrators and creatives are better equipped with business know-how. 

Realising you’re a business means more opportunity, more work, more clients. But importantly, it’s the foundation to building the successful career you envision. 

Three Actions You Can Take Right Now

  • Think of business as a support tool to your ambitions and not a constraint to your creativity. 
  • Start looking at simple ways to market your work. You have illustrative content, right? Choose a platform (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat) and provide relevant content consistently. 
  • Learning the business of illustration can be overwhelming, don’t try to nail down every area but instead pick one, let’s say “contracts" and spend an entire day reading up.

Many thanks for reading!

I’d love to hear what aspect of your creative business you enjoy or dislike the most. Tweet me your thoughts on Twitter

Jonathan