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Freelance Illustration Impossible

Greetings All,

I am back from my business conference in D.C. and being that I have business on the brain I thought I would talk a little bit this week about the business side of being a Freelance Illustrator vs. the art side. And don’t worry I’ll have more art coming at you next week.

Recently, during the short moments I can watch a little TV or have it on in the background, I’ve watched a show called ‘Restaurant Impossible’ with Chef Irvine. If you are not familiar with the show its basic premise is that Chef Irvine, an award winning master chef and restaurateur, goes to a new failing restaurant every episode and helps the restaurant owners by evaluating their businesses, helping them to correct what they are doing wrong and doing a quick but thorough rebuild of the business.

It was while watching this that it occurred to me that I should do a ‘Freelance Illustration Impossible’ evaluation of my own business. So, I asked myself if say one of my heroes in the illustration business where to come and visit my studio and go through my business practices what would they find? What activities am I doing or am not doing that are contributing to or taking away from my business? As a working artist I am always self-critiquing my artwork and a few months ago when this idea occurred to me I began doing periodic check-ups, usually small ones at the end of each week and larger ones at the end of each month, to self-critique my business. As with any self-critique it only works if you are completely honest with yourself.

Some areas I look at / questions I ask myself when evaluating how I am conducting myself as a freelancer:

-Am I treating this as a hobby or a business?
-Are the samples I am creating marketable – are they the type of work my target client is looking for? Or just something fun I wanted to paint?
-Am I actively promoting my work to new clients? When was the last time I did some self-marketing? If it has been a while I may want to do some soon. No one will know I even exist if I don’t get out there and promote.
-Is my studio space clean, organized, and inspiring? Is the space contributing to my ability to create good fast work or do I have to constantly clean space before I can even get to work?
-Do I have all the proper paperwork? Is it organized? Accounts set up properly?
-What are my short term and long term goals for my business? And what is my game plan to achieve them? Then breaking them down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks.
-How are my tools? (in my case: PC, software, pencils, Bristol, rulers, reference material, etc) Are they in good working order? Is it time for an upgrade?
-Is my website up to date? Is it designed in such a way as to attract new clients and new work? Is it time for an update on my site?

I am sure you can think of tons more that are applicable to your own business.

I have found it to be a great exercise and it has also spurred on a desire in myself to study other illustrators more from a business and practices perspective instead of just simply studying their art. That is one of the reasons I am currently reading Norman Rockwell’s autobiography. It is wonderful. In it he chronicles his experiences in life as an illustrator, business experiences, studio process, how he dealt with clients, and his thought process while telling his story. Other illustrators’ blogs also serve as a great window into how they run their own businesses, or you can go directly to the source and email them or talk to them at a convention, which is always humbling and most informative.

So, if it’s been a while since you stepped back at examined your business, just as an artists steps back and examines a painting in progress, perhaps now would be a good time to do so. Make sure you are still on track for reaching your goals. I myself am far from perfect in running my business, but I am constantly seeking to learn more, grow, and am getting better at it each day.

~A great source for information on the business side of being an illustrator is ‘Escape from Illustration Island’. It is a fantastic online resource/community.

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