Basic Business Tips for Illustrators

I’ve been cleaning out my files and I came across a handout from a presentation I gave to some art students about seven years ago. It’s pretty basic stuff aimed primarily at beginners, but I’ve got blog readers at all levels from students to seasoned professionals so I’m sure some of you will find this helpful. Here’s what I wrote:

1. Be Organized! Even though you are in a creative business, you have to have a sense of structure in order to survive. Chaos creates stress. Being organized gives you confidence.

2. Keep a Schedule. Practice making your own schedule—and stick to it! This will take some discipline and seem like work, but in the end it will actually free you up. It will help you keep from over-commiting or missing deadlines. It will also help you to feel in control and allow you to really enjoy your time off.

3. Keep A Record Of Your Hours. Keep a record of everything you do for a given project (including research, meeting with clients, and other “non-art” time.) This will help you see ho much time you are really spending on your projects (you may be surprised) and wil keep you from undercharging.

4. Respect Deadlines! In the real world, missing a deadline is death.

5. Promote Yourself Constantly! There’s tons of competition in this business and you can’t scream about yourself too loudly or too often. Learn to be confident and persistent without being cocky. (Likewise, be willing to take every piece of constructive criticism very seriously.)

6. Develop Your People Skills. Talent is not enough. More than half of your success as a business person will depend on your people skills. You don’t have to be an extrovert or Mr. Popular, and whatever you do don’t be phony (people can smell it a mile away). Just realize that confidence and enthusiasm will take you much farther in life than talent. Instead of focusing on getting yourself hired, put the client’s needs first and focus on what you can do for them.

7. Keep Good Financial Records. Do a budget, keep receipts, organize your invoices, etc. It takes some time, but it will help you to feel more in control, and will make tax time a whole lot easier! A great computer program to help you out is Quickbooks Pro. It’s specifically designed for small businesses and easy to learn.

8. Get A Filing Cabinet. Keep files on your various clients, your finances, your promotional mailings, as well as forms that you use often. You will also want to keep a “swipe file” of reference photos (organized by subject) for that rush project where you have to draw two giraffes and an octopus driving a ’63 Chevy through the Everglades. You can get reference photos from old magazines and books, or from online sources like Google Image Search. However you get them, keep them organized.

9. Separate Your Business From Your Personal Life. Put your studio in a separate room (or at least a separate part of a room). As soon as possible, start separate checking and savings accounts for your business. You may even consider a separate phone line. When life gets hectic, you’ll be glad you can keep your business from interfering with your personal life and vice versa.

10. Have Fun! Being a good businessman will free you up to enjoy your work and keep doing what you love.