More From The Creative Freelancer Conference

My head is still swimming with all the information I tried to soak in last week at the 2008 Creative Freelancer Conference in Chicago. Fortunately it has been officially announced that MP3 audio recordings of all of the seminars will be available for purchase soon, likely sometime in the next few weeks. I’ll post a link as soon as they are available.

One of the books I picked up at the conference is The Designer’s Guide to Marketing And Pricing: How to Win Clients and What to Charge Them ( link) co-authored by two of the key presenters, Ilise Benun and Peleg Top from Marketing Mentor. I’ve only read portions of the book, but so far I can say this is one of the best books on self-promotion and pricing that I’ve seen in a while. It’s a detailed primer covering the nuts-and-bolts of finding the right clients, networking, pricing your work, and lots of advice on what to say (and what not to say) when negotiating a project so that you appear as professional as possible. The chapter on how to talk to clients about money is well worth the price of the book. While primarily targeted at graphic designers, there is a wealth of helpful information most of which could easily apply to illustrators, photographers, web designers, etc.

Another book I picked up at the conference is Identity Crisis! ( link) by Jeff Fisher. Fisher is a graphic designer specializing in logos, and his new book details the process he went through on 50 different client projects transforming old logos and identities into new and successful brands. Each chapter shows the client’s old logo, the new logo (and other collateral material), and discusses the process Fisher went through with each client. Fun stuff for anyone interested in logos and identity work.

Finally, designer Ian Arsenault has posted a bunch of photos from the conference on his Facebook page. Give them a looksee to see how much fun everyone had. Ya should’a been there!

The Power Of A Mascot

As a freelance illustrator I work on a variety of projects, but my specialty is character design. I periodically get calls from ad agencies, design firms, and business owners wishing to hire me to design a mascot to help promote their product or service.

Mascots are powerful, which is why so many companies use them (like the well-known brands pictured above). Having a character or mascot to represent you in front of the public can have several advantages:

1. Mascots get attention – People are constantly bombarded with messages so you need to go the extra mile to stand out. Mascots get noticed. When people see a mascot they are more likely to stop and listen to what he/she/it has to say.

2. Increased brand awareness. A good mascot is memorable. If an appealing character can work its way into the public consciousness it will become an instantly recognizable symbol for a product. When you look at the Geico gecko you immediately think of Geico. You see the Pillsbury dough boy and think of gooey chocolate chip cookies. The company logo is barely an afterthought. The mascot says it all.

3. A friendly image. Mascots are fun! They are entertaining to watch and send a positive message. A likable character can instantly create a positive connection with your potential customers. It’s much harder to do that with only a logo.

4. Mass appeal. A good mascot can appeal to a wide demographic, across many age groups and backgrounds. Mascots appeal to children as well as adults, extending your brand message to a wider audience. A mascot can even transcend languages and cultures.

5. Lucrative licensing opportunities. If a mascot becomes popular it opens the door for all sorts of profitable merchandise (clothing, toys, etc.) that can make you money while at the same time raising awareness of your product. Mars Inc., the makers of M&M’s, recently opened an entire M&M’s retail store in New York City, thanks in large part to the popularity of their cartoon mascots.

If you think a cartoon mascot might be the right choice for you or for a client, visit my portfolio and view samples of various characters and mascots I’ve designed. You can also contact me about a free consultation, or download a free questionnaire. It’s designed to help you think through your brand message and also to give me a clear idea of what your needs are so that I know the best way to help you.

Marketing Mentor


Marketing Mentor is an excellent website and blog for freelancers run by Ilise Benun, a consultant who specializes in helping creative professionals do a better job of marketing themselves. Her blog posts are short, direct, and very helpful. For a sample, check out her recent posts “What does it take to be your own boss?” and “Hourly rates and salaries”.

Last year Benun teamed up with Peleg Top to present four excellent webinars through HOW Magazine (which you can still view online, for a fee). Benun also offers some very helpful resources for sale on her website. Her mp3 entitled Interpersonal Skills for Introverts really helped me do a better job at networking at some recent events, and I’m currently getting a lot out of her book The Art of Self Promotion.

If you are strapped for cash her website also offers plenty of free resources worth checking out and an email newsletter, Quick Tips, that always delivers helpful insights about self-promotion.

I don’t meant to sound like a commercial for Marketing Mentor (no, I’m not getting paid to write this.) I’m just genuinely impressed and I want to help spread the news.

Kikkoman Character Design

Recently I was hired by the good folks at Ketchum Communications to create a character for Kikkoman soy sauce. They were printing a brochure and wanted to include a fun cartoon mascot. They asked me to take a bottle of Kikkoman and add a face, an apron, and a chef’s hat.


It was the standard “take our product and add a face” method of character design. It’s a common approach to creating a mascot (i.e. the M&M’s guys, the Chips Ahoy cookie, the Kmart Blue Light guy, etc.) Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

At first glance this kind of assignment doesn’t give a character designer much to work with. The juicier jobs involve designing a character related to the product (i.e. Keebler Elves, Energizer Bunny, Serta Mattress Sheep, etc.), not the product itself. There is a lot more freedom to experiment visually. When the character is the product you are much more limited. An M&M has to look like an M&M, a light bulb has to look like a light bulb. If a character designer isn’t careful, such product-with-a-face characters risk appearing dull and unoriginal. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.Read More

Re-Post: Making The Most Of Your Website

I originally posted this on my blog back in August. However, my blog traffic has increased five-fold since then and I’m guessing most of you haven’t seen it. So, an encore…

For a freelancer, a website is an essential marketing tool. It proudly displays your work to potential clients 24/7. It trumpets your accomplishments to art directors all over the world. Most will not even consider hiring you if you don’t have a website.

But not all websites are created equal.

There are some little extra touches that can go a long way in making sure your website pushes you up on the hiring list. Some of these tips I’ve just recently learned myself. I’m planning to completely redo my website to take full advantage of them.

Put your contact info at the top.
Make sure your email and phone number appear on your header, so that they are readily visible on every page. It’s not that uncommon for an art director to print out samples from two or three artists to show to the boss and/or the hiring committee for a project. If they are having a tough time deciding which artist to call, having your contact info at the top of the page might push you over the edge, especially if the art director is busy and doesn’t want to take time to look up the contact info for the other artists.Read More

HOW Webinar Series


HOW Magazine is a leading publication in the art and graphics community. If you don’t subscribe, you should. There are a ton of great articles on both the creative and business aspects of being a commercial artist.

Recently HOW started offering a series of online “webinars”. (A webinar is a seminar broadcast over the web.) These webinars are designed to help creative types improve their business skills so they can land more jobs and grow more successful. Read More