Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CREATIVES: UNITE to Diversify - Creating more business for you and good karma for our industries

Ed Shems - illustrator
You can’t go it alone. Being a freelance illustrator is challenging and competitive. The worthy competition challenges you to find ways to get out in front of your peers and prove your value to potential clients.
Editorial illustration for an article about creative quarterbacking
How can you do this? Naturally it starts with solving a client’s visual problem which may require additional skills that you may not have. Knowing how and what to deliver to get any job done right takes experience, professionalism and research. It often also requires ‘diversification’.

How many times has a current or potential client asked you if you can design a poster, packaging, business cards or a header for a website? How many times have you been asked if you have the skills to animate? Businesses large and small expect creatives to do more and more to solve their challenges without forcing them to hop around to multiple studios. When you turn down these jobs or refer them to someone else you’re not only losing out on opportunities but you could be turning away future business as well. It’s time to put your entrepreneurial hat on. Yes, it can be a beret.

This kind of challenge happened early on in my illustration career. Clients started asking me to create the illustrations for their marketing postcard PLUS to design it. I had to quickly learn how to choose fonts, design with bleeds and prepare the files for print. The best part is those clients kept returning with bigger jobs and larger budgets which sometimes doesn't even include illustration work!


“Do what you do best and delegate the rest.”
Jessica Hische, designer

Editorial illustration
I would not recommend that you become a jack-of-all-trades. If you do too many things it becomes overly difficult for your potential clients to understand what you actually do (and your elevator pitch becomes impossibly long!). This is why you need to get out and meet some of your fellow and sister creatives. Go out and shake hands with designers, schmooze with web developers and toast with copywriters. Check out creative organizations such as AIGA, Graphic Artists Guild or one of the many local-to-you organizations sponsoring networking events and gallery openings. Or if you really don’t like to leave the house, join various Linked In groups to meet other creatives.

Connect with:
·       Graphic designers
·       Web designers
·       Web developers
·       Animators
·       Copywriters
·       Printers
·       Photographers

Do some research to determine whose work you like and whether or not their work will mesh with yours. Get in touch and discuss ways in which you might collaborate on projects. Or just make some new friends who you can tap into for insight, advice or even a tutorial.

Illustrative designer Von Glitschka has what he calls an Inner Circle of people he can rely on to kick him in the ass (his words) if his work starts getting lousy. We could all use that. Sure it’s nice to get compliments from your friends, and friends of your parents, when you post your work on Facebook but it’s the constructive criticism from professionals you respect that will help you grow

An illustration from Ed's most recent book: Hamstigator


Working together
Rather than send my client elsewhere for any part of a job, I offer to bring in someone proficient with that particular skill to work ‘with’ me. I give that contractor full authority to communicate with my (now our) client as long as I am kept in the loop. Because I have recommended this person, their good or bad work will reflect on me and my business so I make sure to vet my contractor carefully.

What to look for when choosing a contractor:
·       Great work
·       Good communication skills-Good writing/spelling/grammar
·       Good organization
·       Professionalism
·       Open to feedback
·       On time (for meetings/calls and with delivery of the work)
·       Portfolio of samples to show your client
·       Make sure they will not undercut you to your client

While working with other creatives, it’s important to take advantage of the additional benefits from your collaboration: learning and sharing. Whether you’re learning new skills, software tricks or a better way to compose and send sketch files, you should always recognize that other creatives have something to teach you (and lest you feel belittled, remember that you have different things you can teach other creatives as well).
Kid's book illustration about a mechanical frog

I usually have the contractor bill through me so that I can be sure that the job has been completed to my satisfaction (After all, once again this contractor is representing my business as well as their own). Some creatives add a percentage to the contractor’s estimate as a fee for playing middleman. That’s entirely up to you and you should be ready to disclose this fact to your client and be able to back it up with sound reasoning (such as: it helps cover the time you’re spending on conference calls, discussing the contractor’s work, tracking the job and invoicing).

If payment for the contractor goes through you and reaches a certain amount, (find out what your state requires - I’m in Massachusetts and the amount is $600 and up) and whether that entity is an individual (unincorporated business), partnership or LLC, then you might need your contractor to provide you with a W9.

Not only can you learn from the contractors you work with, but you also have the opportunity to share some of what you know with a newbie. Perhaps the photographer you met is just out of school and has no clue how an invoice should look. Or her portfolio could use some reorganizing. Creative karma can do everyone a lot of good.

Start meeting other creatives and start adding to the types of work you’re capable of excelling at. You’ll be surprised by how diverse your portfolio will become in a very short period of time.

Ed Shems is an award-winning graphic designer and freelance illustrator specializing in editorial illustrations, kid’s books, character development and identity design. Ed is the former President of the Boston Graphic Artists Guild, and cofounder of Creative Relay: A resource for creative professionals. He is on the design advisory committee for DIGMA: The Design Industry Group of Massachusetts. Ed lives in Needham, MA with his wife Bree and their two kids, Leo and Cora. You can find Ed’s illustration and graphic design work at edfredned.com and his writing at creativerelay.com.

Ed's most recent collaboration is on You Tube. From August through November 2013, Ed worked with Zach at Cut to Create to produce an animated explainer video for a client. You can see the collaboration here: http://youtu.be/-5eEek2GRgI

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