Five Business Habits for the Cartoon Illustrator
These are the five business habits that I consider to be the most important for a cartoon illustrator. Please remember that I do not have a college degree in business or anything like that. This list is derived not from class lectures, but rather from real experience (which I find to be more useful). There are, of course, many things a beginner in cartoon illustrating should know about conducting business, but they'll be covered in future tutorials. This one will focus on just the top five. Remember: Even if you're not a professional, act like one, and soon enough you'll become one. Hope you find this helpful:
1. Look good.
In other words, present yourself well. The fact is that people do judge a book by its cover, and the first impression is everything. Anything that represents you should make a good impression on anyone that views it.
If you're showcasing your work online, do it on a nice website. If you can't make a good one, hire a professional web developer. It will set you back some amount of cash, but it's one of the best investments you can make, especially because these days clients ask to see your online portfolio before even giving you a call.
If you're going to a meeting with a potential client, dress nicely. Don't put on the same pair of worn-out jeans that you wear to the movies with your buddies. Though there are many factors that determine how formal or informal you should dress, you can never go wrong with khaki pants and a button-down shirt.
When communicating with a client online, don't type LyKe DiS, or use an email like SexyQTpieXOXO@yahoo.com. If your grammar isn't great, use spell-check (if available) or better yet, ask someone to proof-read it for you. Even small grammar mistakes decrease your appearance of professionalism.
2. Use a contract.
This one's worth repeating a few more times: Use a contract! Use a contract! Use a contract! Some people may be hesitant to use a contract with their client, because they think that it's a sign of distrust. You have to remember that you are conducting business, not trying to make pals with your client.
A contract is a legal document that binds an agreement between you and your client. Generally speaking, it says what service you agree to provide and how much the client agrees to pay for it.
Too often I see people complain about clients who abandoned the project before completion or clients who refuse to pay for work done. It's unfortunate for the artist, but it could have easily been avoided with the use of a contract. A personal rule I have is this: Do not put pencil to paper before a contract is signed. Simple.
Clients often ask me to make them some samples or sketches before they sign a contract. In this case, you should kindly refuse to do so. Inform them that you cannot afford to spend time on any project that is not guaranteed to be paid for. Additionally, there should be no reason for them to ask for "sketches" before signing a contract. If they want to know your ability or get a sense of your style, they can look at your portfolio.
3. Keep financial records.
Whether you're making $10,000 a month or $100, it's important to keep track of your earnings and expenses. You can use anything from a notepad to a spreadsheet program to financial programs such as QuickBooks.
Not only will this help you when you file for taxes, but it will help you control your spending. It will help you be aware of how much you can afford to spend, and how many projects you have to complete by the end of the month in order to attain a specific net profit (goal).
Even if you're only making $100 a month from cartoon illustrating, keeping financial records is a good habit to pick up early in your career.
4. Keep track of time.
Use a schedule and always keep track of time when you're working. Having a schedule helps you fit more work in a day than if you just improvised from day to day. A schedule is absolutely necessary if you're working on several illustration projects simultaneously, and they all have deadlines.
If you charge by the hour, you should obviously keep track of how many hours you work. Keep in mind that you should also include hours spent on meetings or discussions with the client, time spent on paperwork, idea development, research on the subject, and even time spent on writing emails to the client.
If you don't charge by the hour, keeping track of how many hours you work will give you a good idea of what you're earning per hour. It will also help you decide what you should charge for your work. For example, if I normally charge $100 for a 9"x12" black and white illustration, and I find that it usually takes me 6 hours to complete it, I'm making roughly $19 per hour. Knowing that, next time I'll begin charging $150 per illustration.
5. Keep stress at a minimum.
I would say "avoid stress," but I don't think that's possible as a freelancer. There are always deadlines to meet, errands to run, bills to pay, emails to answer, and so onů When you're stressed, you can't get things done and you're more likely to cause mistakes. Not to mention it's bad for your health.
You should work in a relaxing environment. Listen to music while you work, put up funny cartoons above your workspace, have a cup of coffee nearby, and whatever else makes you comfortable.
To keep stress due to deadlines to a minimum, have a timeline for your projects. With a timeline, you'll know exactly when things are due, and it will allow you to make a work schedule that gives you some "breathing room" before deadlines. In case anything goes wrong, you'll have a day or two extra before the deadline to get things fixed. A timeline will also allow you to "space things out," so that you're not stuck doing most of the project on the night of the deadline.
Make time for yourself. Take an hour to relax and watch some TV, go to the park and enjoy the weather or just read a newspaper. Set aside some time from your work schedule to relax or get away from the busy work, at least for a little bit. When you get back to work after your personal time, you will have a refreshed mind and will likely work even better now that you're relaxed.