Q: I’d like to do freelance illustration and cartooning for a career, but I hate marketing and invoicing and dealing with the business side of things. I just want to draw. How do you handle all that business stuff?
A: There is supposedly a scientific reason for a highly creative person not liking (or in some cases being any good at) the business side of art. Most people have heard of the concept of “right-brained” and “left-brained” people. As the theory goes, people who’s brains are left-side dominant are more analytical and logical, and are generally better at math and other structured concepts. Those who are ride-side dominant are more creative and artistic. Obviously we all use both sides of the brain, so to say either are mutually exclusive is silly, but it does seem to be true that many artistic people don’t get along with math or business. That said, I know of many terrific illustrators that are also exceptionally good at the business side of it, so take that theory with a grain of salt.
Being a professional freelancer takes more that just the artistic skills. You need to have great communication skills to work with art directors and clients, the ability to manage your time and meet deadlines, strong marketing senses and the ability to handle the contracts, invoicing, paperwork and other business things that are part of being a freelancer. I know many very talented artists who can’t make a living freelancing because the don’t have those other parts of the whole that make one a professional. That’s not an indictment of their talent as an artist or cartoonist, but being able to create that work within the demands of the marketplace is necessary if you want to make a career out of illustration. Some artists just don’t have that skill set.
One solution is to find a business manager or rep to handle that end of things. That’s really ideal if you just won’t or can’t do any of the business stuff. I know a few successful illustrators who would not be able to function without that rep. Of course you have to give up a percentage of your fees for that service, but a good rep easily makes up for that in more work and in building solid relationships with clients. I’ve never had a rep, and good ones are hard to find.
Another solution is to get your spouse involved if he/she is willing or able to do so. I also know of a few “spouse teams” where the non-artist husband or wife acts as the manager for the other. It takes a pretty special spouse to do that… I’ve got one of those myself! The Lovely Anna helps me out enormously with paperwork and other business tasks that free up my time to do the artwork.
Finally, as always, there’s an app for that. Actually there are many computer programs that help with the business end of things, from accounting to time management to marketing. I use Intuit QuickBooks to do all my invoicing, accounts payable and all the money stuff. I have a small to-do program called Things that I use to manage my time, setting goals for various tasks and deadline reminders. I know there are some programs out there dedicated to the freelance professional that incorporate several elements together in one place. Mac Freelance is one I know of. I am sure there are others but as I have never used any I am unable to recommend one. That might be something to look into, though.
The reality is there is an art side of being a professional illustrator, and a non-art side. Both are important, and both need to be handled competently for to succeed in the tough world of freelancing.
Thanks to John Larson for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!