Sunday Mailbag

March 4th, 2007 | Posted in Freelancing

Q: My question is about keeping all business matters straight. Do you recommend any software in particular such as Quicken or the myriad Microsoft Office apps?

A: The business aspect of being a freelance illustrator is sometimes intimidating for artists because… well…. they’re ARTISTS. Whether you buy into the left brain/right brain theory or not, it’s often the case that the creative mind has difficulty with analytical things like organization, record keeping, invoicing, etc. It’s really not difficult at all, and there are lots of things that can help out. Some are computer programs and some are not. In addition to the freelance business, I also operate multiple caricature art concessions in 4 states, so my business needs are a little more complex than your typical freelancer. Still, the basic tools I use are the same ones I use for freelancing business, which are the ones I’ll list here:

For simple communication with my clients and business contacts I use Microsoft Word, which is a terrific and versatile program. I have a letterhead to use for business letter. I can generate form letters quickly and easily and can keep label databases of prospective clients for direct mailing. There are a million things Word can be used for. I also use Excel for my concession business spreadsheets. Microsoft Office is invaluable.

For book keeping I use QuickBooks Pro. This is a full accounting program and probably overkill for anyone just wanting to keep track of invoicing and getting payments. There are other, less expensive and scaled down programs out there, but I have no experience with them and cannot give a recommendation. Look for something that allows you to generate, track and print out invoices (preferrable custom ones with your logo), either syncs with your address book or keeps a database of your clients, and makes it easy to enter payment when they arrive. Many come with alarms that tell you when an invoice is overdue. Quickbooks Pro is awesome but expensive.

I use Quickbooks as my database for customers and clients, so I don’t need a database program. Other than those two my address book, calender and e-mail are the only other programs I use for the business.

The most important thing I use for organizing in the studio isn’t on my hard drive. It’s a notebook. A simple, cheap, multiple subject K-mart special notebook. When I get a call from a client, I grab it and write all the pertinent notes about the job along with the date, price quotes, contact info, etc. Low tech but short of a fire burning down my studio also indestructible. Anytime I need to find out about a job I can just go back to the notebook and find it. I keep steady clients in their own subject sections and new clients in another section. It’s always handy and no menus or bugs to deal with.

Thanks again to John Forcucci 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!


  1. SteveH says:

    I have a similar system using Word for creating my booking forms and invoices and I track my business accounts on Excel. I also have an old fashioned diary that keeps my availability and booked dates up to scratch and allows me very quickly to see what is planned. After 25 years in business before escaping into full time work as an artist, I guess I have the organization thing down pat. Its the art that I struggle with and have to work at to try to improve my abilities, slowly, ever so slowly..LOL!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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