Although I've been using the moniker "Kat Uno Designs" for years to label my illustration business, I've only been working full-time as an illustrator for going on three years this month. It has been both a very rewarding and oftentimes scary experience.
In those three years I've not only developed as an artist, I've also begun to think of myself as a business woman in my own right.
Things I've learned from my illustration business in the past 3 years:
managing my budget; making sure that what goes out (via personal and business expenses) is equal to or does not surpass what comes in
learning all the things to make my business legal (registering my business, paying taxes and fees, reporting the right info to my accountant)
tracking my income (what comes in and when) and reporting things thoroughly to my accountant every tax season
managing clients; communicating effectively and professionally, being prompt and making sure that deadlines are met on both sides
managing expectations (both my own and clients); understanding that we are all human and are capable of only doing so much
working with my agency to ensure that I set myself up for success which includes checking in with them if they feel I need to develop anything new for my portfolio, seeing if there are other markets that my work may be appropriate for, thinking of how I can develop my style to fit the needs of their current client list
finding ways to streamline processes (both in my art and administration of my business) to save me time; setting up systems and shortcuts so that I don't waste time replicating something that is already available
managing my deadlines; using and actually referring to a planner/calendar system has helped immensely. It's nothing fancy but it has kept me on track and better organized.
balancing work and family life. Being the "stay at home" mom, although a full-time working mom, I am the one that takes on the extra responsibility of taking care of the kids. I'm not just an illustrator, I'm also a chauffeur, a coordinator, tutor and chef!
making connections! I've made it a point to be more out going and social even if it's not really in my nature. I struggle with putting myself out there but when I do I'm always rewarded with the outcome!
I do not deign to consider myself an expert in illustration nor running a business in any way but I have learned a few things that I feel have benefitted me a great deal through my experience:
Tips on running a freelance business:
when communicating with anyone (not just clients), be patient, polite and professional. Certain people are easier to work with than others but I always concern myself with how I come off in a conversation. I know you cannot make everyone happy but if you can walk away knowing you did your best to be reasonable and polite it can only help you in the long run. Always leave a good impression of yourself with a client, thank them for choosing you to work with them and keep the door open to future opportunities. Even if it doesn't mean directly working with them again, they may refer you to another client.
understand that when you run your own business and rely on other people to pay you (as opposed to working as an employee for a company that pays you directly), payments will never arrive on time or regularly. You need to be aware of your budget and work within it.
Don't forget about taxes! Depending on where you live, if you don't set up an estimated tax system or deduct taxes automatically from your income you may get a nasty shock come tax time (I'm speaking from personal experience)!
When you are feeling down, overwhelmed or negative about your work remember why you chose to start your own business and what benefits you may be experiencing that you wouldn't being employed for someone else. For me, I am able to spend much more time with my children and be available for them. I'm able to put them in extracurricular activities that they wouldn't be able to attend if I was working a regular 9-5. My projects are a lot more enjoyable than what I used to do in my old office job (I get to draw unicorns!).
meeting deadlines are IMPORTANT! I always shoot to deliver every assignment early, no matter how small. There are times when some misfortune comes up and I have to deliver on the due date or worse, a little late, but I always try to give the client as much of a head's up as possible. As I mentioned before, we are all human and most people are understanding (as long as you give them an adequate warning).
Always ask clients how they want their files set up. What are the final dimensions? Do you need to add bleed area? What color format do they want the files in (RGB or CMYK)? What file format (pdf, jpeg, Photoshop)? Finding these details out at the beginning of a project will save you a lot of head ache and clients appreciate you asking! They never want to receive something in the wrong size, format or color space!
Thank your client at the close of a project. Even if it's a short email, clients appreciate this! I always remember that if it weren't for my clients, I wouldn't be able to run my business! I really appreciate the opportunities that come my way; that a client will choose me over many others for their book or product.
organization is very important! I don't know if my system is the best, most efficient or even reliable, but it works for me! I always back up all my past projects (I archive them and never delete them!) and I do the same with emails. Most of my projects don't involve keeping track of things past their completion but if you are licensing designs, you may have to refer to contracts or files years down the road.
Now I'd like to share some of the work I've done in the past few years! I'm always surprised and delighted at how much I've grown as an illustrator.