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Author: Celina Wong

Why talking to your biggest fans can save you from critical failure

Why talking to your biggest fans can save you from critical failure

Know your audience.

This is not exactly an uncommon advice. It is something you find a lot of freelancing blogs talk about. It is also one of the holy commandant of building a good business.

And why not, it is important.

You don’t know your audience, you don’t sell, it’s simple.

You’d be surprised how despite this is the one of the biggest fundamentals to creating a successful freelancing career, most artists I’ve talked to dragged their feet on it. They have a hard time believing that their lack of success is because they didn’t talk.

They think it is their portfolio website…

Or that their art is rather niche, so they just have to paint more and be patient…

Or they even much rather acknowledge they aren’t very good, but if they work harder, it’ll get better!

If there is one thing I learned in my own journey of figuring out how to be a freelancing artist, it is that doing more doesn’t necessarily means better.

So, why do they avoid talking to their fans?

Don’t have fans? I am pretty sure if you post art in any form of social media, you’ll get at least 1 Like and that’s really all you need to figure out what is the most appealing part of your craft.

So, it really isn’t not having fans. It is something deeper. Something more primal.

Something that’s more like irrational fear.

I can tell you why I avoided talking to the people buying my art in the beginning:

  • It seemed so foreign. I had this mental concept that most artists probably don’t send messages asking for opinions (this is entirely true). Oh my god, I’d come off so annoying and scare them away.
  • They won’t reply. For some reason, this scared me a lot – but I realized it wasn’t the end of the world, there’s always another like or retweet out there that I can follow up with.
  • I’ll get laughed at. Honestly, I have no idea why they would laugh at me, but I just felt like that they would.

I am going to admit, I still get vastly uncomfortable trying to cold email/message people into talking to me, but it does work. Much to my own dismay. My feelings in this matter ended up being completely irrelevant.

And if you get uncomfortable like me, you have to push against it. It is really hard, but well worth it. Otherwise what I’ve seen other people do is that they end up using their discomfort to create reasons to why their art career isn’t launching exactly the way they want to.

Art doesn’t make money!

Making money is bad!

Creative direction is the most important!

They just don’t understand true art!

Artists saying they’d much rather create art they love than to make money, when the reality is that it is possible to have both.

And they much rather live in comfort – in denial – rather than actually taking active steps to learning more about how to sell their art.

Then because they have managed to make some money (but not enough, it’s never enough), they end up thinking that they can eventually make more money if they just do more.

Before they know it, they’ve spent 20 years creating art, selling a piece here or there, but never finding that magic that takes their art into the next level.

The cycle continues.

You don’t have to be like them.

So, here is one thing I want you to do today after reading this blog post.

Talk to the people that like your art and ask them what they liked about your work.

If you think you don’t have people that genuinely like your art (because friends and family can be nice, but they can sometimes just don’t really mean it)…

Pick a social media platform and start posting your art on it.

Look out for those favorites and likes!

… If you’ve already done all that and all of this is old news…

GIVE YOURSELF A BIG PAT ON YOUR BACK.

Good job you!

Bonus:

Check out this podcast with Kai Davis on audience building. It goes a lot into the technical methods that I won’t go into here, but Kai also does an amazing job to explaining how to understand your audience.

The Ultimate Breakdown of Pricing (And What They Don’t Tell You About Pricing)

The Ultimate Breakdown of Pricing (And What They Don’t Tell You About Pricing)

Just how much should I be charging?

The bane of every starting freelancer out there.

I remember that was the very first question that I typed into Google when I decided to turn my art skills into a freelancing career.

And it was horrendously frustrating, because this is what comes up when you search about pricing:

screenshot-2017-02-15-22-09-45
But what if my operation cost is too expensive?!

blah

Okay, that sounds legit... but WHAT IS MY RATE.
Okay, that sounds legit… but WHAT IS MY RATE.

Oh.

My.

God.

JUST GIVE ME A NUMBER ON HOW MUCH MY WORK IS WORTH. TELL ME HOW MUCH SOMEONE STARTING SHOULD CHARGE. WHERE IS MY CLEAR PATH TO BECOMING A COMPETENT FREELANCER???

It sounds stupid now that I have written it out.

As I matured as a freelancer (you might not need to mature as a freelancer to see how unreasonable those wishes were), I realized why those articles were written the way they were.

And I get it, as an experienced freelancer reading them, I nod in my sage wisdom about how true those articles are.

Oh, yes, definitely, that’s how the young ones should freelance.

Because by the end of the day, no one can tell you how much your work is worth. After all, it’s annoyingly subjective.

And it is frustrating because all you want is a number, so all of those don’t negotiate your rate or don’t price yourself too low advice can fly over your head. What is too cheap?! What is too expensive?! How do I know?!

But I am terribly sorry. I can’t tell you what your rates are. Because I am probably not your potential client. That’s really just it. I can’t tell you the numbers because I am not the one paying you for your work.

You need to do research on your own about that.

What I can do for you is to break down on when I personally have done free work, work that didn’t paid as well, and work that paid very well. When did it worked and when did it not work. Because I’ve been there and I tried it.

Before you read this article, I heavily recommend that you do research what your market pricing is first.

Otherwise, the stuff below can fly over your head.

Why free work?

“Don’t ever work for exposure!”

If you ever ask any freelancer for their opinions, their first advice is usually to warn you against picking up projects that offers to pay you in “exposure”. There’s good thinking to that, but as it is with everything else, it is not as simple as black and white.

Why?

I am going to be honest upfront, I got my start by doing free work.

And I am not the only ones out there that got their running start due to free work.

But what I did is very carefully chosen free work.

One of the problem with the concept of free work is that there’s a bunch of opportunists that are pretending that they have exposure to pay.

And exposure is great! The problem isn’t in exposure, but the fact they are usually lying about the exposure (either they have no exposure to give or that they are actually unwilling to give exposure).

Exposure also doesn’t put food on your table.

These opportunists also doesn’t understand that if it is free, the involved artist is also not obligated to meet any standards required since the work is done as a favor.

When I first started, I worked for authors that I admired, knowing that I will enjoy the process of bring their stories to life. They also understood that as I wasn’t demanding any payment, they can’t set any standards to whatever work I throw at them.

And it worked great because we didn’t expected much from each other, but they got artwork they loved (because I did love their stories in the first place) and I got their money the next time they wanted to hire an artist.

This article by Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite about how careful you have to be about free work. He also talks thoroughly about how you should approach it and when to use the “free work” card.

Pros

  • If done right, it can be a great way to getting yourself very exciting projects that you actually love and can learn from.
  • It can actually be great for exposure. It is also a great networking method.

Cons

  • If you aren’t careful, you can literally end up in a project that’s actually just work, but unpaid.

When should I work for free?

  • If you noticed a project you really want to work on and you feel like you can deliver value to that person.
  • If you are trying to expand your portfolio while doing a little bit of networking.
  • If you are working for your own creativity.

When should I not work for free?

  • If someone is offering you “exposure” instead of pay (make sure that you are the one that makes this call, not your potential client).
  • If you have no idea what you are doing and decided to just do something random to appease a big company or a popular figure.

Why offer a lower rate?

“Make sure you get paid what you are worth.”

I am going to be slightly controversial for a second.

I will tell you why — sometimes — you want to aim for something lower than the dream rate you want to go for.

And no, it’s not because your potential clients will tell you that they can find cheaper help elsewhere.

It also won’t be because your work isn’t valuable.

The simple truth is this — charging high requires a ridiculous amount of self-confidence. Or bullheadedness.

I see many extremely talented artists and freelancers fall into this trap. They can hardly believe they can be earning premium… so they just don’t ask for it.

Also, there is a surprising amount of freelancers and artists I’ve consulted that told me how they have trouble starting because of this advice:

Get paid a high rate or don’t do it.

So I tell them that if they have trouble stating what seems to be a high price without wincing at themselves, they should simply start by charging low.

Then they gawk at me.

“I can do that?”

Yes, yes! You can charge yourself a lower rate. Yes, there’s a lot of some higher moral ground crap about how charging low is killing your fellow artists’ livelihood… but that’s all just mental bullshit.

The unspoken thing about charging high rates is that your #1 enemy is yourself.

Ramit Sethi even coined a term for something like that and how it sabotages you. He calls it mental barriers.

If you are one of those people that hesitates to start because you simply don’t feel ready to ever charge someone, start low.

Because it is better to be charging something, even if it is just $1, than sitting there and doing nothing. At least you are getting yourself started and making small progress.

There were times when I was offered projects that seemed like uncharted territories to me, so I offered a lower rate than the usual market rate. And it helps because it allowed me to genuinely figure out what my work’s value is at for that market.

Then the next time a similar project is being offered, I just increase the price. There is no problem with that.

I am going to repeat myself, but I can’t emphasize enough that you should be researching about the average pay for your service. There is comfort in knowing the solid market of your chosen market.

And by that, I don’t mean just surfing in Fiverr, because it is easy to find freelancers that charge cheap just for the sake of it. I mean research as in go out there and talk to the people that made it in your specialty. Their perspectives are priceless and they can really paint the picture on what it takes to be successful with your craft.

If you are an illustrator or artist that’s looking to work for a company in a major project (marketing, concept design, etc.), I highly recommend picking up this book (I don’t get affiliation for this). It covers almost all sort of graphic artists jobs and the average payment for the job as well as the average freelancing price.

Pros

  • Good to build your confidence — starting cheap is a good way to start building that confidence.
  • A good way to start getting the feeling of being paid and how freelancing feels like.
  • If someone isn’t sure if you are the person for the project, offering a small project to try things out can also help.

Cons

  • Attracts mostly bad clients.
  • Create a psychology barrier for you to increase your rate later on your career.

When should you price your work lowly?

  • You are just starting and you are worried you cannot deliver the value expected.
  • You have no idea if freelancing is your thing and you don’t want to owe people a massive amount of money if you fail to complete the projects.

When should you not price your work lowly?

  • You’ve been at it for awhile and you have a steady amount of clients – learn to increase your rate here.
  • You are actually confident that your work is better than the same people that charge far higher.
  • You are getting way too many low quality clients.

Why Charge a Higher Rate?

“Premium prices mean premium clients.”

This is where every freelancer’s ultimate dream is.

One big fat paycheck for one quality project.

The funniest thing is that good quality clients want that to be true too. After all, if you aren’t distracted on other projects, you are putting your best in their work. And they would pay premium for that sort of attention and care.

 

So sometimes when you are not getting customers or you noticed that potential clients seem to walk away as soon as you named your price…  maybe increasing your rates is actually the solution.

That certainly happened to me. When I charged a modest $25/hour rate for my art commissions, I got 0  sales. It was only when I took an almost reckless and desperate attempt of raising my price to $60/hour that I actually started getting clients.

Same service. Same market.

Different price created different results.

That’s why researching your pricing is important. Your market might actually have price expectations. When something matters to your clients, the last thing they actually want is a cheap service, because people don’t usually think highly on cheap services. They also don’t trust cheap services.

And you can capitalize on that.

 Pros

  • Usually gets the best quality clients.
  • You can focus on delivering better work instead of spending time and energy in outreach.
  • Clients usually have more confidence in your work if they are convinced to pay you a higher rate.

Cons

When should you price your work highly?

When should you not price your work highly?

  • You don’t actually have the technical skills to back it up.
  • You aren’t actually sure if you can deliver the results.
  • You have no idea if freelancing is your thing.

In the end, when you are deciding what’s the best rate for you, I say choose something you are comfortable with. That’s the most important part. A number you truly feel represents your work.

A number that you aren’t ashamed to say to your potential clients.

Because there’s always ways to fix your rates later. Reputations aren’t set in stone either. What is hot news today isn’t going to be hot news tomorrow. There’s also no rule or actual expectations out there that say you have to stay with the first rate you choose.

I had to fixed my rate when I first started. And I had to increase my rate later when I had a steady client base as well.

Was it awkward? Yes. Was it nerve-wrecking? Oh hell yes.

But it always did work out rather well.

Still confused and still tearing your hair out about what pricing your art is worth? I understand that it can feel very life and death and no “just set a price and try” advice can sway you from it.

I encourage you to send me an email. I might not be able to tell you the exact pricing, but I can definitely help you in figuring out how you can find the right answer.

As usual, if you know a freelancer or an artist ripping their hair out because of PRICING. Help them out, send them this article.

“I Want a Refund!” — 3 Things Nightmare Clients Do

“I Want a Refund!” — 3 Things Nightmare Clients Do

So. Funny story.

Just a few days ago, I got an email from a client telling me that she wanted a refund for her deposit. She did it right on my birthday and it really did spoiled my celebration spirit quite a bit.

Which is funny, because just two weeks ago, I just talked about how “nightmare clients” aren’t the end all of freelancing careers and that we shouldn’t be scared of them despite the terror that they can bring.

But as I read those four words “I want a refund“, I felt crushed.

Was it rational? No, it really was quite irrational for me to be so crushed about it. It isn’t the first time a client had asked for a refund. I also know last minute cancellation is a regular occurrence. Shit happens and people cancels appointments all the time.

Still, it didn’t stop me from having crushing doubt about my own freelancing career:

Was it something that I did? Did they find out something indecent in my social media? Did they find someone cheaper for better quality work?!

Maybe she thought I was a fraud.

Then there was also frustration and anger at the client because she has booked two weeks of my work time only to leave me hanging last minute.

Suddenly I have two weeks of a forced vacation.

No matter what the client’s reason is, it still doesn’t change this fact: clients suddenly demanding a refund is one of the biggest nightmares a freelancer can have.

Thankfully for me, I had my contract to protect me, so I managed to get ahead of the situation.

But contracts really should be a last line of defense. Whenever you pull out your contract to make an argument, you are likely also kissing your relationship with that client a solid goodbye. Then it becomes a giant PR damage control fest.

And thankfully for you, you can avoid all of that. You can learn from my mistakes.

In hindsight of this whole mess, I realized that there were a few warning signs that I should have acted on. Such as when she consistently spelt my name as cilena, when my name is Celina. Yes, she never used caps.

I am kidding. That really wasn’t a warning sign.

It was other things that made my gut twitch, but I still agreed to work for her because she came to me as a recommendation. I thought better despite getting the massive gut feeling that she’ll bail out on me.

And it turned out my gut feelings were 100% accurate.

So learn from my mistakes.

Here are 3 signs that might seem like nothing, but are actually huge warning signs:

  1. They don’t have any  questions for you.

This was actually the first warning sign that made me concerned. My ex-client told me that she didn’t have any questions after I asked three times if she had any questions or concerns about the project.

Because I normally get a lot of questions.

Okay, maybe you are much better at explaining things than I am, but the chances are you probably still left out a few details that your potential client have concerns about. And that’s completely normal. Questions are the start to a healthy working relationship!

So you can imagine why having no questions can be a problem.

It can mean a few things:

  • They aren’t actually interested in their own project.
  • They aren’t paying attention to what you are telling them.
  • They have no idea how their own project will go.
  • They aren’t serious about their project.

In my case, she actually had no idea how her project (a website) will actually turn out. She just thought it will happen.

All of this basically boils down to a simple fact.

They don’t have a quality project for you to work on.

And that’s a pretty big problem because you don’t want to work in circumstances where required resources aren’t made available. Trust me, the last sort of people you want to work for is someone that doesn’t know what they are doing and don’t really care to learn. They just think things will… happen.

Alternatively, they might be expecting you to do all the work. Because they are looking for a miracle worker, not a freelancer.

And that’s really just as bad.

  1. They talk about wanting the project completed… fast.

This one is one of the biggest red flag.

If a potential client wants you to complete a project quickly or implies that this is a job that you should be able to finish in a few days… RUN AWAY. Double the speed if they insist on you to work on their projects immediately.

This might seem like a reasonable request, especially when you are first starting and are desperate for your very first freelancing job. After all, you do have the time!

Whenever I have picked up a client that wants the project completed “fast” without regards of my other on-going projects, they have always shown that they don’t have actual respect for my time.

This is because when you are working as a professional, you have other clients to care about. Even if you are just starting as a freelancer, you probably have other stuff you got to care about before you can commit yourself to a project.

This is a basic human courtesy that many potential clients surprisingly forget. It is also very basic time management.

If a potential client demands that you cater only to them, the truth is they don’t think very highly of you. That means they will be very unlikely to pay you a reasonable rate or respect your time in future collaborations.

  1. The milestone and expectation of the project are not discussed.

As a freelancer it is your job to discuss about the working arrangements and project milestones. A healthy working relationship means both you and your clients understand the limit of what you are going to do and when you are going to finish them.

Setting up milestones is a great way to communicate those expectations. It also makes perfect project management sense to have milestones.

If a client doesn’t really care about it and decided to wave it off?

This could be a huge disaster for you as a freelancer, especially if you are not working on a signed contract. This is how most nightmares start – when your clients start thinking that you exist only to work without repayment.

So in the scenario where a potential client insists that “you’ll work along the flow”, you really should insist on the necessity of milestones. If they still aren’t interested, make a mad dash and find another client.

But what should I do if I get a bad client anyway?

Unfortunately, bad clients are like ants. No matter how hard you try, you’ll still get to experience some of them. That’s just how it is, shit happens and sometimes – surprise, surprise – it might not actually be under the client’s control.

In these scenario, here is what I heavily suggest your contract to include:

A non-refundable deposit.

This is what kicks in if a client suddenly leaves you without work for two weeks. Or if a client demands a refund because they are suddenly very displeased with the work you’ve done so far.

It’ll save your hide a lot of the time.

This blog post, which is written by a former lawyer, talks about the fine line of a non-refundable deposit, the actual meaning behind it, and why you should be careful when you are exercising this right. He breaks it down perfectly to why you should consider having it and being careful about the phrasing in your contract.

It might seem overwhelming to have a contract, but do know that there’s a lot of templates and resources that can help you with that.

Not sure how to write one?

Click here for the contract template I use for my freelancing work

Point being is you should always have a contract and have a non-refundable deposit clause in your contract. It will give you control over a potentially messy situation.

Of course, whether you exercise the option or not is completely your choice and depends on the circumstances. You don’t always have to be an asshole to someone that asks for refund.

Do you know someone that deals with way too many bad clients? Send this article along and help them out.

Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

Don’t Be Perfect (Because It’ll Kill Your Art)

I did something extremely terrible.

A few months ago, I submitted a super ugly commission. Something that was way below my usual standards.

But there was a deadline and that was it. Time’s up.

I remember thinking, “Oh man, this client is going to give me an EARFUL about how I produced such a bad artwork for such a high price. MY CAREER IS DONE.”

This was just going to be a complete disaster. She’d tell her friends and post on social media what a fraud I was… and I’d have to pack my freelancing career into a coffin.

And then… I received a message from her. I was saying goodbye to my short-lived career…

She told me she LOVED my work and she will continue to tell all her friends to check me out.

Wait. What?

CAN’T SHE SEE EVERYTHING WRONG? IT IS THE UGLIEST PIECE OF CRAP—

She didn’t care.

I learned a very important lesson that day.

People gives very little shit about what you think or do as an artist.

That can be a very depressing revelation, but it wasn’t for me.

Before that, I demanded all my work to be perfect before submission. It’s how I thought I delivered the value that they paid me to do. So I only did one project per month. Pushing all my energy to perfecting my craft for my clients. One perfect little project at a time.

But that was wrong.

Their idea of perfection had very little to do with what I had in mind. They weren’t looking for technical perfection. So I stopped trying to be technically perfect.

And you know what happened?

I got even better as an artist.

By constantly demanding myself to be perfect, it sapped me from the improvements I could have gained.

It was the simple act of doing more that made me into a better artist. Because when I did things, I got active feedback about what was actually going wrong and it wasn’t just a part of my imagination.

As artists, we are trained to make sure our vision of perfection is met. Just the concept of polishing till it gleams, till it is standing perfect to us.

And this toxic mindset translates to everything else too.

My friend (who graduated from SCAD as a graphic designer) spent 4 years refining her portfolio before she applied to her FIRST design job. All because she wanted to submit a “perfect portfolio”.

Her mentor, which she found later in her job, told her it wasn’t actually a good portfolio and she was crushed.

4 years!

That’s a very long time to put your career on hold simply because you were trying to pursue a perfect version of yourself. And it didn’t even turned out good.

Is being a perfectionist stopping you?

With the amount of horror stories out there about freelancing, it can feel like that you are only a step away from a nightmare.

But you can’t be better without trying first. And that might mean failure in some levels or it might mean small errors that you can do better in your next opportunity.

Until you try though, theories and practical strategies mean nothing. That’s the important part. Theories and strategies are all tweaks to something that you’ve tried and are just feedback to how you can be better.

And I get it, mistakes can seem like the end of everything:

  • What if your bad portfolio chases that one important client away?
  • What if no one will hire you because you have no website?
  • What if you priced yourself too low and you become known as a “cheap artist”?
  • What if you priced yourself too high and everyone remembers that one time?

I’ve done every single mistake that a freelancer shouldn’t do and I’ve simply bounced back from it. Know that every single mistake you might make IS COMPLETELY REVERSIBLE.

So, I am going to challenge you today. I’m going to give you permission to fail.

Embrace failure.

What’s that one thing you’ve been stopping yourself from doing because you keep thinking you aren’t ready? Take that one thing, give it your best shot, and see where it goes.

You might just surprise yourself that it won’t be as bad as you thought.

PS: Do you know someone that keep waiting to be perfect before they start their goal? Send this to them and give them permission to be imperfect!

Why I fucking love Starbucks

Why I fucking love Starbucks

Here is a somewhat well-known fact about Starbucks, actual baristas hate them.

The barista that taught me how to brew a perfect coffee told me to “stop drinking that crap unless you wanted to die.”

So, I know how to pull a supposedly perfect latte that’s not too harsh or acidic and all that coffee mumbo jumbos. I do not have to spend $3.65 for a latte.

I love Starbucks though.

It’s a deeply shameful secret of mine.

Regardless of your opinion of Starbucks, I actually think coffee brewing has a lot of similarity to any artistic endeavour. An actual good cup of coffee takes a lot of work surprisingly.

Which is why it is baffling how in blind taste tests, even McDonald’s is reported to have better coffee than Starbucks.

So what happened there?

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Howard, who was struggling to make ends meet. One day, he was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized something: the owners there knew customers by name. The café he was at was homely, and the customers were encouraged to lounge and enjoy their time. The skies opened up and the angels sang to him.

Hallelujah!

Just kidding.

But something similar did actually happen when Howard Schultz (who was struggling to make ends meet) was drinking a cup of coffee in Milan when he realized that the café there was simply nice. And he decided to import the culture of that coffee shop to America. And that was the beginning of Starbucks as we know it.

Yes, Howard Schultz went into the coffee business wanting to focus on bringing a certain lifestyle to America. He wanted to show how you could enjoy a cup of coffee instead of just downing it as a source of energy. As many marketing gurus would say, he wanted to sell an “experience”.

Now many people go to Starbucks, knowing that they can spend $3.65 for a cozy seat and a table (if it’s not packed) for their own purposes. People go to Starbucks to work, to read, to study, to catch up with an old friend.

As one of my friends said, “Where else can I pay $3.65 and spend four hours at the same table without being shooed out?”

Coffee might be what Starbucks sell as a product, but it isn’t why people buy it.

You might be asking… how does this apply to you as an artist?

As people that love our craft, we run into a very similar situation as the baristas that hate Starbucks. We have a great appreciation for our craft perfected. It’s why we became artists after all.

However, it is important to remember — art is only a medium to what we really want to say. And we are doing ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t learn from the people who succeed. No matter what their technical skills are.

We all went into art and stuck with it because we have something inside of us that we want to show the world. But in the pursuit of perfecting our technique, we forget that people simply just care more about the message that your art has. Of course, a perfectly polished art piece is only one of the many ways you can showcase your message.

The truth is unless you are planning to sell your art to other critical artists, you only just need to be good enough.

For example, look at xkcd comic.

Stickmen.

It’s simple, but yet it has won awards simply because the artist understood that geek humor is the focus. People don’t care if it is stickmen or a properly rendered comic, their audience only cared about the jokes.

Why should people care about you? Why should they look at your work when there are so many other artists out there?

Of course, you can always wait for social media jackpot to choose you, but why should you when you can do more to create more exposure for yourself?

What is the experience you are trying to sell? What is that little extra something that will connect you to your prospective clients?

Think outside of the art you create.

3 Things That the Best Artists Do to Make a Living

3 Things That the Best Artists Do to Make a Living

It’s not easy being a paid artist. Actually, we have a reputation for suffering for our art. Any child (or worse, adult) who says they want to be an artist immediately gets asked whether we are scared of becoming one of those “artists in the streets” who will die a cold wintery death huddling their canvas and bottles of paint to the last.

It makes me sick.

This myth of the ‘suffering artist’ is something that should be burned thoroughly in the biggest bonfire out there. You do not need to suffer to create art (Elizabeth Gilbert has tackled this in Big Magic in a wonderful way, so I won’t delve into the subject here), and if you so choose, you can actually make a living out of making art.

It will take time, but let me repeat that again: you can make a living by making art.

Once you’ve accepted that, we can move on and learn how to become a paid artist, and maybe even a well paid one. You may not be sipping pina coladas at a beach, but you may, with time, become the artist who works in coffee shop on her own schedule.

I should forewarn you that this is not some “5 ways to get fabulously fit” articles that you can read and just “note down in your head” (that is, promptly forget it after you article-hop to the next thing). I’m revealing the system I actually used when I first started out as an artist.

You will need to actually do the things I’m saying to make it work for you.

Ready?

Identify Your Offer.

When you’re selling your art, or anything for that matter, you have to know what you’re selling. It sounds apparent and simple, doesn’t it?

“Oh, I sell my art skills. I can draw XYZ really well. If only people would give me a chance, heck, or even properly look at my portfolio…”

or

“I can draw (insert appropriate words) really well! And really fast!”

Okay, if you just said something like that, please stop. Here’s the thing: when you enter into the real world, there’s a break from your previous school approach. Your skills are important, sure, but your ability to convey your value is equally if not even more important. You are never just selling your art. You are always selling something else with it. That is the value of your art.

So what value do you bring to a business or person who is buying your art? What are you actually selling, along with your art?

Here’s a simple exercise: Get a pen and paper and jot down 10 things that Apple ‘sells’ with ONE product. This can be an iPad, MacBook, whatever. When someone buys an Apple product, what else are they getting? (Protip: It doesn’t matter if you don’t owe any Apple devices and don’t understand the hype. You can easily research and see what and how people actually talk about these products online. Apple fans are blessedly open about their reasons on why they’ll insist on buying Apple products.)

Some ideas that comes immediately to mind for me:

  • Convenience,
  • A suite of beautiful products
  • Prestige
  • Social currency (look cool in front of their friends or colleagues)
  • Good customer service

Now think about 10 things that you’re selling with your art. When people come to you to buy your art, besides from the finished product, what are they buying?

Guiding questions for those who are stuck:

  1. Why are they buying it? Is it for an occasion? To tickle their fancy?
  2. Do they have to buy it from you? (If it’s a ‘no’ make the answer a yes. There’s only one you. What do they get by buying it from you?)

Don’t skip or skimp on this exercise. Strain your idea muscle a bit and list out 10 ideas.

A lot of people, especially smart people, conceptually understand something and move on, saying they’ll come back to it (oh I’ll list out the values I provide later). But when is later? Never.

So do it now.

Done?

Good, now one more thing: List out 10 potential people (who aren’t your mom or dad) who will buy your art. You know why people will buy your art, now find out who they are.

Some guiding questions:

  1. What are their hobbies?
  2. How and where would they enjoy communicating?
  3. Where do they live? What is their culture?
  4. How old are they?

That makes sense, right? You find out what you offer, and who might buy what you offer. (It doesn’t matter if things are a little far-fetched now.)

Do you get the idea I’m trying to hint at here? Your offer, your services is what you’re selling, not just your art. As artists, we have the advantage where our art is marked with our style. But that is not enough for too many of us. Art is a matter of taste of the person buying it as well.

Your potential customer is out there, the question you have to answer for them is: Why are they buying your art?

Find a community, and join it.

Now that you know what you sell and who might buy your art, it’s time to test your theories.

Do the people you think will buy your art exist? If you sell portraits of fictional characters, for example, would Sam who roleplays a lot online want a portrait of her own original character? How about Craig who likes to send one-of-a-kind cards to his mom, and just likes the good, old handmade thing? Or Marissa who programs all day and wants a particular wallpaper for her computer monitor?

If yes, where do Sam, Craig or Marissa hang out in their free time? Is there a community out there?

Find these people. Hashtags are good for a reason. Use Google. Use Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. Are there forums out there where your potential client base hangs out?

Research. There is no shortcut. I never said this would be easy. But preferably you already know a little bit about where your potential clients might hangout. You can check out my guide to social media and their general demographics + pros and cons here.

This will take you a while. Let’s say at least a week of intensive research, even if you have some idea of where your potential clients hang out.

The goal is to come to a list of 1 to 3 communities, more would be better. Lurk around a bit if you can and see which one you like.

As you lurk, keep these questions in mind:

  • Which one has people that seems more like people you can talk to?
  • Which is more active?

You can probably guess what’s coming next. But the secret is then to actually join the community.

This means you’re going to do MORE than just lurk and ninja around a site with a new account.

Yes, this is going to take time. But this is the difference between appearing like a salesperson and being an artist people have connected with, and want to buy from. People want to buy from people they consider genuine artists.

Protip: When joining a community, be a human being. (You can check out this podcast here with Ben Ee, Art Director of Wymac Gaming Solution since we talk a lot about social media and being part of the community.)

In this case, I’m going to assume there is a community of your target audience on some form of social media. If there isn’t any Meetup groups or social media groups for your imagined clientele, you might want to reconsider your offer and target audience. There are groups for board gamers and horror story addicts out there, for goodness sakes.

I have a whole other post on social media here. But the general rule of thumb is: don’t be a robot. Don’t be a corporate. Don’t post things without letting some of you show through. If you want to join a community, join as a human being. No one connects to robots or to a ‘brand’ like they do to a human.

Some communities will also have events. In such cases, join them. For artists especially, there is nothing like an event asking for artists to pair up (with another artist, a writer, musician, etc.) which will force you to commit to drawing more, and you’ll also have more potential to be seen by that artist’s audience as well.

Joining a community may take you a while. Depending on how active it is, it may be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

The goal is to gain recognition and fans for your work. Artists attract strong emotions from people. Be aware you might get a few haters along the way, but if you do, wear it as a badge of honour. People love to hate who and what they are envious of.

Make the sale.

There are a lot of people in the world turned off by that word. “Sale.” We remember the ‘sleazy’ salesperson who tried to sell us shit we didn’t need. Or that infomercial. Or that annoying ad from whatever website.

Honestly, as if we didn’t have enough to contend with already with the word “art” and the image of the starving artist.

But we’re going to defy those 2 tropes. You are not a trope.

The difference between you and the sleazy salesperson (or unwanted ad) is that you will have been part of the community. You will have gained fans and friends and people who love your work.

Now when you open commissions, or say you’re available for a job, people are listening. You have a layer of fans, of people who want to pay you to draw for them.

You still have to let them know you’re opening commissions. Don’t just post on your social media of choice that you’re opening up commissions. Let your fans know first.

This part should be the simplest part. Just go with something like this:

“Hi [Their Name],

Just wanted to let you know I’m opening up commissions soon. Let me know if you still want that [thing they said they wanted when you were talking to them, or thing they seem to really love] done.

If not, it’s cool, but I’d really appreciate it if you would spread the word when I officially open up my commissions :D.

Cheers,

[Your Name]”

You can edit it in a way that sounds more like you. But the important thing is to reach out to your most loyal fans first. Let them have early access, and if they aren’t interested let them know there’s no hard feelings, but you would really appreciate them spreading the word for you.

That’s it. Not that hard, is it?

Now let’s review what we just went through.

  1. It’s not easy, and it will take time, but you can make a living as a freelancing artist.
  2. You’re going to follow the steps that sounds dead obvious when you think about it. They are:
  3. Knowing what’s valuable about what you sell. Then brainstorming who will buy it.
  4. Finding if your potential customers exist. There’s a community out there for almost everything. Join the community. Be active, be human.
  5. For your most loyal fans (and you will get them as an artist), show your friendship and preference. Reward them in your own way. Sell to them, make them your advocates.

Now, there are probably some of you who scrolled all the way to the bottom to the summary. I SEE YOU. And I highly recommend you to take the time to read the whole article (because it’s packed with information that’s useful to you). A lot of people, especially smart people, skim and dismiss things. They think they understand the ‘gist’ of things and promise themselves they’ll do it. And then they don’t.

Try the whole process. Inevitably, you’ll meet some troubles or hiccups. In this case, you can check out my troubleshooting PDF here. But I highly recommend you to try it out yourself first.

As a final piece of advice, I would recommend you writing down your process and thoughts as you start your journey as a paid artist. Self-diagnosing your problems is one of the most vital skills that will make your career. Good luck.

Questions? Check out this free FAQ that answers the biggest questions artists have about becoming a paid artist.

The Art of Commissions Podcast Episode 2: The Story Behind His Successful Kickstarter Campaign and Eldet Feat. Marccus Ehren

The Art of Commissions Podcast Episode 2: The Story Behind His Successful Kickstarter Campaign and Eldet Feat. Marccus Ehren

“You have to keep in mind, when you are making something, you are so horribly familiar with what you are making. You know the in’s and out’s of everything about it and you are just bored by it because that’s all you’ve been doing.”

For this episode, Marccus Ehren, the game developer and artist, is here to talk about his recent successful Kickstarter campaign of Eldet, a LGBT and medieval fantasy visual novel. Not only did we touched on what inspired him to create Eldet, we also talked about time managements and work-life balance that came with developing a project of this scale with only one manpower. Marccus also explained about the extreme challenge of finding the time to create it while studying for his final year exams, a part-time job, and how he found the time to do all of it.

The craziest thing about Eldet is that Marccus actually composed the music, drew all the art, and wrote the story all by himself. The scope of the project and the fact that he did it in 6 months is amazing and can be seen as superhuman. However, he breaks down on the sacrifices he made to fit the project into those 6 months and what he learned from it.

Faaron from Eldet
Faaron from Eldet

In this episode, we talked about revealing topics about an artist’s life, such as:

  • The fickleness of his brief internet fame as a fandom fan-artist and how it forced him to mature as an artist.
  • The gruelling process of creating Eldet all by himself and how he coped with the lack of time, all the while juggling with studying for his finals and a job.
  • How he overcame his fear of failure and how he managed his expectations for the game to ensure that it is created while sitting on a pile of student debt.
  • The stigma of artists monetizing their skillsets, how you can get a lot of backlash for putting a price tag on your art, and what you can do about it.
  • The importance of finding the meaning behind your art and how it actually can make your life as an artist better.
  • The unpleasant surprises of juggling with his personal life while creating this game (such as losing friends because he wasn’t able to explain why he couldn’t meet anyone for the next year and a half because he is creating this game!)
  • And finally: the critical lessons that he learned to create a successful Kickstarter and Patreon campaign and why artists should consider these platforms to monetize their art.

 

“That’s advice I would give to anyone. You want your work to actually call to mind of you and not something else. So, you don’t want someone to see your name and think ‘oh yeah, they draw fanart of… whatever’. You want people to think that’s the person that draws realistic and they are really good at lighting! You want people to think about you and not the thing that you draw.”

In-game Screenshot of Tariq from Eldet
In-game Screenshot of Tariq from Eldet

Marccus Ehren comes from a very interesting background of having the honor of becoming a true internet sensation due to his fanwork. Despite of his young age, he have had his art was shared all over the internet and on all sort of social media platforms.

Having experienced being an internet sensation briefly, Marccus realized that the fame could be more of a burden than an advantage and how fickle that social media attention can be. Despite of the challenges he faced, he still ventured forward to create Eldet, his first Kickstarter original project, all the while of losing 80% of his audience immediately due to his withdrawal from the fandom that gave him the fame in the first place.

He faced the challenges of losing community feedback and losing his personal life in exchange for Eldet. Despite of this, he was able to succeed and create the demo for Eldet that broke his minimal funding requirements right on the first day. Eventually, the Kickstarter project ended up with an astounding $30,000USD.

Listen to this episode to hear how he managed to overcome all these challenges, as well as a reveal to the more emotional side of being an artist.

Enjoyed the episode? Do share it on your favorite social media platform! Art of Commissions aim to help artists earn more money by creating a resource website just for that. The more artists that come by here and show the support, the better this community will become.

The Art of Commissions Podcast Episode 1: Dissecting the Science of Social Media Success Feat. Benjamin Ee

The Art of Commissions Podcast Episode 1: Dissecting the Science of Social Media Success Feat. Benjamin Ee

I am super excited that I am finally revealing the first podcast episode of Art of Commissions!

From now on, I intend to showcase artist feature via podcast instead, since I believe that audio will give the interview format a more personal touch to our listeners and it also allows for greater details to be communicated. As always, I am open to feedback and any other ways to improve Art of Commissions as a resource website for budding freelancing artists.

Much to my greatest pleasure, I’ve had the chance to talk to Benjamin Ee — Art Director of Wymac Gaming Solution and Freelancing Artist as our first podcast guest!

“I could paint like some artsy piece about society and their obsession with technology or I could just paint a picture of a Pikachu, I don’t know, doing a backflip. There will be that satisfaction of creating something. If it makes one more person happy, job done!”

For this episode podcast, Ben and I talked about using social media to represent yourself as an artist, expanding on the previous blog post. This is something that Ben is amazing at, with his art getting regular social media attention. On top of having a good handle on social media, he uses his social media platforms to generate leads for his freelancing business on the side. While there are advantages that social media can have for artists, we also talked about certain dangers that social media can have to growing artists and how to avoid these pitfalls that social media presents.

Click HERE to get access to the cheatsheet to his social media success

Born Anger and Vengeance
Born Anger and Vengeance

In this episode — one hour of packed-in goodness — we discuss important topics such as:

  • Ben’s favorite social media platform as well as the important factors to choosing the social media platform that you are comfortable in.
  • The fatal mistakes that most artists do when using social media and how to distinguish yourself from your competitions with it.
  • The concept and fallacy of viral marketing and why you shouldn’t solely focus on getting your art viral.
  • The dangers of using social media to measure the value of your art and why you shouldn’t rely solely on social media to get people talking about your art.
  • Why showcasing yourself as a person is more important than showcasing yourself as an artist in social media and how that can increase the likelihood to you being hired as an artist.
  • The do’s and do not’s of using social media for networking.

“I think it is a legitimate danger that people should be aware of focusing so much on getting better or getting popular that they forget why they wanted to paint in the first place.”

Vampire's Kiss
Vampire’s Kiss

Benjamin Ee hugely believes in that the most important thing about being an artist is recognizing your own individual uniqueness. He also voiced concerns that many artists nowadays can find themselves in the toxic black hole of social media – using social media to validate the value of the art they created and forgetting the reason to why they started drawing in the first place.

While dialog and discussion about art (after all, who doesn’t like a bit of attention from their own hard work?) is important, he believes that artists should understand that passion behind their art and the message they want to spread to the world. This is the key to finding the perseverance to a long art career.

As he himself said, it doesn’t have to be something overly artsy and meaningful and it could be something as simple as a silly drawing that makes people smile. Even with a simple reason, remembering the meaning behind it will help on the days when you don’t feel like your art is not worthy.

Got any questions or comments for Benjamin Ee? Do leave the comments below and I will forward the questions to Ben!

Do feel free to also check out Benjamin Ee’s tumblr account here!

Social Media: An Artist’s Lifeblood or… a Pointless Endeavor?

Social Media: An Artist’s Lifeblood or… a Pointless Endeavor?

Oh, social media. I have such a love-hate relationship with it.

There were days when I finish an art project and I am superbly proud of it. I think to myself, man, this must be my best work! My followers will love it!

So, I go and post it… excitedly waiting for the feedbacks, likes, and shares to roll in.

And then…

Nothing.

My brain implodes with shame and I am left wondering if my art just really sucks.

I am sure I am not the only one that has gone through this feeling. Social media as a whole seems like a giant enigma. One day, you’ll throw a half-assed sketch on Twitter or Tumblr and people will worship it, showing it with likes, comments, and shares. The other days, when you put up your best polished work and by the end of the day, you can count the likes on one hand.

It makes you wonder what the special secret ingredient to social media fame is, right? Why do some artists get a bazillion likes and shares with whatever they post and why can’t you be like them?

You might even think to yourself, man, these artists that are getting so much social media attention… they aren’t even good. I am better. I should get more attention.

Clearly you will never be the next artist that becomes famous through the use of social media, so you throw in the towel.

I’ll be honest here; the chances of you becoming the next Sam Spratt or Alice X. Zhang is rare.

Or at least, it’ll be rare because you will literally be waiting for the opportunity to fall into your lap. The chances of an art director coming across your work in the vast internet is abysmally small – considering how much junk the internet has in general.

Does that mean social media is useless? Maybe we all should just give up on social media?

Well, no. Social media is still immensely useful even if it won’t be your one ticket to fame. In fact, you shouldn’t consider using your social media just to create viral content. There is so much more a social media platform can do for you. Especially if you choose the right one.

I’ll like to figure out which social media platform is best for me!

Social media showcases the artist behind the art

Do you know what an art director’s #1 concern when it comes to choosing an illustrator to work with?

It is that they are good with deadlines and that they are capable of being collaborative.

The thing is when you show a portfolio, it only shows the best of your work and very little of the process behind it. Even worse, most portfolios out there don’t even show the personality of the artist.

As the name social media says, a social media platform is the best way to showcase your personality traits and your work process via being social through communities. It can do the heavy lifting that your portfolio or website cannot.

Additionally, social media also brings even further authenticity to your work as you showcase your projects consistently. It gives an idea to how your true work ethics is as a person and these are all things that good clients are on the lookout for.

Social media platforms are the best way to get instant feedback to your work

When you use social media platforms in the right way, your work can get instant feedback to whether you are on the right track or not.

Just where else will you be able to get feedback within a few hours of posting your work?

The key is of course that you have to utilize it in the right way. Make sure that you take part of art communities. With various search functions in social media, it makes it superbly easy to find where artists are gathering to post their art for constructive criticism.

Same thing with DeviantArt, which is a great place for starting artists to find their footing. You could invite people to submit criticisms in form of scores to see where your art is lacking – but first, you have to find the right communities!

Art directors are looking for their next illustrator on social media

And of course, the big one is that there are big time clients out there that are looking to hire for their next upcoming project.

However, in order to increase your chances of being noticed by them via social media, you should try to use social networks that are specialized for art directors, illustrators, and designers. Using social media platforms like Behance and Art Station will increase the likelihood that an art director will see your work.

Additionally, a 2014 survey has shown that art directors will look up your social media presence, if you have cold pitched or applied for a job in their company.

So, everything that we mentioned above comes into value then.

In the next blog post, I will talk more about how to utilize your social media platform to its maximum potential.

But first, I’ll love to hear from you about your experiences on social media. Do you have success stories with social media? Or have you been discouraged by social media? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Networking and the Shy Syndrome

Networking and the Shy Syndrome

“I am terrified of networking! What if they don’t like me?”

“I am simply this nobody, why would someone famous will even work with me?”

“Oh, my skill sucks! There are so many people out there that is better than me… they’ll definitely reject me.”

Does any of this sound like you?

If yes, don’t worry, you are definitely not alone.

If no, then I am not entirely sure why you are reading this, you are probably a networking master already.

The reality for most people is that… NETWORKING IS NERVE WRECKING.

Go online, you will see lots of articles about it and a lot of why’s and people being concerned about it. Search Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, you will continue to see people hem-hawing about networking.

Everyone realizes the importance of it... but pretty much hates it!
Everyone realizes the importance of it… but pretty much everybody hates it!

At Art of Commissions, we have definitely done our fair share of it. In fact, our latest Artist Feature mentioned the necessity of it and she considers it as that one advice she wished her younger self had followed.

But you know what isn’t talked much about?

The mindset that you bring to networking.

We all know that the worst thing that could happen is that they don’t reply to us… but how many of you guys have lost sleep because of that exact worry? Probably tons. I have definitely lost nights of sleep after pitching to some pretty important potential clients.

By the end of the day, you realize that them not replying is a really big deal and it is a scenario you’d much rather avoid. So, you go back to just… avoiding networking in general.

So, now what then? How are you going to talk to people that really matter to your freelancing career? Are you going to just give up on networking? No, of course not. Damn networking is too important to neglect.

Insert forlorn sigh.

So, this article is going to talk about how you can break down your mental barrier to networking and bypass your own shy syndrome.

No more “I am just really shy!” or “I don’t really know what to write!”

All those excuses go straight out of the window after this.

Below, I will share three techniques on how you can shatter your mental barriers to networking.

1. Imagine what’s the worst that could happen

Wait a second, didn’t I just say that is not helpful?

Yes, I did.

But please, let me finish!

A lot of people do tell us to imagine the worst thing that could happen. They are like, “oh, if they don’t reply, try again!”

However, that concept is so soul crushing, you are not entirely sure if you even want to go through it again. So, when I say to imagine the worst that could happen, I want you to imagine what happens afterwards.

In fact, don’t just imagine it; I heavily recommend that you open a Word document and write it down.

They don’t reply to you, then what happens? How do you bounce back? Do you have a plan B? Of course you do! Write all of it down.

The point of this is to remind yourself that despite painful rejections (is it even a rejection? It is such a shitty rejection!), you will continue to forge forward. You will find out how to get your next networking opportunity! There will be a next step.

Isn’t that a comforting thought?

Sending that email will still be nerve-wrecking (oh, trust me, I know ALL about it), but if you write down your worst case scenario aftermath, you will have a solid plan that you can bounce back on. And that can be a huge comfort when you are struggling with the fear of rejections.

2. Start at the bottom of the social ladder

You don’t have to go to those hot shots immediately. Most people think that they have to become popular overnight.

Popularity. Takes. Time.

So, as becoming popular takes its time, you should first build up your comfort zones. Start in the lower part of the social ladder!

Find the lowest point where you feel comfortable putting yourself out there. If it is your friends, so be it.

Build your confidence. Put your art out there! Ask those friends to share and showcase them when possible, get used to that feeling associated with the act of asking others for help.

And once you have gotten comfortable with having your friends share your art, move up the ladder. Message fellow artists on a forum. Ask them for advice and tips.

You’ll be surprised by how many of us are just dying to give our wisdom away to fledgeling freelancers. We have so many nuggets of wisdom that we wish we could share with our younger selves!

Once you have gotten a hang of talking to fellow artists, start emailing editors, writers, and publishing houses.

You have a voice and a vision you are desperate to share — so SHARE IT. You just need some time and practice to grow into it.

3. Write a list of your dream contacts

So, you have written out your lows and you are not entirely sure if you really want to email this fellow artist. Or maybe that publishing house doesn’t seem to have work you are interested in.

You know what else you can write down to break through your mental blockades?

A list of our dream contacts.

This provides perspective to the way you want to go. It allows you visualize the social ladder a little bit more clearer.

Not to mention, you can quite easily find out how they started and simply start there too.

It also gives you the motivation to keep climbing that ladder… so that one day, you can get that collaboration with that artist you really admire. Or even do a commission for one of your dream companies!

The possibilities are endless, so write it down. Find the direction you want go for. Once you have a direction, everything else just becomes minor distraction on a seemingly straight path.

Now, the reality is… you will feel nervous.

And that’s okay; feeling nervous is okay.

But now you can visualize that it will be okay, you have a plan; you have a next step. So, the next time you hear crickets, you know which direction you’ll go. You will be able to say, “okay, that really sucks, but I can get over it and move onto the next thing.”

And that’s powerful.

You are now ready to fling your art throughout the internet. Go do it, you tiger!

 

Do you ever sweat bullets at trying to figure out what your dream clients are thinking when they read your emails? No more of that!

I am so ready! I want to work with my dream clients!

Click above to get our free gift to our readers; The Five Components of a Killer Pitch. In this free eBook, we break down what exactly is the client looking for and how you can position yourself in a place where you become an irresistible option to them. They will have a hard time turning you down once you used the exact techniques listed in the eBook!