Setting up: practical matters

After 5 months of (on and off) research into starting a business as an illustrator, I have gathered the following nuggets of practical wisdom, in terms of what to set up (before you even begin):

  • Set up the small business officially. Each country has their own rules on this, but it usually requires submitting a number of forms to an official national body, choosing a business name, potentially setting up a separate bank account, and deciding on format (depending on how many people you will have working for you)
  • Set up an online system for you to be able to sell your products. This could be through e-commerce platforms such as Etsy or Shopify (each with their own rules, see what works best for you). Alternatively, you can choose to create your own website with an e-commerce package (WordPress has a business option for this for instance). This is more expensive in monthly costs for the website, but you don’t have to give a chunk of your income away, and there is no limit to the number of items you can sell
  • Set up an instagram account, preferably a separate one besides your personal account. Here, you can connect with people in the business and see what others are doing and how they are playing the instagram game. Keeping the personal and professional accounts separate is mostly to keep messages split, and if you don’t feel like being “on” for your business you can be on your personal account. Do bear in mind that your audience does not only want to see work-related matters, but also wants to see what you get up to. It is a social media platform, and connection is still the most important element
  • Read up on how to manage a creative business, in terms of keeping track of contacts, planning and managing your time (50/50 creative time vs. time spent on marketing and growing). I am using the The Design Trust Diary Planner (https://www.thedesigntrust.co.uk/), which is great in helping you setting up and making the first steps.
  • Think about your price points: what would you sell your products for. There are calculators out there to help you with this: https://www.thedesigntrust.co.uk/calculate-the-cost-price-of-your-creative-product/

And this is only setting things up practically! In order to make a profitable business the practical matters are *just* the building blocks. Another important element of setting up the business has to do with the story you are telling, the values you want to portray, and the audience you want to appeal to.

Where do I begin?

Some 5 months ago, I decided to become an illustrator, whatever shape that might take. Potential shapes range from doing some illustrations every now and then, to full time drawing. Whatever shape it will take, I will call myself an illustrator.

It was in a time where both the academic job market and my enthusiasm to be part of the academic world tanked, that I decided to become an illustrator. Having done a thousand degrees in linguistics, I was still hesitant to call myself an academic, or a linguist, or a lecturer. I thought I needed more evidence before calling myself those things. A chat with a close friend made me realize that I could and should call myself an illustrator. Not only as a way to introduce and present myself to others, but also as a way of thinking of myself. I illustrate and that makes me an illustrator.

I have searched through the internet about how to go about setting up a small business as an illustrator, both practically and psychologically/emotionally. Lots of the stories you find online are rags to riches stories of people who have made it. Often they were young when they started, fresh out of art school. Often it didn’t involve a massive career switch in the middle of a pandemic.

These blog posts will be just that: a guide to myself and others on how to start one of these illustrating journeys. It will serve as a paper trail for myself to look back on thoughts and to mark sources I have used in the process, where I can remind myself to chase up this thing or do that thing.

Reminder for now is the podcast episode of Ctrl Alt Delete with Cathy Heller (of the podcast Don’t keep your day job): enthusiasm is the most important thing (got loads of that), and it’s not all or nothing. Most people are not Lady Gaga but still spend their days making music and loving their job and making money from it.