I am really excited to have an interview with Kathy Weller from WellerWishes.
I must have contacted Kathy a year or two ago and asked if she would consider doing an interview about licensing her cute design and illustrations. As it was still early days for Kathy licensing her work she told me she would be happy to do an interview when she had a bit more experience behind her.
So for any designer or illustrator looking to license their work, read on to get some great advice on how to go about it.
1. Please could you tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and what you do now?
My name is Kathy Weller. My studio is called WellerWishes. I am an illustrator, designer, greeting card writer and artist, and product thinker-upper. I specialize in creating characters, making them the stars of my busy, “big scene” illustrations, and also writing humor for them.
I work with manufacturers, and I create art and product ideas for their products. I also maintain my own online portal site / shop / blog called WellerWishes World of Cute Art. (www.wellerwishesworld.com). My biggest dream, goal and wish is to spread my Cute Art all over the world! (I’m getting there!)
2. Please could you tell me when and why you decided you wanted to license your work?
Well, I have had a unusual awareness of product art from a very early age. It was on my toys, stuffed animals, Hello Kitty mini-stationery, sheets and pillow cases. Lots of art and lots of character. I just remember being very aware of it and being a little obsessed with it. But also, I drew all the time as a kid. Drawing was just my world. I even made up my first cute character at age three or four, complete with a style sheet on how to draw him. I know, very odd! So all of that is sort of an early clue that points directly to my life now.
As a grown-up, I’ve worked in a number of creative fields: sales + marketing design and illustration, freelance children’s illustration, custom pet portraiture, and earlier on, my first foray into self-employment was a tiny greeting card company. But I was always fascinated by product art, character art & humor, and the greeting card industry. (And, I continued to dream about doing cards on a larger scale, long after I closed shop on my indie card company.)
There is much more information and guidance available on how to break into various niche illustration fields these days. But, with art licensing, it was basically shrouded in skeleton-key mystery until the mid-2000’s (when the web hit a new phase of mainstream saturation). In fact I only discovered that the terminology for this industry was “Art Licensing” in late 2005! But when I did, I instinctively knew that I had to find out how to start working in it.
So I made plans to attend the 2006 Surtex/National Stationery Show and Licensing International. At both shows, I walked the show floors, and I took tons of seminars. During this time, I was working full-time as a graphic designer and illustrator, had a busy custom pet portrait business, and was also in the process of finally breaking into children’s publishing illustration. So, I had a lot going on. For the next few years, I juggled these various activities while my licensing goals were still alive, but on the back-burner.
Then in 2009, my mother had a devastating stroke. This horrific event led me to reprioritize everything, pretty immediately. It turned out to be the wake-up call I needed to refocus my creative energies, put my foot down and stop spreading myself so thin doing a million different things. I needed to be honest, get real, and focus on what I really wanted to do, be brave, get in the mud and pursue it! Life is short and nothing is guaranteed. If you’re lucky enough to have solid dreams and goals you want to build, there is no time to waste. My mom’s stroke snapped me awake to this fact, loud and clear. So, I made a decision to wrap up other activities by the end of 2009 so 2010 could be all about art licensing. I spent 2009 mostly with my mother in the hospital and rehab, doing the occasional craft show with my sister (which was a really necessary, and fun, distraction at the time), and wrapping up my pet portraiture business. The last thing I did was resign from working with my children’s illustration agent in early 2010. Since that time, I’ve been focused on my art licensing/character art/greeting card/social expressions goals.
3. How did you first start trying to license you work – what was the process?
Well, I had gained a lot of insight into the process by attending those shows in 2006, so I put a lot of the advice I’d learned to use. I also hired an art licensing consultant in 2008 to gain more one-on-one insights and more individualized feedback. I then started creating work that I thought would be appropriate for the areas in licensing that I thought were right for my style, and I started approaching manufacturers as well as agents.
4. What did you do right and wrong in your early licensing endeavors?
A ton! I am a work in progress, as is everyone. No mistakes? You’re a robot. You just have to find your way on an individual level. There is no one-size-fits-all Playbook. There is a ton of information out there these days, though— lots of e-books, and the ones I’ve read have been mostly very helpful, and some I’d heartily recommend. But ultimately, there’s only so much learning that happens from reading other’s experiences and how-to’s. There comes a time when you have to live your own.. You get to where you just have to do it. I will admit that I got stuck in the “learning cog” for a little while. It’s safer and more comfortable to learn and read and study and dream then it is to daringly jump in with both feet and just do it. I was nervous and scared! But, finally, I sucked it up and jumped in. And once I did, it felt really amazing. I was immensely proud of myself, and it was so empowering!
5. How do you present work to a potential company you wanted to license to? (how many pieces, how many styles, by email? etc)
If it’s a company I want to work with, I will usually email them first, provided I have the right person and email address. If I don’t, I need to make an initial phone call to obtain that information.
I do like to do a first intro through email as opposed to over the phone though, because people are so busy. Email is far less intrusive and way more flexible for people to digest. The flip-side is, you can get lost in the email shuffle. You just have to use your best judgement on how and when to follow up with them. If I get a positive response from my email, a phone call usually follows in short order!
There is no denying that cold calls can be extremely effective though. I am just careful about the who, what, when, where, and why. If I make a call as first contact, I just make sure I am as prepared as I can possibly be. 🙂
What you send out as samples is really wholly dependent on the specific client and their needs. They will usually share what they need with you, if you ask. Sometimes they’ll be more specific, sometimes more vague. Then, I will see what I have that fits. Depending on their deadline for samples, I will then decide what else I can do to accommodate them further. This is usually gets to be a smoother process the longer I work with a client. Once you know your people well and have your system down, it’s easier to anticipate things before they come up, and to accommodate them when they do!
I love to meet people in person. I know that is not always possible, but usually manufacturers will attend at least one show a year. Trade shows are great for meeting up with people who you’d like to work with, or, who you already are working with, or people you’ve been emailing with and submitting work to. Nothing beats face-to-face meeting! So keep the relationship alive, whether or not you’re actually working with them yet. If there’s good potential and you really like each other, invite them to your booth to peruse your latest and greatest designs, and to see what new product lines they have going that you might be able to help them with!
6. Do you use, or have you used an licensing agent and why? What are the pros and cons of this?
I currently have a licensing agent in Japan. In all other territories, I represent myself. In licensing, I’ve worked non-exclusively with a couple of art licensing agents sporadically over the past couple of years, and before that, I had an agent for my children’s illustration work from 2007-2010.
I think having an agent can be extremely great! But it has to be the right place, time, overall fit. The agent/artist relationship is a serious one. Licensing agents generally earn 50% so you truly are partners. You want to be sure it will be a mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship!
Before you sign with an agent, get to know their business. Understand the markets they serve. Learn which companies they tend to work with, the markets they serve, and the aesthetic + thematic genres they specialize in. Does their work favor specific demographics?
Now, turn the tables. Would THEY be a good fit with YOUR brand, as your brand stands today? Where would you hope to go together as partners in your brand?
Talk to other artists in their roster. (If they have a problem with this, run, don’t walk, in the other direction.) Would your work + style be a compliment to their overall group? Would your work offer variety and a spark of fresh, new ideas, while still fitting comfortably into the genres they serve? Or, is your work, just a little too similar to another of their current artists? An agent might cultivate a roster that offers a lot of variety within a pretty specific art genre so keep that on your radar when looking at potential agents, but don’t get too bogged down in the details.
Ultimately, there are a million reasons why you may or may not a great fit for a particular agent. They are the only ones who can tell you that. But I will leave you with this: if you hear or read a “No”, please pay attention to the entire paragraph, not just that one word. A “No” today may not mean “No” forever. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. Are they telling you something else, too? What else are you picking up from the rest of the message?
Turn over every rock you feel you need to. It’s integral to do a lot of back-and-forth and get to know each other before partnering with an agent. And… go with your gut.
7. Can you remember the first designs you licensed, what were they, and how did it feel?
I don’t think it was officially my first, but still, receiving the first pieces of my Jive Cats fabric collection with Northcott Fabrics was nothing less than thrilling. I’d always wanted to do fabric, and here it was, complete with my very own kitty cat characters, that I created. It was magic!
8. What is your favourite bit of work you have licensed?
The Jive Cats puzzle I did for Andrews + Blaine sticks out in my head as true symbiosis of art, product and function. It’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and the puzzle art is mind-boggling, eye-crossing puzzle perfection. It’s a super-challenging puzzle— easily the hardest jigsaw puzzle I have ever done—and I did the art!. But, I love how it turned out, down to the packaging: a sturdy, well-made slide-out box with a satin ribbon pulley! Too cute! (http://www.thejivecats.com/ )
A guest post by Ben Fellowes,a design and marketing professional and chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers
1. Be Active and Get Seen
Shrinking violets don’t succeed as freelance designers. You have to “get out there” and get yourself noticed. Attend meetings and seek out local professionals to inform them of your business and services, i.e., the Chambers of Commerce, gallery shows, and local business events. You should also go as many business trade shows as possible to network with potential customers (if you’re a designer, every industry trade show has customers that need your services.) Social gatherings are also a great place to network and get seen and heard (you’re not going to get customers sat at home watching the TV) bookstores, schools, churches, coffee shops, etc, are necessary destinations for meeting and greeting potential clients. You don’t have to pester anyone! Natural conversations always turn to, “what you do for a living!”
Depending on your knowledge and experience, you may also consider contacting colleges and organizations about classes or seminars that you can speak or teach at – great word-of-mouth exposure for your business!
This is a biggie! I’ve got so much design work business through cross-promotion. Be direct and convince a contact or business associate to cross promote in their on or offline promotions, i.e., a print designer could promote themselves via a web designer, photographer, or copywriter, etc.
Offer your clients and customers a referral fee or discount for referring customers to you. It works for big companies and there’s no reason why it won’t work for you!
4. Buddy -Up With Other Graphic Designers
Make friends with other designers online in networking sites, and other online design communities and make design friends in the real world at expo’s and conferences. It’s one of the easiest ways to get collaborative work, referrals, or hired!
5. Sell Online
There is a whole online world of shopfronts and other places like etsy and threadless to flog your design and artwork in which you can sell or receive royalties for original designs. Avoid the 99 designs and crowdspring style of competition sites as they’re a total crapshoot!
Here are 5 of my personal favorites (that I’ve actually made money from):
graphicriver.net (templates and designs)
graphic leftovers (photographs, vectors and designs)
brandcrowd.com (logo design)
artsprojekt.com (t-shirt, mug, iphone case, etc)
society6.com (poster prints, t-shirts, etc)
6. Blog Away
Okay! Don’t all shout at me at once! I know I am being totally obvious with this tip but how many freelancers blog effectively? There are a few essentials to creating your own blog that you might have overlooked:
Your blog should not be on a separate domain with a different URL! I have seen so many freelancers with separate portfolio and blog site. This makes no sense. All that lovely content that you may be writing about your designs and experiences will go to waste if you create a separate “blogger” site (I’ve seen this done so many times.) Your blog must be tied to your own domain and URL! Make a separate header for it on your website which should be a one-stop-shop for ALL your design and business information
Fully utilize SEO tactics like title tags, meta info, and H1 tags – you should also tag every image and post with relevant terms, i.e., if you write a post about a logo design for a butchers shop, tag the post and the image with every keyword surrounding “logo design” and “butchers shop” you can think of!
Make sure you include the following share tools – RSS feed, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, pinterest, twitter buttons (displayed prominently)
The other alternative to creating your own blog is to “hit-n-hope” by creating interesting, madcap, funny, or bizarre video or online blogs for sites like tumblr! You never know, you might start getting thousands of visitors and a mass of business opportunities!
7. Old School Business Listings
As a freelancer, I would hope that you’re already rocking a thousand graphic designer job listing and directory sites but I would also suggest looking into an old school marketing technique that is much ignored and often overlooked. I worked as designer for yellow pages for a year of my life, creating ads for everyone from the local pet stores to major ad agencies. You’d be surprised how many businesses still use offline trade directories. It’s really cheap to advertise too!
A similar old-school strategy would be to post in the local newspaper listings. Print is not quite dead (yet!)
8. Coupon Coding
Include a discount coupon for your design services on the back of your business card, flyers, etc. However ‘old-school” this may seem, nothing resonates more with other businesses than the thought of getting your services for cheap!
9. Magazine Pitch
You have to be a serious design expert to get published in magazines such as Advanced Photoshop and How but you will get a cavalcade of links and business interest in your work. Plus, you will be seen as an expert in that field. What a lot of freelancers may not realize is that these magazines rely on graphic and tutorial input from designers and freelancers (such as yourself) for their content. Digital Arts Magazine, for instance, has a whole section devoted to new and upcoming designers that needs your design work! Don’t be shy…get pitching your tutorial ideas and portfolio work.
10. Give Free Design Consultations
I can sense some freelancers getting very hot and angry at this suggestion but it makes sense in the long-run. I’m a firm believer that when a client meets with you, they are also giving up their time and effort! And anyway, you’re not a doctor or a lawyer – you should design consult for free. It’s worth the time and effort (even if you don’t get their business, there’s always the chance of a referral for a different project!)
11. Wear Your Business like a Badge of Honour
Put your coolest, hippest and most commercial design on a t-shirt and turn yourself into a walking advert for your company. It’s pretty inexpensive to do and worth it for all the “where did you get that shirt” questions you’ll receive. At worst it’s a good exercise in company branding (give them out free to all your friends and relations so that they too become walking advertisements for your business!)
12. Guest Blog
If you’re a good writer and can write interesting content about freelancing, design, and other industry related topics, then contact relevant site administrators and guest blog. Ensure you get a link back to your own web pages from specific design-related keywords or personal brand keywords.
13. Send a Press Release
If you’ve created some brilliant design work for a local charity or a piece of design work that you think is truly original or groundbreaking, send a press release about it. Press releases get widely distributed and may even get picked up by a local or national news organization. (A paid for press release is way more effective but there are free press release organizations out there, such as, free-press-release.com)
14. Always Send Follow-up Emails
Always thank customers who hire you, friends who refer you, and people who have helped your business. It’s just poor business practice to not email a client after delivering a project? Personally, I go one-step-further and write a hand-written note rather than an email. Keep in regular contact with clients after you’ve finished a job (you are NOT being a pest, it’s just normal business practice!)
15. Email Promotion
An online newsletter, or e-promotion has become an essential way to promote any business, big or small. It’s also a great way of getting contact information from potential customers. Ensure that you create a subscription button with your promotions.
16. Actively Seek Out Poorly Designed Print Materials or Web Sites
When you notice bad print promotions or you come across web sites that are poorly designed, don’t ignore them or turn your design nose up at them! The likelihood is that the client is fully-aware that they have inferior promotions. Contact the business owner immediately and offer your design services (be forthright but tactful)
17. Submit to Others!
You will get a lot of traffic if you get your work listed on popular design and design resource sites. You may also want to think about creating some freebie design backgrounds, vectors, brushes, or web templates (drupal, wordpress, etc) to draw attention to your work and website. Target popular design sites that rely on free resource materials for their own web traffic to get a truckload of new visitors to your site and your work. Something that I’ve recently done that you might want to consider is designing your own font as a giveaway to some of the major font websites as a means of getting some great link and design exposure (make sure you get your links displayed prominently with all your resource submissions.)
18. Find and Approach New Businesses in Your Area Do some serious web research.
Look at the local papers and make a conscious effort to find out about new start-up businesses in your area. You could also simply drive round your locale to see if there are any new shops or restaurants that need design or print services. New businesses need design materials.
19. Send Your Work to Agencies
Don’t let anyone convince you that you shouldn’t cold-contact agencies and clients! Make a CD, postcard sampler, or mini portfolio and send it to ad and design agencies, or other relevant businesses. It’s way more likely to get you remembered than a typical email shot-in-the-dark!
20. Google AdWords
This doesn’t occur to most small businesses and freelancers but ALL businesses who have an online presence should consider at least testing the waters of paid search out. Create a small ad campaign on Adwords and see what happens! What have you got to lose? It will cost you usually about 5 cents per clickthrough.
Ben Fellowes is a seasoned design and marketing professional from the UK who now lives and works in California. He is currently the chief blog writer for NextDayFlyers – a major web and print company that provides flyers, business cards, and other prints.
Rob Cubbon is a graphic and web designer, a prominent design blogger and has also recently written a book all about running a web design business. I asked Rob to share a bit of his design background and offer his advice to anyone who wants to know how to start up a web design company.
Please could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background as a graphic and web designer?
Rob: I never went to a design school or college. I used to work for newspapers and magazines and witnessed the “desktop publishing” revolution. I taught myself Quark and Photoshop and gradually got more and more artworking and design roles within the print industry.
After years of freelancing punctuated with the odd spell abroad teaching English, I eventually got round to setting up my own website in 2005. After only a few months of blogging I had clients contacting me for work. I then set up my own company. For two years I spent half my time freelancing in design and marketing companies in central London and half my time working for my own clients at home. And for the last 3 to 4 years I’ve been solely working from home on my own business, increasingly supplying web design and related services.
You have recently written a book called “Running a Web Design Business” please could you explain what motivated you to write it?
Rob: Looking around at the successful design blogs, I found there were great tutorials sites explaining how to create everything and anything technically and artistically. There are also a great number of blogs that provide fantastic inspiration for designers. But, where I don’t see a great deal of information is on the business side of graphic design – how to get clients, how to handle projects, what to charge, etc. And these are the questions my readers were also interested in.
What have you found has been the biggest factor to your success of running a web design business?
Rob: It’s not artistic talent. Although being able to produce graphic communication that works for the client and the market in an aesthetically pleasing manner is tremendously important and is something that I work hard on – it’s not my strongest point. However, I do think I’ve developed systems to attract the best sort of clients and then to evolve a long-term mutually beneficial partnership with them. I think that’s helped me grow the business over the years.
As part of your research for the book you reached out to a lot of well know web designers and bloggers. Were there any answers that surprised you from your research?
Rob: Virtually all the answers surprised me in some way, although it surprised me that their answers were similar to mine. The fact that none of us spend any more than 50% of our work time designing shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. And then only a narrow majority of the designers always use a contract surprised me a little but this showed the trust that exists after having created a good relationship.
If you were offering advice to someone just starting out what would be your two top tips?
Rob: The first thing I always say is to concentrate on your own site. Not only do you really have to get it looking great and present your work as well as you can, but also you have to be continually working on your blog as that will attract the visitors amongst which will be your potential customers.
Second to blogging will be relationships. Relationships with other designers online, with your existing clients and with other business people in your communities (both real local meetings and in online communities) – these are great for leads.
Where can people find out more about you and get a copy of your book ”Running a Web Design Business?”
You just start getting the hang of Facebook and use a bit of Twitter for marketing for your freelance design business and then Google Plus arrives and throws another spanner in the works. So now we all have another social network to learn how to use, which is why Alex Mathers has created a new Book called Google+ Course for freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses which you can find atwww.redlemonclub.com/googleplusguide. Alex was kind enough to give me a free copy as I had reviewed his previous book on design promotion and enjoyed it.
The book is made up of 3 Parts:
Part 1 – An overview of marketing for the freelance designer or design business owner
This is a great refresher into marketing yourself as a graphic designer especially if you haven’t read Alex’s previous book and covers things like: knowing your target market, setting up an online portfolio, a quick word on blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Mailing Lists.
Part 2 – Setting up and and how to use Google Plus for your graphic design business
This second part features screen shots and text showing you how to get started on Google Plus. This includes tips on uploading photos to use as a portfolio and how to organise your circles (these are a way of grouping different people together). I also learned a great tip here on how to use circles to collect together articles you want to save and refer to later (great for bloggers).
Part 3 – Building a network on Google Plus
The third and final part of this book is more about how to use Google plus to build a network for your design business, how to find influential people to engage with and how to make yourself appear an authority in your field.
Is the Book “Google Plus for Freelancers” for you?
If you haven’t yet got yourself on Google plus, or have just started but want to kick start your knowledge, then this book is for you. Just as with Alex’s last book this book is straight forward good information and no fluff.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of this book, the link to the book in this post is an affiliate link, which means if you buy through my link I will earn a commission (it won’t cost you any more).
For several years I didn’t bother using Twitter. Now blogging, that I loved, but Twitter… I just didn’t get it. A couple of years ago I decided to have another go (DesignblogUK) and read a couple of books (Twitter Power and Twitter your Business) and watched some Twitter Tutorials and I started to see what all the fuss was about. Twitter can be a freelancers way of making an introduction to people they want to get to know.
So how can Twitter help you?
Now the first thing most Freelancers are probably thinking is to get more clients. While this is a biggy I think there are many more, but let’s start there anyway.
Can Twitter help you get more clients?
Follow people you want to work with/for
I think the answer is yes, but instead of thinking of Twitter as a big promotional tool perhaps it should be considered more of a way of introducing yourself in a more subtle way. Twitter allows you to follow anyone, so you could start following companies that you would like to work for. Then you can start joining in their twitter conversations, answering questions they pose, retweeting their tweets etc etc (NOT SELLING). If you maintain regular Twitter contact with them, with any luck they will check out who you are, follow you back and who knows what will happen from there. As well as the standard Twitter search also check out Twellow.
I have got work through Twitter
Personally I have got work through Twitter, one through someone I regularly tweeted with and actually hadn’t even considered they may give me freelance work. I have also indirectly got freelance work through Twitter by finding and following someone, and then asking if they would be interviewed for my other blog on Skype. After that we met in person through another Twitter friend and since then she has given me some freelance work.
Setting up twitter searches for your freelance niche
Twitter also allows you to set up searches (I use Tweetdeck for this), so you can keep an eye out if anyone is looking for the type of freelance work you offer. For example a little while ago a friend of mine was looking for a freelance copywriter, I said I would put a Tweet out for him through both my twitter accounts. Within half an hour I had people recommending people and some suggesting themselves. Some of these people weren’t even following me, so they must have either had searches set up for the term “copywriter” or alternatively my tweet was retweeted by someone they were following. To cut a long story short, my friend ended up with about 10 copywriters to choose from and ended up using one of them.
If you are a freelancer working alone it’s great to know that at the end of a Tweet their may be someone who can answer a question for you or offer advice.Perhaps you are having computer or software problems or just aren’t quite sure how to do things then put a Tweet out.
Need recommendations for products or Services
If you are looking for something such as a product or service what better way to find one than asking you Twitter followers. of course as with anything you have to do your own due diligence.
If you work in a big office there is never a shortage of conversation, but that is not always the case for freelancers especially if you work from home. Want to share a story, something you are working on or just pass the time of day you can do this with Twitter.
Finding Other freelancers to collaborate with
Who is to know what can happen with the people you meet on Twitter. Find someone you have a lot in common with and you can always take the conversation to email, Skype or even meeting up in person.
What are you thoughts on using Twitter as a Freelancer?
Graphic design self promotion is always a tricky thing so anything that helps is always welcome. I was recently given a copy of a new ebook called 10 Steps to Powerful Online Self Promotion for Creatives written by Alex Mathers. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about this, as a year or two ago I was given another book on the same subject which was very basic and declined to review it. Fortunately though this book is excellent and exceeded my expectations.
I have been doing a lot of reading up on social networking (I have pile of books) and to be honest I could have thrown them away and just read this one. What is good about this book is it is targeted directly at a creative person and so tells you the things you really need to know.
The book walks you through many different ways of doing graphic design self promotion online – including creating online graphic design portfolios, setting up your designer’s twitter step by step (I need to do this myself), creating your designer’s facebook and fan page. The book however does go far beyond this with methods you may not have even considered and should have ideas for both the novice and more experienced designer.
There are so many ideas in this book you could gradually implement an idea or two a week and soon build up both your credibility and list of potential graphic and web design clients.
The book will be released on 10th March, but Alex is currently also given away some free tips on creative and graphic self promotion if you join his mailing list.
I actually had a go at creating a little Youtube video animation for the book, to try out Photoshop CS3 animation timeline its my first attempt and I had a few problems with quality but here it is…