Planing For Success In 2019 As A Full Time Artist
Trying to plan for the new year can be overwhelming for artists. Especially since we always want to create new projects left and right regardless if we have the time to do them. I know more than half of my projects from last year were created in the spur of the moment without much thought at all. But I want to do better this year, plan, and focus on the things that will sustain my career instead of burning myself out.
By doing a simple audit of my most popular posts on Instagram I’m able to figure out what kind of work resinates with my audience the most.
Notice how none of the images above are client work, my lettering workbooks, or life style photography? This tells me right off the bat that I need to focus on more original artwork next year above all things. People are more interested in what I have to say about the world, rather than any educational content I provide. And thats just the beginning of figuring out my strategy for 2019.
So let’s get more organized together by looking back at what worked last year to hone in on a strategy for the future. Let’s actually plan our marketing, passion projects, and client work early, so we can set ourselves up for success in 2019 as a full-time artist.
Looking back to avoid mistakes and do what works
The first step in planning is to look back at the past year to review your most significant moments, biggest failures, and all the nuances in between. That way we can see what worked and what was a complete waste of time, so we don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
How did you make money last year?
Think back to all the ways you made a profit in 2018 and tally them up. Adding up all the numbers up is much easier if you have accounting software like Harvest or what I use Andco, but do your best if you have to guess. If something isn’t broke, don’t fix it or try to one-up yourself. It’s nice to have a constant in the unreliable career of an artist.
What did you enjoy doing the most?
Not all projects are all about the money when there are other benefits like exposure, followers, or that kind of exceptional work that seems to feed your soul. What were your highlights of 2018 that brought you the purest joy? What topics did you cover? What industries did you enjoy serving? It’s the projects that get you the most excited that usually turn out the best, so you might as well keep doing them so you can put out your best work.
What projects will you never do again?
In 2018 was there any projects you worked on that was just a huge time suck? Maybe it was a pain in the ass client or a product that never really took off. Whatever it was, try to figure out what went wrong.
Could you have been better with time management to get that project done faster and stress-free? Maybe that angry client could have been avoided with better communication, an updated contract, or different workflow? Take this time to analyze what you could have done differently or if you need to avoid those kinds of projects altogether.
Planning your marketing and projects for the next three months
Now that you have an audit of what works, now let's go ahead and add in your new goals and how you can fit them in your schedule this next quarter (3 months.) I know your head is buzzing with ideas, so let’s make sure we choose the right projects that will keep you paid and happy. And yes, you can have both!
How many hours do you have in a day?
Similar to the video lecture I did on how I stay productive every week, you need to start by figuring out how much time you have each week to accomplish your goals. Ask yourself, how many hours do you want to work each week, what kind of admin do you have to do, and how much time can you dedicate to actual production? That way you don’t go overboard and can create a realistic to-do list you can be proud of.
How can you reach your new goals?
Now that you’re hours are all figured out, create a monthly todo list that first includes the work you know gets you paid, so you know how much you have left over for something new. If time is tight, you may only be able to do one new thing a quarter, so you’ll need to choose wisely. Don’t make the mistake of crowding your time or else you’ll end up sucking at everything because you’re too busy to focus on one thing at a time.
So how do you know what to do to reach your goals? You create content with that goal in mind by narrowing down the audience for it.
If your goal is to reach a new client base, then you need to spend some time on a personal project series to attract the exact client of your dreams. Then using your favorite advertising channels like social media, your blog, or newsletter you blast out that content.
The more niche the industry, service, and subject matter of your ideal client work the more easily you can position yourself as the perfect candidate. You have to create the job you want to get hired for with a portfolio that speaks directly to the person looking to hire you.
Or maybe you are more interested in launching products with your art, and then you need to focus on the theme and lifestyle attached to it. People don't just buy a product from an artist because it’s pretty, but because they have an emotional connection with it.
For example, let’s say you want to start a clothing line of feminist shirts. You can’t just make something and assume people will buy it. Instead, you need to create artwork to attract that audience first. That way by the time your new shirts are out, you already have followers lined up that are already interested in feminism.
The key to any of these goals is narrowing down the audience and creating consistent content to attract them. With that in mind, figure out what advertising channels you’ll use, how often you’ll post, and a theme to tie them all together.
How I made $94,326 in 2018 and what I am planning for 2019
Taking my advice, I did an audit of my finances to figure out what made money, what I enjoyed making, and how I can improve next year. I had to ask myself some tough questions and agonized over everyone while I was on my cross-country road trip from Oregon to Florida for the holidays. Below is what I’ve decided to do for next year...
Making lettering workbooks better while scaling back
Patreon was my highest revenue source of the year even above client work. This subscription service I created making new monthly workbooks, live streams, and coaching helped me have a constant source of income ranging from 2k to 8k a month depending on the pledges I had available.
I loved building up this community, but somewhere after the 15th workbook, I starting to get burnt out on them. So after 23 lettering workbooks, I’m finally done making new ones...at least for now. In January I’ll start the cycle over with the very first issue on Victorian Lettering with some added perks.
Each workbook will come with different add-on assets like lettering tutorials and flat lay mockups, along with Photoshop and Procreate versions of the PDF workbooks so people can draw digitally.
I’m dialing back on live streams to focus more on personalized email coaching so people can get feedback when they need it. I want Patreon to be a place for lettering artists of all skill levels to learn new styles and get feedback on the pieces they make with them.
So from now on I just have three tiers, $1 to support me, $7 for workbooks, and $50 for email coaching. It’s simpler, still very valuable, and most importantly opens my time up for some new exciting things.
Here I come cannabis and lifestyle brands
On April 20th, 2018 I nervously posted my first piece of art promoting cannabis culture. I was shocked at the overwhelmingly positive reaction it had online. It was the first time I had ever had my work so wildly shared on Instagram. Even though I lost over a thousand followers that week, it helped me gain back over 3k. It was that post that was the beginning of me taping into a new audience outside of the fellow artists I mentored.
Even though I did well this year working on projects like chalk signage, shirt design, and editorial client work, I had tapped into a new market of lifestyle brands I never thought I could reach in my career. I’m excited to say I’ll be targeting more lifestyle apparel and product brands that cover topics I personally relate to more. Emotional and edgy subjects like feminism, cannabis culture, mental health, and body positivity.
To attract more cannabis and lifestyle brands, I’ll be doing a personal project throughout the year where I make content surrounding these topics. Using a combination of Instagram, Pinterest, and my newsletter I’ll be creating two original pieces a week for people to share on their own social media.
I already have a few potential client jobs creating custom art on pipes, rolling papers, weed-friendly greeting cards, apparel, and packaging in the cannabis industry. Nothing is set in stone, but the fact that I have this many inquiries gives me hope that I’m already on the right track.
More posters and a new plus size clothing line
I launched my poster collection of #babememe and cannabis art in early November making 4k in 2 months. I took my most popular personal pieces I had posted online and turned them into 12x16 posters using the print on demand service Printful that ships and fulfills them for me.
This launch was all a beta test with no expectations and no downfall. I didn't have to worry about whether they did well or if I’d lose my money on printing and not selling enough. This bit of success was just the push I needed to take things to the next level with custom apparel that I would get made with my fellow plus size women in mind.
I’ll be continuing to make posters based on online interest, but I have a very special plus size only clothing line in the works that I’m calling XL for now till I find the right name. Over the next few months, I’ll be curating interesting blanks and pairing them with illustrations of body positivity and self-love only in sizes XL to 5X.
Being a size 16 myself, there aren't many options for clothes that make me feel good about myself. I want to change that so more women can have apparel that represents themselves while helping them feel more comfortable in their own skin.
Quarterly classes on creativity, freelance, and lettering
I’ve always offered educational content whether it was with articles, live streams, or in person workshops but it wasn't till November of 2018 that I released my first real online class helping me make over $8k in 2 months. It was my Instagram Class for Artists that included eight ninety min videos, access to a community chat, and personalized coaching with me at the end. I enjoyed making this class, and I want to do a new one every quarter with some tweaks to make it cheaper and more digestible.
The biggest lesson I learned about creating and promoting this class was that I had offered TOO MUCH content where people felt overwhelmed instead of inspired. Plus four weeks is a long time to stay focused on social media with life always finding a way to interrupt your productivity. Many people never even finished the class, not because it was lousy content but because they lacked time to finish it.
So instead I will max out the classes at 3 hours dropping the price from upwards of $500 to a more affordable $150 per class that still includes 24/7 chat so artists can get feedback from the other students signed up. Then for an additional $50 they can book a one-hour consultation with me to review their work personally with any extra coaching they might need.
Some of the subjects I’ll be covering will be redesigning your portfolio website, creating an on-boarding process to land more clients, and creating a Patreon to help you earn a consistent salary for your work. All topics that will help artists better market themselves and make a living from their art in 2019.
Let's make 2019 the best year yet artists!
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Yes, you could get lucky with a few random projects but you are so much more likely to succeed if you just take the time to come up with a strategy. Just remember at the end of every month, do another audit of your finances, projects, and clients. That way you don’t have to wait a whole year to find out if something isn't working for you.
Stay realistic with your time and protect your creativity. A well-rested happy artist will always make better work then an angry exhausted burned out creative. For me Mondays are my planning days for the week where I list my to-dos with priorities in mind. That way I can save all the random fun stuff for the end of the week once I have all my paid projects completed.
You can have fun, make money, and enjoy the full-time freelance life if you plan it the right way. And if you haven't started your side hustle yet, now you have a clear view of how to get started with a specific audience in mind a workflow that will keep you motivated to make cool stuff all year long.