How to start an illustration business #3: setting goals

Recently, I decided to take the plunge and quit my job at Ambassadors to pursue a full-time freelance illustration career. I'm as excited as I'm frightened, and overwhelmed as I sometimes feel I need to think of 38471 things at once. Which is why I wanted to document my journey as a freelance illustrator, even if no one reads it. I feel it's a great thing to look back on in a few years. And hopefully, someone might learn something from my struggles, so their freelance journey can be less stressful.


The last time I wrote about my journey as an independent illustrator was more than six months ago, and lots of things have changed.

I've had 25 different clients, 33 projects, 1 exhibition, 2 book covers, 3 music posters, 209 instagram posts and hundreds of sketches since the start of my freelancing journey, exactly one year ago. I've had all my business disappear in March due to Covid-19 and then seen it coming back again slowly in April. It was a challenging first year, even without the current situation of the pandemic.

A bit too much has happened since I last wrote about it (a sign that I should write more often) but I can tell you a bit about my current situation, and the lessons I learned the previous year.


I'm very happy to say despite the current pandemic I've achieved a lot of the goals I've set out for myself in 2020 already. In this blog I'd like to tell you what they were and how I achieved them.


1. Finding a studio space

If you've read my previous blogpost, you know I decided to find myself a studio space outside of home and have succeeded in that. I love my space and the inspiring women I share it with. They also encourage me to take time for lunch, celebration and discussion if needed. I'm no hermit anymore, and I feel my work has become stronger because of it. Because I've got a better work/life balance, I'm able to leave my job at my studio which results in me being more well-rested than ever. I just need to something to do at home during my evenings (currently it's binge-watching Grand Designs).


This was not really a hard task as we have Facebook groups dedicated to finding studio spaces for creatives in Amsterdam. It was just a matter of saying 'yes' to something, really. But this has been a large step for me, as it meant investing in something monthly that I never invested in before. My studiospace is not expensive compared to other studio's in Amsterdam, but it's still a lot of money every month for something I wasn't sure if I would like. But I told myself: I will never know if I like it if I've never try it. And I have a monthly contract, so I could get out if it turned out it wasn't for me.

Luckily, I would never want to go back to working from home!

Not sure if my cat likes me moving

2. Setting up a mailing list

Not so much as a newsletter, but more of a boring Excel-sheet full of contact info of art directors, publishers, agencies and animation studios. I've had emails and names lying around in different places, but I'm in the process of making a full list with emailadresses and information of my latest contact with those people.

When you're an artist, being pro-active is key. I think around 80% of the time I've gotten jobs was through cold emailing, and the remaining 20% probably found me through people I've already worked with. Who I've contacted myself before. I get almost no jobs through Instagram or Twitter or other social media. I still really like to be active on it (you never know, and it's also really fun to document your work). It's so, so important to reach out to your dreamclients yourself. Research where you would like to work, what places you'd like your work to be seen, and contact those people. It sometimes takes a while to get a reply, so keep emailing your new work every 3/4 months.

My mailinglist is divided by industries, and then by alphabetical order. I've put in names, email addresses, company name, whether I worked with them yes/no, when my last contact was with them, if I got a responce yes/no, the previous fees (if I've worked with them before) and some notes for extra information. It helps a lot!


3. Have a clear project management system

My mailinglist is divided by industries, and then by alphabetical order. I've put in names, email addresses, company name, whether I worked with them yes/no, when my last contact was with them, if I got a response yes/no, the previous fees (if I've worked with them before) and some notes for extra information. It helps a lot!h means I'm super easily distracted. I get in hyperfocus, but sometimes in a wrong project I shouldn't be focusing on at that specific time. Also, my projects never follow up nicely. They usually have a bit of overlap, and sometimes I've got a few weeks between projects where I like to spend my time well. So a good overview of what I need to do is key.

What works for me is actually very simple: I use Google Calender to organize my days, put in deadlines and meetings, and color code everything. As a visual person, this really helps. I have specific colors for admin, client work, meetings, and deadlines. I can see in one glimpse what needs to be done today.

I use a Samsung phone for this specific reason: I can put my calendar on my home screen, so I can instantly get an overview of my week without going to the app specifically (because... I forget to do that. Seriously).

I also use Toggl, which you can use to track your activities. Every client and every activity has their own color, so at the end of the day you have a visual overview of what you did and how much time it took. I don't really use it to show to clients, but as a reminder to myself. It helps me to create more realistic quotes because I can check how long I worked on similar projects before. I also know how long it takes me, roughly, to type a blog post like this.


That's about it, really! I have some other goals as well but I like to keep some things private. I learned that it's usually better to create goals with numbers in them, so it's easier to track whether or not you've achieved them. But, I need to save some learning curves for next year.

Hope you're getting something out of these blogposts. I'm really enjoying writing them lately. I will strive to create more art specifically to use alongside my blogposts. It's more fun, and I also like to practice my editorial skills.

Iris van den Akker

Illustrator & 2D animator

hello@irisvandenakker.com

+316 46 28 13 63

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