5 Tips To Making Money With Your Art

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5 tips illustration

You’re a creator looking to get paid for your work. Whether it be illustration, producing, or even cake decorating, no matter how good you think you are, the clients just aren’t coming in, and the projects aren’t paying the rent, and that’s something you’d REALLY like to change. Well, here are 5 ways to do exactly that.

 1. Understand that you are now a business, and you need act like one.

The first thing you need to come to terms with is that as soon as you decide to trade your craft for cash, you become a business. While it may be hard to think of your creative work as a product that’s the only way you’ll be able to sell it. Just like any business, there are a few questions you need to start asking yourself. These include;

 1) What problem am I solving??

There are essentially two kinds of businesses. Ones that sell goods/services to solve problems and, ones sell a luxury by offering value through status and presentation. Chances are, if you’re just starting out you’re not selling a luxury, and that means that for people to buy what you’re selling, they have to feel like they need it. Which begs the questions. What problem am I solving and why am I important to people.
Whether you’re a lawn mower or you’re a graphic designer you need to be important to your buyers/clients. Lawn mowers solve the “my yard looks bad” problem by making yards looks clean and nice. Web Designers solve problems like “my website looks terrible and people don’t know how to use it” by designing websites that are clean and easy to use. To get anywhere close to being able to sell your craft you need to be painstakingly aware of EXACTLY what problem your solving for potential clients.
Without this understanding, quite simply, you’re less important to people. There thinking will be “If you can’t solve my problem, then why should I invest money in you when there are plenty of other people who can?” This is especially important when you’re marketing yourself. Landing a gig becomes much easier when you can say “you need a producer who can professionally mix your music for you on a tight timeline, and that’s exactly what I can do for you”, rather than “hey man, needs beats? Let’s work!”


2) Where does my business/brand live? 

The next step to understanding that you are now a business is having a clear understanding of where your business lives. When I say this, I don’t mean the physical address of your office or studio. I’m referring to the channels you use to communicate with your clients and fans. When you’re just starting out, you need to be very conscious about what social channels will be beneficial for marketing and distributing your content. When choosing a platform, 2 things to look at are; “who’s using the platform?” and “What are they using it for?”
Here are some examples of popular channels and platforms to consider:
  • Pinterest: Large female audience, great for visual content sharing.
  • YouTube: very visual, video based platform used by hundreds of millions a day.
  • Twitter: The conversation platform. Very “in the moment” and a great way to directly connect with your audience.
  • Facebook: Very in depth with a very large community. Great for ad targeting and directing traffic.
Having a clear understanding of what platform makes the most sense for your business means that you’ll be investing time in what really matters. For example, if you’re in a highly visual field like illustration, is LinkedIn REALLY a good place for clients to come across your work?


2) Invest time in your portfolio

A sizable chunk of the work you should be doing before you think about getting paid for your work is going to revolve around your portfolio. For most people, a portfolio is just a website they hastily threw together with 10-20 of their favorite pieces of work (my first 2-3 were exactly that). I’m here to tell you this one thing, if you do not take your portfolio seriously, people won’t take YOU seriously. In this section we’re going to address 2 main concepts; curating a portfolio for the client your going after, and some tips on portfolio sizes.

In many cases, your portfolio can make or break whether or not you land the gig, especially when you’re at a point where you’re reaching to clients for work and not the other way around. Some key things that you should be keeping in mind when building and distributing a portfolio are:

 1) Understand that different portfolios work for different opportunities.

Not every client is going be interested in the same work. Because of this, it’s important to treat every lead/potential client as an individual with their own needs/problems and then, present your work accordingly. The way I like to think of this is;

If you wouldn’t use the same resume to apply to a Whole Foods as you would to NASA, why is it ok to send the same portfolio to every potential client?

This understanding is probably one of the most crucial parts of portfolio building.Therefore, to effectively put together a portfolio for a potential client, its suggested that you do some research on them first. This can be done by:
  • Scouring through their social channels to find patterns in their work/business.
  • Consuming their content and finding areas that could benefit from your work.
  • Asking them! Sometimes the best way to see how you can solve a client’s problem, is to ask them what the problem is! After this you can very easily show them work that you’ve created that may benefit them

2) “Ok. I’ve identified what their needs are, and I know the kind of work I’d like to submit. But now I don’t know how many pieces I should send them!!”

This is a VERY valid question to have. On one hand, if your portfolio is too small, you may be missing the one piece that would’ve landed you the job, but if it’s too large, you run the risk of it overwhelming the viewer. My personal rule of thumb is that

“Your portfolio should be 3-4 pieces of your [objectively] best work that the viewer may be interested in”.

This doesn’t mean send 4 pieces that you “like the most” or “had the most fun making”. It shouldn’t even mean sending in pieces just because they’ve landed you gigs in the past. At this stage it is crucial that you are sending the very best pieces you have (that your lead will be interested in) so that they can become more invested in what you can potentially do for them.

A good rule way to judge how many pieces to put in your portfolio is to think of it this way:
  • 1 piece shows extreme arrogance (that you believe a single piece of your work has the ability to land you a job)
  • 2 pieces shows ability
  • 3 pieces shows consistency
  • 4 shows your proficiency
So aiming for 3-4 from my experience is a good starting point to build repertoire with clients and show your ability to aid their business.

3) Stop working for free

Make sure you’re having what I call the “compensation conversation”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for free work; Building a portfolio, growing your audience, injecting yourself into an industry etc. But, when you’re bidding with clients and trying to acquire new leads. If they can’t pay you, maybe you need to move on. (Again, this is assuming that making money is your primary objective here) There are plenty of paid opportunities and there are tons of people who are willing to invest in your craft.

4) Hustle. Distribution is king.

When you’re just starting out as a creator trying to make money well…. creating, you need to get your work in front of as many people as possible, and you need to do this over, and over, and over again. No matter how good you are at what you do, if people don’t know you do it, they can’t pay you for it. It’s literally that simple.

There are tons of ways to get your work in front of new eyes and generate leads. Some ways that have landed me gigs are:

  • DM people until your fingers bleed! This does not mean spamming messages! It does mean you should take the time to identify what someone’s needs are and reach out to offer your work as a solution.
  • Email shops, producers, studios, business, brands etc. all over the world. There are hundreds of thousands of opportunities out there. Put your work in as many peoples circles as possible. Maybe you’ll land something.
  • Walk around your city and network! If you’ve got the stomach to take a few dozen no’s straight to your face, then this can also be very rewarding. All you need is one, yes right?

A few other methods include:

  • Put up flyers!
  • Tell your friends and family!
  • Put yourself out there in forums, blogs, Facebook groups etc.
  • Put a thousand stickers advertising your work up around your city!
  • Post what you do on social media!

And finally, the fifth and most important step...


I can’t stress enough how important it is to continually develop and invest time into getting better at what you do. While yes, there is a market for anything and nearly any craft, you cannot use that as an excuse for your work to not be good. Simply put, the better you are, the more people will be willing to invest in your work. While yes, you can perfectly execute on all the advice I wrote about in this article, if your work isn’t good, people won’t pay for it. So again, take a major step back and evaluate the work you’re putting out. If its not good, spend a lot of time working on it until it is. If it is good, grind until it’s great. That’s what’s really going to land you gigs, bring in clients and build your new brand.


6) Conclusion 

In conclusion, the 5 ways to start charging for your work are: 

  1. Understand that you are a business. act like it. 
  2. Build and distribute a well thought out portfolio.
  3. Stop working for free. 
  4. Hustle for distribution and new opportunities.
  5. Constantly be improving your craft.


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