Author Archives: Lea Woodward

How to Say No

Are you are working you a$s off to create a killer illustration portfolio, market yourself as a professional illustrator, and attract more of your ideal projects?

If so, why on earth would you jeopardise that, throw away all your hard work and start saying ‘No!’ to turn down projects that come your way?

The simple answer is this:

When you say “No” to the wrong kind of clients, work and projects, you make space for the right ones to show up.

But even though you intuitively already know this, it probably doesn’t help if you’re struggling to make ends meet and earn a decent living from your illustration. So let’s explore this in more detail…

Does saying “No” make you feel uncomfortable?

Why does it make you feel this way?

  • Do you feel like you’re letting someone down?
  • Could you do with the money, even though it’s less than you’d really charge for something like this?
  • Are you just really bad at saying “No” to people? (Why is that?)

What does it mean – to you and to the recipient – when you say “No”?

  • Are you saying “Never”?
  • Are you saying “I don’t like you”?
  • Are you saying “Don’t ever contact me again”?

…because often a simple “no” means none of those things, it simply means “No, not this time but thank you so much for asking me” (which is a great way to clarify your “no”) 🙂

Why you MUST get comfortable saying “No”

As a professional person, it is your duty to set and then maintain and protect your boundaries. If you don’t, this is typically what happens:

  • You frequently feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
  • You feel that people don’t respect you.
  • You feel like people don’t value what you do enough.
  • You feel like you’ll never be able to charge what you want.
  • You feel like you’ll be stuck doing low paying projects.

If you want the opposite of all of the above: Respect, trust, appreciation, gratitude, acknowledgement and more, then set and respect own boundaries. If you don’t, why should anyone else?

How to get comfortable with saying “No”

1. Think of your business as a separate entity from you…

When you are in negotiation about a project, as the protector of your business it is your job to do what’s best for it (and you).

No-one else has solely your business’ best interests at heart – not your clients, not your agent, and sometimes not even you. From now on, make it your sole mission to protect the business you’re building, and say “no” when something isn’t in its (your) best interests.

2. Have a plan…

You may already know how we feel about having a plan (Hint: We’re big fans!), because having a plan gives you some very definite criteria (and boundaries) to stick to.

When you have a plan, and you know where you’re aiming to get to with your business, it gives you much clarity when an opportunity comes along because all that’s required is to ask yourself the question:

“Does this take me closer to or further away from my goal?”

If something is likely to take you further away from your ultimate goal, then it requires you to weigh up whether any other perceived benefits and advantages are truly worth it.

3. It’s not personal…

One of the main reasons people have a hard time saying “no!” is because it feels personal.

Remember this: When you say “no”, you are protecting yourself and your business’ interests in the same way the potential client is protecting theirs.

It is absolutely NOT personal, it’s a simple act of weighing up the benefits and drawbacks for your business, and communicating this professionally.

Who on earth are you to start saying “No” when potential clients come your way?

You are the sole protector of your boundaries, your business’ boundaries and your interests, and it is your absolute and sole responsibility to say “No” when something isn’t the best fit for you or your business. Right? Right 😉

A 101 Guide to Financial Management for Illustrators

Ah money, that lovely thing! Did you know that even when you think you have none to manage, how you manage money determines whether you’re likely to get more (or not)?

It is called cash FLOW for a reason – it is designed to flow in and out of your business, and so the process of financial management needs to focus on managing that flow of money.

In this 101 Guide, we’re going to start with the basics…

1. Take personal responsibility

You may have a partner or accountant who manages your finances – and it seems easier and more fun to leave it all to them because they’re good at it and you’re not.

You may however notice that people who you might call “bad with money” do this frequently…they abdicate responsibility for managing their finances and never step up.

If that’s you and you want to make more, have more, spend more and see more money, then you are going to have to step up.

Make it your responsibility to know where you are at all times, to  be conscious of how the money is managed and to learn how to do this.

If someone else does this for you, you’re lucky – you have a teacher right there to teach you. Learn from them.

Top Tip: Try You Need A Budget – it’s not just brilliant software but they have a wonderful (and effective) approach and email course to help you manage your money.

2. Get Clarity (and Maintain It)

If your approach to your finances is to bury your head in the sand and pretend all is rosy, STOP right now! You need clarity.

Having a full and clear picture of where you stand financially is imperative if you are ever going to heal your relationship with money and start making more of it.

Get clear – check your bank balances and credit card balances now and give yourself the full picture so you know what you’re starting with and where you want to go from here.

Do you dread checking your bank accounts? Inwardly clenching whenever you have to? Use EFT to stop this emotional response.

Cultivate the habit of checking your balances at least weekly so that you always have a sense of your financial landscape.

3. Make friends with money

Do you have a tricky relationship with money? Maybe a legacy of childhood learnings from your parents (frugality, money being bad etc. etc.). If so, start here…

Money is your friend; it is nothing more than a currency (energy). Any negative associations you have with it are down to you, not it.

Here’s an exercise to do which makes many people very uncomfortable at first, until you get comfy and realise that money is your friend…

1. Think about how much you earn per month right now. Are you happy with it? Are you comfortable with it?

2. Think about how much you’d like to earn per month. Would you be comfortable with that? Can you imagine earning that much money? (Really and truly imagine it, I mean).

3. Take the figure above and double it (or triple it!), Are you comfortable earning that? Can you imagine it?

If your response is, “No way – I can’t even imagine earning that” – then that is precisely what is likely to happen. There’s no way you’ll earn that.

The point here is to make friends with earning money – to get comfortable with it, and to feel comfortable about it. Try it – it makes all the difference.

4. Structure your bank accounts for optimal flow

The one area many illustrators neglect to structure well is their banking and bank accounts.

Any accountant will tell you to keep your business and personal finances separately but very few people do it. Pay close attention: It is a MUST do.

Set up a separate bank account for your business (it doesn’t have to strictly be a “business account”, it can be another current/savings account – current is better if you want to easily make payments from it) and use that and only that to receive any money and pay any expenses related to your business.

This might be a faff to sort out – especially if you get into the realm of having to move direct debits and standing orders around – but it is worth it in the long term.

Not only is it simpler to do your accounts every year, by separating your business finances from your personal transactions it also gives you a clarity about your business finances you may well never have had before.

5. Pay yourself regularly

Alongside restructuring your bank accounts, this goes down as one of the other most important financial practices you can cultivate as an entrepreneur.

Set a schedule to pay yourself a salary – as an employee of your business – and stick to it.

Whether it’s weekly, fortnightly or monthly – pay yourself a salary. It doesn’t matter if sometimes that’s only £5 (if that’s all you’ve made), still pay it and log it in your records.

Don’t fall into the trap of just paying yourself whenever, whatever as the money comes into your business…

This is one thing that separates successful, profitable business owners from those who only ever get by.

This is so important because it acknowledges the fact that you play two separate roles when it comes to money management:

  1. As the steward of your business finances and therefore the CFO
  2. As the manager of your personal finances

Paying yourself a salary helps you keep these 2 roles separate: You manage the business’s money as its CFO and you manage the money your business pays you as you would as an employee of any other company.

This may seem strange, complicated or overkill to some of you but believe me it is absolutely vital if you want to maintain the flow of money and cultivate good money management habits as an entrepreneur, try it for a while and then tell me it doesn’t work.

6. Record Your Money Transactions Religiously

While you can use You Need A Budget, Freshbooks, Xero or any other kind of software to track your finances, you can equally use a simple spreadsheet.

Logging your transactions daily (what comes in and what goes out) on your spreadsheet or in your tool of choice is an excellent habit to get into…

– and one that will save you hours and hours of hassle and headache when tax return time comes.

Top Tip: Log your daily expenses in your spreadsheet under the tax buckets/categories used on your tax return – this will save you spending hours having to classify them come tax return time.

Would you like to move beyond the story of the starving artist?

Cultivating your relationship with money to become someone who is ‘good with money’ (earning and managing it well) is a great place to start. We hope this helps…

A 101 Guide to Running A Lean & Agile Business

Running a business can be a complicated affair – made even more so if you’re a typical creative and not the most organised of people 😉

After just a few years in business things can pile up – accounts, paperwork, reference materials, inspiration, and books. Even the pieces of your own work can become disorganised, unruly and something on your list ‘to sort out’ someday.

If you’re a seasoned illustrator, there are a few signs and symptoms which may sound familiar:

  • You have piles of paper stashed away in drawers and cupboard which you’ve been avoiding trawling through.
  • You have ring binders and folders of reference materials which you know are out-of-date and you haven’t ‘referenced’ in years.
  • Your accounts are something you do – in a panic – once a year.

While this may not appear a problem, it can be – in more ways than you think…

  • When you have old, out-of-date stuff clogging up your life, you leave no space for the new and the fresh to appear.
  • When you have stuff holding you back and dragging you down, you can’t be agile, responsive and progressive.
  • When you have actual clutter, it’s common to have mental clutter too.

All of the above can stifle your creativity, block your progress and (negatively) impact your income and earning potential.

If you’re new, take heart – you can set things up right now so you don’t become that person…and if you are that person, take heart – there are methods and means to help you 🙂

In this 101 Guide, we’re going to walk you through a number of suggestions so you can set up your business to be lean, agile, responsive and progressive – all the qualities needed to thrive in the fast-paced 21st century and beyond.

1. Your Processes

Having well-defined, consciously-designed processes that you follow for each and every illustration project you work on, means you can quickly identify bottlenecks, respond to them and adapt/streamline as required.

As a bare minimum, the following processes are worth thinking about:

  • Your “New Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • Feedback on how a client found you?
    • A contract or agreement?
    • A detailed brief and breakdown of expected deliverables?
    • A payment schedule?
  • Your “Completed Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • An invoice?
    • A testimonial/feedback?
  • Your Financial Management process – how/where do you keep your financial records?

When you have clearly defined processes – ones that you stick to for each and every project – you can be confident that:

  • You’re not constantly forgetting something you need.
  • You’re running your business and projects in a streamlined, efficient, organised and professional way.

2. Tools & Resources

In this era of cloud computing and online tools for everything, there is no need to lose important paperwork or to even have to deal with physical paperwork unless you want to.

The benefits of online tools to run and manage your business are many:

  • You can access them from any computer with internet access.
  • Your data can be very easily searchable.
  • You can easily organise your stuff, usually by dragging and dropping.
  • It’s cheap.

Some of the most useful online tools to manage your business include:

  • Google Apps for a suite of tools such as email, calendar, online word processing/spreadsheets/presentations, and more.
  • Freshbooks, Xero or similar to manage your accounts and invoices.
  • AWeber of Mailchimp to manage your marketing database/contacts.
  • Trello or Asana for project management and group collaboration.
  • Evernote for clipping, storing and organising your resources and snippets of information (doesn’t have to be digital – snap photos to digitalise and upload online).
  • Flickr, Dropbox or Amazon S3 for incredibly affordable storage for your digital images.

From a purely physical perspective, we’re agile and lean because we can carry everything we need to run and grow our business in a backpack – this gives us a mindset of agility and freedom.

3. Skilling Up & Controlling Your Assets

We don’t need to invest anything but time if we want to change our entire business, because we can…

  • Build a new website or adapt an existing one.
  • Tweak our business model in a day.
  • Set up and market a new venture in a day.

We can be this agile because we’ve learned the skills necessary to be able to take control of the key assets in our business.

The assets in your business include:

  • Your website – do you have to pay someone else to change/update your website for you? Or can you learn to do it yourself?
  • Your strategy – have you got a coherent strategy which you can tweak and adjust as circumstances dictate?
  • Your professional network – do you nurture your network as a key asset and resource?

Skilling up in the ‘softer’ skills of running your own business – alongside your own creative skills – enables you to keep your business agile, responsive and lean.

If you need to call in the cavalry every time you want to make a minor change, it’s always going to be a barrier to making the change that’s needed.

4. Your Mindset

Most of all, running a lean and agile business is a matter of mindset. For example:

  • We know we’re not tied to local (even national) clients and instead approach our business with a global mindset.
  • We’re aware of how quickly technology changes and has an impact on everyone’s lives; we can’t predict it but we can usually respond quickly enough to either minimise any damage or leverage the advantages.
  • We know that staying lean and agile is going to be a huge advantage both now and in the future; it truly is survival of the fittest!

It’s easy to get stuck in the belief that things have to be done the way they’ve always been done.

Fortunately these days, there are pioneers leading the way across all industries…will you become one of them?

Managing Your Illustration Projects 101

One of the most unexpectedly time-consuming (and often tricky) aspects of running your own illustration business is handling and managing your projects.

As the service provider and (usually) the project manager, you’re the sole point of contact and have responsibility for the entire, end to end process, from securing the client to sign-off.

There are any number of potential sticking points, such as:

  • Quoting and pricing up a project.
  • Client not paying on time (or at all).
  • Difference of creative opinion.
  • Project and scope creep with additional requirements and requests somehow making their way into the project.
  • A project running on and on, with endless requests for tweaks and revisions with no end in sight.

These sticking points can be exacerbated when you work purely online – not on location – by the lack of face-to-face contact and the fact that things can very easily be mis-communicated, misinterpreted and misunderstood with online communication channels.

We’ve summarised below some of the key stages of an end-to-end project process where you might come unstuck and how to prevent this from happening in the first place…


Have a Written Agreement

This is a MUST – and it doesn’t have to be a formally written contract, as long as you have the key aspects in writing (email) agreed and confirmed before you start the project.

At the very minimum, have confirmed agreement on the following aspects of a project:

  • Scope of the work to be created
  • Agreed timelines and important deadlines/milestones
  • Fees and payment schedules
  • Changes in requirements/scope and their impact on fees
  • Usage rights and ownership of work created
  • Conditions for changing the agreement on both sides (e.g. ‘kill’ fee)

Chase Your Deposit

If you have agreed on an initial payment upfront/deposit, ensure you receive it before you start any work.

If you hand over an initial concept/sketch before a client has paid the agreed amount, you’ve given away any leverage you might have had, with which to bargain.

Clarify Client Requirements

While your agreement/contract can include a summary of the agreed work, always ensure you get a full breakdown of what you’re creating and providing to a client.

For example, your contract may state “illustrations for a book” but ideally you’ll clarify this to state “10 x A4-size illustrations for a book etc. etc.” so that both sides are clear from the start what the core deliverables are.

Nail down the specifications and a detailed brief as tightly as possible – when it comes to something as subjective as design & creativity, it’s always tough to satisfy personal tastes & preferences.

A well-constructed and fully completed brief from your client can help you prove (should you need to) that you’ve delivered what was requested, irrespective of whether a client might personally like it or not.

Initial Concept Stage

Limit Initial Concepts

Be clear upfront (in your agreement at the Pre-Project stage ideally), how many concepts/sketches a client can expect to receive, and how many rounds of revisions/tweaks they’re allowed before being charged a supplement.

If you don’t do this, a project can get stuck here in an endless round of the client requesting new concepts until they finally find one they like.

Red Flag: If a client ever says to you, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it” be very wary!

Use a Gating Process to Keep Moving Forwards

It’s also important to add a gating step at this stage – that is, an ‘official’ signing off of at the sketch/concept stage which allows you to lock it down and move to the next stage of the process.

Once this ‘sign off’ is received from a client – it can be as simple as an email confirmation from them ‘signing off’ the sketch – you have something to fall back on should any major changes be mooted later in the process (or the dreaded, “We don’t really like it” comment once the project is complete).

Creation Stage

Managing Scope Creep

If you’re working on a more complex or longer term project, it can be easy to let additional requests creep in, that aren’t in the orginal request and aren’t covered by your fee.

Phrases such as “Oh, could you just add X, Y and Z? I know it won’t take long…” can become commonplace and before you know it, that cover illustration for a book has turned into a cover plus 5 extra internal illustrations, with you taking on the extra work for no additional fee.

Ensure you highlight and communicate any potential instances of this as soon as they seem to be happening; producing – by default – any extra illustrations, and then mentioning that these weren’t in the original agreement puts you in a weaker position to re-negotiate any additional fees for the extra work.

Project Complete

Get Official Sign-off

Defining what constitutes the official end of a project ensures it won’t drag on and on with endless requests for amendments, tweaks or additions.

Typically this is the ‘official’ handing over of the final deliverables – graphics, images, files etc. – whatever it is, be sure to define and communicate this to the client.

Ensure they know that this constitutes the official end of the project and that any further work will be subject to further fees.

In Conclusion

It can be daunting to set your boundaries and stick to them in this way, but contrary to your fears, you may find that clients respect your professionalism, your well defined process and the fact that you are protecting both your own interests and theirs when you consciously and mindfully manage your projects in this way.

The bottom line is this: Never assume that a client knows how you work nor what the process is (or should be). It’s your job to communicate this to them, it’s not theirs to simply know.

Why You Are the Best Illustration Agent You’ll Ever Have

If you’re struggling to get work and clients for your illustration business, it can be easy to think that the magic bullet lies in securing an agent.

After all, imagine having someone work on behalf of your business to actually bring you work on an ongoing basis, leaving you to focus purely on the bit you love…illustration!

But there are a number of reasons that going it alone can be the best approach in the long term…

No-one Is More Invested Than You

No-one is more passionate about what you do than…you! No-one is (or should be) more invested in your success than you.

No-one is going to be as thorough, as passionate, as dedicated to your success as you are…

But if fear and self doubt are holding you back, you must find a way to get through this because if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

And if it’s lack of skills, know-how or someone to get answers from, we can help you with that too 🙂

Your Vested Interests Are Your Own

When you take control to run and market your own business, the only vested interests you have to worry about are your own.

There are no shareholders, partners or directors for you (or your agent) to keep happy, no irrelevant-to-you sales targets to hit, your interests are purely your own.

You do not have to do things a certain way just to keep X, Y or Z happy, you can do things the way you want to – you are your own boss, your vested interests are quite rightly in your own success.

You Can Stay Agile, Flexible and Adaptable

The nature of work is changing fast, and it’s only going to get faster.

As an illustrator – especially if you work in the digital medium – you now have all sorts of global opportunities open to you, no longer restricted by regional (or any other) borders.

The key – and challenge – of course is to find a way to identify and then take advantage of them – that’s what skilling up and self empowerment is all about.

And as soon as you do skill up, you can leverage these online tools, platforms and networks to reach people, clients and projects you’d never have been able to reach on your own before.

Not only can you reach them, they’re actively out there looking for (illustrators like) you.

Self Empowerment Above All Else

When you empower yourself with the skills you need – the marketing, the business building, the creative skills and more – no-one can take this away from you.

Becoming reliant on someone else for your success – an agent, a single client or even an employer – can erode your confidence, your self belief and your own ability to take control of your future and opportunities.

It can erode your belief in the fact that You. Are. (Good) Enough.

Empowering yourself – and arming yourself with the tools, resources, networks and contacts – to make a success of your illustration business and career, is life affirming.

You are the best agent you’ll ever have. Believe it.

Are You Making These 5 Small But Vital Mistakes On Your Illustration Portfolio Website?

There are a number of obvious, small yet possibly business-limiting mistakes which are prevalent on a number of portfolio websites we review…

#1 No (or Hard to Find) Contact Details

Would you believe that many websites make it impossible to find the contact details on them? They’re either simply not there or the details are buried deep within the website somewhere and unlikely to be easily found.

How will potential clients and art directors get in touch if they like your work, and want to hire you?

While some visitors may like your work enough to be motivated to spend a while searching your site for them, you want to make it as EASY as possible.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are your contact details easy and obvious to find from every single page? If not, make them so!

#2 Too Small Thumbnails

If the thumbnail photos for your portfolio gallery are too small, it makes it really tricky to see your work, and pick something which might stand out or be of interest to a potential client.

Not only that, it can be visually overwhelming to be faced with an entire screen of tiny thumbnails, which can then lead to visitors clicking away from your site because they just don’t know where to go.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are your thumbnails large enough for visitors to get a clear idea of what that piece of work actually is? If not, increase the size of your thumbnails.

#3 No Photo

If you are selling yourself as a professional service provider, you MUST have a photo of yourself up there somewhere.

It doesn’t need to be a glossy, staged and professionally-shot photo but it does need to show you as a friendly, approachable, professional human being who can be trusted with someone’s hard-earned pennies.

People work with people, so show yourself and who you are instead of hiding behind an avatar or no image of yourself at all.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Is there a photo of yourself or something that will give prospective clients a visual of exactly who they’ll be hiring and working with?

#4 No Mailing List

It’s the #1 rule of marketing yourself online…build a mailing list.

The reason being is that while it’s great that people come to your website in the first place, you need to give them a way to stay up-to-date with what you’re doing, and stay present in their minds should any suitable potential projects crop up.

It might feel like just one extra thing you don’t have time to do, but smarter creative marketers know that an online mailing list is a relatively quick, easy and cost effective way of keeping in touch with potential clients who are interested in hiring you.

ACTION: Check out mailing list providers such as AWeber or Mailchimp – and plan the sending out of a regular e-newsletter into your marketing strategy soon!

#5 Splash Pages

While they may look pretty, when clicks and getting people to take action on the web are at a premium, why force visitors to make that one, unnecessary extra click just to get to the main part of your website?

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are you forcing visitors to take unnecessary extra steps and actions just to get to the main content of your website (your portfolio)? If so, streamline the experience and remove any barriers.