One of the things they don’t teach you in art school is just how many business skills are required to run a successful illustration studio. Talent is not enough. You also need to get a firm grasp on some basic business principles. With no formal business training I’ve had to learn an awful lot of things the hard way, picking up as many tricks as I can “on the street”. I’ve also read more than a few business books and every year I attend the Creative Freelancer Conference.
Those things have all helped, but recently I’ve found myself in need for something more. My business has plateaued, even stagnated a little. I’ve been landing some big clients, which is great, but I’ve found myself asking “Now what?” Conventional wisdom is that to charge higher rates you should specialize—pick one industry to focus on (i.e. toy design, animation, etc.) But which one? And what about the future — do I still want to be working alone doing illustration twenty years from now? Is that even possible, or will younger, less expensive up-and-comers edge me out? Should I look at ways to grow and maybe even take on employees? How would I go about that? Is it possible to run a creative business and still have time to be creative? On top of it all, my studio was in desperate need of a re-brand (new website, logo, etc.) so it was a good time to really step back and examine things.
With all these questions swirling in my mind, I decided to take things up a notch and hire a business coach.
I chose Marcia Hoeck. I had heard her give some free business webinars through HOW and I was impressed with her knowledge and experience. She’s not one of those business gurus who spouts detached theories while sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop. She’s spent years getting dirty in the trenches – she started out as an illustrator, then switched to design. For years she ran her own design firm with several employees, until she ultimately sold the firm and now works as a consultant. So I knew that any advice she had to offer would come salted with real-world experience as a creative and as a successful business owner.
Marcia offers several short-term coaching plans. I hired Marcia for six weeks of one-on-one consulting. Each week she would spend over an hour with me on the phone, helping me think through ways I could improve and grow my business. She challenged me with important, sometimes difficult questions and listened closely to my answers. She also allowed me to ask her all kinds of random questions to which she provided many insightful answers. Then, after each session she’d follow-up with a lengthy email summarizing everything we’d talked about. Each email closed with an assignment, suggesting practical activities that would help me work smarter and take me several steps closer to landing better, higher-paying clients. Finally, she also recorded each of our phone calls and sent me each week’s recording as an .mp3 file I could listen to again at my leisure.
I have literally pages of notes from my talks with Marcia. There’s far too much to cover in this blog post, but I’ll mention a few highlights: She gave me advice on how to skip over the normal channels to build direct relationships with the clients I really want. She helped me have discussions with my current clients that gave me important insights into how I can better sell my services to meet their needs. She shared insights about when to consider hiring employees and when not to. She have me suggestions for rebranding my studio. She asked me hard questions that challenged me to think more deeply about where I want to focus my work and where to take things long-term. She even gave me tips on right and wrong ways to promote myself use social media. And those are just a few of the things off the top of my head.
I was very impressed with Marcia’s insights and expertise. Her services were not cheap but they were very valuable and well worth the cost. She challenged me, encouraged me, and made herself 100% available for anything I needed to talk about. She listened to my questions and provided thoughtful, honest answers. After six weeks with Marcia I feel like the paralyzing fog I was in is starting to clear and I’m much better equipped to take my business to the next level.
If you freelance or own a creative business, I would strongly recommend spending some time with Marcia Hoeck.