I recently hit the six-year anniversary of leaving my job to start Marketoonist full-time. It was the culmination of a childhood dream to become a cartoonist. It came after drawing a weekly cartoon for ten years, dreaming of the point when I could do it full-time.
Five years ago, I gave a talk about making that leap at the Do Lectures in Wales. The Do Lectures was started by David and Clare Hieatt, co-founders of Hiut Denim and Howies. I don’t know them very well personally, but their entrepreneurial journeys have had a significant influence on my journey.
One example is something David wrote called “The Creators’ Code”. It’s been taped on the wall next to my drafting table ever since I read it, and I thought I would create an illustrated version of it to celebrate this milestone. It reminds me to just keep at the work and follow my internal compass.
I’m grateful today for my wife and co-founder, Tallie, who is equal partners with me on this journey. I’m grateful for the talented group of cartoonists and creative partners we get to collaborate with as we grow the studio. I’m grateful for our clients whose stories we get to tell with cartoons. And I’m grateful for everyone who reads and supports Marketoonist, week in and week out. It’s a privilege.
I frequently get asked for advice about taking an entrepreneurial leap, whether to start a new business, to make a living as an artist, or to figure out how to do what you love for a living.
When I was in college, I was motivated by Joseph Campbell’s famous line, “Follow your Bliss”.
What I learned is that if I really wanted to do what I love for a living, following my bliss meant that I also had to learn how to market my bliss. I had to find people who valued what I do enough to pay for it. It meant becoming a hybrid artist-entrepreneur, with as much effort spent on the business side of things as the art side of things. Entrepreneurial and marketing thinking is every bit as important as Bristol Board, Micron pens, and Photoshop. That duality is not always easy. But it’s incredibly fulfilling.
I’m working on a book idea called “Market your Bliss” with some of what I’ve learned from this journey. In the meantime, here are a few lessons that I hope are relevant to others.
1) Discover what you uniquely do
It can be tempting to pursue every potential project, but things only started to take off for me when I found my niche. While cartooning as a hobby, the Wall Street Journal asked me to create a cartoon book to help describe how to get the most out of the Journal. There are plenty of cartoonists more talented than me. It was my unusual background of marketing and cartooning that set me apart. As Jerry Garcia once said, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
2) Don’t sell yourself short
If we think of ourselves as a commodity, clients will treat us as a commodity. After one early project, my client invited me to coffee to tell me that he loved the work, but that I had charged him too little. I explained that I had benchmarked my rates off of other cartoonists. He urged me to price instead on the value that I was able to bring him. Since then, I’ve held to a premium (and I always accept coffee invitations from clients). Some clients go elsewhere. But the ones that stay truly value my work.
3) Get hired by your fans
When I started building an audience with my weekly cartoon email, I did it for fun and I did it for free. I didn’t understand the value that it would eventually bring. Yet now that I work on the cartoon studio full-time, I find that nearly every client I work with has been reading my cartoons for years. It makes marketing my services a whole lot easier (and every client conversation a lot more fun). I learned that it’s never too early to start building an audience. The investment will always pay off.
I talked about some of this in a recent podcast interview with Xero Gravity.
Here’s the cartoon I drew when I took the leap 6 years ago to start Marketoonist full-time. This drawing is also taped next to my drafting table. Since then, I’ve had to rebuild the wings many, many times. That’s part of the deal. But the thrill of taking the leap is so, so worth it.