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.
25 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Ethel Pole says
Congratulations Tom. This is my favorite post yet. I’ve shared, printed, laminated and these cartoons are coming with me everywhere.
I’ve loved your Marketoons for years. Thanks for the inspiration. Keep it up!
Brian Tockman says
Congrats Tom! Great post, great lesson. Here’s to many more. Talk soon.
Stephen Lahey says
Great inspiration and advice for all consultants and entrepreneurs
Chuck Parker says
Great update! Your cartoon still pulls em in at our trade shows.
Well done, and keep cartooning 🙂
Kuldip Singh says
Many a time, I have been uplifted by your cartoons and the words of wisdom that accompany your cartoons.
Luke Seerveld says
Love this, Tom! Your posts are always wise and enjoyable. Thank you and hope to see you again soon.
Donn Conner says
Congratulations on your six years, Tom, and also on your heartfelt commentary about marrying your cartoons with business. What an inspirational story and what an inspirational guy! Keep up the good work.
This cartoon would make a great ad for a coffee brand!
Judy Bernstein says
Congratulations! Market your bliss is a great mandate. I hope it sparks enthusiasm for related ideas. For example, more organizations should recognize how powerful intrinsic motivation can be. A consideration and cultivation of employee bliss can be tied to productivity and innovation.
Dane Hartzell says
Amy Laski says
Can’t wait to read more in “Market Your Bliss.” Congrats on six years.
Suzanne Pecore says
Congrats, Tom. In 2007 you did some amazing cartoons for us as part of the Pangborn Symposium. To this day I still use some of them. In fact, I just used one as part of another talk I gave at another sensory-related conference, and they still generate chuckles in the audience. Love your humor and how it connects us all. So thank you for building those wings!
Kim Lopez-Walters says
Your story has always inspired me and keep me thinking about how I can keep moving toward my passion! Thanks and keep em’ coming!
Tim Rosenbrook says
Congratulations, I have just hit the 3 year anniversary of going out on my own starting my own marketing agency. The cartoon you drew 6 years ago resonates very clearly with my own thought process at the time, and sometimes those thoughts continue, inspirational to be reminded of how rewarding taking the leap is.
Josephine Shaw says
Thanks. Really needed to read this today 🙂
This post came at exactly the right hour for me. Thanks Tom. Taking the leap…
Congrats Tom! So excited for you and proud of you. Love your cartoons and the amazing business you are building from your passion.
Congratulations Tom. Not surprised by your accomplishments. Keep up the good work and sharing your insights. Thoughtful and inspiring. Look forward to learning more about your new book. Best wishes for continued success.
I read your story about 2 or 3 years ago and you inspired me to make my own move. A general marketing background and a love of cartooning – I’d never connected the two until then! It’s 1.5 years since I ditched the day job and went full time doing live cartooning and illustrations for businesses. Thank you!! And go us (all!) So you’re not only following your bliss, you’re sharing it ?
Tom, congratulations. I love your work as it so concisely and coherently describes many of the marketing thoughts rattling inside my head. Your work gets shared constantly. Continued success!
Thank you for sharing & pleeeeeaaaaaase keep following your bliss 🙂