Paper Raven Co. Blog
Hey friends, I am writing this guide to answer some of the questions I get asked most frequently on my email/Instagram. I started my own business, Paper Raven Co., full-time in 2015. An illustration-based endeavor, my business is broken down into a) my own line of paper and gift products, b) selling those products to retail stores/boutiques, c) licensing designs to clients/partners, d) writing books about art, and e) teaching workshops and classes. In the last few years have had a wonderful roster of clients that include Minted, Target, Nordstrom, Chasing Paper, Greenvelope, Tombow and International Greetings.
I put together this list because I am often asked about how to get started running your own business as an illustrator or graphic designer, and I wanted a central place to point people in the right direction for my advice. I hope this is helpful for you!
To receive a PDF worksheet of this post,
plus my “Best Financial Practices for Setting Up a Business”, click the button below.
1. Start with a Good Foundation
I knew I wanted to start my own business while I was already working a day job. Even though a day job can feel like a total drag (it did for me), I encourage you to start building your foundation and following while you have that steady income coming in. While it may be overwhelming, use your lunch breaks, nights and weekends to create illustrations and products. Trust me, your hustle will be worth it. Save your money. Many businesses were built on a foundation of little-to-no savings - mine was! I was planning to leave my toxic job after 6 more months, but was laid off 5 months before I had planned to go, with not as much savings as I had planned. But I’ll tell you what - because I had been laying a foundation WHILE I was working, I made my yearly day-job salary back within 9 months. Remember that, if you’re working a day-job or part-time job while starting your business, you are no less of a creator than someone who is at this full-time. There is room for everyone.
2. Educate Yourself about Running a Business
A lot of people are really great at art, but get stuck when it comes to the business side of living as a working artist. Running your own business can be incredibly freeing and rewarding, but unless you have the basic biz 101 skills, it’s going to be very hard to be profitable and pay your bills. Entrepreneurship is NOT rewarding when you’re constantly stressing about money. Here is a list of online classes that I took when starting my business (a lot of them are super affordable!) On CreativeLive, you can even sign up for an account and get emails about when certain classes are broadcasting for free (yep!)
- How to Make a Living Selling What You Make by Megan Auman
- Set Income Goals and Develop a Revenue Strategy by Megan Auman
- Build a Stand-Out Business by Tara Gentile
- Become a Working Artist by Lisa Congdon
- Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach
3. Get Right About Money
If you’re seriously considering owning your own business, you need to get right about your money from the start. This is always an intimidating topic, but I encourage you to reframe the way you think about money. Money is freeing, it enables you to continue to add something of value to this world, and inspire others; and in turn, support other’s dreams, feed your family (or yourself), and invest in your goals. Listening to Marie Forleo’s business coaching, she said one thing that I always say to myself now: “Whenever you spend money, thank it and mentally say, ‘There’s more where that came from’.” I love this mentality so much because it combines gratitude with confidence about money. And I have found, after running a growing business for 4 years, that when you have good energy and confidence about money, it keeps coming back to you. Here some additional things you need to do, in addition to clarifying your money-mindset, to start your biz on the right foot.
- Separate Your Money. It seems intimidating, but the longer you put it off, the bigger pain it will be later. Go to the bank (or your bank’s website), and apply for a Business Banking Account. Most major banks have an option to do this completely online. For this, many banks will require an EIN number (Employer Identification Number), so be sure you have this info. Here’s how to easily apply (don’t let this stop you - it takes 10 minutes!).
- Invest in Quickbooks Self-Employed. There are many accounting softwares out there, but this is my personal recommendation, and one I have been using for years. It links to my business card, so when I make business purchases or receive income, it all gets categorized for my taxes automatically!
- Automate Your Savings. This is a life-saver and a game-changer! I personally have been using Digit for the last 4 years and love it. Digit is really easy to use, lives as an app on your smartphone, and links to your bank account to interpret your spending habits, and saves you spare change without you noticing. It automatically moves small amounts of money from your account to an FDIC-insured account that is outside your bank. With it, I’ve saved thousands of dollars (yes, thousands) for unexpected expenses, a vacation I want to take, and a house. The best part is that I never even notice it’s happening. If you’re curious about Digit, here is my referral link - it gives you a $5 bonus after your first autosave!
4. Build Your Social Media Following
One of the most valuable things I did before taking the leap into full-time business was building my social media following, giving me the ability to have a foundation of potential customers who were already interested in my work. My platform of choice is Instagram, so I wanted to share just a few tips for growing your audience there. Posting consistently is a great habit to start. People love snapshots of artwork behind the scenes, and some of my most engaging posts have been of photos that feature my hands, or me working. Utilize hashtags to get more eyeballs on your work. For example, if you’re posting a watercolor illustration, before you share it, go to the Search tab and type in “watercolor artist” under hashtags. Click on the hashtag (usually one like this will have 100K+ posts), then observe what related hashtags come up. Make sure to tag your post with all of the relevant hashtags! Use LinkTree to link to several spots in your bio so your profile can do more.
Because of the 2018 algorithm change, I’ve found that whenever I post, it helps boost my visibility by being active in the app for at least 15 minutes after posting my content. I like, comment with 4 word phrases (yes, it must be 4 or more!), and watch stories (or better, post my own). Also, getting back to comments you receive right away is helpful for visibility as well. A word of caution: popular does not equal profitable, so while building a social media following is great, just remember not to equate your self-worth or success with a follower count. Equate it instead with your financial freedom and potential.
5. Set Up an Online Shop to Sell Your Products
Setting up an online shop is one of the easiest things you can do to start making money for your business. My recommendation, if you’re just starting, is to open an Etsy Shop. Why? Because Etsy has a built-in community of people who are already going there to search for something to buy. I have a Shopify, and it’s solely on my shoulders to advertise, market and promote that storefront. If you have a small following, you may feel frustrated that your views (and sales) are low at the beginning. That’s not to discourage you from starting your own Shopify/SquareSpace/etc if you don’t want to be part of Etsy. It’s totally doable, you just have to go into it knowing that you’re responsible for the traffic. With Etsy, all of that is built in, and I have found that it leads to more consistent sales and visibility. The cost is also incredibly low. Etsy uses listing fees (20 cents per item), and a fee at sale to pay for itself. While Shopify also requires a monthly fee (plus a sales fee) to use the service. However, one of the up-sides to Shopify is that the customization of your storefront is entirely within your control.
6. Diversify Your Income
This is the single greatest piece of advice I can give for running a creative business. Diversifying your income means having as many streams of revenue as possible, to keep money flowing in to you at different times of the month. For example, I have licensing partners that pay my royalty between the 1st and 5th of every month. I also have other licensing partners who pay on the 15th of the month. I have retail products selling on my Online Shop and my Etsy that process payments every week. And I have freelance clients that send me checks within 30 days of completing a project. It’s important to remember that setting up revenue flow takes some time. You start by adding one client at a time, and then another, and then another. The goal is to have revenue coming in automatically over the course of a month, and to develop and enrich it over time.
7. Create Passive Income
Also one of the top tips for growing your business! Passive income is awesome. Passive Income is something that you do the work for once upfront, and then it automatically keeps selling with no additional work from you. It makes you money while you’re sleeping, while you’re eating tacos, while you’re on vacation, etc. Some of the most popular methods of passive income are print-on-demand websites like Society6, Redbubble, etc. These sites allow you to upload your artwork onto a variety of items (pillows, mugs, prints, tshirts, etc), and then will handle all of the manufacturing, shipping, and customer service for you; and will automatically pay you a percentage of each sale on a monthly basis. You can also create passive income through selling digital products on your Etsy/Shopify/SquareSpace/etc, teaching online classes, etc. Combining passive income in a diversified setting is one of the best things you can do to keep revenue flowing in to your business.
8. Create Active Income
Especially at first, you may need to spend time creating income by taking on projects and commissions, selling at shows, etc. This is considered active income, and while you need to be present for it, it has many benefits; like getting your business out in front of customers in-person (which often leads to valuable feedback), revealing avenues of income you enjoy working in (or don’t), and giving you a sense of variety in your day. Some ideas for making extra active income are:
- Partnering with local shops for a workshop, charge for students/materials, and split the cost and profit.
- Contacting local stores about Pop-Ups. They’re usually most effective on Saturday/Sunday for 2-4 hours. Contact your local West Elm, Madewell, Pottery Barn, etc. They love partnering with local artists!
- Offering (easy and quick) commissions that can be advertised on Instagram / Facebook. This works well around the Holidays if you can create an artwork/product that can be easily personalized!
- Selling your products at local craft fairs/artist markets. Most cities will have a variety of summer markets and holiday markets!
9. Assess What Is and Isn't Working
As you start your business, pay attention to the things you really like to do, and the things that start to feel like chores. In the same vein, pay attention to the tasks/projects/revenue streams that make the most money (and the least money) for your efforts. Start to shift focus and prioritize those tasks that bring you joy AND fill your bank account. Don’t get hung up on leaving other things by the wayside if they’re really not working.
10. Keep Going
Business is rewarding, but it’s hard. It’s all about learning the ebbs and flows of your biz. For example, plan for November and December to be filled with sales because of the holidays, but know that July and August might be slower because many people are taking time off. Strategically save your money for those times. If a post doesn’t get as many likes on social media as you want, don’t take it personally, but instead use it as a way to test for success. Post a similar image at a different time, or with different hashtags. If someone gives you negative feedback, thank them for it and use it as a way to solve a problem and make your product/service/communication better. It takes a year or two to learn the flows of your business, and a year or two after that to strategize and streamline. Try all the things you think are fun and profitable, see what works and what doesn’t, engage with your community, and keep going!
If you’d like a handy PDF worksheet of this post,
plus my “Best Financial Practices for Setting Up a Business”, click the button below.
Thanks so much for reading this guide - I hope you found it valuable. I would love if you’d share it with your friends!
Happy November! I hope everyone had a great Halloween and did something fun and/or spooky. For this month's Illustrated Desktop Wallpaper, I really wanted a constant reminder of gratitude. The holidays are on their way, and being busy with a to-do list sometimes makes us forget to stop, take a breath, and be thankful. So, if I can be honest, I did this wallpaper really for me. For me to remember, when I turn my computer on to start the work day, to be extra grateful for the customers, and clients, and interactions I have that make my business successful. And that starts with you! I hope this month brings you peacefulness, clarity, and renewed relationships with those you love.
Click on the graphic above to download the free wallpaper. And be sure to check out the work in progress shot below, and share your space with me on Instagram! Cheers & Enjoy!
Hey, Happy August 1st! I'm particularly excited about this month because it's my birthday month yasssss! For this month's Desktop Wallpaper, I drew inspiration from all of the wonderfully overgrown plants on my balcony. It's been one of those great summers where it thunderstorms every afternoon (my favorite, not my dog's), perpetually smells like rain, and the plants have just been exploding. It's awesome. I sketched this in our sunroom with the door open and the smell of basil flooding in, while my sweet Patty was sunbathing in her corner of the balcony - it's a peaceful memory, I hope that comes through in the final illustration. Click the image below to download it!
I would love to see your desktop or studio space if you use the wallpaper, so feel free to snap a photo and tag me on Instagram so I can see and give you high-fives. Bonus points if you hoard plants like I do. I really need to make a "Plant Lady is the New Cat Lady" Art Print, yea?
Thank you guys so much!
Happy July 1st! I hope everyone is having a great summer so far. This month, I wanted to experiment with some new lettering techniques and fun, poppy colors. I created this illustration using my Tombow MONO Drawing Pens, and then finished it with color in Photoshop. Later in the month I'll be traveling to the Bahamas, and the bright hues definitely inspired me here. Hope you like it! Click on the image below to receive the Wallpaper, and enjoy.
* This post does contain affiliate links, as part of my work as a brand ambassador. I will always provide honest feedback and never recommend something I don't absolutely love myself.
One of the best parts of my day, as the weather has warmed, has been walking my sweet dog Patty in the afternoons. Our neighborhood is in bloom, and we have a ton of bird species nesting in the trees. During our outings, I like to pause and take a moment to intentionally appreciate nature, to notice details, and welcome that peaceful mental state into my work. If that sounds a little "woo-woo" to you, maybe it is. But in an increasingly chaotic world, especially when the environment and the planet is at such risk, it's become a focal point of my day to stop and be grateful for the beauty around me. Nature teaches us so many things: persistence, balance, harmony; I find that very comforting, and I've strived to make those principles an integral part of my illustrations.
So for April's Desktop Download, I give you an illustration based on my favorite scene from Alice in Wonderland: you can learn a lot of things from the flowers. Click the image below to grab it.
Here is the full illustration (but click the image above for the download!), and a detail shot of me drawing it. I start with a pencil sketch, then ink in the leaves with India Ink, and then ink in the lines. Finally, I bring the illustration into Photoshop to finish it. Happy Spring!
A few days ago on Instagram, I asked y'all to throw some good questions at me so I could connect with you! One of the biggest questions I get asked is how to stay motivated. Let's tackle this one. Because this is a doozie and keeping yourself on track - especially as an artist - is really tough sometimes.
Here are 3 things I do on a daily basis to keep myself motivated and on-task.
This is by far my biggest secret weapon to staying motivated. My brain wakes up at night, so I typically do this after dinner or before bedtime. If you're more of a morning person, grab a cup of coffee or tea and start your day this way!
Before I go to bed, I make a plan. I have a Paper Raven Notebook that I keep on my desk at all times. Every night, I flip to a new page and add the next day's date. I take a look at my Google Calendar and my emails and I prioritize and plan my day. Here's a snip of my day today (for real, this is actually what it says):
- Create little check boxes and start with a time slot.
- 9:30-10:30: Answer and follow-up on all emails.
- 10:30-11: Email 3 new stores from Instagram.
- 11-12: Photograph Coloring Book for Giveaway posts.
- 12-12:30: Eat lunch.
Make sure each step starts with an actionable verb; this allows you to take action immediately - you already know that to do and there is no guess-work! It's important to me to feel satisfied by checking off the box when tasks are completed - the more you mentally reward yourself, the more motivated you are to stay on track. If you're more of a highlighter person, grab your neons and go for it! Lastly, I add timeslots because it's motivating for me to section out my tasks into time chunks. If I just make a list, it's easy for my brain to say, "Oh, I'll get to that." But if I schedule a task from 2-3pm, it will happen from 2-3pm and then it will be done!
Don't forget to add in real time chunks for breaks (15 minutes long) and lunch time ;) I often schedule breaks after big tasks or tasks that aren't my favorite thing to do. Then, if I finish my task, I get a nice little break!
Creating social accountability means creating a post where you publicly share with your audience that you are going to do something, by a certain date, and that they can expect something from you at that time.
When you create social accountability for yourself, you're more motivated to get it done because other people are expecting something from you. If you find it difficult to assign tasks to yourself and complete them, try making a post on Instagram or Facebook about an upcoming product launch, new series or blog post. Give your audience a date. Put it on your calendar. And when you finish it, reward yourself.
Spend a little time gathering some great playlists. I'm definitely responsive to dramatic movie and television scores - when I feel like Daenerys riding her dragon into battle or like Batman throttling some thugs, I am in the zone (I'm being totally serious guys). Whatever your music choice is, turn it up, close the Facebook tab and get to it!! You do you, boo.
Remember, motivation is a muscle and a habit. You just have to have that moment of clarity where you realize you have a choice to make - and just make it! The more you make that choice, the easier it is to make it again and again until it becomes a habit and a lifestyle.
I hope this blog post was helpful for you! Always feel free to reply and let me know your thoughts. And if you try these strategies out and love them, please let me know :)