5 Ways Artists Can Prepare for Tough Financial Times

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I think we can all agree that the world has been turned upside down over the last few days. Not only are we dealing with a worldwide virus that has us avoiding public places and close contact, but the economy is reacting pretty much how we expect it to in times of great crisis: not great.

Some of you are already losing projects or being laid off from day jobs and I think we all know that economic recovery will take months, at least.

I’ve been through this before. In August 2008, I left my day job to focus full time on my art career. In October 2008, the stock market crashed, and the economy tanked. Let me tell you about how panicked I felt back then.

This time, I’m less worried (still concerned, but less so) because I made it through 2008 and darn it, we can make it through this, right?

Here are 5 ways illustrators can prepare for tough financial times:

  • Review your finances now. If you didn’t book anymore projects, how long until you’re broke? That’s a tough question and I know it feels easier to just avoid it and hope for the best. Trust me, in the long run, you’ll be happier that you examined your finances right away instead of waiting until it was too late.

  • Cut unnecessary expenses from both your business and your life. Do you need a full Creative Cloud subscription when you only use one app? What monthly subscriptions are you paying for that you can live without for a few months? It’s a good time to pare down to basics.

  • Send an email to existing clients to show them recent work in your portfolio. In times of downturn, everyone feels a little risk averse, including your clients. If you’ve done great work for a client in the past, you’re already a shoe in for new projects. Remind them that you exist and you’ll be front of mind for new projects.

  • Diversify your income streams. You know you’ve heard me preach it before: you cannot rely on one source of income if you want to be a successful illustrator. Can your existing body of work be repurposed for something else? What other markets is our work appropriate for? Make a list of all the possible additional sources of income you can think of. Narrow that list down to those that seem interesting and doable. Make a plan to get started on one of those ideas right away. Make a long term plan to include other income streams too.

  • Educate yourself. Are there skills you can learn that will help you level up in some way? Can you make yourself more indispensable to clients with an added skill? Are there new markets you want to explore but you don’t know where to start? Now is a good time to acquire those skills! Make a budget for your business so you’ll know how much you can afford to cautiously allocate towards continued learning.

And finally, let’s not forget to support one another whenever we can.

Consider partnering with other creatives on a project, take some time to share the work of other creatives on your social media accounts, or recommend another creative for a project you can’t take.

This post was originally part of a weekly newsletter that goes out to Artist Letters subscribers. It’s free to sign up and you get the weekly newsletter + access to a resource library of career worksheets and digital art tutorials.

Are you an artist going through a tough financial time? Or have you made it through tough times and you have advice to share with the community? Leave a comment and let’s chat!


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