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Level 7

Freelance Illustrator Sarah Clement on Tracking Her Time and Learning to say YES!

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When Sarah Clement created her freelance illustration business, she was eager to make more space in her life for illustration. 


It worked. After she quit her part-time job and threw herself into her creating her company, she started booking some awesome commissions and amazing new clients.


We were lucky enough to catch up with Sarah recently about balancing art and business, the importance of morning routines and her biggest college regret.


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Name: Sarah Clement


Business: Sarah Clement Illustrations


Started: January 2015



How did you create your awesome job?


I'm an artist and illustrator. I take on projects like special commissions for clients, album designs and t-shirts. I've done a children's book as well. 


I decided to quit my part-time job and pursue illustration about a year ago. I felt like I needed more time to invest in my art and I was getting a little bored selling handmade crafts in a local shop.


Becoming 100% self-employed was a bit of a gradual process because having the ability to support myself while I created my portfolio and made the necessary connections to succeed as an artist was very important to me.


Who was your very first customer?


Bird on a Wire Creations, which is the store I used to work for here in Vancouver, were my very first customers. 


They were the first shop to sell my greeting cards and prints, which was a really big moment for me. Actually having my work on display gave me a boost and made me realize people are interested in my art and want to buy it! 


It also helped me transition into having the mindset of a small business owner rather than one of a student.


When did you know your business was going to work?


I knew my business was going to work when, about two years ago, I worked with Whitecap Books illustrating Half for You and Half for Me by Katherine Govier. It's a cool children's book that provides some of the really interesting history behind common nursery rhymes. 


It was so exciting to work directly with a publishing company, and it gave me a stronger sense of the legitimacy of my work.


What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?


I think a big surprise for me was that once I created space to pursue art as a business, everything came together. 


When I took the leap and quit my job, that's when little projects would start to show up or I would sell a bunch of prints and cards. Having the time to take on these commissions really helped me to build up momentum. 


When you can say yes to the things you want to work on, amazing opportunities come out of that openness.

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How do you price your products?


That's definitely one of the hardest things as an artist. You can ask so many people for advice, but you'll get a different answer every time. 


Some people say to price low, while others will tell you to price high. At the end of the day, you have to decide what you feel comfortable charging your customers. 


For me, when I'm pricing my greeting cards or art prints it's easier because I can look to see what the going rate is. For example, cards are generally $5 and prints are usually between $25 and $30 each. But for commission work or an illustration for an album cover, it's less straightforward.


In those case, a time-tracking tool called Toggl has been really helpful for me. I've been trying to get better about measuring how long I'm spending on a project, and while I don't have an hourly rate for my work, it's helping me figure out what to charge for future commissions.


What does a typical day look like for you?


I have a morning routine, which I've developed over the last year or so. I'll get up fairly early, about 6:45am, and sometimes go to a 7am yoga class or on a run. 


Then, I'll spend some time journaling. I find that stream-of-consciousness writing helps get all my thoughts on a page. I'll also jot down something I'm grateful for. It's a really amazing way to reframe a situation and focus on the positive aspects of my life. After that, I'll shower and have breakfast. When I bring my coffee to my desk, it's a signal that my work day has begun.


First, I'll check my emails and respond to anything that needs attention right away. Then I generally try to do my artistic work in the morning and keep the more business-related jobs for the afternoon, like updating my inventory database so I can keep track of where my cards and prints are being sold. It's really important for me to maintain a balance between the creative and practical side of things.

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If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?


I would go all the way back to college so I could pay less attention to getting the perfect grade and focus more on trying out a wider variety of art forms. 


I studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where there were so many facilities like dark rooms and opportunities to learn about subjects like printmaking. I really would have liked to explore a little more while I was there. This would have improved my versatility as an artist.


What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?


I'm always interested in how people manage their time. I think entrepreneurs in particular have to organize themselves in the most effective way possible. 


How do the other self-employed professionals here work out their daily schedule?

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Let's help Sarah out!

Fellow small business owners, it's time for you to chime in.


What tips and tricks do *you* use to help manage your work day? How do you stay productive while balancing all the tasks that are necessary to run your business and stay on top of things?


Share your stories and ideas with us in the comments below!

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