Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from illustrator and surface pattern designer, Leah Goren. Leah always knew that she would channel her illustration skills into a full time career one day, but she never anticipated her small online shop to turn into another creative and lucrative outlet for her work. Leah has since worked with major retailers and clients to create custom patterns and illustration for sale across the globe. Today she shares a bit about her creative business path with us. Thank you Leah for giving us a glimpse into your career journey! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I went to school for illustration with with the knowledge that when I graduated I’d either work as a freelance illustrator or hopefully land a job related to my field. About three years ago, when I was still in school, I opened an online shop on a whim and began to experiment with translating my drawings and paintings into salable items. It soon became an outlet where I could create real products with my illustration work and connect with people around the world. As my product work reached a wider audience, my freelance illustration career began to take off as well.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
My work, personal and commercial, will always center around my drawings and paintings. I opened my shop with just a few zines and a hand-printed dress, and from there it grew into a range of clothing, accessories, paper products, and ceramics. I love making as many things as I possibly can that translate a flat illustration into a usable product.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
In school it was really emphasized that working for free is not OK, and to always strive for ethical pay for design services, as they are frequently undervalued by clients. Now I value my time and my work, and I don’t take on jobs that don’t feel worth it or make me feel uncomfortable. This extends to my shop, where I try to price items according to the materials cost as well as time spent, and I only take on custom orders that I’m excited about.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Learning the mechanics of transactions, from negotiating contracts to navigating the US Postal system, was, and still is, the most difficult part. At the beginning I didn’t realize how much went into running a creative business, and now I often spend more time writing emails and reading fine print than I do drawing.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The internet is so powerful! My audience is mostly young women who love to blog about my products or artwork, post my images on Tumblr and Pinterest, and purchase items from my shop to model on their blogs and Instagram. The amount of global image sharing is overwhelming, and I can credit so much of this for my success.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I don’t think I’ve had any failures, just learning experiences.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
My first big licensing job felt like the greatest success. It was the perfect validation to know that a large retailer had seen my work and liked it enough to want to manufacture new items with me. It was so exciting to see my designs on products I could not have made myself and to know I was reaching a far wider audience than I could on my own.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It’s the bible!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
I think you have to absolutely love your creative work, see how you can set yourself apart from others who make similar work, and then showcase your work in a beautiful way. If you can do these three things, the tedious business details will work themselves out.