Following on from our last conversation with Pickle Illustration, we sat down with the wonderful Olivia Collins and Lauren Jefferis to lift the veil on the mysteries of networking and to find out more about the importance of connecting with other people in the creative industries.
What advice would you give creatives who are struggling to build their network?
Lauren: It’s really just about making as many small connections as possible, and just sending someone a message on Instagram telling them you like their work can be so helpful in the long term. A lot of networking and connecting with people is just talking casually to people about both of your interests. Being able to speak with someone about something you’re so passionate in can make conversation flow so much better. In terms of working connections, a lot of this from referrals for us. Try not to shy away from talking about your own work too - if you don’t tell anyone that you want to paint a mural, you’re never going to be in the back of someone’s mind for them to call you when you’re needed.
Liv: When you’re just starting out, networking is so scary but it really doesn't have to be. It’s not about walking into a room filled with people wearing suits. One of the best tips we've had was to write down a list of people that you know, what they do for a living, and try and work out if you would ever work with those people. Networking can literally happen at family parties out of nowhere, and too many people limit themselves on ideas like “my Dad’s not a graphic designer who runs his own studio”. Over time, you'll learn that the people who do need your services actually aren’t those kind of creative people.
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It can be particularly challenging for young designers and illustrators setting up their own businesses to manage their time between the boring business admin stuff and the really cool creative projects. How do you find a balance between these two crucial sides of running an illustration studio?
Liv: One of the things I’ve learnt while working with Lauren is that if you chip away at something regularly, it never feels as daunting. Sometimes when you wake up in the morning and aren’t quite feeling creative yet, those little jobs can help start the day and help you feel like you’re accomplishing something throughout the day. All throughout university, we learnt that “a problem shared is a problem halved”, and one of the main benefits of working as a pair means that things like writing out a proposal can be split in half so it’s not as much for one person to take on. Lauren really likes writing and I don’t, so we're able to play off each other’s strengths. It’s really important to know before going freelance that a lot of it is the boring stuff, but it’s not all bad!
Lauren: I quite like the balance but I hate feeling like I’m out of control, and actually some of the boring jobs are the easiest to do. Every Monday, one of us does the finances and the other does the weekly planning, and we make sure to alternate each week. Doing it this way means that it’s never too much of a chore when it you break it down, as at least you’re never starting each week in exactly the same way.
It's great to see that Pickle offers support to young illustrators, with helpful resources like your regular blog articles and free pricing guide being available through your website. Do you think it's important for studios and agencies to make these kinds of resources readily available for those just getting started in the industry?
Lauren: Definitely. Other than yourselves, two people that are doing this well at the moment are The Arena and Fresh Meet. We've worked with The Arena as part of their mentorship programme last year which was really fun; I really enjoyed it and it was great to give back after we’ve had so much help ourselves.
Liv: It’s also just about efficiency. If people give us a piece of advice that saves us hundreds of hours we want to share that information with everyone. Topics like pricing can seem like such a taboo subject, but being transparent about this helps people understanding the value of what we do.
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Some of the biggest problems we've found young creatives struggle with today is where to go for help when it comes to pricing, licencing and all of the 'businessy' information that isn't really taught at university. Did you have any trouble getting to grips with this yourself?
Liv: Oh 100%! When you’re working for yourself, pricing is one of the hardest things to wrap your head around, and we still get students asking us for advice today and it’s so hard to help. I think that in general, Illustrators need to come together and know their worth so it’s easier for people to price their work fairly. As soon as someone commissions an artist that charges a ridiculously small amount of money, you’re telling the client that that’s how much that work is worth. Another struggle we have is that because some people still think of illustration as a hobby, people think that we do it for the enjoyment. If you’re reducing your price because you like the client and really want it for your portfolio, you should make sure this is included in your quote. Show what the project was originally worth but show them why you’ve applied the discount. This way, the client still appreciates the value of the work moving forward but they get to feel good that they’ve made a saving. We also don’t do day rates or hourly rates - when you become more experienced, things come to you quicker and you’re able to work faster. We price things up for projects so we’re not devaluing ourselves down the line.
Lauren: The subject of licencing is still something that we struggle with, and I’m not sure that we’re entirely clued up ourselves actually. We’ve never had a client initiate the licensing conversation as they’re not sure what it is, and having to tell a client after we’ve already quoted them that there’s another fee to pay can be quite intimidating. When it comes to pricing, I think it’s really important for young creatives to have someone else in the industry that they can ask “is this too little, am I charging the right amount?” etc. Pricing is wrapped up in confidence, and if your self-worth in your work is low, then you’re going to charge low. That’s one of the benefits of us working together, I’ll always charge too high and Liv will always charge too low. The true price of our work is somewhere in the middle, but it's important to remember that when you charge cheap, you look cheap.
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We've been following your Pickle Chats series and it's been interesting to see other studios like yourselves sharing our passion for interviewing and connecting with other creatives. What inspired you to start the series and where do you see it going over the next few years?
Lauren: We were finding in meetings that I loved asking people questions. We were curious and nosey, and when people give you a little nugget of wisdom you wish that you had written it down. It’s all come from our love chatting to people, and like Liv said, I really enjoy the writing side of things. It was a combination of this and the idea of trying to selifshly learn as much as we can from other people that led us to want to share what we'd learned with the rest of the community.
Liv: Yeah, we were mainly starting those meetings just to say hello and get on people’s radars, which in itself is another great way of building your connections and networking. These were chats we were having anyway, so we thought we may as well make them public. From being a mentor for The Arena and seeing how much people valued our advice, it's been really fulfilling to see how much you’ve helped someone. Plus you get to feel like good samaritans!
We know that you both spent the Summer of last year talking with a few mentors and planning the new direction and long-term goals for Pickle. Now that you're one year on from these meetings, how important did this mentoring prove to be? Do you think mentoring is important for people just starting out their careers in the industry?
Liv: We’re still linked to the University as part of “The Studio” graduate programme, which still holds monthly workshops and one-to-one sessions over Zoom which has really benefitted us. As “the creatives” in the WhatsApp group, it’s great to be able to take advice given to people in other industries and use it as a driving force to look beyond where we are now. Internally, Lauren and I make sure to have regular check-ins to work out where we’re at as a business. It’s all good doing the work, but it’s important to take a moment to assess whether we’re progressing and to see if the business is heading where we want it to. We’ve already changed our business direction several times as a result of advice we’ve been given, most recently moving away from selling artwork as individual pieces to focusing more on the commercial side of things.
Lauren: It’s great to have people around you that you’re able to ask for advice. We had the pleasure of meeting Henry Blanchard during our time at university, and his questions that “if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” is something that I've never really been able to stop thinking about. That's really what Pickle is all about, aiming big and doing something that you’ve never really done before, putting yourself out there and being confident in your own ability to deliver.
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In Case You Missed It...
Thanks once again to Liv and Lauren for taking the time to sit down with us once more and for giving up some of their time to help junior creatives learn more about Pickle Illustration's journey through the illustration industry.
Make sure to catch part one of our interview series with Pickle Illustration, where we found out a little more about a selection of their recent projects, the difference between working as close friends to becoming joint business partners, and what it takes to grow a studio in the middle of a global pandemic.
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