Designer/illustrator Clay Cantrell writes:
“How important do you feel a blog is as a part of an overall business model for a freelance visual artist? Does it make good business sense, or do you think that only other artists read them, as opposed to potential or current clients?”
This is an excellent question, one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My blog has been something of an experiment, and frankly I’m still undecided as to whether or not a blog is a worthwhile way to promote myself and my work.
I started getting serious about my blog in July ’07, posting five times a week and making efforts to publicize my blog on other websites. My readership has steadily grown; I currently average about 700-800 page views every weekday, and I’m very flattered that so many people are interested in what I have to say. I suspect most of my readers are other artists who will never hire me, but I know for a fact that at least a few are art directors or past clients who have a serious interest in me and my work.
Nevertheless, from a purely financial standpoint my blog so far has been a bit of a disappointment. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. But then again, I’ve only been working at it seriously for about eight months. Everything I’ve read about blogging describes it as a very slow and gradual build towards success. Blogging is not for the get-rich-quick crowd. So I’m planning to hang in there a while longer and see what happens.
I’ve read about freelancers who started a blog and before they knew it job offers from readers were pouring in (this is more common among freelance writers than artists, which makes sense). While I’d love to say that I’m one of them, that has not been my experience. I can count on two fingers the number of job offers I’ve received in the last six months as a direct result of my blog. One fell through, the other was actually a writing gig for which I made decent money.
There are many ways to land clients that are faster, easier, and more direct than blogging. A blog can be a good extension of your self-promotion campaign, but it would be a big mistake to use it as a substitute for other methods of promoting your work.
That’s not to say that a blog is a waste of time. Far from it. There’s quite a few indirect benefits to having a blog that don’t translate into a specific dollar amount but nevertheless have benefited me professionally. I’ll get to those in a minute. But first, I want to touch on a few of the downsides of blogging.
Drawback #1: Time. It takes a tremendous amount of time to maintain a blog. I write five posts a week, and I easily spend at least 5-6 hours each week doing so, sometimes more. This post alone took me over two hours to write.
Drawback #2: Small financial returns. Don’t believe the hype. Blogging will not make you rich. It’s true that some people are able to make a living blogging full-time, and a very few even make six figures or more. But those people are mostly full-time writers who have little time for anything else. They are the exception, not the rule.
The vast majority of bloggers write “on the side” for little or no money. I do make a few dollars here and there from my tip jar (wanna leave a tip?) and kickbacks from purchases made through my Recommended Resources page on Amazon.com. I’ve also sold a few copies of my downloadable sketchbook. But it all adds up to a very small amount. For the amount of time I put into my blog I make well below minimum wage.
Many blogs have ads to help make up the difference. My blog is currently hosted on WordPress.com, and WordPress has very strict rules prohibiting ads on their blogs. I’m in the process of redesigning my website and I eventually plan to move this blog to my new site, and when I do I’ll experiment with a few ads. But I’m pretty sure it will still add up to small change compared to what I make freelancing.
Drawback #3: Pressure. One of the keys to a successful blog is consistency. People want to see something new and fresh every time they visit. I’m commited to posting something new every weekday. That means I have to engage people with something interesting and worthwhile five times a week, every week, all year. Most of the time I enjoy it, but there are times when it gets exhausting and stressful.
OK, so blogging is a lot of work for very little money. So why do it? Besides pure enjoyment (it’s an addicting hobby), there are several non-financial but very important professional benefits to blogging that can make the whole thing very worthwhile.
Benefit #1: Increased awareness of me and my work. Every day my blog is read by hundreds of people in my industry. While most of them are other artists, I know others include art directors and past clients. The “My Services” page on my blog is good advertising and draws many people to my website. Granted, there are much simpler and easier ways to promote myself. If I relied solely on my blog to drum up new work, I’d be flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Still, any publicity is good publicity.
A blog is also a good way for current and past clients to keep up on my work and career.
Benefit #2: Raising your professional status. Writing a blog about your profession is a great way to position yourself as an expert and an authority in your field, or at least someone who is experienced. Others in your industry are more likely to look up to you, and potential clients will be more likely to view you as an expert (which makes it a little easier to justify your rates).
Benefit #3: I learn a great deal. There is an old saying that the teacher learns more than the student. If you have ever taught a class, written an article, or led a small group, you know that you’ve learned more about the subject at hand than your students/readers because you have to have a firm grasp of the material before you can pass it on. Similarly, I’ve learned a ton by researching and writing my blog posts and grown professionally as a result.
Benefit #4: Accountability. Everything I write on this blog will be read by hundreds of people. If I pass on misinformation or write something that makes me look less-than-professional, it will come back to haunt me. Having a blog helps me make sure I get my facts straight on various topics and that I communicate those facts well.
It also helps with my artwork. I work very hard to give every client my absolute best, but some days it’s easier to do than others. Whenever I’m doing a personal sketch or a client project, I ask myself “How would this look on my blog?” Knowing that several hundred other people will view my work, most of whom are also artists, is an extra motivation to make sure I’m doing my very best.
Benefit #5: Encouragement. We artists can be an insecure bunch. There’s something gratifying and reassuring to know that other people are reading my words and viewing my artwork. It’s especially encouraging when someone leaves a comment telling me that they appreciated what I had to say. Maybe that’s ego, maybe that’s just good self-esteem, maybe it’s both. In any case, it sure feels good.
Benefit #6: Improved communication skills. My blog has not just helped me improve my writing skills, it has helped to sharpen my thinking and communicate more effectively. Those skills have carried over into my personal life and my professional interactions. For an introvert like me, the discipline of writing a blog post five times a week has given me more confidence when talking with other people.
Benefit #7: A little cash. This isn’t really a benefit in the truest sense. I could make a lot more money using my blogging hours for freelancing than I could writing blog posts (see Drawback #1 above). The benefits of blogging go beyond just money. Still, it’s nice to have a little cash for the effort.
(EDIT: Benefit #8: Networking. I almost forgot this one. Through art blogs I’ve built relationships with other very talented artists who have blogs, and vice versa. In several cases if it hadn’t been for our blogs, we would have never heard of each other.)
So, is blogging worth it? Yes and no. While blogging is not the self-promotion dynamo some people make it out to be, it’s not exactly a waste of time either. There may come a time when I scale back to writing 2-3 posts a week instead of five, but I can’t see myself pulling the plug altogether.
For more insights about blogging, read Five Hard Truths About Blogging on WakeUpLater (a good blog for freelancers).
Thanks to Clay Cantrell for the question. How about you? Got a question about art or freelancing? Ask Mr. Artist Guy!