Molly Jacques is a lettering artist who has had the opportunity to work with some of the best brands around including Nike, TNT, Cole Haan, Entertainment Weekly, and Post-it. She got her start lettering for Sugar Paper while she was one of their shopkeepers, put her personal work up on Pinterest, and the rest is history. Get the inside scoop on her freelance journey below!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.
In a way, I fell into freelancing out of necessity. When I graduated with a BFA in 2010, we were knee deep into the recession and jobs were really scarce. I started freelancing in addition to working odd jobs cleaning houses and nannying because it helped make ends meet. In 2012 though, things shifted for me - my lettering and calligraphy started becoming very sought after as not many artists were practicing this particular skill and it gave me some great leverage. I was able to start freelancing full time in 2012 after that shift and I decided I really liked working for a variety of clients. Things kept rolling and before you know it, six or seven years flew by and I'm still freelancing, ha!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
In the very beginning, I worked part time at Sugar Paper in LA (in the shop) and after proving myself to have a distinctive eye paired with solid skills, they started hiring me on a freelance basis to create custom lettering for them. So, to answer the question, I'd have to say I attracted my first client by taking a super entry level job and proving my worth.
Once I left Sugar Paper and moved back to Michigan, where I'm originally from, I landed my first big, exciting freelance job with an ad agency (the job was chalkboard lettering for a Macaroni Grill TV commercial) after they saw my work on Pinterest. This was back when Pinterest was first blowing up on the scene and (again) I was one of few people who were practicing this craft and doing well. I think it really helped attract that first good client.
Can you tell us a bit about your teaching? What inspired you to offer in person workshops?
I started teaching around the same time I started full time freelancing (2012). It all started when many of my friends and colleagues kept asking me how to do calligraphy. I taught my first calligraphy workshop as a guest of a floral planner and they filled the class easily.
I was curious if I could plan a workshop on my own, so I found a venue close to home, set a date, and posted registration on my website, hoping someone would sign up. Sure enough - people FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY signed up. I kid you not. I was so blown away. That is pretty much where teaching started for me. Over the years, I've gained some serious experience through freelancing and teaching and I now offer online classes in addition to in person workshops.
Although recently I've taken a bit of a step back from teaching because of my freelance work load and juggling family life, I still teach as much as I can in person (as well as online).
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
My productivity ebbs and flows. I have a hard time concentrating and often get sucked into work that I want to do instead of work that I need to do - it's hard sometimes, working from home and staying on track. I would have to say that my tip for other artists who work from home and have problems keeping attention is to structure your day into a section where you get done everything you NEED to get done that day, and then save an hour or two for productive self-driven projects that will potentially bring in income.
Also, having a studio space that is conducive to productivity is key. Keeping all of your most-used art supplies in an easy to reach spot is helpful.
If you work better around people - head to a coffee shop to work. If you work better alone - stay at your home studio. It's different for every artist.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Hands down, organization. I have to force myself to stay on track with lists and I've had help with setting up organizational systems within my business. I'm really grateful for my art rep who helps with client management and my Mother in Law who helps with bookkeeping. Having help with the things I struggle with has really shaped my success as a freelancer.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
The ability to work with a variety of clients on vastly different projects.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I'm very active on social media and promoting my own work, which helps. Likewise, I make sure to share my best work and try to get it in front of the right eyes. I also have an art rep - she is great at continuously updating potential clients with my recent work.
On a similar note - many artists think that having an art rep guarantees them full time work. This isn't true. I work very hard to attract clients, and I consider my rep and me a team.
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
To stay inspired, I make sure to get involved with my life outside of my work. My husband and I love the outdoors and rock climbing, so we find time to take our daughter with us on hikes and climbing trips. Having the ability to hit the refresh button really helps me get inspired.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
For sure. If you are good at bookkeeping and your freelance business is a pretty straight forward income stream, it's totally doable to make it work without hiring someone to do it. I recommend Quickbooks for bookkeeping and invoicing.
That said, my business is pretty unusual. I have income coming in from not only lots of different clients, but also sources of residual income from royalties, my own website, my foundry, etc. It makes things very confusing (not to mention I'm already bad at organization), so I have my Mother in Law help with the bookkeeping and I hire an accountant to file my taxes. Doing so allows me to spend my time on things that I can actually get paid for and it gives me a peace of mind to know my books are squared away.
Correct bookkeeping is very important as a freelancer. Did you know that if you are a freelance artist, work from home, and make over a certain amount of money a year you are at higher risk to be audited? Freelancers are a red flag to the IRS. This means, it's important to always pay the taxes you owe and keep a solid record of all of your write-offs.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Set studio hours and only break those hours if it is absolutely necessary to meet a deadline.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Obsession, dedication, vision.