This week we’re chatting with Ilana Griffo, a designer, illustrator, teacher, mother, and now author! Mind Your Business, is Ilana’s answer for creatives who struggle with the business side of things —hands up anyone 🙋?? Her workbook is designed to inspire you, to help you get organized, and to put you in the driver’s seat, with actionable steps to help you achieve your dreams. Without further ado, the freelance wisdom from the woman behind the book that is tailor made for all us!
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance designer and illustrator.
I always knew I wanted to be in a creative career. I came from a line of strong creative women, and that was a huge influence. When I took my first design class, I was hooked! While I was in school, I took on any side project I could to get experience, and eventually, those side projects became more demanding than my full time job!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
In the beginning, I didn't! I said yes to everything, which helped me figure out where my strengths were. However, referrals/word of mouth continue to be the best way for me to attract good clients, if I can leave them feeling excited and treated well - that's the best!
Can you tell us about the process of getting an agent and how this partnership has affected your work flow?
I do have an agent for licensing! The process of getting an agent was a lot of portfolio development, and figuring out what type of relationship I was looking for. This has really helped me push my creative boundaries, and help me to experiment within my work!
What inspired you to move into the teaching space, first as an adjunct professor, and then as a workshop/online instructor?
When I was working as an Art Director, I was at a University and got to work with a team of the most talented juniors/seniors I'd ever met. When the opportunity came my way to teach on campus in the Design School, I had to give it a try! It was a great learning experience for sure, and I'm lucky to have a lot of incredible teachers in my life who were able to help me along the way. I really enjoy teaching workshop, and courses online where you can learn at your own pace. It's a great way for me to step back, review my process and figure out how to explain it.
You just released Mind Your Business, congratulations!! Tell us about the motivation behind this book.
Thank you! It's been such a fun experience! I grew up in a household of creatives and entrepreneurs. I didn't realize the full effect it had on me, but when I started my business, while I knew creative skills were my special talent, I quickly learned that the business side of things wasn't such a struggle! I know a lot of creatives find the business side to be daunting, and it holds them back - so once I put all the pieces together, I realized I could help a lot of other people along their journey!
Do you have a favorite section in the book or favorite spread that you'd like to tell us about?
Too hard to pick!! I'm really glad I included the resources section though! I also made a link to it on my website so that I can update it with resources I discover or get requests for along the way!
Would you like to go through the book publishing process again?
YES! I'm at that point where I'm trying really hard to come up with my "next idea"..... hopefully it comes to me soon!
You seriously do all the things...design, teach, write books, run a stationery shop, and spend time with your family. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I do really love productivity - I've read books about it, and I think I was just born with the gene. Organizing is fun for me ;). However, I definitely don't do it all! My stationery shop has taken a backseat while I've pursued surface design, and I'm only teaching a few workshops here and there (once you teach it once, it's a lot easier to teach it again and again)! I think it's important to have things you can pick up in your business when times are slow or you're feeling burnt out - like hobbies within your business. I'm also a big "list maker" so I use my Rule The World Planner, notepads, and systems (evernote, google calendar, etc) to help me keep track of lists. I prioritize my lists into groups - usually around time. What do I need to get done today? That's one list, and tomorrow is separate. I try to be realistic about what I can actually accomplish, and break big tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks so I can cross them off and not feel so overwhelmed when looking at what's in front of me. Everyone has their own system!
How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?
Being a mom changed everything without me even realizing it. I grew up as a highly sensitive person, and becoming a mom helped me harness a new-found strength inside that sensitivity. Always thinking of what could happen so that I'm prepared and ready to take action. It also helped me to get way more done, in way less time, but always knowing more clearly what to say no to. Would I rather do this, or spend the weekend with my son? It's a question I ask myself quite a bit!
If you could give one piece of advice to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own shop, what would it be?
If you're passionate about it - you should! Stop overthinking the questions that don't really matter (like which platform to use, or which shade of grey 98 or 97?) and just start somewhere, and pivot as you learn and grow!
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Put systems in place from the beginning! Hiring an accountant or setting up an online bookkeeping software from day one is a low expense that'll save you from a lot of stress down the road!
Now that the book is out in the world, what's next?
I'm asking myself that same question! I'm doing a lot of surface design collections that I'm excited about, and having fun exploring styles! My wheels are always turning so I can't wait to see what the next year brings!
One thing that you are currently obsessed with?
Audible! With a lot of travel lately, it's been fun to listen to some cheerful books that leave me feeling inspired!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Passion, productivity, determination.