Learn Lettering

Making a Living With Hand Lettering (Client Work)

Is it really possible to make a living as a hand lettering artist?

Over the next few lessons, I’ll be showing you three ways you can make money with hand lettering. I call this The Trifecta:

  1. Client Work (this lesson)
  2. Products (next lesson)
  3. Teaching (next lesson)

Client Work

There are two basic ways of getting clients:

  1. Chasing them.
  2. Attracting them.

Attracting clients is the key to getting the clients you want.

I’m going to make a case for why you should attract clients (and why chasing them is the worst thing you can do for your business).

Here’s the difference between chasing clients and attracting them:

  1. Chasing clients means going around cold-calling or cold-emailing people and asking them to be your client.
  2. Attracting client means your work is so compelling that clients approach you and ask if you will do work for them.

The two approaches are so fundamentally different that they shape the entire project and relationship you have with the client.

When you chase a client, it sets the entire project off on the wrong foot. It reads as desperation. However, when the client is the one to approach you, they are in a more deferential position and willing to come under your process.

Watch this video for more on the topic:

What Do You Do If People Aren’t Asking To Hire You Yet?

If people aren’t asking to pay you, you need to start putting up work and you need to start making work consistently.

There are two kinds of work you can do when you don’t yet have paying clients:

  1. Personal projects
  2. Pro-bono projects

Let’s talk about these.

1. Personal Projects

An example of a personal project for hand lettering might be doing an ornate custom piece for every letter in the alphabet.

You’re not getting paid for personal projects, but it’s a great way to get your work out there and show your skills and expertise.

You’d be surprised how many paying clients come from self-initiated projects.

2. Pro-Bono Projects

The other kind of work you can do to demonstrate your abilities is pro-bono work. Pro-bono is another way of saying “do it for free,” but there’s a significant detail that makes it different from just saying free.

Pro-bono acknowledges the full value of the work you’re doing.

Let’s say you decide to do a pro-bono project for a non-profit organization. On the proposal you send, you’re going to give a typical outline. You’ll want to provide all that’s going to be done, the responsibilities of the client, your process, the completion date, and the terms.

You’re also indicating the full value of the project. While the project is pro-bono, or “done for free,” if a job is worth $2,000, you should indicate that on the proposal. The client is seeing the full value.

Not only that, but when you as a business do a pro-bono project for someone, the client is still taxed based on the full value of the project. This really drives home their acknowledgement of full value.

Why Pro-Bono Projects Are Great

I like pro-bono projects for a lot of reasons:

  • When you’re starting out, you need to learn how to be selective with clients, and bring them under your process (Related: e122 10 Mistakes You’re Making With Clients That Cost You). Pro-bono clients are already getting a great deal of value for free, so they have absolutely no qualms with adhering to your process. What are they going to say otherwise?
  • This is excellent practice for you to bring the client through a professional process. It’s effectively your training grounds.
  • As a result of going through every step of your process, you not only have practice, but the materials you need to write a case study on the project.
  • Lastly, this pro-bono client is going to provide excellent word of mouth referrals. They just went through your professional process, they acknowledged the full value of what your services are worth, and they will effectively vet your services to the person they refer. If they know the full project was valued at $2,000, they’re only going to refer people who can pay that rate. This is something you don’t get when you discount your services. If you discount the job down to $1,000, it will be valued by the client at $1,000.

The only two prices that acknowledge full value are full price and free.

Even if a pro-bono project is free to the client, they’re seeing the full value and paying taxes on it, so they know what it’s worth.

The only way you’re able to do pro-bono work to build up your portfolio is because you already have your bills covered with a day job.

This is a process I call overlapping, and I’ve written an entire book on it call Overlap.

But for the short version, watch this video:

Build Up a Body of Work

You’ve not only got your personal projects, but excellent case studies that demonstrate your expertise.

The idea is to build up a body of work that speaks for itself.

People are going to hire you based on your track record. Get some work up and show people what you can do. This makes all the difference in the world, because you now have a body of work that attracts clients to you as opposed to you chasing clients.

When Do You Know You’re Ready?

You’re ready when you have people asking to pay you.

Yes, you can go chase them and beg for money but you’re going to get cheap jobs with horrible clients. Those will never lead to quality work or a sustainable income.

Build up a body of work with personal projects, and do pro-bono projects.

Do not discount your rate.

If you discount your rate, you devalue yourself.

The only two prices that acknowledge full value are:

  1. Full Price
  2. Free

Don’t discount, do pro-bono work to get practice with a professional process that simultaneously gives you a great case study to put on your website.

This way you attract clients to you instead of chasing them.

Up Next: Ready for the Second Way to Make Money?

Now, obviously there are so many more specifics we could get into when it comes to clients (pricing, contracts, questionnaire forms, licensing, and more), but I’m going to save those for later. I don’t want to get too far off track.

I promised you we’d take a look at three different methods for making money with hand lettering and creating multiple income streams.

On the next page, I’ll show you what it takes to build a products business.

We’re going to talk about the long term strategy of using loss leaders to get life-long customers, and where the REAL profit is when it comes to hand lettering products.