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We dedicate a show to answering a listener question on using The One Concept Approach in a subjective field like illustration. We talk about how to reposition the project’s value conversation and how to develop a unique style.

We all want the same two things: to do our best work and to have our client accept it. I explain how to make both a reality.

Show Notes
  • 02:21 This show is dedicated to a piece of feedback:
  • My name is Dave. I’m a long-time listener and continue to love the show. I’ve rewritten this message a couple of times but hopefully this version isn’t too long and communicates what I’m trying to say.

    The field I want to get into is illustration and from what I’ve heard and read the field is too subjective for ideas like the One Concept Approach and Value Based Pricing to really work, and yet the client-artist relationship problems still seem to exist.

    I currently work as a software developer which I don’t like but also don’t hate, and produce and read about art in most every free hour I have. Because of this job I don’t need to look for client work, and given the stories I’ve heard I’m not sure it is even something that would benefit me.

    However, I would still like to find a way to make illustration my career, and there are some amazing high-end companies I would like to work for (but aren’t the kind to hire entry level artists). I’ve been leaning towards the idea of making products (prints, comics, t-shirts, etc.) and not looking for client work at all. In the event that I’m approached by some company I can always rethink it then.

    I thought Sean would have some insight into this as he has sold products, done client work and even supported himself from work in the tech industry.

    • Would I be missing something if I wasn’t preparing work specifically to attract people to hire me?
    • Is it only possible to get the high-end clients by doing work for clients you’re NOT crazy about?
    • Is this the whole point you were making by not giving tips for how to approach clients?
    • Am I completely off-base about the One-Concept Approach and Value-Based Pricing not applying to more subjective fields like illustration?
    • Am I an insane person for asking two designers all these questions about a completely different field?
  • 04:56 Can The One Concept Approach Apply to Subjective Fields?
  • 05:43 Let’s first establish that illustration is subjective. There’s no question about that. It’s something that is very stylistic and interpretive.
  • 05:58 The first of two approaches:
  • 06:07 The Technician Approach
  • 06:14 The technician approach says this:
  • “I create one or many interpretations of the project, and if you don’t like them, I will change them until you’re happy.”

  • 07:30 The value that this approach is centered around is the client’s happiness.
  • 08:11 Art is very subjective and it’s going to take a lot of changes and alterations to make any one person happy and to fully satisfy their subjective preferences.
  • 08:22 The only way to circumvent the problems we’re talking about is to refocus the entire relationship. The center of value has to be positioned elsewhere other than on the client’s happiness. This is where the alternative comes in:
  • 08:44 The One Concept Approach
  • 08:52 The One Concept Approach in this context says:

    “I create my best interpretation of the project, and what I make is what you’re getting when you hire me.”

  • 09:04 “Well gosh, Sean, of course that sounds amazing to be able to do that, but what client is going to agree to that?”
  • 09:35 Rarely does anyone ever disagree that this kind of situation would be ideal—of course it would be great! But what do we all want?
  • 09:49 What we all want boils down to two things:
    1. I want to do my best work.
    2. I want my client to accept my best work.
  • 10:13 Do you realize how simple that is? Do you see how everything boils down to those two things? How can we make both of those a reality?
  • 10:59 “The process is the magic and you don’t change the magic if you want the kind of results you see in my portfolio.” You say:
  • “Hello, Mr. Client. Thank you for your interest in my work. I’m very glad to hear that you appreciate the quality and attention to detail in all of my projects. I would love to work with you to bring this kind of quality to your business and your project. Here’s how this will work.

  • 11:19 This is the point that you begin to go over your process with the potential client. You explain how everything works, what involvement they have or will not have, what you deliver, and who gets what when. Every single detail of the process.
  • 11:38 The process is the magic (Related: e024 Finding Clients While Maintaining Professionalism).
  • 14:39 Here’s the value difference with this approach: The value is that the client has the opportunity to work with you and get your unique style applied to their project.
  • 15:44 But back to the question of “What client is gonna go with this?”
  • 15:49 The answer is the client who wants your work. They have to go through your process to get your work. Your process focuses the value on the results of your work.
  • 16:04 What is the underlying implication?
  • 16:29 Be so good that owning work from you means something.
  • 16:37 How do you do this? You have to want it more than everyone else:
    • Create a TON of work.
    • I talk about building up a portfolio—I say think of an adequate number of portfolio items in your head. Now DOUBLE it, and you’re getting close.
    • Through this process, you are creating incessantly. Every day, you are making something new. You are finding excuses to make things. Self-initiated projects, pro-bono clients, whatever it is. You need to be making something every day.
    • Through this process, you will begin to develop a style.
  • 18:38 Don’t focus on the style when you are beginning. I mean for years, don’t focus on it. You just create. Keep making things. What you’re going to find is that the style will come. The style is something you will settle into without even knowing it. You’re going to discover certain stylistic preferences that suit you and you will begin to wield them in a way that is unique and recognizable. But don’t start trying to find that, just let it happen.
  • 19:22 Your style cannot be fabricated. It’s not something you can fake. Stop trying to make a style. Stop trying to adopt someone else’s style. Stop trying to shortcut it. Here’s how you make a style: do a crap ton of work. Hundreds of pieces. This is not for the faint at heart. Yeah, it’s going to take a long time. But that’s what I mean when I say you have to want it more than everyone else.
  • 20:22 I already feel like I want to go double the portfolio I have right now. Though, I did feel better when just this morning, I got an email from a girl who said she was on my site for 3 hours. 3 hours! Ask yourself, do you have so much work that if someone comes across your website and enjoys what they see that you would have enough for them to spend 3 hours going through it?
  • 21:35 It’s not about working for some big-name client. It’s about doing your best work, and having your client accept your best work. And the way you do that is set the expectations and adhere to your time-tested process. Every time without exception.
  • 21:55 You only want those big-name clients if they are going to come under your process.
  • 25:01 If you have a day job that you don’t hate, you are an ideal candidate for The Overlap Technique. But you’re going to have to invest in the long game to make this work.
  • 25:27 Here’s what I would do. Spend anywhere from 2 to 6 hours outside your day job illustrating. I’m going go ahead and say no reading about art. If you want to read, you can do it on other time, but not during this dedicated window. This dedicated window is for creating. It’s for producing. You’re only going to get better by doing, not by reading. Right now, reading is standing in the way of you making more. So set it aside, or read another time.
  • 26:22 If you could spend 6 hours a day for 6 months, you’re going to be astonished at the progress you make. I mean really astonished. But can you do it? Can you dedicate 6 hours a day? “That’s a lot,” you might say. Yeah, it’s a lot. Do you really want it? If you think you can’t do it, ask why. Take a look at your priorities. Be honest about what’s really important to you.
  • 27:04 The joy will come from this blossoming out of passion. Make illustrations for the love of it. Don’t worry about clients, don’t worry about money. Make so much art, and make it with so much quality and attention to detail and character that people start asking for your art on products. That is when you start making products.
  • 27:29 Wait until they come to you. Wait until potential customers beg you to make products and wait until potential clients ask you to work with them. Let your work do the talking.
  • 29:22 Don’t get caught up on the “6 hours/day” figure. Don’t focus on the number, focus on what you’re not doing to make something more important possible. Are you:
    • Are you browsing Reddit?
    • Watching Netflix?
    • Playing video games?
    • Distracted by your iPhone?
    • Going to parties?
  • Conclusion
  • 37:41 If I leave you with one thing it’s this: You can create your own business model. You don’t have to do things a certain way because everyone else is doing it, or because it’s “industry standard,” or because such-and-such company says it’s their “policy”. No—you can work however you want to, you can charge what you want, you can set the process how you want, you can require payment when you want, and you can deliver one concept if you want. You are the professional, you set the precedent. You create the expectations. Put in the effort and hard work to get good at what you do, demand appropriate compensation and stand by your guns.