BLOG*May 10, 2011


Ilise Benun has been a champion of promotion and sound business practices for creative professionals since 1988. Her website and blog at Marketing Mentor, offers insightful commentary on the freelance world. She has written seven books including, “The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing”, “Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive”, “The Art of Self Promotion” “Self-Promotion Online” and “Designing Web Sites for Every Audience”.

Her new book, The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money is a straight up look at how we think about, talk about, and manage money.

Ilise conducts workshops, and lectures around the country. She has been self-employed for all but 3 years of her working life! I have met Ilise on a few occasions and I can tell you she knows her stuff. Today we interview a master of promotion.

Greg: How do you define success? Please share one of your favorite success stories as a mentor.

Ilise- I think success is defined by freedom and responsibility. The freedom and responsibility to do the work I want to do with the people I want to do it with, when I want to do it. And in a way that has a positive impact on other people.

One of my favorite success stories is Jennifer Neal from K9 Design Co. Thanks in great part to very targeted and consistent marketing, her firm’s revenue was up 30% in the middle of a recession after choosing a very narrow target market (magazine publishing in Canada) that was supposedly dying. I feel proud to have been instrumental in the 3-year process that led toward that growth.

G: I love hearing success stories. You offer consulting services and have written many books yourself and in collaboration with others. I emphasize to my students the importance of creating alignments with like minded individuals. What have been some of your favorite collaborations?

I: I have benefited from long term collaborations over the years, whether it’s been one individual or many at a company. My favorite collaborations have been those with HOW Magazine and F&W Media –and all the people who work for them and with whom I interact, especially in producing the Creative Freelancer Conference. I was lucky enough to find one of these collaborators very early on in my career, Bryn Mooth. This relationship has continued for more than 15 years and has grown into so many satisfying projects. I’d say when looking for collaborative relationships, look for people who are smart, who will challenge you, and who will complement what you have to offer.

G: Now our relationship to money can be a challenging one. One of the thing that struck me most about reading, The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money was how money has such an intimidating power over people.

I: There is an important shift in mindset that needs to happen so that money isn’t so overwhelming and fear-inducing. Especially for creatives, it’s easy to take money personally since the work we do can be so personal to us. But a successful relationship with money has to do with seeing yourself as a business … and seeing money a part of doing business.

Here’s a short excerpt from The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money on that topic:

See Yourself as a Business.

Many creative professionals hang out their shingles or open their doors for business, then proceed to wait and hope: hoping clients will find them, hoping they’ll get enough work, hoping the client will pay the bill, hoping the checks add up at the end of the month so all the bills get paid. If you think about it, it’s a very passive position, taking what comes along instead of deciding what you want and pursuing it.

There is an alternative, and it is within your reach. You can replace the passive mind-set with planning and action. The first step is to re-envision yourself as a business. But what exactly does that mean?

At the core, it’s a shift in the way you see yourself, a small shift that can affect every little detail about how you do your work and especially how far you go.

Be Objective About Your Work

Taking your business seriously also means being as objective as possible. But as a creative, your work is more than a “job.”

You are probably emotionally attached to the work you do. You may even pour your heart and soul into it.

This can present a problem. According to Jon Weiman, designer and adjunct professor at Pratt Institute, “Creative professionals have trouble because they tie their ego and self-worth to the work in a way that is not businesslike. It becomes too personal.”

G: Much of your emphasis is on promotion and managing your business. I recommend my students read the book you wrote with Peleg Top, “The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing.” It has some great information on writing a business plan which I also recommend they do.

I: Everybody needs a business plan, whether they’re independent or an employed artist. A business plan is simply a clear idea of where you are going and what you’re trying to achieve in your work. Business plans can be intimidating the image is of a thick document, but it could just be 3 sentences or even a mind map of where you’re going. Without it, you won’t get there.

G: I love the mind map concept. I have been talking about the electronic book for many years. Now the iPad it really is putting pressure on the ancient technology of paper books. What are you doing to make the paper book less obsolete for your editions?

I: I think information should be delivered in the way that people want to receive it. Whether tangible or electronic, my 7 books are my best marketing tools. So while I do earn royalties, it’s not something I do for the money. As for how I promote the books, that’s a whole other interview but here’s the short list: blog posts, articles, speaking engagements, podcasts, webinars, social media and email marketing.

G: The online world is vitally important for an artist’s visibility. A website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter are the norm now. The technology is always changing. What do you see as the next big online promotional vehicle?

I: I see video becoming even more popular and being further disseminated through and integrated into all of these channels.

G: I believe it is going that way too. What is the smartest promotion artists can utilize today?

I: Relationships. The smartest promotion happens by focusing on the people, not the work. The focus has to move from the self to the market so that you can give the market what it wants. You get that information through the relationships you develop with the people in the marketplace.

G: Most art colleges focus on teaching conceptual and technical image making skill sets with an eye on preparing artists for the publishing, gallery, and entertainment industries. Have you seen alternatives to these corporate models?

I: A few forward looking schools are starting to commit resources to teaching students about the business side of art—and I think it’s about time. (I’ve been giving talks called, “Do You Have What it Takes to Be Self Employed?) at these schools, and I’ve really enjoyed being part of this preparation.) Many artists are jumping right into their own business after graduation or having one or two jobs while freelancing on the side, and I see that growing. There will be fewer jobs available for artists, so they have to know the business side.

Marketing Mentor Blog

G: Art is like fashion, it changes and morphs throughout the years. Any suggestions for an artist’s sustainability?

I: Evolution. Changing with the market. I do think that the artists who succeed are the ones who stay in touch with the market (the world, the industry, the place where the money comes from) and evolve instead of hiding out in their studios and producing work. Keeping your finger on the pulse of how the world, technology, and the marketplace is changing and adapting accordingly, is the key to sustainability.

G: I like that– an evolving balance. You balance business and a family. What is the biggest challenge with that?

I: Learning to say no to the things that don’t align with my business plan.

G: Lastly, please offer some pearls of wisdom for artists and creative souls everywhere.

I: Don’t take things personally. When people don’t separate themselves from the business, it can get in the way of the marketing.

Yes! Keep it in perspective my friends!

Thank you tremendously for your time and expertise, Ilise. You can learn more by visiting her at Marketing Mentor, sign up for her Quick Tips Newsletter (I have been getting to for years), and lastly garner more confidence in your financial affairs by picking up her new book, “The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money.

To your empowerment and prosperity,