Fancy sharpeners, pencil tops, ink erasers and mechanical pencils; 90s stationery for Indian kids brings a wave of nostalgia and instant recognition. The connection between geometry boxes or crayons and Camel or pencils and Natraj is undeniable and showcases the power of brand associations. Imagine all of the fun of stationery products but for everyone with added creativity, pazzazz and relatability. Building a brand that becomes synonymous with its very sector or industry is the ultimate test of success.
Alicia Souza has proved that the novelty and uniqueness that creativity brings can do much better than a typical marketing campaign for a brand. In conversation with TC46, she talks about pushing yourself out of the comfort zone, making the internet work for you and how to build a brand with what you can afford and then climb the ladder of success.
1. What’s your educational & professional background? Did you always want to be an illustrator?
I studied Communication Design, which is essentially graphic design in a way. However, I didn’t want to be an illustrator till my final year of uni, which is when I realised that I absolutely love drawing. Just when I just finished university and had a portfolio review day, I got my first illustration freelance job. I loved it so much! I just loved doing it! That’s when I told myself that if I was going to be in the Arts field, I was going to be an illustrator or do something completely different. I don’t have training in illustrating, but I do have a design background as my Bachelor’s was in Communication Design.
2. What prompted the idea for your page?
When I moved to India and started freelancing as a full-time illustrator, I didn’t have a portfolio that I could show people. I had to start freelancing and make it work. I figured Facebook (social media) was the easiest way to showcase work at that time.
For instance, a portfolio would need to have finished projects, extremely rendered from start to finish. Whereas, on Facebook, you can just put a small drawing and people understand the kind of work you do. That’s the reason I started my Facebook page. I do, and did, a lot of these little drawings as during that time I didn’t have a bunch of clients to have a full-fledged, amazing portfolio or anything like that. That’s why I started my Facebook page. And then, it just grew from there,
Then when Instagram came around; I was late to the party. I joined Instagram because of Facebook. Initially, I thought I’d hate Instagram, but I love it way more.
3. What was your first milestone & how did you get there?
I’m not sure! I always think every section of my career had a different milestone. But I think the one thing that brought me the most joy was realising I could make it. I think a year after I started freelancing, I realised I was always busy with a project. They always came back to back in a way and I could pay my bills. That was big for me as I’ve been paying my own bills since I left school. It was really important for me at that time as I was struggling when I just became a freelancer. When I realised that everything kind of worked out, that was a big, big deal for me.
I don’t recall not working all the time. At least, not drawing all the time. I did a lot of things to get out of my comfort zone really quickly. That was uncomfortable! For example, talking to clients, meeting people, talking about quotes and money. I think, artists, in general, are not too comfortable doing it, at least initially.
5. How long did it take you to monetise your talent? What was the turning point?
My first project was a paid one though I never sent out the invoice because I was stunned that someone would pay me to draw and was awkward to ask for money. But when I started solely freelancing as an illustrator, I think it took me about a year, if I recall right, when I realised that the wheels were turning, and everything was kind of going smoothly. I did not feel overly worried because projects were coming in, and I was scheduled for the next few months. Also, that’s when I realised it was handled.
There was not just one turning point. It was more of one realisation after another. From making a lot of cold calls, doing a lot of these drawings online, meeting people, talking to companies, to making people aware that I’m a freelancer. All of this was about a year after I started freelancing, which would be about 2012 or 2013.
6. So what kind of marketing strategies work best for you?
I have zero marketing strategies! My only marketing strategy is to do and show. That’s it, I have nothing else. One thing, because illustration style is real quick, I try and make sure to do an illustration a day and post-daily.
7. What are your tips for an illustrator who is hoping to build their personal brand and get work opportunities to monetise their work?
To build your personal brand, for any illustrator who is starting out, you just kind of have to start putting yourself out there. That does not mean selling yourself short by any means. If you’re using social media, you don’t have to post every day but be consistent in showing what you do. I think what helps online is, it’s easier to show people there’s a person behind the work. That means you can talk about the process, you can show work in progress, and so on. I think that is what, at least, social media is amazing for – being able to tell a story really quickly.
For work opportunities, I think now, it’s also really easy to get in touch with brands. Now, things are a little more reachable in terms of being able to get in touch. Making the internet work for you is a bit of a blessing of the day.
About other tips, first, is just be diligent with your work. Working really hard and not treating it as a hobby. Because if you want to want it to be work, it has to be. This is something that I tell students and people who are just starting out at the time, you want to treat it as a job; even though it’s a job you absolutely love. Because you can leave a hobby halfway and nothing is going to happen, but with work you can’t. I think that’s my biggest tip; just be diligent.
8. What suggestions would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start an online business or wants to shift their offline work online?
What worked for me when stating online was starting small. I think now we have the joy of technology, where we can manufacture things super easy, at least small things.
As an entrepreneur, you mostly need to have some sort of online presence. I started my store on Shopify and the process was fairly simple. Shopify has been a platform that we have been using to retail our products even before the lockdown. Shopify as a platform has always been really easy to use, the backend is really fluid, the templates are really neat and this is a platform I recommend to all who wish to start their business online.
If you’re an artist, starting out small and working out numbers, you have to number crunch a bit, which is very useful. However, one thing I always tell artists is that the business part of it is very different from the art part. The minute you get into the business part, and if it is overtaking your art part, the drawing, you’re in a completely different line. And that is fine if that’s what you want, but be aware If you started out to draw and you’re packing order after a while, try to figure out how much you have to make so that you can get someone else to do it for you. Here’s where the money, number-crunching thing comes in.
So, figuring out both sides of the business – the art side and the business side, and realising there are two completely different sections.
9. Which networking groups or events have helped you generate collaboration opportunities?
I don’t think I’m part of any networking groups. When I just started though, I used to scout events that would work for me and attend many of them. Initially, I used to go to the event at a flea market; really worked for me. Then that was one of the very few flea markets, which is still there, was big and happening. It is quite nice. Then I stopped doing events as much only because the time doesn’t work for me. I haven’t done too many events, but they are the ones that I tend to do. I like Comic-Con, I attended it a few times and that is really nice. I get to meet artists and people who follow my work, and that’s nice.
10. Are there any online or offline courses you recommend for growth and career enhancement in this line of work?
I definitely don’t have any recommendation because there are l so many. I think you just pick what works for you. All of these, most of these, have online trials. There’s your MasterClass, Skillshare, YouTube, which is free. There are books too, I don’t believe in recommending these things as much since it kind of depends where you are and what you’re looking to learn or explore. Also, what works for you. Someone’s Guru is someone else’s well, not guru.
When I started out, I read a bunch of books a few. Whereas my partner who handles the business reads only business books. Try and always improve your skills, especially when you’re just starting out. It’s a lot of effort, but it always proves useful in the end.
Do any course. Even if you have to do YouTube tutorials, just do any of them. Just make sure your skills grow.
11. What are some investments, monetary or otherwise, one should be ready to make when entering this space.
Always have savings. I cannot stress this enough! This is a rule of thumb of life for everyone. I’m amazed by how many people don’t have a savings account. And then learn to invest.
I don’t believe you need to have the most amazing computer or tools when you’re just starting out; they’ll always be a cheaper option. You should work within your budget. Start with what you can afford and grow from there. That’s it!
12. Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming venture, Auntie Alie?
I’ve always always wanted to do kids products, so Auntie Alie was something that I wanted to do for ages. I just never had the time to do it. Then I got pregnant and realised that it is now or never, so we launched Auntie Alie. Sadly, the whole pandemic happened and it got half of what we wanted to come out with as we had a problem with production because all the factories closed down. However, we just launched a few months ago and it’s been a joyride
I mean, there are a billion things I want to launch on the platform at this point. Most of it started off when my nephew was born, which is why it’s called Auntie Alie. Since I couldn’t find products that I thought were fun and also nice to give I’m looking to launch many more products too. It’s quite exciting to grow a brand.
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