3 Alternative Careers for Graphic Designers

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This post contains affiliate links.

A typical graphic design career usually looks something like this:

  • go to school, graduate with a BFA and work for a big company making the crappy graphics they require that use about a 10th of your skillset and none of your vision
  • discover your love of graphic design! You're self-taught, but lacking confidence. You take on bargain-hunting clients who constantly "hate" your work and demand a refund. Why did you get into this to begin with?
  • you are really good at what you do and feel pretty confident about the work product you put out. But geez clients, you can't expect me to work so fast for so little! No one seems to want to spend more and they all want things done yesterday #StressCity

*wheels screeching* Let's bring this cray cray train to a stop and look at three alternative careers graphic designers can take, sans ungrateful, cheap clients or a big box company that zaps all your creative juices.

1. Vector/Clip Art Designer

My friend and I were joking last week that no one calls it clip art anymore. Vectors, graphics, clip art- whatever you call it, it's making people BANK aka money.

Clip art is necessary for anyone with a blog, Facebook group, ads or 

My favorite place to buy clip art is Creative Market since it's so easy to search and find what I'm looking for in tons of different styles + price points. 

It may sound silly, selling $2-15 products, but these add up over time. Just look at this graphic designer who I've been buying from for years-- she's made over a million dollars, selling clip art!

2. Font Designer

Similar to #1, above, is designing fonts. Obviously there's an advantage if you're already a calligrapher (click here to get my Get Calligraphy Clients guide for free!), but anyone can design a font.

Creative Market and Etsy make for ideal places to start selling, but so is DaFont, FontShop and Adobe TypeKit.

3. Surface Pattern Designer

Surface pattern design is a new one and I wish more people would consider it. You design beautiful patterns that can be printed on mugs, notebooks and more. After designing them once, companies in all different industries will want to license your designs. AKA do all the work to sell your stuff.

 

One example of this is my friend Bonnie Christine.


I remember when I met Bonnie-- a famous surface pattern designer. This petite, soft spoken gal with the prettiest curly hair totally rocked my world when I learned what a unicorn she is. 

She lives in the middle of a forest in a custom built home with the most beautiful light. When she wants to, she sews by hand her children's clothes out of her own 
fabrics in a home that's been featured on major design blogs. Her husband keeps the family active, exploring trout ponds and deer tracks on near-daily hikes.

If you prefer...

...quiet cups of warm beverages in the morning

...afternoons spent in the sunshine, on a leisurely hike (or Antrho stroll, let's be real)...working when you want, without work disrupting your family time

to...
...trying to find the magic Instagram formula once again
...putting content out there for?? you don't even know anymore
...wheels constantly spinning with never enough time or focus to move,
 

then you've got to try Bonnie's one weird trick I've been using since 2014!

It's controversial to tell you this, but I don't wake up loving life every day. I use this one trick to turn things around when I'm not very motivated. And the trick that Bonnie taught me is:

During seasons like this one when I feel unmotivated and sloooooow to start every morning, it's easy to get overwhelmed. That's when I remember I only have to do ONE thing every day that moves the needle just a leeeeeetle tiny bit.

And personally, my favorite thing to do during these slow, cold months is to invest in a solid online course that I look forward to knocking out day-by-day. While it won't be right for everyone, Bonnie is offering a Surface Pattern Design Immersion course that is perfect for those need-more-sugar-at-3-in-the-afternoon kind of days.

Pssst- I will get a commission if you choose to buy her course through any of my links in here. Jump down to my "P.S." section at the bottom to see why this is actually a great thing for you! (Hint: lotsa' bonuses)


learn about alternative careers for graphic designers
What the heck is Surface Pattern Design?

You know that cute repeating design on your thermos, pencil case, notebook cover or makeup bag? Those are all surface pattern designs. Bonnie's book cover is actually one of her fabrics here:
Who is this for?


This is an ideal fit for anyone who:

  • designs their own graphics for their blog, opt-ins, freebies, Facebook promos and more but wants to stand out more
  • is a current or aspiring graphic designer
  • wants to get into licensing clip art, vectors or surface patterns to big wig companies like Target and Anthro
  • doesn't even know what Adobe Illustrator is
  • doesn't feel confident working in Adobe Illustrator
  • wants to add digital products to their revenue streams-- you can sell clip art and vectors on Creative Market, Etsy and more
  • is looking for a creative outlet but doesn't want to deal with the mess of real-life painting, drawing or calligraphy

Bonnie will be fully accessible and active in the private student portal, answering questions, providing feedback and sharing ideas and inspiration along the way.

Here’s what you’ll learn during these 8 weeks:

  • Learn Adobe Illustrator like a boss
  • Create repeating patterns that make your friends swoon
  • Learn about how to create collections, and how this saves you time
  • Create a portfolio that people actually give an eff about
  • Choose an industry so your career can skyrocket from the start
  • Make the connections you need, even if you're introverted like me
  • Find your signature style!!! Wouldn't it be great to stand out with your work for once instead of fighting over all the noise?
  • Contracts, licenses and copyrights, oh my! Yours truly will drop the 411
  • The insider industry resources Bonnie herself took YEARS to discover (<< and yes, she really does give it all away)
  • Confidence as a designer, even if you're starting from scratch (Bonnie is actually pretty new to this field and didn't go to school for graphic design!!)
  • How to publish your ‘complete package’ and have fabric, notebook, rug and tote bag companies emailing you on the reg
  • How to stay motivated & inspired, even when the cat's puking, it's 4 degrees and your coffee is cold (bleh!)

P.S. Bonnie has over 50,000 students combined from her past courses that have some of the highest ratings and reviews-- this is why I proudly support her as an affiliate. 


And, if you buy through this link, you'll receive these additional bonuses, worth over $5300, which pays for the course 5x over:

  • Three monthly group Q+A call with me for added support + accountability from March-May ($500 value)
  • $100 credit to The Contract Shop® ($100 value)
  • The Winning Creative's Way e-course that teaches you how to price your work + profit when it gets stolen ($997 value)
  • A private slack channel with weekly connection prompts during the course to connect on a smaller scale with your peers, aka an introvert's dream! ($500 value)
  • My Perfect Client Funnel with email templates, not sold online but only given to my high-end consulting clients! ($3100 value)

The Step Everyone Forgets When They Start a Business

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When we start a new business or pursuit, it’s so easy to get caught up in the CYA stuff- the LLC, the registrations, the domain names, the business cards… the list goes on and on.

But there’s another step that’s vital to a successful business that I’ve done a horrible job at pointing out so far, and I plan on remedying that in any future materials... giving back to a community or charitable organization.

If you’re anything like me, you see those ads on TV with the Santa man asking you to sponsor a child in need. For just 7 cents a day Betsy could have new shoes or whatever. And you just kind of feel bad and try to move on quickly or change the channel. (Hey, I never said I was a saint.)

But a couple of years ago, something changed.

I was in a busy metropolis exploring and I kept bumping into these ANNOYING as heck college kids who were asking me if I had a moment (“uh, NO”).

Finally, and I’ll never forget her, Maggie stopped me and for whatever reason was a lot more approachable than the other ones. Tired and feeling like a jerkface, I stopped and we chatted. I told her I was really in the poorhouse, having quit a legal job to teach private yoga, and I hadn’t figured out this whole business thing yet.

She said she understood and gave me some information about the charity she was advocating for. I told her I needed to go home and check things out, because I heard most charities just dump a bunch of money on administrative garbage and the benefactors get nothing.

She said she understood, told me a bunch of stories about the ministry work she’d done with the charity, and I ended up signing up to sponsor a kid right then and there. (I did go back to check it out online and it was legit.)

I want to introduce you to the Gabriel, the little boy who I've been sponsoring since 2014ish. 

Gabriel is an 11 year old boy who lives with his mother in Ecuador. Children’s International purposely keeps details basic and a little ambiguous, I’m assuming to keep weirdos from doing their weirdo things, but I do know that Gabriel’s mother is a housekeeper and his father was killed at work when Gabriel was about 5 or 6.

I don’t know if there are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ kids to sponsor. but I think I got a pretty good one. I was randomly matched with Gabriel (I asked for the least likely child to be sponsored) but you can go on the website and choose which child you’d like to sponsor. That’s kind of cool, but it also kind of reminds me of picking out puppies, and I’m not sure how I feel about treating children like puppies. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Meet Gabriel

Gabriel, from 2015, 2013, 2010, 2009 and then all the way back to 2008 (left to right). Gabriel is sponsored by Christina Scalera LLC.
Gabriel, from 2015, 2013, 2010, 2009 and then all the way back to 2008 (left to right). Gabriel is sponsored by Christina Scalera LLC.

Anyway, Gabriel and I write each other letters twice a year and it’s been fun to practice my Spanish, even if I don’t really care what his favorite color is and he talks about recess in every single letter.

He seems to really love his mom though, and that’s much more fun to hear about than recess for the 50th time. I love hearing about how his interests are changing as he gets older (this is two going on three years of knowing him now). It’s fun to see his pictures, as Children’s International has been working in his community since he was three and they have pictures of him from way back then.

I honestly don’t know about any of the tax breaks I could or will be getting for donating to charity because I don’t really care. I’m not sure my $32 a month is going to even make a big difference on my tax bill.

However, sponsoring Gabriel, and soon another little boy have really invigorated my business (nothing against girls, but they tend to get gobbled up much faster than boys! I like to go for the overlooked little ‘uns).

It might seem a little weird, why would spending money I don’t have to invigorate my business? Well, for a few reasons:

1. It gives my work a greater sense of purpose.

Each month, I know that a portion of the money I’ve worked hard to earn can go a lot further in my sponsored childrens’ home countries. I’m not just working for myself, I’m working for them, too.

2. It drives me to hit my revenue goals.

It’s seriously so heartbreaking to see all the children in need in this world. Unlike us, they were born in situations where the opportunities we take for granted (college, the internet, fresh food) will never be norm for them. I want to sponsor every kid, but realistically, that can’t happen, so at least knowing that if I make X amount, I can sponsor one more kid, I can push myself harder to make that much more money.

3. It makes me feel like the work I do matters even more.

Let’s face it, the world isn’t going to end if your trademark is filed this month or next. But, the world will end for one child if he doesn’t have enough food or his clothes aren’t warm enough for winter.

Whatever the charity is you choose to support, it will make the success of your business that much more important. If you can’t keep your lights on, you can’t send money to others in need, and that’s going to have a much more serious consequence than your failure to send that email, or book that one client or register your trademark this week instead of last week.

4. It can create a sense of community with my clients/customers.

Or at least I’m hoping for it to. I haven’t been very vocal about the fact that I do this, but I’d like my clients and customers to know that this isn’t just a job, this isn’t just a company… they’re not just buying a service. They’re buying a whole experience and part of that experience includes giving back to others.

5. It’s what I can do.

Jenna Kutcher makes time to travel to help in person. That’s amazing. But for me, right now, that’s not something I’m able to do (but soon!!). However, my two businesses are making money, and I can portion off a certain amount of money they make to these two little boys. Like anything else in business, you don’t have to do the BEST JOB EVER on everything. You just have to do what you can do.

Meet Jaime

From top left clockwise: jaime from 3-6 years old. jaime is Sponsored by the christina scalera law group llc
From top left clockwise: jaime from 3-6 years old. jaime is Sponsored by the christina scalera law group llc

When I started the first edition of The Contract Shop two years ago, I decided to sponsor another child and was paired with Jaime. No one had picked him up after being on a waiting list for nearly 6 months How cute is he?! He lives with his mother, father and sister in Guatemala.

One day, I hope to be able to travel to South America and see these two little guys in person and give them a big hug. Until then, a very small portion of the revenue my companies make each month goes to both Gabriel and Jaime.

Thank you all for giving me enough work that can in turn support these two little boys.

Tell me what you think—will you consider giving back in your business? Do you do so already?

How to Delegate as a Small Business Owner

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Have you ever heard the story about the guy who traded his way up from a red paper clip to an actual house on Hawaii in the span of one year?

Back in 2005 (I’m sooo dating myself here because I just cannot fathom that this went viral over a decade ago), a Canadian blogger named Kyle MacDonald negotiated his way from a single paper clip to a house in only 14 online trades, including a snowmobile and a box truck.

You can read all about it over on One Red Paperclip if you’re curious, but the reason this story came to mind today is because I was thinking about how starting a business is a lot like that paper clip.

It takes a lot of small wins over time to get to the next level. Instead of dealing with paper clips, you trade up by finding your first client, securing your second client, increasing your pricing, collaborating on joint venture webinars, and—this one’s a big one—outsourcing pieces of your business.

When Kyle made that jump from a box truck to a recording contract, it was much like the burst in momentum you’ll make when you hire your first employee and slowly grow it into a team. But a team by itself doesn’t propel your business forward, it requires a leader who knows how and when to delegate.

Out of all the skills you could have as a business owner, delegation is arguably the most important.

Imagine your business as a balloon. You can only blow it up so big before there is no more capacity for growth. Then, you’re going to need another balloon. You can’t do everything alone in your business, so the more successful you are at delegating, the more you can grow your business into something extraordinary.

Delegating doesn’t always come naturally though... it’s hard to let go of control of your baby… especially when you have a very clear vision of what needs to be done.

Personally, I suck at asking for help until I’m literally drowning. (Just ask me about the time I was on a ski lift trying to take a few hours off and literally crying over Slack begging a teammate to take the crushing weight of all these emails off my plate.)

IMA LET YOU FINISH, BUTIF YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT HIRING YOU NEED TO READ THIS BLOG POST TOO... SO POP IT OPEN IN A NEW TAB AND READ IT NEXT!!

Delegating takes practice, just like any other skill, and the good news is that even if you’re painfully possessive of your work or incredibly uncomfortable asking for help, you can master delegation in a way that works for you. (And believe me, you will be so glad when you do.)

5 tips for successfully delegating as a business owner:

1. Plan ahead.

Finding and hiring the right fit may take some time, so start looking before you’re ready to hire. You’ll have a much better idea of who’s out there, what their skills are, and what you can expect to pay when you’re doing it from a place of stability and not when you’re on the verge of a breakdown (see above—luckily I had Katie waiting in the wings!).

When you do find someone who resonates with you, set up an interview and be sure to ask the right questions to make sure it’s a good fit (for both of you!).

>> PROTECT YOUR BIZ WITH AN AIR-TIGHT NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT <<

2. Get yourself organized.

If you don’t, you’ll be answering a LOT of questions in the beginning. You want this person’s time to be spent doing the actual work rather than trying to sort through your disorganized task list.

You should expect that there will be questions at the beginning, but if you get your act together ahead of time, you can avoid a lot of stress and rework. After all, if you’re hiring someone to help free up your time, and they are requiring a lot of your time, it kind of defeats the purpose of hiring someone!

You should know exactly what (and how much) you’re delegating and be able clearly communicate the tasks and your expectations before hiring someone.

3. Remember that you will need to devote time in the beginning to train.

Some people think, “Hooray, I’ve hired help!” and throw everything at the person.

Um, newsflash, that’s not going to be a success for your biz and likely won’t make anyone eager to help or work with you.

Instead, take the time to explain your expectations and the job at hand. Give feedback consistently in the beginning to help them improve; it’s so much easier for the person to course-correct now rather than months down the line when they’ve fallen into a rhythm of doing things in a certain way.

4. Get out of your own way.

If you find that your new person isn’t doing things the way you like, the last thing you want to do is take the work back and do it yourself.

First, ask yourself if you’re actually unhappy with the work or if you would rather it done your way. Sometimes, it’s really a matter of letting go of control. If you are really dissatisfied, you need to give the person a chance to right the ship.

This means providing honest feedback as well as being patient to see if the person can put it into action. If it seems like he or she is totally lost, working through it together could be a good option, as long as you’re taking the backseat and encouraging the person to come up with solutions.

5. Give autonomy.

Think back to what attracted you to owning your own business and why you didn’t want to be stuck at a corporate job reporting to someone else. I’m going to guess there’s some element of wanting to be self-directed and the captain of your own ship.

If you’re hiring a contractor or consultant, remember that he or she is also a business owner and likely felt the same way. Even if you’re hiring an actual employee, it’s still a good idea to promote self-management and autonomy with your team.

This not only means avoiding the dreaded micromanagement, but also giving them a sense of having a stake in your business:

  • Share your successes, and thank them for their part.
  • Reward them as much as possible, if you can.
  • Ask for their opinions to show you value their expertise and give them a part in the decision-making process.
  • Welcome and encourage their suggestions and feedback.

Bottom line: be the boss (or client) you’d want to have.

If you had unlimited $$$$ what would you outsource RIGHT NOW? Let me know in the comments.

Download the Non-Disclosure Agreement if you're planning to hire an employee or engage in a joint venture.