If you consider yourself a creative in a field such as writing, photography, music, design, etc. – you may have asked yourself: “How can I make money doing this?” It’s a tough question because it takes more than passion to make a living off your art. It takes a robust entrepreneurial spirit too.
Most creative entrepreneurs start in a freelance situation, and some even manage to make money doing that. But to take it from freelance to a successful full-fledged business presents them with tremendous challenges they hadn’t even thought of. The creative that successfully manipulates those challenges will be rewarded with a life of doing what they love and loving what they do all while making a living doing it.
Tara Ingalls, of Tingalls Graphic Design, found herself on the journey of creative entrepreneurship over 20 years ago. After graduating from UW-Madison with a double major in Communication Arts and Journalism, she landed a job with a local advertising agency. Even though she did gain experience and learned more about the industry, Tara was frustrated. She seemed to be making coffee and running errands more than working in design. The beginning of her road to creative entrepreneurship began.
Tara worked tirelessly over the next few years to educate herself to master page layout, illustration, and photo manipulation. She even gained the nickname “Speedy Tara” because of her unrivaled turnaround with graphic design work.
A Business Evolves
She soon established herself as a freelance designer, and the freelance work started flowing in. Tingalls Graphic Design – the name is a combination of her first name and last name (after her marriage to Roger Ingalls in 2000) – was born. Marketing to start-ups, small businesses, and non-profits in Dane County was the first step in expanding her portfolio and establishing herself as the creative entrepreneur that she had become.
Today, the Tingalls Team has grown considerably and consists of several talents, including strategic planning, logo design, print collateral, custom illustration, website design, copywriting, and more. The company has hit huge milestones including their 1,000th client in 2018 and recently was recognized for their website products with a Silver Addy for B2B Website Design, and InBusiness Magazine’s Executive Choice Award for Best Website Developer four years in a row starting in 2015.
Answers from a Creative Entrepreneur
Lucky for us, Tara has never been one to be stingy with answers or advice to newcomers in her industry. Recently, she took time to answer some questions and share her tips on success in making a living from your creative talents.
Q: How do you take your creative skill to the marketplace and be seen as a serious business person?
It’s not about just having a passion for your skill. It’s about having a brain for business too. You need to have the discipline and mindset to create a structure that makes financial sense. Your art must fill a need for a set of consumers who are willing to pay for it. It’s essential to understand the market. Create a customer persona and target that person’s needs.
Q: What challenges are there in starting a business in the creative field?
People look for experience, and that’s hard to gain in school. Having someone who believes in your talent is an enormous benefit. Developing your skill in the real world is crucial for commercial success. At Tingalls, we help with that by offering a paid internship program to students in their last semester of school or are recent graduates that have the desire to increase their portfolio. They work alongside our seasoned designers and leave with an enhanced skill set that just can’t be obtained at school.
Q: What is your approach to solving problems through design?
Trust the creative process but start with the end goal in mind. To see ideas come to fruition from an initial brainstorming session is rewarding in itself and presents learning, focus, and discipline. Even though we know not all design products will perform the same – web vs. print, for example – it’s crucial to keep your audience and your end goal at the forefront of your decisions. During the design process, never forget to balance your creativity with keeping the customer happy – and luckily, those two goals are often the same.
Q: How do you bring the best value to your customers?
Again, start with the end in mind. We do an extensive intake to learn what the goal of the piece is, who the target is, what copy, and photography needs to be included, etc. We also try to sketch elements if we can to make sure we’re not missing any details the client wants to involve. That way, we can hit the ground running, and it keeps design time low and the product cost-effective.
Q: How do you encourage your designers’ creative styles?
We have a very collaborative process that encourages each of us to challenge each other. Each designer learns from one another when undertaking a project but still maintains their style. That is not to say that we don’t influence each other’s creative process, but we have learned to respect the diversity that each of us brings to it. Our creativity needs to be allowed to express itself within each custom design and still fulfill the market demands.
Q: Being a creative entrepreneur takes lots of energy – how do you continue to build your business and keep it fresh?
Oh, gosh – that’s a good question. I feel very blessed that Tingalls has evolved into the type of agency it’s become particularly with the talent I have on staff today. I never in my wildest dreams thought it’d be this large. Our clients keep us going. They’re the whole reason we’re here. I’ve continued to listen to their feedback and have expanded our design services as requested. We now offer printing, custom illustration, and professional copywriting. The design industry has an ever-evolving landscape, and I plan to keep it up with it!
Q: How should businesses work with creatives to get the best results?
Because we regularly cross-check our concepts to your needs, the key to making sure you’re in sync with the creative team is to be clear in your expectations at the very start. Understand that the more vision and input you provide, the less time it takes to design. Our creative team is involved from the get-go of any project, so they understand the business outcomes you are seeking. The design team works together to develop a concept that fits that outcome. Once you’ve established your business goal remember to give the creative process room to breathe – you won’t be disappointed if you do.
To learn more about what Tingalls Graphic Design can do for you, contact Tara on the website or by phone at 608-268-5525.