Leaving the agency world, selling art online, art licensing, and being a digital nomad
Cat Coquillette (CatCoq) is a location-independent artist and designer. Her work is most known for its bright pops of color, vibrant typography, and a blend of hand-painted brushwork and clean vector illustration. You can find her illustrations on art prints, home decor items, tech accessories, apparel, and more. She partners with a variety of brands like Target, Urban Oufitters, Modcloth, and more to transform her paintings into best-selling products.
Transcript and show notes can be found here
ABOUT JAY CLOUSE
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Cat Coquillette 0:00
That one piece I think that's I give that credit for really taking my, you know my Instagram account to my online presence from you know it was it was going okay to just absolutely skyrocketed.
Jay Clouse 0:12
Welcome to creative elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, welcome back to creative elements. I hope you're having a great week wherever you are. This is an exciting episode because we're really exploring some new territory. If you've ever watched the TV show Shark Tank, you've probably heard the term licensing. Kevin O'Leary, also known as Mr. Wonderful for some reason, will always ask the entrepreneur why they don't just take their product or idea and license it to a larger company. And licensing is a pretty attractive concept. You create something, you give permission for someone else to sell that work on your behalf, and you get a check in the mail for a percentage of sales. Of course you will only make a small percentage of the overall sale. But it sounds pretty good to spend your time making something while someone else does all the selling. Several months ago, I heard a podcast interview with Cat Coquillette, who goes by CatCoq online. Cat's an artist and her business CatCoq is an illustration and design brand. And what struck me about Cat's interview was how she viewed her work.
Cat Coquillette 1:37
I very much identify as a commercial artist more than a fine artist, all the pieces I put out there. The the intention behind them is for retail sale. It's ways to monetize my creativity and my passion which is art. I'll still do illustrations and paintings that are just for me or just for friends or the people I love and those I'm not monetizing, but the vast bulk of what I put out out there. It's a way to build my brand and build my business.
Jay Clouse 2:05
And Cat has found a lot of success for work has been sold in stores like Target, Madewell, Bed Bath and Beyond and Urban Outfitters just to name a few. And it's been featured by celebrities including Hillary Duff, Khloe Kardashian, Lucy Hale, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lauren Conrad and Jessica Simpson. And to top it all off, Cat has several courses on Skillshare teaching illustration, Photoshop, growing your creative business through Instagram and more. So in this episode, we're talking about leaving the agency world where she started selling her own prints. What to know when it comes to licensing, being a digital nomad, and how adapting has helped Cat navigate it all. This is a really fun episode. I'd love to hear what you think about it. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse shoot me a message let me know you're listening. And without further ado, let's hear it from Cat.
Cat Coquillette 3:06
You know I, in my previous life, I worked as an art director at an ad and design agency in Kansas City. And I loved that job. That's what I always imagined I wanted to do. It's what I went to college for. But you know, every day I would come home from work, get home around 6pm. And the last thing I wanted to do with is there to screen, I'd been staring at the computer screen all day. So what I started doing was pulling out my watercolor sets, my paper, brushes, paints, and just painting whatever I felt like painting is a way to kind of decompress from all day being in the office working with clients. And when I was doing those, it was not at all with the intention of commercializing my paintings, it was just painting as a way to recharge. So what kind of happened organically was I began posting pictures that those paintings on Instagram for my friends and family to see. And up until that point, I only had, I don't know a few hundred followers, but as I started showing In my work on social media, I started getting more followers that I didn't know people that were following me for my artwork, which felt a little bit weird. It wasn't something I'd ever really planned for. But these people began asking where they could purchase my art prints, or buy originals. And up until that point, I never really considered monetizing my artwork like that. The way that I've been monetizing my creativity was through graphic design and through working at this agency, but in my mind, there was always this separation between art and design. Design, I thought that was my career. That was the way that my life was supposed to go. That was my path. And art was just my fun side hobby, my passion. So all of a sudden, I had this opportunity to monetize something that I previously never considered turning into a business and that was pretty much the catalyst for where I am right now today, which is I am a full time commercial artist. I do art licensing primarily through surface design.
Jay Clouse 4:55
I love that. So many people who went through art school or get into sort of the creative arts, they look at agency life, and that is the career path that they want right away. And so for you to get that gig and be in an agency early on, and then, you know, pretty quickly thereafter, start finding other avenues to express yourself. I think that's really a powerful statement to how stressful the agency life can be. You know, you said you, you did it to decompress.
Cat Coquillette 5:21
I have friends, you know, right out of school, they went to large advertising agencies in Chicago, in New York. And I mean, they work them to the bone. But you know, when you're out fresh out of school, you're young, you're thirsty, you're hungry, and you you don't mind those long hours. And a lot of those agencies put a lot of systems in place to make their employees happy. Like there's cafes within the Office. Sometimes there's kegs and I've heard of that, for certain friends that work in advertising. They, they want their employees to be there to be happy and to spend a lot of time in those offices. And to be honest, when I was just getting started, I did not work in an advertising agency. I worked in a design agency and yeah, it was great. The culture there was wonderful, I loved all the people I worked with the clients were great. And so for the first few years that I worked there, I was really, really happy. And I believed in what I was doing. And I was very content, but it was exhausting. You know, coming home from work after working with clients all day. You don't have as much freedom, obviously, when you work with clients as you would when you're doing your own thing. And so that was something that was starting after a few years really beginning to wear on me. And that's why I got back into painting. The way that I was painting in college, I'd kind of stopped when I started my career, but I started getting back into it as a way to find that creative outlet that I was missing when I went to work every day.
Jay Clouse 6:38
So you started painting watercolors, what types of things were you painting in the beginning?
Cat Coquillette 6:42
At the beginning, I was really just painting whatever I felt inspired by that day. I really enjoyed painting flowers and leaves anything that was found in nature bugs, different types of snakes, insects, spiders, that was I'm not really sure where that came from. I've always loved nature. And so that was what I was doing a lot of paintings of, also food. I got into watercolor food paintings for a while that was kind of on a spree with that. So at the time that inspiration just kind of came from trips that I'd taken, you know, I worked at an agency so I only had two weeks of vacation a year, but I took full advantage of those two weeks, you know, go down to Costa Rica or go see the Everglades like I go to Colorado and go hiking. And so what I would do on these trips is take a ton of photos. And then when I got back to my apartments, I would paint the things that I photographed out in the wild when I was on these little excursions. And so what that's kind of morphed into now is now I live as a digital nomad, which means I hopped from city to city or country to country. Every few weeks or a few months. I don't have a permanent home. I spend a lot of time in Southeast Asia. I spend my summers in Europe. And now what I paint and what I create and license out are the things that I'm inspired by on my travels. So if I've been you know hiking in the jungles of Vietnam, I'll go on a full spree of just painting orchids and ferns. I went to Azerbaijan for my birthday last summer. And I took so many photos of all the textiles I saw on the markets. And then I kind of added my own spin on that. But I was inspired by those textiles and created a full line of patterns to be licensed out on fabrics.
Jay Clouse 8:14
Something you said a couple of minutes ago that I think is pretty remarkable. You had followers on your Instagram asking if they could buy prints. What an awesome opportunity and invitation for people to come to you and say can I buy this thing? What was your work like then which of these works was really starting to get people's attention that they're saying I want to buy this and have in my home?
Cat Coquillette 8:32
It's funny, it was one that I didn't even concept on my own. It was a Shakespeare quotes. And the quote is, "though she buts little, she is fierce". And my cousin actually commissioned to that for me to put in the nursery for her new baby's room. And she arts directed the whole thing. She picked out the quotes she wanted pretty calligraphy. She wanted it decorated in florals and I just listened to her art direction and created something and you know, send it to her and I posted it on my Instagram to be like, oh, here's my new art print or the new originally did for my cousin. And so many people messaged me or commented that they wanted that for their homes, it resonated with a pretty wide audience, it resonated with, you know, grandmothers who wanted to give it to their daughters or, you know, women my age in their 20s who felt like it resonated with them as well it had a very wide reach in terms of appeal to different types of audiences. And that one piece I think that's I give that credit for really taking my you know, my Instagram account to my online presence from you know, it was it was going okay to just absolutely skyrocketing it and then same thing for in terms of sales, I started offering that prints online through a print on demand company called Society6. And I had it you know, sold on all these different product types from throw pillows to coffee mugs, to shower curtains, you know, whatever you could possibly want it printed on that, that company offered it. And you know, this whole time it was it was awesome, and it really spurred my brand. But at the same time, I was like, man, I didn't even come up with that one that was my cousin, like, give me a break here.
Jay Clouse 10:07
When you first started seeing those comments and those messages saying, Can I buy this? What was that moment like for you?
Cat Coquillette 10:12
It came out of left field for me, you know, again, I had this very limiting belief about being able to monetize artwork, I thought, No way could I possibly do that. So when people started asking if they could buy art prints, or, you know, have this in their homes, it really threw me for a loop. You know, my entire life I in art classes and in school, and you know, my parents and teachers, I had people compliment me on my art and be like, okay, you're a great artist. That looks beautiful, but no one had ever asked to purchase anything before. And so that it was it was pretty strange, but, you know, right away, I saw that as a incredible opportunity. I thought, Okay, well, there's clearly a demand. How do I reach this audience? How do I provide this for sale for them? Like at that point, I never sold my artwork ever. It's like do I do I go to Kinkos? Like, how do I even do it. And so I spent a lot of time researching, do I need to set up a FedEx accounts to get the cheaper shipping? Like, how do I print really high quality art prints? How do I have to set up an online shop? What does that even look like? Is this the time to start using Etsy. But up until that point, it was also foreign to me, I never used any of those tools before. And that's actually what led me to Society6, it was doing all this research. And it was really overwhelming. To be honest, I was doing all this research trying to figure out how I could send my product to these customers. And that's what led me to the platform where it's this all in one kind of website where you as the artist, you upload your artwork and to the platform and you set your prices on art prints and then that platform handles, Society6 handles the rest, they have the the websites, you know, they have the marketing for the customers, they handle production, shipping returns, customer support, all of the things that I didn't know how to do or wasn't interested in doing. And that allowed me to focus on the one thing that I was good at, which was creating artwork that people wanted to buy.
Jay Clouse 11:59
After the break, we'll talk about Cat's experienced licensing her artwork online. Welcome back to creative elements. Cat Coquillette had her dream job at an agency. And she was on the path to her career pursuit of becoming a creative director. But her creative outlet painting was starting to get attention online. So she began adapting she was trying to find a way to actually sell her artwork as prints and came across Society6, a website that licensed artwork and sells it on a wide range of products.
Cat Coquillette 12:34
I got started with Society6 back in 2014. I got in at a very lucky time there. They were already an established website and they already had an audience and they had a lot of really great artwork and content creators active with the sites. But there was also a big opportunity. They were still fairly new in terms of getting a lot of new artwork on the site. And because I created a new piece just about every single day, I was constantly updating my portfolio And then the competition, in terms of other artists selling on that site, it wasn't too high at that moment, because it was, you know, it was early years for that. And so I was able to make a name for myself on that site simply because there were so few artists involved relative to where they are now. Now it can be it's quite a bit more difficult. There's a lot of artists selling through that site. There's a lot of content out there. So it can be much more challenging to get noticed now than it was back in the early days. But that's not to say that there aren't other platforms out there that are, you know, just getting started or could be great opportunities. And you know, even with Society6, their aesthetic is very much, you know, it's LA chic. It's dorm rooms, it's things that my artwork style fit into really well. But there's other platforms out there that have a different aesthetic that they push, like Redbubble is another print on demand website. Exact same business model as Society6. But the styles that they promote, it's pretty different. It's a lot of cartoons, comics, things that prints really well on stickers, t-shirts, things like threadless, Teespring, that kind of thing. So if you have a style that's more applicable to that kind of audience Redbubble might be your platform of choice.
Jay Clouse 14:10
To upload your designs on Society6, so you can sell it to the people on Instagram that want this print. I imagine it took a little bit for you to say, I'm going to go all in in this and I'm going to travel the world and do this from wherever I want. You're still working at this agency. Can you talk about the transition, the timeline of at what point you began thinking, this is going to be my thing.
Cat Coquillette 14:31
That was probably the most stressful time period of my entire life was deciding to quit my stable job, not even job, quit my career. Up until that point, I thought it was going to be a designer, an art director, creative director. That was my career trajectory. And this was me deciding to say goodbye to all of that. And this agency that I worked with that I loved so much. I loved the clients. I loved my creative directors. Everyone I worked with it was it was a great setup. So yeah, saying goodbye to all of that and deciding to pursue entrepreneurship just go all in with this idea of being an artist that is involved in art licensing. That was, yeah, it was really stressful. But it's something that I knew I had been building up this this kind of side hustle for. I mean, I've been building it up for a year or two before I actually left my job. And I knew it was the right choice. I knew that it was time to go all in on it like there, the prospects there were just, it just seemed like the ceiling. I there was no ceiling there. I could just continue going, going going and pushing this as far as I personally could take it. Whereas I saw my career path in the industry. It was very linear. And I saw a clear ceiling there. So it seemed like I had this amazing opportunity and I had to do it, but it's almost like I didn't want to do it. There were so many risks involved. And you know, what if I went all in with entrepreneurship, but then I didn't succeed What if I couldn't make any money? What if my revenue streams began to dry up? What would I do? And it was really overwhelming. But really what it came down to was, okay, say I quit my job and I try art licensing, which let's be honest, I was already doing it for two years, and my revenue was going exponentially upwards like it hadn't even began to plateau at that point. So the risks financially were pretty minimal. But even if I didn't like it, I could always go back into my career path with design, maybe not at that same agency if I quit my job, but certainly that's there's many, many agencies out there many cities around the world. It's not like by quitting that job. I was burning that bridge entirely. I was just wanted to try something new out. So really coming to terms with the fact that this isn't some massive risk that I'm taking, if anything, it's just one more calculated step in this direction that I'd already been going. That helps me get through it quite a bit. And yeah, when I quit my job and I talked to my boss, I mean, she she was sad to see me go, she understood, and we're still you know, we still keep in contact when I go back to Kansas City. I'll do happy hours with my old coworkers. Every once in a while I'll stop by the agency say hi. So we're still on great terms. But at the time back then, when I was actually quitting my job that felt like the biggest decision I've ever made in my entire life.
Jay Clouse 17:10
I think what you're saying about risk is so important. I think people think about these changes as these landmark doors, slam bridge burned type moments where it's like, well, if I do this, and I'm completely saying goodbye to this other thing forever, but there's actually more opportunity, more options. If this new thing or trying doesn't go well, there are other ways forward or backward, maybe in some cases, but it's not this huge burn the boats moment all the time.
Cat Coquillette 17:36
I absolutely resonate with that. And that's one thing that I've kind of come to realize, you know, from leaving my job and starting this, you know, solopreneur career from that to living in, you know, different countries that I don't even speak the language in and it's rare to have a decision be completely final in life. Even when I moved to Thailand, I bought a one way ticket to Chiang Mai from Kansas City where I lived my entire life. Even then I had friends and family they thought it was crazy. They were like you're moving to Thailand in a week. Like where did where did this come from? But in my mind, it wasn't this final thing. It was, okay, I have I have this disposable income and I have time, I'm going to move to Chiang Mai. There's a huge community of digital nomads there. If I love it, great. I'll continue staying there. If I hate it, I'll just come back home. Like there's the risks there were so minimal because it's really it's not this five final decision that will affect the rest of your life. There's always wiggle room.
Jay Clouse 18:32
So when we left off your story here you were you were starting to sell some of these prints on Society6, but at some point, you get to licensing for larger brands like Target. Can you talk to me about that transition in that leap?
Cat Coquillette 18:44
So what was happening was I was uploading all of these paintings, drawings, everything on Society6, and really making my name for myself there, as well as growing my Instagram presence. And I was pretty much full speed ahead with that and I tried reaching out to companies I signed up for a LinkedIn premium membership, which whoever does that, because I wanted to find buyers for Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters and contacts the buyers, which that was a complete dead end, my outreach is just awful. But what's what I found has worked out well for me is letting other companies approach me and find me. And the way that I can do that is by setting up a strong online presence, getting a nice website off the ground with very clear contact info, my email address is everywhere, and I want people to be able to contact me very easily. So there's no dead ends. And so I had those systems in place. I was still doing the cold calling, trying to work with other companies with absolutely zero results. But what ended up happening was, I was actually about I was going through security. I was at the airport, about to hop on a flight to Tokyo, and I got an email from a buyer at Urban Outfitters who wanted to use one of my art prints to sell in their stores. And I was I was going I was about to go to the metal detector. I was putting my phone away I just saw that email on my iPhone. I was like reading it. And I just I started like screaming. I was so excited. I'm sure the security officials were just absolutely, you panicked, but I was so excited. And then I get through security. And then I got in my flight I boarded at the whole flight to Tokyo. I was like writing and rewriting this email back trying to sound like super cool, like, Oh, yeah, I work with big companies all the time. Here's my standard process for how this will go down. But this was my first one. And it was such a huge moment for me like being in Urban Outfitters. That's a brand that I idolized. I've always wanted to have my designs and their stories since I started this, you know, surface design career. And yeah, so I ended up emailing them back we got an agreement in place and what what that turned into was that just snowballed into everything else, all of my other in store connections. Now, it's by having such high exposure for having my artwork in Urban Outfitters. So many other brands began reaching out to me about doing the exact same thing.
Jay Clouse 20:54
When you got that email and you're working through this licensing agreement for the first time. How did You think through figuring out how to do that, you know, how did you think about? Was I getting a good deal? What is a good deal? Do I care if I'm getting a good deal?
Cat Coquillette 21:09
I wasn't really sure what to ask for an agreement back then. So what I ended up doing was, I knew I wanted a non exclusive agreement, because the artwork that they selected I, that was one of my top sellers through these online platforms. And I knew that if I sold it to Urban Outfitters, I didn't want to have to pull it from everywhere else because it was generating a great source of income for me. So I let them know this has to be a non exclusive agreement, which they said was fine. That was that was the biggest step. And as far as royalty rates go, 10% is pretty much industry average, through print on demand flat for online platforms, like print on demand. And I knew that because I've been working with so many online platforms. And so when they came at me with a royalty rate, which was lower than that, I pushed back, I was like, Well, you know, I'm actually getting a much higher like 10% on these other platforms. What can you do for me here and you know, they were the ones that were like, actually in store. It's actually little bit lower. And I didn't know if that was true or not. I was like, Oh, is this? Are they just saying that because they want a lower rate? What's what's the acceptable thing here? I don't want to be taken advantage of. But, you know, ultimately, I signed the agreements. And now, you know, having been in this industry for a while, what they were offering was a completely fair rate for in store sales. But at the time, it was, yeah, I guess it was kind of a leap of faith as well. It was okay, you know, this is a brand. That's even if I'm getting a lower rate than I should deserve, which it turns out, it wasn't, I'm still going to get a lot of exposure by having my brand associated with this brand. And that's exactly what it turned into, you know, the money I made from that licensing deal was was awesome. But what really changed the game for me was that exposure and having that brand association with Urban Outfitters that led to all of these other partnerships.
Jay Clouse 22:45
Exposure has a really bad name in a lot of creative circles. But I think the important difference here is like you're already getting paid for it. And exposure is kind of the lottery ticket bonus on top of it, right? It's not It's not the only thing that you might get compensated with quote unquote from this opportunity.
Cat Coquillette 23:03
Jay Clouse 23:06
When we come back, Cat and I dive deeper into how these licensing agreements actually work, right after this. Welcome back, Cat had just gotten one of her first big breaks. Urban Outfitters had asked her to use one of her prints and now Cat had to navigate her first licensing agreement with a major brand. One of the major parts of any licensing agreement is the royalty percentage. by agreeing to let the brand use her artwork, which is Cat's intellectual property. The brand pays a percentage of sales generated from that artwork. That's the royalty. On platforms like Society6, Cat was earning around 10% for every dollar Society6 earned Cat was paid 10 cents. But Cat found more ways to adapt her agreements outside of just the standard royalty percentage.
Cat Coquillette 23:57
Now when I'm doing contracts with clients and potential partners. There's a lot of things. It's not just about the royalty rate in these contracts, there's a lot of other things that you can be asking for. When I was first getting started, I didn't know what I should be asking for and what I shouldn't be asking for. So I just erred on the side of ask for absolutely everything and then see, see what they come back with. So, you know, and a lot of these initial deals and I still do this to this day, well ask for one a pretty high royalty rate. And you know, we'll meet in the middle somewhere, but I always start out with something pretty high, which I'll never get, but you know, it doesn't hurt to try. And it gives me a better, you know, position when we start that negotiation back and forth. But yeah, but in addition to that, there's other things I asked for, like exclusivity that ensures that I can continue selling this artwork through other partners. I also asked for things like social media shoutouts if it's a big brand, and they have a really big social presence. I'll have that built into the contracts that they'll have to do. You know, three shout outs tagging me in the first line of the caption on social media within the first month of our agreements, or sometimes if they have a really big email list, I'll want to take advantage of that as well. So we'll be like, Hey, you know, I'll take a percentage and a half off the royalty rates, if you guys feature me in your emails, and link back to that product page, so people can buy it. And I'll get, you know, more sales. There's other things they can ask for as well like exposure on the homepage. If it's a website, and they get a lot of traffic, I want my work to be front and center on the homepage. So these are all these are all kind of bargaining chips and things that I can add into a contract that are going to be really beneficial to me in a way that's not just actually a higher royalty rate. So there's there's a lot of wiggle room here. And you can be creative with what you decide to add into a contract or ask for.
Jay Clouse 25:41
The interesting thing when you talk about royalty rates. And we're talking about big companies here that sell a ton of volume. So when you say you know, print on demand 10% is industry average. And in this world, it's lower. People probably hear that and think well yeah, but 10% is there really that much wiggle room between zero and 10%. So how do you think about that? And when you say like you're asking for a pretty high rate, what is high in a context of, you know, basically single digit percent?
Cat Coquillette 26:08
That's a really great question. The key here with arts licensing that in the way that I'm doing it, it's all about volume. So, you know, one individual phone case that sells for $35, I make $3.50 from that's doesn't really make a difference at all. But when I'm selling 200 phone cases, I'm sorry, when my partners are selling 200 phone cases a day, that really adds up and you apply that to all the different products that I have available. All the different partners I work with, in online industries and in store everything, it's all about the volume. So when you're arguing over half a percentage, it can sound so trivial, you know, that might make the difference of 5 or 10 cents more on selling an art prints. But when you're selling thousands of art prints that absolutely does add up. So yeah, those royalty rates, I'll fight tooth and nail over to get to the best optimal points that I possibly can.
Jay Clouse 26:58
How open are some of these companies to making it clear that this artwork was created by CatCoq?
Cat Coquillette 27:05
That's another thing that I'm pretty assertive with in these contracts is I don't want my signature or my branding stripped off of any work that I license out. And for the most part, that's all the companies I've worked with pretty much agreed with that. And they've, they've been on my side. So if I have any art prints available in any stores, my signature will always be on the bottom right hand corner. If I have a coffee mug for sale, I'll try and have my brand name maybe on the bottom of the mug. You know, artist CatCoq, or Cat Coquilette let if I want to go by my full name, and most companies that I work with have been pretty responsive about that. And they there's not there's not a lot of pushback, but it is something that you have to ask for. You know, I see phone cases that I know the artist who designed those phone cases and I don't see her signature or her branding anywhere on there. And it's really disappointing. It's like oh man I wish you would have asked for that are really really pushed for it because companies will do that.
Jay Clouse 28:01
Yeah, I'd love to hear from what you've gotten to know working with some of these companies now, what is most important to them? Like where does the artists have more leverage than they think? Because the company actually cares about x or x and y, what are those levers that the company cares about most?
Cat Coquillette 28:16
I think artists have more leverage than they think in terms of setting up these initial deals and what you ask for something that might be a big pain point for that a big pain point for that company. Like, you know, maybe they really absolutely cannot push up that royalty rate any further. But there are other things that they will be amenable to, that aren't going to cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars just by moving up percentage points up up a notch. And those are the things that can make a really big difference for us that we should absolutely be asking for. I know that exposure can be a pretty big trigger word for a lot of artists out there. But there are ways that you can be as long as you are being paid. I'll never enter into a contract that I'm not getting paid something for. And yeah, the rates are low, but that also is pretty much the industry norm. But yeah, back to the other things you can ask for in those contracts that can make a really big difference in terms of sales, direct sales, you know, if they're doing a lot of promotion of you in their email list or on their homepage, or it can also build up your online presence, if they're brand that has 2 million followers, and they're tagging you in the Instagram posts. And like I've seen, I've seen my follower count grow several hundred a day, just when I get those mentions. And that's been absolutely worth it because a lot of those followers turn into paying customers.
Jay Clouse 29:30
Okay, I want to pause for a minute to talk about the Pareto principle. This is named after an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. That's his real name. And he realized back in 1896, that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by just 20% of the population. And after a lot of studying and modeling, mathematicians noticed that the Pareto principle sort of follows what is called a power law distribution. That's the exponential growth curve that you've seen before. The number one rule results on Google has twice as many clicks as the number two result, three times as many clicks as the third result, and so on. So why am I talking about math? Okay, hold on, I'm getting there, the Pareto principle has become a pretty popular idea in business, there's an 80-20 for just about everything. 20% of X accounts for 80% of Y. 20% of your customers often account for 80% of your revenue. So with an artist like Cat who licenses a ton of different pieces of art, I wanted to see if the Pareto principle applies to her business too.
Cat Coquillette 30:34
Absolutely mine is closer to 90-10. So 90% of what's in my portfolio isn't really earning me that much at all. But the top 10% of my portfolio, I mean that that's pulling in the majority of my income through art licensing, there's a lot of factors that play here. It's creating designs that are going to be on trend that have strong purchasing power, that companies will want to license and print on their products. So it's like I've been working on finessing this every year because obviously everything I paint or that I create digitally any of my output, I want it to be earning me a lot of money. But there is still a little bit of a gamble. It's like, you know, I might paint something and think, Okay, this is going to be big time. I know this is going to do really well. And then it's just kind of fizzles. It doesn't go anywhere. And then other things Iike paints, for example, these alpacas that I painted after a trip down to Peru. I painted those because I loved alpacas in Peru, I wasn't painting them, because I thought that they were going to be massively on trend, which, the moment I painted them, you know, six months later, I'll use alpacas over every single product everywhere in every store imaginable. So that was really the right time, right place. And so you know, those alpacas alone, I mean, they earned me for a few years, probably like 40% of my overall art licensing income. So that's one piece out of a portfolio of thousands. You know, again, every piece I put out there, I wanted to be a big seller, a top seller, but it's a little bit of a gamble and to see what's actually going to make it and what won't, so I do a lot of trend forecasting. And I'm looking at color palettes that are going to be really relevant to look at New York Fashion Week, the Pantone color of the year. And I incorporate a lot of that research into the designs that I'm putting out there. I read Vogue, I listen to a lot of design podcasts, I read a lot of interior design blogs. Even though I'm not an interior designer, I still find it interesting to see the patterns that they're promoting the season. And a lot of times I can find ways that I can incorporate that into what I'm actually putting out there. So, you know, if I'm seeing a really cool wallpaper that has a lot of tropical flamingos, and all of a sudden you're, you're seeing those kind of motifs everywhere I can create my own version of tropical flamingos. It's not like I'm copying the motif with every brushstroke. But I'm taking that motif idea which is flamingos in the tropics, adding my own spin on it, and then taking advantage of this trend that's just been skyrocketing.
Jay Clouse 32:50
Some of the words you're using here, you know, entrepreneurial, risk, growth, exponential. These are words that are super familiar to me and people that have a little bit of a background in business or startups, probably not stuff that's often talked about in art school. This all come naturally to you or is this something that you started teaching yourself once you started seeing, okay, there's some sales taking up on Society6.
Cat Coquillette 33:15
I never identified myself as an entrepreneur until I'd been an entrepreneur for several years. When people asked me what I did, I said, I was an artist. Sometimes I said I was a freelancer, which didn't even really make sense because I didn't have clients. I was doing commercial art. I just didn't know what to call myself that people would actually understand. It wasn't until I started going to business conferences around the world that and meeting other people that had completely different industries than mine. But we were all growing our companies, a lot of us had these online companies that we were working on growing and building. And one of my friends referred to me as an entrepreneur. And in some context, I don't even remember what it was. But it really struck me I was like, wait, I'm not an entrepreneur, Am I an entrepreneur. And there was just this Yeah, again, this limiting belief of an artist. Being a successful business person, there was kind of this disconnection in my mind. And I knew that I had a successful business. And I knew that I was doing all of these things that is exactly what entrepreneurs are doing. But there was just there was a disconnect there. So it took me it took me a while for that finally to sink in.
Jay Clouse 34:18
I'm close to a lot of incredible artists and creatives, but very few of them seem to identify with being an entrepreneur or business owner, which is always struck me as strange because they are really the consummate entrepreneurs. They're creating something of unique value, which is their art, and then selling that for cash. As a commercial artists who also identifies as an entrepreneur, I asked Cat, if that created any tension with other artists or creatives in her network, who may not yet see themselves as entrepreneurs.
Cat Coquillette 34:47
Most of my friends now that I hang that are also digital nomads that I hang out with around the world. A lot of them are in completely different industries than mine. A lot of them are intact. Or copywriting or their strategists or coaches, programmers is an incredibly wide range. And to be honest, I don't really have that many close connections of fellow artists. In this lifestyle, I found that it's a lot of people that are working on these internet businesses that are that tend to have the same lifestyle as me. The artists that I'm close friends with are pretty well established in a certain area. So they live in Kansas City, or they live in Chiang Mai, but they're not really doing as much traveling as me. I wish I had more more artists in my network and more people that were in a similar industry than me. So I'm right now I have internet friends that are artists, it's other people that sell on Society6, or they're represented by the same agency that represents me, follow each other on social media on Facebook, Instagram will email each other with questions, but I've never met them in real life. It's so you know, we kind of joke back and forth that it's like, oh, it's my internet buddy. That's an artist but you know, they're real and they exist. It's just we don't really have that many chances to connect with each other one on one or in person?
Jay Clouse 36:02
Are you still a one person operation at this point?
Cat Coquillette 36:04
I am, I battled back and forth with myself on whether I should be working on growing my company and doing more hiring or if I should kind of continue this solopreneur path that I've been on. And really what it comes down to is, I love the freedom that my lifestyle and my work allows. I set my own hours, I really don't work with customers, I don't work with customers at all, because I have these partnerships like with Target where they handle all customer support, I don't have to do any of that I can focus on the thing that I'm that I'm good at, and let them do the thing that they're good at. And we have this symbiotic relationship. But yeah, I've been considering that a lot over the past year especially is do I want to grow my business more and in order to do so that would that would mean hiring. I hire workers off Upwork.com every once in a while if I need a lawyer to review a contract just because I want to double check that it's going to be okay. I'll hire a lawyer to off Upwork to review that contract for me, and I'll let them know the things that I'm looking for. Or if I need to do a bunch of online research into a certain category, I'll hire someone to do that as well. So these are just contractors, they're not employed by me, it's just these kind of one off jobs. And that's kind of where I'm at right now. But if I did want to grow my business, the next step would be no longer being a solopreneur and starting to hire employees. But at the same time, I love this freedom that I have of not having to delegate or onboard anyone. It's all just whatever I decide my output should be. It's that and then I have, I have the whole day to figure out if I want what I want to focus on that day, what I want to work on, if I want to take two weeks off and go on a road trip to New Zealand, which is what I did in January, I can do that. And I don't have to worry about employees relying on me. So right now, it's that fine balance between freedom and exponential growth in my company, and I've chosen freedom, but that's not to say won't change in the future.
Jay Clouse 37:58
So how do you think about where you do allocate your time right now and all the different tasks that are important for you to run your business. If you give me like a pie chart of roughly how you're spending your time on these different tasks, how would you divide that up?
Cat Coquillette 38:11
It's about 75-25. 75% of my time is tasks in my business that I know are making me money and growing my business. So it's creating new artwork. It's filming new online classes to teach other creatives entrepreneurial skills. It's looking for new partnerships and working on my social media presence. And then it's all things that are tried and true. It's just business as usual, essentially. And then 25% of my time is spent prospecting. I'm looking for new opportunities to grow my business, new avenues that I haven't tried yet something that is going to take a lot of effort right now but may pay off exponentially in the future. So if I were just to continue business as usual and not make any adjustments five years from now, there's no way that I could still be successful, this industry changes so quickly you need to adapt with it. So that's why dedicate, you know, this chunk of time, you know, 25% of my time, that's a lot of valuable time. I could be making money right now with that time. But instead what I'm doing is I'm looking for opportunities down the road that might be really advantageous for me to get into.
Jay Clouse 39:18
Last question, if I'm a graphic designer or aspiring surface designer and listening to the show, and I'm thinking, man, the lifestyle that Cat is describing sounds like exactly what I want. I imagine the game has changed a little bit since you got started. So if I'm aspiring to make a living on my prints or my designs, where would you recommend I invest my time.
Cat Coquillette 39:40
I think there's a few different ways to go about that. I think building up an online presence for yourself is really powerful, and that's a great way to get started. So assuming that you already have a portfolio of designs and patterns that you're interested in licensing out in the future. Getting that out there for as many people to see as possible is a great way to get started. That sounds obvious, but I know that can be a really big stumbling block for a lot of creatives, putting yourself out there and showing the world your artwork can feel like it can feel like you're naked. I mean, it's such a vulnerable position to be in. But once you get used to it, once you start putting your artwork out there promoting yourself, it does get a lot easier. And that's something I definitely struggled with at the beginning, especially since I'd never identified myself as an artist identified as a designer. And, you know, I felt weird posting, you know, these like pretty watercolor paintings I done to friends and family, when, in my mind, it's like they think I'm a designer, but here I am acting like an artist. Nobody cares. Nobody cares about that. It's your own personal thing to get through. So yeah, I think step one is getting your art out there, putting yourself out there promoting your stuff on social media, maybe finding print on demand websites to sell through because even though a lot of them can be oversaturated right now, the ones that have been in business for several years, they still have a great online presence. So their SEO is great. For example, if You're googling tropical flamingo teal mug, there's a chance that mine might pop up there just because of the SEO, this Society 6 has in place. And that's SEO that I don't do that well on my own websites. I know I should invest more time and do better at it. But by having these partnerships with people that do have these systems in place, it can be really beneficial for me. So yeah, getting yourself out there as much as possible is a great way to get started.
Jay Clouse 41:31
Pretty cool life, right? It's hard to beat making your art being paid while others sell it in traveling the world. I think licensing is an incredible business model and not just for design and illustration. A lot of musicians and producers will license music for television, movies and advertisements. And actually Brian, the producer who mixes this show, even licenses his music for games. It's really important to remember what Cat said about her portfolio. Almost 90% of our income comes from about 10% of her work. So if you're feeling discouraged, like some people don't like some of your work, it may just be that 90% of the work that will only contribute 10% of the value. That's okay. That doesn't mean it wasn't worth making in the first place. If you want to learn more about Cat visit CatCoq.com that's CatCoq.com. You can also find her on Instagram at @CatCoq. There you can see her work and check out some of the courses that she teaches on Skillshare thanks to Cat for being on the show. Thank you Emily Klaus for creating the artwork for this episode. It actually incorporates one of Cat's pieces. Thank you to Brian's Skeel for mixing the show and also creating our music. If you liked this episode, you can tweet @JayClouse, and let me know I would love that. And if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thank you for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.