Independent Contractor Spotlight — Illustrator

Illustrator Ben Brick dishes about making his dreams come true

We sat down with illustrator/designer Ben Brick of BRICK to talk about the pluses and challenges of the freelance life. He and his wife Rebecca, owner of Mabelle Photography, each shared the goal of running their own businesses. The Bricks live in Bismarck, North Dakota, where they’ve helped each other achieve their dreams while also starting a family. 

Before going solo, you held various illustration and design positions, and Rebecca also had a steady 9 to 5. How did you work together to make the transition to independent contractor status?

Ben Brick: We realized that we were making more money than we were spending—obviously, because we didn’t have a kid at the time. So we said, “This is the perfect time to take a risk. Let’s make sure that all the bills are covered with one income.” So we had to shift some things around.

Rebecca went out on her own. It was a risk in some ways, but it wasn’t really one of those risks that could put you on your butt. Then, a year later, Rebecca’s business was consistently making what I was making at work. And so we looked at this again, and we were about to have a kid. I said, “It’s worked once; let’s try it again.” Now my business is actually making more than when I was working at my day job. So we’re back at two incomes, and we have a kid.

What is it like having a baby around while both working from home?

BB: I wake up early in the morning and hang out with Dillon for maybe a few hours. That way I feel like I get some good quality time with him before work. Since I’ve been on my own, I’ve been flooded. There’s not a lot of time for me to take over for Rebecca, so a lot of times we call Grandma and Grandpa. (Laughs) In October, weddings pick up. Rebecca is going to be doing four weddings, two family sessions, and a senior photo. I am planning right now to get all of my work done and not take on any work for October. It takes a little bit more planning than working at a day job, but it’s nice that I can control how that works.

What are your favorite aspects of running your own business?

BB: I get to control what goes out my door. No matter where I worked before, I was always relying on the person who talks to the client on whether my artwork reached the client. Now, I get to decide when a project is done, and I get to decide what is best for my client after researching their business. I get to put my best foot forward. I don’t talk to a client about doing a type of logo that I don’t like to do or that I’m not good at. I’m very upfront with them.

You’ve eliminated the hassle of the middleman, but that also means you’re on your own when dealing with clients. How have you overcome that challenge? 

BB: With anything, when you’re starting a business, you’re learning so many new things. I dug into reading materials and podcasts very early on. I am in no way an expert at the business end of graphic design, but I definitely have a good head start there. It’s still a challenge, even after all of that, because you still have to put that into real-world experience.

How do you market yourself?

BB: The biggest force behind my success so far has been my Instagram. The goal is to keep people’s minds on you and what you’re doing. If you’re posting every day, you’re almost guaranteed that your followers are looking on Instagram every day. They’re going to see your logo flying past their eyes. When that happens, people are more likely to associate you with what you’re doing.

What are the challenges of building a business while living in smaller, remote city?

BB: It’s all people from my hometown who’ve been hiring me this last year. They’ve really been so supportive. I’ve started actually going out to these Bismarck functions that I’ve never heard of, like 1 Million Cups or Start Bismarck. Every town has a group of people who are trying to make the community a better place. Those are the people who are going to have pride in what you’re doing, as well. If you’re from their hometown, they’re going to be more apt to work with you because they take pride in hiring local people.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to start his or her own business?

BB: I’ve talked to so many freelancers who say, “You know, I got laid off, and so we just decided to start a business.” The way I did it is I didn’t let it happen to me. I said, “This is what I am going to do.” I knew from the first day I took my last job that I was going to be there for five years. And it took me only three. Don’t let it just happen to you; take charge and do it. Make a plan today.