This month we’re featuring Lily Qian, an illustrator, designer and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Lily works on a variety of projects for corporate clients in advertising, packaging, editorials, graphics, textiles and surface design. She also creates original hand-painted and digital artworks and writes and illustrates children’s books. Some of Lily’s select clients include Adidas, Apple, Christian Dior, DKNY, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Samsung, Sephora, Target, UBS Wealth Management, Victoria’s Secret and more.
Learn more about Lily Qian and how starting a business has helped to unlock her creativity and supercharge her career as an illustrator and artist.
Wanting More Creativity and Freedom
Lily started her career in fashion apparel and textile design, but although she was successful and gained several years of high-level experience, she wanted to find a different way to be a creative professional.
“After working full time in corporate design for many years, I wasn't happy and I couldn't envision dedicating my whole life to the fashion design industry,” Lily said. “I wanted to know more and explore what other possibilities are out there for creatives.”
Instead of continuing on a standard corporate career path as an employee, Lily had an entrepreneurial streak. She decided to explore new ways of making a living while utilizing her design talents.
“I've always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and running my own business,” Lily said. “I tried a lot of different things before I finally had the insight and courage to follow my passion for illustration.”
New Adventures in Entrepreneurship
As a self-employed illustrator and freelance design professional, Lily has had a wide variety of career experiences that might never have happened in a typical corporate design job. Running her own business has helped her to keep learning, growing and finding creative inspiration in unexpected ways.
“One of the most rewarding things about being my own boss is having the opportunity to connect with a variety of people I would have never met otherwise,” Lily said. “I've gotten to travel across the country and abroad for client work. Every year there are surprise projects, and it's exciting to wonder what will be the next big one.”
Running a business has also helped Lily to improve her versatility, learn new skills and adapt to ever-changing situations.
“As an entrepreneur, you're responsible for everything,” Lily said. “The experience of running your own business will force you to be better all around.”
The pandemic has caused Lily to adapt the way she does business. Even though she’s an illustrator who works from a home studio, she used to work with clients in person quite often.
“Prior to the pandemic, I split my time working from home and working directly with clients in the city,” Lily said. “I enjoyed being able to meet with clients face-to-face. Last year, one of my in-store mural advertisement projects launched just in time for the city shutdown. That project never got to be seen in person. In the past year, fortunately, I've had good clients that continued to work with me remotely. However, I no longer can mail clients any physical promos or meet with them in person. It's harder to network and connect with new clients while in isolation.”
Adapting to New Challenges
Some creative professionals might be reluctant to start their own business by becoming a freelancer because they’re afraid to give up the steady paycheck and benefits of a full-time job. Others might love doing the creative work, but feel hesitant to call themselves an “entrepreneur” with other responsibilities to find clients, sell projects and deal with the administrative side of owning a business.
Lily said that from her experience, the upsides of entrepreneurship outweigh the risks. “The uncertainty of freelancing can be scary, and it can be difficult to find stability in the beginning,” Lily said. “In order to freelance, you need quality clients and a wide range of skill sets.”
However, when you think about the uncertainties of full-time employment and the various ways that even the best jobs can be unpredictable or come to an end, the risks of starting a business as a creative professional might not seem so scary.
“A mentor once reminded me that people think full-time jobs are secure, which may prevent them from taking risks, but in reality, nothing is secure,” Lily said.
Also, as a creative professional, you might be able to charge higher hourly rates and earn more money working for yourself than you could at a salaried job. Being a business owner also gives you the flexibility and freedom to structure your time and arrange your work and life in a way that makes sense for you.
“You can earn a higher income running your own business, and you can make your own decisions about when to take time off,” Lily said. “This combination can be better for work-life balance.”
Forming an LLC for Personal Protection and Professional Credibility
Lily decided to use Incfile’s business formation services after Incfile was recommended by her lawyer. She said that using Incfile to form an LLC helped her save time and let her focus on doing what she does best in running her business. “I'd be happy to recommend Incfile to all small business owners,” Lily said. “It's the most affordable option and they're easy to work with, no brainer. When you have your own business, the work never ends. You have to use your time wisely and also seek advice when something is out of your area of expertise.”
As a creative professional, forming an LLC can give you some additional legal protection by separating your business and personal finances and can also provide extra professional credibility by showing clients that you are a serious business owner.
“I work with corporate clients, and some of them require vendors to be an LLC,” Lily said. “It's also for your own protection, so the sooner you get it done the better.”
Building a Brighter Future as an Entrepreneur
Sometimes talented, creative people feel stuck or held back by a standard corporate job, even if it’s a great company in a high-profile industry. By starting a business, Lily Qian has been able to open up bigger possibilities for her creative work. She is charting a new path to explore with her talents.
“This is the year of studying and learning for me,” Lily said. “Aside from my commercial work, I am teaching an illustration course, which is challenging me to think about my own work. I'm shifting my work to take on more editorial illustration, and my other goal is to work in children's book publishing.”
For Lily, and for so many other business owners that Incfile works with, being an entrepreneur is not just about money, it’s about curiosity, creativity, passion, purpose and personal growth.
“When I think about entrepreneurship, the word entrepreneur makes me think of someone who is a leader, multi-talented, works smart and has vision,” Lily said. “My advice is to be clear on who are you are as a person, and what is your purpose in this business. Keep your expenses low. Stay organized and have realistic financial and creative goals. Take workshops and prioritize what skill sets you need. Get out and meet people in your industry. You're not always going to have a mentor, so you have to be your own mentor.”
Some of the best entrepreneurs, like Lily Qian, are curious, thoughtful, lifelong learners. They bring great creations into the world.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.