Founder Stories: Justin Erickson On Building Justin Erickson Art

In today’s Founder Story, we feature Abhi Godara, the visionary behind Justin Erickson Art!

Read on for lessons he has learned from launching and marketing his creative business.

1. Please introduce your business and share your role. 

Hey, I’m Justin Erickson and I’m a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer.

I run a small creative business out of my home office called Justin Erickson Art. I provide a variety of visual identity design services to fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Between projects, I create and sell my original artwork, art prints, lapel pins, cards, and other merch. 

2. What’s your backstory, what kind of challenges did you face, and how did you come up with your business idea?

I’m not entirely sure where to start! 

My journey has been all over the map. In my teen years, I struggled with the idea of what I wanted to do with my life. At the time I had been painting and generally exploring my creativity as a hobby. It was something I wanted to improve on, however, I allowed myself to be persuaded away from the arts as a career. 

The first time I went to college I dabbled in culinary arts for a couple semesters. Loved cooking but hated the kitchen. I ultimately decided to study business with a focus on hospitality and ended up staying with that career for just shy of 14 years. I didn’t find a lot of fulfillment within the hospitality industry and found I lost my sense of self. I spent years feeling stuck.

The second time I went to college I knew I wanted to do something creative, and I knew I needed to follow my interests. I landed on an Introduction to Graphic Design course and loved it. I saw my opportunity for change and ran with it.

My business began to grow around my hobby organically. In my free time and on weekends  I would display my work at art markets, I would take painting commissions, design logos for friends, and little by little my network grew. Eventually, I was able to move down to part-time employment and rely on commissions to pay the bills.

That’s when I decided to concentrate on my creative work and start the studio.  

3. How did you prepare for, and go about your launch? 

If I had a physical storefront this probably would have happened very differently but in all honesty, there wasn’t really a launch. Different pieces of my business went live as they were ready. Justin Erickson’s Art was gradually built up over time to resemble what it does today.

I would take on odd jobs to save money until I could buy a more powerful computer or the equipment I needed. I would spend my spare time building my website or working on new products. In those days I didn’t know anything about marketing myself, or what search engine optimization was. I essentially just faked it until something started working.

Now I’m mostly self-sufficient. I have just about everything I need to handle 98% of my requests. I print to order. I even have the equipment to do all of my own picture framing. I can do almost everything from my studio space. Very rarely do I need to outsource projects. 

4. Since launching, what types of marketing campaigns and designs have worked best to attract and retain customers?

Whenever I go to launch a new product, I usually stick to a simple product marketing campaign.

I don’t typically work in large quantities, so I don’t need a huge budget or massive reach. I’m a one-man show. I make my products myself and I gotta balance online orders with my regular workflow. 

I pre-plan about three months’ worth of social media posts for the specific product. Then using those posts I plan segments to include in my newsletter. I set a date to launch a pre-order, and the actual launch date. Helps me keep focused, and prioritize the different steps of producing the product.

Then I set to work scheduling the different posts. My followers will usually only see about one related post between stories, reels, and photos every week until the day the new product launches. At the beginning of each month leading up to the launch, I will send out a newsletter with a progress update, and exclusive behind-the-scenes photos. 

I will announce pre-orders, between two weeks to four weeks prior to the launch date as well as the actual launch date.

By this point, the project is actually ready to launch. I want to make sure I have enough time to finish test printing and doing quality checks before I start shipping them out. I’ll prepare a blog post with SEO optimization for the product, and prepare the product pages, product photos, thumbnails, etc. The day pre-orders start everything is usually ready to go live. 

I’ll spend the remaining time leading up to launch day fulfilling the pre-orders and building up a small reserve of inventory. 

Most recently I launched a new line of Holiday Cards using this method. During the two-week pre-order phase I made enough sales to cover the costs of development and materials. About 40% of the orders were from repeat customers and the other 60% were from new shoppers. It was my most successful product last year. By the time next year rolls around the blog should be ranking for the key terms I selected, and it will hopefully start selling itself. 

5. What have been the most influential brands for your business? Whose branding and marketing do you aspire to and why?

This is a tough one! 

As a creative person, I am constantly browsing the work of other designers, and studios for inspiration. You learn a lot through observation. 

Wolff Olins comes to mind. This agency absolutely played a role in the approach I took with my own branding. They’re responsible for the Met Gala’s visual identity. Most of the studio’s work is bold through its simplicity and use of typography. They actually just finished a project with the New York Botanical Garden. Fire. If you haven’t you should check it out. 

I was recently introduced to the work of OSME, they’re a London-based studio. I particularly like how quirky and bold their designs are. They’re not afraid to be exploratory. I am excited to explore their work more thoroughly and consider how to add more playful elements to my own brand. 

6. What are your favorite marketing platforms/tools?

Google Keyword Planner has proven absolutely crucial to the organic traffic my website receives. I use the tool often when writing anything for the site.  

Mailchimp is probably a given. 

Adobe Express to help speed up the process and keep everything consistent. 

7. Who or what inspires and motivates you?

A lot of things keep me inspired. 

Through observation and master studies you learn a lot about your craft and yourself. 

I collect art books. Specifically for the media and artistic movements I enjoy. For example, I just found a book featuring the artwork of Avatar the Last Airbender. It goes into detail about pre-production and building the world of Avatar.   

When it comes down to it, the opportunity to be self-directed, and creative on my terms is what keeps me motivated. Working 9-5 wasn’t designed for me. 

8. What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you would share with entrepreneurs hoping to launch or who have just launched? 

In the beginning, my website hardly worked, It was held together with a few rubber bands and a paperclip. Invest in a web designer, get your friends or some family to poke around your site, and pretend to go through the checkout process. Make sure it works! 

Take a class or two on Social Media Marketing. I learned more relevant information with classes on Skillshare than I did in college. 

Things rarely go to plan, expect a few ideas, products, etc. to flop. 

Lastly, separate your self-worth from your business and your craft. 

9. What do you believe are the qualities of a good entrepreneur? And what makes a team successful?

Learning when to let something go and move on is important. Not every idea is going to be successful. You will need to become comfortable with failure.

From time to time I will misjudge my audience’s interest in a painting or design. I’ll get so caught up in my own excitement and throw time and resources into developing a new product or print only for it to collect dust. It happens. 

This one will sound cliche but the ability to adapt is so important. It has been crucial in my own journey, it will certainly be crucial in yours. 

That Shipment you need, It’s late. You got some orders to prepare, your printer decides to behave like a brick. There’s a deadline in a few hours, Adobe Illustrator decides it’s time to crash, and your last save was a few hours ago. A client decides after four rounds of revisions to go in a completely new direction. Whatever gets thrown at you, you dance with it. 

10. Let us know where we can go to learn more! 

For sure! 

My portfolio and my store can be found on my website. You can also find me on Instagram (@justinerickson).