How to make career change: Janitorial work to illustrator/graphic design

March 11th, 2009 at 9:44 am by under Your Money

From Your Money, Your Questions

I am currently a small business owner in the janitorial field.  With the current economic state more and more people, and business’s are using our services less.   This is creating a economic hardship for myself and my business.  My God given talent is doodling/illustration although I have no degree it is my passion.  I am thirty six and I don’t have the income to support returning to school to get a degree.  My question is would it be feasible to pursue this area and how would I go about it?  Please see attached illustrations.
Thank You
Maggie in Grand Rapids

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5 Responses to “How to make career change: Janitorial work to illustrator/graphic design”

  1. Ken Soper says:


    I can sure empathize with the economy’s dip causing hardship. Many people are feeling this.

    Here’s what I would do. First, in slow economic times most businesses have to advertise and market even more than normal to just keep the same level of business. Put your illustrating talents to work and make up some simple, inexpensive flyers advertising your services. Then give them out, stick them under the door, or hang them on door knobs in office buildings–where you currently have customers and those nearby. (By the way, healthcare and education services industries are doing well, so those types of businesses may be more likely to contract for such services; other businesses may also be looking for good but less expensive services, so price your services competitively.)

    A really helpful classic small busimess book, easy to read and very practical, is Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. It’s in paperback; you can find copies through both the Kent District Library and the Grand Rapids Public Library.

    Second, develop a portfolio of your work, putting your illustrations in something like an artist portfolio, or more inexpensively a nice 3-ring binder with plastic protective sheets in which to insert your illustrations. Also, make up a business card at a local office supply/printing center (FedexKinko’s, Staples, Office Depot or Office Max, for example); use a sample of your work on the card. Then take a look at the business yellow pages for types of businesses that likely need illustrators such as printers (even the speedy ones), small business sign makers, and publishers. You could then call, visit or mail info to these firms. You may find that doing some work for a non-profit as a volunteer illustrator would help build your portfolio.

    Third, you are going to need some training at some point. You may find a course or two from community college could help you improve your talent and thus your marketability. Also, DTP or desk top publishing and video games and simulations will need people with the artist’s eye and be able to use of a computer; so, research that area. I recommend starting with the Occupational Outlook Handbook (find it by googling “OOH”). Here’s a start:


  2. Good advice Ken.

    I’d also suggest getting a website up with samples of your work. It costs virtually nothing to post a portfolio online (even using Google’s free Picassa website to post images if nothing else). Illustration is almost entirely talent-driven, so no need to really focus on education or work experience. If your portfolio is strong enough, people won’t care if you were self taught or not.

    So much of illustration is style-dependent, so developing your craft is critical. Being decent at it might not be enough, but if you have a passion and can develop your talent enough, you may find your niche.

    Lastly, look at where demand is to help determine what area of illustration to pursue. There are lots of children’s book illustrators out there for example, so competition is tough. Try to focus on a type of illustration where you can get the most work and make some money, even if you’d rather be drawing lighthouses all day!

  3. Ken Soper says:

    Thanks, Howard, for your comments. Excellent advice. Web based portfolio is an excellent idea, given how easy and inexpensive it is to do these days. Like all budding professional artists, don’t leave your day job until you have a critical mass of customers doing the illustration work evenings and weekends.

  4. Ben says:

    I was at Smokey Bones the other day and saw the greatest invention I have ever seen! It was a football field goal post with a football attached to urinal screen in the urinal and it was genius! Guys aim at it while relieving themselves. You have to see it yourself, the website of the company that makes them is at and every sports bar should have these!

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