In celebration of the Anna Goodson Illustration Agency turning 25 in February 2021, we sat down with founder Anna Goodson for a thorough interview about her journey. In the first part of the interview, she shared how it all began; from the struggles and obstacles she faced in the beginning, to notable moments and wins of the agency.
In this second and final part of our interview, she shares the biggest misconceptions when it comes to clients, gives advice on how to get her attention, and talks about what the future holds.
What’s the biggest misconception about agents, and working with an agency?
For me, one of the misconceptions is that it’s more expensive to work with an agency, rather than work with an artist directly, and I think it’s not true. I hope that budgets are established across the board, regardless if an artist is represented or not. In my case, I’m very involved with the artists that we represent, and it’s a partnership.
I don’t think it’s a must for all artist to be represented. I think artists who want to go on their own should be on their own. I think you need to see the advantage of being with an agency for it to work. There’s so many different agencies out there that it’s a matter of finding the proper fit, because it’s a relationship, much like a marriage. I have so many artists who have been with us for so many years, and we have a great dynamic together; we collaborate together. So yes, we’re responsible for the business and the image. We’re responsible for the portfolios, and so we’re very involved with the many different aspects of it.
There’s also a misconception about agents, in that all they care about is money, or that they don’t bother to have a personal connection, or that they don’t care about the artist. The reputation that we have is really different, and hopefully we’ve been part of changing that misconception over the years.
What can an illustration agency do for an artist?
As a reputable agency – and ours has been around for 25 years – we offer lots of service to the artists we represent, and clients alike. For example, we tend to cut through the clutter and put together what we really feel is a strong roster of incredibly talented, international illustrators who work in various styles. On our website, you’ll be able to filter through our artists according to style. We do research for our clients too, because sometimes they don’t know what type of styles they’re looking for and so they write to us, and we help find the right artist for the job. It makes things a lot quicker, and economical in terms of time – there’s so many places on the web to look, and there’s so much clutter and there’s a lot of noise to filter through. It’s like going into a boutique, really. You go in there and be confident that you’re going to find something that you’ll like.
For an illustrator, being with an agency has so many advantages. These days, it’s almost a luxury to have a top agency take you on. You’ll have someone who will hold your hand and walk you through the whole process, and support you. We fight and get you the best budget through the contracts we work on, we follow up and do all the paperwork; whether it’s a quotation or billing, as well as the running after payments. And if there’s corrections, we’ll get more money for the job.
I think that illustrators should be illustrating. And if they’re focusing on doing that, then they really don’t have time to be on top of all the business development work that we do. After 25 years, we have already established this great reputation. We work with clients on a regular basis, and if we’ve paired one client with a particular artist, they might come back and want to work with another artist who’s already part of the team. It opens up the door for the artist to so many other jobs they may not have had the opportunity to work on if they weren’t on our roster.
It’s also a collaborative experience – I think that being an illustrator can be lonely at times, whether it’s critiquing your portfolio, or helping you move and grow into the style you want to work with, or where you want to take your business. When you’re part of the team, you have a business partner as well. Sylvie does so many things. The both of us run the business, plus a bunch of freelancers working together, and it’s really nice to have that support.
And for clients, we’re like a free service. A client can absolutely go and search all over the internet for images and artists, but if they come to us, we’ll help them and walk them through it, and we’ll make sure that they get their final artwork on time, in budget. We’re reachable almost 24/7. Sylvie is on top of client service.
For any artist who has been on their own for a long time, and then gets an opportunity to work with an agent, they’ll be able to see the advantage in it. It may not be for everyone to be represented, but if you’re looking to collaborate and to have someone really take you under their wing, it’s a big plus, particularly for someone who is looking to launch their career. There’s so many artists we’ve taken on who wouldn’t have gained access to all the clients and had the potential to do the work that they’ve done had they not worked with us, or had been part of our agency.
What value can an illustration agency offer for clients?
When you work with a company like ours, we’re very hands on. Service for us, is number one. It’s one thing to find an illustrator whose style you like, but it’s also important to get everything delivered on time, and within budget. All of the running around and following up is something that we take care of. We’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with so many different clients around the world, and we often hear of how blown away they are by the talent we’ve put together. It’s like a great boutique where you keep going back to, where you’ll always find something you like.
Through us, our clients have always found an artist to work with; and Sylvie has made everyone’s job so much easier. It’s nice to have someone to collaborate with and to go to, and all of this is at no charge at all to the client. When clients come to us through the website, you’ll know how quickly we get back to you. We appreciate the trust that clients have placed in us throughout the years, and we hope that we’ll continue to collaborate.
What is your biggest tip for illustrators who are looking for representation?
When you’re finding a rep, make sure you find an agency where you feel like you fit in. Find a place where you really feel like you want to be part of.
If you’re going to write an email, write to somebody. I hate getting emails that starts off with “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear sir/madam,”. My company is Anna Goodson Illustration Agency, so you should probably wing it. Just write to Anna – what are chances that you’re going to make a mistake? It’s really important that you’re personally addressing this email, and that you want to be a part of my team. Also, it’s very important that you don’t CC five other agents when you’re writing to me, because that also happens. If you want to take a shot in the dark and be represented by just anybody, I’m probably not going to reply to you.
Make sure to follow up when you send an email – I might get hundreds and hundreds of emails and sometimes, I’d love an artist’s work, but I’d get too busy and forget to write them back. So do remember to follow up, particularly if we’d had any type of interaction before. Don’t be shy – reach out, and send and email.
When you send out that email, I also like to see images in the form of JPGs with a link or two to your Instagram account or your website. Don’t be offended if I don’t get back to you, or if I don’t ask you to be a part of the team. If you want to be an illustrator, you need to fight and believe in yourself. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste, and just because I didn’t take you on, it doesn’t mean you’re not good or that you won’t have a career in illustration. I think you should go for it, and keep working on your style. And keep following up.
I personally like to see portfolios where there’s a signature and continuity to the work. If you’re hesitating between 2 or 3 styles before you write to an agent, try to finalize and perfect the style you want to work in. Put together your portfolio and make sure that it reflects the type of work you want to do, and then send it out. And have a good idea where you see your work. If I were ask you who would you want to work with, and you don’t have a clue, then you should probably do your homework.
If you feel like your work belongs somewhere, or if your style should be in that magazine, or that you want to work in book publishing, have a clear idea as to where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. Some of us are really busy, and may not get back to you, but it’s really worth reaching out and trying.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of running the company?
What’s cool is that I can run the company from everywhere and anywhere. I like to be outside and I like to be moving. My office has always been virtual in all our 25 years, and I pretty much work from anywhere. Running this business has given me the opportunity to work from everywhere. I’m pretty much reachable 24/7. If I get an email at 10 o’clock, I answer it at 10.02. And if an email comes in at 6am, it would be during my meeting with tech support who is based in Thailand. The freedom of being able to work from everywhere has been a plus for me.
One of the most rewarding parts about what I do, is that I’m able to meet artists and have connections with them. These are artists who have touched me personally as well as professionally. They’ve become my friends. Also, working with Sylvie, and being able to collaborate and get along with her for so many years and to bring this vision to life. I wouldn’t change anything. As a business, we’ve done well, because to have a career where you make a living and do what you love for 25 years, it’s fantastic.
I have 2 daughters, one is 16 and one is 10, and they’re involved in the business – they’ll share their thoughts with me, and also show me artists that they see on Instagram. It’s a family affair. They don’t think I work because after the first 5 years of running the business, it feels so much that it has become a hobby that I do. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and it’s really been fun. I don’t know how many people out there who can say that they’ve had so much fun and enjoyed what they’ve done.
For me, this has been an amazing journey, and I hope that we can continue for many more years. I still feel like the new kid around the block, even though we’ve been around for so long. Today, I feel like we have the best group of artists that we’ve ever represented.
When did you realize you needed help with the business? How did Sylvie come into the picture?
I got really lucky 20 years ago. I was introduced to Sylvie Hamel who at the time was working for a really big public relations firm here in Montreal. She was in the process of reflecting on her career, and looking for new challenges; and over a drink one night I asked her if she’d like to come over to help me out. I had a small startup, not a lot of money, but maybe it will be fun and that I could teach her a little bit about the illustration industry. She didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about.
Sylvie took a 3-month sabbatical from her job and came on board. I taught her every aspect of the business, and she became a big part of the company and its success.
We have such different personalities, so much so that we make a fantastic partnership. I’m a reactionary, and I’m very quick, and Sylvie is patient, nice and sweet. She’s helped brand the agency into being super nice and friendly, whereas I’m a more of a tough, take action sort of girl. I owe much of the success of the agency to her, without a doubt. She’s awesome and I think all the artists and clients can attest to that.
If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself 25 years ago?
Number one on my list would be to not take things so personally. I’m very sensitive, and working with artists who are also sensitive, I would take things very personally, and because of that, I can get easily hurt.
I also wish that I could look into the future and see that everything worked out, and this would end up being fun. I felt really alone when I first started, and would have probably reached out a little more to find mentors. It was difficult trying to find female mentors back in 1996, and I feel that if I had one, it might’ve helped me a little bit more.
I don’t think I would change anything else. I learned a lot because I made so many mistakes, and I grew so much from the mistakes that I made. For anybody out there who’s learning to launch the business, it’s really okay to make mistakes and learn along the way. And because of that, it makes me a much better human being, a much better business woman, and hopefully a much better illustration agent.
What’s next for your agency?
I’m always on the lookout for great talent. Not that I want to add so many more artists to our team, but there’s so many wonderful talent out there that I want them to be in our gang. We’re going to move more into motion and animation work, maybe even virtual reality. We see where images are going today and the experience of visual arts – we want to be a part of that. I’m excited to learn – for me it’s a constant learning process. As soon as we make changes to the website, we realize we have to make more changes, so we’re constantly changing the website, and how we promote ourselves and the kind of work that we’re doing.
Hopefully we’ll still be around for another 25 years, and I hope the brand continues. We’re trying to follow what’s going on and to be able to continue our relationship with our client, and bring on new clients.
As a woman-owned business, what advice do you have for women who are looking to start their own businesses?
I think without a doubt, you should launch your business, and believe in yourself. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll fail, and that’s okay. Because you can pick yourself off from the ground up and start again. I think having your own business as a woman is a fantastic opportunity. I have 2 kids and I was able to be around for them while they were growing up. I used to talk and communicate with clients even while I was breastfeeding! I think it’s an ideal situation for women to have a business.
Also, find mentors, and people that can help you. I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurship is really the way to go. You’d have so much freedom, and it’s very rewarding, it’s very tough, but if you’re disciplined and it’s something you want to do, then you should launch your own business for sure.