As the owner of a cartoon service, you can take your talent for drawing and perhaps writing cartoons in a number of directions. You could create art for greeting cards, books and magazines, digital clients, animation studios, ads, comic books, merchandise, cartoon syndicates and almost endless other sales channels both online and off.
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Learn how to start your own Cartoon Service and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a cartoon service by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Cartoon Service
- Form your Cartoon Service into a Legal Entity
- Register your Cartoon Service for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Cartoon Service
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Cartoon Service
- Get Cartoon Service Insurance
- Define your Cartoon Service Brand
- Create your Cartoon Service Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your cartoon service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a cartoon service?
The best news about this business is that your start-up costs are usually quite reasonable. And while a fancy studio would be nice, you can start out working from a spare bedroom or even your kitchen table. Here’s an idea of what you might spend upfront.
Digital Hardware and software -- Zero to $1,500 or more. You might already have all of the digital equipment you need. Most cartoonists use Mac computers and a suite of software that can include Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Director Suite and StoryboardPro are among programs used by animators. This cartoonist has an interesting blog post on his digital equipment.
Non-digital tools -- $250 or more. This includes vellum paper, pens, markers, erasers, table and good lighting.
Professional services -- $500 or more. Learn all you can about copyright and licensing laws, but be prepared to hire an attorney to review contracts or answer legal questions as they come up. An accountant or tax preparer can help you meet your tax obligations.
What are the ongoing expenses for a cartoon service?
Your largest ongoing cost will be for art supplies. You’ll go through those at a rate determined by how busy you are.
Who is the target market?
About the only way of defining your clientele is that it consists of anyone or any company that has an interest in your art. This could include publishers, newspaper syndicates, non-profit or political organizations, website owners, bloggers, merchandisers, Hollywood studios and consumers.
How does a cartoon service make money?
You’ll charge a fee for your work. In the case of cartoonists who sell online, they might provide art to enliven blogs, newsletters or websites. You might sell your products on a per-cartoon basis or by a monthly or annual fee or even in bulk quantity discounts. Here’s one example of a price list provided by a cartoon service that sells via a subscription model.
How much can you charge customers?
That will vary greatly according to the types of clients you attract. For instance, syndicated cartoonists working for newspapers and websites can make anywhere from $5 to $50 or more per media vehicle--but that must be split with the syndicate, which acts as your agent. Major publications such as the New York Times can pay $700 or more for a single-panel cartoon. On the other end of the scale, web brokers such as Fiverr seek cartoonists who’ll work for $5 per assignment.
Before you set a rate, ask plenty of questions about the needs of the client and how the work will be used. Then consider how long it will take you to complete the project and how much you want to make on an hourly basis. For comparison, Upwork provides an online directory of cartoonists with their hourly rates listed.
Also, consider joining the National Cartoonists Association. In networking with your peers, you’ll be able to find out what others are charging for similar services.
How much profit can a cartoon service make?
There are a lot of ways of answering that question because there are seemingly endless directions you can take your business. But let’s look at several numbers from a variety of sources. Here, you'll find a general salary range for print cartoonists estimated to be between $30,000 - $60,000 a year. The website Glassdoor indicates an average salary nationally for illustrators of under $54,000 and almost $105,000 for animation storyboard artists. Another salary survey website posts cartoonist/animator salaries of around $50,000. Just remember that the relatively small number of respondents to the wage surveys means that the averages could be skewed. Also, there’s no differentiation here between employees and freelancers.
And of course there are a handful of famous cartoonists who generate annual revenue well into the millions.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Don’t be afraid to step into unfamiliar territory. There are so many different ways of selling your services as a cartoonist that you can find an array of customer bases to broaden your appeal and boost your profit potential.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Cartoon Service Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your cartoon service is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a cartoon service. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Cartoon services should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
Trademark & Copyright Protection
If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.
The nature of legal requirements is ever changing, especially in regards to copyright laws. Here is a frequently updated resource, which can help keep you aware of the legal requirements.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a cartoon service
Your website is important both as a portfolio for your work and possibly as an ecommerce site to sell your services through PayPal or other online pay services. Instagram, Facebook and YouTube can also be critical tools for showcasing your art. Nothing can describe what you can do for a client better than a display of what you’ve done for others.
How to keep customers coming back
The quality of your work and the satisfaction of your customers will help you retain the existing business and branch out through referrals.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2022 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Cartoon Service in your State
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- South Dakota
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Is this Business Right For You?
First and foremost, you must have a talent for cartooning. For many kinds of assignments, the ability to write—especially in a humorous vein—is also necessary. Beyond that, your marketing skills and self-promotional instincts will help you commercialize your talent in a number of ways.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a cartoon service?
Your typical day will look very different depending on the direction you take your talent. But regardless of direction, your activities will fall into three basic areas.
- Marketing your services and constantly soliciting business and originating new markets and ways of doing business
- Working on your commissioned or speculative projects
- Invoicing clients and keeping your business afloat
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful cartoon service?
You must have an artistic talent and, more importantly, be able to creatively find a way into the business through sales channels that fit your work.
What is the growth potential for a cartoon service?
That would depend on the direction you take your business. Since newspapers are an endangered business model today, the market for newspaper-based syndicated cartoonists is quite tight. However, online markets continue to open up (though the pay can be low). If your talent can find an audience, you can thrive, but most cartoonists have day jobs to pay the bills while their cartooning is completed on a part-time basis.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a cartoon service?
Identify one or more markets that you think you can serve and initially focus your energies there. That might mean submitting your captioned concepts to greeting card companies and magazines, drawing caricatures at an amusement park or submitting your spec work to animation studios, among other endeavors. You can add markets as you find acceptance and gain confidence. Since your career will probably start slowly while you build your portfolio, you might want to keep your day job for salary and benefits and moonlight as a cartoonist.
How and when to build a team
Chances are, you won’t have a team. Cartooning tends to be a solo enterprise for most, although those at the very top of the field might have assistants or even other cartoonists creating art in their style. You might also consider collaborating with a writer whose talent in that area is stronger than yours if you’re submitting greeting cards, comic books, animation or captioned cartoons to magazines, publishers, studios, ad agencies or websites.
- Offer Your Cartooning Skills as a Freelancer to Fiverr
- Membership Opportunities with The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists