#54: How Designers Can Partner with Top Brands: the Story of Cat Coquillette
Ever wondered how to turn your passion for design and illustration into a successful business, partnering with top brands like Target and Urban Outfitters?
Welcome to The Creator's Adventure where we interview creators from around the world, hearing their stories about growing a business. Today Cat Coquillette shares her secrets to building a profitable brand and licensing her illustrations with major companies.
Cat travels the world full-time as a nomadic artist. Her illustrations are inspired by her firsthand observations and encounters around the world.
Whether Cat is painting florals found in the jungles of Vietnam, exotic wildlife from the Amazon Rainforest, or patterns inspired by Scandinavian textiles, her artwork brings a fresh and modern perspective.
Her artwork is licensed through brands like Target, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, HomeGoods, and more.
Her brand, CatCoq, aspires to not only provide an exhilarating aesthetic rooted in an appreciation for culture, travel and the outdoors but to inspire people to channel their natural curiosity by expanding their horizons to gain a deeper understanding of our world.
Learn more about Cat Coquillette: https://catcoq.com/ADD PODCAST
Bryan McAnulty: Welcome to The Creator's Adventure, where we interview Creator's from around the world, hearing their stories about growing a business. Today we're gonna talk about how you can get some of the biggest businesses in the world to become your customers. By creating leverage in your business and investing time and opportunities that have the potential for big payoffs down the road.
Hey everyone. I'm Bryan McAnulty, the founder of Heights Platform. Let's get into it.
Hey everyone. We're here today with Cat Coquillette and, and she is someone who travels the world full-time as a nomadic artist. Her illustrations are inspired by for her firsthand observations and encounters around the world, and her artwork is licensed through brands like Target, urban Outfitters, anthropology, HomeGoods, and more.
Her brand, Cat Coquillette aspires not only to provide an exhilarating aesthetic, rooted in her appreciation for culture and travel, but to inspire people to channel their natural curiosity by expanding their horizons in order to gain a deeper understanding of our world. Kat, welcome to the show.
Cat Coquillette: Thank you so much for having me, Brian.
Bryan McAnulty: You're welcome. So my first, first question for you is, what would you say is the biggest thing that either you did or you are doing that's helped you to achieve the freedom to do what you enjoy?
Cat Coquillette: Oh, man. It's, it's gotta be baby steps of getting out my comfort zone. So, you know, when you read that bio of, you know, I, I travel the world full-time and create art as I go.
Live abroad, it sounds like I'm, you know, very, like, I'm a risk taker and like to live this crazy, adventurous life, but I'm actually not very much of a risk taker. I take like little small baby steps and I figure out what's working and what's not working, and then I just, you know, ditch whatever's not working out for me and then proceed along the path that looks like it's going to be more opportunistic.
So, yeah, getting outta my comfort zone has helped a lot with that. And just, again, those like incremental steps. And you know, another one is accepting that it's okay to stray from the status quo. You know, when I was starting my career, I was on a very linear path thinking, you know, I'll do what? I went to college for graphic design and illustration.
I double majored and I started, you know, a job at an agency soon after I graduated. And that was just kind of where I thought my entire career was just going, was agency life. And the idea of not doing that was pretty terrifying. But again, that's where those little baby steps came in and trying new things.
And in my case it was yeah, uploading artwork that I was creating just on nights and weekends to print on demand websites like society. And earning a side income through that to supplement my you know, day job income. And what that did was really just open up a world of opportunities for me of other ways that I can monetize my artwork and eventually reach a life of complete freedom where I can go wherever I want to in the world and work on my laptop and run my business from wherever I wanna be.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah. That's great. So how many countries or or cities have you been to, do you think?
Cat Coquillette: Oh, gosh. I, I reached country number 40, was France a couple years ago, so probably a little bit, a little bit over that. A little over 40. Yeah, it's been a very adventurous last seven years for sure.
Bryan McAnulty: Awesome, awesome.
That's great. Yeah, I've, I've been to I think about 30 now myself. and um mm-hmm. . So that's awesome to hear. But I think what would be really helpful to our audience is to kind of hear the somewhat of the background of the story of like, where was the decision that that made you say like, okay, I'm going to go do this.
I'm going to go and travel now. So you mentioned you worked at the agency. What, what happened that made you think. Okay, I want to try this travel thing. Was it like a slow process or were you like, I'm just gonna go and do this?
Cat Coquillette: So travel was always something that was incredibly important to me and you know, it was just a.
The two biggest constraints that kept me from traveling as much as I wanted to was it was time and money. I only got two weeks of vacation a year when I worked at that agency job. And I also didn't really have the money to do any international travel. So any opportunity when I was working that job, and I worked there for four years, by the way, it was a branding design agency in Kansas City.
And you know, just for context, I grew up in Kansas. I went to school at the University of Kansas, and then I got a job in Kansas City. So for the first, you know, 27 years of my life, it was very . It was pretty much in one place. And every opportunity for, you know, a three day weekend. At my job, I would get in the car and drive to Colorado and do some hiking or if I found a cheap point ticket down to Miami, I'd fly down there and rent a car and go see the Everglades.
Like these like little bucket list items that I could squeeze in with a full-time job and two weeks of vacation a year. And so, , what started happening is, and you know, I'd always ask my bosses, I'm like, could I just get a few more vacation days? There's this trip I wanna do, and that's not exactly how the corporate world works.
So yeah, what what was starting to happen is, like I mentioned, I would come home from my job every, you know, every evening. And I would feel kind of, you know, just kind of burnt out of staring at a computer screen all day, designing logos and websites and whatever else. So instead of watching TV or looking at my phone or reading my Kindle, I just wanted nothing to do with the screen.
So I would get out my watercolors and just paint. Just not necessarily to monetize the paintings at the. But just to paint something, just whatever I felt like painting, just some sort of creative outlet. For me that was just a way to unwind after a long day of work. And what I started doing was uploading those paintings to Instagram.
And at the time, you know, the only people that followed me were my friends and family. So it wasn't like I had this massive audience, but I would post like a painting I did of donuts or something, I'd be like, oh, here's my newest water. And what happened kind of gradually is I started gaining more followers on Instagram.
People that I didn't know that were interested in purchasing my artwork. And so I had never even considered monetizing my artwork before. You know, it was very ingrained in me that I'm a graphic designer, that's my identity. That's what I went to school for, that's what I'm doing. And being an artist was just not something I thought I was interested in.
I just thought being an art artist was synonymous with. being a starving artist. That's kind of the only context I had in my head of it. Mm-hmm. . But yeah, I wasn't gonna say no to people wanting to pay me money for my artwork cuz at the time I was just, you know, desperately looking for ways to to make some side cash.
So yeah. So I learned about print on demand sites and that business model, which. Is essentially as an artist, I would upload one of my paintings, we'll, I'll use the donuts as an example, upload it to a print on demand site like Society six, and then it can be enabled on, I think they've got like 50 or a hundred products now, so that that donut watercolor I did could be printed on a phone case or a shower curtain or wallpaper.
Any of those products that they sell, So by uploading my art to those websites, I gave my audience on Instagram a way to purchase my artwork and a way for me to make money. And so after, you know, gradually that started building up and within six months I was actually earning more through society six, just one print on a man website than I was at my full-time job.
And so that's when. I really started taking it seriously. I, I realized that there was this huge opportunity right in front of me and I was brand new to the industry. I didn't really know anything about print on demand or being an artist. I'd never heard the term art licensing or, or surface design. And those are all exactly what I do today.
Right? And so yeah, I eventually left that agency job to kind of see where this whole print on demand thing would go. And what it turned into was art licensing, where I had opportunities to license my artwork with target anthropology bed Bath and Beyond, urban Outfitters. All of these brands that I suddenly got to align myself with.
And after I quit my job, I was, you know, I had my apartment in Kansas City. I had a few more months on the lease, and I had to decide like, okay, do I renew my lease? And I just had this hesitancy about it. I was like, oh, I don't really want to, but I, I'd only ever lived in Kansas City, so it was very, I, I, it was just a, it was a big unknown for me.
If I don't renew my lease, what else am I gonna do? And so back to that, that idea of baby steps, I decided not to renew it, but I wasn't gonna just like, move to Thailand immediately. Like that was, that was too much for me. So I just packed up all my stuff, put it in my brother and sister-in-law's garage.
And I got in my car and drove back to Colorado and I decided I would spend yeah, just a few months trying to figure out where in Colorado I wanted to live because that's one state over, it was a safe option for me. It was, it wasn't that big of a risk. It was a little risky, but it wasn't too bad.
And that turned into six months of me just living in different Airbnbs all throughout Colorado. And the realization I had was my favorite part about that entire experience was Visiting a new place for the very first time and exploring something brand new and novel. And so that's what pushed me to eventually buy that one way plane ticket to Thailand and decide to yeah, try out this whole digital nomad thing that I had heard so much about.
This was back in 20 15, 20 16, and yeah, and what, what I had realized was even if I buy this one way ticket to Thailand, it's. End all, be all. Like, if I don't like it, I'll just buy a one-way plane ticket back to the US and just pick up my life where I left off. So the risk, there wasn't even that that great.
It seemed like a big deal at the time, but when I rationalized it, it was like, you know what, if it doesn't work out, I can always just come home. And that was, that was about seven years ago. And here I am, you know, still traveling full-time, still working on my laptop as I go. And this is, this is the life that's, that was, that was meant for me.
Bryan McAnulty: That's great to hear. Yeah. I like how you mentioned earlier about the risk and not really feeling that you're a big risk taker because that resonated with me and I kind of feel the same way, but I wonder that if it's a different way of thinking, because to a lot of people, it, it could seem crazy to say, well, I'm gonna just go travel places.
I'm gonna buy this one way ticket. Like you said, and, but when, when you think about it, at least when you or I think about it, it doesn't really feel that risky because you can always go, go back, as you said, you can always go somewhere else. And I also like the point that you mentioned about how, how you made that transition of selling with a print on demand.
And for, for me, a similar story for myself is, I started, I already had, maybe I tried like e-commerce stores, things like that. Other other things. I was um building my own like web design studio at the time. and the, the thing that was the magical, I guess to me was trying to sell some like website themes and templates and things like that on like stock sites similar kind of idea to the print on demand in that like mm-hmm.
it was digital and when somebody purchased it, it was just automatically fulfilled. There was no like process of something that you had to do to take up your time to fulfill the order. And so being able to receive
Cat Coquillette: very similar to print on demand.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah. Yeah. So being able to receive like an order and have somebody pay you while you're sleeping, even if it was like a dollar, was like just completely unbelievable.
And that was so much more exciting to me than like a a five figure web design contractor or something that I might have just gotten before. And so part of my mission is I really want to. Help Creator's earn that first dollar with, with some form of, of leverage or disconnect from their time. Because that is really, I think, what can inspire you to move forward and, and opens, opens your eyes up and to this belief of possibility to this other way of life.
Cat Coquillette: Bryan, you put that just, it's, it's so well, and that resonates like, so hard with me. I mean, that's, that's it, right? I mean, the way I, I view my income. It's, it's a means to live a lifestyle that I want to live. And, you know, making money is awesome And I mean, that's, that's. It's great. And I like, you know, growing my business and being able to you know, grow my offerings and create more artwork.
But when it comes down to it, I, I see the income I make through my art as a way to just support the lifestyle that I want to live. And, you know, when I worked, I worked at that agency job for four years, and one thing I was really craving was more autonomy. I wanted to. Make my, I just, you know, if I wanted to drop everything and, you know, go to Colorado and hike and work remotely for a few weeks, like I wanted to be able to do that.
This was, you know, back in 2015. So remote work wasn't as widely accepted then as it is now, and that, that was the big catalyst is I, I saw money as a way to kind of buy that freedom for myself and be able to do, you know, work the way I choose to work, live the way I wanna live, travel to the places I want to go.
You know, I could. Definitely have grown my business a lot to a, to a, a lot faster if I worked harder on those first few years of my entrepreneurship journey. And I was working quite a bit, but I also wanted to take the time and explore the the countries I was living in at the time. You know maybe take a week off and go for a hiking trip with friends or.
You know, hop to the, the next country over and explore that for a weekend and come back. And so yeah, I basically, I, I work as hard as I need to to support the lifestyle that I wanna live for myself.
Bryan McAnulty: Awesome. Yeah, I, I completely agree with that, and I think that it's, it's so helpful to do something like that or to have that outlook because it's also so easy to fall into this trap.
Getting stuck and, and giving away those freedoms without even realizing it in the pursuit of making more money. And then suddenly you're, you set yourself up in this business where now you're, you're stuck in it in a way that you don't have that freedom to travel anymore because of whatever new constraints you've created for yourself to, to have to be in one spot or have to work at some certain hour or, or something like this.
And so I think that focusing on the lifestyle first, Kind of allows you to like that, that's the constraint you should give yourself to figure out how to build the business around that and Exactly. Yeah. And as long as you find a way to create enough value in the world, then the, the money comes as a result.
Cat Coquillette: Yeah. And I think an important thing that I figured out early on is, is what I actually want, like what are my priorities? And being able to realize that, I mean, it sounds, it sounds like so natural, like, oh, you should know what you want in life. But it took me a long, a long time to figure it out for myself.
And when I did, I really kind of latched onto that and I was like, okay, this, this is what's important to me in life. So how, how can I make my, how can I make that work for my life? Like, how can I make my, my business, my lifestyle work around these priorities that I've set for myself, the, the things that I want most?
And yeah, that's, that's kind of been the, the secret sauce behind, behind all of this is just figuring out what do I want? And then how do I, how do I actually make that happen? Yeah, definitely.
Bryan McAnulty: And I agree it's not. I don't think it's something that's, that's easy or natural for people. And I think that part of the reason I was able to start traveling so young and, and do what I did was because I was afraid and, and worried about what, what do I want?
What am I going to do? Because at the time like when I really started seriously thinking about that, I was still like kind of finishing high. Everyone's saying, well, we're gonna, I'm gonna go to college, I'm going to go to this college or that college. And to me that just didn't feel like the right path.
But at the same time, like I had to figure out something. And so the, like, the maybe anxiousness or worry and, and like deep feeling that I had to discover that really made me think about it enough to make that happen. Whereas I think a lot of people just don't think about it. And they just do whatever is, okay, I'll go to college, I'll get a job.
And they don't really spend that time to think about, well, what is it that I really want to do?
Cat Coquillette: I, yeah. That's, that's, I, yeah. I really resonate with that. I, I was on a similar path, you know, I, I went to college and. You know, all throughout, you know, being a, a child, an adolescent in high school I would always get compliments by my art teachers.
They were like, oh, you're so good at art. And so that's the one thing that I really held onto. And then when it was time to know when I was graduating high school and looking at universities, colleges that's the one thing I knew I wanted to pursue. I was like, okay, the, the constant in my life up until this point, People tell me I'm good at art.
You know, like, that's, that's the praise I get from teachers. So that was what I, I, it became part of my identity and that's really what pushed me to decide to double major in graphic design and illustration in college. I was like, oh, well I'll pursue that path and see where it leads. And that, I mean, I.
I going into college, I wasn't necessarily thinking like, what are my career options? After college, I was like, oh, I'll be an illustrator and that's that. And I didn't even really know what an illustrator did. And then I get to college and kind of what was, what was presented to me is as an illustrator you can illustrate children's books or op-ed cartoons, and I was like, man, I don't, I don't really wanna do either of those things.
But I guess those are my only two options. So I guess I better, you know, get another degree in graphic design just to broaden my horizons a little bit. And, you know, that's kind of been, this, this constant thing that I've been challenging in my life is what, what? , you know, is, is the status quo really the right path for me?
Or is it okay to stray away from that and try my own thing, even if it's something that I don't really know what the outcome might be. And again, you know, it's going back into that idea of risk taking, but those little baby steps at a time. I mean, for example, I started teaching online back in 2016 and it was just gonna be this one off opportunity.
like I mentioned society six was the print on demand site that I was the most successful with. I work with a bunch of print on demand sites now, but yeah, they were the, they were the originals and so they asked me if I would teach a class through a platform called Skillshare about how to invite other artists into this print on demand space and.
You know, I felt a little bit conflicted cause I was like, oh, why would I invite competitors into, into my arena? Like, why would I want to invite more content Creator's into this print on demand space? Is that, is that the right move for my business? Or is that just kind of, you know, self-sabotaging? But then what I realized is with, with this in like basically entire industry, a print on demand.
it's not this, this, you know, finite resource. The more content Creator's artists get involved, the more customers there's going to be. It's going to grow the platform as a whole. And, and that's exactly what's happened. So I, I taught this class for the very first time with Skillshare. Per request of Society six.
And I flew to New York, you know, met with the Skillshare team, they have their filming offices in Brooklyn. And it was, I was so, I was so nervous and scared to be in front of the camera. I was, you know, I showed up and I'm like, what am I doing? What am I doing? And I'd been working on this outline for months and, , you know, I, I show up.
We had two days slotted to film and I just, you know, they turned the camera on and I just talked about everything I knew about print on demand and how to make it work for you, how to track trends, how to monetize it. The success I'd seen and what was working for me. And it wa it was almost like I, I, I just like blacked out in front of the camera.
Cause I was so nervous that I, by the time that they sent me the draft to review, I was like, I have no idea what I said on those two days. And then I listened to it and I was like, wow. Okay. That's, that was legit. I actually like, you know, it got the point across and that was one of those things where as as nervous as I was showing up for those two days of filming in Brooklyn, It made it easier.
The next time I decided that I wanted to film a class on my own. Yeah, about a year after that experience, I was living in Shanghai, Thailand and painting a a bunch of watercolors. And what I decided I wanted to do was teach a watercolor class, you know? Embrace my inner Bob Ross and just see how it went.
Like there was something really fulfilling about teaching that first class and getting all of these, you know, comments and the discussion threads and messages on social media and emails from other artists who were reaching out to let me know how much my advice had helped them. And I never even considered myself a teacher or someone who had anything meaningful.
To share with other artists because I mean, I felt like I was still figuring it out and that that was a really empowering moment for me. And I realized that as much as I love traveling and creating art and having this creative fulfillment, and all of my curiosities are quenched by my travels one thing that I was kind of missing in my life was that that kind of.
The warm and fuzzy feeling of being able to give back and help help somebody else out, even if it's just a little bit. And so that's, that's really what pushed me to yeah, embrace online education, start filming more classes. I filmed a few more painting classes when I learned how to do new things, like I learned how to use a drawing app on the iPad called procreate a few years ago.
And once I figured it out, I was like, oh my God, this is the coolest app. It's so powerful. It's like having an entire art studio on your iPad. I have to teach a class on just how cool this, this program is. And you know, fast forward to now I have like six procreate classes of just, you know, showing like all these like cool new things, like ways you can illustrate ways that you can grow your portfolio and, yeah.
Anyways, this is long segue just to like mention. You think you're checking all the boxes in your life and reaching this, you know, complete fulfillment. But sometimes a few things are lacking and I feel really grateful that I figured out that how, how important teaching is to me. Cuz that's, I mean, that's a huge driver in my life right now as well, is just being able to help other creatives.
It's. People who were, you know, dealing with the same things I was dealing with seven years ago of just not even knowing where to start or where to begin or anything about the industry. So being able to give back in that way is as a, a pretty powerful feeling. Definitely.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah. I love that. That made me think of there's a popular designer, John Coco.
One of the things that he told me, and, and he's written a book about it, which really stood out to me and really made me think, was to work on problems worth solving. And so the idea of teaching is one of those things where a lot of people think about okay, well what's, what's something I can do for business to make money?
And then people might also think, well, what's something I could do for business that will provide. The lifestyle that I want. And then the third thing is, well, what's something I can do for business that's going to make a positive impact in the world and and be fulfilling in that way? And that's one of the reasons that I really like the idea of creating an online course, a community, a coaching program, because it can fulfill all of those things.
And it, it's one thing to have a business that generates money and provides you that freedom, but at the end of the day, it eventually, the motivation to work on it is not about the money, but about the, the impact and, and the good you can create in the world from it. And that's, that's kind of what can keep you motivated.
And so that's why I think, yeah, definitely teaching is something that's really powerful, even if you don't see yourself as a teacher, like you didn't when you started out. So I really love. I wanna mention one more thing about the travel, and then I wanna get into licensing and then more about this teaching online.
But I think when a lot of people hear like, oh, everyone's like cats traveling, or, or Brian's traveling. Like, it feels like, okay, well you say you can work there, but like, isn't it just kind of a vacation? Like how, how can you actually be creative? But we noticed on your website that you mentioned a fun fact about how you befriended a tarantula while traveling in Belize.
And so I wanted to talk a little bit about, like more of your relationship with nature and like how your creativity is inspired by travels. Because for me, I felt like traveling was something that would definitely help to really spark creativity, my creativity. And I think without it it would've been a lot harder to grow in certain ways.
So I'm curious how that works for you.
Cat Coquillette: Yeah, I mean, creative burnout is a, is a very real thing. It's something I, I felt when I was working at that agency job. And so when you, when you lack, when you, when you kind of lose that creative inspiration it can, it can impact so many aspects of your life. I mean, it, it can really drag you down.
And so one thing that I, I use traveling for essentially is a way to invigorate me creatively. And literally it's the things I see on my travels that I'm just, I'm, I'm painting and putting into my portfolio. So you know, I haven't painted a tarula yet, but that experience did help me get over my rec phobia for sure.
But yeah, like for example, I went to Peru back in I think 2015 or 2016 to hike the Inca Trail to Machu pic. And if you've ever been to Peru, you'll see alpacas and llamas just everywhere, and I think they're adorable. So I was taking a million photos of all of these alpacas. I was. And when I returned from that trip I painted a series of alpacas and those became the best sellers in my portfolio for several years because it was right before that, that huge trend we saw in like late 2016, early 2017 of like alpacas everywhere on like apparel and dinner plates and coffee mugs.
Like, I mean, they were, you walk into Target, it was alpaca central. And so because I went on that trip, got inspired by the, by the alpacas painted them it was just really serendipitous timing because that turned into such a strong seller in my portfolio. So yeah, as for all of my travels around the world, I photograph constantly just on my iPhone.
And then when I come back to my Airbnb or apartment or wherever I'm staying I just like go through my camera roll on my phone. I look at the photos I've taken that day or that week, and then that's how I decide what I'm going to sit down and paint. And. It's kind of cool that my entire art licensing portfolio was kind.
This snapshot of the places I've been around the world and, you know, someone might buy it because they want a cute alpaca, you know, art print hanging on their wall. And that's awesome. For me, it's, it's nice to be able to, you know, share my artwork with the world and have it, you know resonate with someone else.
And then at the same time, it's cool because it reminds me of that amazing trip I took with my family. And we hiked for four days in, in the mountains. Yeah, that's been a pretty cool aspect of getting to travel around the world, see cool stuff, and then just paint it and put it into my portfolio and then Target picks it up and sells it to, to thousands.
So it's, it's it's pretty surreal when you think about it.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah, definitely. So for those who are artists or, or kind of new to this process, It sounds like licensing is a, a huge part of your business now. How do you even start to go about like negotiating a, a licensing contract or, or getting in touch with companies like this?
Cat Coquillette: Yeah, so in like for my very first licensing deal, it's was actually because I, I, I didn't actually reach out or pitch it. What happened was I had so many designs on Society six and their SEO is just insane. So if you Google like alpaca painting mine might just pop up as one of like the top images on Google and Redirect to Society six.
They just. They have a, a really good SEO system. And so what happened was I began building up a really solid online presence because I was uploading my artwork, not just to their website, but to as many print on demand websites as I could research and find, and I was utilizing key word tags and titles and descriptions, like all of the things you need to do behind the scenes to make.
To make your artwork or whatever, whatever it is you're trying to put online to make it reach more people. And so keyword tags are a huge part of that on the print on demand side. And so what happened is brands started finding me because a lot of brands will go through print on demand sites like Society Six, browse through the artwork, find pieces that they want to license, and then reach out to those artists directly and.
My very first licensing deal was with Urban Outfitters because they found my work on society six. I linked back to my Instagram account. They browsed my Instagram, found a piece that they wanted to license, and then reached out to me directly. And so that was yeah, for a first big break. They were a big one because one thing that I stipulated in our contract negotiations was that I wanted my signature to remain on the the art print.
It was a hand lettering piece. I did. It just said good vibe. And it was like India Inc. With brush lettering. And yeah, so I got to keep my signature on that piece and I signed all of my work, Kat, K c a t c o Q. Just because going back to s e o and, and Google ability no one can spell or pronounce my actual last name, which is Coco.
So, , I decided to yeah, shorten my, my full name Catherine Carter Collette to Cat Coke for my brands. But anyway, yeah, so having my, my Cat Coke signature on that piece that was unsold in Urban Outfitters was, I mean, just a, it, it just was a huge catalyst for more licensing deals to come through because I got to have that brand association with such a powerful brand in the licensing industry.
So, yeah, so that was my first big break. And then more just started to fall into place after that. And the way that I do contract negotiations is I view them. It's not just about the royalty rate. So with licensing the way you get paid is royalties. So if I create a design for, let's just say a phone case, so this one right here, if you're watching the video, I'm holding up a, a phone to the, to the screen.
But yeah, so this phone case I designed, it sells for $30 on society six, and I get 10% of royalties. So I get $3 every time someone buys one of my phone cases. And it doesn't sound like a lot. when you add that up with hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of sales, like that's how you make money with licensing.
And so you know, same thing with Urban Outfitters. We struck a percentage and then I get a percentage of everything that sells. And so it's, it's. Good for me because it means I don't actually have to hold my own inventory. So I don't really incur any risks that way. There's, there's actually no financial risks on my end.
The worst, the worst risk of me losing something would be the time I put into creating that artwork, negotiating the contract, and then promoting it. Like, the worst thing that happens is nobody buys it. It doesn't sell very well. Lost out on time, but I, I don't lose out on money from that. And so yeah.
So anyway, the way I look at contracts is royalty rate is how you get paid, the licensing, but there are so many other things that you can incorporate into a contract that's going to just massively benefit you. And that's, that's kind of been my approach for, for all of my contract negotiations. So, for example the signature, that's one that I build into every contract is my branding must be somewhere on that product.
Sometimes we have to get a little bit creative with it. Like if it's a t-shirt or swimsuit, like you don't expect to see an artist's signature like on your, on your bikini, but it could be on the hang tag that's the, the product tag when someone purchases it. Mm-hmm. . So, yeah. So that's, that's one thing I always put into.
Some other times I'll, if they have a big following on social media, I'll put into the con, I'll request in the contract during our negotiations that they need to promote the, the collection that I'm doing with them on Instagram and then have me tagged within the first like, two lines of the of the caption on Instagram.
Otherwise it just gets buried, you know. Other things I've asked for are homepage features mentions in their email newsletter. Product samples is one that I asked for in almost every negotiation I do. So that means that if I'm doing like a new stationary collection with let's just say like Urban Outfitters they'll have to send me samples of the actual product and then that way I can photograph it, put it in my portfolio, promoted on social media and just.
Have cool product samples to hand out to friends and family. So yeah, so whatever contract it is that you're, you're negotiating for, whether it's a licensing contract or, or really anything else. The one thing, my advice would just be what else would benefit you? That's an easy ask. Like it doesn't take that much for the brand to give to you, but it would.
It would, it would really make an impact for you. And so those are the little things that I look for to, to throw into the contract as well. Another thing that a lot of brands ask for is exclusivity, which means if I sell let's just say a throw pillow through Target, they don't want anybody else carrying that exact same product.
Makes sense. You know, it's Target. They wanna be the only one selling this particular piece. And so if someone wants an exclusive contract, that's fine. That does mean that my royalty rate needs to bump up a little bit because if I can't sell it anywhere else, then they have to pay me a little bit more than they otherwise would if it were non-exclusive.
You can even get into the weeds with it too, and just because, you know, target might want exclusivity for a certain design, you can define exactly what that means with Target and the contract. So what I do is I say it's exclusive only for two years, and then I can do whatever I want with it. It's exclusive on throw pillows only.
So I could sell the same design on any other product, just not throw pillows. And it's exclusive by territory. So for Target, it's only the US and Canada that matters. And so I could still sell the same design on throw pillows in, in Europe if I wanted to. Yeah, contract negotiations. I think a lot of people get pretty nervous about that.
It feels confrontational and you don't always know what, what, what you're supposed to ask for. It's, it can be daunting, but I kind of approach it as like, what's, what, what's like a creative way of, of adding things to this contract that's gonna help me out, and I know that it's something that they're willing to give me.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah. That's super helpful and I, I think it is really good that you mentioned all of those different options and possibilities because, Often, at least in my experience, like the, the brand will try to come to you if, if you ask the brand to prepare the contract, they're gonna come to you with what's best for them, which is they get exclusive rights forever.
And that's just how it works. You don't, you don't get anything else. And, but if you request those things, it's, it's often that, that, that can be negotiated and you can come to an agreement and if there's certain things they don't wanna agree on, then you can use all of those other little points that would be helpful to you.
To figure out what things you can get and negotiate on. So those, yeah,
Cat Coquillette: they, they become bargaining ships. Yeah. So sometimes I even ask for things that I don't even really care about that much. Like, yeah, I mean, it'd be great if I got it, but if I didn't, it's not the end of the world. And what they do is they just become things that I can afford to lose and then get the things I actually want out of that contract, like a higher royalty rate.
My other advice for contracts, Whatever the first number they give you is like, they're, they're, that is never the final number. Like they're gonna give you the low ball number and there's always an opportunity to go a little bit higher. So never agree to the first terms, whatever they are. See if you can just nudge it up a little bit, a little bit more.
I've never had anyone say no. I mean, every time they've given me whatever the royalty rate is, and I'd be like, oh, you know, A scope of this size, you know, my royalty rate is generally in, you know, and I'll just throw something out there that's usually a few percentage points higher, and I'll be like, so you know what?
What do you think about that? And then we meet in the middle and I wind up with a slightly higher royalty rate than I otherwise would've.
Bryan McAnulty: Awesome. Yeah. I wanna mention of the, the point that you were talking about of how the brand found you through your print on demand work at first, and I think that it's important to mention that like, I don't believe that this kind of thing is luck, and it's like, oh, well that just happened to get bound by a brand like this.
It's really that. The way I think about it is, You are creating these opportunities for yourself by offering something for sale online anywhere, even if you don't get sales from it. And like you said, if, if you, if no one buys it, if, if you get a licensing deal, even then no one buys it. The, the worst thing is that you lose the time you, you put into that specific thing.
But the potential outcome from it is way, way greater. So I wanna, I wanted to say that because, I feel that I had the same or similar example with me when I was selling some things on like the stock sites for website themes and stuff. Theme Forest was the name of one of them by Embato.
and I actually had through that like some of the themes, there was like $20 or something, $10, some even less than that. There were very affordable things for people, people to buy. But I had a entrepreneur contact me through that and he ended up being someone who has a very high up position at Amazon and he was building his own software product to something.
And he wanted to not only license my theme for that, but then hire me to help to build a more customized version for him. And so that's the, the same kind of situation that even that particular theme, like I feel like I made like maybe a couple thousand dollars off of selling the actual thing and like the royalties, but then it led to this much bigger contract and opportunity from me, for me, that if I wasn't selling it, then that person would've never discovered.
So I think it's really powerful to just start putting yourself out there and getting some kind of product released, because whether the chances are small or not, you're creating that opportunity for yourself.
Cat Coquillette: Brian, that is, that is so well said. And that's something that I, I actually teach in a lot of my classes.
It's, especially for artists, you know, we're sensitive creatures. Mm-hmm. , and the idea of putting your artwork out there in any capacity can be just absolutely terrifying. It, it certainly was for me when I started posting my work to Instagram. , you know, it wasn't just like, oh, Lottie do, I'm just gonna post this picture.
Like, I was terrified. I was like, people are gonna judge me for this. Like, it's just a stupid donut painting. Like what? I mean, it was just all these like, you know, just terrible thoughts Were going through my head and of, of course we all, we all deal with imposter syndrome too, to some degree, but that what you mentioned about just being opportunistic, that is, that's, that's a huge reason of why I'm successful today.
It's not because I'm the best artist out there. It. You know, because I got in at a great time, it's, it's because I opened myself up for as many opportunities as I possibly could. The reason that Urban Outfitters was able to contact me is because I have my contact information plastered all over every site that I sell my stuff through.
So, If you go to my Society six page, you'll see my email address, my website, my social media handles. It's really easy to contact me. And so just by making myself as available as possible for opportunities because one thing I learned early on is I'm not, I'm not very good at outreach, like pitching myself.
I'm, I'm better at it now, but when I was first getting started, like that was a huge weak point in my business. And so all of my licensing income was coming in from people finding me. All of the pitches I was doing, I mean, they were just, it. They, they weren't, they weren't converting whatsoever. But yeah, just by being as available as possible, putting my stuff out there, being, being present and being opportunistic, that's, that's really what led to the level of success that I see today.
I mean, even that very first class that I taught that you know, society Success asked me to, that was one of those things where I was like, okay, I, I don't. wanna do it because being in front of camera sounds so nerve wracking and terrifying. But I was like, you know what? This is an opportunity. It's not gonna kill me.
I can suck it up and deal with it and then hey, guess what? That turned into something that I'm insanely passionate about and it's a huge part of my business today. It's something I love doing. So yeah, that's there's my long rant on the powers of opportun just being opportunistic.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah, yeah.
Yeah. That's great. All right. So can you tell us a little bit more about like your courses and trainings now? What exactly do you help people with now in.
Cat Coquillette: Yeah. So once I figured out that what I was doing was called art licensing and surface design, which that, that took me a while to figure that one out.
I was like doing it, but I didn't even know there was a name for it. I was like, I'm doing this thing that no one has ever done before. You know? Cause I just, I didn't know anything about the industry. So now a big part of my classes is just educating other creatives of the types of opportunities that are out there for them.
You know, like I mentioned when I went to school and was studying illustration. I was given two choices, you know, op-ed cartoons or children's book illustrator, and both of those didn't appeal to me whatsoever. And I took it, I took it at face value. I was like, okay, those are the only two opportunities for me.
And it didn't occur to me until years later that that wasn't the case at all. There's a ton of opportunities for artists out there and so that's that's one thing I bring up in my classes is just mention. Hey, this is actually what's worked really well for me. It's called Surface Design. It's called art licensing.
There's a way that you can get in from the ground floor, and that's called print on demand. And, you know, the path that worked for me seven years ago, it's not gonna work for someone today. You know, things change. You know, you can't just replicate somebody else's success to a team and expect to see the same, the same results.
That's just, that's not how, how business works. But, One thing I wanna inspire to my students is like, you know, forge your own path by, you know, exactly what we just talked about, putting yourself out there looking at new opportunities. Not saying no to things just because they scare you. Like maybe that's, maybe if something scares you, it's, it's a reason to actually embrace it.
And so yeah, a lot of it's mindset, but at the same time, I'm, it's, it's, I also teach fundamental skills like how to illustrate professional level designs on your iPad or in Photoshop or with watercolor. And then the things I've learned after, you know, seven years in the art licensing industry, this is what clients.
Will not accept in terms of like file set up. Like you need to have layered files, like all the minutiae of preparing your artwork to be licensed on a professional level. Though that's the kind of advice that I give in my classes. So a lot of my classes are project focused, so. , one of my most recent ones is how to draw these animals on your iPad using the app procreate, and then fill them with these floral silhouettes.
And so that's the class exercise. But then throughout the class you're actually getting just a bunch of tips and tricks on the about the licensing industry. So it's like, Hey, we're setting up the canvas size to be these dimens. And this dpi and this color profile, because this is what you need when you wanna license it professionally.
So even if you're not at that point yet, just gaining that knowledge now and you can learn it in a fun way by actually, you know, creating a cool illustration. That's one thing we all have in common is creatives as we like creating. So the way that I try to structure my classes is we create something cool.
And in the process of doing that, you're, you're learning these, these hard facts and actual information that pertain to the. .
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. Lear learning by doing. That's, that's the way I like to approach it. Learning by doing.
Cat Coquillette: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And you know, in college I took I don't know if you remember linda.com, I don't even know if they're still around, but remember it was one of those early websites.
Oh yeah. That's how I learned Photoshop, I mean this was, you know, back in or like mid two thousands. In, in college. You know, our professors didn't teach us how to use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. They just gave us projects where you were forced to learn the program on your own in order to complete the project.
And so I watched so many just dry and boring linda.com tutorials to like learn how to do things in Photoshop. So my inspiration for teaching my classes now is like, make it, make it fun and. You know, you learn, you can, you can learn and it can still be fun. Like it doesn't have to be something that you slog through just to learn how to do a few basic actions in Photoshop.
So yeah, by going through it the hard way, I mean, that's a huge, that's a huge inspiration for me is like, okay, don't, don't be as boring as those linda.com tutorials like this. There can be a fun way to learn about this industry.
Bryan McAnulty: That's great. Yeah. All right, great. I got one more question for you, and that is if you could ask anything to our audience, whether it's something that you're curious about, something you want everyone to think about, what would that be?
Cat Coquillette: So I, one thing that I would encourage, Your audience, everybody here to, to consider is what is, what is like one thing. It can be a small thing that you could grow on the side that has the potential to turn into a, a massive success or massive win for you. So for me, it was illustrating or just painting Watercolored donuts or whatever it was when I came home from work.
Just a small little action that I enjoy doing turned into my entire vocation today. And. Started doing that, not expecting that to be the results. Like I was just looking for some sort of cathartic way that I could unwind from work, and then it turned into my entire career path and the way that I live my life.
So yeah, I, I would encourage, I would encourage you to think about like, what, what is that small thing that, that you enjoy doing and, and brings you happiness that has the potential to be massive in your life? Awesome.
Bryan McAnulty: Yeah, that's a great question. All right, well, Kat, thanks so much. Before we get going, where else can people find you?
Cat Coquillette: Yeah. So my brand name is Cat Coquillette, and that's my handle on all social media. It's my website it's everything. So I send out a weekly newsletter every Tuesday, and it has licensing tips industry advice design prompts, things like that. So if you want to join my email list, it's cat coke dot.
Slash subscribe and there's a bunch of resources on that page as well where I've got some, like PDFs that I bundled together of just resources I have for creatives, like trend tracking tools I use print on demand sites that can be really lucrative right now. Classes that I recommend both ones I teach and ones that other instructors teach that I've learned a lot from.
So yeah, my website. My website has it all. Social media, everything. Cat Coquillette. Okay, great.
Bryan McAnulty: Well thanks so
Cat Coquillette: much, Cat.
Thank you so much,Bryann. This has been fun.
Bryan McAnulty: If you enjoyed this interview and won the chance to ask questions to our guests live, tune in on Tuesday's when new episodes premiere on the Heights Platform Facebook page.
To learn more about the show and get notified when new episodes released, check out The Creator's Adventure dot com. Until then, keep learning and I'll see you in the next episode.