William Warren is an illustrator and entrepreneur who has spent his career using visuals to help communicate ideas and tell stories. He is the Founder and CEO of The Sketch Effect, a Visual Communication company that helps make ideas understandable and actionable through animation, live event sketching and infographics.
The Sketch Effect’s client list includes top-tier brands such as Marriott, Oracle, Chick-fil-A, and Delta in addition to premier consultancies including BCG, EY, and Accenture. The Sketch Effect has sketched for thought leaders such as Steve Wozniak, Brene Brown, Malala Yousafzai, Sheryl Sandberg, Andy Stanley, and many more. William lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife Monica and three little kids, Liam, Gracie, and Preston.
Connect with William on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Running a creative business or freelance business
- Self Care for Creatives
- Top soft skills for creatives
- Productivity and Time Management
- The Sketch Effect’s business story
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:10] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by Onpay. Built in Atlanta, ONPAY is the top rated payroll and HR software anywhere. Get one month free at on paycom. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:37] Lee Kantor here another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, Onpay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Atlanta Business Radio, we have William Warren with The Sketch Effect. Welcome, William.
Warren William: [00:00:56] Hey, thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to it.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:59] Well, I’m so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about the sketch effect, how you serving folks.
Warren William: [00:01:04] So the fact we’re an Atlanta based business, but we serve clients globally and we call ourselves a visual communications provider, essentially, we help our clients communicate their ideas in a more effective, enjoyable and actionable way using visuals, which is typically animation, graphic design. And we have a really unique in-person meeting service called graphic recording, where we send artists to corporate meetings or events or trade shows, and we basically sketch in the room while people are having their meetings, creating a visual summary or a visual mind map of their content.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:39] So how has your business evolved over the years as technology has changed so rapidly and the importance of graphics and images and animation have kind of grown and been and become more accessible to regular people and not just artists.
Warren William: [00:01:58] So one of the interesting things about our business is that we exist at the intersection of a very old skill which is listening and synthesizing and processing ideas, but also very new technology, the latest and greatest technology. A great example would have been in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, when we had to adapt to virtual meetings and virtual events, basically take this analog sketching service and make it work virtually. And so we’re always looking at the technology, we’re always looking at what’s up and coming. You know, the latest and most interesting is what’s going on in the world of AI. So we’re talking about that. But at the end of the day, you know, you can’t substitute good old fashioned listening and telling stories and then communicating that. And so that’s really what we try to provide is a really great way to communicate ideas and understandable and actionable way using visuals.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] So what’s your back story? How’d you get involved in this line of work?
Warren William: [00:03:00] So I’ve always been an illustrator and a cartoonist ever since I was a little kid. I loved drawing comics and making cartoons and doing fun drawings and so pursued that professionally for a while. Ended up getting a master’s degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design and then did sort of a career 180. And I ended up getting a corporate marketing job at a large company here in Atlanta, and I was there for almost three years. And while I was there, I realized that I really needed a creative outlet at work. I was doing great work and enjoying what I was doing, but it wasn’t a traditionally creative role. So to inject that creativity, I would draw during meetings or I would sketch in my notebook or I would hop up on a whiteboard and draw out the concepts that we would be discussing in that particular meeting. And now for me, this was just a creative outlet, just a way to make a potentially boring meeting a little bit more exciting. But the magic really started happening. It really started to click when the people around me. Found value in what I was providing. They realized that, hey, taking our meeting notes or our discussion and then or marrying it with compelling, relevant visuals was producing an output, an artifact that was making the meeting more effective and making the outcomes more actionable and achievable. So just did that for fun. And then it ended up becoming a side hustle where a few folks offered to pay me to do it, and then there was enough of that that it warranted starting a business. And so that was about ten years ago that I left that corporate marketing job and started a sketch effect. And we’ve grown ever since. We’ve served clients across every industry you can think of in multiple continents. And now, as I mentioned, virtually as well as in-person events.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:46] Now, as your your business and yourself has evolved over the years, are you finding more young people being drawn to the creative?
Warren William: [00:04:57] Of course. So young people have I would say creativity has always been appealing to to young folks, but now it’s more accessible than ever. You know, the tools are more accessible than ever. The training is more accessible than ever. And then thanks to the Internet, you know, the channels, to have a successful creative career or creative business have never been more accessible. You know, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, there were these gatekeepers of the industry, you know, large publishers, large, you know, media conglomerates. And now anyone who has an iPad and a connection to the Internet can have a creative business or have a creative career, it’s much easier to find your niche and carve out your own space in our modern gig economy. And so, yeah, I would say that it’s never been more popular than ever to have a creative career now.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:47] I remember interviewing a person several years ago and they said something that was kind of shocking to me and tell me if this is something that resonates with you or you see this in your own life. When talking to kindergarten kids, they asked, Who’s an artist? Everybody raises their hand. But eat. Just a few years later, I forgot it was third or fifth grade. They asked who’s an artist? And barely anybody raised their hand. Only the two kids that can draw well raise their hand. Do you see that as well? And is that something that we can maybe fix or improve on?
Warren William: [00:06:26] Yes, actually, I find that information really compelling. And I’ve read the research that says exactly that. Every kid, every person is born drawing. You know, we learn to draw before we learn to write and read. Everyone is a visual thinker, a visual communicator from day one, maybe not day one, but from kindergarten and onward. And then for some reason, it works its way out of most of us. And that’s, I would say, partly because we. Well, you know, we’re told, hey, we’re not really good at drawing or we’re not skilled at this or it’s shamed out of us. And essentially we move away from thinking and communicating creatively and tend to fall more into. Quote unquote, traditional means of communication, you know, written and spoken word. And I’m a believer that, you know, we never really do lose that, you know, desire to think and communicate visually. We just think it’s relegated to the, quote unquote, artists. And so one thing that I’ve loved doing at the sketch effect is bringing that creativity to all types of people and encouraging all types of people to lean into their creative side, to lean into their visual side. Because the science shows that if you are thinking and communicating, using visuals and you’re tapping into that part of your visual brain, the ideas are more understandable, they’re more memorable and they’re more actionable. They’re more practical.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:53] Now, let’s talk a little bit about your new book that’s coming out May 2nd. I think it’s called The Conquering Creative. Can you talk about the impetus of writing a book, number one, and publishing it in the manner that you did, which is kind of unique?
Warren William: [00:08:09] For sure. So I’m really excited about this book. This has been something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. And then last year I said at times the time is right to do it. Let’s make it happen. So the conquering creative is essentially a business book for creative people. And in essence, I wrote the book to myself from ten years in the past or two or myself from ten years ago. See, for me, I grew up, as I mentioned, always drawing. I consider myself a creative. I never considered myself a business person or an entrepreneur. I sort of happened into this life and it’s been a great life. But I never set out to own a business or to have a thriving creative career. All of that quote business stuff has never come naturally, naturally to me. I’ve had to learn it through trial and error, through mentors, through coaches, through reading, you know, all sorts of ways. And so the conquering creative book is my attempt to help other creatives. You know, anyone who has a creative skill and wants to make a living out of it. My goal with the book is to help them understand that it’s not as hard as they think and to equip them with some simple frameworks, some simple advice, some tools and some encouragement that will help them to take that next step and start their creative career or grow their creative business.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:30] So let’s let’s give some advice to some folks. Say you’re that person who is maybe has a corporate job or maybe has a job that’s not creative at all, but has that itch or has that kind of passion maybe that has been going on like you since your youth, that you would doodle on the side and you would draw just for fun? That was just the way you expressed yourself. How does that person elevate that skill into a business? What are some of the baby steps they can take to see if what they’re doing and the talent they have can turn into at least a side hustle, but maybe something bigger than that over time.
Warren William: [00:10:11] So chapter one introduces this shift in thinking that any creative has to make if they want to do what you describe, if they want to jump to be a professional, creative or leave their day job or start a business. And that shift is that we have to shift our thinking from my my art is my passion to my passion is my product. So for a lot of creatives, we begin doing our creative thing, whatever that thing is, because we’re passionate about it. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of our heart and soul. It’s a very emotional thing. However, if anyone longs to take that creative skill and turn it into a career or a business, they have to be comfortable turning that passion of theirs into a product. Now, product might feel like an icky word. It might feel like, you know, a set of boxer briefs or discounted tires or, you know, some snake oil or something. But all I mean by product is, is that we have to take our creative skills and turn it into something that is packageable, that is sellable and that the average person can understand and and receive a lot of creative work tends to be a little bit hard to pin down. It’s a little bit, you know, it’s not as concrete or, you know, approachable as a traditional product, but that’s that’s an important part of the process. And I introduce an exercise called the Sweet spot exercise that I would encourage everybody to do from the outset, which is to consider three parts of your life.
Warren William: [00:11:49] The first part are things that you’re naturally good at. These are going to be your natural skills, your talents, your ability, Anything that someone has said, Wow, you’re really good at that. That’s the first circle. The second circle of this Venn diagram is what are you passionate about? Now, this is not necessarily what you’re good at, but what you’re passionate about. What is something that fires you up, that excites you? So this could be related to your purpose or to things that are deep, you know, part of your heart and soul. What are the things that fire you up that can sustain you long term? And then the third circle, and this is the kicker, is what will the market need? What does the market need? What will people actually spend their money on? What will people actually want to buy? And if you can find a destination or if you can find something that’s at the center of those three circles, what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what the market needs, then you’re off to the races and it’s inevitable that you’ll have a successful creative career. So those are two things I would encourage people to do from the outset If they’re thinking about starting a creative business or creative career is to consider how to turn their thing into a product and then to do that sweet spot exercise.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:58] Now when? How do you feel about people who are creative? They have that passion. Like let’s take the you when you were doodling during meetings back in the day. Um, you were doing this just because it was interesting to you. Maybe it helped you retain some of the information that was going on. For whatever reason, it was a personal endeavor for yourself to be doing that activity. Um, how do you kind of protect yourself from people judging it and saying, Oh, that I don’t get it or that doesn’t work for me, or that’s never going to work. Like all the negativity where a lot of folks, when they see creative people, they don’t treat them tenderly. They, you know, just at a glance they’ll make some judgment that can really hamstring a creative person and stop them in their tracks. And then, you know, kind of nip nip something in the bud before it even has a chance to turn into anything.
Warren William: [00:14:00] It’s a huge deal. And because our creative work is so connected to our heart and soul, that rejection or that dismissal can be devastating, it can be crippling. And in fact, chapter three of the book deals with that directly. So in Chapter three, we introduce this shift from this shift in thinking from I am my work to I am more than my work. Because a lot of creatives, they struggle with that. You know, if their art gets rejected, they feel rejected. If they’re if they’re not offered the job, they feel like they’re not worthy If and the flip side is true as well, if they’re told their art is incredible, then they all of a sudden might grow an inflated ego and think that they’re incredible. So it’s important for professional creatives to have a healthy distance from their work. They need to be attached to it and they need to care deeply about it. But they also need to know that that they are more than their work. And so in chapter three, we introduce three strategies to build that emotional resilience, and those include getting plugged into community, finding yourself, mentors and coaches. And then thirdly, building a self care routine that you prioritize and actually put into your calendar. Um, so yeah, that’s what I would definitely encourage for creatives because I’ve dealt with that, you know, I’ve had my work rejected. I’ve had clients who hired us once and didn’t come back and you know, thankfully most of our clients come back and we have had a successful ten year run at the sketch effect, but we have had rejection. And so it’s critical for creatives if if you want to have a creative career or a business where you’re going to put your work out into the marketplace, you have to build that emotional resilience and you have to you have to distance yourself from your work.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:44] Now, that sounds good in theory, but in practice, when a person is, like you said, kind of bleeding on the page and putting their heart and soul into a piece of work to not take it personally. When someone says, No, no, that doesn’t work. It just seems like a real it takes a lot of resilience and self confidence to kind of separate yourself from the work. And is this something that just, you know, you develop a scar tissue over time, a callus where this becomes easier over time? Or do you still take things personally if you think, oh, this one I got, this is a home run, I can see it in my head and then the client rejects it.
Warren William: [00:16:30] So it never gets it never goes away. There’s always a little bit of sting when you get that rejection. And so what I what I would argue is that it one, it does you do start to build up a little bit of resistance to it. You expect it, you know that it might be coming and you get better at dealing with it. But I also would encourage creatives to to to learn from it and take what they can from that rejection. You know, why did they reject you? Is it is there a problem with the product? Is are you targeting the wrong customer? Are you in the wrong market? I think if we switch from just simply being devastated by rejection to learning from it, then we shake off, the sting wears off and then it becomes actionable. It becomes, okay, what can I gain from this? How can I take this rejection and then improve and get better? And so I’m a big believer in growth mindset that we all have the opportunity to grow. Our skills and abilities are not fixed. And so I think if you approach rejection from this attitude of growth mindset, you do develop more emotional resilience and then you bounce back faster and then you apply your learning. And we talk a lot about product market fit as well, and sometimes it’s really good. Teacher You know, maybe your work is rejected because it’s not the right product market or fit. And so it’s a balance of, of having that emotional distance from your work to where you’re not devastated by rejection, but also leveraging it and learning from it and finding a better product market fit, finding ways to improve and yeah, just keep on growing.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:07] So let’s talk a little bit about that reframing of product market fit, because as a creative you have a point of view and you are that’s why the people are hiring you. How do you kind of maybe elevate your thinking and your thoughts to, hey, this is what I do every day and you hire me because I do this rather than I will do whatever you tell me to do. You know, tell me what you want and I will deliver what you want. That there has to be some artistic integrity, I would think, for creative over time to be able to sustain themselves and separate themselves from everybody else and not just be somebody who can just deliver something exactly the way that the client envisions it in their head, because they’re paying for you as a creative for your unique point of view and your unique talents.
Warren William: [00:19:05] Of course, yeah, There’s a balance between the fact that someone is hiring a creative because of their expertise, and so they need to respect that expertise and let the creative do what the creative does best. However, we do live in the real world. We live in a marketplace. And if there’s not demand for something, then. A creative is not going to be successful in that marketplace offering what they are currently offering. So I think it’s a balance. I think it’s a it’s a give and take a little bit between what are customers actually wanting and asking and then also providing expertise and educating the market as well. You know, we have had folks who have pushed back on some of our creative decisions and there’s some times when we we fight for it and sometimes we let it go. But I think at the end of the day, if you balance between what is the market asking for and then also leaning on and leading with your expertise. Then I think everyone wins in the end because, you know, it’s important to know that as professional creatives, we are ultimately meeting a need in the marketplace. And so if the customer is not satisfied, then the creative business is not going to be sustainable long term. So we got to keep that customer satisfaction front of mind. And if you have a if one has a creative expression or work that they do not think has a place in the marketplace, then it’s perfectly fine to keep that for yourself or to keep it in the quote, hobby zone, which we talk about in the book. There’s a time and place for that, and that’s great. But if anyone is going to be running and gunning in the marketplace, they have to balance the realities of demand while also knowing that they are an expert and what they have to offer is worthy. And what they have to say is is valuable.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:50] Well, if somebody wants to learn more about the sketch effect or get a hold of your book, what is the website or websites to do that?
Warren William: [00:20:58] Of course, the sketch effect.com is the place to go and that’s the sketch effect.com. That’s the place to go. If anyone wants to learn more about our graphic recording or visual note taking service as well as animation, infographics and other things we provide for our corporate, mostly corporate clients. And if anyone’s interested in the book, the conquering creative, or if you have a creative in your life, maybe a son or a daughter or a niece or nephew or a friend who you think might benefit from a business book written for creative people, then you can go to the conquering creative.com/book. It’s available May 2nd on Amazon and I would encourage anyone to check it out. And you know, as a reminder, this is a business book for creative people, but it’s not a typical business book. It’s fully illustrated. It’s it’s got over 150 illustrations actually drawn by me. I’m really proud of them. It’s readable. There’s lots of stories, a lot of actionable stuff. So, you know, this isn’t your 1980s era business book. This is a modern business book for a new generation of creative professionals. So conquering the conquering creative.com/book and yeah, would love to love for you to check it out.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:07] Well, William, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work. We appreciate you.
Warren William: [00:22:12] Thanks, Lee. Appreciate the opportunity to come on and share.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:14] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see y’all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
Intro: [00:22:21] Today’s episode of Atlanta Business Radio is brought to you by Onpay. Built in Atlanta, Onpay is the top rated payroll and HR software anywhere. Get one month free at on paycom.
About Our Sponsor
OnPay’s payroll services and HR software give you more time to focus on what’s most important. Rated “Excellent” by PC Magazine, we make it easy to pay employees fast, we automate all payroll taxes, and we even keep all your HR and benefits organized and compliant.
Our award-winning customer service includes an accuracy guarantee, deep integrations with popular accounting software, and we’ll even enter all your employee information for you — whether you have five employees or 500. Take a closer look to see all the ways we can save you time and money in the back office.