How one designer uses Instagram to sell his creative work & scale his business

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Ian Barnard is over-the-top talented. Which is one of the primary reasons his handlettering instagram account recently surpassed 120,000 followers.

His account, which explores the diverse possibilities of hand-lettering, started not long ago when he first got into calligraphy and hand-lettering.

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And even though he personally told me his first few posts were “rubbish,” you wouldn’t guess it from the caliber of stuff he’s sharing today. He’s even doing commercial hand-lettering work for big companies like Speedo.

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What’s more, Ian’s instagram isn’t just bringing in followers. It’s also helping him build a solid business based on primarily passive income—a business that allows him the flexilibity to take on just one client project per month…or none if he chooses.

“I’m in this privileged position where having this passive income has enabled me to make social media my priority every day,” he said. “Posting to instagram…I prioritize over everything else.”

And it seems to be paying off.

Today, 90% of Ian’s revenue as a full-time designer comes from marketplaces like Design Cuts.

In fact, after being in Design Cuts’ bundles a few times, founder Tom Ross asked Ian if he’d like to go in together on a custom font.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

Ian happily agreed.

They ended up releasing Sun Kissed, a hand-drawn, beautifully unique font.

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The font is completely hand-drawn and customizable. It has international glyphs and a contextual alternates feature which means no two letters will look the same—giving it a much more organic, authentic feel.

Not only is the font stunningly beautiful, but it was also a massive success for Ian.

In the first 48 hours, it sold 1,000 copies.

“I was very surprised [it] sold 1,000 copies,” he remarked. “I think it even surprised Tom.”

But Ian confesses, it was probably all because of the immense amount of value the font provided—a level of value Tom and the team at Design Cuts is always aiming for.

(PS: There’s a cool video here all about the process Ian took to create the font.)

One lesson to be learned from Ian’s success: go the extra mile and add immense value to your products and they’re much more likely to be successful.

That philosophy bleeds over into his growing Instagram account too. When I asked what the key to growing a social following is for designers, Ian responded with this:

“I think ‘how can this post add value to the person who’s watching it?’”

In fact, he said he learned a valuable lesson from Chris Spooner: give away a lot of free value and within six months, you’ll have people coming to you for work.

And that’s Ian’s secret to success on Instagram.

Another piece of advice for anyone who wants to follow in Ian’s footsteps? Start today. There’s no better time.

But long before he had loads of followers on Instagram and massive success in selling digital products, Ian started out like a lot of us do: in school, not knowing where life would take him.

“When I was at school, there were only two subjects I was any good at and they were math and art—and I wasn’t interested in math,” he explained. “So I pursued that creative path.”

Eventually, Ian got a job doing graphic design for a magazine where he slowly (over many years) transitioned to part-time.

For potential clients who couldn’t afford agency prices, the company passed the clients along to Ian as a freelancer.

Then, just days after his son was born, Ian made the leap to full-time freelance.

It was then that Ian also picked up a Calligraphy for Dummies book and started learning.

Perhaps the best part about Ian’s story is that it has come completely full circle.

He started learning hand-lettering by reading a “for Dummies” book and now, he teaches all of us how to use everyday objects (like sharpie markers or even ink-filled vegetables) to make breathtakingly beautiful pieces of typographic art.

You can check out more of Ian’s work at Design Cuts or follow him on Instagram.

A big thanks to our long-time sponsor Design Cuts for facilitating this interview. Design Cuts financially supports Millo and we’re proud to partner with them.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

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  1. Great Motivational Write up , I myself love Calligraphy , It is Arabic Calligraphy designs to be precise but yeah , People are coming towards this field and it has great scope too. I am also thinking to draw my own font for Arabic Wording and calligraphy , this post helps alot .