Sunday, October 10, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Never lose faith phone will ring

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Like many small-business owners, designer David Sheldon never knows where his next check is coming from or even if there is going to be another check.

        Although his work has appeared in national publications like Sports Illustrated, Business Week and Disney Adventures, Mr. Sheldon of Union, Ky., sometimes doubts that his telephone will ever ring again. Until it does.

        If Mr. Sheldon has learned one thing as a businessman — although he's been a free-lance illustrator for 14 years, he has been incorporated for less than a year — it is this: Never lose faith that previous good work will lead to new work.

        Mr. Sheldon's latest job has stretched his reach across the continent to a new generation of consumers: children who want to buy zip pocket flares and boys boarder jeans from plasma-hot retailer Old Navy.

        The Old Navy work came from a strange job Mr. Sheldon had a few years before. He designed television commercials on the animated TV show Ren & Stimpy. A commercial about a log caught the eye of an Old Navy executive.

        The executive approached animator and producer J.J. Sedelmaier and said he wanted spots that had the texture of the log commercial.

        Mr. Sedelmaier of White Plains, N.Y., picked up the phone to Mr. Sheldon. He knew that Mr. Sheldon did the log commerical work and could deliver on deadline.

        Mr. Sheldon has created six characters and a mascot for the Old Navy campaign.

        He was also involved in the rest of the animation: how the cars, beaver, frog, skateboard, elephant and background looked.

        He also produced a giveaway comic book: 2 million issues that had an improbable deadline of 10 days. He made the deadline and the comics flew off store shelves.

        But all the while, he felt a thorn: When will the phone ring?

        And another nagging worry haunted him this time: doubt.

        “What I think is tough is being creative on demand,” Mr. Sheldon said. “You have to rely on what you know, your instincts. The images may not be coming, but you have to work it and work it.”

        To ensure that the telephone rings again, Mr. Sheldon plans to heighten the exposure of his Old Navy work.

        His approach is a good guide for other small businesses looking to build on past successes:

        • He is mailing 5,000 introductions to magazine art directors to let them know he is alive and well. He bought a mailing list and has an agent checking to ensure that people at the other end are still breathing.

        • His Web site is up at www.dksheldon.com — how can any business not have a Web site these days? — and it is ready for clients to peruse.

        • He tries not to panic when the phone does not ring because he realizes that like everything else on the planet, magazine work runs in cycles.

        “My next challenge is to get more work like this,” he said. “I love doing animation. I've spent my life watching TV, seeing all those images, colors and designs.

        “Now I want to expand my scope.”

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? Call him at 768-8386 or e-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



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