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Small Business Opportunities: From Illustrator to Promo Designer

Tee Hamilton discovered a crucial need amongst promotional products distributors – and filled it

The  publishing house where Theresa Hamilton worked as an illustrator of children’s  books tended to dole out assignments according to gender stereotypes. “I was a  girl, so they figured I should draw flowers and things like that,”says  Hamilton. “So I would put my name in as Tee, so they couldn’t stereotype me. I  was really better at drawing dinosaurs and cars, and I liked that a lot more.”

The  red-haired self-described comic book geek kept the nickname and now uses it  professionally in her role as head of the Creative Alchemy agency, a small  business, based in Clearwater, FL.

Most  of Hamilton’s clients are other promotional products professionals. Creative  Alchemy specializes in design services (illustration, graphics, marketing/ad  layouts, Web/mobile apps, toy and product design, photography and  storyboarding/copywriting) and consultation (art/creative direction,  development and branding).

Hamilton’s  dad worked in the distribution sector of the promotional products industry. As  a kid, she was the student who came to school with logoed pens and pencils from  small businesses she’d never heard of and were a bit of a mystery to her and  her classmates. But she didn’t follow directly in her father’s footsteps. The path  to starting Creative Alchemy in 2013 circuitously started in Baltimore, led to  Atlanta, swerved around and down under the world to Australia and then doubled  back to Florida.

It  was a romantic quest to continue a relationship with an Aussie boy that  prompted Hamilton to pack up her illustrator pens and paints and move to  Melbourne. Alas, the relationship didn’t last.  But the opportunities afforded by being in  that country were instrumental to Hamilton’s career success.

“I’d  started in children’s books in the States and that led me to working in toys  and other kids’stuff,”she says. “The thing about being in Australia was that  there were so many jobs available for young people. The population there is so  much smaller than here in the United States. If you were a go-getter and  willing to take a chance on new opportunities, well, the competition was a lot  less.”

One  of the jobs she picked up in Melbourne was designing toy bears for a line of  Beanie Kids collectibles, similar to the Beanie Babies that were popular in the  U.S.

“I  did that for four years,” Hamilton recalls. “I designed about five different  bears every month. Some bears were aimed at being rare, so they were only  released for one month. Others were made available for years.”

After  designing a menagerie of Beanie Kids, Hamilton found jobs working on Web design  for a telephone company, moved into doing media projects aimed at kids, then  moved around to working for a toy supplier. All the while, she was picking up a  wide range of tools that would come to be implemented in Creative Alchemy.

Once  back in Clearwater, she decided to focus on design services specifically for  the promotional products industry.

“I  noticed a disconnect between the distribution and supply industry and the artwork,”she says. “A lot of them don’t have people on staff, so they call me for design  service. I really enjoy helping people, and focusing on people in this industry.”

Hamilton  enjoys speaking at industry educational events to get to know more distributors  and build her company’s street cred.

She  believes anybody that might be considering a career in this industry needs to  embrace one very important aspect of their personality: creativity.

“Get  in touch with your creative side,”she says. “The way this industry is going,  it’s what will set you apart and lead you on the road to success.”

Don’t  just be a mug-and-T-shirt hawker, she advises.“If  that’s all you offer, then all you’ll be about is price,”she says. “Embrace  the product world by seeing how you can be different than everybody else. Don’t  be afraid to miss a deal because somebody else is offering it 10 cents less  than you.” That’s  the canvas on which Hamilton has drawn success.