I spent the afternoon at Cal State Fullerton on a panel of professionals -- not the usual industry mix of cg artists and union reps, mind you, but one that included a gallery owner, lawyer, an art jobs website owner (and former agent). Also a licensed cpa and me.
In short, it was an eclectic group, and just right for the crowd in Fullerton's big lecture hall. Because the students -- graphic designers, c.g. artists, painters, sculptors -- had few illusions about the artistic universe they wanted to enter, and wanted ideas about the best way to build careers inside it.
What's remarkable -- at least to me -- is that a large number of them wanted to find out how to start their own businesses. (You know, skip over the "work for hire" horrors so many of us have endured.) So here are some of the questions with answers that popped up:
If you start your own business, how do you handle taxes?
Find a good CPA within the first year you set up your company. Lots of people launch their company, then a year and a half later, ask an accountant: "Okay, what do I do about taxes?" That's about six months or a year too late. People need to know that they'll be paying both parts of the Social Security Tax: 15%. Also, small-company owners shouldn't get incorporated unless they're earning above fifty or sixty thousand per year. (Otherwise there's no meaningful cost-benefit.) When incorporating, LLCs are good for rental property but not little companies with a small cash flow; an S-Corp is often a good way to go.
What about Personal Service Contracts? Are they worthwhile?
Depends. Lots of things in PSCs are crap. In California, non-compete clauses are crap. There's a few exceptions in the dental and medical areas, but outside of those, non-compete clauses are unenforceable. If a PSC is "at will" (no end date or guarantee of a set term of employment), then an employer can lay off an employee whenever it wants. But then an employee can quit when she or he wants. (It's got to be reciprocal.)
If I want to get hired in computer graphics, what programs should I know?
Software is always changing. Companies customize software, install plug-ins, develop their own programs, so it's important to know a couple of packages well, because when you move to something new you'll have the basic knowledge to learn whatever they throw at you quickly.
There were lots of other questions. We got into California labor law, when an accountant or lawyer was most useful, the globalization of the entertainment industry (and the animation biz.) I learned a lot of new things. Hopefully the students did too.
(Oh. That picture up top? That's the actual lecture hall with actual students. Only it's an image-grab off the web from a year ago ... when President Emeritus Tom Sito was there giving a lecture -- to a fuller house.)