After a few people have asked about how I get freelance work, how I find clients and how I promote myself, I’ve been meaning to start writing an informative post outlining what I do to keep my freelance career going.
This post is gonna be very long so, I appologise in advance. And I hope it is even the tiniest bit useful
Ok so first of all I really wanna stress, I am not an expert in advising in this stuff, I am literally just going to discuss what works for me when promoting myself and getting clients for freelance work.
Assuming you know what kind of clients and field you want to work in (I may write a piece later describing how I figured out what I wanna do. Originally I thought I wanted to work professionally in comics, so that’s changed a lot)
Really brief history of my freelancing career:
I will make a more detailed post about this later, I didn’t wanna go too much into my freelancing “life story” and bore you all to death.
I’ve been freelancing since 2007, originally starting small one-off jobs here and there while in University, literally commissions on DA and a few book cover commissions I snagged on LinkedIN.
I graduated in 2009, after already having a decent number of clients I was able to continue freelancing to a degree, however it was a bit of a struggle at first as I didn’t have enough work coming in to keep me afloat constantly.
In 2010 I built enough of a client base to pay my bills with freelancing alone.
2011 I moved to Canada, freelanced there, paid bills with freelance there, came back in 2012, and am now back to full-time freelancing again.
Now onto the actual useful stuff:
Books I highly recommend, and why:
101: Streetwise Tactics for Surviving as a Freelance Illustrator
This book essentially goes into much further detail about how to get work and clients than I do, and far better laid-out. It also touches on contracts, organizing a work space and some pretty useful resources - free and paid - to help make a freelancers life even easier.
I have hi-lighted and book marked this book so many times, and I still frequently use it.
I refer to this often for pricing, and contracts, it’s incredibly useful if you’re not 100% sure how to price your work, it lists industry standard prices, for a range of different creative industries, Animation, Photography, Web Design, Illustration, Cartooning and a ton more.
It’s a little pricey, but it’s well worth the money, and is also similarly bookmarked and hi-lighted as my Illustration 101 book.
For Graduates & Those Still In Education
This might not apply to everyone but here’s something I really want to stress to anyone who is a graduate/still in school, DO NOT mention you are a fresh graduate or are still in school. Ever.
This is not lying about your experience, you are not pretending you are more experienced than you are, you are simply not disclosing you are a fresh graduate, or are still in school.
Why do this? Because unfortunately, people wanting to take the mick out of you in this career are by the hundreds, there are some people, that if they know you are a graduate, or are still in school, whatever “budget” they had will immediately drop that to a half, or even less.
This is something I was advised by my tutor while in University, something he frequently mentioned, and I know this to be true from experience.
It’s fine to mention you have been freelancing for only a short amount of time - if you want to mention it. It’s just not worth mentioning your recent graduation or that you’re currently still in education.
Self Promotion - Aka: Letting everyone know what you do, and, that they can pay you to do more of it.
This is the stuff that gets me clients, I do it in several forms:
- Promotional Mailers: Postcards sent to potential clients and current/or/previous clients, showing what I do, and how to contact me. See this post: Promotional Postcards 2013
- Promotion Emails: I find clients I really want to work for (via google, books and find the houses that published them, and magazines), I search their website for contact information, find out if they have specific guidelines for illustrations submissions and pop them an email, briefly talking about who I am, what I do, that I’ve attached my work or that I have provided a link to my portfolio (if they prefer this) or both, why I’m contacting them, that I’d love an opportunity to work for them, and hope to hear from them.
Try not to go on for too long, art directors are REALLY BUSY EVERY DAY, so making things as to-the-point and brief as possible is always helpful.
I also usually attach a tear sheet of my portfolio if they ask for samples, a tear sheet is usually a single pdf page (or jpeg which I often use) of samples of your portfolio giving a quick sample of what work you produce. Imagine a screenshot from your portfolio website on paper. See this post: My Tear Sheet 2013
- Cold Calling: The scariest one but also the one that rends more results as you usually have an immediate “Yes” or “No”, there’s a really useful website I use sometimes called freeindex in the UK, sorta like an extensive yellow pages online, I found a lot of publishing houses via this and game them a call.
(There is more on this subject in Illustration 101 which I found insanely helpful when it comes to cold calling, WHICH IS NERVE WRECKING STILL for me, even though I’ve been doing it for 5 years now, so don’t feel bad if this seems scary. You’re not alone)
I usually call and asked if I could be put through to the art buyer or art director, sometimes you get a “Why? Why do you want to talk to them?” And my first time around I panicked at this and stuttered and had no idea how to respond and essentially messed that call up.
Now I tend to answer with “I would like to discuss some of the freelancers that have been recently commissioned by the art director” this is for a few reasons:
- I don’t want this person to forewarn the art director about a bothersome potential freelancer and prepare them for an immediate “no”.
- If they agree to put you through this has answered some unasked questions, they use freelancers (HURRAH) there is a chance they have recently hired some (EVEN BETTER)
- It’s worded as if you may have an issue with those freelancers so that’s something that the secretary themselves can’t help you with. So they’ll be more inclined to pass you onto the relevant department.
- They will quickly inform you (if it’s the case) that no, they don’t use freelancers and there is no art director, thus saving you time.
- Web Promotion: Works in various ways for a variety of reasons for me, to increase my web presence (higher rankings in google if for some reason someone is searching “illustrator in (my local area)” and if they lost my contact details but remember my name.
Also used for letting people know what I do, and that I’m available for work on a public website.
I use: LinkedIN (I have joined every group relevant to my chosen field and desired market) in which I post an update that I send to every group I’m in, each time I produce new work. I also go to specific groups like “Authors seeking illustrators” and make said authors aware of what work I produce, also pitching my illustrations for books and publishing projects. I’ve gotten a few clients this way, also a few clients via showing my work in groups who then message me and inquire about pricing.
Facebook useful for further increasing my web presence, also spreads the word around about my career through people I know, you never know who is going to have a discussion about needing a freelancer and someone you know goes “OH! You know what, I know someone who does that” because they remember your work on facebook.
Twitter not as often as I used to but it’s a great way to get in contact with companies you want to work for, and if you can’t figure out how exactly you contact said company, sending a tweet along the lines of “How would an illustrator get a job with you guys?” isn’t such a bad idea.
- Paid Advertising I swear by Hire an Illustrator, It’s £3.99 a week to advertise with them, but I’ve already made enough via clients from this website to pay for a subscription for over 40 years, so in my opinion it’s greatly worth the money. Though may be something to consider when you are making enough money per week to pay for it, there is also a yearly subscription that works out cheaper, and they also provide a portfolio website for you if you pay for it yearly.
I used Hire an Illustrator throughout Canada too, so it’s not just UK specific, they send your work and any print products you mail them to potential clients, companies and various other publications. It also heavily increases your web presence, and there is an option to search for artists via country, so US clients can find artists specifically located in the US.
Also Darren and Jane are two incredibly helpful people (they run and own the company) and will be happy to help if you have any questions or are uncertain about joining.
- Art Forums: A few of my friends use DA forums, some legitimate companies still approach DA for competitions and paid work. Go to every single forum that caters to your desired market, be that greetings cards, publishing, games design, magazines or whatever, and just put samples of your work up there and tell them you’re available. I’ve done this on a number of writing forums to advertise my book design work, I have had a number of clients this way.
Essentially being really damned persistent works for me, going to forums that cater to my desired market and showing my work and touching on what I do, what I’ve done, and that I’m available to do more of that.
I join groups and websites, freelance meetup is another great website, NETWORKING WITH OTHER ILLUSTRATORS/CREATIVES IS NOT ONLY FUN BUT REALLY USEFUL.
Sending promotional mailers out to various clients, it can be pricey but this is something to consider later on, emailers are free, mailers are lovely and shiny and can be pinned up on Art Directors walls so they have a constant reminder of who you are right in-front of their face. So consider this for a later time, small print outs are also good, Moo.com do small run prints, I am a re-seller for a print company so I use them which greatly reduces my print costs. (If you’re in the UK and are interested in cheap mailers, feel free to ask)
Send emails to companies you really want to work for, EVEN IF you think you have NO CHANCE of working for them. you’ll be surprised how many answer with suggestions of how you can actually work for them. Send samples to every single company who wants them. Label your emails ATTN: Art buyer/Art Director so it always goes to the right place.
Unless you know the direct email and name of the art director, which is always the best course of action.
I really hope this helps even a little, and if you have any questions or would like me to talk about something specific, please feel free to ask.
I mulled about for the first year out of uni not really understanding what the heck I was meant to do, so if this helps anyone so you don’t make the TONS of mistakes I did trying to make a career in this, then I’m happy.