How to get your first illustration clients

For most my life I wanted to work in an animation studio.

I went to one of the best animation schools.

However, living in Los Angeles during college made me realize the environment wasn’t ideal. The traffic, lack of trees, and work-centric attitudes pushed me away back to my hometown of San Diego.

I felt like I was giving up on my dreams of becoming an animation professional (which later changed…).

But then one day when I was checking out a book shop and saw a shelf full of Dr. Seuss books. I thought to myself, “Hey, I live in the same city Dr. Seuss lived in!”.

That’s when I realized, as an illustrator you could live anywhere in the world and still have a flourishing career.

At that moment I became focused on becoming an illustrator.

With just 21 illustrations in my portfolio and a bit of research I started introducing myself to potential illustration clients via email.

Literally, sending dozens of personalized introduction emails to potential clients every day.

It was a lot of work, but within a few months I was able to make a living just from my illustrations and art licensing from those projects.

Strangely, I even worked on a lot of animation projects in Los Angeles from my home studio in San Diego.

The biggest hurdle most freelance illustrators struggle with is getting illustration clients.

In today’s lesson, I’m going to show you the simple process for getting more illustration clients.

But I want to warn you before we jump in.

Getting illustration clients is really simple.

But you probably aren’t going to like how it’s done.

Few do.

And that’s why such a small percentage of aspiring freelance illustrators have substantial businesses.

When you read my insights in this lesson, you’re going to want to look for alternatives.

Your brain is going to tell you, “Just post your illustrations every day on Instagram and clients will find you.”

Ignore it!

Because there are no alternatives.

If you want to make a full-time income from freelance illustration in the next 12 months, this is your only option.

Okay, enough talking.

Step 1: Introduce yourself to potential clients every single week over email

I recommend 20 email introductions every week.

If you introduce yourself to 20 new illustration clients per week, EVERY week for the next 3 months, you WILL be making $1k-2k in freelance illustration income by the end of three months.

You’ll be making even more by the end of 12 months.

Here’s why.

When you’re just starting out, getting illustration clients is a numbers game.

If you want to be busy as an illustrator you need to introduce yourself to potential illustration clients.

And the more introductions you make, the more you’ll be hired.

So if you want to start building up your client list, you need to be out there introducing yourself to new potential clients every single week.

Make 20 email introductions your weekly goal.

Why 20?

First, it’s simple to accomplish.

If you know how to introduce yourself and your illustration portfolio the right way, it’s really not all that time consuming.

You can send out 20 personalized introductions in as little as 2 hours… simple.

Second, it’s pretty lucrative.

In the beginning, if you send out 20 introductions per week, you are sending out around 1,000 introductions per year.

Assuming an average of 1 out of 10 introductions result in a paying client and you earn an average of $1,000 per client (both reasonable estimates), then 1,000 introductions per year would bring in a nice, tidy $100,000 in revenue.

20 x 50 x .10 x $1,000 = $100,000

Of course, the real world is never quite that simple, however making 20 introductions per week will give you the perfect mix of real world attainability and earning potential.

Step 2: Ignore everything else

Every day you have a million different options on how to get illustration clients:

  • Find more traffic to our site
  • Get a million social media followers
  • Pay for ads in illustration directories

COMMON MISTAKE: You do a little bit of everything…“I know – I’ll start an Instagram account – then post on my Instagram page a couple times a week – and try to promote myself on Tuesdays…”

You can’t pay your bills with more followers on Instagram.

So many illustrators get caught up in vanity metrics on social media.

Pretty soon, we wake up and realize we spent WAY too much time worrying how posts perform on social media without making any real progress in actually earning money.

Ahhh!

Your time is especially valuable in these early stages of your illustration business.

You need to work on the most direct path for getting illustration clients.

In fact, it’s better if you get rid of all the noise around you and just start with the essentials of getting illustration clients.

This way when someone suggests something to you, you have a smart answer:

“Hey, you should post your illustrations on Instagram EVERYDAY!”.

Then you can intelligently tell them…

“You know I think that would be great later, but right now I’m focusing on directly reaching out to 20 potential clients every week.”

So let’s identify the clutter and noise, and eliminate it.

Remember…

The most direct path for getting illustration clients is to thoughtfully introduce yourself to 20 potential illustration clients every week.

That’s it!

No magical tactic or fairy dust.

This simple framework will prevent you from becoming derailed from your current mission – to use thoughtful introductions to get new clients.

You’ll also notice with this approach you aren’t waiting around to get discovered. You’re going directly to your future illustration clients.

  • You’re not posting your work to a million job forums
  • You’re not blindly sending hundreds of postcards with your art to random art directors
  • You’re not paying for ads
  • You’re not trying to get featured on the news
  • You’re not focused on likes and follows on Instagram

It’s easy to get distracted with things like social media.

It’s easy to blindly send out hundreds of postcards.

It’s easy to pay for an ad in some illustration directory.

But it’s hard to take time to thoughtfully introduce yourself to 20 potential illustration clients every week.

Here’s what you don’t need to worry about right now:

  • attending conventions or networking events
  • sending hundreds postcards to art directors
  • paying for ads in illustration directories
  • posting on social media
  • making business cards

There is a time and a place for all this.

Just not at the start of your illustration business.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have these things later or that these things won’t ever help your illustration business. It just means you don’t need them right now.

All we’re concerning ourselves with right now is getting more illustration clients.

The most effective way to get more clients is with direct outreach and further growing our list of clients with referrals and word-of-mouth.