Email is a powerful icebreaker and tool for illustrators.
You can use email to write effective emails to introduce yourself to new freelance clients.
You can use email to actively grow your network of influencers and decision makers by asking mutual acquaintances to introduce you to VIPs in they know – without having to do the dreaded “networking” in person – handing out a hundred business cards every night.
There are so many ways to effectively use email to grow our visual art business, but what do we do when we write an email?
Unfortunately most of us make two big email mistakes:
We simply write what we think.
That’s like meeting with a new client in person or on the phone and simply “answer their questions.” If that’s your plan, you’ve already lost. Top creatives know that 80% of the work in an interview/ meeting is done prior. The same is true with email: 80% of the work is done before you ever write the first sentence.
We only write quick short emails.
Sure you may think it’s enough to simply answer the questions or send a question. Sure it may feel right to send a “quick and short email”, but the truth is – you’ve already lost if this is your email strategy.
Common advice we hear –
“Write short and simple emails – people are too busy to read long emails!”
TIP: The types of people who read long emails, are either – clients who are about to hire you or are open to connecting with you to learn more about what you have to offer.
But nobody teaches us how to write effective emails! Who would teach us anyway?
Who’s actually sat down and systematically studied how to reach creative decision makers and future clients by just using email?
Most illustrators just wait for others to discover their work and email them.
You don’t have to guess about what words to say.
What makes an email get a response from a potential illustration client?
How can you connect with people who seem unreachable, like creative directors and art directors?
How do you use email to get introductions and turn that into additional freelance illustration work?
Over the years I learned how. I’ve tested many different email styles, lengths, subject lines, tones, writing styles, strategies, sequences, and more. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
There’s a way to write emails that get attention – without being pushy or annoying. If you’re reading this email and you’ve probably read many other emails of mine.
I’m a huge nerd when it comes to studying email writing.
So I decided to open up my “vault” of tested emails in my course, Illustration Essentials. Showing you the best performing emails I created to get the attention of creative directors, art directors, unreachable VIPs, and busy people.
The email scripts I’ve used to secure high-end freelance projects and more.
The emails I’ve used to establish the value of my creative work so when I bring up price, they aren’t caught off guard.
Also, emails scripts I use with every client, and more.
All tested, word-for-word scripts. Including step-by-step breakdowns of the psychology of why they work.
When you know how to write compelling emails, they’ll get opened, read, and replied to – even by the busiest creative decision makers.
Now when you introduce yourself to a creative decision maker you’ll find yourself in a few different situations:
First, you may have a mutual connection with this VIP. Whether a former classmate or a recent acquaintance you just met.
Second, you may have casually met this VIP in person recently.
Third, you may have absolutely no connection with this VIP.
I’m going to share with you an email script to help you with this third situation. Sending a ‘cold’ introduction to a creative decision maker.
A way to authentically introduce yourself to you need to have a specific desired outcome. Your goal isn’t to merely introduce yourself and say hi.
Here’s an example of the WRONG email approach –
To: Monica Brown, Art Director
Subject: Portfolio review
My name is *YOUR NAME and I’m an illustrator in Los Angeles. You can see my work at: *LINK TO PORTFOLIO. I just wanted to share my portfolio with you and let you know I’m available for freelance work. Let me know what you think!
This type of email doesn’t work for many of reasons:
The subject line doesn’t give Monica a reason to open it
It feels cut and pasted
The tone is too formal for email with “Dear” and “Best regards”
It doesn’t feel conversational
There’s no real beneficial action for Monica to take
It’s too short, it give enough information about why Monica should care
Your goal should be a specific outcome, such as setting up a quick phone chat.
Because you want to start a professional relationship that will, over time, grow into multiple projects. You’re avoiding an endless pursuit of blasting out links to your portfolio.
Here’s an example of an effective introductory email script –
To: Monica Brown, Art Director
From: *YOUR NAME
Subject: Mike Cole suggested we get in touch – recent CalArts grad
Mike Cole recommended I reach out to you. My name is *YOUR NAME and I’m a recent CalArts grad.
I recently watched your production company’s commercial for Al Jazeera. I was really impressed with how well you merged 3D animation with live-action footage. A few months ago I started creating 3D illustration work using these same techniques and I think there could be a great collaboration on future projects.
Do you have time for a quick 10-minute phone or Skype chat? If yes, which of these times work for you?
This Tuesday (9/21) any time
Thursday (9/23) any time before 2pm PST
Friday (9/24) any time after 11am PST
If any of these times don’t work for you, just let me know – I’m able to work around your busy schedule.
Also, I can call your office line directly. Or if you’d rather call me, my direct cell phone number is (333) 333-3333.
Let’s break down why this email works –
The subject line
Notice how the subject line is clear, descriptive, and looong. Busy VIPs get a TON of email in their inbox every day. The subject line is the first thing they’ll look at to determine if they’ll even open and read it.
TIP: Using deceptive subject lines is the quickest way to getting your emails dragged and dropped into the trash bin.
I always make sure to include some sort of qualifier in the subject line. In this example script I used the name of a mutual acquaintance. This taps into a power psychological principle of “social proof”.
Other qualifiers you can use are:
- professional affiliations like a college
- a well-known client or project you worked on
“Mike Cole recommended I reach out to you.”
In the first line I briefly reiterate our connection with my qualifier. If you don’t have a mutual acquaintance, that’s fine. Just give a detail about you and your work that shows you can contribute value. You may also have something in common with them. School, professional affiliation, hometown, similar work, etc.
TIP: Research, research, research. Before you press send, make sure you understand the basic information about the VIP you’re reaching out to. When you tap into your current network of professional peers, classmates, family, and friends, you may discover how close you are to a VIP or creative decision maker.
“…I think there could be a great collaboration on future projects.”
Your pitch is short and sweet because it’s not important right now. The only thing that’s important is establishing a phone chat and establishing a relationship. Your goal isn’t to just share a link to your online portfolio and ask them, ‘What do you think?”. Your goal is to be someone at the top of them mind as a creative authority in what you do.
Limit the options for times to chat
Help them make a definite decision by pushing them to make a specific choice of when to chat. Helping them tackle the psychological principle called “paradox of choice”. If you were to say, “…let’s chat whenever you want on any day,” nothing will get scheduled.
I usually only give three time options (in their timezone) to make a choice of when to talk.
You don’t need to be a famous celebrity to get 10-minutes on the phone with creative VIPs and decision makers. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to start establishing more valuable professional relationships, by simply sending authentic emails.
What if they reply saying none of the times work, but they’re available next week?
Go ahead and email them another set of times. Just another three options to make it as easy as possible for selecting a time.
Also, if you schedule a phone chat or meeting with them a week later, grab the bull by the horns and send a quick clarification email –
I’m looking forward to our call tomorrow. I’ll give you a call at *THE PHONE NUMBER THEY GAVE YOU on *SCHEDULED TIME. If anything changes, just reply to this email and let me know.
Busy VIPs, get a TON of email. But 99% of it is deleted, because it’s sales-y, spammy, or has no clear direction of what to do next.
When you do the research and understand who you’re emailing and craft purposeful emails – you’ll get your email opened, read, and replied to.
The mere fact that you’re actively reaching out to specific VIPs and creative decision makers, sets you apart from 99% of the other illustrators, designer, and photographers in your industry.
You’re not sending out thousands of postcards or showering the world with your business card. You’re instead, directly reaching out to VIPs you know you can help on their future projects. Because you KNOW you’ll make them look great after they hire you.
But right now you’re simply reaching out and breaking the ice via email so you can grow a professional connection and get lined up for future freelance work.