Every day, you and I have a million different options on how we can get illustration jobs:
- Find more traffic to our portfolio website
- Get a million social media followers
- Redesign our websites over and over
- Pay for advertising
So what exactly works for getting illustration jobs?
COMMON MISTAKE: It's easy to do a little bit of everything…“I know – I’ll start a Twitter account – then post on my Facebook page a couple times a week – and try to promote myself on Instagram on Tuesdays…”
Pretty soon, we wake up and notice we’re jumping from tactic to tactic, not making any real progress.
The truth is, you’ll always have an overwhelming number paths for getting illustration jobs.
However, the typical approach most illustrators take for getting illustration jobs revolves around doing tasks to help them “get discovered”.
You know, posting on Instagram, hoping a potential illustration client will accidently come across your work and hiring you.
Before you even begin getting your work out there, you have to stop and really evaluate your work first. Doing the research to see where your work has the best fit. Essentially, figuring out what is unique about your work or picking a unique market to serve with your illustration abilities.
Why you need to differentiate yourself as an illustrator
In a crowded marketplace without differentiation, your efforts for finding illustration jobs are useless.
You don't have to compete with other illustrators for the most common types of illustration jobs.
You know the ones:
- children's books illustration
- editorial illustration
The problem with these common illustration jobs is the crazy amount of competition.
There are literally thousands of illustrators competing for these same jobs.
Before you even set out on looking for illustration jobs, you need to take some time to research and determine how to to gain “uncontested market space” than engaging in crowded competition.
A popular analogy for this is comparing your illustration business to sharks in the ocean. This was made popular in the book Blue Ocean Strategy. The premise is simple, rather than swim to where all the other sharks are eating (“red ocean”), you’re instead going to swim away and find your own fish in uncharted territories (“blue ocean”).
Most illustrators find themselves in “red ocean” conditions. In constant competition against each other looking for the same editorial and children's illustration jobs.
When you look for new, uncompetitive spaces, you’re going to adventure into a “blue ocean”.
In order to get more high-value clients who are happy to pay you for your creative vision and style, it’s essential for you to find a way to find illustration jobs free of competitors.
One GIANT example of artists who are awesome at differentiating themselves is Cirque du Soleil.
By completely reinventing the circus, Cirque du Soleil has grown its revenues in a fraction of the time compared to that of their competitors. (Which took their competitors, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, more than a century to attain.)
Cirque du Soleil wouldn’t have been successful by competing within the confines of the existing industry or by stealing customers from the other circuses. Instead, they created a unique market space that made their competition completely irrelevant. They created an entirely new audience who’ve never set foot in a circus before.
Targeting adults and corporate clients who are interested in theater, opera or ballet – an audience who is prepared to pay several times more than the price of a conventional circus ticket.
Because they knew they were going to get a truly unique entertainment experience.
What value does your unique illustration style and vision have for others?
You have to hone in on a specific aspect of your work (market, style, etc.) and own it.
To get more illustration jobs based on your style and vision, it’s essential you define and who your clients are, and directly reach out to them.
I don’t want you to get discouraged when it comes to getting more illustration clients. So let’s avoid getting stuck in a “red ocean”.
Which means avoiding things that put in you a “blue ocean”, such as:
- listing your site all over the internet
- spending too much time on social media
- paying for ads
- sending postcards to a million different art directors is a NON-ESSENTIAL right now.
Are they nice to have?
Yes, but there are more effective and natural ways of getting new clients.
What not to do to get illustration jobs
It’s your job to decide on what the most important buttons to push are — focusing on the ones that are proven to move the needle — and saying “no” to the ones that can wait until later.
Just because there are hundreds of social media platforms doesn’t mean you have to be on all of them.
In fact, in these first stages of getting your first illustration jobs I want you to understand exactly what NOT to do.
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 jobs.
If you try and do everything you’ll crash and burn. I know, I've been there.
The last thing you need are more strategies and ideas.
In fact, it’s better if you get rid of all the noise around you and just start with the essentials.
Think of your time as money. If you don’t absolutely need it, you’re not going to buy it.
You need to start developing smart frameworks to guide the way you get more illustration clients.
This way when someone suggests something to you, you have a smart answer:
“Hey, you should set-up a Facebook page for your art,” 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 50 potential clients every week.”
But first, you need to know exactly what you should be working on, you need to know what NOT to work on.
So let’s identify the clutter and noise in your illustration business, and eliminate it.
Here’s what you don’t need to worry about right now:
- attend conventions
- sending postcards
- paying for ads in illustration directories
- social media
- business cards
- fancy logo
Of course there are exceptions, and these things are important, but there is a time and a place for everything.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have these things later or that these things won’t ever help your business. It just means you don’t need them right now. All we’re concerning ourselves with right now is getting more illustration jobs.
Get illustration jobs with simple outreach
The most direct path for getting illustration jobs is to first do direct client outreach then you’re going to use referrals and word of mouth to expand your client list.
That’s it, no magical tactic or fairy dust.
You have to develop a system to authentically reach out to those who can benefit from illustrations like yours.
You’ll realize getting your first illustration jobs takes little time and money to get started. But this simple framework will prevent you from becoming derailed from your current mission – to use direct outreach 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 jobs in an authentic way.
- You’re not posting your work to a million job forums
- You’re not sending hundreds of postcards with your art on it to random art directors
- You’re not trying to get featured on the news
- You're not struggling to get a million social media accounts.
Once you start getting a flow of clients and business, then you can start thinking about additional illustration business growth strategies like social media, conventions, networking events, etc.
But ONLY when you’ve established a well-oiled system for generating new illustration jobs first.
It’s easy to get distracted with things like social media.
It’s easy to get 500 postcards printed, it's easy to pay for an ad in some illustration directory.
But it’s hard to start reaching out to potential clients directly.
Final thoughts on finding illustration jobs
I believe in learning the rules before I break them.
With your illustration business, learn the essentials of illustration pricing, do high-value work and pick unique, high-value clients you know would benefit from your illustrations and creative work.