How to stay booked as an illustrator

After about a year of growing my freelance illustration business I felt like I was on a roller coaster

Working on illustration projects with no specific income goal.

I had a few “main” editorial illustration clients who paid me a low amount. But it was reliable, monthly work.

As you know, my main strategy was to consistently send 20 weekly email introductions to potential illustration clients.

But past that, I didn’t really have a long-term strategy.

Some weeks I’d meet my 20 email introductions goal.

Some weeks I’d be too busy working on illustration projects or just be too lazy to send any introductions.

But when my savings would start to creep dangerously low, it would push me to start introducing myself to potential illustration clients more aggressively.

Some weeks I would send out 40-60 introduction emails to make up for the prior weeks I didn’t send any.

Then I’d start making more money with illustration projects.

But I realized I couldn’t keep sending this many introductions forever and ever.

So long-story-short… my income from illustration projects would swing up and down.

I wasn’t super worried about it. I was freelancing part time and I was also starting to sell my art online too.

But at a certain point I realized I was so close to making freelance illustration full-time income.

And if I wanted to do that, I needed a more consistent, reliable way to bring in new illustration clients in the long term.

So I geeked out, did a bunch of research, and asked other illustrators how they managed to keep a consistent flow of illustration work coming in.

I didn’t like what I was hearing.

I kept hearing, “word-of-mouth”.

I don’t know about you, but when ever I hear someone recommend “word-of-mouth”, I get so frustrated.

What is that!?

How do you get “word-of-mouth”?

So I dug down deeper and what I discovered next would soon double and triple my illustration income.

It was so simple.

You probably aren’t going to believe me when I tell you.

All it took was two emails.

Step #1: Ask for referrals

You see, by the end of my first year of being a freelance illustrator I had about 30-40 illustration clients.

So I individually sent each one of them an email asking for 2-3 referrals.

Not one, but 2-3.

When you’re asking for a referrals, you’re asking your client to open their professional network to you.

It’s a big favor to ask.

But if they were happy with your work, they shouldn’t have any problem with it.

Step #2: Introduce yourself to the referrals

Simply take the emails given to you from your client and introduce yourself to them.

TIP: Include your clients name in the subject line of the email.

This guarantees your email will get opened and responded too!

In two months, I received around 60-80 new leads from referrals. Some of my clients sent me one referral and one even sent me 7!

I started hitting $4-5k per month CONSISTENTLY.

Since I started asking for referrals after an illustration project, I’ve never NEEDED to introduce myself to a complete stranger again.

I no longer struggled to make consistent income from freelance illustration.

Here’s what I learned…

If you can build a system that brings leads to YOU every month, you can secure your income level for years to come.

The keyword here is “build”.

This doesn’t happen overnight.

It doesn’t happen in a few weeks.

If you want to make a living from freelance illustration within the next 12 months, you have to start introducing yourself to potential illustration clients.

That’s the ONLY way.

But at a certain point, it becomes difficult to maintain your introduction emails deadline of 20 emails a week. All while simultaneously fulfilling a few thousand dollars worth of illustration projects each month.

But when you’re getting started, introducing yourself to 20 potential illustration clients every month will ALWAYS be the ace of spades in your back pocket.

It’s not necessarily hard work.

It’s just a matter of putting in some relatively light work, day in and day out, for months at a time.