Sharks and getting illustration clients

There are illustration clients out there who are more than happy to pay you for your creative vision and style.

But the typical approach most illustrators take to getting more clients revolves around waiting to “get discovered”.

Pursuing passive approaches such as sending out postcards, listing their portfolio all over the internet, paying for ads.

All strategies which fall into the realm of trying to “get discovered”.

No matter what marketing strategy you attempt – in a crowded marketplace without differentiation, they’re useless.

What if your illustration business could be in a league of its own?

Instead of competing with other illustrators for the same job, what if you were carving your own path by creating unique offerings – while profiting from lucrative new markets?

Generating that kind of environment should be your goal – as an illustrator, you’re better off searching for ways 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. Made popular in the book Blue Ocean Strategy.

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 for a share of the same marketplace.

But not you, 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 illustrations, it’s essential for you to find a way to work in a marketplace free of competitors.

A great example of artists who are awesome at differentiating themselves is Cirque du Soleil.

By completely reinventing the circus, Cirque du Soleil has grown their 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 illustrations have for others?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, change your style, or do something that doesn’t align with your original approach to illustration.

You have to hone in on a specific aspect of your work (market, style, etc.) and own it.

To get more illustration clients it’s essential you define and who your clients are, and start sending introduction emails 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 “red 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

These are aren’t required for getting illustration clients right now.

Are they nice to have? Yes, but there are more effective and natural ways of getting new clients.

Such as sending thoughtful email introductions to potential illustration clients.

Read more: How to get illustration clients