The BIG ISSUE for most illustrators when it comes to finally getting illustration clients is “imposter syndrome” — the internal fear that comes with creating a business around your art.
- “Who will actually pay me to illustrate?”
- “Why would anyone reply to my email?”
- “I don’t my work is good enough yet — it’s too niche and weird!”
But breaking free of that fear doesn’t come easy.
It didn’t come easy to me. I’m an introvert. Asking creative VIPs and decision makers to hire me.
It all made me second guess myself.
But if I gave in to the “imposter syndrome” — that feeling of not being “qualified”. I probably would be stuck in a lame 9-5 job somewhere wondering, “what if!?”.
But because I’m being strategic in how I reach out to potential illustration clients, I’m able to have an illustration business that supports my family.
However, that’s just me — I’m not you, and you and I probably don’t make the same style of work, have the same kind of audience, and so on. But no matter how weird or niche you think your work is, for earning from your work is the same.
My hope with these emails is give you the conceptual shift necessary to begin reaching out to and connecting with potential illustration clients.
That shift in mindset — from”getting discovered” to breaking the ice and just start contacting your dream clients.
How I started getting illustration clients
When I first heard I was accepted into the Disney founded college, CalArts, I was stoked!
They only accepted just a handful of new students to their Character Animation program every year, and I was one of them! I wanted to be an animator since I was 6 years old. I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity slip through my fingers, even if I couldn’t afford the tuition.
Then reality hit me.
This meant, if I was to survive until graduation (even with grants and financial aid) I had to start earning money on the side. While keeping up with a rigorous schedule of full-time classes and an insane amount of homework.
My only option was to sell my art online and get illustration clients on the side.
What made this even more challenging was the fact I had absolutely ZERO experience, barely any past work, no famous clients to name drop, or even a portfolio website.
But I had no choice. I couldn’t let this opportunity slide through my fingers.
Through a TON of research, marketing experiments, bugging of teachers, and trial and error – I quickly figured out how to start earning money on the side from my limited illustration experience.
I also didn’t have time or money to promote myself to get illustration clients.
This meant I had to start getting illustration clients without paying for ads, spending hours on social media everyday, or waiting around to “get discovered”.
I couldn’t be passive with how I got clients.
So I became incredibly active and direct in the way I approached and sought out new clients.
By reaching out directly to get creative decision makers at companies. Many of whom I still work on projects for 10+ years later.
- No ads.
- No postcards.
- No social media.
- No shmoozing at events.
- No waiting around to “get discovered”.
Before I knew it, four years went by and I was still alive. Whew! I had financially survived and made it to graduation.
I managed to generate enough money on the side from freelance illustration (on top of selling art online) to make it to graduation.
What surprises most people when I tell them about my initiation into the freelance illustration world is how for the first three years I didn’t even have a website.
All I did was focused on establishing free, simple, and effective ways to reach out to new clients.
And believe me: I’m a fairly introverted guy.
So the fact that you don’t have to have a TON of followers on social media and be “famous” in the traditional sense in order to get illustration clients is what I love about the whole concept of just reaching out to potential illustration clients directly.
While knowing the strategy is often enough to “win the war”. It’s much easier when you’re equipped with the tactics, tools, and personal accountability you need to become a working artist.