Both Hands On The Pencil
The most frequently asked questions from starting freelancers have to do with making money, landing clients and finding new work. The various conversations I had on Twitter with fellow illustrators also came down to the same topic: How do you find clients, how do you break into a new market, how do you turn around a slow period? For most freelancers, it is the most challenging aspect of running a business and maddingly it’s not talked about a lot in college. Lower level school programs tend to focus on learning the software and landing a fulltime job in the industry, and higher level education often emphasise concept-thinking and creative problem solving more than preparing students to become entrepreneurs and dealing with money.
My own path to making a living as a freelance illustrator has been far from an overnight success. Registering my business was more or less a natural step after one of my internships, as I talked about in this blog’s introduction. Although a natural start, it didn’t automatically promise a comfortable income right away and in the early years I had a couple part-time jobs to make rent. I did an internship in the USA that paid a little and I have worked as a bike messenger in Amsterdam for a couple a days a week (a job I still have fond memories of). When I was just starting out, I found myself living from project to project, slowly starting to look at my income from week to week and then month to month. It takes willpower not to get too stressed after a bad month or two and to look at your income over twelve months stretches. A mortgage bank, for instance, looks at your business’ yearly average over three to five years because they know a freelance income fluctuates.
After graduating or leaving your full time job, you will find yourself left to your own devices and you might feel hopeless starting out looking for clients. Even if you are following a certain formula or method because you think that’s how it’s done or because you’ve asked someone how they’ve done it, breaking into a new market or finding new clients takes a long time. Literally ages. You probably feel you’re supposed to send out cold emails to art directors and design agencies to promote your portfolio on a regular basis because it has worked sometime for someone. I do believe having an updated contact list to send portfolio updates to once in a while is smart and I also think throwing your portfolio at someone’s desk here and there will occasionally land you a project. By all means, try that route and see what sticks. I don’t believe it’s a very efficient way to get new clients, as most of the emails will go unanswered, and another part kindly rejected. Throw hundreds and hundreds of emails in the air and one or two might land in the hands of the right person at the right time, but most of them won’t.
Be comfortable talking about your hopes and dreams
How to proceed then, my precious Pencil-grabbers? By putting the person first in your acquisition process, just like we did in our professional focus. Have a good look at your existing network. If you’re trying to break into a new market (say, you’d like to try your hand at editorial, currently being marketing oriented) why not pitch an idea with a client you already have a relationship with? A design agency that has hired you in the past for an online marketing job might also have a magazine or publication in their portfolio, or they might know someone who does. Your conversation could inspire your client to start looking for a more editorial approach in one of their future projects. Plant a seed in a natural way, in a conversation with an actual person. This means you possibly have to be the one to initiate the conversation. See if one of your contacts has time for a face to face meeting. Don’t miss out on work opportunities because you didn’t put time and effort into getting to know your client as a person. Your best marketing is the last project you did and done well. Put all your effort and love into the project within the limits of budget and energy. Be nice to work with and that project will get you hired again. Be comfortable talking about your hopes and dreams, your interests, your passion projects. Be enthusiastic and real and it might go a long way. Beats hammering data into an excel sheet and throwing the umptieth email into the atmosphere if you ask me. Let me know how this works for you!
You might have further questions reading this blog. Get in touch and I'll see if I can make time to look at your portfolio and current promotion approach personally.
In the next blog we look at the brief, work and feedback process. Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter and sharing this blog! Jump in with questions on twitter. See you next time!
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– Wijtze @dripfordrip