Category Archives: Business of Illustration

3 Things You MUST Do When You Finish An Illustration Project

#1 Ask For Feedback

Why Do This?

…Because it’s a great way to continually improve the way you work with clients.

…Because feedback and testimonials from real clients are a great marketing tool.

#2 Keep Your Financial Records Up To Date

Why Do This?

…Because it helps you see whether you’re on track to achieve your financial goals.

…Because it eases the admin stress come tax return time, and instead makes it a breeze to do.

#3 Update Your Portfolio

Why Do This?

…Because your illustration portfolio should reflect your latest & greatest work.

…Because every completed project and satisfied client is a great marketing opportunity, and adds to the potential for more work 😉

And Finally…

To help improve your paperwork, we put together this template for you to begin to create your own (online) Client & Job Database….

5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Start Any Illustration Project

#1 Have You Confirmed the Full Scope of the Project?

Why Do This?

…because unless you do, you could be setting yourself up for a whole world of hassle later down the line.

…because until you do, you can’t provide a quote accurately or assess whether a proposed fee is worth it.

Will Terry gives this advice about managing scope creep…

“Newer and smaller businesses often do not have a good understanding of how business should be conducted. Creating a good working relationship is even more important when working with these clients because you will often have to take them by the hand to educate them.

For instance, one of the biggest problems you will encounter is “scope creep”.

Scope creep happens after you have signed a contract or agreed what the scope of the project is going to be and then you are asked to create more work.

Example: Your client wants you to illustrate a dog, cat, and mouse having dinner together. You agree on all of the specs, price, and deadline.

After you send in sketches your client informs you that he/she would also like you to include a donkey at the dinner party.

Since there was no possibility of satisfying the sketch on the first pass it is unfair to ask for this extra work without offering an additional amount of money.

If you’re a good designer you know you can’t just “add” an donkey into the sketch without redesigning the entire composition. If I were doing the painting for $1000 I might ask for an additional $50-$100 for the extra work.

The most important thing in handling these situations is to be informative in a kind way.

A careful explanation of your position should help most clients understand their error in expecting something for nothing.

You might even offer to do it for free this time so you can help preserve the relationship knowing that if it happens again you will hold them to paying an additional fee.”

#2 What Are the Copyright & Usage Terms?

Why Do This?

…because all parties need to be clear on who owns the rights and how long they own them for; these terms then form part of the fee.

Brett Ryder shared this advice…

“Some editorial companies will try for perpetuity, which in my opinion is completely outrageous! The acceptable term is one-time use within the magazine/newspaper, and 3 months use on their website and within the article it was commissioned for (there is some movement on this, but it’s pretty standard).

Sometimes – mainly in packaging or adverting – perpetuity is unavoidable and you will need to make the decision as to whether you are happy with this, and that the fee reflects the buyout of the image.”

Here’s a checklist of key aspects that need to be agreed upon:

Usage Rights Checklist

#3 Have You Confirmed the Financial Terms of the Project?

Why Do This?

…so you can be paid what you’re worth!

…so you know what you’ll be paid, and when you’ll be paid it.

Here’s a great article on how to calculate your fees, which includes the following advice on how to set your hourly rate:

How to calculate your hourly rate

[Annual salary + Annual expenses + Annual profit] ÷ Annual billable work hours = your basic hourly rate

Annual salary: What would you like to make a year? Consider this as a business expense (paid out to you as your own boss).

Annual expenses: Includes purchases and overheads for your business.

Annual profit: This is the profit charged over and above your expenses. Our friend Ilise Benun suggests 10-20% of your salary as the norm.

Annual billable hours: 365 days minus vacation, sick time, weekends off, and time you spend doing administrative stuff, and multiply by the number of hours you work a day, approximately.

Basic hourly rate: This is a guide, not a rule. You may choose to share this with a client as your hourly rate, or you may just build it in when you give a project fee.

When you’re calculating your fee, remember to consider the following:

  • Your hourly rate – calculate the number of hours each stage of the project will take (sketch, back & forth, final artwork etc.), to calculate a total. You do NOT have to communicate your hourly rate to a client, nor your time estimates either – but it does enable you to calculate a fee rather than guesstimate it using gut feel 😉
  • Client management time – remember that your fee should include the time you work on a project which includes back & forth with the client (by email or phone), as well as any research or other time spent on that particular project.
  • Expenses – equipment and any resources required to complete the project should be included in your fees.

And finally, be sure to confirm the payment details & schedule which means clarifying what and when you can actually expect to receive the monies from the client.

The following are often up for negotiation:

  • An initial deposit, paid upfront – many people will tell you not to expect or ask for this, but it can be used as a point of negotiation if a client has a tight deadline and/or can’t pay the full amount you quoted/asked for.
  • A kill fee – so you’ll be paid for any work you’ve done, even if the client cancels a project.
  • The final payment – always submit your invoice ASAP upon completing a project and put a note in your diary/calendar (or use followupthen) to remind you to chase up the payment if it hasn’t come in on the day it is due. Even better than this is to send a pre-emptive reminder a few days before the payment is due asking for confirmation it will be included in their next payment run.

#4 How Will Changes & Extra Requests Be Managed?

Why Do This?

…because things change. Always.

…because when they do, you’ll already have agreed the process to manage these changes.

For advice on what to do when things change AND you still want to be paid, watch this (it’s for designers BUT highly relevant). WARNING: NSFW…

#5 Have You Got Everything in Writing?

Why Do This?

…Because unless you do, you won’t have a leg to stand on should anything go wrong.

…Because it doesn’t need to be a scary, legalese document – it can simply be proof of everything that’s been agreed in writing (and emails still count).

Chris Oatley gives this excellent advice…

If a potential client is resistant to the idea of beginning with a contract, run away! Contracts exist to protect everyone in the professional relationship.

The biggest problem, however, is that most artists don’t work with a contract of any kind. They never even have the contract conversation.

It’s easy to villainize clients, but I rarely hear of an artist actually doing their due diligence and ensuring that a contract is arranged at the beginning of a job.

So all that’s to say, always work with a contract and on the rare occasion that a potential client is resistant, don’t work with them.

This is a brilliant tool to create a simple contract that covers all the important bases. Plus read about the red flags in licensing, if art licensing is your game.

And one final but brilliant tip that comes from this excellent article, is this:

Be clear that the written agreement is the final agreement…

“This is the parties’ entire agreement on this matter, superseding all previous negotiations or agreements.”

How to Say No

Are you are working you a$s off to create a killer illustration portfolio, market yourself as a professional illustrator, and attract more of your ideal projects?

If so, why on earth would you jeopardise that, throw away all your hard work and start saying ‘No!’ to turn down projects that come your way?

The simple answer is this:

When you say “No” to the wrong kind of clients, work and projects, you make space for the right ones to show up.

But even though you intuitively already know this, it probably doesn’t help if you’re struggling to make ends meet and earn a decent living from your illustration. So let’s explore this in more detail…

Does saying “No” make you feel uncomfortable?

Why does it make you feel this way?

  • Do you feel like you’re letting someone down?
  • Could you do with the money, even though it’s less than you’d really charge for something like this?
  • Are you just really bad at saying “No” to people? (Why is that?)

What does it mean – to you and to the recipient – when you say “No”?

  • Are you saying “Never”?
  • Are you saying “I don’t like you”?
  • Are you saying “Don’t ever contact me again”?

…because often a simple “no” means none of those things, it simply means “No, not this time but thank you so much for asking me” (which is a great way to clarify your “no”) 🙂

Why you MUST get comfortable saying “No”

As a professional person, it is your duty to set and then maintain and protect your boundaries. If you don’t, this is typically what happens:

  • You frequently feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
  • You feel that people don’t respect you.
  • You feel like people don’t value what you do enough.
  • You feel like you’ll never be able to charge what you want.
  • You feel like you’ll be stuck doing low paying projects.

If you want the opposite of all of the above: Respect, trust, appreciation, gratitude, acknowledgement and more, then set and respect own boundaries. If you don’t, why should anyone else?

How to get comfortable with saying “No”

1. Think of your business as a separate entity from you…

When you are in negotiation about a project, as the protector of your business it is your job to do what’s best for it (and you).

No-one else has solely your business’ best interests at heart – not your clients, not your agent, and sometimes not even you. From now on, make it your sole mission to protect the business you’re building, and say “no” when something isn’t in its (your) best interests.

2. Have a plan…

You may already know how we feel about having a plan (Hint: We’re big fans!), because having a plan gives you some very definite criteria (and boundaries) to stick to.

When you have a plan, and you know where you’re aiming to get to with your business, it gives you much clarity when an opportunity comes along because all that’s required is to ask yourself the question:

“Does this take me closer to or further away from my goal?”

If something is likely to take you further away from your ultimate goal, then it requires you to weigh up whether any other perceived benefits and advantages are truly worth it.

3. It’s not personal…

One of the main reasons people have a hard time saying “no!” is because it feels personal.

Remember this: When you say “no”, you are protecting yourself and your business’ interests in the same way the potential client is protecting theirs.

It is absolutely NOT personal, it’s a simple act of weighing up the benefits and drawbacks for your business, and communicating this professionally.

Who on earth are you to start saying “No” when potential clients come your way?

You are the sole protector of your boundaries, your business’ boundaries and your interests, and it is your absolute and sole responsibility to say “No” when something isn’t the best fit for you or your business. Right? Right 😉

4 Things to Ask When A Prospective Client First Contacts You

#1 How Did You hear About My Work?

Why ask this?

…because it gives you feedback on which of your marketing activities are working.

…because it helps you figure out where to focus your future marketing efforts.


#2 What Final Output Are You Looking For?

Why ask this?

…because it enables you to review your own business goals and decide if this is a good fit.

…because it gives you clarity on what’s being asked and what’s expected.

#3 What’s the Deadline & Work Schedule?

Why ask this?

…because it enables you to manage your own schedule.

…because it gives you an additional criterion to decide if this is going to work for you.

#4 Is This the Best Fit for My Business/Me?

Why ask this?

…because ultimately, you do have a choice, and it’s always good to recognise that.

…because sometimes a job just isn’t the best thing for you or your business.

A 101 Guide to Financial Management for Illustrators

Ah money, that lovely thing! Did you know that even when you think you have none to manage, how you manage money determines whether you’re likely to get more (or not)?

It is called cash FLOW for a reason – it is designed to flow in and out of your business, and so the process of financial management needs to focus on managing that flow of money.

In this 101 Guide, we’re going to start with the basics…

1. Take personal responsibility

You may have a partner or accountant who manages your finances – and it seems easier and more fun to leave it all to them because they’re good at it and you’re not.

You may however notice that people who you might call “bad with money” do this frequently…they abdicate responsibility for managing their finances and never step up.

If that’s you and you want to make more, have more, spend more and see more money, then you are going to have to step up.

Make it your responsibility to know where you are at all times, to  be conscious of how the money is managed and to learn how to do this.

If someone else does this for you, you’re lucky – you have a teacher right there to teach you. Learn from them.

Top Tip: Try You Need A Budget – it’s not just brilliant software but they have a wonderful (and effective) approach and email course to help you manage your money.

2. Get Clarity (and Maintain It)

If your approach to your finances is to bury your head in the sand and pretend all is rosy, STOP right now! You need clarity.

Having a full and clear picture of where you stand financially is imperative if you are ever going to heal your relationship with money and start making more of it.

Get clear – check your bank balances and credit card balances now and give yourself the full picture so you know what you’re starting with and where you want to go from here.

Do you dread checking your bank accounts? Inwardly clenching whenever you have to? Use EFT to stop this emotional response.

Cultivate the habit of checking your balances at least weekly so that you always have a sense of your financial landscape.

3. Make friends with money

Do you have a tricky relationship with money? Maybe a legacy of childhood learnings from your parents (frugality, money being bad etc. etc.). If so, start here…

Money is your friend; it is nothing more than a currency (energy). Any negative associations you have with it are down to you, not it.

Here’s an exercise to do which makes many people very uncomfortable at first, until you get comfy and realise that money is your friend…

1. Think about how much you earn per month right now. Are you happy with it? Are you comfortable with it?

2. Think about how much you’d like to earn per month. Would you be comfortable with that? Can you imagine earning that much money? (Really and truly imagine it, I mean).

3. Take the figure above and double it (or triple it!), Are you comfortable earning that? Can you imagine it?

If your response is, “No way – I can’t even imagine earning that” – then that is precisely what is likely to happen. There’s no way you’ll earn that.

The point here is to make friends with earning money – to get comfortable with it, and to feel comfortable about it. Try it – it makes all the difference.

4. Structure your bank accounts for optimal flow

The one area many illustrators neglect to structure well is their banking and bank accounts.

Any accountant will tell you to keep your business and personal finances separately but very few people do it. Pay close attention: It is a MUST do.

Set up a separate bank account for your business (it doesn’t have to strictly be a “business account”, it can be another current/savings account – current is better if you want to easily make payments from it) and use that and only that to receive any money and pay any expenses related to your business.

This might be a faff to sort out – especially if you get into the realm of having to move direct debits and standing orders around – but it is worth it in the long term.

Not only is it simpler to do your accounts every year, by separating your business finances from your personal transactions it also gives you a clarity about your business finances you may well never have had before.

5. Pay yourself regularly

Alongside restructuring your bank accounts, this goes down as one of the other most important financial practices you can cultivate as an entrepreneur.

Set a schedule to pay yourself a salary – as an employee of your business – and stick to it.

Whether it’s weekly, fortnightly or monthly – pay yourself a salary. It doesn’t matter if sometimes that’s only £5 (if that’s all you’ve made), still pay it and log it in your records.

Don’t fall into the trap of just paying yourself whenever, whatever as the money comes into your business…

This is one thing that separates successful, profitable business owners from those who only ever get by.

This is so important because it acknowledges the fact that you play two separate roles when it comes to money management:

  1. As the steward of your business finances and therefore the CFO
  2. As the manager of your personal finances

Paying yourself a salary helps you keep these 2 roles separate: You manage the business’s money as its CFO and you manage the money your business pays you as you would as an employee of any other company.

This may seem strange, complicated or overkill to some of you but believe me it is absolutely vital if you want to maintain the flow of money and cultivate good money management habits as an entrepreneur, try it for a while and then tell me it doesn’t work.

6. Record Your Money Transactions Religiously

While you can use You Need A Budget, Freshbooks, Xero or any other kind of software to track your finances, you can equally use a simple spreadsheet.

Logging your transactions daily (what comes in and what goes out) on your spreadsheet or in your tool of choice is an excellent habit to get into…

– and one that will save you hours and hours of hassle and headache when tax return time comes.

Top Tip: Log your daily expenses in your spreadsheet under the tax buckets/categories used on your tax return – this will save you spending hours having to classify them come tax return time.

Would you like to move beyond the story of the starving artist?

Cultivating your relationship with money to become someone who is ‘good with money’ (earning and managing it well) is a great place to start. We hope this helps…

A 101 Guide to Running A Lean & Agile Business

Running a business can be a complicated affair – made even more so if you’re a typical creative and not the most organised of people 😉

After just a few years in business things can pile up – accounts, paperwork, reference materials, inspiration, and books. Even the pieces of your own work can become disorganised, unruly and something on your list ‘to sort out’ someday.

If you’re a seasoned illustrator, there are a few signs and symptoms which may sound familiar:

  • You have piles of paper stashed away in drawers and cupboard which you’ve been avoiding trawling through.
  • You have ring binders and folders of reference materials which you know are out-of-date and you haven’t ‘referenced’ in years.
  • Your accounts are something you do – in a panic – once a year.

While this may not appear a problem, it can be – in more ways than you think…

  • When you have old, out-of-date stuff clogging up your life, you leave no space for the new and the fresh to appear.
  • When you have stuff holding you back and dragging you down, you can’t be agile, responsive and progressive.
  • When you have actual clutter, it’s common to have mental clutter too.

All of the above can stifle your creativity, block your progress and (negatively) impact your income and earning potential.

If you’re new, take heart – you can set things up right now so you don’t become that person…and if you are that person, take heart – there are methods and means to help you 🙂

In this 101 Guide, we’re going to walk you through a number of suggestions so you can set up your business to be lean, agile, responsive and progressive – all the qualities needed to thrive in the fast-paced 21st century and beyond.

1. Your Processes

Having well-defined, consciously-designed processes that you follow for each and every illustration project you work on, means you can quickly identify bottlenecks, respond to them and adapt/streamline as required.

As a bare minimum, the following processes are worth thinking about:

  • Your “New Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • Feedback on how a client found you?
    • A contract or agreement?
    • A detailed brief and breakdown of expected deliverables?
    • A payment schedule?
  • Your “Completed Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • An invoice?
    • A testimonial/feedback?
  • Your Financial Management process – how/where do you keep your financial records?

When you have clearly defined processes – ones that you stick to for each and every project – you can be confident that:

  • You’re not constantly forgetting something you need.
  • You’re running your business and projects in a streamlined, efficient, organised and professional way.

2. Tools & Resources

In this era of cloud computing and online tools for everything, there is no need to lose important paperwork or to even have to deal with physical paperwork unless you want to.

The benefits of online tools to run and manage your business are many:

  • You can access them from any computer with internet access.
  • Your data can be very easily searchable.
  • You can easily organise your stuff, usually by dragging and dropping.
  • It’s cheap.

Some of the most useful online tools to manage your business include:

  • Google Apps for a suite of tools such as email, calendar, online word processing/spreadsheets/presentations, and more.
  • Freshbooks, Xero or similar to manage your accounts and invoices.
  • AWeber of Mailchimp to manage your marketing database/contacts.
  • Trello or Asana for project management and group collaboration.
  • Evernote for clipping, storing and organising your resources and snippets of information (doesn’t have to be digital – snap photos to digitalise and upload online).
  • Flickr, Dropbox or Amazon S3 for incredibly affordable storage for your digital images.

From a purely physical perspective, we’re agile and lean because we can carry everything we need to run and grow our business in a backpack – this gives us a mindset of agility and freedom.

3. Skilling Up & Controlling Your Assets

We don’t need to invest anything but time if we want to change our entire business, because we can…

  • Build a new website or adapt an existing one.
  • Tweak our business model in a day.
  • Set up and market a new venture in a day.

We can be this agile because we’ve learned the skills necessary to be able to take control of the key assets in our business.

The assets in your business include:

  • Your website – do you have to pay someone else to change/update your website for you? Or can you learn to do it yourself?
  • Your strategy – have you got a coherent strategy which you can tweak and adjust as circumstances dictate?
  • Your professional network – do you nurture your network as a key asset and resource?

Skilling up in the ‘softer’ skills of running your own business – alongside your own creative skills – enables you to keep your business agile, responsive and lean.

If you need to call in the cavalry every time you want to make a minor change, it’s always going to be a barrier to making the change that’s needed.

4. Your Mindset

Most of all, running a lean and agile business is a matter of mindset. For example:

  • We know we’re not tied to local (even national) clients and instead approach our business with a global mindset.
  • We’re aware of how quickly technology changes and has an impact on everyone’s lives; we can’t predict it but we can usually respond quickly enough to either minimise any damage or leverage the advantages.
  • We know that staying lean and agile is going to be a huge advantage both now and in the future; it truly is survival of the fittest!

It’s easy to get stuck in the belief that things have to be done the way they’ve always been done.

Fortunately these days, there are pioneers leading the way across all industries…will you become one of them?

Managing Your Illustration Projects 101

One of the most unexpectedly time-consuming (and often tricky) aspects of running your own illustration business is handling and managing your projects.

As the service provider and (usually) the project manager, you’re the sole point of contact and have responsibility for the entire, end to end process, from securing the client to sign-off.

There are any number of potential sticking points, such as:

  • Quoting and pricing up a project.
  • Client not paying on time (or at all).
  • Difference of creative opinion.
  • Project and scope creep with additional requirements and requests somehow making their way into the project.
  • A project running on and on, with endless requests for tweaks and revisions with no end in sight.

These sticking points can be exacerbated when you work purely online – not on location – by the lack of face-to-face contact and the fact that things can very easily be mis-communicated, misinterpreted and misunderstood with online communication channels.

We’ve summarised below some of the key stages of an end-to-end project process where you might come unstuck and how to prevent this from happening in the first place…


Have a Written Agreement

This is a MUST – and it doesn’t have to be a formally written contract, as long as you have the key aspects in writing (email) agreed and confirmed before you start the project.

At the very minimum, have confirmed agreement on the following aspects of a project:

  • Scope of the work to be created
  • Agreed timelines and important deadlines/milestones
  • Fees and payment schedules
  • Changes in requirements/scope and their impact on fees
  • Usage rights and ownership of work created
  • Conditions for changing the agreement on both sides (e.g. ‘kill’ fee)

Chase Your Deposit

If you have agreed on an initial payment upfront/deposit, ensure you receive it before you start any work.

If you hand over an initial concept/sketch before a client has paid the agreed amount, you’ve given away any leverage you might have had, with which to bargain.

Clarify Client Requirements

While your agreement/contract can include a summary of the agreed work, always ensure you get a full breakdown of what you’re creating and providing to a client.

For example, your contract may state “illustrations for a book” but ideally you’ll clarify this to state “10 x A4-size illustrations for a book etc. etc.” so that both sides are clear from the start what the core deliverables are.

Nail down the specifications and a detailed brief as tightly as possible – when it comes to something as subjective as design & creativity, it’s always tough to satisfy personal tastes & preferences.

A well-constructed and fully completed brief from your client can help you prove (should you need to) that you’ve delivered what was requested, irrespective of whether a client might personally like it or not.

Initial Concept Stage

Limit Initial Concepts

Be clear upfront (in your agreement at the Pre-Project stage ideally), how many concepts/sketches a client can expect to receive, and how many rounds of revisions/tweaks they’re allowed before being charged a supplement.

If you don’t do this, a project can get stuck here in an endless round of the client requesting new concepts until they finally find one they like.

Red Flag: If a client ever says to you, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it” be very wary!

Use a Gating Process to Keep Moving Forwards

It’s also important to add a gating step at this stage – that is, an ‘official’ signing off of at the sketch/concept stage which allows you to lock it down and move to the next stage of the process.

Once this ‘sign off’ is received from a client – it can be as simple as an email confirmation from them ‘signing off’ the sketch – you have something to fall back on should any major changes be mooted later in the process (or the dreaded, “We don’t really like it” comment once the project is complete).

Creation Stage

Managing Scope Creep

If you’re working on a more complex or longer term project, it can be easy to let additional requests creep in, that aren’t in the orginal request and aren’t covered by your fee.

Phrases such as “Oh, could you just add X, Y and Z? I know it won’t take long…” can become commonplace and before you know it, that cover illustration for a book has turned into a cover plus 5 extra internal illustrations, with you taking on the extra work for no additional fee.

Ensure you highlight and communicate any potential instances of this as soon as they seem to be happening; producing – by default – any extra illustrations, and then mentioning that these weren’t in the original agreement puts you in a weaker position to re-negotiate any additional fees for the extra work.

Project Complete

Get Official Sign-off

Defining what constitutes the official end of a project ensures it won’t drag on and on with endless requests for amendments, tweaks or additions.

Typically this is the ‘official’ handing over of the final deliverables – graphics, images, files etc. – whatever it is, be sure to define and communicate this to the client.

Ensure they know that this constitutes the official end of the project and that any further work will be subject to further fees.

In Conclusion

It can be daunting to set your boundaries and stick to them in this way, but contrary to your fears, you may find that clients respect your professionalism, your well defined process and the fact that you are protecting both your own interests and theirs when you consciously and mindfully manage your projects in this way.

The bottom line is this: Never assume that a client knows how you work nor what the process is (or should be). It’s your job to communicate this to them, it’s not theirs to simply know.

Four Ways to Get A Headstart on Your Illustration Business Each Year

At the end of each year, with the festive season in full swing, it can be hard to concentrate on your business and move the needle much further until the new year ‘lull’ comes round.

But if you can find a few quiet moments to begin thinking about the coming new year, you’ll be able to get back into the swing of things much more smoothly when the festivities are over, and focus on what matters most to grow your illustration business each year.

Here are 4 of our top recommendations to help you do this…

1. Review Your Biggest Lessons of the Past Year

Has it been the year you wanted? If not, why not? What didn’t work so well? What did?

There are a lot of ways to conduct an annual review, we like to keep it simple. Grab a pen and make 3 lists, as follows:

  1. What are you going to KEEP doing? (Because it worked well and it’s worth continuing with).
  2. What are you going to STOP doing? (Because it didn’t work well, never has and likely never will…if you’re truly honest!).
  3. What are you going to START doing? (Because you have a feeling it could work well for you and it’s worth a try).

This gives you a very simple action list that lets you (a) Review what’s happened (b) Clear the decks and (c) Re-focus your efforts on what matters.

2. Make a Plan for the Coming Year

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where –”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland  

If you’re typically a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type illustrator, and it’s not been working out so well for you thus far, perhaps now is a good time to try something new…

Creative people and plans don’t often play well together, but there’s a strategic planning tool that Lea has developed that works well because it’s not a long-winded 30-page business plan, but a simple 1-page plan.

The crux of a good plan is this: Know what you’re aiming for…

What do you really want to be illustrating and who do you really want to be illustrating it for?

Until you really get clear on this, anything else you do for your illustration business is pretty pointless.

3. (Re)Focus Your Brand

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your work will do all the talking when it comes to your personal/professional brand – and sometimes it can – but if you interact on social media, attend networking events and generally perform other activities to market your business (which you should be doing!), then honing your brand for all these activities can really help.

Consider the following questions:

  • What do you and your brand stand for?
  • Are you and your work instantly recognisable?
  • What sets you apart? Why should someone work with you and not another illustrator?
  • Do ALL of your marketing activities present a cohesive and accurate representation of your brand?

If your work looks the same/similar to fellow illustrators, your brand – how you (re)present your work across all different channels and media (including you, as the illustrator) – can set you apart.

How well does your brand currently work for you? What can you do next year to improve it?

4. Create a Promotional Calendar

I’m sure we’ve all done this (I know I have)…you work on a lovely new promo mailer and send it out.

Then, several months later you think ‘Ooh, I haven’t sent out a mailer in a while’, so you create a new one and send it out. There’s no set schedule, it happens when it happens.

Creating a Promotional Calendar in advance can help you plan this into your schedule so you know what’s coming up, and can incorporate it into your workload.

The biggest benefit of doing this is that you will have an ongoing stream of marketing activities happening – to a plan – rather than the sporadic, ‘market when you need more clients’ type of approach so many creatives default to.

Why You Are the Best Illustration Agent You’ll Ever Have

If you’re struggling to get work and clients for your illustration business, it can be easy to think that the magic bullet lies in securing an agent.

After all, imagine having someone work on behalf of your business to actually bring you work on an ongoing basis, leaving you to focus purely on the bit you love…illustration!

But there are a number of reasons that going it alone can be the best approach in the long term…

No-one Is More Invested Than You

No-one is more passionate about what you do than…you! No-one is (or should be) more invested in your success than you.

No-one is going to be as thorough, as passionate, as dedicated to your success as you are…

But if fear and self doubt are holding you back, you must find a way to get through this because if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

And if it’s lack of skills, know-how or someone to get answers from, we can help you with that too 🙂

Your Vested Interests Are Your Own

When you take control to run and market your own business, the only vested interests you have to worry about are your own.

There are no shareholders, partners or directors for you (or your agent) to keep happy, no irrelevant-to-you sales targets to hit, your interests are purely your own.

You do not have to do things a certain way just to keep X, Y or Z happy, you can do things the way you want to – you are your own boss, your vested interests are quite rightly in your own success.

You Can Stay Agile, Flexible and Adaptable

The nature of work is changing fast, and it’s only going to get faster.

As an illustrator – especially if you work in the digital medium – you now have all sorts of global opportunities open to you, no longer restricted by regional (or any other) borders.

The key – and challenge – of course is to find a way to identify and then take advantage of them – that’s what skilling up and self empowerment is all about.

And as soon as you do skill up, you can leverage these online tools, platforms and networks to reach people, clients and projects you’d never have been able to reach on your own before.

Not only can you reach them, they’re actively out there looking for (illustrators like) you.

Self Empowerment Above All Else

When you empower yourself with the skills you need – the marketing, the business building, the creative skills and more – no-one can take this away from you.

Becoming reliant on someone else for your success – an agent, a single client or even an employer – can erode your confidence, your self belief and your own ability to take control of your future and opportunities.

It can erode your belief in the fact that You. Are. (Good) Enough.

Empowering yourself – and arming yourself with the tools, resources, networks and contacts – to make a success of your illustration business and career, is life affirming.

You are the best agent you’ll ever have. Believe it.

Are You Making These 5 Small But Vital Mistakes On Your Illustration Portfolio Website?

There are a number of obvious, small yet possibly business-limiting mistakes which are prevalent on a number of portfolio websites we review…

#1 No (or Hard to Find) Contact Details

Would you believe that many websites make it impossible to find the contact details on them? They’re either simply not there or the details are buried deep within the website somewhere and unlikely to be easily found.

How will potential clients and art directors get in touch if they like your work, and want to hire you?

While some visitors may like your work enough to be motivated to spend a while searching your site for them, you want to make it as EASY as possible.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are your contact details easy and obvious to find from every single page? If not, make them so!

#2 Too Small Thumbnails

If the thumbnail photos for your portfolio gallery are too small, it makes it really tricky to see your work, and pick something which might stand out or be of interest to a potential client.

Not only that, it can be visually overwhelming to be faced with an entire screen of tiny thumbnails, which can then lead to visitors clicking away from your site because they just don’t know where to go.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are your thumbnails large enough for visitors to get a clear idea of what that piece of work actually is? If not, increase the size of your thumbnails.

#3 No Photo

If you are selling yourself as a professional service provider, you MUST have a photo of yourself up there somewhere.

It doesn’t need to be a glossy, staged and professionally-shot photo but it does need to show you as a friendly, approachable, professional human being who can be trusted with someone’s hard-earned pennies.

People work with people, so show yourself and who you are instead of hiding behind an avatar or no image of yourself at all.

ACTION: Open up your website now! Is there a photo of yourself or something that will give prospective clients a visual of exactly who they’ll be hiring and working with?

#4 No Mailing List

It’s the #1 rule of marketing yourself online…build a mailing list.

The reason being is that while it’s great that people come to your website in the first place, you need to give them a way to stay up-to-date with what you’re doing, and stay present in their minds should any suitable potential projects crop up.

It might feel like just one extra thing you don’t have time to do, but smarter creative marketers know that an online mailing list is a relatively quick, easy and cost effective way of keeping in touch with potential clients who are interested in hiring you.

ACTION: Check out mailing list providers such as AWeber or Mailchimp – and plan the sending out of a regular e-newsletter into your marketing strategy soon!

#5 Splash Pages

While they may look pretty, when clicks and getting people to take action on the web are at a premium, why force visitors to make that one, unnecessary extra click just to get to the main part of your website?

ACTION: Open up your website now! Are you forcing visitors to take unnecessary extra steps and actions just to get to the main content of your website (your portfolio)? If so, streamline the experience and remove any barriers.

What Are You Worth?

When you’re first starting out as a professional illustrator or when projects are thin on the ground, it’s easy to just take whatever you’re offered…

Agreeing to work for peanuts, serving less-than-ideal clients who clearly don’t value what you do and ultimately, compromising on your values seem to be necessary evils to do what it takes to survive when your business is struggling.

But if you want to thrive – not just survive – there’s a harsh lesson in doing this, which I’ve learned previously and am still learning:

If you don’t value what you do and fight your corner, why should anyone else?

If you’re not happy with what’s on the table, say so.

There is almost always flexibility with clients when it comes to deadlines and budgets – but if you never ask, a client is unlikely to offer more of either.

I know this is tricky – especially if you, like me, hate confrontation. I recently asked a client, with whom I’m about to start a sizable Illustration project, for more time and a higher fee –  and guess what?

They were flexible on both counts with an additional quarter of the original fee added to the budget and a few more weeks added to the deadline.

Was I nervous about asking for more time and money? Yes but it also taught me a valuable lesson too – if I believe in the value of my work, so will clients.

So how do you ask for more?

  • Ask yourself, what fee you would be happy working for? If you ask for more and they say no, you need to be ready to turn the project down or find other compromises to agree upon.You’ll find it difficult to produce your best work if you’re feeling negative and resentful about a project or client.
  • State your case honestly and politely. Don’t be demanding. Show you’re human and have financial responsibilities just like they do – if necessary break down the project into approximate hours and how the fee would translate into an hourly rate. However, watch your tone and avoid sounding whiny – this won’t get you anywhere.
  • Be sensitive to the client’s needs too. Their hands may be tied and their margins may be very tight. They are running a business too. If there really isn’t any wiggle room in the budget area, consider what else would lighten the load from your perspective.Maybe you have part of an old Illustration that they would allow you to re-use in their project to lighten the workload? Find a compromise which works for everyone.
  • Be prepared to walk away from the project. You have a choice. If you accept it this time, you’ll find it very difficult to ask for a higher fee next time with the same client – they will likely now know that you’ll accept what’s offered (they are a business too remember, if they can protect their margins, they will).

I don’t say all of the above lightly – I find it hard to do too – but thanks to Lea encouraging me to see the value that I bring to projects and believe in the value of my own work, I’m learning to stand up for myself – and so should you.

What barriers do YOU place in front of your Illustration success?

As an Illustrator, it sometimes feels like the odds are stacked against us – dwindling markets, more supply than demand and all this talk that Illustration is dead.

No wonder a lot of us are insecure about our work and questioning how much we charge for our skill and talent.

But, how many of these barriers to success are we actually creating for ourselves? Do these barriers really exist or are they just excuses?

Let’s look at some of the common excuses barriers we put before ourselves and how we can overcome them…

Excuse 1: “My work isn’t good enough.”

Do you really think that the top professionals whose work you admire are always happy with everything they produce?

Could they too be plagued with self doubt from time to time? The difference is, they just get on with the job at hand and work through it.

Do you think that an Art Director is going to want to hear you moan that you’re not feeling very confident with your work today?

No, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive any more commissions from them in the future if you do.

For the longest time (and I mean years) I allowed these issues cripple me and it got me nowhere.

If I had just told voices in my head to take a running jump years ago and ploughed on regardless, I’d be a lot further on in my career today.

I still have self doubt, but now I know that just stopping gets me nowhere – as long as you take action, you’re moving forward and making progress.

These voices are in your head and you are the only person who can tell them to shut up – just get on with it!

Excuse 2: “I don’t have time.”

Before becoming a parent I really have no clue what I used to do with all the time I had – I could spend all day, every day just working away on my Illustration career but I didn’t.

As much as I hate to play the “You don’t know what it’s like if you don’t have kids” card, I’m going to!

If you aren’t a parent (or have other caring responsibilities that genuinely demand your time), then you do have time.

How much time do you spend browsing the internet every day? How much TV do you watch? How long do you spend playing video games? How much time do you spend socialising and spending, instead of improving your craft?

I’m not suggesting that you don’t do any of these things, but if you’re truly serious about wanting to be a successful Illustrator you will always be able to carve out the extra time to devote to your Illustration work.

The secret is to make your time count – use the time wisely, set specific goals for the extra 4 or 5 hours a week that you carve out for Illustration.

When time is genuinely limited (e.g. having a new tiny little screaming member of the family), it’s amazing how much you can get done with that forced focus!

Excuse 3: “I can’t afford to send out promo mailers.”

Because it’s still held in high regard as the tried and tested method of self promotion, sending out physical promo mailers seems like the way to go.

But even if you can’t afford the printing and postage costs, saying you can’t afford to market your work is just not good enough and will get you nowhere.

Although it can be a bit hit and miss due to spam filters and the volume that Art Directors and Publishers get, email promos don’t cost a penny.

Due to the cost effectiveness, you’ll be able to reach a far wider pool of prospective clients via email.

If you are mindful of the title of your email so that it doesn’t get marked as spam and if your work is a good fit for the prospect you’re contacting, you’ll probably get a reply.

The key to any self promotion (physical or email) is the follow up.

Keep a spreadsheet of who you’ve emailed (or posted promo mailers to) along with the date you sent them and then follow these up with another email at intervals throughout the year.

Don’t bombard your contacts with endless emails every time you create a new piece of work, schedule your contacts at intervals throughout the year – create a promotional calendar to remind yourself to send out new emails/mailers every 2-3 months and make sure you have something new (and interesting) to show – there needs to be a reason that you’re making contact again.

There will always be hurdles to overcome and problems to solve in your Illustration career but realising which of these are self-imposed and can quickly be eradicated with a change of mindset is the key to achieving the career you want.

How Does Your About Page Measure Up?

It usually comes as a shock to many illustrators when they check their stats and realise that the 2nd most visited page on their site – after their portfolio – is very often their “About” page. {You do have one, don’t you?}

As an illustrator, the good thing about this statistic is that it gives you a golden opportunity to make your “About” page more than just a boring potted history of you and your education.

Your about page gives you a chance to make a real connection with someone – an art director, an art rep or an agent – who may be looking to commission you for an illustration project. Why?

Consider two similar-looking websites…

Both illustrators work in a similar style, their portfolio pieces are equally as good, maybe their fees are similar too.

But one illustrator has an “about” page which gives a real sense of who they are, why they’re in business and why someone should hire them; the other illustrator has a standard bio with not much more information than where they went to college.

Who would you feel you had a stronger sense of? Who might you feel you knew better at this stage? Who might you be more interested in getting in touch with?

Here are a few simple ways you can use your “About” page to greater effect:

  • To share more of the real, authentic you – to reveal the personality behind the art, the one which people can really and truly connect with and, ultimately, want to work with as an illustrator.
  • To showcase testimonials and what other people say about your work and hiring you a.k.a. establishing credibility using external validation.
  • To encourage people to sign up to your newsletter or mailing list.
  • To highlight your most successful projects and artwork.
  • To make it even clearer which kind of work and projects you’re looking for.

An effective “About” page can do all of the above and more but there are a few questions you need to consider to help you craft an “About” page that works…

Why does your illustration business exist?

If you can’t articulate the reason why your business exists and why you’re an illustrator (other than to earn you a living), then how do you expect others to be able to connect with this and also spread the word about it for you and refer more clients to you?

You need to be able to state why your illustration business exists in a couple of succinct sentences, think of this as your “story” – why did you become an illustrator? What sets you apart? What’s your driving reason for doing what you do?

Who are you writing for?

The real secret of your “About” page is that it doesn’t have to be all about you, it can be all about “them” – the clients, the Art Directors and the projects your illustrations are for.

Your About page is for them, to help them get to know you better, to help them make the decision to take a chance and hire or commission you.

It helps therefore to know who “they” are – who are you trying to connect with?

Whoever it is, you need to consider what they’d like to know about you and what they need to know about you before they’ll even consider working with you – and then make sure you’ve included this on the page.

What value do you bring to the table?

You’ve probably heard this before but you need to be able to define what makes you and your illustrations unique.

Why should someone commission you over another illustrator? What value do you bring to the table? What can’t I get anywhere else?

Get clear on what true value you bring to your projects and to clients – and why an art director should work with you and not another illustrator who perhaps works in a similar style, and then communicate this on your About page.

Need a specific example?

I’m a Business Strategist and I teach about online technology to people running their own businesses. But the actual value I bring?

I make their lives easier, I save them time and money and I give them confidence in their ability to make a success of what they’re doing.

It’s not about the services I provide, it’s about the results I help them achieve and the difference I make to their lives.

What’s the goal of your “about page”?

The golden opportunity that most “About” pages miss is the opportunity to point the readers somewhere else once they’ve finished reading (plus you can also do this at salient points throughout the page) – maybe your favourite pieces, your portfolio, your testimonials.

The important thing is to decide what the ultimate goal of your “About” page is.

Is it to get prospective clients to check out more of your portfolio and the work you offer? Is it to get them to sign up to your newsletter? Is it to go straight for the bulls eye and get them to inquire about commissioning you?

Whatever your goal, ending with a specific and strong “Call to Action” should be one of the last things you include on the page.

Here’s what to do now…

1. Take a good look at your current About page.

2. Does it incorporate the elements above? These include:

  • The reason you became an illustrator – your “story”
  • Language that’s tailored to your ideal clients
  • Communicating how & why you make life easier, better and simpler for your clients
  • Why should an art director hire you over another illustrator?
  • A specific and direct “Call to Action” at the end of your page

…if it’s missing some or all of these components, add them now.

Your “About” page is very likely to be the 2nd most important page on your website – yet many people give it nothing more than a few minutes of their time by copying and pasting their standard bio.

Use this golden opportunity to connect with your potential clients and art directors – and give your “About” page the attention it deserves.

You’ll find you can make a stronger connection much more quickly than you’ll ever do with the common generic bio frequently seen on most illustrator’s About pages everywhere.

Good Money Management Practices for a Profitable Illustration Business

If you are like many creative entrepreneurs, you may have a strained relationship with money. Obviously you’d like more of it but then again, you don’t want to sell out as an artist or compromise your creativity to get it.

And when you do have it, it never seems to go as far as you thought it would and before you know it, there you are again wanting more. You may even describe yourself as “bad with money”.

I have a theory that many creative people self sabotage when it comes to money – I know Jonathan does…

  • There’s the question of value: Is my art worth it? Is it valuable enough for anyone to pay any money for it?
  • Then there’s the question of how to get more: How do I sell my art without selling my soul? How do I sell more without selling out?
  • And finally there’s the question of what you do with it when you get it: There’s no point in managing it because I never really have any. So I just won’t bother…I’ll just spend it.

Aaaah, money. Don’t you love it? 🙂 As someone who has always enjoyed a relatively good relationship with money, I’ve been working with Jonathan recently on his relationship with it.

We’ve been working through his plans for his illustration business and putting things in place to help the flow of money f-l-o-w more easily and frequently for this is what money is meant to do…flow. This is what we’ve been working on…

Heal Your Relationship

If some of the above sounds familiar – and you perhaps describe yourself as being “bad with money” – then the first place to start is to begin to heal your relationship with money.*

This is easier said than done since you’ll be dealing with the habits, beliefs and practices of a lifetime but consider it as a journey and the first thing you need to do is to take the first step.

Whether that means reaching out to ask for help from someone else, reading up and arming yourself with knowledge about a topic that scares you or buying a book (Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is a great one to start with) – do what you need to do, if you recognise you have a problem in this area.

* Watch this space – we may have something coming up to help with this. You heard it here first 😉

Multiple Streams of Income

A message we’ve often emphasised here is to build multiple streams of income from your illustration skills. It’s taken Jonathan long enough to get started on creating any income from his illustration but now he has, he’s got one eye firmly on creating additional streams by being smarter about which avenues he pursues.

The purpose is to reduce the reliance on just a single channel and target market so that should one ever slow down or disappear, the others can help pick up the slack.

As a creative entrepreneur, how many ways could you create additional income streams from your illustrations? And what are you going to do to build these?

Separate Your Finances

If you run your illustration business as LLC or limited company, then you’ll almost certainly have a dedicated bank account for your business.

If you don’t, do you have a separate bank account which you designate for your business? It doesn’t strictly need to be a “business” account with the additional charges often levied for these but it does need to be an account you use *solely* for business transactions which means:

  • All business-related income should be paid into this account
  • All business-related expenses should be paid from this account

No exceptions. Ever. As an entrepreneur and business owner, you play 2 roles when it comes to money:

  1. The CFO of our business finances
  2. The CFO of your personal finances

By all means be sloppy and disorganised as the CFO of your personal finances but don’t let this spill over into your business finances. Keep the 2 roles separate and keep your finances separate. Not only will this reduce all the headaches and stress come tax time, it’ll also help you manage the money you earn as an employee of your business.

While it may seem overkill, setting up your finances in this way means that you’ll replicate the “salary as an employee” structure which prevents you from dipping your hands into the business’ pockets when you run short and treating your business as simply a vehicle to pay your bills (it is this, I know, but if you really want it to take off and for your work to be appreciated, you need to view it as so much more).

Pay Yourself First

As an employee of your business, how much salary do you pay yourself? Or do you just dip into the money your business earns whenever you need it? This goes hand in hand with the advice above and helps you separate your money personae.

As CFO, you should be paying yourself a salary – you can pay this every week, every fortnight or every month if you like, but do it regularly and do it consistently. Even if at times you’re paying yourself just $5 from your business account as that week’s salary, do it anyway – it’s the practice and habit that counts.

Claim Everything

One of the things we’ve been spectacularly bad at is claiming things against tax which could very easily be deductible. This is going to change! We now keep receipts for absolutely everything (in a folder, organised by month) and plan to engage a better accountant to help us figure out what we can claim before we submit our next tax returns.

If you don’t do this already, start doing it now – it can make a huge difference to your overall tax bills and your tax liability. The more organised you can keep your filing system throughout the year, the less painful your reconciliation will be at the end of the year…if you’ve been surrounded by piles and piles of papers tearing your hair out in previous tax years, you’ll know the pain this can cause! It’s not too late to get yourself organised 🙂

The topic of money can be a thorny one that conjures up all sorts of feelings, fears and anxieties amongst creative entrepreneurs – it needn’t do. By establishing and following good practices, you can become a great manager of your money and build a strong, profitable illustration business with strong, financial foundations.

Social Media 101 for Illustrators

As a 21st century creative professional, social media is a tool that can’t be ignored.

The key to using social media effectively is to figure out what you’re trying to achieve with it. Illustrators can use social media to:

  • Interact and make friends with other illustrators & artists.
  • Share new pieces & professional updates with fans, clients and customers.
  • For research, learning and professional development.

There are plenty of other, perhaps more social uses, for social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – but if time is precious and you’re looking to get the most effective results from social media for your illustration business, then you’re going to need to be focused and disciplined.

How To Make Social Media Work For You

The key to using social media tools effectively is to first define why you’re using them and what you’re using them for.

They are simply tools – nothing more, nothing less – so you need to decide:

  1. How these tools can help your business
  2. Which of the available tools will help you most effectively achieve your goals

If you think of them as additional channels of communication, you’ll begin to see that you don’t need to use every single one of them, and that each one can (and should) be used differently.

This means that:

  • You don’t need to set up a profile & use *all* the available tools (like having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, a Pinterest account and more), only use the ones which will work for you.
  • Using 1 or 2 social media tools really well is far more effective than using them all poorly.

Where Do Your People Hang Out?

So how do you know which tools will help you most effectively?

You need to figure out where your people hang out. And by “your people” – that could be your ideal clients, your colleagues & peers, your fans or other creative entrepreneurs.

For example, if you’re using social media to connect with your peers, colleagues and other creative entrepreneurs for inspiration, collaboration, research and more, you need to hang out where they hang out online – this is usually Twitter.

However, if you’re using social media to connect with a fan base and keep them up-to-date, you need to be active where they hang out and share information, connect and communicate where they all happen to be – this is may be Facebook, Etsy or even Pinterest.

The answer that is right for you could well be very different from the answer that’s right for some of your colleagues.

As soon as you realise that you simply need to find the right tool(s) for the job and then learn how best to use that tool, social media becomes much, much simpler to get to grips with for your business.

101 Tips

To help you get started, experiment with and get to grips with the most popular social media tools, we’ve put together some basic 101 tips – and, where possible, linked to additional resources (both free & premium) to help you shortcut the learning process.

Twitter 101

  • Add a photo to your profile, don’t leave the default Twitter image – it marks you out as a newbie or a spammer.
  • Customise your background with your own branding.
  • Add your URL – consider even adding a custom “welcome” page to your site for Twitter followers.
  • Start following a few people you already know, find interesting & want to get to know – if they don’t automatically follow you back, keep an eye out for opportunities to start/join a conversation with them.
  • Share interesting links, resources and information – this is by far the most effective way to increase interested and relevant followers, people with whom you’d like to interact.
  • There’s nothing wrong with reaching our directly and starting conversations with people you’re following. Try it – most people don’t bite!

Recommended Resources:

Facebook 101

  • Decide whether you’re going to use a personal profile or a public page – if it’s for your business, a page is often the most sensible option for commercial ventures & self-promotion.
  • Interact regularly and consistently – don’t leave your page empty or leave weeks/months in between updates.
  • Share useful updates, information and resources – not just promotional content on your wall.
  • Encourage interaction and participation on your page wall – ask questions, encourage people to share resources, give feedback, run polls…the more engaged people are, the more likely they are to listen to what you share, when you share it.

Recommended Resources:

LinkedIn 101

  • Use the status update to let people know what you’re up to professionally – it often looks good and is a useful reminder to people of what you do if you use your status to share updates about a latest project or piece of work.
  • Join relevant LinkedIn groups and become an active member on there – they’re not always as active as Facebook pages/groups but if you pick the right ones, they often have a more “professional” (versus hobby/casual, rather than unprofessional) vibe to them.
  • Share your expertise and knowledge and position yourself as an expert in your field by actively taking part in the Answer section of the site.

Recommended Resources:

Get Started Now

If you’d like to get started using social media for your illustration business, remember to take the following important steps, to ensure your efforts make an impact:

  1. Decide what you’d like social media to do for your business & how you want to use it.
  2. Choose the best tools for the job – remember, you don’t have to be everywhere.
  3. Get yourself set up and commit some time to get to grips with the tool before you fully confirm whether it’s the most useful tool for your business.
  4. Be consistent and regular with your use of social media – sporadic use will do very little for your business so you’ll need to commit time to make it work.

And if you’d like to connect with us on social media, Jonathan’s on Twitter here and Lea is on Twitter here.

Marketing 101 For Illustrators

Marketing is probably one of the most unpopular tasks for aspiring and professional illustrators who’d rather just be creating gorgeous works of art – and yet it’s hands down one of the most vital skills to learn if you are going to build a successful career in illustration and secure ongoing work.

If you’re starting from scratch, here’s a 101 guide to marketing your illustration business…

Your Marketing Strategy

Before diving headfirst into creating a brand, a logo, your portfolio website, postcard mailers, using social media and all of the other marketing options available in this digital age, it’s important to create a Marketing Strategy to ensure that all of your marketing efforts are focused, targeted and likely to have some success.

An effective Marketing Strategy should be based around your target market(s) – who you’re trying to reach and who you want to hire you.

If you know who your target clients are, it will be much easier to focus your marketing actions to a few, specific places/people rather than a blanket approach to everyone, in the hope that someone will be interested.

At the least, your marketing strategy should help you answer these questions:

  • Who are your ideal clients? List/name a few.
  • What makes them ideal to you?
  • How do you plan to get them to hire you?
  • How will you reach out to contact them?
  • How will you prove you’re “hire-worthy”?

When you answer the above questions, you should end up with the following list of things you need to do or have to ensure you can implement your marketing plan effectively:

  • A list of target clients
  • A clear idea of your USP and what you can offer them that no-one else can aka why they should hire you
  • A list of marketing materials you need such as a logo, website, business card, promo mailer
  • A portfolio of work which will be attractive to your list of target clients
  • Testimonials and “social proof” from previous clients and customers

If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have all of these, that’s ok – work your way steadily through the list since it will really help you market yourself more effectively in the long term and throughout your career.

Your Marketing Resources & Materials

Before you start networking and reaching out to tell people about what you do, it’s useful to have some materials (online and offline) which you can refer people to for more information.

Depending upon your budget, you need to consider having the following marketing collateral to promote yourself…

A Business Name & Visual Identity

You need to decide whether you’re going to trade under your own name or create a business name for your illustration business…whatever you decide, be consistent and stick with it if you want to build up brand equity in the long term.

You’ll also need some sort of visual identity – even if this is a photo of you. This will be the main visual identity that people will associate with your business/you as an illustration professional so choose carefully and wisely.

A Portfolio Website

A portfolio website will be your main promotional vehicle online and it’s vital to have one.

There are so many options available to build a professional-looking website that there’s no excuse to have an ugly, badly-designed site because you can’t afford to hire a professional web designer/developer.

One solution is a WordPress-powered website – it is a powerful and easy-to-use system which is no longer restricted to just being a blogging platform. You can find out more about the other options in the guide to Creating A Portfolio Website.

A Blog

A blog can be one of the most effective marketing tools in your arsenal. Search engines love them due to the fresh content regularly being added (providing you update it frequently) and they’re an ideal way to build a community and following around what you do.

However, it’s not something to start without much consideration – for a blog to be effective, you’ll need to be able to commit to keeping it updated regularly and also be aware of the need to market it since, like most things, it won’t market itself.

Business Cards & Other Printed Promo Materials

Despite the rise of online networks, you may well still be attending local and offline events (this is highly recommended) – in which case, you’ll need a business card.

It doesn’t have to be fancy but should contain the basic information a prospective client would need – such as your website, your contact details and your USP/strapline (aka how you can help them/why they should hire you).

A time-honoured method of getting your work in front of art directors has always been the postcard mailer.

This isn’t something that you do just once and hope for the best though, you will need to send these out every three months or so and think about following them up with a phone call too.

Your Community & Network

As a creative entrepreneur, it’s all too easy to go into your creative cave and focus on your art.

Unfortunately, you’re going to need to release the “entrepreneur” part of yourself too and start to reach out and build a network and community of people if you’re going to establish your place within the marketplace.

The simplest way to grow your network is to start close to home…

Start locally, attend networking events, tell friends and family about your plans and start to claim your position as a professional illustrator within your existing circles.

While this may not reap any fast rewards or clients, it’s a great way to start spreading the word naturally among the networks you already have. You can even consider it training and practice in a safe environment, before you really hit the networking circuit.

With all of the Social Networking options available these days, it can be hard to know where to start networking online.

Here’s a run down of the some of the options and how they can help you begin to build your network:


A great, informal way to engage with Illustrators and Art Directors from around the world, send out updates on new pieces of work as you do them and share illustration resources with others.

Remember it’s not all about you though – don’t be me, me, me all the time or you’ll soon find yourself with no followers. You can find Jonathan on Twitter here @jonwoodward.


Flickr is a great way to share all of your process work as well as your finished illustration and is a nice companion to your main portfolio site.

You will need to put a bit of work in though and comment on other flickr users work to engage with people and get them to head over to you Flickr page. There’s an active community there but it takes some time and effort to get involved.


Keep your main FaceBook profile for friends and instead create a companion/business page for your professional/brand presence to keep things clean and separate.

Join other illustrators pages and get involved. Write on their walls, comment on their illustrations, ask questions and share your experiences and resources you have found along the way. It’s a great way to foster community and make some new friends.

The important thing to remember about marketing is this: It is not a one-off event, it is something you are going to need to do on a regular, consistent basis for as long as you want to be a working, successful and profitable illustrator.

By setting things up in the first place, creating a strategy and then implementing it in an organised, methodical manner, you’ll be setting yourself up for success – and giving yourself a massive headstart from the majority of your peers.

If you can nail marketing – and make it something you focus on just as much as you focus on the actual creative process, you’ll be doing the very best thing you can to guarantee your future success.

Creating A Portfolio Website 101

Your illustration portfolio website will likely be the main tool in your marketing arsenal so it’s important to get it right.

Through personal and professional experience (as web designers for 5+ years), extensive research and having posed the question to a number of Art Directors, in this article we’ll be covering everything you need to include in your portfolio site and the best online tools to use to build it.

Why Have A Portfolio Website?

Long gone are the days where you’re able to make appointments with Art Directors to show them your physical portfolio, and in this age of the internet, having a portfolio website online is non-negotiable if you’re serious about getting work.

Getting face-to-face time with an Art Director is no longer a viable option so you need to provide a way for them to check out more of your work and portfolio without the cost or lengthy delay of sending them actual printed promotional pieces.

Enter, the portfolio website…

What Are Art Directors Looking For?

A typical scenario goes a bit like this…

Your postcard mailer arrives on an Art Directors desk and they like the look of your work, they head over to your website and are impressed.

They decide to hire you but…wait a minute!

…There are no contact details on your site or postcard so they have no idea how to get in touch and do not have enough time to search for you on Google or elsewhere to figure out how to contact you.

Sounds unbelievable right? But it happens, we’ve heard Art Directors relay this exact same scenario on more than one occasion.

The job of your portfolio website is to make it as easy as possible for Art Directors and/or Publishers to hire you.

Website Checklist

Based upon conversations with art directors and the advice they themselves post on their own blogs and websites, here’s a checklist of what they’re looking for on your site:

  1. Website Navigation – clear navigation which makes it easy to find what they’re looking for.
  2. Image Gallery – the portfolio gallery should ideally be on the home page of the site so it’s easy to find and one of the first things a visitor sees.
  3. Images – quick loading, web optimised images. Tip: Use a free application like PicMonkey to optimise your images.
  4. Thumbnails – easy-to-see, clickable thumbnails that show the entire illustration or at least enough to be able to distinguish what is on the image.
  5. Image URLs – a separate, individual URL for each image in your portfolio. Give each image it’s own URL so that an Art Director can bookmark it for reference or to share easily with a colleague.
  6. Samples – work samples which show the kind of work you’d like to be hired for (and make sure it’s your best work too) and which are relevant to the Art Director you are contacting.
  7. Style – a clear and consistent style of work throughout your portfolio.
  8. About you – a compelling about page with a photograph of you will show you’re a real person and could make you more memorable to an Art Director who sees too many names & faces to remember each week.
  9. Contact – your contact details should ideally be on every page or at least clearly listed in your navigation options.
  10. Testimonials – a list of clients you have worked for previously and/or any relevant industry competitions you have won demonstrate any existing credentials and professional experience you have.

And perhaps just as importantly, here’s a checklist of what shouldn’t be on your portfolio website:

  1. Landing page – or splash page, however nice, is often redundant and forces a visitor to make yet another click just to enter your site.
  2. Flash animation – that are slow to load and leave a visitor waiting for ages for your site or each page to load. Obviously if you’re demonstrating flash skills or animation skills, these may be necessary but if you’re not, then leave them off.
  3. Music – especially the kind which starts automatically as soon as your website loads.Research proven that this is annoying to almost all web visitors so the last thing you want to do before an Art Director has even browsed through your work is to p*ss them off with unnecessary music!
  4. Unidentifiable Thumbnails – using small, hard to identify thumbnails to represent each piece in your portfolio is a no-no for 2 reasons; firstly because it won’t showcase your work and entice visitors to click on the thumbnail to see more (if they’re not sure what they’re going to see, most visitors will simply click away rather than click where you want them out of curiosity) and secondly because if an Art Director wants to revisit a piece he’d seen earlier, an irrelevant, hard-to-identify thumbnail won’t help him find it.

The Platforms To Build Your Website

If you’re new to web development, there are a number of different options available to build your portfolio website with.

The most popular options for illustrators and artists include:

  • HTML
  • Blogger
  • Premium, hosted portfolio websites such as SquareSpace
  • WordPress

Here’s a brief summary of each option:


One of the benefits of building a site in html is that you have complete control over how it looks and the layout of it, without having to compromise what you want, based on the limitations of a platform.

In order to build a site in HTML, you’ll need to have the right software – the most popular program is Dreamweaver.

It’s relatively simple to use if you’ve got a basic knowledge of HTML but if you’re completely new, then it will be a steep learning curve. You’ll also need some experience with web design – especially when it comes to layout and structure – since this essentially gives you a blank canvas from which to start.

This option is good if you have a very clear idea of how you want your site to look and it’s a more unconventional structure and layout, plus you have the budget to hire a professional to build the site for you, if you’re a complete beginner.

Premium-hosted portfolio website

This is a more professional option since you often have more control about the layout, look and feel of your site. It’s a good option if you have more cash to invest but don’t want to have to think about controlling or managing any of the back-end technical aspects – nor having to design a custom website to house your portfolio.

One of the main drawbacks however is cost – and putting all your eggs in one basket. When you use one of these sites as your primary online portfolio, you’re held hostage to any price increases, any downtime of their services and you don’t have 100% control of your content. If that suits you, then this option is a good solution for you.


This is a popular choice for many illustrators but it’s not the best. Blogger is a hosted blogging platform from Google and the reason it’s so popular is that it’s super simple to set up and get started. However, from a professional point of view, it’s the least professional option.

Unless you have HTML, PHP and CSS knowledge, you will also be limited to the default layout and theme options which don’t give you much choice when it comes to personal branding.

However, as it’s a blogging platform, you get a blog right from the start which is useful if blogging is one of you’re preferred methods of marketing yourself.

This option is good if you’re brand new, want to play around without having to pay anything and get a feel for having an online portfolio with an integrated blogging function.


WordPress is fast becoming the standard choice for illustration professionals.

It’s very cost effective (WordPress itself is free, you’ll just need to pay for hosting), relatively simple to install and infinitely customisable.

It comes with integrated blogging functionality and if you’re looking to maintain 100% control over your content, structure, layout and design, it gives you all of that too.

It helps however if you have some basic HTML and CSS knowledge, especially if you’re looking to customise the site layout and design – although there are hundreds of free themes available so you may find one which suits your needs.

This option is good if you want the flexibility to grow and the overall control of your content without having to pay a premium to another company.

The Structure & Content Of Your Portfolio Website

You’ve already seen the top tips from Art Directors, but from a website design perspective, here are a few tips to help you design and build an easy-to-use, compelling website which delivers everything you need for your illustration business:

Your site should have the following pages, at the very least:

  • Home– which houses your portfolio gallery
    • Individual page for each piece in your gallery – be sure to include your best pieces and those which are the most representative of the kind of work you want to be hired for.
  • About – with a photo of you and some compelling information which gives Art Directors a “get to know you” pitch and helps you stand out from the crowd. Often overlooked, this is actually the 2nd most important page of most websites, according to website visitor statistics.
  • Clients & Testimonials – having a showcase of previous work you’ve completed, alongside testimonials from satisfied clients is a great way to show other Art Directors that you’re good to work with and that others have said this about you.
  • Contact – you read the above scenario, right? Make sure it’s easy to contact you from your site so this means having your email, a phone number and sometimes a mailing address available and easy-to-find. You might also like to include links to your social media profiles, but only do this if you’re comfortable that you’re social media use is suitable for professional clients to read.

Other pages you might consider including are:

  • A Blog – many illustrators choose to have a blog these days but you need to be very clear about what your blog is for and what purpose it’s serving on your site.Plus for a blog to be a truly effective tool for your business, you need to able to commit to keeping it updated – sporadic posts on a neglected, poorly-maintained blog will add very little to your site, so think seriously about what purpose your blog will serve and whether you have the time to commit to blogging, before you decide to add one.
  • FAQs or How This Works – this is really useful if new clients have never worked with a professional illustrator before.Simply outlining the process and key stages in the process helps give them an idea of what to expect and even the time frames you may work to – clients might not realise that there’s an initial concept stage before you work on the final piece nor will they know you prefer a deposit in advance unless you tell them.This is an opportunity to describe your process and answer any questions they may have without actually having to get on the phone with someone who isn’t yet a serious prospect.
  • Terms & Conditions – again, this is useful if you tend to work with clients who aren’t used to hiring professional illustrators.Having a page on your site (which doesn’t have to be on the navigation bar) which outlines your terms and conditions can help you build more efficient client management processes without having to reinvent the wheel for each new client.

Everything on your site should be easy to find and visitors shouldn’t get lost:

  • Don’t have lots and lots of pages/options on the navigation bar – try and keep it simple and use “child”/sub menus if necessary.
  • If you do use sub menus, keep these simple and don’t use more than 3 nested levels in total.
  • Don’t try to be clever and call your pages odd things – keep it simple so Art Directors can find their way around without having to guess what you’ve put on your cleverly-named pages.

You need to direct and guide a visitor whenever they reach an end point:

  • Have a Call-To-Action at the end of every page and every natural “end point” on your site. When a visitor gets to the end of a page or a section, they’ll often wonder where to go next.You can help point them in the direction you’d like them to go by including a Call To Action – this can be as simple as saying “Click here to view my blog” or “Come and say hi on Twitter”.
  • Use your Call To Action to encourage a visitor to interact with you or get to know you/your work better – one of the best things a visitor to your site can do is to take action to get in touch with you further; this is the holy grail of website design…compelling a visitor to actually take action rather than clicking off your site.Use a call to action at logical points throughout your site to encourage a visitor to contact you and get in touch.
  • When you’re planning and designing your site, try and take your visitors on a journey – and then use your calls to action to lead them on this journey throughout your site by providing sign posts along the way.This is what a professional web designer should help you do so if you don’t plan to hire one, make sure you do this yourself.

Extra Tips for An Art Licensing Portfolio Website

If you’re creating a portfolio website for art licensing, there are a few additional things you need to consider…

Firstly, you’ll need to set up an individual portfolio website for your art licensing work – separate from your standard illustration portfolio website.

This is because the work you need to show for art licensing clients is typically quite different from the work you need to display for other illustration commissions.

Ensure your art licensing portfolio website meets the following criteria:

  • Make it easy for art licensing clients (manufacturers) to find samples of your work on the site.
  • Don’t show everything you’ve got on your site – some manufacturers might not want images to be made public yet.
  • Encourage potential clients to sign up to see your whole collections so you’ve got their details to follow up with and it also keeps your collections private.
  • Show your designs mocked up on actual products (e.g. T-shirts, material etc.) – give manufacturers a visual example of how your work will look on one of their products.

Your Getting Started Action List

The above guide should provide you with some good basic ground rules to get a portfolio website up and running.

Here’s your 101 Action List so you know exactly what steps you need to take:

Step 1: Which platform?

Decide which platform you’re going to use for your portfolio site. See our summaries above for a run-down of te main benefits and disadvantages of each.

We recommend: Self-hosted WordPress site.

Step 2:Website Design

Design your website. This can include doing basic wireframing for the layout to figure out what elements you want on your pages and where they should sit, as well as the logo/branding and colour scheme you’re going to use.

Step 3: Domain Registration

If you’re going to use WordPress, you’ll need to choose and register a domain name (check first that the web hosting company you use doesn’t offer free registration with a hosting plan – the ones we recommend do).

We recommend: Mighty Domain Names for domain registration only (not hosting, see below for hosting)

Step 4: Web Hosting

Purchase web hosting – you don’t need anything fancy and you shouldn’t need to pay more than around $7 per month.

We recommend: Bluehost

Step 5: Install WordPress

Install WordPress from your web host control panel. In many control panels, this should be a simple 1-click installation process.

Step 6: Configure WordPress

Configure WordPress and upload your chosen theme. The theme you choose will depend upon your website design – you may like to check out the available themes first to see what already exists before you reinvent the wheel from scratch 🙂

We recommend: WooThemes or Headway Themes.

Step 7: Implement Your Design

Apply the design to your site by customising, tweaking and configuring your theme.

Step 8: Structure Your Site

Set up your page structure and add content, including your images/portfolio gallery. This is a vital part of constructing your site and making it usable, so ensure you pay close attention to this step.

Step 9: Test Your Site

Do your own “user testing” – check each link works on your site, check your images display correctly and quickly (make sure you’ve optimised them for the web so they load quickly) and go through our checklist above to ensure your site meets all the criteria that Art Directors are looking for.

Once you’ve done this, ask a friend to check out your site and give feedback – or watch as they click around it and see how they use it, where they click and how easy they find to navigate it.

This is an invaluable step – don’t skip it!

We recommend: User Testing

Congratulations! You should now have a Portfolio Website up and running which showcases your illustration and art beautifully.

Branding 101 For Illustrators

You may think that as a professional illustrator, your work speaks for itself – that you don’t need to think about branding or a fancy logo or anything more than simply creating fabulous pieces. Unfortunately, that’s not enough any more…

Contrary to conventional wisdom, branding isn’t all about you.

It’s about understanding your target audiences and what they’re looking for – and balancing the way you brand yourself with what your audiences – your people – will resonate with.

What Branding Is

Branding is about image and reputation – it’s how someone describes you or your work if your name is mentioned.

Consider this: If someone were to describe you as an illustrator, what would they say? That’s your personal brand.

Branding includes all of the following:

  • Your work and illustration style
  • Your name
  • A logo or some sort of visual representation of you/your illustration business
  • Your website
  • Your voice – how you speak & write, the language you use, your accent
  • The way you market yourself, including the channels you use – your Facebook page, your Twitter stream, your YouTube account, your Flickr photos.

How To Identify Your Personal Brand

The key to identifying an effective (read: one that’s worth having) brand is to answer a key question:

Why should people hire you instead of someone else?

Some people call this your USP – your unique sales proposition or, another way of looking at it, it is your unique solution to a problem: What do you offer which your prospects and clients can’t get elsewhere?

As an illustrator, this may mean:

  • Your unique illustration style
  • The medium in which you work
  • The subjects you illustrate
  • The fact that you offer specific elements as part of your service (e.g. a fast turn-around time, unlimited concepts, unlimited revisions etc. etc.).

It also means the way you describe yourself – your title and your elevator pitch. If someone asks what you do, how do you answer?

Simply saying, “I’m an illustrator” usually isn’t enough to get you hired.

You need to be able to communicate what you can do for someone and why you’re different from the millions of other illustrators and aspiring illustrators out there.

For example, you might say:

  • “I’m a wildlife illustrator, specialising in polar bears” or
  • “I’m a children’s book illustrator, specialising in a collage style” or
  • “I make handmade pieces using old tires” or
  • “I’m an illustrator who specialises in ducks” and the list goes on!

If you’re not yet sure what your USP is or you don’t actually have one, then this is the time to define it.

If you nail your personal brand and USP at this stage, it will make a massive difference to your long term success as an illustrator and how easily you attract new clients and commissions at the beginning and in the future.

How To Implement Your Brand

Once you’ve defined what makes you different, unique, remarkable (worthy of remark) and memorable, you need to ensure this is consistently visible and obvious in your interactions and marketing activities. Everywhere. Every day. This includes:

Your Visual Identity

Depending upon how far you want to take this, it can include what you wear, how you do your hair (yes, really!), to designing a logo or visual identifier for your business.

This visual identifier should then appear on all your marketing materials, including:

  • Your business card
  • Your website
  • Your promotional mailers
  • Your invoices and other business stationary

This visual identifier will obviously also be evident in your illustration and creative work – enabling people to instantly identify a piece of work as one of yours.

That’s the primary goal with branding – to enable people to instantly identify a piece of work as yours…which means they (a) have to know about you and (b) be able to see and identify a clear, strong style and brand.

Your Online Identity

You will also need to implement your visual identity and brand consistently across your online presence. This includes not only your website but also:

  • Your online profiles such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube with your logo, your avatar and consistent colours.
  • The “voice” you use to interact online including the copy on your website, the content of your tweets and your Facebook interactions.

The key to an effective online and integrated presence is to ensure consistency across all of the online platforms you use.

You don’t need to be on all of the social media platforms, but the ones you are on, you need to use consistently and strategically. You can read more about Social Media for Illustrators here.

Your Voice

Your voice is an important part of your brand…

Your voice is not just about what you say, it’s about how you say it, when you say it and where you say it.

You may be a vocal supporter of hand made art, known in Etsy-like circles and a strong promoter of handicrafts both in your online and offline circles.

You may be seen as an outspoken, controversial illustrator who always rocks the boat and asks the difficult questions or takes a contrary position, whatever the topic.

Whatever your stance, it’s important that you develop a voice and leverage the platforms you’re on to use that voice.

From a practical standpoint, this might mean being active on Twitter among the people you want to interact with, joining and supporting communities and community activities you’re interested in, supporting and vocalising your support for causes you’re passionate about.

Having a voice means being a person and people like to hire and buy from people they know, like and trust.

Your brand voice is your opportunity to enable people to get to know more about you…so use it wisely.

Your Branding 101 Checklist

  • What sets you apart from competitors? Why should someone hire you versus another illustrator?
  • What’s the name of your illustration business? Is it your name, a studio name or something else?
  • Have you secured the .com URL for your website? The .com is vital these days, except in certain, very specific circumstances.
  • Do you need a logo? Not everyone does but it can be a strong visual identifier if you have a good one.
  • Do you have a standard avatar you use for your online profiles?
  • Do you have a business card?
  • Are your marketing materials consistent in the use of your brand colours and your logo?
  • What’s your title? Your strapline? Your elevator pitch?
  • Is your website design consistent with your brand colours, placement of logo and your copy writing “voice”?

Now you’ve defined and created your brand, if you haven’t yet got a website (and even if you have), check out our 101 guide to building your illustration portfolio website.

Professional Illustration 101

It’s very easy to sit daydreaming in your office, at your desk, working a job you might like but aren’t truly passionate about, and think how cool it would be to be paid to illustrate for a living.

Just think…people would actually pay you to create and draw and illustrate. It’s always been your dream, hasn’t it?

But in reality, making a living from your illustration skills isn’t all about creating and illustrating – there are other parts of the “job” which may be less appealing.

Below we’ll look at  number of things you’ll need to consider if you’re going to pursue your goal of becoming a professional illustrator so that you can forge ahead with your eyes wide open…

What Do You Want to Illustrate?

Ask yourself this question…If you could illustrate anything and get paid for it, what would it be?

Your portfolio should reflect the type of work you want to be doing, not just what you can do. There’s a BIG difference.

After all, if you’re going to make a career of this, it makes sense to choose something you enjoy illustrating, doesn’t it?

If you hate illustrating comics (even if you are great at them), it isn’t sensible to fill your portfolio with samples of your comics work.

Even if you think this is your best shot at getting that first commission, we recommend that you focus on creating a portfolio that reflects the work you really, really want to do – not just the work you can do.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the different types of illustration income streams:

  • Editorial illustrations for newspapers & magazines
  • Illustrations for children’s books
  • Magazine covers
  • Book covers
  • Art licensing (e.g. patterns you see on children’s clothing or greetings cards)
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Packaging

If you take a look at your local shopping mall, you’ll see just how many things you could illustrate. The fun (and sometimes tricky) part is deciding what you want to illustrate.

Your Illustration Style

There are differing opinions on whether a signature style is a good thing or not. There are generally two schools of thought on the style issue:

  1. You should be able to adapt your style to fit the job
  2. You should develop a recognisable signature style

Lets look at the pro’s and cons of each…

The Adaptable Style


  • Being able to work in multiple styles (potentially) opens you up to more clients/opportunities.


  • You run the risk of becoming known as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.
  • It makes Art Directors nervous because they don’t know what they are going to get from you.
  • Difficult and expensive to market as your potential client base is so varied.

The Signature Style


  • Easier to market your work to a specific niche and stand out in the crowd.
  • Become the ‘go to’ person for your style of work.
  • Makes you more memorable.
  • In the eyes of an Art Director, you’re potentially more reliable because they know what style they’re going to get and how it’s likely to look.


  • Only able to go for jobs/genres that your style would be suitable for.

Where you fall on this debate will determine the type of portfolio you create and the type of work you decide to pursue.

From experience (and the input of numerous Art Directors and Agents), developing a signature style is the approach that will likely get you the most work in the long term.

What Does It Mean (To You) To Be A Professional Illustrator?

There are numerous definitions which you can apply to the term “professional illustrator”. The one that’s most important is the one which holds most meaning to you!

For example, you’re a professional illustrator as soon as somebody pays you to create an illustration – even if that’s a friend who wants a mural for their kid’s wall.

It’s important to define what being a professional illustrator means to you – so that you know exactly what it is you’re aiming for. There are probably more options than you realise!

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Are you looking to create a supplementary income stream using your creative skills to give you a bit more income alongside your day job?
  • Do you want to create a full-time income to replace your day job by using your creative/illustration skills?
  • Would you like to be paid to illustrate?
  • Would you like to earn an income which enabled you to create whatever you wanted whether you were paid for it or not?
  • Are you aware of and prepared for the additional aspects of running an illustration business – such as the administration side of running and growing your own business?
  • How important is it to you to be paid for the illustrations you create?

It’s Not Just About the Illustration…

Running your own business as a professional illustrator means you’ll be diving into the world of entrepreneurship and business ownership.

This is something many creative people forget as they dream of making a living from their art.

Alongside the fun, creative parts of being paid to illustrate, if you want to succeed, it will also be necessary to perform numerous non-creative tasks to keep your business going and growing.

These tasks include:

  • Deciding on a business structure
  • Managing your own finances
  • Marketing yourself & getting commissions and regular work
  • Keeping clients happy

It is these tasks which trip up even the most talented artists and illustrators so it’s useful to go into this with your eyes wide open and be fully aware of everything you’ll need to do to make a success of being a professional illustrator.

Some of the Business Skills You’ll Need…

Alongside the obvious creative skills you’ll need to build a sustainable career as a professional illustrator, there are a number of additional skills which will really determine how successful a career you’ll have.

This includes building up some core skills and knowledge in the following areas:

  • Business strategy
  • Branding
  • Marketing & Social Media
  • IT and technology
  • Financial management
  • Client Management

While these are often seen as the more mundane, boring skills for creative entrepreneurs to cultivate, they are what make the difference between two creative professionals with the same level of creative talent and ability…

The illustrator who has the ability to market themselves, run a business and manage their finances more effectively in the long term will highly likely have the more sustainable, effective and profitable career in the long term.

The other will struggle with the ongoing ups & downs and boom/bust nature of being a professional or freelance illustrator.

Now you’ve got a clearer idea of what the life of a professional illustrator might be like – and you’re still keen! – you might want to check out the next stage in your journey, Setting Yourself Up in Business.