Category Archives: Marketing & Promoting Yourself

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….

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.

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 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.

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:

Twitter

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

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.

FaceBook

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:

HTML

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.

Blogger

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

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.