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 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.