Being a freelance illustrator is not easy; especially when you're just starting out. If you don't have a natural affinity for business promotion and sales, making the transition from fresh new graduate to regular work as as freelance professional can be incredibly daunting. It doesn't matter how many times your tutors told you it was going to be difficult, you're never quite prepared for what it's like out here in the 'real world'.
You may have started out in illustration because you enjoy drawing, but if you want to survive in the industry then that isn't going to be enough. To be successful as a freelancer you need to be able to wear a lot of different hats in order to answer a lot of different questions:
Business Manager: What Are My Goals?
In this role you will be asking and answering questions such as 'What do I want out of my business', 'What am I selling', 'Who do I want to work for', and 'How much are my services worth'?
These are the sort of questions that define you and your work as a business commodity and help you to create a business model that works for you.
Content Editor: Who Am I?
Having answered for yourself the question 'Who do I want to work for', your next step will to be to present yourself as an artist in a way that reflects your goals. Take a look at your portfolio and ask yourself 'would I hire this person to do the kind of work I want to be doing'?
They say 'dress for the job you want, not the job you have': in this case you need to be showing the kind of work that you want to be hired for. Congratulations, you are now a content editor!
Social Media Mogul: What Am I Saying?
You know what you want to do, your portfolio is impeccable...but nobody knows who you are or what you stand for! Now it's time to become a social media whizz. Do people know who you are? Do your social media profiles represent you positively as a professional entity?
Examining the content you are producing will give you a better idea of the impression you are giving to potential new clients through your online profiles. You need to tailor and maintain these profiles consistently, and you can do this by creating templates for posting and carefully balancing your professional and personal output online. Doing this well can massively increase your exposure and therefore your chances of finding new clients.
Sales Team: Do People Know Who I Am?
I hate cold calls and emails. Is there anything more annoying that your phone ringing or your email pinging, to find it's just somebody wanting to sell you something you don't need? Well congratulations, you are now the poor schmuck on the other end of that call!
That's right. If you want to find new clients in an industry you are new to, this is one of the only ways to do it and oh boy is it going to be a slog. It's time to get used to writing and sending emails, promotional post, and even making phone calls if you go that route, and receiving endless negative responses or - often worse in my opinion -no responses at all! This is all to find those few golden eggs; the new clients you need to start building up a successful business. Grow a thick skin fast!
Client Relations Manager: Do People Remember Me?
You've found new clients, now you need to hang on to them and expand this group to more potential clients. Every client you work with needs to come away with a positive impression of you as a competent, cooperative and professional individual. Otherwise they are unlikely to call on your services again or recommend you to friends and acquaintances who could become your future clients. You will need to come up with a system for working through a brief with a client and for reminding them of you through strategic use of promotional mailers and digital mailing lists.
Retail Assistant/Product PR: Tuppence A Bag?
If you decide to supplement your income by selling your work as products; either in shops, online or at illustration and craft fairs, this is where that old part-time job in a shoe shop might actually come in handy. Granted it's usually a lot more fun selling your own work than a pair of shoes, but the general principles remain the same: you have a product, and you want people to buy it from you. Big smiles and be ready to talk a lot about what you do and lug suitcases full of products through the London Underground!
Last but not least, it's April and it's time to hand in your tax returns. This will go a lot easier if you have the common sense - unlike me at first - to collate your receipts and invoices on a monthly basis. Trust me - do it.
As a general rule, when you are starting out you are likely to need to be spending at least 30-50% of your time wearing these other hats, and the rest of your time furiously creating! Grit your teeth, take it one step at a time and find a system that works for you. If you have the motivation and the perseverance to get through all this, then it will be worth it in the end.