How To Get Your First Clients as a Freelancer (and some other Q&A)
Hey guys, it’s been a while since I posted! Sorry, I had way too much stuff going on all at once! Lots of new things that I'll share with you soon :) Anyway, I got a few questions from readers that I wanted to answer for this week’s post. Let’s start:
"How Did You Find Your Illustration Style?"
Good question, the truth is that I don’t feel like I have a consistent style, and my style changes all the time. I’m still searching for my style, if that’s even a real thing? Anyway, I would divide this answer to 2:
Time. Yeah I know it sucks, but that's how it is. Style is something that you slowly carve, with each new illustration that you make. The more you draw, the more you learn. You’ll slowly expand your tools set, your technique and creative thinking. It is possible to identify your own style only by looking back at your past work, after you made a significant amount of work. Only then, you’ll be able to recognise your own patterns.
Roots. You can not create something new in vacuum. You need other artists, artworks and genres to lean on. Personally, I feel that my style relies heavily on the things I loved as a child. And of course, on other artists and genres I like today. Finding your style is a very personal thing. But I think anyone should look for the field or the type of work that really excites him, that’s interesting to him. And when you find it, just keep digging deep in that area. It's totally okay to try to connect a few different areas that you love. Personally, I can say that my style is very influenced by my life in Israel, but also by Belgian comics that my mother brought with her to Israel and I had in front of my eyes as a kid. Since high school I have been obsessed with manga and anime, so Japanese influences are also mixed up in my artworks quite a bit. In the end, all these different areas connects to one thing, and then just like cooking soup - you have to mix all the ingredients well, put it on the fire and wait for everything to blend & connect.
"How Do I Get My First Clients as a Freelancer?"
Sorry, I’m dividing the answer to 2 again:
Since you don’t have any client work just yet - create new independent work! and publish it online. That's how I got quite a few of my first clients. Think about the things you’d like to do as a freelancer. The type of work you want to get, and then do it for yourself. Most clients don’t have a lot of imagination. If someone needs a new design for his beer company, he’ll probably search online for “beer design” - so if that’s the type of project you’d like to get- create something similar. With time, if you’re work is good enough, you will begin hearing from clients.
Talk to real people. I know it might be scary, to step outside and approach people :) so go local, talk to friends, family, neighbors. Look for people how know and trust you, maybe one of them needs a new design or illustration. Do you have a band that you like? Not the Foo Fighters, start small, find a band from your area who are really good but aren’t super well-known just yet. They’ll probably don’t have a big budget, but they will let you create a poster / shirt / logo for them, even if it’s for free. You have no clients at the moment so you have nothing to lose. Even if it's free, at the end of the process you can add your first client to your client list. This way, it will be much easier for you to get the second client later on. And who knows, maybe they'll be super happy with your work and want another T-shirt or a new album design - and then you should definitely charge money for your work, no matter what. You’re not into bands? That’s cool, just look around you: the bar where your friend works has a really ugly menu? Or an entrance sign that looks like shit? Awesome! talk to them - do your thing. Your aunt works for a local newspaper? Your neighbor is a lawyer and need a business card? - you got my point. There is nothing like a face-to-face conversation, with people who already know you.
After a few projects like these, when a new client looks you up or sees your portfolio online, he will be able to see that you have already worked with this band, and that local magazine, and so on... One thing is certain, if you’ll sit all day by your email or phone and wait for the next job offer to come - your doing it wrong :) Go outside, talk to someone, or go create something new and fun for yourself.
"What Did You Do Right After You Graduated?"
Straight after graduating, I was hired as an illustrator in the production of the animated series "Zack & Quack" for Nickelodeon. It was a full time job, but just until the work on the new season will end. So I knew that after eight months I would have to look for something new to do. Because of that, I wanted to kick-start my freelance career while I was still working for Zack & Quack, to have something already going on in the end of the season. So I took some small freelance projects, and worked really hard during all that time. I would come home tired from work on the series, and sit down to draw some more for freelance clients. It was tough, but I've learned a lot and made a lot of progress in these 8 months.
When the season ended, I thought I would be a freelancer, but I got an offer for a full time job as an illustrator at Mako, a big online content/news website in Tel Aviv. I ended up working there for a year and a half, and I learned a lot about what it is like to do editorial illustrations for magazines, and what it means to work fast! really fast. I also learned a lesson from my previous full time job: I knew I wanted to continue taking projects as freelancer, so this time I asked my new boss at Mako to hire me for a 80% position rather than a full-time job. This way I managed to take much more freelance work. And this was a nice arrangement for a while. In the last few months in Mako, I felt a sense of exhaustion from the routine, from working in an office every fucking day, from the traffic jams on my way to work... At the same time my freelance career went pretty well and I enjoyed it very much, so I decided it was the time for me to make the move and become a full time freelancer, and that's what I do today :)
"Can You Review My Portfolio? Why Don’t I Get Any Client Work?"
Sure, I'm happy to receive these sorts of emails, and try to write answers to anyone who asks. There’s something I've noticed in quite a few portfolios and I thought it’s worth sharing here. The most important thing in your portfolio is showcasing your work, and doing good design & illustration work to begin with. That’s obvious.
But beyond that, take a look at your About page: Did you just write a couple of generic sentences about yourself? If your answer is yes - I’m sure you can do better. You’ve probably spent a few days organising all your work and different projects for your portfolio, I know I did - then why not spend an extra hour on your About page?
A potential client who enters your site doesn’t really know you. It’s hard to make someone trust you and feel comfortable working with you without a face to face meeting. That’s why I think it’s crucial you share as much info about yourself as possible. Make it personal, tell about the things you do, where did you study, who you worked with in the past, what you are interested in. The more information you share, the easier it will be for others to feel safe working with you.