How To Get Freelance Illustration Work [Beginner Friendly]

Landing a job or a project is never easy no matter the experience level. Understand the basics and you are on the right track.

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Before dedicating yourself to freelance illustration, you must have asked yourself “how do I get a job in this?”.

Illustrators generally do not find work through the usual ways used by other professionals through job offers launched by companies.

Typically, illustrators work as a freelance professional and receive commissions for specific projects.

Starting out is not always straight forward, here you will learn how to get jobs on your own in order to turn your profession into something stable.

Understand That You Are Your Business

The first step to finding work as an illustrator is knowing how to sell what you do. Apart from that, you really must train yourself to be a freelance illustrator that stands out from the rest. 

Clients will always want to hire the most skilled and experienced freelancer, but even without experience, you can improve your work by continuing to learn about your niche. 

You are your business, which means that you must invest in yourself to be attractive and feasible so that others want to buy your products, the services that you offer.

1. Invest in Yourself

A great way to invest in your business (that is in yourself), is by taking courses that help you expand your knowledge.

On the internet, you can find many platforms with courses about illustration that will teach you to handle programs that you do not know, to try new techniques that you have not yet mastered, and even some courses that will teach you how to market your work.

Including these courses in your CV will make you stand out from other freelancers and will of course make you better than those who do not take the time to develop their skills.

Taking these online courses will not only help you to carry out better quality projects but will also allow you to increase the value of your work.

Some platforms you can use are Domestika, SkillShare, Udemy, and CreativeLive.

Depending on the platform you use, you will have to pay a monthly fee (most of which are very affordable) to be able to access all the courses or pay independently for each course you want to do. However, in the case of CreativeLive, you will be able to access some live classes for free. 

These online platforms also usually give you a certificate when you complete the course and that will help you build trust with your customers.

2. Prepare to Work Hard

As you already know, courses are a great way to improve your skills but something extremely important that you cannot lack is experience.

Experience is something that clients pay too much attention to before hiring someone because this guarantees that the freelancer knows what they are doing and that they also know how to satisfy their clients. 

But how do you do it if you are just starting out?

Try to practice developing your skills and illustrations either by illustrating for friends and family or even offering to others online, which in turn you will also build up your experience and portfolio as you go. 

Consistent practice will also make you a more skilled illustrator and this will be helpful when you have to do works for your clients.

Agility will make you be faster in your work, you will deliver projects in a short time and thus you will be able to serve more clients.

In short, practicing is key to being a better illustrator and to landing more attractive and better-paying jobs and projects.

3. Learn From Successful Illustrators

As in any other artistic area, you have to stay inspired to create new things.

Keeping track of what successful or popular illustrators are doing is a good way to see what trends are being used or how they are carrying out their work.

If possible you could also do a little research on their careers, to see how they got to where they are. 

Other illustrators’ stories can serve as an inspiration and example for your own career as a freelance illustrator.

Remember that everything is already done. What you think is original, surely someone has already done it in the past in some way or another and that is fine. 

You too can use illustrations as inspiration to find your own style.

Every illustrator has references to create their work and you should also have yours, that will guide you when giving personality to the work you do and this will help you stand out from other illustrators.

4. Establish Your Style

Establishing your own style is necessary because that is what will set you apart from others. Your style is what will make a client say “I need that illustrator.”

To create it, you must establish a mix between what you like and what you think is profitable for your clients, or what would work in the niche in which you want to specialize. 

You can look at the work of other illustrators to get an idea of what you would like to do or you can even mix several styles that you like to finally find your own.

For example, some illustrators are inspired by cartoons they liked to watch when they were children, or by their favorite works of art or movies.

You can choose the style of a decade, a historical period, or an art movement and thus create your own style of illustration. 

To find your own style, you just have to understand that it is a natural process that comes as a result of constant work. Having a style is important for your work to look professional and have cohesion.

Although some artists vary their style depending on the project, it is important that all illustrations have a unified style within the same work. 

5. Familiarize Yourself with Your Potential Client

To find a job you must first know what kind of clients you would like to work for.

For this, you can describe who your ideal client would be, think about how old they are, what they do, what niche they work in, what needs they have. 

Once you have this clear you will know where you can find them and what platforms they use. 

In freelance work platforms, you will find many potential clients and for that reason, they are a good place to start looking for projects, but it is possible that not all the clients you find there are like your target audience.

If you can identify where you can find your ideal client, it will be much easier to get a job as an illustrator.

It is also important that you define which industry you want to target.

For example, if you decide to be a children’s book illustrator, you can now investigate what the usual needs of that niche are, what trends are used, and what you can offer them.

This will place you one step ahead and can offer solutions to the needs of your clients before they present them to you.

How to (Actually) Get Illustration Work?

There is no single way to find illustration work, but you should evaluate the different alternatives to choose the one that best suits you. It all depends on the stage your career is in.

If you are starting out, the safest thing is that you should use online work platforms, or if you already have consolidated clients, perhaps the best option is to have an online portfolio. 

Anyway, this is not just a rule and you should see what best suits your goal and objectives.

1. Join Job Platforms

Freelance platforms are a good place to start looking for work, especially if you do not have many contacts yet.

In general, the dynamic on these pages consists of showing you hundreds of available vacancies from people looking to hire a freelancer for a specific job. 

After identifying the proposals that interest you, you must send a request or proposal for those clients to consider choosing you.

On freelance platforms, you can get clients that later on could become loyal clients that will eventually turn into a working relationship without intermediaries.

Some of the platforms that you can use are Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, or Flexjobs.

You can try a couple of those sites to see which one looks best to you and then focus on using just one.

Take jobs that you can fulfill in quality and on time and thus you will earn a good reputation within the platform. You must consider this as serious work if you want to generate stable earnings.

2. Keep Your Portfolio Optimized And Updated

Within the freelance work platforms, you have the possibility of creating a portfolio to show clients the type of work you do.

You can also create your own portfolio website independently.

Make sure you always have your best work on hand, those that demonstrate your quality as an illustrator.

Discard your older works or those that do not show the type of illustrator you are now. 

In your portfolio, it is better to have quality than quantity. It is better that you show them few but well-selected illustrations, that is, your best work since most likely clients have a large number of portfolios to see with little time. So even if it is hard, you have to choose.

Also, a very attractive complement to display are the originals and sketches since in many cases your work ends up being finished with digital tools and maybe the clients would like to see the “hand” of the illustrator and the work process.

3. Personalize Proposals

If you want to stand out from the hundreds of proposals that a client receives, you should personalize the proposal you send and thus make them notice that you are genuinely interested in their project. 

In what ways can you do this?

When you send a proposal, address them with the name of the client or business if possible and if you are going to send them work samples, send only those illustrations that fit the style they are looking for.

You could also do a little research on the project, the company, or the client and identify what needs they have and offer a way to solve them.

The idea of this is that you can transmit an image that generates confidence and that you are not just another profile of the many who are looking for a job.

This way you will stand out and have a better chance of being taken into account.

4. Be Available

Never make the mistake of leaving messages unanswered and if possible try to reply to each message in the shortest time possible. 

Clients are interested in working with freelancers who are available, not only to work but to answer their questions.

Remember that being a freelancer you must be in constant communication with your clients since, unlike an office job, you do not see them constantly. 

Even if you get a message from a client that you cannot work with at the moment, it is important that you inform them that you are not available but that you appreciate the interest.

By thanking them for taking the time to write to you, the client will get a good image of you and will probably write to you later when you already have space available.

5. Have Presence Outside The Job Platforms

Aside from job platforms, there are many other ways to find jobs.

It is okay to start using a freelance platform, but as your career grows you will see how you need to expand even more and start to gain a reputation as an illustrator outside of those platforms.

As you already know, work platforms are good to kickstart but the reality is that not everything is as pleasant as it seems.

Just as these platforms have many advantages, they also have disadvantages that could get in the way at one point.

For example, there are some platforms that charge you a subscription to send job applications or where you have to buy a special currency in order to apply for available vacancies.

Besides that, freelance platforms also charge you a commission for each payment you receive and that commission depends on the platform, but it can even reach 30%. 

These are little things that will put you off sooner or later, but the time you have invested there is no wasted time anyway.

Use those platforms to gain experience not only in work but in how to treat your clients and once you gain a good reputation with your clients, try other ways to show yourself available outside the platform.

6. Increase Your Online Presence

Although the main use of social networks is linked to leisure and communication, according to Hootsuite, 43% of users use social networks for professional purposes, and that is the approach you should take into account to increase your chances of finding a job. 

There are many professional illustrators who have an account on Instagram in which they publish different types of content and this is done to increase their online presence and become more known.

Social networks are used to share interesting and entertaining content, so if you post your illustrations there, it will most likely be shared by other users and thus your work will reach other people. It is a great way to promote what you do.

So what can you share on your social networks to promote your work?

Finished works, books or products in which your illustrations appear, posters, advertisements and any graphic piece you have made, your work in progress, materials that you use. 

Your content will also depend on the social network you are going to use, some may be Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

There are many things you can show and that can bring you many benefits.

7. Network

Having a network is also essential to grow your career.

Being a freelancer does not mean that you should be isolated from other illustrators in your niche, in fact there are many ways you can connect with them.

Having a network will allow you to be aware of events and even job offers that will win you clients. 

With other illustrator colleagues you can create work collaborations or support each other.

For example, if you are full of work and a new client asks you for an illustration, you can pass it on to a colleague you trust and vice versa, or an illustrator can also introduce you to a client you can work with. Connections are essential to growing.

8. Market Yourself

If you want to be considered a professional, you have to act like one.

Large companies use marketing campaigns with different strategies to promote their products and in a similar way, you must promote your work if you want to generate demand and that people want to hire your services. 

If you want to make a living from being an illustrator, it is not enough to be good at what you do, because if you do not find a way to promote your work, you will not generate profits either.

9. Have Your Own Portfolio

Your portfolio is what you will always send to a client to evaluate the possibility of hiring you.

There you will show the work you have done with past clients and your experiences as an illustrator, it must convey your style and communicate who you are.

Ideally, you should have it in digital, such as on a website that is exclusive to show your work, that is, a portfolio website.

To create your portfolio website you can use WordPress.org which is a commonly used platform by freelancers.

WordPress.org is 100% free self-hosted unlike other platforms. You will have complete freedom on many levels when it comes to customization.

All that it requires is a domain name and web hosting such as Bluehost which is also recommended by WordPress itself.

One of the good things about WordPress is that besides sharing your illustrations you can also blog.

Another important thing is that you have your own web domain with your name or the name of your business, which will make you look much more professional.

Source: athemes

There are also many other options to create your portfolio website and platforms such as Adobe Portfolio are specially designed for graphic artists.

In fact, if you use a product from the Adobe series, you can use Adobe Portfolio for free.

Source: adobe.com

Behance and Dribbble are also special for graphic artists but they also work in a similar way to a social network. You can follow people and interact with other illustrators, which would improve your chances of expanding your network.

Source: wix.com

Wix is a simple yet powerful platform where you can create and design your portfolio website, it is very easy to configure and adjust to your style. 

Here you can create your portfolio quickly and if you want to have your custom domain, you can do so by choosing the other affordable plan.

Source: Wix

10. Show Authority

You can use your social networks or portfolio website to demonstrate the knowledge you have in your area and this will earn you respect within your niche.

How do you do this you are asking?

You can write articles, tips or any material of interest and publish it on your portfolio website or even on LinkedIn. 

You can also talk about your creative process or how you went about creating a specific illustration. This is content that would surely be valued on platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

This will make your clients and people in your network see that you know about what you do, that you are someone prepared and professional who has taken the time to study and expand their knowledge on various areas of illustration.

11. Promote Your Work

It sounds obvious, but do not forget to promote your work.

Do not be ashamed and remind your friends and contacts that you are an illustrator and share the link to your portfolio website to anyone who you consider it necessary. 

Be part of communities of graphic artists such as Dribble or Behance and that will also help you to make yourself known, especially in spaces where there are people looking for illustrators.

Take Behance for example, the platform has around 12 million users, so you can be sure that it is a great place to promote your work.

Most Importantly Work Hard and Be Consistent

It may be a bit difficult to get illustration works at first, but do not think about how complicated it will be but that you must work hard to get satisfactory results.

Apart from creating a website portfolio and increasing your online presence, it is key that you have patience and that you are constant in your work.

Little by little you will become more known and you will have clients waiting for an opportunity so that you can work on their projects.

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