It all started 12 years ago.....
**Update June 2016** My new e-book is out all about marketing for artists.
My name is Holli Conger and I'm a Children's Illustrator & Licensing Artist. I create cute, whimsical and just plain fun art for babies, kids & kids at heart and I've been putting smiles on faces since 2004. 12 years ago I documented my journey to becoming an illustrator. When my journey first appeared as monthly articles on Creative Latitude, I never guess how much my story would impact others. They were later published in the 2006 Artist & Graphic Designer's Market book and I have received thousands if not tens of thousands of emails and comments telling me how my journey has helped other achieve their goals of becoming an illustrator.
Since then, I've been an open book on how to get clients, what method of promotion is best, and I love every minute of it. I've become an expert in marketing for illustrators and I love to help others. I've had hundreds of ilustration clients, branched out into licensing and added a new little someone to the family that goes to work with me everyday.
In 2012 I started consulting other artist wanting to further their illustration careers. If you are interested you can find out more information here. I have 4 different types of consulting plans to choose from. To read some of my past marketing advice for illustrators, follow me on facebook, twitter, check out the promotion posts on my blog and listen to my podcast on the subject from Escape from Illustration Island.
You can read my entire 1 year journey to becoming an illustrator below. Since it's been a while and I've cleaned up my server since then, some of the links may no longer be active. I truly appreciate your comments and emails. Although I might not be able to respond to them all, I do read them all and they make my day so keep them coming!!
Entry 1 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves June 2004
I just recently completed my longest, most physically painful, exhilarating and inspiring project of my life. For the past nine months I've been inundated with cute little clothes, books, pictures, you name it, with incredible designs and illustrations. Time after time the same thought would fill my head: "I wish I could do that!" I've been dreaming about an illustration career for years. Why can't I do that? Really, why couldn't I? There was absolutely no reason why I couldn't. Sure, I have a full time design job, a new bundle of joy to take care of, but why not just go for it? This is my first journal entry in a series of 12 entries (published each month) dedicated to my process of self promotion.
I wanted to keep a monthly journal for two reasons:
1. To encourage others and let them know successful promotion can be done and how one person was able to do it. I am always on the lookout to see what other illustrators are doing. I've found a few illustrator's sites who have blogs that sometimes mention their promotional endeavors but never seems to give updates on their progress.
2. To keep myself accountable and to follow through with my dream. Keeping a personal deadline had always been hard for me. I always put it off and let something else take precedent. With this commitment of documenting my process, I know I can keep myself accountable not only to myself, but to all the people who will follow this series. My goal in all this? To become a full-time illustrator while being a stay-at-home Mom.
I have had a website dedicated to my illustration work for a couple of years now, but have done little to promote it. One thing I have done is link exchanges. By linking to other designers' and illustrators' sites (and them linking to me), my name comes up more times in search engines. You'll be surprised just how many hits you'll get from another person's site. Just this week I received two emails from people who had seen my site listed on another designer's site.
Last year I had 1,000 postcards printed with plans to mail them out to potential clients. Today I have about 990 of those cards still left in the box. Why? I over critique my work, as I'm sure most people do. I started not to like the image I had produced specifically for the card. This time I am approaching it differently. I realized that I need to pick one of my best pieces for the promo card and not try to think of something specifically for it. Why it took me this long to figure that out, I'll never know!
So, I have my website up, I have an illustration to use for my postcard, and I have a growing list of names to send them to (thanks to the Artist & Graphic Designer's Market, Children's Writers & Illustrators market books, people emailing me to be on my mailing list, as well as companies I've found by using keywords on Yahoo! and Google). I am now officially ready to move forward! See you next month!
Entry 2 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves July 2004
I have totally surprised myself. I've made so much progress this month but, near the beginning, I thought I'd get nothing accomplished. I couldn't concentrate on what to do next or get motivated to do anything. Part of it probably had to do with the fact that I was missing my daughter horribly while working my full-time design job all week. I was miserable, but I worked my schedule out with my boss so I am able to work from home 3 days a week which made me a much happier and more pleasant person to be around.
In my lack of concentration and motivation I decided to go to to our local art museum to gain it back. The Red Grooms exhibit was in town. Great stuff! I love his dimensional work. When I was in college I had a classmate who said, several times throughout our years, that my work reminded him of Red Grooms (ego boost!). While looking at his work I immediately got my drive back.
At the end of last month I mailed out a press release announcing my new dimensional illustrations, as well as announcing some illustrations I had completed for a magazine. After mailing those out to my list of 30 people (boy, I really need to add some names!) I got 3 responses back, one of which said they had some upcoming projects they would contact me about them.
I also completed my postcard. I wanted to show off my dimensional work but throw a little of my digital work in there as well. I used Rocket Postcards after receiving their samples and comparing their prices. I ordered 500 4/4 postcards for $120.00. It took about a 2 weeks to get them and, while I was waiting, I received and email from the printer saying that my order had a very slight print production flaw which created some offset on the front (mail panel) of my card. They could either reprint them if I decided I didn't like them, or they would give me a 20% discount if I choose to keep them. When I received them, I could notice the offset but I don't think anyone else could. I did a test and mailed one to myself to make sure the offset didn't affect how it went through the post office. I received it in the mail 2 days later. It looked fine so I'm keeping them.
I have also been gathering more names for my mailing list. I got the idea to go to some online bookstores, browse their children's book section and collect all the publishers I could find that I think my illustration style would suit. I found so many names that were not in my Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market book. I'm still compiling names in my database, but I hope to do my first mailing sometime next month.
I emailed a quote to a potential client to who had seen my website (via another designer's site) and thought my style would be appropriate for a t-shirt she was making. Sounds like a fun project and I'm eager to hear back from them. Three weeks later and still nothing, so I'm guessing they're no longer interested once they saw the price.
I did one very important thing this week. Since people constantly misspell my name (which is understandable), I went ahead and purchased hollyconger.com and redirected it to holliconger.com. It's just a little something to make sure people find me, but I think it was smart to go ahead and do it. I also revised my logo to emphasize the "i."
I updated my site (again) with more work, better meta tags (thanks to Neil!), a "How I Work" section and a downloadable PDF sample sheet. I've had several comments on it already.
Once I uploaded everything I sent out some emails to illustrators and designers offering a link exchange. I went through the sites of some of my favorite illustrators and the ones that had a links section, I sent them an email. I also created some little graphics to use as links if it fit their layout. So far I've received 4 reciprocal links. I just want to tell you all how beneficial reciprocal links are. I know some people don't like to send visitors away from their site but the reason for doing so is getting a better ranking in search engines. This really came to my attention when Cat started asking for them on the About Forum (and that conversation later grew into Creative Latitude). When I do a Google search for my name, links regarding to me fill the first 20-25 listings. That's pretty cool!! I still need to work on coming up when people search for Holl"y" Conger, but I've added some keywords, so hopefully it will show up soon.
I started concepting a little promo piece that I will mail to select Art Directors. I hope it turns out ok, but I'll tell you all about it next month. I've already gotten several emails of encouragement from my last entry but please keep them coming. There's nothing more motivating than knowing people want you to succeed. See you next month!
Entry 3 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves August 2004
Ideas. Can you ever have too many? I'm finding out that you can. I have a long list of them on my desk. They all consist of creative things to make. Most, if not all, have been on the list for several months. Why haven't they gotten done? Time, motivation and inspiration. Things I feel I've had very little of this month. I've spent most of the month on promotion of which has left me no time to be creative. I need promotion but there is little to no creativity in that for me.
My site traffic has been amazing this month. I can really tell that my promotional efforts are paying off. Last month (July) I received 511 hits, this month I received 2800. One thing I am surprised about is that no one, not a single soul, has signed up for my mailing list. Not that I want any average Joe to sign up, but I figured I'd get some potential clients signing up with all those hits. So that was a little disheartening.
At the beginning of the month, my site was featured on Netdiver. The day after my feature, I received about 450 hits on my site. Pretty impressive given that I usually average 8 hits a day. Mid-month, I sent out around 100 postcards to magazine publishers and ad agencies. I have decided to hold off sending them to publishers until I can get more samples together that reflect children's book illustrations. I have mailed out only 3 promo pieces with reply cards, but have yet to get them back.
I've updated my free listing on Folioplanet, my free listing on Creative Hotlist, my free portfolio on Portfolios.com, and added a free portfolio listing to Coroflot.com, as well as added myself to the free Google illustration directory. Do you notice a trend? I'm trying to spend as little money as I can right now on promotion since I'm just starting out in this field. Just today I received an inquiry from someone who had seen my listing on Coroflot. These listings have added to my site traffic and my search engine results. I'm constantly on the lookout for more exposure, so if anyone knows of some listing sites, let me know.
There has also been some nice people who have mentioned me in their blogs. I've gotten about 300 hits from one girl's entry. I love the idea of blogs. I frequent one of an illustrator's and it seems to be great exposure for her. I'm not a writer by any means, but I may just become a blogger one day. (I've had the appropriate URL for about a year!) Would anyone tune in?
I recently emailed some new pictures of my daughter to family and friends. I sent them to a girl I work with, and her reply included a freelance offer for a children's project in October. Who would have thought your kid could be a promo tool. Who wouldn't want to give work to the mother of a face like this? Having a child is a load of inspiration. I am constantly thinking of what I can draw for her, what can I make for her. I can't wait until she can use crayons. That will be a great day!
I found a couple of new illustration forums this month that have been helpful. They focus on children's books and occasionally a publisher will solicit illustrators. I responded to one post and prepared a quote. I haven't heard back yet after numerous emails, and the original deadline is a couple of days away, so not sure what's up with that one. Remember the project I quoted on last month and never heard back? Well, I still haven't heard back after several emails (I didn't have a phone number for her), so the project has moved to my "non-active" prospects folder. I'll still keep her on my mailing list just in case she needs me in the future. I didn't gain a project, but I did gain a prospect, so that counts for something.
Since I didn't do much illustrating this month, that will be my focus next month. I'll go through that list of ideas I have and hopefully I'll get some things checked off. See ya next month!
Entry 4 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves September 2004
This month was full interruptions and delays. I didn't get done what I wanted and began doubting my illustration style. Do people even like my work? I've had a few freelance design projects absorb my time as well as some projects around the house (like putting hardwood floors down on the entire first floor of our house!).
The month started off with promise for a potential job. It was for five mug illustrations. The client and I negotiated back and forth with money and usage and we finally agreed on a price. I got the signed contract from him and let him know that I'd begin work once I received his deposit (stated in the contract). The response I got was "Did you give me your bank account info?" What did that mean??? I promptly emailed him back and told him I only take checks. His response then ... "I'm afraid we're out then. Good luck to you." So was it a scam? Who knows, but there was a little gleam of hope for a project but it quickly dimmed.
Last month I mentioned that my goal was to get some things cleared off that big list I have and get some illustration work done. I did clear some things (not as many as I wanted) off and got two new clay illustrations complete. One of which is on my site now. I need to get a better shot of the other to put on my site. I haven't been able to get the shadows just right. I also have tons of new sketches waiting to be materialized. I'm thinking about doing some black and white hand drawn work and marketing that to some smaller one-color publications.
I had one person sign up for my mailing list after seeing my last article. I added a link on every page of my site for people to sign-up. I realized that I really didn't specify to sign-up for my mailing list and people may not know to go to my contact page. Hopefully I'll get some more names and hopefully I'll get some work so I can send out a press release to them. I'm about due for one.
Promoting myself as an illustrator has been hard. I've never really promoted my freelance design business and I've had steady freelance work (by word of mouth) for 6 years. I guess every business needs a designer and few need illustrators. Especially if your style is geared for one audience children. I've been thinking about offering some pro-bono illustration work. I've "budgeted" it for this year but I don't know exactly how to go about it. I need to get my name and work out there but I'm struggling with how. Maybe I'll look through my Children's Writers & Illustrators Market book and see if a particular magazine strikes my fancy.
Since I struggle with things to draw and sculpt I've found a couple of fun online contests that will help get my creativity going. I've found a fun costume contest and a contest for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I've been waiting on this one to be posted! Hopefully, I'll come up with some good pieces and it will help spark some other pieces. I tend to work best with an "assignment" rather than just coming up with something.
I've noticed some hits from my listings on sites I added or updated last month. I did find one other listing site and added my info. I'm still looking around for some more freebie listings so hopefully I'll have more to share in the months ahead.
Well, I know I have a lot of catch up next month. I have got to get creative and motivated. Fall usually brings this on for me for some reason. I can probably relate it back to elementary school with all the new school supplies and those fun Halloween and Thanksgiving projects to work on. I don't know how many hand outline turkeys I've drawn in my lifetime! I have a couple of design projects to do as well as some more projects around the house, and between those I'll try and fit in some illustration work and promotion. Wish me luck!!
Entry 5 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves October 2004
This month has been one of the busiest months I've probably ever had, and I can see all future months being busier. No new illustration jobs, hopefuls or leads, but a slew of design work, and my husband and I purchased a business. So, now I'm the marketing coordinator and designer for the business. Let's see, I am a full time wife, mom, designer, freelance designer, illustrator and now a marketing coordinator. Whew! No wonder I'm so tired. But, I'm happy. Even though I'm not getting much (well, any) response from my illustration promotion from prospective clients, I have been creative with my design work, so I'm feeling creatively fulfilled and not as discouraged as I would normally be.
This month I mailed out a few more postcards to some people I found by word of mouth or on the Internet and mailed out two promo packs to people who have shown interest in my work before. But I still haven't received any of my SAS reply cards I included in them. I also set up a paid (yes, I spent some money) account on Portfolios.com. It's for a four-month trial and it was super cheap, so I thought I'd try it out. I don't know how many people have looked at my section since they don't supply stats, but I've only gotten about five hits on my site from there. The key to having a portfolio on Portfolios.com is to update your info whenever you can since the search feature pushes newly revised sections to the top. Your can see my portfolio here.
Sadly, that's all I've had time for this month. I didn't even participate in the online costume contest for Illustrators or the SCBWI contest I told you about last month. I'm kicking myself for not getting the SCBWI done! So, what's next? Well, I have a couple of design projects that require some illustrations, so that will be fun. I have my Christmas cards to do (illustration will be involved somehow). I also have a job to design and illustrate a collection on gift cards (gift certificates) for Christmas. All these jobs came through my graphic design promotional efforts, but I'm glad I get to sneak some illustration in to build my portfolio.
I'm sorry I don't have much this month, and really don't know what my promotional plans are for next month, but I'm still dedicated to plugging away at it!
Entry 6 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves November 2004
Well, I finally got an illustration job this month. It was my first job that came directly through my promotional efforts. A local company saw my work on Portfolios.com and hired me to do a set of illustrations that will potentially be used for stickers and window clings. This one job more than paid for my 4 month trial on Portfolios.com! Not bad for my portfolio being up for about a month in a half. I know we've all heard this before, but the company was interested in working with me on future projects. I'm not getting my hopes up, but it does feel good to know that someone likes your work. Then, another company contacted me after seeing my listing on Portfolios.com They are wanting to license some of my work for cell phone wallpaper. I still need to go through the contract they sent and see if it's something I'd want to do.
I also finished up a big design job I got through my illustration listing on Coroflot. This job included some illustration work, so I had fun doing it. The illustration style wasn't in my wide-eyed style, but it was pretty challenging to break out of that and play with a retro/vintage style. I am constantly updating my free listings at Coroflot, Folioplanet, Communication Arts, and Portfolios.com. And so far a couple of them have proven to get me work. I also got 2 responses back from the promo packs I mailed out a couple of months ago. One reply wasn't interested in my work, but the other wanted me to keep them on my mailing list and could see a need for my style in the future.
Since I had that one illustration job finished, it's time to send out a press release. This one is a little tricky, though. Their contract said that I couldn't show the work I did for them in my online portfolio (which translates to the internet in general) which makes total sense after they explained why (they don't want their competitors knowing which artists they use). So with that rule in place, I have to figure out what I can send. They did say I could send out a press release with the illustration attached, but some places I send the release post it on their website so I might have to send out a separate one to them.
It's been three months since I sent out a postcard mailing so I probably need to do another something soon. But with the holiday's coming up, I'm not sure it's the best time to send something. I probably need to wait until the first of the year to do something. That should give me plenty of planning time (I say that now but I probably won't think about that until January!). With the holidays coming up and some vacation days to burn, I really need to sit down and do a marketing plan for 2005. I also need to work on some more illustrations for my portfolio. Maybe Santa will be good to me and just give me great ideas and motivation for Christmas.
Entry 7 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves December 2004
December was a slacker month for me. With all the holiday hustle and bustle, plus all the aftermath I just haven't had the time or energy to do much. I took a good bit of time off from my freelance "career." Before Christmas I received another job from the company I had done a digital illustration for last month. They hired me to create a Christmas money holder in my dimensional style. It was a tight deadline, but I got it finished and it looked great! Now I have another project to add to my press release! Speaking of press releases, I really need to send one out. I've somewhat made a schedule of when I need to send them out. My plan is to do one every month. I don't know what I'm going to do if I have nothing to announce one month but I'll have find something.
One big step I took at the end of December (New Year's Eve actually) was to start a blog. I'm an introvert so this is kind of a challenge for me to let people know what's going on in my life. I really want to network with other illustrators and force myself to be creative. Having a blog will do that for me. I'll be participating in Illustration Friday and possibly A Month Of Softies just to keep creative. You can check it out here. I've already gotten some comments and feedback about the blog so that has been a big encourager plus I've added some people to my mailing list.
I've also jotted down a general marketing plan for myself. I find it hard to stick to with personal deadlines, but I've convinced myself that I HAVE TO in order to reach the goals I've set for myself. I am really rethinking the postcard promotion route. I need to think of something creative, inexpensive (to make and mail), and easy to have reproduced, yet gets attention. That is one of the top things on my list that I really need to work on in January. I also have a plan/goal to sell some original dimensional illustrations online and in specialty stores. I'm hoping I can get this stared soon. I have my ideas all sketched out, I just need to execute them and figure out how to make shadowbox frames cheaply. I'm really hoping January will be a productive month for me!
Entry 8 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves January 2005
January was a pretty good month for my illustration career. At the beginning of January I went into "full" client acquisition mode. I made out a to-do list that will help keep me on my toes. The list is as follows:
Find 3 new addresses for promo
Blog entry (at least a few days a week)
Update Portfolios.com listing
One clay or digital illustrtaion (portfolio quality)
Look at freelance job listing sites
Creative Latitude article
Believe it or not I have really stuck to it and it's been fairly easy.
With my quota of 3 addresses a day to meet, I have been scouring the internet and am amazed at the children's publishers and product makers out there. I haven't had any trouble finding new an obscure little places to send my postcards to. I am needing to send something to those who I sent postcards to around October. I am still toying with the idea of doing a postcard mailer. I need to send something out, but I just don't know what. I don't know if I should do digital or dimensional focus if I do go the postcard route...hum, I need to get something going though. I do have some promo/sample packets to put together and mail to some publishers I'd really like to work for. I'll need to let them sit a few days so the spray mount smell can wear off but then off they go.
Having a blog has helped my creative and motivational efforts greatly. I have already met many people who are in the same boat as me or they are already successful illustrators. Before I really knew no other illustrators with my same focus, but now I know several that I feel like I can call on for advice. Also participating in Illustration Friday has really helped me be creative and build my portfolio. Plus it feels good to get all though nice compliments about your work. I have posted all my creative latitude articles there as well and I've gotten so many comments about how much people have enjoyed them. I am just super motivated now that I have a network of illustrators and feel like I belong.
I've had a few prospects this month. One was interested in my dimensional style for a flash game, one for illustrating an educational workbook (I've got my finger's crossed on this one, should hear something about it next week), an earlier prospect emailed me after getting my press release and wanted to let me know that they'd still like to work with me but the project was on hold for the moment, PLUS my first postcard and promo mailer paid off - I received a job from a children's magazine illustrating a calendar page for at least 6 of their issues. Needless to say things are really working out. I feel more confident now than I ever had!
That's pretty much it for this month. I hope February brings plenty of jobs and inspiration!
Entry 9 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves February 2005
Wow! This has been the best month so far in my illustration ventures. The biggest thing was joining a critique group. The Picture Book Junkies were kind enough to let me join their group and it has been a wonderful experience. I have felt like I've been going though my daily struggles by myself, but this group has really taken me under there wings and has been a huge support system. It feels so good to know others who face the same struggles I do. They welcomed me with open arms and I feel like I've known them forever. You can find out here how start a critique group.
Since I started my blog at the beginning of January, I have had more people exposed to my work that I probably could not get otherwise. I average about 75 hits a day and I've heard several times over how good this article series has been for people. I have participated in Illustration Friday weekly (helping me build upon my style as well as my portfolio) as well as A Month Of Softies (just to keep those creative juices flowing). Having a blog also helps me clear my head and talk about daily things like promotion and my work. It's been a good creative outlet for me.
This month I entered the SCBWI contest and submitted this I haven't heard anything back yet but it was fun to do. I also added some more work to my portfolio which included some black and white line work (which I need to build upon). I finished up an illustration job that will appear in the September issue of Adventure Magazine. The art director gave me a lot of creative freedom with it. I will have at least 6 more months to illustrate in the future so a reoccurring gig is good to have. I did do some more promo packets (just printed samples this time) and will hopefully get my SASE's back within a few weeks. I'm hoping they are filed with letters rather than the samples I had sent them.
One larger step I took this month was to email a few Illustrator Reps. It would be a dream to just draw all day and not have to worry about all the contracts and negotiations. I do love the promotion part of it but not so much the business side. I heard back from some that said they weren't taking on new talent but to keep in touch, and then some that my style didn't jive with. I did get two nibbles though. One sent me a contract and I have emailed her with several questions but haven't heard back yet. The other like my work but isn't taking on new talent but was interested in helping me strengthen my work. She gave me great advice and I have been plugging away and doing more work.
My style has also made a transition this month. My wide-eyed style is no more. I've had a few comments on my big-eyes and the more I look at then, the scarier they look to me. So, I have modified them to smaller eyes and some with dots. I am really digging my dots eyes and how they bring out personality to each character. I am also experimenting with a painterly digital style. I've done a pieces and really love the look of it.
Next month will consist of more portfolio work and trying to really push my style. You can read my blog throughout the month to see little things I'm been doing to further my dream. Have a good one!
Entry 10-11 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves March/April 2005
It has been so hard for me to keep up with my continual promotional efforts because I have done so much in the last two months, I can't keep track. This time around I've decided to combine two months in one just because of everything that has happened and so much stuff has overlapped from March and April.
I have finally switch my freelance work over to more illustration that design work (it has been the opposite for several years). Illustrations jobs have been very steady with some existing clients and a few new ones here and there. This is exactly where I want to be freelance wise. I am still holding onto the full time job, but am in negotiations of going part time with them. Once I know a little more on their end, I'll be able to make the decision: "Do I stay or do I go?" Hopefully by next month's entry, a decision will have been reached.
I sent out a press release last month announcing my new painterly technique and also updated my portfolio to reflect the new work. I feel I have grown leaps and bounds from when I first started promoting myself. The more work I do in this technique, to more I begin to dislike my vector work. I am slowly phasing that look out of my portfolio.
I had mentioned before about working with a rep on building my portfolio. She has been extremely nice and helpful by taking me under her wing and showing me how I can grow my style. Well, in April, she signed me. I was (and still am) so excited. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of me. There is still a need for me to do my own promotion, but it feels good to know I have my own cheerleader out there routing for me and helping find me work. She has already gotten me a nice project that I am currently working on.
The projects for the last two months have been four full page illustrations for an activity book, four spot and a one page illustration for a children's magazine, and I am currently working on an illustration for a logo and some illustrations for educational materials.
My critique group continues to give me much needed support and gets me excited about being creative. Having a critique group has been the most beneficial thing in my career thus far. I would of never thought it. There are many ways to connect with a critique group. You can see about joining an existing group or you can start your own.
I also heard back from the SCBWI contest I mentioned last month. I won honorable mention which was pretty exciting. I've had several congratulatory emails since. That made me feel even better. I also decided to pay for another online portfolio listing. This one is geared toward children's illustration buyers and seemed like a great place to test. I've gotten a few hits from their site, but I've only been listing a couple of weeks. I just noticed today that I am "illustrator of the week."
One thing I have slacked on is doing another postcard mailer. I've been working on the illustration here and there and I really need to get it out the door. I'm thinking of doing a larger size card through the US Postal Service and send those to place I would really like to do work for. I may also mail out some smaller ones too.
One market I have been thinking on and off about promoting to is the gift/greeting card industry. There are tons of children's products out there and I think my style would fit in well. I need to get a new Illustrator's and Graphic Design Market book and build a mailing list. I also need to have some appropriate samples in my portfolio. Way back when, I did an independent study in college that consisted of coming up with greeting card designs (100 I believe) and getting submission info from different companies. I had a good time doing it, but by the end of the semester, I was pretty much burnt out on the notion of trying to get into that market. Now that I'm more and more comfortable with my style, I think I should see what comes from my promotional efforts.
Well, I hope May will be full of surprises and good projects. I hope to get some more promotional things done, but I wouldn't mind being too busy with projects and not get a chance to do any of it.
Entry 12 of 12: One Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves May/June 2005
Well, it's been a year since I started to "actively" pursue my dream. I am proud to say I have done it. I have reached my goal of becoming a professional illustrator and being a stay-at-home mom. May 31st was my last day as an employee and now I'm out on my own.
I have learned so much over the past year. The main thing has been the evolution of my style. I was happy with what I had going when I first started out, but as I got more feedback I decided I needed to work on some things (like using smaller eyes, adding eyebrows and necks). I am very comfortable with my style and technique now but I know there is room to grow. I'm starting to experiment with paper and surface textures and things I need to work on are my noses and gestures. It will all come together in time and I'm enjoying the process.
I've mentioned my self promotion process throughout the year and have narrowed down the things that have helped me the most.
Things that worked for me marketing wise:
Detailed Meta tags
Things that helped me grow as an illustrator:
Researching other illustrators
Looking at picture books
Starting a blog
networking with other illustrators
Joining a critique group
And believe it or not, just spending time with my daughter to see her facial expressions and body language.
All the things above cost no money (except portfolios.com since I sprung for the titanium portfolio and it has more than paid for itself with referring jobs). Although I had a full time design job in all this and did freelance design work on the side, I still didn't want to spend any money. I wanted to show myself and others that promotion could be done without spending gobs of money on flashy mailers or sample packets. Without doing those fancy things, I got myself out to potiential clients, landed an agent and have gotten enough work so I could quit my full time job.
Getting here has not been easy. I am tired. Incredibly exhausted. The kind of tired where you are so tired you can't sleep. I have worked on my goal one way or another every day for a year. There have been (and still are) many late nights working on projects, slowly building my client base. At least now I have more freedom and am not bogged down with a full-time job, but I do have my hands full chasing a giggly one year old around, so having a huge project with a short deadline sometimes has to wait until naptime or bedtime. I wouldn't have it any other way though. Being home with my daughter is the most important thing for my family and me, but I still want a career. I need to accomplish goals and have something to show for it. I want to be successful. Although I am starting out again, so to speak, by being self employed, I still have to market myself heavy and do what I've been doing.
I truly hope that this series of articles has been beneficial to you in following YOUR dream. I appreciate all the feedback I've gotten and I will continue to write about my promotional efforts and experiences on my blog.
One Year Later June 2006
On June 1, 2005, I ventured out on my own for a freelance illustration career. I documented my year leading up to my corporate departure entitled: Girl's Journey to Doing What She Loves (Becoming an Illustrator). I would of never thought the impact my journal would have on others. Hundreds of people have emailed me during and since my journey of amazes me how I helped and inspired people to make a plan and stick to it so they could have the career they wanted. I'm still getting emails! I was contacted last year by the publisher of the annual book Artist and Graphic Designer's Market, wanting to reprint my journal in their 2006 issue, so my experience was shared with even more people than I had imagined.
Since June of last year, I have had a steady and welcoming stream of work (attributed to both my rep and my promotional efforts). At times I felt overloaded with work - like 5 different deadlines in one week - I don't know if I could go through another week like that, but I was never dissatisfied or afraid if I would have more work coming in. I have added 22 new clients to my client list and too-many-to-count pieces to my portfolio. It has been a challenge. There have been late nights (which I thankfully haven't have for several months - more about that later), uncreative and unmotivated days and distractions. Some days I couldn't work because there was too much demand for me to sit and draw shapes, animals and people on a doodle pad for hours on end. But, I have never regretted my decision of leaving my secure, great benefit, full-time design job. I'm home with my daughter. Where I need and want to be. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and see what happens.
One big issue I hear about from others wanting to go out on their own is money. It is stressful to not know when and if you'll have money coming in. I think since I started heading towards a freelance career while I had a full time job, helped me with that stress. I knew I couldn't leave my job until I had some money saved, clients who would call on me again, and the hope that I would have more work coming in. I've heard that it can take up to 3 years get your freelance career to where it needs to be financially. I may be the exception to the rule, but this was not my case at all. I had a very nice paycheck with my design job, but after leaving my job, the other 6 months of the year doing straight freelance, yielded work that ended up being about 1.5 times my annual salary. I don't say that to boast (or to depress you if you aren't there yet), but to let you know that there are illustration jobs out there. I think the trick is having a style that is applicable to many type of things (editorial, publishing, packaging, greeting cards/giftware, etc.)
I've continued promotion on several levels and have been able to take some risks with spending the money to try some different portfolio sites to test out and see how they work. I joined the ispot this year and just a couple of years ago thought I'd never have the "extra money" to spend for that. I designate every Monday as "Marketing Monday" and use my time to update my personal website, my portfolio listings on other sites or gather names for my next postcard or packet mailing. By setting aside time each week, it doesn't seem so overwhelming and I feel like I have current and fresh stuff out there all the time.
I have also come to a point where I am finally able to manage my time. I have pretty much quite working nights (by that I mean when everyone's in bed) and the last time I stayed up working was about 2 months ago and that was until 11:00 one night. I get up early if I need to or work faster or more efficiently during the day. Things are always on my mind, but I feel like I have more free time and enjoy my time much more with this type of schedule than last summer which was new, unorganized and hectic.
Being a full-time freelance illustrator may not be as successful for me in years to come, and I realize that, but for now, I'm enjoying every bit of it. I end with a quick story. I'm sure a lot of illustrators never see how their audience experiences their work (for me, my audience is children). I was sitting in church a few weeks ago and a child in the pew in front of me had a magazine that I illustrate a monthly calendar for. It was so fun to see him stop at the page, look through it and giggle, then show his dad something on the page. He then began to scribble and draw on that page adding things to what I had already drawn. It was really neat to see the satisfaction in the the things I do from that perspective.
For more marketing info for illustrators, be sure to get my book, follow me on facebook, twitter check out the promotion posts on my blog and listen to my podcast on the subject from Escape from Illustration Island.
All content copyright Holli Conger® | holliconger.com