Advertising. Marketing. Promotion. There are a lot of freelancers that aren't sold about the importance of promotion but also confused about what works and what doesn't. First it's important to think of yourself as a brand, just like any product, new or renewed, you have to make an impact on an audience. You've got to get their attention. Make them look at you. See what you have to offer. Compare that to the competition. Decide on your price worthiness. And then either buy or ignore. Too many illustrators spend far too little on promotion. They're doing one promotional mailing a year or taking one ad out in a publication or directory and waiting for the phone to ring, and far too often disappointed when no one comes calling. That's like whispering in a crowded room, no one is hearing you.
You shouldn't look at the results of one ad or one mailing to determine your expenditures on advertising. Advertising is a combined effort, placing one ad anywhere is never enough to generate sales, you need to be everywhere: Have work accepted into shows, be seen in major publications, be seen in annuals, directories, promotional pieces, email blasts. Too many illustrators do not follow the rules of successful promotion. For any piece of advertising to work it has to be seen at the minimum three times before it's even noticed, that's whether you're a freelancer, small business or a mega-corporation. It's no different for illustration. When I'm looking at say The New Yorker or The New York Times Book Review and see an illustrator I've never heard of, I make a mental note but I don't really put them into my files until I've seen them in several other publications, or a show, or from a promotional piece or an email. It takes that same three times effort to get my attention. And I'm out there consciously looking for illustrators, imagine what it's like for those who are only sometimes looking.
Yuko and Fernanda are two examples of how advertising should work for illustrators. They're everywhere. They send out announcements concerning new work, they're in shows, annuals, directories, galleries, they're seen in many places--Yuko was in a German directory for instance and I doubt seriously she got a single job from Germany, but the fact of being so visible makes all the difference. Both of these young illustrators came out of nowhere and it seems like overnight they're everywhere. Talent plays a part but they both have a smart marketing sense, I'm convinced Fernanda's is instinctive and Yuko's comes from her former life in ad agencies.
Illustrators are facing an uphill battle just to get work, to pry it out of more art director's hands and keep them from giving it to photographers or resorting to stock. Every effort you make promoting yourself is important, and jointly they can lead to you being successful. It's not any different from any brand out there, the more you see a new product, the more buzz the product has, the more inclined you are to try it. Advertisers just want you to try their product once as they are convinced you'll be a repeat customer. Illustrators are no different, unfortunately too few think of themselves that way.
Making some basic changes in how you promote your work can mean all the difference. Especially now. Recessions are times of unleashed creativity, ad agency art directors are looking for new ways to market products and services. From personal experience I know that clients are looking for different ways to market themselves in a down economy, illustration can be one of those ways. Do yourself a favor and be visible. Be everywhere. You will be rewarded and so will the industry.