Want to start a new creative career with the freedom to be your own boss? Why not become a freelance illustrator? It’s a great way to share your skills and build a respectable income. 

But like any other freelance service, success isn’t likely to come overnight. To begin to get work, it’s best to take each step at a time and cover every base.

This guide discusses how to become a freelance illustrator, which includes:

  • Finding your niche
  • Building your portfolio
  • Marketing your services
  • Building your network
  • Managing your finances

Find out how to become a freelance illustrator

Finding your niche

You can go down many routes to become a freelance illustrator. But, it’s best to specialise in the areas that appeal to you and build a name for yourself.

A variety of jobs early on may help you to find work. But to become a sought after illustrator, it’s helpful to know your strengths and be the best at them.

The types of illustration work can include:

  • Book — working with publishers on projects.
  • Commission — private art pieces for individuals.
  • Advertising — materials for broader campaigns.
  • Product — packaging or design development.
  • Animation — motion graphic video projects.

With such a variety of choices, it might be helpful to focus on specific art styles

You can develop your unique illustration work, which clients won’t be able to get anywhere else. That means you could also charge higher fees for your service.

Building your portfolio

Your past work is the best way to show off your abilities to future clients, so a portfolio is an essential tool when learning how to become a freelance illustrator. There are a few different options.

Website

Your corner of the internet is a great way to create an online portfolio unique to you. There are plenty of website builder tools like Wix or WordPress. They offer free and paid versions that change the number of tools available.

A site can hold all of the information about your favourite projects, and offer potential clients the chance to get to know you. It can also give you credibility with a link to direct people.

Platform

An online alternative to your site is to use a portfolio platform like Behance or Dribbble. These are hubs for creatives, and they offer an excellent opportunity to show off your work in a presentable way.

It’s easier to upload each project at a time to the platforms than to build a website. But the downside is the competition there. If you direct clients to your page, they’re clicks away from others who could offer similar services.

PDF

Instead of an online portfolio, you could put together a PDF document. It’s easier to print a PDF into a physical book, or you can send it over email without the need to direct clients anywhere.

The biggest downside is that you’d create a new file every time you want to update your portfolio. It doesn’t give you the same ability for quick changes as an online option.

Marketing your services

An incredible portfolio needs to get it in front of clients, and the best way to do that is to market your services. Where you market could depend on the type of work you want to do.

For advertising agencies, you can market what you do on LinkedIn. Professionals within marketing are likely to use the social platform to engage with colleagues, so it’s often a place they hire services.

Alternatively, if you want to sell commission pieces, look at more general channels and build an audience. TikTok is a great way to share short clips about what you do quickly with the public.

One critical platform is likely to be Instagram, which is great for sharing illustrative images or video. You can use your work to add excitement into people’s feeds and hopefully catch a client’s attention.

Another way to market what you do is through an online service platform like Freelancer or Fiverr. Both allow you to post what you do to help clients find you, or you can answer the call to many of the job posts that get uploaded every day.

Building your network

Speak to other creatives about how to be a freelance illustrator. If you can network with people in a similar position, you can recommend each other for roles or collaborate on projects.

Find graphic designers, copywriters, art directors and fellow illustrators. Anyone who works within the creative industries could be a valuable contact to help you find roles. 

To meet other creative people, use social media channels like LinkedIn or portfolio platforms like Behance. But you can also attend courses to connect with others, and learn something new.

Managing finances

Your new business brings with it some new responsibilities. They can include dealing with taxes and keeping on top of your costs. Luckily, a digital solution can make both simple for you.

Countingup is a business account with built-in accounting software, which gives you financial management available at your fingertips. The app is the perfect way to turn your phone into a money tool.

Taxes

As a freelancer, you must complete an income tax Self-Assessment at the end of each tax year. That could mean that you need to look back on everything you earn and spend, which is often time-consuming.

With Countingup, it’s never been easier to sort your taxes. The app has a tax estimates feature that tells you exactly how much to put aside each month, so you’re ready to go when it’s time.

Expenses

Your illustrator business is likely to have different costs for you to track. For example, those can include set up fees for a website or new design software. 

With Countingup, use its expense categorisation to sort your costs automatically with HMRC approved labels. So you can see what you spend and where it goes.

Get started for free.
For more helpful tips, see: Best art books for self-employed illustrators.