Specialize as a Freelance Illustrator
There are many reasons to pick a niche as a creative freelancer. Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes more straightforward. For your inspiration, and to give you a little push to specialize, I interview freelance creatives who have chosen their niche.
Meet David Michael Moore, a.k.a. RetweetArtist! David is a U.S. freelance illustrator, who articulates big ideas in beautiful black & white illustrations. He also knows a trick or two about self-promotion!
Hi David, what’s your niche?
I help public speakers & thought leaders deliver unforgettable messages by elevating their words into art. Pen and ink are my primary tools. I do animation, visual narratives, handouts & slides, graphic recordings and graphic facilitation.
I can’t support myself entirely with this focus yet. I continue to take on graphic design and web design projects, as I build a more specialized network for my niche,
Why did you pick public speakers & thought-leaders as your niche?
I recognized an opportunity during a few seminars and conferences. There was (and still is) a proliferation of stock photography in the business world, and these bad photos find their way into good presentations too.
Speakers’ websites often suffer from the same uninspired imagery. There was a clear next step to elevate their own brand by investing in visual communication.
For me, the right prospect is someone who has a strong personal brand that hasn’t been articulated visually.
What’s been particularly exciting lately is bringing illustration into the board room with graphic facilitation. It is turning out to be a great addition to my line of work.
Basically, I set-up in front of the meeting room with a 10′ x 4′ drawing surface. I then illustrate the discussion live as it unfolds. Graphic facilitation emphasizes visual thinking. I also help the participants to solve problems with creative exercises. This has been very fun for me and the clients really get into it too.
Part of what makes graphic facilitation so successful for my business is that it has a short and dependable project cycle. So I’m able to accept more of these projects and build connections and referrals faster.
What’s been your most successful way of getting clients from this niche?
Referrals/word-of-mouth is the #1 way I get new clients.
Besides that, free work samples was a successful strategy for launching my product “visual narratives.” A visual narrative is essentially an illustrated outline that could serve as a handout, or be incorporated into a PowerPoint or animated video. As I was building a portfolio I needed to demonstrate the new product. The problem was, being a new product, I didn’t have examples to show.
So I sought out potential clients and the type of content that would fit my niche nicely, so I could create these examples. This is a risky strategy, of course, since I was creating this work without pay, but I was also working on my own terms. Unlike spec work or crowdsourcing design, I wasn’t in competition, there wasn’t a design brief to meet or an atmosphere of expectation.
Instead, I was making a very personal introduction with my work, after carefully researching and narrowing down candidates that fit me. In that environment, you can really make an impact and open the door to new opportunities.
What are public speakers & thought-leaders are looking for in an illustrator?
I think it’s fairly straightforward. It comes down to:
- Do I like his/her style?
- Can he or she get the job done?
Then, although I don’t know if it’s ever spoken… The ability to bring abstract concepts to life is essential. There are a lot of intangible ideas that need to be made clear.
What’s your personal USP in this particular niche?
I really strive to make marketing personal. It’s how I run my own marketing and I want to bring this kind of creativity into my client process too.
How can public speakers & thought-leaders deliver unforgettable messages?
Don’t be afraid to do something different!
When you bring something different into a meeting or a presentation, there are expectations in the business world that are ready to be blown out of the water!
There are a lot of creative avenues one could travel if you are open to the possibility. Incorporating illustration is just one of the ways you can heighten engagement.
How important has choosing a niche been to your business?
The reason it is so important is because you are bringing your business into focus for a prospective client. With a niche, you can answer the question “How do I help my client” in a clear, concise way. The less specific you are in your marketing, the less you’re going to be able to connect to someone.
You want to be able to describe to someone what you do in a sentence, and that usually follows a simple template — “I help ______ do _______ by ______.”
What advice would you give a fellow freelance creative about to choose a niche?
The work you do is always evolving and naturally leads you to new people and opportunities, which will influence what you do. So you need to be open to that.
Be flexible and adapt. Ignore the pressure to “have it all figured out”. With that said, identifying a niche is important, even if it changes.
If you need a place to start, listing qualities of your ideal client is a good exercise. Then examine your past clients to see who you may want to work more with in the future, based on these qualities. The next phase is researching prospective clients’ websites. Identify opportunities to break in with your line of work.
Do you get any paid help with your marketing?
I have incorporated Ed Gandia‘s “Warm Email Prospecting“-method. It is a very helpful alternative to “cold calling”. You create custom-tailored messages that are sent to one person at a time – demonstrating understanding of their business and how you could help them in just a few sentences. Warm email prospecting is the opposite of sending out a mass email, and much more reliable.
Before I set out on my own I received coaching from Peleg Top, who has had a great impact on my business. Big level stuff. Like the way I approach marketing, money and clients. Peleg offered professional coaching from his own experience as a designer, but moreover he offered a different way of thinking about common problems all freelancers face.
For example, how to ease a client’s fears—maybe this is their first time hiring a designer, or they don’t know how to discuss money, or maybe they’ve been burned by a designer in the past – addressing these underlying issues so there can be trust going forward, which always leads to better quality work. There are a lot of unspoken issues that can affect a project. Peleg also gave me the idea to illustrate tweets every day as an exercise, which became RetweetArtist.
Tell us more about “RetweetArtist!”
RetweetArtist is my alter ego. The project began as an exercise to illustrate every day. Almost every weekday I “illustrated a tweet” from someone I followed on Twitter. It helped me to refine my style, build a portfolio and become faster and more confident in my work.
When I came across a tweet I liked, I drew it and replied back with the illustration. It was a very personal introduction that surprised and delighted people. Most times I was replying with an illustration within an hour.
I didn’t think of it at first as “social media marketing” but the illustrated retweets have shown to be a great tool to build visibility for my work.
RetweetArtist has netted me a few projects directly. Usually from people who already were considering hiring an illustrator. I came along at the right time.
However, I usually benefit more from being introduced to the retweeted person’s followers/subscribers/
RetweetArtist is on hiatus now, but when I do utilize Twitter to make a business connection, it’s fun to demonstrate what I do in a relevant way.
What’s your next self-promotional step?
There are a few things I’d like to do in the future with RetweetArtist. I hope to incorporate 6-second animations with Vine and compile those into YouTube clips.
Also, I’m considering having a “submit a tweet”-function and begin some live streaming sessions to make my process more personal, less mysterious.
More interviews with specialized graphic designers, illustrators and web designers.
Please comment below!