Sunday Mailbag

April 20th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: What kinds of things do you do to get new work? Online portfolio sites? Sending out postcards? Or have you hit that point where you get most of your work from the work you’ve done before? I’m always interested in how people maintain and grow their client base.

A: Honestly I get most of my work through either word of mouth from one art director to another, from an art director seeing one of my pieces in another publication and looking me up or from previous clients calling to do new projects. I do not do any active pursuit of new work other than maintaining my website and the occasional ad in a sourcebook. I am very lucky in that regard, but luck doesn’t get all the credit. It was working hard to develop that client base and those relationships, and on my work itself, that built the foundation for the luck to contribute to.

Freelance work can be divided into three simple categories:

  1. Cold work from a new client
  2. Referral work from a new client
  3. Additional work from a past client

“Cold” work are jobs you get from a new client with whom you have no experience or no connections to. That work is obtained through your own marketing efforts… either direct mailings, sourcebook ads, web portfolio ads or physical portfolio legwork. It is the hardest work to come by, but also the only source of work you have in the early stages of your career.

I’ve never done a direct mailing of any kind. Stupid, I know. I am always meaning to do it… not because I need to get more work necessarily but because I can target my clients better that way and perhaps pursue work that I want to do with better paying or more high profile clients.

My sourcebook ads in the “Directory of Illustration” net me a few jobs a year… really only enough to pay for the ad itself in most cases. However many of these clients end up being regulars or semi-regulars and I get more work down the road from them, so while the sourcebook ad isn’t an immediate solution it is somewhat of a long term benefit.

My experience so far with onlne portfolio services has been vey disappointing. I have advertised via and Portal Interactive… zero jobs in both cases. Perhaps my work just isn’t appealing to the buyers that frequent those services, but zero is an unaccpetable result. I’m still on but won’t be spending any money to renew when the time comes. I’m sure others would have a different story, but that’s been my experience.

The bottom line is that there is no single, sure fire path to getting more work. Nothing is enormously effective, and it takes some effort in many different avenues to keep securing new clients and fresh work. I’ve always said that a good freelancer puts equal amounts of effort into obtaining new clients as they do maintaining and strengthening the relationships they’ve built with ther current ones. Those latter efforts lead to work finding you, which is the best kind.

Thanks to Thom Zahler of Timberlake, OH for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here.


  1. cvanoni says:

    I’ll be the first one to admit that I haven’t put the necessary time into seeking out new clients to net the results that I’m looking for – but so far I’ve had tremendous luck landing clients from the word of mouth of other (very generous) artists, and zero luck with two recent postcard mailings.

    Until I perfect my mailing technique, I’ll continue to surround myself with talented artists who like to network!

    – Corbett


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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