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Dec 8th

Are you afraid of emailing potential clients?

You take the time to find and research clients that could hire you, you take the time to write each of them a considered email and send work you think they'll like, then you send those emails and... nothing. No reply. It's no surprise you'd feel discouraged when you don't hear anything back from your potential clients.

You take the time to find and research clients that could hire you, you take the time to write each of them a considered email and send work you think they’ll like, then you send those emails and… nothing. No reply. It’s no surprise you’d feel discouraged when you don’t hear anything back from your potential clients.

Why are new illustrators afraid of emailing potential clients? What’s the worst that can happen? 

The most likely scenario is that you’ll be ignored. That’s not so bad in itself. It’s neither positive or negative. It becomes negative when you imagine the recipient looking at your work and laughing, or gleefully dragging it to the trash folder or forwarding it to a colleague marked ‘lol’.

The most likely scenario is that they will see it, glance at it and then move on without a second thought. A busy art director might see 10 of more of these emails a day, along with many more urgent emails.

Expect to be ignored. The likelihood of this art director having a suitable project for you at the exact time you email them is small. This means that any one email you send to an art director is a stab in the dark and is unimportant in itself.

What’s far more important than one email to a potential client is regular contact. The first email you send to this client is not the most important one. The most important email is the 5th, or 6th, or 7th, when you’ve shown this art director over months or years that you’re persistent, that your work is constantly improving, and that you are a professional. This is when they’ll be familiar with your name and familiar with your work. Familiar enough to give you a shot.

When you only get a few seconds of attention in someones inbox, it’s very hard to make a memorable impression. Instead, keep in touch regularly so the client gets to know your work. Think long term.

Why don’t clients reply?

Not liking your work is just one possibility on a long list of reasons why a client might not reply.

  • They might absolutely hate your work
  • They might think your work has potential but isn’t good enough yet
  • Your work might not be relevant for them
  • They might be out sick
  • They might be on vacation
  • They might be too busy to respond

Or… They might like your work, bookmark it for later, but not feel they need to respond. You have no way of knowing why they haven’t responded. It’s very easy to assume the worst and think they hate your work, and then feel too embarrassed to ever try emailing that person again.

If you continue to show your work to these people at regular intervals, you may or may not eventually have success in getting a positive response, or even a project from them, but if you never contact them again, you definitely won’t succeed in getting anything from them.

How can you increase your chances of getting a reply?

What are you asking for? If you send an email with a little bit about yourself and some images but don’t say what you want, or ask for something specific, there’s nothing for them to respond to. Yes, it’s obvious what you want, but if you ask a specific question, you give the client a reason to reply. You might be asking for some feedback on your work, you might ask if there are any opportunities for you to work with them. You may even ask them to follow you on social media or sign up to your newsletter. If they do, you’ll have some validation that they like your work enough to want to see more of it, which will provide you with some much needed encouragement.

If the client is on vacation, or out sick, or even simply having a busy week, you’re not going to be anywhere near the top of their priority list once they get back to their normal work routine so your first email will get lost in their inbox. Always follow up on your first email. If you don’t hear anything back after a couple of weeks, send a polite enquiry as to whether they received your work and ask your question again. If you still don’t receive a reply, that’s ok, but by following up, you’re doubling your chances of getting a response. If I ignore an email from someone, I feel guilty for a short time, but then I forget about it. If that person follows up, I’ll feel far more guilty and be much more likely to respond. You can use this to your advantage.

I tried to set up some meetings recently. I sent out 13 emails to clients I know and work with regularly. I’m not a stranger in their inboxes, and I didn’t receive a single reply until I sent a follow up email a week later. People are busy, and being busy is by far the most likely reason they are not responding to you.


Leave a reply or comment

  1. Susan B says: says:

    Good tips! Thank you!!

  2. Tracy Hetherington says: says:

    This is exactly the article I needed to read today, as I prep my email list for the new year.
    Happy New Year and here’s to the long game!

  3. Jana LeCount Lowe says: says:

    Thank you for addressing this, James. Fear is a huge problem for me and one of the things holding me back.

  4. Daniel says: says:


    Thank you so much for writing this article. I’ve been struggling with starting my illustrator career and this was very helpful, thank you!

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