For those of you who are new to my site I have a dedicated section called "Just Ask" where you can ask any question and I will share my personal response in a dedicated blog post. This is also a place where I post interviews so you can find facts you may need, a particularly helpful spot for students. To see previous Just Ask questions you can select the little speech bubble category on my landing blog page like this:

Kelly Thompson Just Ask

If you have your own question about anything at all you can submit a question using the box on the right of this post that looks like this:

Kelly Thompson blog just ask

I aim to have your response up within two weeks, ultimately in the same week. Here is the first question submitted since the launch of the new site - I hope it's helpful and thought provoking, please feel free to share your own suggestions in the comment box below and join the conversation!

Kelly Thompson blog

Question #17

I was wondering if you could give some insight into how to contact and establish relationships with potential clients. Back in November, I sent samples of my work to various fashion and magazine companies (such as Calvin Klein, Elle, Zara, etc.) but sadly received no responses. I try e-mailing various blogs and companies to introduce myself but that also appears to be a dead end. So I guess my question is—how do you get that first client, whether it’s to create new work for them or to licence old work?
I’m really glad to see your blog back up and running!
— Ojo - Visual Artist


When I was younger I did the exact same thing, I emailed everyone I wanted to work for, every magazine I was obsessed with and everyone I wanted to be like without hesitation. While you have to celebrate the enthusiasm and determination this unfortunately doesn't always work as well as you would hope. I too received few or no replies and wondered what to do next. In hindsight I am a little embarrassed by what I sent, and now realise there were a couple of important questions I needed to ask myself before I even thought about emailing.

1. Does my current folio sit at the same level or at a similar level to the work of designers or contractors I can see the client/magazine/company is already using?

Sometimes it is very hard to step outside yourself and look at your work through the eyes of an outsider, but the sooner you do this the more successful you become. If you can see that client/magazine/company is currently working with people at a certain level and you are not quite at that level yet, then you need to ask yourself what you can do to get to that level, think about if it is better to wait, or work a different angle... for example a shit load of charm.

2. What do I want to do for this client, where would I fit in with them?

If all you want to do is draw robots it is important to consider if the person you are contacting is in need of a person who draws robots. Many girls want to draw for fashion magazines, but how often do you see a fashion magazine with illustration in it? Point out what you could be helpful for, reference past things they have done, or future things they could do with your help - this also shows the person that you have done some research and are not just cold calling everyone you can find. After you've asked yourself those two questions you probably have a better idea about yourself and how you would fit with the people you dream about working for. You may even realise that your enthusiasm would be better directed to different areas. 

When it comes to getting your first client it can be better to start smaller and build up, not only because it's easier to get started, but because these smaller clients (without realising) help you figure out your processes, business practice and ultimately get you the work you need to develop your style. You are also more likely to build a personal relationship so they will (generally) be more open and appreciative and if you do something dorky it's ok (or make a mistake, say something silly, it happens). So where do you find these first clients? Think about your friend and family circle and think about things they may need. Be sociable, go to events, make friends and listen out for opportunities to pipe up and say "hey do you need a business card for that?" . If someone asks what you do, tell them, don't be shy. Once you find someone, anyone, do a good job, be on time, be friendly and communicate well with them. Your professionalism is one of the biggest factors in maintaining return work and reputation and will also encourage people to forward your details to others. My first paid job was photographing coffee supplies zzzz, but from that the coffee company told a pal, I got another job with said pal and the spiderweb began. Many of my clients today are people I met as students who have grown to be the directors of companies, become amazing designers, and turned in to people who need people like me. Be nice you just never know where people will end up.

Involve yourself in social media, update your site regularly, say yes to exhibitions, interviews, and collaborations that feel right if you can manage them. These things are particularly important at the start when you are trying to gain profile and in time will help you get the replies from the clients you really want, many people come around eventually, be patient, trust me. 


Some small tips for improving that initial email if you are sending it:

Keep your email brief and if sending work send it in a tidy PDF attached to the email. Check their site for their preferred contact person and method. Some people have specific guidelines and if you don't meet them they will scrap your email immediately. 

Spell the contact's name correctly, find out if they are a male or a female. I get called Mr all the time which makes me wonder why they even bother to email, they obviously haven't bothered to look me up once.

Check your spelling and use correct English  (if you are communicating to English speakers that is), text message language just makes you look uneducated.

Don’t bomb with links to your work, just a few is enough, or alternately package all your work on to a space like Dropbox where you can send one link to all.

Posting folios, gifts, a magic charm is optional and can be expensive, but in a world of digital it can be a pleasant surprise and a way to be noticed. Just make sure you get the address correct.

Follow up…. but not too urgently, inboxes are busy places!


I hope that helps a little Ojo! If anyone has any successful techniques feel free to share them below.


x Kelly

Kelly Thompson blog