10 tips for working with agencies

Finding and working with an illustration agency requires plenty of graft, craft and know-how. We sketch out what you need to know

01 Do your research
Tailor your portfolio to a specific type of agency. If you have several styles or specialisms, be judicious in selecting works to send in - an agency specialising in editorial illustration won't care much for your caricatures or mixed-media work.

02 How many clients?
Ask what the client-to-artist ratio is. An agency with a 100:1 ratio won't devote the same time to you as one with 30:1, and will be less likely to secure you work. Find out if they'll allow you to maintain an independent relationship with pre-existing clients.

03 All-round experience
There's more to illustrating than being adept with a paintbrush or Wacom stylus. Agencies and clients need illustrators with experience of handling briefs, liaising with clients and meeting tight deadlines.

04 Update your portfolio
Even for represented illustrators, the portfolio is a passport to work - neglect it and the phone won't ring. Clients want new and interesting work, and if your portfolio hasn't changed in six months they'll wonder what you've been doing.

05 Make a good first impression
An unsolicited 10MB email of your work will leave an agent's inbox hanging and they'll curse you as the devil's spawn. Send a brief covering note with a weblink. And remember, your site is an online portfolio, not a showcase for Flash skills that take forever to load.

06 Be different
You have a unique creative voice, so use it to create unique work, particularly through personal projects. Don't mimic styles or follow trends. This is especially important in advertising, because clients don't want their promotion to echo that of another product.

07 Broaden your skill set
Illustration and graphics have moved much closer, which means you can now also get representation as a graphic designer, but versatility is key. Your chances of success are higher if your skill set embraces not only illustration but also web work and photography.

08 Spread the word
Having an agent and a good reputation isn't enough to sustain success, so never stop self-promoting your talent. Look to appear in as many design publications as possible, exhibit your work and pay for inclusion in an artist yearbook.

09 Give and take
Remember that the designer-agent relationship is a two-way street: you can't expect them to play on your team all the time, yet play on theirs as and when it suits you. If the relationship breaks down, it's probably time to move on.

10 Think global
Finding an overseas agency isn't that different to locating one at home. Some UK agencies offer representation in the US by doing a two-way deal with a US agent, but you should insist the total cut across the agencies is no higher than 30 per cent.

Illustration agencies and their specialisms

Debut Art
Contemporary illustration and art

High quality traditional and digital illustration

Advocate Art
Specialising in art, illustration and advertising design

Big Active
Illustration and art direction

Children's books and storyboards