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The Reality of Being a Freelance Creative

It’s truly a balancing act, so you better learn how to juggle.

I have to admit, I was never really cut out for the office culture. That’s not a jab at the people who are, in fact a handful of individuals I admire work really hard at their jobs and happen to love them. But, I’m not one of those people who could get down with the daily grind. In every position I held within an office space, constrained to a set number of hours - I felt as if I couldn’t sit still. I was a worker who would complete every assignment given to me in half the time I was estimated to finish it, therefore leaving my employer with the question of what to assign next and me twiddling my thumbs at the lack of productivity. And I’m not here to brag, but I do my work quick and I do it well, I’ve never had an employer complain about the final product. It was never the question of whether I was good at my job, but more of would this type of work be enough?

And in all honesty, my creativity and productive nature is better suited on my own accord — I get more done and I have the chance to create what I want, for clients I choose and on a schedule that fits best for me. Being a freelance/contracted/entreprenuial creative is basically my dream job and I’m in the process of living it. If you have ever thought about being your own boss, working through lunch and having to place three times as much pressure on yourself than you ever imagined, then this one’s for you.

When you’re running your own business at the beginning stages you’re probably the only employee. A perk of that being, there is no ladder of hierarchy to climb up — you’re Mr./Mrs. CEO, CFO, President of Marketing and President of Basically Everything You Have to Do To Build Your Career — talk about a solid resume. But in all seriousness, if you’re starting off on your own you better be ready to do it all. That means if you’re like me, a photographer, you don’t just take the pictures. You initiate marketing efforts, you design your website, you aim to bring in clients, you handle post production/delivery and you take care of finances — just to name a few menial tasks. Yeah sure it’s still great, you can work from anywhere and are able to live life on your own rules, but with any kind of business there must be a schedule and routine. My advice, create daily plans of what needs to be done and rank them in order of most to least pressing. If you’re going to learn how to do it all, you may as well be organized about it.

Probably the least favorable aspect of working for yourself is finding and landing work. Now, that may sound silly because clients are the only way your business can thrive, but that doesn’t make finding them any less difficult. For many creatives, I truly believe that there is enough work to go around, but you need to have the determination and persistence to bring that work to you. I have to admit, I haven’t found the golden ticket or magical potion to landing clients — I use a mixed method all of which can generate leads in various ways. Once I determine a better way of doing this, I can speak more on a calculated methodology and strategy. But for now, I will say that you have to be your biggest advocate. You have to tell everyone you meet what you do and express it with passion — people will be interested in you when you give them the opportunity. My best tip is to find other side gigs that can help lead to your main career goal. For me, photography is always fluctuating, so I found that writing and working with companies within my desired market allows me to show what I know and learn more during the process. Clients are the key to your business success, so make sure you understand how to market yourself, pitch your ideas and close a deal.

If you’re someone with the ability to work from anywhere, create your own schedule and don’t have a set number of vacation days, you should be traveling. I’m not talking about traveling for the sake of vacation, but rather to expand and grow your network and business. I’m someone who feels uninspired when I’m in one place for too long, mostly because my photography is very dependent on location — traveling for me is part of creating content for my brand. If you are willing to travel, the opportunities for your career will open up quicker than you’d imagine. Let me give you some practical examples:

  • Let’s say you’re a writer - you focus on nonfiction, but you haven’t felt inspired by your day to day life. Pick any spot on the map and go there for a month. Live your life as you would normally, meet people, get involved and I can promise that at least one thing will happen that will be worth writing about. Real life example… Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Maybe you’re a designer and you need some fresh ideas for your portfolio. Travel to exhibits and galleries that are alternative and different from your specific style, embrace the variations in artistic visions and allow it to make you question your work. Shake hands with gallery owners and tell them about what you do — you never know what opportunties could arise.

Even if you don’t need inspiration and your work flow is steady, traveling allows you to meet new people and become influenced by your surroundings. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, placing yourself in varying environments can offer opportunities and build connections that allow you to set yourself a part from the competition.

As you can see, being a creative freelancer isn’t always about working from home in your pajamas like your friends may assume. It’s a career path that never really stops, but if you’re pursuing what you love every day, would you ever want it to end? Being your own boss comes with a freedom that cannot be attained in a traditional career path. With that being said, being a freelancer is not for everyone as the same can be said for being a salaried worker. That is OK. I believe that the rise of entreprenuial individuals will actually benefit all professions, allowing people to focus on what they do well and outsource certain tasks to knowledgable, niched professionals. Either way, if you’re thinking of going off into the creative freelance world, be ready for the ride that will become your life. Oh and I lied — we totally send emails exclusively in our pajamas.

Are you a freelance creative, businessman/woman or thinking of going out into the wonderful world of entrepreneurship? Tell me about your experiences below.

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