What a creative career does (and doesn't!) care about

Sep 9, 2014

I’ve been the When I Grow Up Coach for the past 6 years, working with creative women to help them out of their soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play.

And in that time - and because of the type of work I do - I’ve come across all the excuses for a freelancer to not be ready to launch their business or commit to their work.

It makes me weep, especially since the things we tell ourselves that matter when it comes to having a successful creative career are usually, um, the things that don’t matter.

Here’s what your creative career doesn’t care about:

1. Whether or not you received education in what you're doing. While a BFA or an MBA or a PhD or insert-your-certification-of-choice-here is great, ultimately it’s not what gets you hired.

Sure, you need to have more knowledge of the thing you’re charging for than the person who’s paying you to do it. But if you’re self taught? Or have “just” a certification and not a degree? Or went to school for something totally different but have professional and/or personal experience in your (aspiring) creative career? That totally counts, too!

2. Whether or not you're doing it full-time. I hired my web designer when she was still working full-time for an ad agency, and I couldn’t care less. All that concerned me was that (a) she worked with my husband, who had nothing but super high praise for her, (b) I totally resonated with her aesthetic and loved the sites she created, and (c) what she charged fit within my budget. The end.

3. Public recognition for your work. It’s always nice to be talked up in a paper, a trade magazine, or online. But if you haven’t? It doesn’t matter! What matters is that you’ve done work that your clients are so happy with that they tell others about how amazeballs you are and/or write you great testimonials to put on your site.

4. Your super-slick website. When I launched my website, my copywriter husband designed and developed it. It was a baby blue with a header of flowers, and the only pages were “Contact”, “What is Coaching?”, “Coaching” and “Blog.” My acting headshot was on the home page, and even though I fairly quickly traded that flowery header with one that was professionally designed, the rest of the site stayed very plain. It took a full two years to launch my professionally designed site, but the original one worked so well for me for so long that I got myself more clients than I had time for and was able to quit my day job!

5. Your age, your gender, where you live, etc. I can’t recall a single bio I’ve ever read that reveals someone’s age (“Michelle is a 36 year old creative career coach...”), and I’ve never knowingly been told I didn’t get hired because I was too old (or young!). And although I live in Brooklyn amongst millions of creative types, I had to build my business from a cubicle - so I was able to work with clients virtually and build my business globally. It no longer matters if you’re a 55 year old from Idaho - you can still put up your art online, find your people, and make your sales (even if the locals can’t appreciate it).

Really, what makes a successful creative career is:

1. Your point of view. The copy on your site. Your aesthetic. Your personality traits. Your experience. It all adds up to “branding” - but being clear in and owning your personal point of view (I like to call it “uniquity”) is what’ll resonate with those who you’ll work with best.

I made sure my title of “creative career coach” kept away those who don’t resonate with being called “creative.” Since I’m a gatekeeper, I get to work with those who I do see eye-to-eye with, and I’m able to knock it out of the park with them because we speak the same language.

2. Your commitment to your work. If you drag your feet answering emails from potential clients, don’t put up any new work for months, are too shy to tell others what you’re offering, or disappear on your clients...well, that’s the type of stuff that sinks a business.

3. Your network, a.k.a. a group of people who resonate with your work. I love that we’re in The Age of the Internet, because the virtual net we’re able to cast for clients or customers or fans is so wide! It’s no longer about whether those who are local to you like your work (or teachers or family or friends) - it’s about whether there’s a group of people throughout the world who resonate with it enough to like it, buy it, and tell others about it.

Anything I missed? What was something you thought your success would hinge upon - but didn’t? Leave it in the comments and we can bust all these excuses so that we can own our POV, move forward with our work, and find our people!

As The When I Grow Up Coach, Michelle Ward (CPC, PCC) helps women find their passionate career while still being a grown-up. A published author, coach, and speaker, you may have seen or heard her on HuffPo, Etsy, AOL Jobs, Newsweek, SXSW, Freelancers Union, Psychology Today or the Forbes Top 100 Websites for your Career List. She’ll be teaching Create Your Dream Career on CreativeLive from Sept 11th-13th, which you can watch for free right here.

Michelle Ward

Michelle Ward, CEO of 90 Day Business Launch, is a business coach who guides creative, multi-passionate women to become entrepreneurs.