The 3 C’s of a thriving creative freelance business

Dec 17, 2018

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

If you’ve ever felt that:

  • Your creative talents aren’t as needed or appreciated as they once were
  • The heydays of being paid well to design/draw/write are truly over
  • The future belongs to digitally savvy millennials

You’re not alone.

In my work as a business coach for creative professionals and freelancers, I’ve learned that one of the most confounding and upsetting challenges they face is not knowing how to adapt to an industry that (rather unfeelingly) appears to no longer want what they’re selling.

But I have some great news. Your creativity is your best tool in turning things around. That’s right! Your creativity is your best business asset!

OK, now for the not so great news (sorry!). It’s not going to happen on its own. You’ve got to start thinking and acting differently. Most creatives (at least those aged 35 and over) were taught to put together a portfolio of work and wait for the clients to roll in.

And where that may have once worked (kind of), those days are long gone. And that’s where most people stop and freak out because they don’t know where and how they fit. But there’s a new (and I would argue, much better) game in town when it comes to building a thriving creative business. And it’s one you can TOTALLY master!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Curiosity

Creativity

Courage

And I KNOW you’ve got those in spades. Intrigued about how to use what you already have to build a thriving creative business?

1) Curiosity: Get clear about your industry and your position within it

Have you ever looked at the darlings of our industry (the ones with all the great clients, speaking at the creative conferences, on all the panels…) and wondered what they have that you don’t? It’s not talent (because talent can always be cultivated). It’s their willingness to not only embrace change but get out in front of it. Those seemingly blessed entrepreneurs embrace curiosity and ask questions such as “What if….?” or “Wouldn’t it be great if…?”, “Wouldn’t it feel amazing if…?” without all the fear and limiting beliefs that typically shut those questions right down. Curiosity enables you to explore ideas you wouldn’t normally dare to explore.

Could you be one of those people? I think so! If you’re up for trying this new approach on for size, check out the resources I’ll share at the bottom of this post.

How to apply this to your own freelance business:

Take a good look at what’s going on in your industry; what’s changed? What problems are your ideal clients trying to solve? (because everyone’s trying to solve problems). What needs to be different to solve those problems? Now, I realize how hard this is, especially when you’re feeling freaked out about your own prospects, so I encourage you to do this with someone else (or a group). I’d recommend choosing people who have a growth mindset and are at least one step removed from your industry (this isn’t a pity party). This process is exactly how the idea for my coaching business came about (you can read the whole story here). It works!

2) Creativity: Let your creative mind to roam free and find solutions

OK, so let’s say you know what the problem is. Now I’m going to ask you to do the near-impossible and stop focusing on it. Why? In order to come up with something different, you need to give your best asset – your creative, problem-solving mind – space to figure it out. And, unfortunately for our rational, thinking minds (you know, the one that worries about bills), great ideas are the result of non-linear, sometimes silly processes.

I loved how the undeniably successful illustrator, Christopher Neiman shared how his creative process is born of silly, non-linear steps. In this talk, Neiman spoke about how all his successful ideas started as a random experiment he did five years ago. Realizing this pattern, he decided to give those silly ideas quality time and they currently take the form of Sunday Sketches. He refers to this activity as your “creative insurance” which I love. Check out the talk; it’s equal parts entertaining and inspiring.

How to apply this to your own freelance business:

Ask yourself what creative endeavors do you love, but deny yourself because they’re not “useful” or paying gigs? For example, my husband loves to play guitar (he describes it as shifting the molecules in his body). Yet historically, meaning before he met me, it was the first thing he let go when the going got tough elsewhere. Playing the guitar is his “creative insurance” and how he accesses his problem-solving mind, so he now knows to protect that time.

Another example is my client who feared she had aged out as a CD. She started exploring new territory, events, and people. It took a huge amount of curiosity and courage, but she started to do for herself what she does best for her clients; brainstormed new ideas, threw them all up in the air to see what might catch her attention in a new way. The result, an entirely different appreciation of her value and how to express it in a new way.

3) Courage: put your ideas out into the world

How do those seemingly blessed creative freelancers who everyone wants to hear from and work with do it?

They created a vehicle for their creative ideas to live in the world. Whether it’s starting a blog like the illustrator, Richard Haines did after he found himself selling art books to buy groceries after losing his big, fancy job. Or starting a podcast (take your pick!!) where people just like you have and explore ideas with like-minded people. The fact is, it’s never been easier to create your own vehicle. You don’t have to be tapped on the shoulder. There are no gate keepers. You can do it yourself.

How to apply this to your own freelance business:

Look at the people in your industry who have achieved phenomenal success by creating their own vehicle, be it a blog, podcast, book, events, etc. Reach out to them, befriend them, ask how they did it. Now take a cue from them, muster your own courage, and put your ideas out there It’s not until they live in the real world that they become real.

Resources to help you build your curiosity and courage:

Are you ready to create a thriving creative freelance business? Which of the 3 C’s will you implement first?

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Through a series of clear, actionable steps, Justine will teach you how to you identify what makes you stand out from the crowd, create a marketing message that resonates with your ideal clients, and build a successful and fulfilling creative business or career. Sign up for Justine’s free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth and start making monumental changes in your creative business or career today.

Justine Clay

Justine Clay helps freelance creative talent build thriving careers. As the founder of Plum Creative, she matches high-level, independent creative professionals and top tier clients.