My awesome Red Lemon Club subscribers have been sending me career pains, struggles and gripes in large numbers over the past four years. There are many things we as creatives struggle with, are confused by and just plain don’t understand.
I thought it would be useful (and fun) to throw together a post that quickly answered some of the common issues and questions many of you have, in what I call a Quickfire Post.
That’s right, fire ‘em at me.
Although all of these could have responses that go into much more depth, here are some common questions (24) with the very basic short answer. Do comment below if anything catches your eye that you would like to elaborate on. Yeehah!
1. How do I find my first clients if no one knows me?
You will once you have value that is of direct use to someone who needs it and can pay for it.
To get there, work on developing a consistent and clear style or service, do some self-initiated work, know the benefits your prospects will get from you, and do some quality free or discounted work for others and get those testimonials.
2. Should my style appeal to what is in demand or be about what I enjoy?
It’s crucial that you find the balance here. There isn’t really an alternative, especially if you work for a living. Both of these need to be factored into the creative products you produce, and into their evolution over time.
3. How do I earn more?
If you want to bring in more cash for what you create, you need to be adding to your inherent value as a creative maker and putting that value in front of the kinds of people whose lives are positively affected by that value who are ready and able to pay for it.
4. How do I know what to charge for my creative work?
You can put in the research. Pricing is rooted in economics. Economics is highly contextual, meaning you need to be aware, at least vaguely, of what similar products and services around you are selling for.
Take an honest look at what you think you are worth, and price with regard to all that research you just did. This research can include simply asking people. People are more open about this kind of thing than you think.
5. How do I move from full time employment to going freelance?
Peel away from the full-time job, in steps, over time, perhaps via a part-time job route. Everything about this transition is step-by-step and requires planning ahead.
This includes setting aside buffer money in advance for when you are solo and being ready before you even end your last employed job.
6. How can I sell more of my stuff without being too pushy and ‘salesy’?
‘Selling’ doesn’t work like it used to. You must change your mindset to be able sell more of your stuff.
That mindset moves from ‘what can I do for myself’, to ‘what can I do for them/my customers?’
To sell effectively, share real value with people and make your stuff extremely easy to find and buy. That’s it.
It’s about less advertising, and more relevant value creation for the right people.
7. I don’t have any time to spend on my creative career. What do I do?
You can’t multitask when it comes to making quality work. Find a way to cut out those things that are not allowing you the time you need and simply make time.
You know exactly what it is that you lose valuable time on. If you are truly committed, you’d find that lost time and make use of it to get ahead. If you can’t find or make that time, you’re just not dedicated enough to what you have chosen to do.
I’d recommend setting a timer (‘Stay Focusd’ app is great) on distracting sites like social media, so that you spend only a set maximum each day.
8. How do I network with people if I’m introverted?
Dreading social gatherings because you are shy can be averted in two really effective ways.
Firstly, find a reason to actually be ok, even happy, with talking to new people. What mission are you on that motivates you to spread the word to people regardless of the fear you might feel?
Why do you do what you do, and how is that contributing to the world?
How can meeting new people help achieve your vision? The passion you feel will pull you through tougher situations. You’ll be a social crusader.
Secondly, make things easy for you and your nervous brain. Make being social a bite-sized affair. Decide to get to know one new person for one event, or make the decision just to show up for ten minutes, and then build from there. Confidence will grow based directly on the courage you put in.
9. Do I need to understand the basics of running a business to succeed?
If you plan on earning any money from the creative work you do, then yes, you need to have a grasp of how a business works and how it is set up.
Those that don’t will get a business-shaped bite in the ass down the line. Read up on business basics, then read some more.
10. How long do I need to spend working to become an expert at my craft?
Two to three thousand hours at least, ten thousand if you read Malcolm Gladwell books. If the craft you have chosen doesn’t feel like an addiction, you might need to think twice about whether you’ll ever be an ‘expert’ at it.
Try out as much as you can early on if you need, to find that addictive craft.
11. How do I balance my job, social life and creating in my spare time?
- Doing more than one thing at once or rushing will not lead to good creative results.
- You need to make sacrifices if you want to make big strides forward in anything, especially if making cool things isn’t what you do full-time.
- Eliminating distraction and other junk will help a lot. Find them, and destroy them.
12. Why can’t I get motivated about what I do?
You don’t have a mission that fires you up.
What missions have you set yourself for the next week / year / five years / lifetime?
How will you leave a legacy?
If you aren’t reminded of these day in, day out, that’s probably why you’re not motivated right now. Also, you might need more sleep and a change of job or craft.
13. How do I freelance without getting lonely?
Understand that talking to real people is important. This is a human requirement for fulfillment, and, importantly, true creativity.
Set about incorporating something of a social life into your life because you know it is important, vital even. When you know that social time deserves dedicated time away from the other stuff you do, you’ll build it into your life.
Also understand that alone time is important for many of us too, and allow yourself as much solo time as you need, without guilt, which can often be mistaken for false loneliness.
14. I never get any jobs through social media. What am I doing wrong?
You’re advertising too much, and not sharing enough genuine extra value to the right people, particularly value that demonstrates the expertise you hold within your creative craft. When you show this, relevant people will seek out any products or services you might have.
You also might be making a sale complicated because it’s simply not easy for people to see how they can pay or communicate with you about your product or services.
15. How do I get more likes on Facebook?
It’s best to chill out about asking for likes too much. What message does that send to people? One of desperation.
Better to make truly awesome, high quality, different, even controversial, truly likeable stuff, perhaps with some bonuses for Facebook that you don’t get elsewhere. Have the option to ‘like’ easy to find for the kinds of people that are likely to like. Thumbs up.
16. I have disrespectful, crappy clients. What do I do to change this?
Occasionally you will stumble across clients who fell down the ‘asshole tree’, hitting every branch on the way down.
But if you seem to find yourself with consistently bad or difficult clients, it’s a sign that you are not valuing yourself as a person and a brand highly enough.
This means you are not setting boundaries with regards to the kinds of people and projects you work on, and you don’t exert those boundaries clearly.
It’s ok to say no to a paid project if it or the client smells off to you. The next priority is improving the quality of your work and service, and to build the value you possess, so that your boundaries are in line with it.
17. I lack the confidence to share my creations with the world. How can I increase belief in my work?
Once you’ve worked on the obvious, including working through any personal issues you have, you’re left with this nugget: understand that feedback and tweaking are vital, no matter how you feel.
If you don’t get your work out into the world, you don’t get feedback (i.e. whether your work gets noticed or not), and you can’t tweak what you do. There will be inevitable bad feedback and you will get it as long as you evolve as an artist.
This is something you need to be ok with experiencing if you want to get anywhere in the creative world. Negative feedback is useful information for you, nothing else.
18. How do I get more traffic to my blog?
Volume of traffic is not nearly as important as the quality and relevance of your visitors. If you sell plush sewn toys on your site, and you get three thousand visitors who’ve mistakenly found your site while looking for vinyl toys, you won’t get much value out of those visitors.
To build targeted traffic, you need to be aware of your audience, and you need to serve that specific audience with great material that your people will have a real emotional connection with.
Before you start sharing content through various channels, be it via other influential blogger friends, social media and online forums, make sure what you do have to share is well written and of real interest to your audience.
19. Is it better to be a jack of all trades, or a master at one?
It’s better to excel at one skill, over being average at several.
It’s absolutely ok to keep extending your range of skills, and I encourage you to do this, but my advice has always been to present yourself as an expert at one very defined thing.
If you do have several specialisations, I suggest applying a different brand, even name, and different online portfolio to each skillset, unless the various skills are united by a distinct style, for example.
Present yourself as an expert at one thing, then people will be drawn to you. Then they can find out more about what else you can do.
20. What is your single biggest tip for succeeding as a solo creative?
Having worked in the illustration and design business for many years now, and worked with a range of fascinating creatives, freelancers and others, the thing that has consistently crept up as a real game-changer for me, is this:
You will succeed if you stay curious about other people.
And specifically those people you create for. You don’t need to be born curious. Curiosity comes with first taking action. Learn about your prospects and your users, then let curiosity carry you further. When you understand them, you have foresight, and you’re in the driving seat.
Curiosity also helps with that all important element of a successful solo career: authentically connecting with other people.
21. How do I develop a unique style?
Spending lots and lots of time on your craft is important here. Going often into creative flow is also splendid.
But one of the most important ingredients in developing a unique style that gets seen (and hopefully sells), is being conscious. You need to put conscious thought into the style that is unfolding before you, as much as you sit back and let it reveal itself to you.
It’s a balance.
This is what guides the way you tweak and update your style based on how you view the work in the context of the rest of the world and the feedback it gives you.
Conscious thought is what guides your work as you move from beginner to controlled and aware creative genius (and yes, when we see ‘geniuses’, we are seeing conscious people, for the most part). The best, most commercially successful artists did not meander, they worked consciously.
22. Do I need a university degree to succeed in this game?
No, but it helps for acquiring more technical skills, meeting relevant people, and having a guided curriculum put in front of you. For certain industries and professions, it helps more.
These days, for most creative pursuits, university or college is absolutely not necessary.
Your mission should be your guide, not your professor.
23. There is so much competition out there. How do I stand out?
Anything to do with competition, standing out and differentiation, lies within the realm of marketing. Become interested in marketing. Marketing does not have to be sleazy.
Learn about differentiation and ‘unique selling point’. It is absolutely vital in the creative world you find yourself in, if you plan on building influence.
The short answer would be to do the research, know what others do, and go the other route, whilst still serving your people. Get inspired, copy others, but then evolve to talking with your own robust voice.
24. Why does no one follow me on social media?
Firstly, you are not seen as valuable, interesting, or useful enough to enough people. You need to provide value, and make it obvious that you do. Secondly, you’re probably not interacting enough.
Doing social media well is an ongoing effort, and does require consistent engagement with people, whether they follow you or not. This includes sharing other people’s updates, commenting, following and adding people with personal messages, being inspiring, different, useful and fun.
I hope these quick answers to common questions got you thinking, and helped you out here and there.
I think the pattern that we see emerging is definitely one of the need to create quality, outstanding work with a clear understanding of your audience, amongst many other things.
Make sure you give yourself space and time to create, and don’t forget to push it out into the world to see how it responds. Tweak accordingly and lovingly.
As always, do leave your thoughts below. It’s fun to get a discussion going.
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"Your blog inspires me so much, and helps me feel somehow not as insignificant, despite the plethora of artists around the world."Natalie, artist