7 Crucial Things That Will Save You as an Independent Creative Over the Coming Years

As most of you will have noticed, the current economic climate isn’t particularly rosy when it comes to available work for us creatives.

Let me rephrase that. The current economic climate isn’t particularly rosy when it comes to available work for a large proportion of us creatives. There are many people out there who, for various reasons, still do earn a very good living from creative projects, and many who are doing better now than they ever have in the past.

Just like with all industries that get hit by an economic correction, the weak don’t survive and many of the strong remain. A difficult economy coupled with increasing competition over the next few years will pose various threats to creatives, especially independent workers.

Is there anything we can do to put us in the best possible position, so that we not only survive, but so that we succeed well too?

Be aware of the following key things that could make all the difference for you as a creative worker over the coming years…

1. Being your own brand

This is mentioned a great deal on Red Lemon Club, but bears repeating for this post. Simply, brands are memorable and brands are credible. A brand will attract people to you.

Having a brand doesn’t necessarily mean having a logo or a brand name, though this will add depth to your brand. It means attaching a particular style to the way you work. This applies to your website, how you describe yourself, the style, attitude and message in your work, how you deal with customers and how you present your work.

All of it needs to be consistent and recognisable. If you can get to a stage where the work you do exhibits something of your own brand, you are a cut above the rest.

2. Focusing on one skill

This may generate some resistance from those of you who advertise several skills under one brand, but I’m going to step in here.

Things are only going to get tougher with competition increasing from the many more people becoming freelancers all over the world. If you are trying to make money with more than one creative skill, you will be spreading yourself thin, and you will likely find yourself buckling under the pressure.

My advice is to focus daily on becoming extremely good at one thing and honing a distinct style in the process (by all means expand your skills in other things, but focus on one from a commercial point of view) and just watch your value grow over time.

“Focus daily on becoming extremely good at one thing and honing a distinct style in the process.”

3. Having a marketing plan

If you work for money as an independent creative, be it part time, or full time, you are in business, and businesses need proper marketing plans. You need to know who you intend for your products and services to be seen and used by. You then need to have an idea (at least an idea!) of how, when and with what you will promote your stuff at an on-going rate.

Those of you who don’t know how to bring prospects and previous clients to your brand, will struggle.

4. Regularly building your network

Yes some of you think the idea of networking is plain grim. Yes it can sometimes take extra effort to reach out to someone and hook up with them. But you are doing yourself and your business a massive disservice by letting your social network, both real world and online, go stagnant.

Keep building it, rekindling old relationships and sparking new ones. Knowing a solid network of people will be your backbone, especially in tough times. Write emails, ping people, engage on social networks, go to meetups, buy cool people lunch.

“Keep building it, rekindling old relationships and sparking new ones.”

5. Having a solid financial setup

Ahhh, so tedious yes? Again, this relates to the fact that if you want to be earning a living or an income of some kind from your creative pursuits, you need to be viewing it as a business. You guessed right, a business needs a proper financial structure and plan in place.

I hope to cover the details of this through Red Lemon Club soon, but I’d advise you get a book out on the basics of finance in business, and what you need to be doing as a freelancer or self-employed person to ensure you survive financially (obviously everything relies on an income in the end).

This should cover how to use a balance sheet, in-goings and outgoings, tax and when it’s due, and profit and loss.

Hiring an accountant will put you in good stead too, but having one will not automatically protect you from eventually going bust. You need to know what you are doing from a financial perspective. Strong businesses are always financially literate.

6. Striving for excellence

Especially in tough times, you just cannot settle for the average or mediocre. So many people are using things like the recession as an excuse to cut corners, then they wonder why their businesses are shutting down.

You need to be striving for excellence more than ever, because excellence sells. This applies to the quality of your work, the service you provide, how you deal with people and how you present everything. Even the small things are important. This is even more important than you think.

Show that you care about every detail of your business and your work, and people will be drawn to you.

“You need to be striving for excellence more than ever, because excellence sells.”

7. Genuinely caring for others

Sounds a bit gooey right? But this is a post that is effectively about standing out. Caring about people, including your clients and customers will set you apart. Going beyond what is expected will set you apart even more, and benefit you in surprising ways over the long term too.

As always, your comments are really encouraged, and I’ll try and respond to questions you have.

Do share this post on social media. If you do, I may send you something special.



  1. Thank you – wise words and some common sense to inspire us – sometimes I ‘hate’ doing the accounts – but thanks for reminding me to keep on top of it all – then I can be ‘free’ to go and create in the studio!

  2. Great tips, but I’m left wondering about a few things. What are good resources for setting up a marketing plan, networking and building a solid financial set up? I search for books and blogs all the time, but especially when it comes to finance and marketing for small businesses, the books/blogs tend to come off scammy or only touch the surface.

    • Good question, hstryk. There are some options available if you search through Amazon for example. One good book on finance for freelancers is ‘The Money Book’ by Joseph D’Agnese, and we are working on a few resources for creative people via Red Lemon Club. I will keep you posted when these become available.

  3. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the good advice!

    I have always found the ” becoming expert at one thing” and not trying to be a Jack of all trades to be difficult for me at least. Since the early 90’s and the computer revolution, the market place has shrunk and has changed forever. I think many illustrators have been forced to offer a range of products because there just isn’t enough work around in one particular area for them or there is too much competition in that area. For this very reason I have worked in many different areas or styles, or whatever just to make a living. I would love to focus on one think that I am good at…….that would be great, that would be so easy. But building up a presence and a reputation in that one strong style or approach will take time. In the mean time we all have to survive.

    I think in today’s marketplace you are right about this….but making it work is not so easy….what do you say?



  4. Having A Marketing Plan is key. It’s easy to forget we are running a business sometimes. It seems like I am quick to forget my marketing when I’m working a lot…but those are the times when you really want to maintain that momentum.

  5. I’d rather fail as an artist than suceed as a ‘brand’! Convert yourself into a financial product if you like, I’m a human being!

  6. This article is a great reminder. The majority of these tips are already on the bullitin board by my desk but I far to often forget to follow them.
    I agree with you in part on #2. It’s important to focus specialize in one thing above all others, but bringing breadth of knowledge and outside skills only strengthens your work.

    • Absolutely Jeff. What I’d like to really stress is the importance of focusing on one distinct thing when marketing yourself commercially, so as to really clarify and hone your main skill, both to yourself and prospects. This shouldn’t stop you from learning other skills and taking on extra hobbies, which can be mentioned where appropriate in support of this central focal point.

  7. For my generation, I actually disagree with only choosing one skill and sticking with it. Since the average job is held for 3 years, and people deciding to change careers so often to suit their needs and wants, sticking to one specialized skill really limits your options., more so if said skill becomes unnecessary or you decide you’re no longer interested in it (which we see happening to majority of skilled young adults).

    There have actually been many studies and articles lately about the fact that specializing is not the way to go any more. People expect you to be able to fill a few roles, and if you cannot provide that, they will move on. Ideally, yes, specializing would be sought after more than it is. But it is not, and therefore not in someone’s best interest, generally speaking.

    The rest of the points, though, I agree with.

    • I agree Keila. I always call myself a generalist with specialist skills. I understand the importance of being more recognisable and known for a niche skill, but the nature of my career to date has required me having to add many strings to my bow. I am trying to focus on one core skill this year though (chalk art designs), but being a ‘multi passionate’ entrepreneur makes it difficult 🙂

  8. Thanks Keila, nice point. I think this will always be a bit of contentious issue and will always lead to some debate.

    I do stand with my guns in saying that yes it is excellent to dedicated time and resources to other skills, especially those surrounding a core central skill, and putting most effort in continually improving and honing this central skill. It has to be one that you are drawn to – so if you are not, then by all means move to the next thing, and hone that.

    I still believe becoming exemplary at one particular skill or craft will save you over the coming years. The added challenge is fitting in resources to improve other skills on top of that too!

  9. Hey Alex. Loved the article. I’m with several others in the opinion about multiple specializations. I think that if you are already an expert in a certain field you should obviously keep that as your primary focus. However I think like myself there are a lot of people out there just starting in the creative industry. Being proficient in multiple areas can be a huge bonus to a company looking to keep within a certain budget but needing jobs of varying skills accomplished.

    Also, I live in a smaller town in the middle of the country. Here where there isn’t many creatives to cover the need it’s often times beneficial for me to be able to offer a wide variety of professional products for 1 business. Instead of telling them that I’ll build their website, but first they have to hire a photographer, a videographer, a logo design artist and all these other things I can offer a variety of those services myself and continue to build a stronger relationship with that client. This very much applies to my region though, where myself or another artist may very well be the only creative person that these business owners know, and so we have to know how to do a little bit of everything, and do it all well.

    That being said if a client is looking for work that I can’t perform I will gladly point them in the right direction.

    I’d think as a general rule this might not apply to everyone like most of the rest of the tips do. But, in some locations this could possibly be very good advice for someone.

    • Hi Jay, thanks for the comment! I’d like to make a distinction between possessing several skills and promoting yourself as someone with several skills. It really is about how you present yourself to clients and potential ones.

      Best I think, is to present yourself as being focused on something specific, so that the right people are drawn to you. I’m not saying that learning and developing other skills is not important, of course it can be, and it is this extra skill that could help some employers and others choose you over others, when they look further. But I think you are reducing your chances of gaining quality clients and much notice at all, if you advertise yourself as a jack of several trades on the surface.


  10. Thanks for this, Alex. The best advice for me is about being consistent and recognizable. I’ve been a designer for more than a decade now and with design, new trends keep popping up. A designer should not follow a style just because it’s hot right now. Thanks for reminding me that I need to build on my own personal style. Have a good one!

  11. Thank you for this article, Alex! It’s a solid reminder and heads-up on what I need to be doing to solidify myself as a business person in my field. I’m working on branding myself as a content writer and struggle with some of these issues.

  12. Great tips! I have worked hard to both surprise my clients with special notes, gifts and gestures and go above and beyond what they would expect. It has cost me money at times, but it has been worth every penny because it has helped me build a very loyal client base that is growing slowly but steadily. I agree with your tip on building a network. That has also helped me to grow my freelance business and network of similar professionals.

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