If You’re Worried About How to Make a Living from Your Creative Skills…

A subscriber of mine told me that one of her biggest worries right now is that she won’t be able to make a living as an illustrator.

She is scared that she will not make it.

Despite reading lots of blogs on the subject and listening to podcasts, she simply does not feel she has the courage to put herself out there and start working for herself until she feels absolutely prepared.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in the people I’ve coached and those I’ve spoken to. I’ve also felt this paralysis that comes with facing new projects and starting new ventures. We feel we need to be absolutely ready before we do anything.

Apart from reading and learning, and preparing ourselves mentally, and talking to friends about it, we are held back from actually doing much to get our plans off the ground.

Starting most things, especially a creative business, where the product is so subjective, so based on people’s tastes, is going to be tough, but it is very do-able with the right approach.

I also believe you can all make it work, not just sustainably, but incredibly successfully.

Here is how you will make it work:

1. Understand that it is your Mindset that will ensure your success, not Talent

The only thing stopping you from making a success out of your creative skills is your ongoing belief that you can and will make it work.

Do not get hung up on the idea that you need to be some kind of a genius with a God-given talent that others cannot touch in order to become successful in this.

It is mindset that comes first: your attitude. This is what will ensure you succeed, and hone a brilliant product that the market loves. This will take some time.

When you see fantastic work being produced by other creative talents around, they got there through staying consistent with the right mindset.


The mindset you need to adopt:

  • Taking action is more important than being perfect. I will never be perfect because there is always improvement to be made, so I might as well show myself and take rejections like a warrior.
  • Real world feedback from action-taken is my best guide, and I will use all the information I pick up voraciously to make myself the most outstanding brand name in my industry.
  • I will seek out feedback, both positive and negative in my bold quest to build a well-oiled creative business and brand, because without being vulnerable and experiencing some rejection I can never know what clicks with people, and therefore cannot grow.
  • I will continue to use feedback from the people I show my work to and the people I ask questions of in order to position myself in the best possible way for success. I will continue to improve my work and business as best as I can by identifying everything wrong with it and striving to fix it as I go along.
  • I can and will be a high earning and well known creative as long as I continue to work on my craft, and tweak my approach as I go according to what the market says it wants.
  • My brand is a process, not a product. I will be successful if I focus on movement, growth and expansion and ignore excessive preparation and stagnation.

If you can see your work, your personal brand, your identity, your business approach as a process, and not as a product, you will be guaranteed success, because process consists of action-taking, awareness, and subsequent adaptation.

Talent can be built and moulded through mindset.

Talent alone cannot ensure success.

2. Focus on Cash Flow as Your Main Priority

Aside from approaching your potential new career with enthusiasm as detailed above, you must prioritise bringing in income from the start.

A lot of us stick our noses up at the pursuit of money and the idea of telling others to buy our stuff.

These are the people that very likely will never succeed in any kind of business, because the life-blood of a business is the cash it brings in.

Without enough cash you will be in a state of worry or you won’t have a business in the first place.

Money allows you the breathing space to actually think logically about your next steps.

Don’t ever feel you are ‘too good’ for certain projects or particular clients if your cash flow needs a boost and you lack options. Do whatever it takes to increase your profit margin.

People say that chasing money will affect the integrity and quality of your creative work. Well, it might in some cases. That is true. But unless you are wealthy already, people who avoid mixing up creative work and making money, will never make art, because they can’t support themselves.

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” – Andy Warhol

When you make good money from your skills, you can afford to spend time making truly creative work, or you will have clients that allow you to work with greater flexibility, because you have spent time getting to that level – all helped through pushing for profit, and keeping your business and career sustainable.

Money will give life to your craft and your business, making it viable over the long run, rather than a nice idea that didn’t work out in the end.

You cannot afford – literally – to view money in negative terms.

You must be driven to making sales through every step of your business, otherwise you will flounder and suffer like I have seen with so many, including myself.

If you can change your attitude to viewing money positively and essential, you are already in a league of your own in the creative industries. You must truly understand the value you offer to the world and push, relentlessly to get your work into the hands of the people that need it, without resting on your laurels.

And if they don’t want it? Find someone who will or adapt and improve until they do.



  1. I just wanted to encourage anyone reading this. About 2 years ago I wrote a comment on one of these blogs, wrestling with giving up my day job and the worry of not being able to make a living out of illustration. Well, I did quit my job, without fully knowing where the income was coming from but I did have a plan and I did spend most of my time making connections and sending out work initially. This year I’ve earnt more than my full time graphic design job previously. My biggest problem has been knowing how to fit the work in. I know work’s not guaranteed, but anyone can get made redundant tomorrow and we’re all in the same boat. If you’ve got a good portfolio and you aren’t afraid to approach a lot of people/take feedback and work your ass off, then take the leap. Also great advice from Alex about money – this is not a hobby!

    • Thanks Lisa! Honestly I believe the safer option is actually to get out of employment. You made a good decision. Keep it up.

  2. Wonderful post as always. I found that when I changed my mindset to being fully committed to being an artist – no matter what – (mainly taking on work that is not always ideal, etc) my momentum picked up immensely. Mindset truly is everything!

    • Thanks Lady, it’s all about that commitment! If you do whatever it takes to be successful as an artist, it is impossible to fail.

  3. Hi Alex,
    Thanks for posting this. You are great at making it all seem very simple. But simple rules are perfect as the complexity of being a professional creative can feel very intimidating at times.
    I love reading your posts!
    x Mia

  4. Alex,
    I think so many of us fall into the money holding back creativity and our aspirations to be illustrators/artists. Ive been living in that dream for 20 years to escape the agency environment to hone my skills and my love of drawing to be an illustrator one day. Your advice makes it seem ever so do-able, its actually having the guts to take the leap and believe in ones ability.

  5. If you know of a really good and reliable program for making money from the Internet, please send me its email address.

    I realize that this sort of approach is a bit forward on my part, but I have lost so much time with unreliable programs that I am getting rather impatient.

    All the best

    John Hadfield

    • This is something I’d like to write a post on John in more detail. From my point of view there are no shortcuts – you just need to see what problems people are having, find a great solution and promote the crap out of it through valuable content, consistently over time. Grant Cardone is great on money for me.

  6. Thanks, Alex! Your positivity and tips on realistic approach are inspiring and encouraging! I’m considering branching out on my own. I’ve bookmarked this and printed it out for my daily affirmation ? Thank you for the motivation!

  7. I had a barely perceptible shift in my mindset, and it was an important one. From “who will like my work” I changed to “What business needs what I do?” I now have a direction to pursue, specifically, and believe it or not, all started with 3 likes on instagram!

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