How to go from creative hobby to professional freelancer

creative hobby to professional freelancer - work your way

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”
― Osho

 

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, probably from as early as six.

I wasn’t aware of any genres other than ‘story books’ and I certainly didn’t know I could earn money doing it.

All I knew, it was something I enjoyed and I was reasonably good at it too.

Mind you, I also enjoyed playing the piano, painting, dancing and designing my own clothes.

So, the dreamer that I was, decided I’d either become a jazz pianist, an artist, a fashion designer, or a ballerina.

Failing that, I’d definitely become Wonder Woman.  (It was the 70’s, little girls everywhere wanted to be Wonder Woman).

I was obviously encouraged to grow up, ditch the fanciful nonsense and get a proper job, like everyone else.

So that’s what I did.  I grew up, got a proper job and spent my working career as a well-paid, miserable, uninspired (and probably uninspiring) stressed out employee.

It wasn’t until redundancy finally gave me the lifeline I’d always dreamed of, that I realised I wasn’t a scatty, wistful dreamer after all.

I could completely immerse myself in dreaming, being creative and possibly even earn a living from it too.

I had a couple of rude awakenings, though.

 

The move from creative hobby to professional service provider

I soon realised artistic or creative talent, without applying sound business skills, isn’t enough to put money in the bank.

I think a long while after I attempted to write professionally, I simply wasted time waiting for THE big break.

I aimed high.  My first pitch was to The Guardian Newspaper.  Ridiculous for a Freelancer whose only training was a couple of open courses with the LSJ.  It was a rejection waiting to happen.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be ambitious when it comes to pitching, it’s just that I hadn’t taken the time to learn how best to pitch.  I didn’t have a portfolio either.

As for the website and blog, I posted what I thought was my literary genius to it every once in a while and then hung around waiting for it to be noticed.

I wasn’t optimising it, wasn’t paying any attention to stats (who was visiting it, or from where) and wasn’t collecting emails.

I thought, “Hey, this is my CRAFT man. Someone out there will get it. If they don’t, they don’t deserve my awesomeness.”

A waste of time if I was expecting to earn any money.

The fact is, there are scores of creative hobbies you can turn into a professional freelance service:  Writing, Photography, Graphic Design, Illustration, to name just a few.

But whatever creative route you find yourself on, you simply can’t hang around waiting for your big break,

Of course, big breaks do happen.

It’s just that for every person who gets a big break, there’s the rest of us.

The poor sods who’ll have to work for it.

 

Plan like a business

Business basics for you and me as creatives, are no different to business basics for bricks and mortar businesses.

Simply:

  • who your art/craft appeals to (your target audience), and why,
  • how you’ll find them, or how they’ll find you,
    and
  • how much they’ll be prepared to pay for your art/craft.

 

1. Understand your target audience

You write, you draw, or you create.

Who are your readers?  Who’s into your illustrations, who buys your creations?  And do you understand why?

Understanding your target audience means being able to answer these questions.

You can then continue giving them what they want (and they’ll keep coming back for more).

 

2. Understand your brand

I thought a brand was for big corporates with big budgets, like Nike, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Gap.  Not for little freestyle creatives, or freelancers like you and me.

Of course, those big brands are immediately recognisable.  But the reason why, is because they’ve focused on three main things:

  • the product,
  • a culture around the product, and
  • endorsements for the product

Frankly, not beyond the realm of possibility for you and me to emulate.

  • The product for you as a creative, is your art/craft.  Plough everything – your time, effort, expertise – into making this as amazing as possible. The crowds will come.

 

  • A culture around the product for you, means building a community of like-minded people who get you, and you them.  It’s actually easier for you as a freelancer than ‘big brands’ to translate what this culture is in the context of your art/craft, because quite likely your craft is an extension of you. You’re selling YOU.  People are attracted to you, because they like YOU, like what you’re about.  There’s something about you they can clearly relate to.

 

  • Endorsements for you, simply means building a reputation so third parties will be happy to sing your praises. The good news is, when you’re freelancing (in other words, when it’s just you), there are plenty of opportunities to wow your audience/clients and do it quickly. You don’t have to answer to a conglomorate of directors or PR execs, arguing the toss about who to approach, and how best to do it.  You have flexibility on your side, so use it.

 

I’ve probably dumbed this down more than I should, but that’s essentially it.  Nothing you can’t do at grass-roots level – even on a shoe string.

 

2. Understand your numbers

Yes, numbers, the boring part.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you had someone who took care of the numbers, while you got on with all the creative, fun stuff!

Do what you gotta do, to get to grips with how much you should be charging and popping into your bank each month, to keep the bailiffs at bay.

When you manage your numbers effectively from month to month, you really can focus on being your badass creative self.

 

Network ‘Upwards’

You can’t sit in your little coup, being amazingly creative and all, and not get out there to show everyone just how badass you really are.

Network.

Meet other creatives, so you can build a network of friends and colleagues you can call upon for help or support.

Just as importantly, network to form contacts and alliances with people who can help you get where you want to be.

This might mean attending trade events where you’ll have an opportunity to discuss your business with business owners, or representatives from a variety of industries.

Sell your skills

Finally, for even greater earning potential, learn how to sell more than just your craft.

Learn how to package up your knowledge and sell it as a product.

There are many ways you can do this.  The easiest starting point is an eBook, but don’t stop there. Write and publish a traditional book.  Set up a workshop, or an exhibition. Create some tutorials or courses and sell them online (and off).

Chances are, you have a wealth of knowledge you can pass on to other freelancers who are newbies in your field.  They’re prospective clients too.  Selling your knowledge boosts awareness of your creative talent all round.

 

So, over to you, have you turned your creative hobby into a professional service?

What tips would you add?

 

Author:

I’m Mary Cummings, a freelance journalist, author, ghostwriter and online educator. I help creative freelancers find their work sweet spot - that’s work on their terms, projects they love and clients who are a dream to work for.

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