The Hidden Realities of Being an Independent Creative
When we see someone running a creative business, we often see what it looks like from the front-end. Someone who spends their days working from their laptop or studio on their creative projects, traveling on the weekends.
Yet, this doesn’t tell the whole story. I notice that this is the image I convey through my social media, because it’s the most interesting to share.
So, in my efforts to widen the picture, here are some important, unseen realities about the independent path:
Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my path as an independent creative. I say “independent” with a grain of salt, as I don’t believe we ever do it alone. Right now, as I type, thousands of phytoplankton are knitting me breath, so that I may create. I have been helped and inspired by countless people along the way.
Yet, I do create my own path. I decide what to do on my days and am not employed by any company, relying on my own efforts for income and sustenance. I have done this for the past four years, and wanted to share some insights on this path.
If you’ve been thinking about quitting your job and going independent, I hope this will offer some helpful insight.
The Hidden Realities of
Being an Independent Creative
My Two Cents
I often hear that people want to go independent to quit their 9-5. But, when you create your own path, chances are you will have to work more than a 9-5 for several years, weekends included, to build the needed momentum and systems for your service.
The good news is that if you love what you’re doing, you’ll want to put in those hours anyways. It won’t feel like irrelevant work. It’ll feel meaningful.
The takeaway: Don’t go independent to work less. Go independent because you truly love what you offer- and already find yourself sneaking in the time to work on it.
1. More than a 9-5
2. Marketing > Creation
I learned this lesson the hard way. There’s a difference between creating and running a creative business. If you want to turn your creativity into your full time gig, you will need to spend more time marketing than creating, especially in the beginning and middle phases.
Good products do not bring an audience. Gifted work does not mean an income. As an independent, you will have to work on making sure your work gets seen and heard. Marketing and growing your audience becomes your main creative work, at least until you reach a point where you have built good systems in place.
As fun as this can be, this back-end work can also be tedious. You’re not just putting words or brushstrokes on the page, but dealing with payment processors, launch campaigns, ads, timelines, metrics, email service providers, legal policies, and tech. These become your daily tools, more than the paintbrush.
The takeaway: If you’re considering going independent, ask yourself if you can enjoy the marketing and audience growth process too. If you don’t find this process fascinating, all this back-end work can chip away the love you have for your creative work.
3. Long-term consistency
If I had to distill the main ingredient for success on this path, it would be long-term consistency. It is rare to successfully build a business without showing up again and again.
The takeaway: Be honest with yourself. Can you be consistent for the long run, especially when there are no external deadlines? Can you create value-driven content regularly, at least once a week? Can you continue putting out your work, even when you receive no response for months or even years?
4. Financial Discipline & Investing
5. Putting Yourself Out There
If you want to be an independent creative, you will have to put yourself out there. You will have to look like a fool sometimes- cold calling, knocking on stranger’s doors, posting photos of your face in unfamiliar places to spread your message.
Sometimes, creatives come to me and say they want to offer their services, but not put their face out there. I don’t see how this can work, as it will feel impersonal. Maybe artificial intelligence will change this.
If you are confident about the value you bring, it’ll feel right to stand behind it with your face and voice. If you’re shy, the good news is that it’s entirely possible to work through your fear of being seen. I’m a living example of that.
The takeaway: Can you expose yourself and be the face of your business?
When you go independent, you are in charge of your finances, including your retirement account. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s hard to understand what this feels like until you’re in this position.
You will have slow and busy seasons where your income waxes and wanes. You will need to learn how to navigate the waning periods. Financial discipline is key, where you adjust your spending like sails on a boat- while not falling into the trap of scarcity.
You will also need to invest some of your hard-earned capital into resources that hopefully grow your business. That entails loss sometimes, as you figure out what works best. Losing money is no fun.
The takeaway: can you be a disciplined spender and organize your finances? Can you live below your means until you gain financial traction? Can you stomach investing, even on a small scale?
So there goes what I consider are important considerations for the independent creative path.
I’m not sharing this to discourage you, but to give a more realistic picture of what this path entails. While I wouldn’t trade this path for anything, I don’t believe it’s for everyone. I often see people buying into the romantic notion of self-employment and ending up unhappy, wishing they stuck with their 9-5!
If this path does pull you, I’d recommend making sure you deeply love what you want to offer. You will need that love to fuel this journey. This doesn’t mean you need to have a complete map to start (as you figure it out along the way), but love, love love love what you do.
You got this!
The independent creative path has been a wild ride, but one I wouldn't have any other way.
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