Navigating the creative industry as a new creative


S.G. writes:

How do you navigate through the creative industry as a newbie when there are SO many amazing creatives out there? It's definitely been hard to convince myself that my business can still make it even though there are already a ton of creatives out there already doing what I do.

There are always going to be folks you perceive as being better / further along / more successful than you. And while it can be an overwhelming feeling, wondering where your place is in all of that, I think it's important to keep a few things in mind.

1. keep your eyes on your own paper.

Let's be real. We're in the creative industry. We love pretty things. We thrive off looking and consuming all of the pretty things. But man, does that energy have the potential to majorly work against you when you're just starting out. I absolutely believe in looking at others for inspiration but the moment the inspiration turns into something jealousy, insecurity, or negativity toward yourself, you need to stop and remember to keep your eyes on your own paper again.

I know it sounds kind of trite, especially since a lot of people say some variation of this, but I can't help if it's true :) -- there really are certain things that you and ONLY you can provide to your potential customers in this industry. I think it comes down to looking beyond what we all share -- which is a certain amount of creative skill and access to the same tools for executing our work and running our business -- and remembering the intangibles that we don't. Maybe you are an incredible conversationalist and you have an amazing skill at making your clients feel at ease. Maybe you have a gift for envisioning and executing multiple concepts at the drop of a hat. Focus on your own paper and pick out what makes you so unique, interesting, and qualified to do this -- that special sauce that sets you apart -- and work on leveraging that into the quality that makes you and your brand unforgettable and oh so hireable. Because all of that other stuff you think when you compare yourself to other creatives? It really doesn't matter if you take the time to figure your own self out!

2. growth and success take time.

I don't consider myself a success story at all, but let's give you some context using my own experience. I've been freelance designing in some capacity since late 2007 / early 2008. A bulk of that time was spent in contract positions for other marketing firms doing work that was rarely invigorating creatively, but consistent and paid the bills. In between I dabbled in a lot of random stuff, including weddings and designing super cute stationery and products with a few good friends under an outfit called The Nimbus Factory. The years I was actively pregnant and having kids (2011-2014) were the ones where I probably spent a lot of time idling in my career and doing just enough to get by while I was dealing with the change and adjustment to being a mother of one, then two. And finally, FINALLY, came 2015, which is the year I decided to stop contracting and fully invest myself in running my own creative design business. This year, 2016, is maybe the first time I've thought, mmm...I might actually be able to "make it" -- "make it" meaning having a business that's actually sustainable, somewhat financially viable, and is supporting my family, myself, and my creativity. A lot of people probably started kind of discovering me last year. And maybe because of this column and the people I've been lucky enough to get to know, they've started to notice my Instagram and work a little more. Those people might also think, shoot, how does she do all of this? How does she find the time? How can I find that kind of success?

Let's pop that bubble right now -- I'm not a success. But I'm proud of the strides and effort I've made to get to a point where I can even consider thinking about what that might mean for me, something that was gosh, 8 to 9 years in the making.

My point isn't that you'll need to hustle for 9 years before you feel confident (nope, I have a feeling you're in a much better place than I was back in '07/'08!) but every creative you look at and admire has a story. And even though those stories might look very different from person to person, the one common factor I bet we all have is -- it. Took. Time. So let yourself take that time to grow, to evolve, to discover what you love and what you hate about your creative work, and eventually you can also morph and grow into the creative you actually were always meant to be.  


I've alluded to this in other columns, and again, as counterintuitive as it may be, I really encourage everyone to make ACTUAL relationships with fellow creatives, in particular, the ones who do the same thing as you. I'm internet friends with a lot of my fellow design peers, and I bet you've heard of a lot of them first before you even heard of me! I find that awesome because clearly they're doing something right which means I'm in an amazing position to learn from them. Because this really isn't the time to get wrapped up in ego or pride. You'd be surprised at what could happen when you start becoming more open to embracing your supposed "competition". 

Another personal example: my mastermind group is myself and two other designers, Jamie of Spruce Rd and Kelsey of Paper & Oats. We started up our group because we found ourselves in similar places in our creative business journeys. And I honestly don't know if I would have made it to this point without this creative support network we built up. There is something so reassuring about being able to take a honest look behind the curtain and realizing, hey, for all of the success and kicking ass, what you perceive as success is someone else's intensely hard work, filled with as much second guessing and falling on your face as you see in yourself. We've been able to learn from each other, advise each other with an objectivity we would never be able to direct to ourselves, and grow our businesses in really different ways!

Anyway, whatever you do, I hope you look at these next steps as being ones filled with potential. Stay mindful and intentional in your connections, and stay eager to learn, encourage, and help. You'll find your place in all of this, I know it :).

Do you have any advice for new creatives who are just starting out in the industry? What kind of things worked for you when you were still a newbie?