There are tons of digital nomads working in the creative space including myself. Creative careers tend to lend themselves to the digital nomad lifestyle in that most can be done anywhere (no need for an office), most are done digitally, and many of them you can run yourself as a freelancer or entrepreneur.
If you’ve always had a creative side and are looking to get started in a creative field where do you start?
I have spent the last decade in more creative jobs and careers than I care to admit. I’ve done everything from branding work, to working on movie sets, to blogging, and honestly everything in between. And what I’ve learned through all of that is, what matters most is having experience, drive, and a unique style.
What I’ll be going over in this post is a set of steps to jump-start your creative career. However, the wonderful thing about creativity is that there is no one right answer. I’ve written out the steps in an order that makes the most logical sense (at least to me), but you might skip around from step to step or not even do a step, and that’s fine. These are really just meant to be some guidelines to help you on your way to creative work and independent living.
How to start a creative career.
Deciding on a creative path
The most important step and it should honestly come first. You gotta know where you’re going before you can do anything else. Common creative career paths are graphic design, photography, videography, illustration, painting, and writing.
Learning your trade
If you don’t already know how to do the things required of your chosen career path then it’s time to learn. That could mean school, online classes, or teaching yourself and practicing a ton.
Practicing and creating work
This really goes along with number two, while you’re learning you’ve got to practice your trade. If it’s photography you better be taking photos every chance you get, if it’s painting you better be painting tons of pictures. And it’s not just practicing for practice’s sake, during this time you should be experimenting with different styles, genres, and niches. When I was studying graphic design in school learned that I really enjoyed creating infographics, then from there, I got really into creating logos and branding. You’ll start to figure out what your specific niche or specialty is within your field.
Make yourself a portfolio
Once you have a good body of work that you like and you feel like exemplifies your style and talents put together a portfolio. When I was finishing design school I would do specific “dream projects” to put in my portfolio. These weren’t for real clients but they exemplified the kind of work I wanted to do and what I could do. Side note – A portfolio doesn’t have to be the traditional printed folder you see in shows like Mad Men. If you are a writer it could be your blog if you are a photographer it could be your Instagram. Honestly, anything goes these days, but you want to have someplace that has all your best work that you can show to people.
Posting your work/putting yourself out there
In the age of social media, it’s so easy to get your work out in front of potential clients and customers. The thing is though, you need to be putting yourself and your work out into the world and doing it on the regular. Even if you’re not getting jobs or inquiries via social media or your blog, the first thing a potential client or customer is going to check is your social media or website. It’s just sort of how the world works now, so make sure they are up to date and giving off the right vibes.
Get to know people in your industry
I honestly hate networking but getting to know people in your industry is awesome. For one it means you get some new friends with similar interests, and two it means you can get an in on projects, jobs, shows, and all kinds of things. If you work on a project with another creator that means more reach for yourself, or if you are applying for a job you might find a connection to get your foot in the door. Now in the digital age, you’ll probably be meeting people through Instagram, Facebook groups, heck even Twitter. Someday we might have actual meetups again and those are always a good place too.
If there is a company, brand, individual, or publication you want to work with, chances are you are going to have to pitch yourself. But pitching a company does not mean emailing something like “Hi I’m Natalie, I’m a blogger and I love your brand, let’s work together!”. It does not work, I’ve regretfully tried **facepalm. When you go to pitch your dream client you need to have an idea to pitch them, a project only your skillset can do. Be specific about how you can help them and your qualifications. Clients and customers don’t want to help you, they want you to help them (some wise words I wish I’d heard early in my career).
Applying for jobs
If you are not feeling the freelance or entrepreneurial route that is totally fine too. There are tons of creative remote jobs out there, you just have to get one now. Most jobs are remote right now anyways but looking for remote specific jobs is a good idea if you plan to continue your remote working life. You might not find your dream job right away but find a position or a company that you are interested in and/or passionate about. Then put together your resume (creatively, obviously) and pitch yourself in the cover letter, much like we covered in number seven. Why do you love the company, what can you do for them, is there a problem only you can solve? Always link or attach your portfolio with work examples too.
Be ready for rejection and crickets at first
I’m going to be totally honest, I was not prepared for this when I first started freelancing and blogging. I feel like no one really talked about it, they said ‘follow your dreams, pitch your dream clients, live your best life’. In my experience that is not how it goes down. You’ve got to be prepared for people to say ‘no’ or not say anything at all, or get zero hits to your website or Etsy shop. But, if you are putting yourself out there, sending good pitches, and crafting awesome cover letters things will start to turn upwards. It takes time and a lot of energy to get that good momentum going but once you’ve got it, you’re golden.
Getting clients and projects
Finding clients, projects, and customers is always a fun game. You’ve got to know where to look. Sites like Cloud Peeps and UpWork are good places to start for both one-off projects and long term gigs. If you are looking for something a little more long term or stable LinkedIn could be the ticket. Tap into your network of creative friends for leads and opportunities. For the more entrepreneurial you’ve got to figure out where your ideal client digitally hangs out. If you are getting into wedding photography being on Instagram and The Knot is going to be key.
You have to ask to get paid a lot of times
Here is the hard truth about creative work, a lot of times companies will want you to work for free or for free products and individuals will want tons of discounts. I’m not sure what it is about the creative industries that make people think that they shouldn’t have to pay for these services, but I will tell you from personal experience people really want free work. When you are starting out, yeah you might work for free, but I’m going to say, only do it if its a project or company you really love. Otherwise, you’ll get into this vicious cycle of doing things for “exposure” that doesn’t really get you anywhere.
The next thing is not to be afraid to talk about money, give people your rates, be fair but firm. If a client doesn’t want to work with you because you are charging too much or at all, then they are not a client you want. In my experience, the clients who don’t want to pay a lot will also take up a lot of your time and energy. So, the moral of the story is, tell people how much you charge and get paid for your work. That’s why you went into business anyway right? To make money doing something you love.
Whew, that was a lot, but all valid things for getting your creative career off the ground. Now get out there and get creative!
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