Ten Steps to Creative Independence

I hosted a workshop at the 2010 Create Denver Expo on April 10, titled Ten Steps to Creative Independence. What makes some freelancers thrive, while others struggle? What are the traits that make creative independents succeed?

I believe there are ten essential qualities to every successful freelancer. But first, let’s start with a definition of “creative independence.” To me, creative independence is:

  • The ability to express your creativity in meaningful, fulfilling, profitable and engaging ways
  • Answering to yourself, being your own boss
  • Doing what you want, when you want
  • Empowering yourself to be in control of your own destiny
  • Freeing yourself from the “norm”, exiting the “rat race”

With a working definition, let’s now dive into these important steps along the path to creative independence. This presentation is also posted to SlideShare.

Step 1. Passion

Passion is everything. Without passion you won’t get anywhere. Passion is the fuel that stokes the fire. It’s what’s inside your heart and makes you who you are as a person. I also believe passion is the thing that people will remember you for when you’ve moved on to the great creative playground.

Ask Yourself:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • How will I make the world a better place?

Action Items:

  • Write down five things you are passionate about.
  • Post it to a wall and refer to it often.

Step 2. Motivation

To me, motivation isn’t passion. It’s the reason for doing. Why are you in business? What’s your motivation and what keeps you going? There are internal motivations and external motivations. Internal might be personal or business goals, aspirations, desires. External might be where you want to live, what type of computer you want, the amount of time you want to work, etc.

Ask Yourself:

  • What are my internal motivations?
  • What are my external motivations?
  • What is my vision for where I want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years?

Action Items:

  • Make a screensaver for your computer that visually illustrates your motivations.
  • Decorate your studio with inspiration.
  • Keep a journal.

Step 3. Talent

Everyone is creative. That’s not the question. The question is, what are you creative at? Also, how do you make money being creative? Know your creative talent to keep stepping forward.

Ask Yourself:

  • My mom said I’m talented. So, I must be, right?
  • What IS my talent?

Action Items:

  • Share your talent with the world.
  • Acquire the tools necessary to manifest your talent.

Step 4. Expertise

Become an expert at what you do. Constantly work at increasing your knowledge on your industry. Take classes. Learn new techniques. Seek out experts and ask them questions. Expertise leads to exclusivity and higher rates. Higher rates are a good thing.

Ask Yourself:

  • How will I become an expert? What will I specialize in?
  • How will I maintain my expertise?

Action Items:

  • Immerse yourself in continuing education.
  • Share your knowledge.
  • Learn from others.

Step 5. Promotion

So you have talent and you have expertise. Does anyone know it? Effective promotion is key to landing great work. Use social media. Get a website. Blog. Network. Tell everyone what you do and why you do it. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself.

Ask Yourself:

  • What are the most effective ways to market my business?
  • What is my unique positioning?

Action Items:

  • Create a marketing plan.
  • Set a marketing budget. Increase it each year.
  • Get creative! Be innovative and stand out from the crowd.

Step 6. Profitability

You’re busy. Projects are coming and going out. Creativity is on the loose. But, are you profitable? Profitability can make or break a business, and it can affect your journey to creative independence. You need to know how much money you need to make in order to live. But don’t forget about profit. It helps you through lean times and allows you to invest back into your business.

Ask Yourself:

  • Am I profitable?
  • How do I work less to earn more?

Action Items:

  • Keep good records.
  • Raise your rates.
  • Find passive revenue streams and nurture them.

Step 7. Adaptability

Stay flexible. This is one of the biggest benefits (and drawbacks) to being independent. We all know life throws curve balls. Well, so does freelancing. You need to stay nimble and on your toes. Welcome change. It’s a part of life and it opens doors you never could imagine.

Ask Yourself :

  • How do I adapt to change?
  • Is change positive or negative? Do I embrace it or run away?

Action Items:

  • Be mindful of change in your industry.
  • Make a plan for change and anticipate it.

Step 8. Support

Alright. You’ve promoted the heck out of yourself and your business. Leads are coming in and you’re busier than ever. Uh oh. What to do? Reach out to your support system for help. For one, your support group should include other qualified creatives. They can help you with overflow work or large projects and give advice and constructive criticism. Also, your support group should include people outside your business life. Family, friends, whoever you trust and love should be there for you.

Ask Yourself:

  • Who can I count on?
  • Do I have a “circle of trust?”

Action Items:

  • Form strong alliances with your peers.
  • Network.
  • Offer assistance and request it in return.

Step 9. Balance

Yin yang. Black and white. Good and evil. Life is balance. Ensure you have a healthy balance of work and play. Express your creativity in new ways. Take up new hobbies. Paint. Draw. Knit. Travel. Read.

Ask Yourself:

  • How do I achieve balance in my life?

Action Items:

  • Start two new hobbies this year.
  • Get two new stamps in your passport.
  • Learn a new language.

Step 10. Attitude

Having a healthy attitude means everything. Are you an optimist? Do you see the silver lining in all situations? Your thoughts influence your actions and create the world around you, so think good thoughts!

Ask Yourself:

Action Items:

  • Am I an optimist?
  • Have a healthy attitude towards work and life.
  • See the silver lining.
  • Stay positive.

Step 11. Chutzpah

So that brings us to the end…ah, wait a sec. There’s another step? You bet!

Seize opportunities. Always abuse the podium!

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