The Four Essential Inputs of the Consistently Creative (and Productive) Freelancer

Whether you craft jewelry, words, or images, behind every good creative freelancer is a system designed to keep them productive over the long haul. Having a system establishes consistency, both for your income and your productivity as an artist and freelancer.

The problem is that most of us aren’t given a roadmap to creating such a system when we first start. In fact, many freelancers just develop a system out trial and error along with a dash of advice from freelancing advice gurus. For a beginning creative freelancer, this can seem like a daunting challenge, but it’s actually very simple.

Here’s a quick rundown on what you need at a minimum to be a productive creative freelancer over your freelancing career:
Now here’s the longer explanation…

  1. Money: Bank account and Excel spreadsheet (or some other accounting software)
  2. Clients: Freelancing platform of website
  3. Ideas: Idea Notebook or Journal
  4. Energy: Good food, exercise, sleep, and people

In order for a system to run, you need inputs and outputs. In the same way, a creative freelancer needs a system to keep everything running smoothly. As a creative freelancer, your output is your work whether that’s a piece of art, piece of fabric, or piece of advice. To make your best output, you have to be careful of your inputs, what you feed you into your system.

At its most basic level, freelancers only need to manage four inputs, two external (money and clients) and two internal (ideas and energy) to have a successful business.

External Inputs: These are things that come from the outside world

  • Money: Creative freelancing is a business. To treat it like one, you need a system to control the money flowing through your work. Keep track of your expenses as well as your payments so you can live the life you want, save for a rainy day, and invest in an upgrade, when needed.
  • Clients: What is a freelancer without a client? Broke. Clients, along with money, are the lifeblood of a freelancer, so you need to have a system in place that tracks who you worked with. You might want to include who you want to work with if you’re feeling really proactive. Why do you need to keep track of who you worked with? Simple. You need to keep a record in case of any disputes. Plus, it’s also handy to send a quick “How are you doing?” to a client who you haven’t heard from in a while.

Internal: There are things that you bring to the outside world

  • Ideas: Creative freelancers are paid for their ability to turn ideas and concepts into reality. Because of that, ideas are your currency. They are your value. Therefore, it pays for a creative freelancer to invest in capturing and using the ideas. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike! Practice the craft of taking daily inspiration from the things around you and using to make stuff. All you need is a simple notebook or tablet. (Evernote might be an option too.) Record your random thoughts or ideas, things that inspire you, and things that motivate you. Periodically go back through the list and see what you can come up with.
  • Energy: Creative freelancers depend on a healthy mind and body to do their best. Forget the image of the “starving artist” or the “alcoholic genius”. These are stereotypes (for the most part). If you want to consistently produce good craft, you need to take care of your body and mind. In particular, you need to take care of the body you’re in and the people who are around you.

Feeding these systems with the right inputs will ensure that you have the creativity and productivity (the two hallmarks of an expert creative freelancer). You can’t wait until the Muse arrives to get your paycheck. You can’t wait until a favorite client does not pay to start a savings account. You need to do this now!

"Eric and I worked together on a number of projects at Archstone, and then AvalonBay. Eric is, without question, a top tier UI designer and developer. His attention to detail, rock solid HTML and CSS skills and ability to solve complex user interaction and usability problems with enhanced UI designs make him an asset to any web development project. I look forward to working with Eric on projects in the future and would recommend him to anyone seeking a UI/UX designer and developer."
Ryan Eckhardt, Partner, AvalonBay Communities

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