I was talking to one of our designers about how we are trying to break into a specific industry with our work. It turned into a conversation on how creatives can break into our specific industry. We had a good conversation around it that seems worth sharing, especially for creatives fresh into their careers.
I’ve been in the creative industry my whole professional life. I’m more than familiar with the common ploys to weasel free work out of creatives. We’ve all heard this one — “This is a great project. Sure, there’s no budget, but there will be down the road.” Or the ever popular, “This will be a great portfolio piece!” I would venture a guess that we’ve all taken the bait at least once.
This is the part where a seasoned creative tells all the newbies to be weary of these traps, chiding, “Why would they pay you the second time if you’ve proved you’re worth nothing the first time?” But I diverge a bit on this thinking.
One of the biggest lessons I learned early on is to say ‘yes.’ Yes to everything I am interested in and can afford to say yes to. Explore more.
There’s a social mindset I’ve been running into based on the idea that you teach people how to treat you. I agree with this sentiment, albeit to a degree. This mindset is too commonly translated in the creative world as, someone (or everyone) owes you respect, and only once you receive it will you create for them. This misguided formula makes divas and entitled creatives. It happens everyday, and it’s ugly.
There is a good article by Kim Bieler about internal vs. external validation. It pins utilizing internal validation to create your own opportunities against waiting on someone else to hand them to you.
The fear comes rolling in. “If I work for free, then everyone will think my work isn’t worth anything.” Really? When has this fear ever proved true in life? If I gave you my thoughts for free on how to approach a specific challenge, would you assume my time is worth nothing? Would the next person I go to consult ask for the “free special” because they heard I gave it to you? (And if they did, would it be that hard to say, ‘no’?)
This is what would really happen. You would take the advice, evaluate it, maybe use it. If it proved helpful you’d realize the value in my work. You’d call me back the next time you needed help, plus you’d probably tell your friends about me when they needed help.
Seek out the type of work you want to do and be scrappy as shit. Identify that upstart business you want to work for and reach out to them to offer your services. Start small, then use that work to leverage your talents into the next project with the next client. You’re getting your brand out there. People start to talk. Stay hungry, to quote someone famous, and do the best work you can do. You’ll build a nice body of real world work and validate that you’re worth a damn. Prove you’re worth respecting and you’ll be respected.
“People will always seek out quality work.” – Keith Neltner
Say yes and you will gain valuable experience while learning new tricks & techniques. Say yes and you’ll work with some amazing people who will help spread the word around for you. If you’re good at what you do, every opportunity is an opportunity to build a brand worthy of the respect you’re looking for.