So, you have a skill that you’re especially good at and you want to be financially successful as an independent creative professional? It’s certainly possible, but it’s going to take some hard work to pull it off. As in any business venture, it takes a bit of determination to get things rolling. Don’t expect to immediately have your creative professionalism recognized or rewarded. You’ll need to reach out to many others. Sometimes this is an uncomfortable proposition to certain creative people. You’ll also need to adopt an attitude of “anything goes,” and to take chances on things you might not feel creatively ready or comfortable to do with to get your business up and running.
Take a step back from your ego. When you start as a creative professional, there’s the temptation to approach opportunities as if you’re the only artiste the world has ever seen. Don’t do this. It’s an incredibly off-putting stance to potentially interested clients, not to mention it’s an unprofitable one. Instead, you’ll want to be humble in your attitude towards work opportunities—and keep it that way. Let your work speak for you, not your mouth. No work is beneath you, no job is too small, no task too menial; all of these are chances to grow skills you would have never thought you were capable of accomplishing, but also introducing yourself to new clients.
This approach will educate you towards what’s demanded of business owners and what they demand from a creative professional. You’ll learn from people already doing their jobs, providing you with both the realpolitik of everyday machinations in their respective industry, but also what succeeds and what fails. Moreover, you’ll learn what your clients both want and reward. And you’ll begin to analyze and predict business requirements based on the wide variety of creative projects and clients you interact with.
Be willing to explore the road less taken. Not every path takes you directly to your destination and maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. This aphorism implies that you must be willing to explore avenues to success that you've either never considered or those that others have outrightly advised you against. Interacting with people outside of your typical domain of expertise or industry experience will serve you well. For one, it’ll open you up to meeting a new network of people engaged in business opportunities that you might never have met otherwise. Further, it will open your eyes to thoughts and techniques that can and will enhance your creative professionalism and capabilities.
Consider yourself a consultant. Your value to others lies in your ability to solve difficult problems. Being a creative professional means that you can take the risks typical business owners either can’t or won’t. Breaking that down further, at this point in your career, you aren’t being paid to show up and occupy a desk, but instead, you are expected to provide real value to your client by applying your expertise with consistency and, most importantly, without being told to. It’s an uncomfortable position to find yourself in, initially; however, it’s important to have the confidence of your convictions to be a successful independent creative professional and see the work through. In fact, it’s frankly expected of you in any field.
Learn to deal with uncertainty. On your journey towards “making it” as an independent creative professional, you’re going to have to learn to cut the Gordian Knot of ambiguity, and it comes in all forms. The big one is money. What are you worth to people? This conundrum is the bane of the creative professional of any stripe. Asking for pay is a humbling experience for anyone. It feels awkward and uncomfortable at first. The underlying secret is that a business won’t hire an independent contractor unless they’re certain to profit more off their labor than what they are paying. And you won’t necessarily know upfront what to charge until you meet in person and ask questions.
One strategy is to ask your client for reasonable compensation for your work, given that you’ve assessed his or her needs towards a given project. Provided that you’ve rationally and coolly laid out what the specifications of a given job are and backed it up with comps, many business owners might dither here and there around the edges of the total price you’ve quoted. However, you’ll largely get what you asked for when you explain the value-added prospect toward buying your personal creative professional services. This is typically the best-case scenario.
In other circumstances, you might have to be a bit more hard-nosed in your negotiation approach. Certain clients won’t understand or will willfully misinterpret your pitch to their advantage. It’s at times like these you will need to deploy your negotiating tactics. One tactic taught in Harvard’s Negotiating Class is to undermine their expectations, by presenting a counteroffer that forces them to see your terms.
Specifically, a client might say, “well, I don’t see the need to pay you $10,000. I see your skills, but don’t see the value in it as it relates to my $1,000,000 business venture.” You’d then reply, “I know that you invited me here today to discuss this project and that you say that you don’t see the value, but what if I were to take on all the risk and charge you nothing upfront unless it succeeds…and when it does, I take a 20-percent cut of any profit. Would you agree to that?” At this point, a shrewd client would realize that $10,000 is much less than the 20% of a million dollars. If the prospective client can do basic math, he’s going to realize that the ratio of expense to gain is so immensely out of proportion, that he’s better off just paying you what you’re worth.
Being a creative professional is a rewarding journey. It in many ways will enable you to be both a better person and professional in any context. Being able to apply your God-given talents and creative nature to interesting problems and situations is the most rewarding part of the work. The sense of being independent is, of course, priceless. However, the rewards, both monetarily and intellectually, are incalculable. Be willing to see the value in yourself and to have the courage to articulate and express your thoughts and suggestions and see the work through to its end.