The two building blocks of any successful creative career

Photo used under Creative Commons, attribution to Steven Depolo

Photo used under Creative Commons, attribution to Steven Depolo

At the core of any creative career are two essential building blocks. 

These building blocks determine everything else about a creatives ability to succeed, work on interesting projects, and make a good living from their craft.

Yet many early stage creative's don't spend enough time on these two essentials.

My goal with this post is to explain to you the two building blocks behind every successful creative career and teach methods on how you can improve them.

Building block #1 - Your Skill Set

At the core, creative skills are an art form.

Just like there is no perfect painting, there is simply no perfect way to do a creative skill.

Throughout your creative career, and especially early on, you should be investing as much time as possible into improving your creative skill set. That means you should be spending time learning new skills on a regular basis, and practicing your craft

Here are a few tips on how to improve your skill set

Continue learning

Sign up for online courses such as, Skillshare, Udemy or other online learning platforms. Enroll in local classes or pick up textbooks on your subject and start reading.

Do whatever it takes to learn more about your craft and improve your skill set. In the creative world, you must constantly be reinventing yourself with new skills and techniques if you want to stay current. 

Practice regularly

Read Ira Glass's excerpt famously known as The Gap

Read Ira Glass's excerpt famously known as The Gap

Ira Glass has a famous quote where he talks about 'The Gap'. Ira describes the gap as something all new creative's face. 

When you are starting your creative career, you have good taste and you know what good work is; yet you can't seem to produce on that level. It is because there is a gap between what you know is good work, and what your skills can actually produce.

Ira proposes that the only way to close this gap is to create a lot of work. He says 'If you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is to do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions' 

Create a production schedule

Even if you don't have paying clients to practice on, you should set yourself a production schedule of weekly projects where you are practicing your work. At first try to produce at least one piece of work per week.

Don't be a perfectionist, and don't be afraid to show it to the world.

In Austin Kleon's book 'Show your work!' he argues that by practicing in public, it forces you to put a more critical eye to your work and it helps keep you accountable to stay on track. 

If you want to improve your skill sets, practice them regularly and show it to others. This is the fastest route to improving the quality of your work.


Building block #2 - Portfolio

When a prospect looks to hire a creative, often the very first thing they do before ever even taking the time to talk with them is review the creative's portfolio. 

As a prospect looks at your portfolio, they are asking themselves one question:

'Is this creative's work a high enough quality that I can trust them with my project?'

If the answer is no, then you never even make it to the conversation or negotiation stage. You lose the job before you ever knew the client was even interested.

Here are a handful of ways that you can improve the quality of your portfolio and win more clients.


Use yourself as a case study

My website is an ongoing case study of my web design, online marketing and coaching services

My website is an ongoing case study of my web design, online marketing and coaching services

As you practice your skills, don't  just practice them with no end goal or purpose. Instead use your skills to create finished projects and publish them as pieces of your portfolio. 

When you are using yourself as a case study, you don't have a client or boss telling you what to do. This means you are free to create a portfolio piece that shows of your skill sets and true creative potential. 

If you are a copywriter, then start a successful blog.
If you are a video editor, then start a successful youtube channel.
If you are a web designer, create an impressive website.

Use your creative skill sets to turn yourself into a success story. Clients are attracted to this type of initiative. When a creative has side projects or does work on their own as a hobby, it shows that they are truly passionate about their work. 

Go above and beyond with early clients

For the first handful of clients you get, go above and beyond. Regardless of how small their budget is, knock the project out of the park and turn it into something you can be proud of.

A quality portfolio piece paired with a raving client testimonial speaks louder than any sales talk ever could. Go above and beyond on these early projects, it will do wonders in helping you land future work.

Limit your portfolio to only your best work

Early on, many creatives are improving their skill set at a rapid pace. That means within two months they may be doing work that is significantly better than when they started.

When showing off your portfolio, consistently drop the bottom end of your work and only show off your latest and greatest projects.

Client's don't care as much about quantity as they do quality. It is better to show 2-3 amazing pieces of work than 10 mediocre ones. 

Cut the bottom end and only show off your best work.


Focus on these two building blocks

It doesn't matter if you are established in your creative career or if you are early stage, these two building blocks are the core of any creative business. 

Without these, your marketing, your networking and your sales efforts are all completely pointless.

If you find yourself stuck, or you can't get clients to hire you. Then focus on improving these two key building blocks and it can do wonders to launch your creative career forward. 

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