The lessons I’ve learned in the creative industry

The lessons I’ve learned in the creative industry

Some advice for young or new creative professionals. Or the stuff I wish someone had told me in design school about the creative business.

Love what you do.

Passion. Enthusiasm. Whatever you call it. Make sure you thoroughly enjoy what you do. It will be frustrating at times. Maddening at others. But if you truly love what you do eventually the frustrations will pass and you’ll enjoy your day. It’s usually the business part of the job that causes me frustrations. And of course dealing with clients. Work with good people that you enjoy and that respect you. If you get an uneasy feeling from a prospect….move on. The times I’ve ignored my gut….have led to pain and suffering.

Also in any creative business, things ebb and flow. When they’re flowing, it can often be overwhelming and it can mean long hours. It’s tough to maintain balance. So it’s beneficial to enjoy what you do so it doesn’t become a chore. But it also shouldn’t be all consuming. I’ll admit….I’m still struggling with the whole balance thing, especially now that I have a little 2 yr old girl.

Get paid for what you do.

The problem with loving what you do is that you probably want to or need to do it. Avoid giving your time and talent away. It can be tough when you’re starting out….if you’re building your own business or if you’re working for others. In each scenario, folks will try to exploit your passion. Don’t do favors. Don’t barter. Don’t do spec. If you’re not getting paid fairly - go home and spend time with your family. Working for free or cheap is bad, no matter what the allure or promise.

Be confident but humble.

You can’t know it all. You can’t do it all. Work with and hire smart, talented people that know more and can do more than you. If you network with and surround yourself with great people, they’ll make you look smarter and better too. And avoid being a dictator….guide them….but let them do what they do. It’s OK to push them…but don’t squash them.

Have confidence that you know what you’re doing when you know what you’re doing. But avoid ########. If you’re asked something you don’t know….say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  And avoid jargon and buzz words whenever possible - “don’t ideate synergistic deliverables that empower the engagement process” - instead “create things that will accomplish your goals”. Admittedly it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, the marketing speak thing, but I’ve discovered when I encounter people who speak like that…they’re hiding ineptitude. Don’t get me wrong, there is jargon that’s required to find common ground, that’s specific to what you do, but it’s usually technical in nature. If people spew jibberish about process their process is jibberish.

And lastly, if you promise something…do it. And when possible, deliver more than you promised. Though make sure you have a detailed scope of work…so everyone knows when you’re delivering more…or when you’re moving out-of-scope. And be sure to declare clearly, “we can do that, but it’s outside scope” when the request is made….or it’ll get ugly later. This isn’t always easy. And when possible, be wishy-washy on deadlines. Eventually, I’ve learned to leave myself wiggle room on things, because things don’t always go as well as expected. Instead of saying, “I’ll have that Tuesday,” I now say, “I’ll have that mid-week.”  So when things do go well….it appears that I’ve delivered early.

Things change, accept it, keep learning.

When you think you know what you’re doing….the game will change. Change is almost exponential in the creative industry today. Software and technology changes rapidly. Trends appear and disappear seemingly overnight. It’ll seem overwhelming and frustrating. Just enjoy the ride and try to choose the smart trends and stay ahead of the curve. Which brings me back to the above advice…surround yourself with good people that know more than you.

The rapid change thing has been the toughest thing for me to accept. Mostly because creative roles are no longer strictly separated. Everything overlaps now. And it seems like today, you have to know a lot about a little, and be smart enough to find the right people for each task.

Find mentors, make them friends.

I stumbled across this by chance. Several of my long-time clients, people who I admired and learned from, eventually became my friends too. And I found I could take them to lunch or call them on the phone (and promise a lunch) and tap into their vast pool of knowledge and experience. It helped me find solutions to challenges, new opportunities, and new resources.

And they also become great #### detectors. When your head gets too large…they’ll bring you down to earth. And when you ignore your gut…they’ll kick you in it to help you take notice. The really good ones won’t tell you what to do so much as they’ll tell you the pros and cons of your options… because they’ve been through it before. Listen to them! Then choose wisely. You won’t always choose the right course….but at least you’ll be informed. And then you can ask them for more advice.

Apr 26, 2012

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