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Let’s face it: working in the arts is highly competitive. But don’t ever for a second think that you won’t be making money.
Because the truth is: when you’re good at what you do, people will pay you for it. A lot. Trust me. This whole “creative jobs don’t pay” thing is a whole load of crap. And that’s coming from someone who’s been around for 15 years now.
Here are some things that I have learned over the course of my career. And I think they are important factors to consider while building a name for yourself.
1. Be Prepared To Be Criticized
First things first: accept that you will get so many nay-sayers along the way. Ever since I was little, everyone — including adults — scoffed at my dream of becoming an artist. I heard things like “that’s not a real job” and “that’s not realistic”. Yet here I am, in the arts, making more money than those same people who criticized me.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma around working artists. In general, people don’t take you seriously and think it’s something you do just for fun. For some reason, people don’t think that fun + job can be in the same sentence. I call them nay-sayers and avoid them at all costs.
2. Be Prepared To Take On Free Work
…at least in the beginning stages of your career.
Everyone says, don’t work for free. And I agree — to an extent. Some free work is actually beneficial, especially if you are just starting your career and you want some exposure. But be careful not to fall into the trap of being taken advantage of.
When considering taking on free work, ask yourself a few things before committing to it.
How will it benefit me? Do the other collaborators have a good reputation? Are they going to post my work on social media? Will they pay me in the future? Will this lead to other gigs?
I ask myself a series of questions before agreeing to said collaboration. If the free gig is only benefiting one party, it should be an absolute no.
3. Be Prepared To Keep Your Portfolio Fresh
Just because you had a string of gigs come along doesn’t mean that you have finally made it. Yes, you may be talented at what you do but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be re-hired for the same gig 6 months from now.
Why? Because you’ve got to keep up with the trends, no matter what industry you’re in.
That means to keep educating yourself and to see what your competitors are up to. How are they marketing themselves? How about you?
Even if you’re more skilled than your competitor but they happen to have stronger marketing, they may get hired over you. Solution? Update your portfolio. Do free work if you must for new exposure. Basically: have new material.
4. Be Prepared To Have a Strong Social Media Presence
If you hate being on social media, then being an artist isn’t for you. Social media is a huge opportunity for artists and updating your social media accounts with fresh material regularly will overall increase your clientele.
Platforms like Instagram are very visual. Take advantage of this and post your work. Old work, current work, behind-the-scenes shots. Anything that showcases your passion and talent.
I’ve discovered that the latter is actually rather important. People are generally curious and like to see what your process is like.
5. Be Prepared To De-Prioritize Your Friends
I’ve recently been taking on too much work. Thus, I made a list of my priorities and ranked them in order. This helped determine what was the most important to me and what was the least important.
What I realized is that I was taking work on a first-come-first-serve basis, which in the end: didn’t serve me well. I almost missed out on opportunities simply because I was cramming in too much at once.
When I clarified my goals and was honest to myself, I then knew which gigs I should be accepting and which ones I should be denying.
Which brings me to this: friends asking you to do work for them.
In the beginning of my career, I would cut my rate simply to do a friend a favour. But what I realized is that: I wasn’t doing myself any favours.
Some friends will try to take advantage of the fact that they know you and therefore guilt you into getting a discount on your services. Once you learn to create a boundary on this, you won’t have this problem anymore. Learn to say no to friends. Tell them your actual rates and they can take it or leave it.
Working for yourself can be a struggle — especially if you’re an artist. But if you find ways to show the world how talented and competent you are, the money will eventually come. In short: Focus on exposure. Lots of it. Avoid the naysayers and create boundaries whenever needed.