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How to Survive as a Creative

How to Survive as a Creative

The life of a creative takes work. Whether you're a writer, artist, musician or other creator, living off your passions requires resilience, commitment and a willingness to take risks. In today's crowded creative marketplace, more than simply being talented is needed. It would be best to be savvy, motivated and think like an entrepreneur.

The good news is that it IS possible to survive and even thrive as a creative professional. It just takes strategy, hustle and a stubborn determination to stick with it. Here are my best tips for how to survive and succeed as a creative:

Develop a Powerful Brand

Create A Personal Brand

Your brand is your key to standing out and attracting the right kind of attention as a creative. Ask yourself: What makes you unique? What's your distinct perspective and voice? Clearly define who you are, what you offer and why people should care.

Craft an origin story, cultivate a consistent persona across platforms, and be unrelentingly authentic in all your work. Your brand should align with your values, interests and the change you want to create. A strong brand sets you apart from the crowd and develops loyalty among your audience.

Diversify Your Income Streams

The stereotypical “starving artist” relies on just one income source. Intelligent creatives, however, diversify, so they have multiple revenue streams. Along with your core offering, consider ancillary products or services, speaking gigs, corporate sponsorships, licensing deals, online courses, Merch, etc.

Having several income sources provides more stability if one stream dries up. Building multiple revenue streams takes more work upfront, but the payoff is worth it for long-term viability.

Produce Prolifically

The most successful creatives are exceptionally prolific. They create and release new work constantly while never compromising on quality. The more content you put into the world, the more chances you have to capture attention and connect with your audience.

Set a doable but aggressive production schedule for yourself. Systematise your process so you can work efficiently. Batch your tasks if possible. Outsource or collaborate if needed to increase output. Prolific production keeps you at the top of your mind and allows you to refine your skills continually.

Embrace a DIY Spirit

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Major creative breakthroughs often happen independently before being picked up by mainstream gatekeepers. Today's significant advantage of being an indie creative is that you don't need anyone's permission, thanks to democratised digital tools.

Adopt a DIY mindset. Learn how to direct, shoot and edit your videos. Master your social media, website, merch, licensing deals, etc. Taking complete creative control and ownership lets you maintain your vision and move nimbly. Doing it yourself is empowering.

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Become a Master Promoter

Creative work rarely promotes itself, at least at first. It would help if you became your own best marketing and PR rep. Identify and engage your niche. Network relentlessly. Pitch yourself to media and collaborators. Distribute your work to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Self-promotion never stops, so get comfortable being your hype machine. Promote authenticity, humour and zero shame. Think of creative guerrilla marketing tactics to generate buzz. If you believe in your work, don't hesitate to shout about it from the rooftops.

Develop Grit and Persist Through Rejection

The creative path is filled with tons of rejection and criticism. You must develop a thick skin, grit and the willingness to keep going in the face of harsh feedback and seemingly endless “no's.” Find ways to shrug off rejection quickly and not take it personally.

Persisting despite setbacks is critical to long-term creative success. View failures as data to help improve. Stay motivated by surrounding yourself with cheerleaders who believe in you. Keep chasing your vision, even when no one else sees it yet. Your big break is often just around the corner.

Get Business Savvy

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Running a creative career is running a business. Learn and sharpen essential business skills like accounting, budgeting, contracts, taxes, networking, negotiating rates, etc. If business isn't your forte, consider hiring a manager or coach to handle that stuff so you can focus purely on your craft.

Monetising your creativity often requires hybrid thinking. Blend art and commerce. Make decisions not just based on passion but also on profitability and sustainability. Getting business savvy gives you more control over your career and financial independence.

Always Keep Learning and Leveling Up

The best way to avoid creative stagnation is never to stop learning. Successful creatives are sponges. They soak new skills, trends, and knowledge to expand their capabilities and worldview.

Make learning a lifelong habit. Take classes, attend workshops, read books, listen to podcasts, study other masters, and collaborate with those whose skills complement yours. Stay humble and curious. Keep levelling up your skills and evolving your creative vision. Complacency is toxic.

Build a Supportive Community

The creative path can be an isolating and discouraging journey when tackled alone. That's why it's hugely beneficial to build a network of fellow creatives who understand the struggles and can cheer you on.

Seek out online forums or masterminds for accountability and support. Surround yourself with people who energise and inspire you. Collaborate with peers to reinforce that you're not in this alone. A strong community provides camaraderie and gives you perspective when things get tough.

Take Smart Breaks and Refuel

You can't be “on” 24/7 as a creative without burning out. That's why taking deliberate breaks to recharge is crucial. Disconnect and unplug periodically to let your mind wander and reboot. Make time for play, exercise and social connection to give your brain a rest.

Stay vigilant against overwhelm and fatigue. Work in intense sprints, then recover. Limit distractions and unnecessary media noise. Nurture your inspiration by exploring, travelling and feeding your senses. Adequate breaks help maintain the stamina, enthusiasm and mental clarity required to produce your best work.

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Keep an Abundance Mindset

Scarcity thinking can sabotage your creative ambitions. There's only so much you can accomplish and earn in a world of limited resources and opportunities, right? Wrong.

The most successful creatives operate from an abundance mindset. They believe opportunities are endless if you're willing to create them. Stay optimistic and open to possibilities. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Focus on adding value instead of assessing what's currently missing.

Relentlessly believing in abundance helps attract more creativity, inspiration, collaborators and appreciative audiences. Your potential is limitless, not constrained.

Stay True To Your Creative Vision

You'll face pressure to conform to others' expectations and agendas when attracting more attention. It takes the backbone to stay true to your unique creative vision versus chasing more comprehensive approval.

Say no to projects that don't align with your values or long-term goals, even if the payday is tempting. Let your audience know what they can expect from you. Boundary setting reduces the need to pretend to be someone you're not. Trust that being authentic to your artistry is ultimately most fulfilling.

The creative life is rarely predictable or comfortable. But you can survive and thrive as a professional creative by being adaptable, embracing opportunity and maintaining your purpose and inner fire. Stay bold, curious and determined. Your unique contributions are worth fighting for.

How to Survive as a Creative FAQs

What is the biggest mistake struggling creatives make?

The biggest mistake is not developing a clear personal brand and niche audience. Successful creatives know who they are, what they offer and who they serve. Getting crystal clear on your unique perspective and value proposition allows you to stand out in a crowded market.

How can creatives deal with imposter syndrome and self-doubt?

Imposter syndrome is shared among all creatives. Reframe self-doubt as proof you're pushing into growth areas outside your comfort zone. Focus on serving your audience vs. seeking validation. And remember that consistent, imperfect action is better than endless self-criticism and procrastination.

What's the most thoughtful way for creatives to spend their time and energy?

Spend time doing what only you can – focused creative work aligned with your strengths and purpose. Systematise or outsource the other business stuff as much as possible. Ruthlessly eliminate low-value activities that drain energy without advancing your goals.

How should creatives approach marketing themselves?

Think beyond traditional marketing and get creative – try stunts, viral content, giveaways, etc., to grab attention. Promote via social media channels where your audience hangs out. Leverage existing fans and collaborators to expand your reach. Provide value and perspective vs. just blasting sales pitches.

What daily habits can help creatives be more productive and successful?

Developing consistent positive habits is critical, like starting the day with intention-setting, avoiding distractions, prioritising deep work, learning daily, exercising to relieve stress, etc. Organise systems and routines optimising creative flow, energy management and skill development. Batch similar tasks and build in time for recharging.

Surviving as a creative is challenging but immensely rewarding. You can build a fulfilling, sustainable career doing what you love by getting clear on your brand, diversifying income streams, producing prolifically, promoting relentlessly, and persisting through obstacles. Remember why your creative work matters; let that purpose drive you forward.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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