11 Life Lessons for those building a Creative Career

Being a creative can be tough. For all the time you spend doing what you love, you’ve got to put in the same number of hours trying to get others’ attention and making the money you need to sustain yourself. These lessons will help you along the way.


Value yourself

Too many creatives are quick to devalue their work by working for free or undercutting prices to get recognition (or “exposure”). The sooner you snap out of it, the better. Make sure you put a price tag on your time. Sure, there are some exceptions to this rule, but as a default? No sir.


Invoice, invoice, invoice!

Whether you’re working for a big player or helping out your cousin’s start-up for free (one of those exceptions we mentioned above, because y’know, nice to help out family), always invoice them for the work done. If you offer free services, strike them through (like so). Clients (yes, even your cousin) should always be aware of the value of what you are giving them.


Find a rhythm

We know what working from home is like. Get up, check Twitter, check Instagram, coffee, shower, check Twitter, check Instagram, start work, snooze, check Twitter, PokemonGo for a bit… procrastination is tempting. Carve out day-to-day rhythms and give yourself time to do your admin and research. Stick to your own plan, and you won’t go far wrong.


Get out there!

Look, we all love the Internet, but it’s not enough. Go to events, meet people – that artist you keep having the same “Let’s Collaborate” back-and-forth with online? Ask them to coffee! If you want to meet more creative directors or corporates, have a think about which meetups they would attend and join them.


...and collaborate

It’s easy to feel isolated as a creative – lots of time spent on your own, with your own thoughts. Sometimes you need to shake it up and get inspired afresh. Work on a project with someone else, start a collective, help out on a friend’s project. At the very least, you’ll learn something about your own practices — but it could also be the beginning of a really exciting creative partnership.


All feedback (from the right people), is good feedback

Positive makes you feel good and negative pushes you to improve your work or rethink your targets. Consult the people you trust and who you can trust to be honest. But ultimately, if you want the brutal truth, ask perfect strangers from your target audience. (You may have to do this eventually anyhow, and there’s no time like the present!)


Reflect on your achievements

When you produce a piece of work, be proud of it. That’s the best thing about being an artist – you make all this cool stuff and you throw it into the world and let it do its own thing! Take the time to remember why you do what you do, and don’t be too humble. Let the world know what you’ve made!


Set realistic targets

The whole “Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time” question needn’t fill you with such overwhelming existential dread – be excited about it, and work to get there! Set targets that will inform your decisions on the way to that goal. Don’t go too much in detail, lest you miss out on opportunities along the way. It’s more like putting an X on the map and being flexible on the path to get there.



Time is your most valuable asset: the more efficient you are with it, the more you’ll have to achieve your goals. Think about what do you need most, when do you need it by, how you are going to get it done, and what your biggest challenges will be. Then give yourself deadlines (be realistic, stick to them and be sure to follow Step 3!).


Track contacts, and conversations

No one likes administrative work (well, some do, but for the purposes of this article let’s ignore them), but it’s a necessary evil. If you’re going to get out and meet people, you need a way to store their details, where you met them, what they liked (if it was a piece of work, what you had in common, your shoes) and make sure to email them all once in a while. It’s all about building your network.


Don't forget to take a break

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote Hamilton—the Pulitzer-prize multiple-Tony-award winning genre-hopping smash-hit musical—while on holiday from his previous show. Translation: rest is good and you will do better work as a result. Don’t work yourself into the ground. Turn your alarm off. Start a new book. Try that recipe for peanut butter cookies you’ve had pinned to your fridge for months and watch this amazing video about creative process by John Cleese.

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About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy