The Common Pitfall Among All Creative Freelancers

As a frequent visitor to creative group forums and design message boards, there always seems to be a few reoccurring topics. Most discussions revolve around quick insights of “What do you think about a master degree in design?” or “What to do about pro bono work for friends and family?”

However, the most frequently discussed topic that is constantly being asked is “How do I find clients?”

This seems to be a systemic challenge among creative freelancers.

And maybe, it doesn’t have to be…

Have you heard of the television show called “Dirty Jobs?” It stars host Mike Rowe, a chronic freelancer, performing the dirtiest jobs in America. From cleaning septic tanks to farming crickets, he has most likely tried it all.

Initially watching the show, I always assumed this is just something he is doing to collect those checks. Although, that’s partially true, I soon discovered that Mike Rowe’s past was also littered with hundreds of “off and on” jobs.

I questioned why would he jump from job to job? Looking from the outside, one would assume he is searching for something. What purpose would this fulfill?

But Mike Rowe governs himself by the simple idea of “Not following your passion, but to follow opportunity.

Hence his success!

So how does this relate to creative freelancing?

All too often, creative freelancers barricade themselves into their own wheelhouse (pun intended).

Maintaining the complacency of just pursuing what they “believe” is their passion (i.e. web designer, illustrator, photographer, etc.…), instead of branching into other creative avenues. Ultimately, in the long run, creatives limit themselves to a set amount of potential clientele seeking those specific skills. So, it almost becomes a niche of a niche.

As oppose to finding greater opportunities by expanding into other creative avenues outside of their wheelhouse.

I know this sounds nuts, not to rely on your greatest strengths to make a living! But consider putting those aside and discovering entirely new ones by taking on jobs you would typically turn down, because it’s not in your creative wheelhouse.

Try fulfilling some of those non-wheelhouse opportunities wherever you find it and let it lead you to a “truer” or even greater passion.

Crazy notion, right?!

To say Mike Rowe was on to something would be the understatement of the year. By working odd jobs, he discovered new skills (and appreciation) to add to his wheelhouse. Increasing his chances of new opportunities: new clients, new projects, and money.

Obviously, this is all within reason.

For instance, let’s take this baseball field as an example. Most of the time it’s every batter’s intention to hit a homerun but there are also other ways of scoring or being successful, such as a base hit. An Infield hit, adjacent opportunities, mean there’s a possibility that up to 50% of your existing skill sets will be utilized and the other half towards learning new ones. Outfield hits, remote opportunities, will utilize up to 20% of existing skill sets and 80% towards building new ones.

Any ball hit outside of your wheelhouse can prove to be a good opportunity.

I don’t expect a graphic designer to progress his creativity into playing major league baseball or becoming a train conductor. Those are called fouls, there are no real connections between the two. Therefore, the likelihood of success is not impossible, but highly improbable.

If you’re web designer, your creativity could progress into event planning or decoration.

If you’re a photographer, your creativity could progress into digital matte painting.

If you’re a beatmaker, your creativity could progress into visual animations to accompany the auditory.

It’s limitless.

I can attest, by pushing outside of my creative wheelhouse when the opportunity presented itself, I was able to accomplish:

Designing Collectable Designer Toys: Learned the process of injection/rotation mould, design applications and ink toxicity testing.

Result: Nominated for a toy award in 2009.

Creating Beats: Gained a grasp of measures, sampling and synthesizers.

Result: Still learning more and developing my own sound library with my handy Tascam. Hopefully, sell my first beat! 🙂

Developing Music App (MVP): Understood strategic U/I design, unique value propositions, qualitative evaluations and market disruption.

Result: Shopping the MVP and assets to startup gurus that can take over the project and launch it to new heights.

Maybe the question isn’t “How do I find clients or work?” But asking yourself “What skill sets am I providing?” Better yet,” What am I willing to try outside of my wheelhouse comfort zone?”

Venturing into other opportunities and continuously adding skills to your existing wheelhouse will catch better results as a freelancer.

And ultimately lead you to your “truer” passion and not what you “believe” is your passion!

So, I say to all creative freelancers don’t shape yourself into a box, trying to sell your greatest strength or a specific skill set. Because, it just might not be your greatest.

Be like water my friend” as Bruce Lee would say. Formless. Shapeless. Flowing. Always changing.

Creativity flows in the same manner, so it makes no sense to limit it to just one specific skill set.

Performing jobs outside of your wheelhouse can prove to be useful. Furthering your overall knowledge, discovering a new avenue of revenue or better yet discovering a “truer” passion. I’m not suggesting every non-wheelhouse opportunity will be successful just like every opportunity will not be a perfect fit.

If you like what you heard, then spread the word. Check my previous article, Are Online Courses the New Get Rich Quick Scheme?


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