The 5 Secrets to Building Your Creative Business Right After College

Imagine being 21 years old, about to graduate art college with a fire under your butt and a dream to make your art a full blown career. You're stoked to leave your part-time jobs, have clients coming at you left and right, and proudly telling your family about your success at Thanksgiving this year. You're looking like this:

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Fast forward and you're 6 months graduated. You've been doing free projects for your portfolio, and are still hearing crickets. You are losing hope and are starting to believe people when they say that you should 'get a sensible job' and 'do art on the side.'


I know how you feel. This was literally me! I graduated last year in August 2017 and came out SO pumped to work and kick start this photography business of mine and prove everyone that being an artist CAN be a career. But I wasn't getting the paid business I wanted and needed to make it a job. Now, it's August 2018 and I'm so thankful for the work I've done this year, and very excited and optimistic for 2019! The title of this post is directed at college grads, but this really can apply to anyone who is trying to achieve their creative goals. Now I'm going to share my secrets to building a creative business, which I'm hoping will get you pumped up about your career.

Secret #1 : Keep Learning

"Wait, I just graduated COLLEGE. Give me a break!"

I will not give you a break. I'm not saying you need to turn around and start applying for loans again, but if you plan on getting better every year and becoming a top dog, you have to keep learning. There are plenty of resources online and in person, some for free and some that may be an investment. But seriously, TONS of free resources. Get on Pinterest, search a specific topic you struggle with/want to know more about (or even things you already know), and read a few different articles and blogs about it. I highly recommend reading multiple articles or books about the same topic, because having different perspectives on something can help inform you, and let you shape your own thoughts, opinions and techniques.

Find and follow people that are doing the thing you wanna do. Follow people who run successful businesses and share helpful information that you can take and apply to your own. But beware: Take everything with a grain of salt. If you're like me (thankfully getting better at this,) then you read something online by a successful someone and you make it your one and only truth for a while. This is not how you should be taking in information, especially if you only read it once from one source. You can learn and absorb information without clinging to it for dear life. Read, interpret, evaluate, THEN act.

Some great resources I've learned from---
Photography related:
* Fine Art Wedding Photography by Jose Villa (book)
* Wedding Photography with Erich McVey (online course)
Generally awesome:
* You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero (book)
* Goal Digger by Jenna Kutcher (online podcast)

Secret #2 : Invest In Yourself

I know right, because tens of thousands of dollars on your college education wasn't enough. This point is similar to the last point. If you want to continue to grow as an artist and business, you will have to invest in the things that will help you do so. Whether that be camera gear, art supplies, a car to get you to your sweet design job across town, or an easel to prop up your canvas. Invest in the things that will help make your job easier. 

Now I'm not saying that buying better gear or upgrading your supplies will make you a better artist. That's on you. If you have genuine skill in your craft, you will be able to make due with whatever you have. Take a photographer for example. If you know about good lighting and creative composition, you could make a great image on a brand new Canon DSLR or a drugstore disposable camera. It's about your skill and creative vision shining, not what kind of camera you have. That being said, better image quality and longevity in your product will help you run a business. Skills first, upgrades second.

Secret #3 : Hustle (Set Goals & Do Something About It)

Obviously building a business from the ground up is going to be hard work. But what work do you need to be doing right now? In the beginning it seems like the to-do lists are endless, and it's so easy to let all of it overwhelm you. A good strategy is to prioritize your tasks, and set daily, weekly, and/or monthly goals. Personally I like to have an overall goal for the month, then each day I'll write my list of things I can realistically do that day to work towards my monthly goal. I also write goals for the year. For me it's how many weddings I want to book, how much money I want to make, which skills I want to focus on improving, as well as personal goals. Because your life is more than work, and you deserve to have your own life goals to achieve aside from your business. This also helps you to remember that breaks are okay, and a healthy work/life balance is necessary for success!

So remember in middle school and high school when teachers and advisors would rant about S.M.A.R.T. goals? If you do, great! If not, I'll give you a run down. The letters in the word S.M.A.R.T. basically tell you how to set up a goal and a plan to achieve it.
S stands for Specific. I want to make $75k in 2019.
stands for Measurable. I need to make $6,250 per month.
stands for Attainable. To reach my goal I will do xyz to make sure I make $6,250 each month.
stands for Realistic. I know I am realistically able to do xyz in order to reach my goal.
stands for Timely. By June 30th, 2019 I need to be halfway at my goal ($375k).

S.M.A.R.T. goals are super helpful in getting really specific about what you want to achieve, and planning how and when you're going to do it. Right after you're done reading this, I highly encourage you to get out your notebook/planner/Google docs and write down some goals for this month, and the rest of this year. Another helpful tip about setting goals is to decide a reward for yourself after achieving your goals. This will help motivate you and keep you excited about working hard for what you want!

Secret #4 : Be Social

The term 'networking' was always such a bother to me in college. I always thought, "Who am I going to meet that is actually going to benefit my career?" "I don't have time for social events, I'm too busy with work and school." "Is it really worth it?" My professors (and every person writing an article about business) would go on and on about networking and making friends and blah blah blah. I was so intimidated, and felt like I, a student, had no place in a professional networking setting. 

This is fear and self doubt winning. Socializing, networking, and getting to know the other creatives in your community is not only so beneficial to your business, but it's also so encouraging and supportive for you as a business owner and artist. When I moved back home to Vancouver, WA, I had to get familiar with people, wedding vendors, photographers, and other artists in the Portland area. I joined Facebook groups, and attended styled shoots and vendor meet ups to meet people who were just like me - building a creative business and looking for friends and supporters who understand. 

A while back someone in one of those Facebook groups put out feelers for hiring someone to help manage their Instagram. I thought, well I could do that, and could definitely use the extra cash, so I left my info and forgot about it, assuming they'd probably go with some professional social media curator, not some random grad who probably didn't know what they were doing. She ended up messaging me and wanted to work with me on it, and now I happily call her a friend that I can work with, encourage, and be encouraged by. She has given me advice, is totally psyched about my new projects, and is like a mentor. All because I decided I was going to organize and curate her Instagram?! You never know where these little random conversations may go, but you'll never know unless you actually talk to someone. You can do this.

Secret #5 : Have Patience

This is by far the hardest thing for me and is something I personally have to work on continuously. When you're putting your heart and soul and energy into your work and business, and you're not sleeping because you're planning your next project, then running to your day job, and then you get one paid gig out of 15 leads - it's absolutely exhausting, and so so hard to accept and be happy with where you are. Shouldn't I be seeing results by now?! Where is the cash flow, I'm doing all the things?

The work is out there. There are people who want to hire you, they just haven't found you yet. The project isn't ready yet. But the work will come to you, if you continue to work diligently, and with patience, knowing that your time will come. We live in a time where the click bait says
You know what I mean.

Businesses are not built overnight. They are even more often not built in a year. It's a slow process that takes hard work and a lot of perseverance. Isn't it worth it to spend your life working hard and doing something you love, than spending every morning dreading the job you have to go to and then coming home and feeling empty because you're still wishing you would've just gone for it? Keep at it. You are able, and you are worthy of living a life that you create. I believe in you!

If anyone was looking for a sign, here it is. A direct message to those who want to chase their dreams, be a (not starving) artist and live their best life. If this helps you at all, I would love to hear from you! I want to encourage you.


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