Taking the creative plunge

 21 March 2011

Got the Monday morning blues? Get them every week? Maybe it’s time for a career change? Here’s five tips on how you can make a successful move into the creative sector.

Janine Marsh became a freelance artist and drama practitioner.
Janine Marsh became a freelance artist and drama practitioner.

So here’s the scenario: you spend years climbing a professional career ladder. At each rung your status and pay packet rises and generally life is good, if not a little unfulfilling…lacklustre…predictable. Your mind can’t rest, plagued by the question, what happened to your dreams and ambitions?

It’s never too late to stop, reassess and change direction. Making the leap from a non-creative career to a creative one is a scary process, but if you truly have the desire to work in a field that satisfies your interests and rewards your personal goals, then here are some tips to help you take the plunge.

1. Be prepared for the career change

When changing careers, your previous experience will affect your entry level and salary. You may need to relocate, retrain or start from scratch.

Rich Ford followed a structured path to becoming a solicitor at an insurance firm in the City. After qualifying and practicing for 16 months, he traded in his suit for a more satisfying job as a food writer in Sussex.

“I was in a privileged job where I could plan my life according to my salary scale, but the creative side of my brain was aching to do something else. I knew the pay would never be as good but moving into a creative job is a lifestyle choice and it’s one that suits me.”

Better hours, less formality and the chance to get out of the office and network gave Rich opportunities to learn and grow in his new position. Starting off as a new writer, within two years he has worked his way up to being a Senior Writer. Despite the extra responsibility of this, he still has a less stressful life than before.

2. Test your career out

"Every day is different. There is no greater motivation than getting paid for what I love doing."

If you can, try out your future career before committing to it. Use it as an opportunity to network, ask questions, talk to those already in similar posts and find out if it’s really for you.

It took a real leap of faith for Rich to pursue his ambitions as a writer, but he couldn’t have done it without road-testing first. Using annual leave to do work experience and spending his evenings and weekends practicing the art of the wordsmith, Rich made sure he was ‘skills ready’ for his next challenge.

“I left messages on web forums and contacted other people to find out how they did what I was so eager to do.”

One of the great things about working in the creative sector is that you’ll meet so many inspiring people with unique tales of how they got into the industry. Whether actors, musicians, artists or craft makers, the chances are they too have dabbled in other fields.

“In the end, juggling my desire for finding a writing position with the pressures of my demanding day job wasn’t working, so I handed in my notice and then got stuck into the journalism."

Although it sounds like a straightforward switch, it’s not ideal to walk out of a job without knowing how you’re going to pay the bills. Rich’s advice is to make sure you have enough savings to survive financially for a few months as it could take a while until your new career kicks off. In his case, he concentrated on getting as much published as he could until he had a portfolio worthy enough for him to apply for writers jobs.

3. Follow the career you love

Janine Marsh is an ex-PA who swapped diary planning someone else’s life to take control of her own. She took up admin roles in the creative sector, mainly working in television. But while she met many creatives, she wasn’t one herself.

“It seemed like the right job at the time. I wanted to be surrounded by creative people, but I got caught up in forgetting the wider picture - me. Luckily a friend came to my rescue.”

Janine was asked to help out at an art event . Despite not having done anything similar in years, she instantly regained her passion for what she actually liked doing. Once she had a taste, there was no going back. She became a freelance artist and drama practitioner.

“I am more me than I’ve ever been. I’m happy every day!”

4. Get a support network

Abandoning a stable income for an industry with less job security is never going to sit well with some people. So rather than wasting time convincing these folk, latch onto those who will give you positive support.

"I knew the pay would never be as good but moving into a creative job is a lifestyle choice."

For Janine, this meant seeking out a network of like-minded people.

“Non-freelancers can’t relate to what I go through. So I’ve found it useful to connect with people in the same boat as me. There is a lot of integrity and respect among the freelance community. I certainly never feel lonely even though I work for myself."

It’s also useful to stay on good terms with the colleagues you are leaving. Janine is considering returning to work with the television company where she was a PA, but this time as an outreach artist. Rich’s colleagues would also welcome him back if he ever wanted to return.

5. Stay positive about your career

"On a bad day, I hate not being able to buy a posh coffee", admits Rich. But he acknowledges that most of the downsides to taking a pay cut revolve around material goods. In his daily life he’s a much happier person. In terms of the future, he’s aware that his stable pension plan is no longer on the table, but he’s not worrying about that yet. The day job is too enjoyable.

For Janine the reality is similar. Being self-employed, she has the added implications of sorting out her own paperwork and misses the holiday pay. This is counterbalanced by the joy she gets in her job.

"Every day is different. The flexibility at not having to work a 9-5 means I can plan my routine myself. I’m constantly challenged, but there is no greater motivation than getting paid for what I actually love doing."

Changing your career path is not easy, but it is achievable. If you want to make the switch, read up on the industry and find out the type of roles you could to do. Many successful creative careers come about through pursuing hobbies, mainly because they are what you enjoy doing. These skills may be your greatest strengths but they aren’t the only things that you can transfer to a new job. Don’t waste the knowledge you’ve gained in previous roles, you’ll always find a use for them.

Decide whether you want to be employed or self-employed and then get out there and do it. Keep and open mind, be flexible and pursue your dreams.

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