So you have just graduated…

 9 April 2014

What are the first steps towards a creative career? Jennifer Coleman is a singer and singing teacher, who graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in 2012. She shared ten pieces of advice that she has learned so far.

Jennifer Coleman is a singer and singing teacher.
Jennifer Coleman is a singer and singing teacher.

What are the first steps towards a creative career? Jennifer Coleman is a singer and singing teacher, who graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in 2012. She shared ten pieces of advice that she has learned so far.

So you have just graduated from school, college, university, conservatoire, dance or drama school and now you want to pursue your dream. Where do you begin?

Here are my ten tips for anyone starting out from nothing:

1. Don’t compare your behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlights

When I first left university some of my friends had decided to stay in education, others had jobs and amazing opportunities lined up and waiting for them. I could watch them all beginning their lives from the front row seat of my computer via Facebook.

This made me feel rubbish about myself. I was a singer with big dreams, rent to pay, no contacts and no work.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. You are on your own journey. And get off Facebook, it should be used as a marketing tool, you are self-employed now, you need to police how you spend your time.

2. Figure out what it is that you want to do

This seems obvious, but actually it is really difficult. I just wanted to sing. But there are so many different ways of being a singer – there are many genres, I could have joined a band, turned to jazz or even joined opera companies.

"What could you do today that would help towards your dream?

Have a vision of your dream end goal. This will help you to make decisions along the way. Yes, your end goal can be flexible, but try to give yourself some clarity and vision.

A great tip for this is to work out who your target market are and what it is that they want. Google AdWords has some great free tools to research what people are searching for on the internet and what other companies are doing to target those keywords and that audience. Then give yourself a unique selling point. Bring something new.

3. Get yourself a website

If you meet an amazing contact, you want to be able to send them somewhere where they can see a showcase of what it is that you do. Clients also find people with websites more credible.

Start building your online portfolio as soon as possible. This is your shop window to the world. This demonstrates how you brand yourself and should be centred towards your target audience.

Get some professional photos of you and your product – people judge a book by its cover (sad but true). If your images are amateurish and your web design inconsistent with your branding, people won’t even bother reading the text.

Do not copy and paste text from your competition. What does this say about you? That you are lazy and unoriginal. Unfortunately I have seen lots of other singers copy text from my site only changing my name to theirs.  Yes it’s a compliment, but it also is incredibly frustrating for me. My website is copyrighted, legally this is plagiarism. In university you would fail your dissertation, in the real world you can get sued (or more likely, penalised by search engines).

4. Make business cards

This one is obvious, but essential. You need a very easy way to give your contact details to a client. Be sure to include your name, job title, telephone number, email address, web domain name and make it stand out!

5. Get some experience

Think of the vision or the end goal that we decided earlier. Can you do a mind map of 20 things that you could do today that would help towards that dream?

Which of those 20 will have the biggest impact towards achieving that goal? Great! Now set about making it happen.

Who can you contact? Be proactive. Don’t wait for opportunities to find you. Go out and make it happen for yourself.

Make sure that when you start building your career portfolio that you photograph it, document it and update your website, Facebook and Twitter. You need to prove to clients that you have done what you do many times before so that they feel safe spending their money with you.

6. Be open to anything that pays

When I was first starting out I had to get myself a part-time job alongside working as a singer. I eventually was able to phase this out. But it did mean that I had to find a flexible employer. This is where I think zero-hour contracts can be great.

"I managed to get my first bookings through busking."

I also taught singing lessons one day a week. This brought in just enough stable income, but still gave me plenty of time to do what I really loved doing.

Be careful about getting a ‘real’ job. Getting a 9-5 job just for the money could cause you to not have enough time for what you really love, tire yourself out and become too dependent on the money and security that it brings.

7. Try street performing

Try it. Don’t think that you are too good for it. Busking was a great way for me to gauge what audiences wanted, what worked and didn’t work. It was great way for me to learn song lyrics and be paid for my time practicing. I also got heard by some great contacts and managed to get my first bookings through busking.

And you don’t have to be a musician to do this. I have seen many successful dancers, actors and even painters exhibit themselves through street performance. I don’t see why this couldn’t also work for a fashion show or public poetry.

Be creative, come up with a show and test it out on the general public. Make sure you contact your local council first to find out whether you have to get a licence and what their guidelines are. You don’t want to get arrested.

8. Network

Within every community you will find people that I call ‘hubs’. These are the people that connect other people together.

  • This might be an agent that knows all of the artist in the area and all of the clients and then connects them together.
  • This could be a band leader who gets gigs in and then needs to source session musicians, a museum curator, a producer in a TV company etc.
  • This could just be a very sociable person who knows everyone in a community.

Make yourself known to them. Invite them to a party. Become friends with this person, they will connect you with others.

9. Learn to do your own accounts early

Seriously important. They don’t teach you to do a tax return when you are at university. Learn to do this as soon as possible.

Keep track of everything that you spend and earn. Do not take shortcuts in this area. You will thank me for this advice when deadlines are approaching.

10. Find a mentor

Who do you know that is already really good at something you want to be good at? Call them. Ask them to meet up. See if they can give you some shortcuts to the information that they spent years learning through trial and error.

Do they want any help from you? Could they get you work? You probably had a tutor to help you learn your art. Why not get a mentor to help you learn your business skills too?

Those are my top ten tips for starting out as a self-employed creative person. If you are interested in finding out more about me as a classical singer you can visit my website From there you can follow my blog, subscribe to my mailing list or even contact me to arrange a Skype mentoring session applying the above pointers more specifically to you.