5 tips for freelance success

Earning a living from your creative business might be your dream, but how do you get there? For performer Tim Marston, it's a matter of good business skills. He shared five key tips.

Tim Marston runs a troupe of fire and circus performers, Juggling Inferno. He has also written a book,
Tim Marston runs a troupe of fire and circus performers, Juggling Inferno. He has also written a book, "How To Sell Your Act".

In my career as a professional fire performer, I've worked with a wide variety of street, circus and theatrical performers. This has covered a lot of ground.

Street performers, for example, range from sand sculptors to breakdancers, with a cornucopia of different acts and creative genres in between.

Full-time creatives get to avoid the humdrum of the nine-to-five.

Over the years, I've noticed a pattern emerging amongst all of these people. Some are living the dream. They're both successful and creatively satisfied.

Others are struggling to pay the bills, but are getting by. They get to avoid the humdrum of the nine-to-five, and gain small amounts of creative satisfaction along the way.

Many other people haven’t managed to escape the nine-to-five. They may have already tried and failed, or they may harbour an unexplored ambition to make a living from a creative business.

What separates all these people? What dictated where these individuals ended up? What allowed me personally to create a career of my own choice? Most importantly, how does this affect you?

My five pieces of advice for successfully forging a creative career would be as follows:

1. Take responsibility for your career

To create a successful career that both pays the bills and gives the creative freedom you desire, you have to make sure you're responsible for every aspect of your work.  

It’s easy to go away and be creative – let's be honest, that’s what you do best. 

But you should also make an effort with these things:

  • Take care of your marketing and sales
  • Make sure your accounts are up to scratch
  • Pay your tax on time
  • Handle clients politely (even if you dislike them)
  • Make sure you deliver projects on time and on budget, wherever possible.

These are the things that make a difference. I can imagine the grimaces as some of you read this – and I haven’t even mentioned health and safety yet! 

2. Don't leave your creative success to luck

I learned this the hard way. When I started out selling fire shows, I was convinced if I created a good enough product, the success and the money would take care of itself.

In some rare cases this is true, but do you really want to leave your creative future to luck?

If you do find a shortcut to success, that’s great. But in the meantime, take responsibility for the bigger picture.

I'd advise against simply hoping to get picked up or spotted by some kind person. Waiting for them to come along and blast you straight to a life of creative freedom and financial security is no way to be. 

My advice from my own experience is not to take this route. If you do find a shortcut to success, that’s great. But in the meantime, do everything you possibly can to take responsibility for the bigger picture, as well as the creative process.

If you're still wondering how exactly you should go about this, I've found that the details tend to fall into place once you get yourself into the right mindset.

3. Reconcile your creativity with business skills

This is where things start to get a little bit contradictory, at least at first glance. In my experience, it can feel counterintuitive to care about both creativity and paying the bills.

However, the more businesslike your approach, the more creative freedom you can carve for yourself.

The mindset of 'being in business' and 'making money' might seem like the last thing you should consider when trying to be creative and free.

Creativity and freedom don’t pay the bills. Sales and funding do. By accepting this, you are taking back control.

But creativity and freedom on their own don’t pay the bills. Sales and funding pay the bills. By accepting these hard facts of life, and then working within the framework they dictate, you are taking back control.

By jumping through a hundred seemingly pointless bureaucratic hoops, filling out forms as long as a short book and dropping certain buzzwords here and there, you could find yourself in the lovely position of being paid by the government or some other funding body to create something beautiful and unique.

4. Develop your marketing skills

Don’t want funding? Then the marketplace it is!

Selling your art or creative works can be very rewarding, but it takes effort and conscious thought.

For me, as a freelance fire performer, I studied marketing. I went online and got my website built, and then I promoted the living daylights out of it.

It worked a treat, and I became so busy I was often too busy. I’ll save you the details, but what really worked for me was the mindset I created to help me achieve my burning desire of quitting the day job and living the dream.

I got my website built, and then I promoted the living daylights out of it.

I took marketing and sales very seriously. I studied other performers, as well as businesses in general. I studied traditional marketing, internet marketing, copywriting and a variety of other skills.

I didn’t want to do this, but after a while I began to enjoy it. As my studies paid off and the work started rolling in, I realised it was well worth the effort.

5. Adopt a business mindset

So how does this relate to you and you creative ambitions? I suggest you adopt the mindset of 'being in business'.

I understand this might be the last thing on your bucket list, but trust me – it’s the most likely way you'll succeed.

Take care to:

  • Learn about sales
  • Learn about funding
  • Study marketing and logistics
  • Pay close attention to those in your field, and see what inspiration you can gain from their success.

If you commit to this path, then you'll be well on the way to living your dream, as well as creating unique creative work. Take a new approach to your work, and it'll be worth it. 

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