A sculptor, a baker, and an animator. No, this isn't the start of a bad joke. Or even a bad pun.
It's my introduction to a podcast I've loved listening to lately. If we've spoken in the last few months, chances are that I've mentioned Don't Keep Your Day Job.
I started listening to this podcast when I still had a day job and needed something hands-free to occupy me during my hour-long commutes. When I found the podcast, I had already given my notice and was trying to figure out what my freelance life would look like, so the podcast was extremely encouraging for me in this pivotal time of transformation.
Don't Keep Your Day Job
The podcast title pretty much says it all, though it doesn't reveal that it's a podcast for creative types. Each episode features someone who quit their day job to pursue the one thing that's always made them happy ... and how they made money doing it. A lot of creative professionals are great at their craft, but struggle with the business and marketing side of starting their own venture, hence why singer/songwriter Cathy Heller started the show. I've been surprised by how much I've learned not just from the writer types (so far, Emily Giffin and the one and only Grammar Girl), but also from those in completely different professions. I've been most inspired so far by the stories of a sculptor, a baker, and an animator (see — no jokes or puns! I'm good for my word).
One thing that Cathy is big on is key takeaways. Here are mine so far.
Freelancing Key Takeaways
Don't have any clients yet? Create the content first. This applies to croissants, a clothing line, comedy sketches, crafts, and of course, writing. I'm not talking about an "if you build it, they will come" mentality. I'm talking about creating the content that makes you happy, and then working like crazy to pitch it to your desired outlet. It's a lot easier to sell a blog or press release that you've already drafted. Even if you have to take a few pro bono or low-paying projects, these can work as portfolio pieces, references, and résumé fillers that can win you the bigger clients.
Disney animator and director Saul Blinkoff shared his story of trying to get employed as an animator while he was in art school. A professor told him to write down this sentence: Nobody worked harder today than me. "If you can't say that sentence and have it be true, you don't go to bed," the professor said. Saul took that to heart, and I have tried to as well. I'll be the first to admit that most days, I go to bed complacent. But there have been several nights when I truly feel like I can claim that I earned my rest. That no one worked harder than I did that day. It's incredibly satisfying.
Many of Cathy's guests have encouraged listeners to find one or two social media platforms they really like, and stick to those, rather than spreading themselves too thin. This is a familiar concept from my PR days, but it's a message I need to be reminded of. I'm only on Facebook and Instagram right now, and that's just fine with me, since even just those two platforms are constantly changing. Once I feel comfortable with those two, I may expand, but only if I feel that it's something my clients need.
- Along the lines of Instagram, sculptor Brian Giniewski offered two practical pieces of advice. First, he said to remind your followers that they can turn their post notifications on for your account. That way, your posts will bubble up to the top of their feeds. Second, he said that his personal business policy has been to avoid the use of hashtags in his posts. "Hashtags may gain more followers in the beginning, but often, those people quickly drop off. We prefer to slowly build up followers, who we find are really loyal and engage with us a lot on Instagram." Granted, Brian uses his posts to sell particular products to his audience, rather than spark a conversation, but I still was struck by the no-hashtags idea, as it seems more authentic. I haven't completely thrown off all hashtags, but I'm definitely considering it. Social media followers of mine, hold me to this!
- Don't get in your own way. Cathy and her guests speak a lot about obstacles they faced to get to where they are. There are the expected external obstacles of financing, finding a market, and promoting your product. But something they also explore is the internal obstacle of yourself. One photographer recalled a low point in her career as she drove through Hollywood, only to see billboard after billboard of photos that she didn't believe she would ever be worthy of. As she continued to drive, she saw one of her very own photos featuring a movie she had just shot. OK, so we're not all going to have that Hollywood billboard moment. But I can relate to the moment prior to that one, full of self-doubt and fear. I can only hope that the encouragement of others and a true love for my work will keep me going in these hard times, and keep me from giving up.
These are just a few of so many lessons I've learned from this show. And no, I wasn't asked by Cathy Heller to write this. Consider it free content that I created. Because I think there are a lot of other creative dreamers out there who could use some encouragement. There is a way to make money doing the thing you love and are really good at. You just have to work harder than the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker.
Comment below with your advice for anyone starting out on the freelance path! Advice on staying motivated, hashtags, and how not to get embarrassed while listening to this podcast while driving with my windows down is appreciated.