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Are you thinking about changing careers? Perhaps you’ve been wanting to take up your creative pursuit full time and quit your day job, or maybe you’re taking the leap to start your own business, or doing further study to advance your career in a new direction. Whatever your situation, career change can be a minefield. Once you’ve made the decision to move onto something new, it can be difficult to know to where to start. Should you enrol in a course? Create a website? Ask around for advice and find a mentor? Or should you be networking like crazy to get your foot in the door?
All of these options are important when starting afresh in a new industry, job, or business, and it’s easy to concentrate on the practicalities and neglect to pause and look inward first. But career change, like any major life change, requires cultivating skills that we don’t always think of as relevant to our working lives. So take a look at the steps below before you touch that LinkedIn profile, CV, or website theme.
Reflect on your long-term goals (and not just the career ones)
When at a career crossroads, it can be useful to pause and reflect on the bigger picture of your life. This is your chance to plan your career and work around the life you want to create for yourself. What sort of hours do you hope to work? In what sort of environment would you like to spend your time? How much money do you want/need to earn to keep up your security and lifestyle? How much time would you like to dedicate to your family, social life, and volunteer or “passion projects” outside of work? In other words, it’s a good time to think about what sort of life you want, not just what sort of job/business you want. What is your ideal life, and what sort of working life will help you fulfil this in years to come?
Learn to back yourself
Let’s face it, it can be hard to tune out the voices of criticism when you’ve decided to go against the herd and start something new. There will be plenty of people who try to tell you that you can’t—or shouldn’t—do it. The quicker you learn to shut out those voices, the better. One of the biggest mistakes we all make when initiating a big change is to seek out advice…from anyone who will listen. This invariably leads to a melting pot of opinions that can be confusing at best and discouraging at worst. People project their own fears onto you if they feel threatened by your bravery (because you are taking a brave new step!).
Instead of asking anyone and everyone whether they think you should take the leap and how you should go about it, seek out people you know will champion you. They are the ones you want to hear from; simply tune out the rest. And then concentrate on building your confidence and reminding yourself of your strengths and how they can be applied to your new role.
Particularly if you’re looking to leave the world of nine-to-five and pursue your own freelance career or business, you’ll need to recalibrate your working style to ensure you can self-motivate when external deadlines are not present. Even if you’re just looking to move from one industry to another, you’ll need self-discipline to get yourself up to speed on developments in that area, market yourself properly, and get out and meet people who can help you succeed in your new field. Develop a singular focus (eyes on the prize!) and remember why you set out to do this when there are a million other tasks and fun plans vying for your attention.
Get used to being uncomfortable
You probably already know that this career change business is uncomfortable. From the very beginning, even before you’ve made the change, planning to take this sort of leap requires stepping out of your comfort zone. You’ll have to learn new things, develop networks, and put yourself out there in a way you may not have had to do for years (if ever). The good news is that being uncomfortable equals growth, which is exactly what you want: to grow into your new career. Not to mention the fact that once you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you will find this serves you for years to come as you continue to learn and grow and take on challenges in your new role. Discomfort may not be our preference, but when it comes to creating the career you want, it will be worth it.
Bec Mackey is a writer, teacher, and producer of screen-related things. She uses a decade of experience in the business sides of media and arts to help creative people fund and promote their work in ways that work for them. Bec writes about funding, promotion, creative careers, and life on her website, Brightside Creatives.
Anticipating what will happen in the future is difficult, however, it is something you may want to consider doing to protect and grow your creative business. By considering what future possibilities lie ahead, you might be able to minimise the effects. It may seem like an overwhelming thing to tackle when you’re in the throes of running a creative business, but a little thought and planning can go a long way toward keeping your business running and possibly helping it grow.
Plan Having a business plan is a great place to start, but it isn’t something to “set and forget.” Your plan may need to change as your business grows, markets move, and audience evolve. In your business plan, set goals and don’t forget to track your progress.
Review Don’t get complacent; always keep an eye on what you are offering. Can it be improved upon? What is the market doing? Where are trends going? What and where are opportunities for improvement? You may be onto a good thing now—and hopefully still will be in the future—but markets, trends, and audiences can change, so make sure what you are offering remains relevant and meets the demands of your customers and the market.
Ask your customers regularly what they think. You may think what you are offering is great, but does your audience still think so? Listen to them and watch their behaviour. Is there anything you can do better? Is there something they’d like that you are not currently offering? Ask them face to face, put a survey on your website, do follow-up calls, and so on, to get this information. You’ll gain great insights and can then apply those learnings to your business.
There may be situations when your customers cannot tell you what they want, especially if you are in the innovation space. Think about the iPhone. We didn’t know we needed a device we could use to make a phone call, take photos, play games, and do our banking, but now we need to do all of these things on our phone. Innovating a product that your customers don’t yet know they need is a great way to grow your business and open new market spaces. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.”
Rethink your acquisition strategy regularly. Ways in which you’ve gained new customers in the past may not work for you in the future. Review this often so you can keep adapting.
Watch Observe competitors and your marketplace, watching what is happening around you. Do this by following competitors’ social media feeds (both locally and internationally), reading blogs and industry publications, setting up Google alerts, and so on. If you already have your eye on your own competitive space, start looking at other industries, too, as learning from one industry can be adapted to another. Having an understanding of what is happening around you will keep you and your business on its toes.
Depending on what business you are in (but especially for creative industries), following trends can also be important—even more so if you are riding on them. Watch trend forecasts, keep in touch, and, if needed, adapt your offerings to keep riding that wave.
Experience What can you do when others are offering something similar? How do you stand out from the crowd? Don’t just sell a product or service, make sure to give your audience an experience to remember. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; perhaps it’s the packaging for your product, or how you call the client after delivery to see if everything was okay. Customers are more likely come back if they had a good experience, and repeat business is always good.
Diversify Don’t depend on one section of your business to account for all of your revenue and growth. Find ways to diversify your product folio. If you manage to diversify your offerings, the additional revenue streams can help support your business.
Consider risks Identify and manage risks, both for now and in the future. You can’t predict all future problems, but consider potential risks and map a way to manage them if they do happen. Not sure how? Start with a simple “SWOT” analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and go from there.
Your day-to-day creative business may keep you incredibly busy, but take some time to think about the future so you’re equally busy—if not more so—down the track.
Jes Egan is a “practical creative” and very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist and a university lecturer. Follow Jes on Instagram (@paper_chap).