Lessons Taken from ‘How Creatives Really Make a Living’

How exactly does a creative make a living? This seems to be the burning question on every creative mind since mid-2015 when the Abbot government, thank you George Brandis, decided to cut over $104 million out of arts funding. A reoccurring theme in many arts related publications, online forums and online arts sources, sustaining ones artistic practice has now lead to panic within the thousands of independent creative around Australia.

A collaborative presentation coordinated be General Assembly and Arts Hub on the very topic How Creatives Really Make a Living was held Tuesday, 1st June in Melbourne. A free event for creatives of all mediums, the room was packed – even leaving some standing on the side-lines.  All were eager to hear simple solutions to common frustrations to business sustainability.

Moderated by Arts Hub Deputy Editor, Madeline Dore, four panellists, highly regarded within their profession, summarised their discoveries about what it take to make a living as a creative. These panellists included Sara Toby (Just Another Agency), Tom Blachford (Freelance photographer), Honor Eastly (independent art maker and podcast announcer) and David Read (co-Creator of Melbourne Cabaret Festival). Below, I list five key points that I took away from the presentation:

Sustaining a career in the creatives requires patience

Expect to work long hours, feel overwhelmed and face many challenges. But also knowing why you do what you do will keep you motivated. Having your main objective as a creative is to make money won’t keep you in the game for very long. Go deeper as to why you consider yourself a creative. Is it the freedom to be your own boss? To support your travel dreams? To serve others? Whatever the reason may be, keep in mind that being a creative is more like a marathon and less like a sprint. The competition is high and the money is low, so go in with a positive and healthy attitude.

Quoting your work impacts more than you

Valuing yourself, your arts practice and your skills impact the way you shape your rates – how much you think a client should pay for your labour and work. However, a waterfall effect is currently trending where young skilled creatives enter the freelance market without knowledge of the average rates and are winning bids because of their lower rates. The question was asked of the panellists how do creatives overcome this impactful obstacle? Is it more education to the newbies or more education to the general community? Passionately, the discussion concluded on the fact that social change is needed but that will take time. Until then, there needs to be more resources for positive empowerment for artists, and a first step is to do the research within your industry about the average rates for your skills.

Friends are key

Especially when you are starting out. Or even if you are a veteran in the creatives scene, developing long-term relationships has many benefits. A major benefit is developing a barter system of skills to enhance your business. For example, trade your skills in graphic design with a photographer friend who needs a logo for their photography website in exchange for stockphotos for future jobs. That way you are helping a friend in need AND building your portfolio to show future clients.

Weigh you opportunities as ‘Exposure’ vs. ‘business exchange’

As a creative, especially young in your business, it is important to take every opportunity as it approaches. However, as your skills develop and interests starts peaking, know when the incoming jobs are reasons of exposure and reasons of business. In a heated debate between panellists Tom and Sara Toby, one creative says that you should never give away your skills for free. Another says go into an creative business knowingly and willingly to give most of your services for free. Because free services means exposure.   My conclusion: find an active balance between the two: know what from your business is coming in as paid services and what is free for exposure.

Find inspiration from everywhere

This too emphasises the importance of balance: balance of life. Though it is highly important to stay focused on your work, maintaining a healthy and active social life can add inspiration to your business. Expose yourself to other industries, artistic mediums, adventures, etc. as a way to keep yourself sane, motivated and, for lack of a better term, focused.

These were just five factors I took away from the incredibly inspiring night thanks to General Assembly and Arts Hub. Please leave a comment below to add to any ideas that stuck with you!