10 Rules for Success as a Creative Professional



If ‘creativity’ is a factor in your work, these ten rules will help you find success in your career. 

When we say success, we don’t exclusively mean more clients, more work, or more freedom. We mean all of the above and more: success as a creative means personal and professional development because you are your business and your craft. 

This episode was heavily inspired by articles from:

This episode is sponsored by AND.CO, the freelancer’s resource! They offer great tools for freelancers, including curated job lists, time tracking and invoicing software, contracts, free guides and more! 

10 Rules for Succeeding as a Creative Professional

  1. You’re on your own.
  • Blogs, teachers, webinars, courses, and classes can help you, but they’re not going to get things done for you. They’re there to refine your skills, give you ideas, or teach you the rules.
  • In almost every instance, they’re positioned in such a way that they’re giving you permission to get started by offering inspiration and addressing your concerns or fears.
  • In terms of creativity, it’s about you: what’s going on inside you, what’s going on around you, and how you manage the two.
  • Though you don’t necessarily have to follow their advice, you should listen to experts. You should follow them. You should consume content that excites you – but you shouldn’t be afraid to strike out on your own.
  1. Clients rarely know what they need.
  • Clients hire you because they don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Some clients may think they do, but that’s not exactly the same thing.
  • Listen to what a client says and take to heart what they recommend. They know their product or vision. It can even be worth attempting their version of things to see how it turns out. But then it’s up to you to add value.
  • “Adding value” is why clients will hire you. Show them something new or unexpected (in a good way) – this is how you communicate that your expertise requires more than a few clever mouse clicks.
  • The best client interaction is where you take a client’s vision and add colour.
  1. Different is more important than “better.”
  • Better and different are often treated like synonyms in creative fields.
  • Better means you’re following someone else’s path. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it’s how derivative and repetitive trends occur. You’re unlikely to outpace that trailblazer, and as a result, you end up looking like a cheap imitation.
  • However, taking someone else’s path and tweaking it to your style, tastes, or needs – making it “better” in a way that matters to you, either as the audience or the artist – is how you start to succeed. And it’s also how you and your work gets better.
  • Competing on outright skill is like competing on price. It’s a global economy. Someone out there is going to better or cheaper than you.
    • If you do something in a way that’s distinctly yours, you have no competition.
  • Being different is more important than being better.
  1. Compete on value, not price.
  • Competing on price in a creative field is a bad idea unless you live somewhere with an exceptionally low cost of living. Instead, focus on delivering value.
  • Value can come in many forms, like better than the competition, a standout style, an offering more tailored to the client’s unique needs – whatever. Clients tend to care most about avoiding risk and saving time and money; your value should speak to these points in some capacity, but don’t stress a perfect one-to-one translation.
  • If you deliver value and you can communicate this to prospects, you should charge more.
  1. You need to be challenged.
  • If you’re not pushing your skills or expertise, you’re not improving. You’re probably stagnating.
  • An easy job isn’t a bad job, but it’s the jobs where I had to meet tough deadlines and big challenges that have pushed my career forward in terms of skills, impact, and clients.
  1. You are what (and who) you surround yourself with.
  • If you want to be better at what you do, seek out those you think are better than you. From colleagues to clients, always shoot high.
  • Follow your inspirations and consume everything they do.
  • Chase your ‘mentors’ and critically examine what they put out. If you can, reach out.
  • Find your community and create a place within it.
  1. Always know why you make your decisions.
  • Whether you’re a writer, a photographer, a designer, or a developer, you need to be able to communicate your work beyond “I like the way it looks.”
  • Being able to explain why you made a creative decision is how you communicate your expertise to a client. Explaining why this design is better than that one is how you establish yourself as an authority.
  • Explaining yourself in terms that matter to your client is huge. Whether it’s a visual vocabulary or a grasp of grammar, explaining the worth of your work is how you get hired, rehired, and referred.
  1. Embrace failure.
  • Trying to avoid mistakes is paralyzing. Don’t let the possibility of a mistake prevent you from acting.
  • Don’t try to avoid failure. Aim to recover and learn from it.
  • Whether it’s in creative or business terms, you need to be willing to act, fail, and try again. Looking at your failure, assessing what went wrong, and trying again (and again, and again) is everything.
  • Getting out there to do stuff is everything. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, change it. Quickly.


  1. Less is more.
  • Trying to be everything to everyone is a great way to be nothing to no one.
  • Whatever your creative pursuit, simple is good. Remove clutter and distraction.
  • Whatever your business, a niche is good. Add specificity and purpose. Tell one story and tell it well.
  1. You need to do the work.
  • Daydreaming about what you can do is fun, but don’t confuse it with doing the actual work.
  • If you feel crummy about what you’re making, that’s fine. Try a new approach. Fail at something new and exciting. Throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
  • If you’re not producing, you’re not a professional – you’re a poser.
  • Likewise, if you spend every day writing, taking photos, or working on your designs, you’re not an aspiring anything. You are what you’re doing.

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This is important for anyone in a creative field!!

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