Life as a Creative in the Corporate World

If you’re feeling stuck, freelancing could be the solution

I know how to take direction. I know how to color in the lines; I can play the game if I want to, but I HATE that creative people think they have to. That the only options are being broke and happy or comfortable, but miserable. That simply isn’t the case now. There is a huge market and demand for creative talent, yet the certainty of a paycheck and benefits will keep most from taking the leap. Is it worth it? That will depend upon what you want out of life; there is no right answer or most noble path to take. But, if you yearn to create and build something, yet inside, that “stick with what you know, what’s guaranteed” feeling is fighting against your entrepreneurial spirit, the choice may not be as scary as you think.

In fact, 55 million Americans have made the freelancing choice and it’s obvious why there are more each year. From the utter lack of true leadership and inspiration in the corporate world, to that ancient 40-hour week and stuffy work environment, it’s no wonder the talented are fleeing their uniformed desks for the freedom of entrepreneurship. Let’s talk about being a creative in a corporate environment and why today, no matter your circumstances, you really don’t need that 9–5, but they need you.

Work Environment Matters

I despise working in an office; the sheer routine of it requiring more of my time just to get there and back; time you don’t get paid for, yet you’ve wasted it commuting. It’s also the atmosphere; it feels almost as if the building is powered not by traditional means, but its occupants. I feel the energy and inspiration being absorbed from my body and spirit and I’m left sagging, depleted of life and will… Okay, it’s not that bad. Surely there are some positives. For instance, I know many people enjoy their office family and more yet are happy with that daily routine, because instincts urge us to stick with what we know. But if you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated, lacking drive and will, then it’s time to assess your surroundings and think about how you can improve your circumstances; don’t ever settle if you don’t want to, you have options.

There’s more to your work environment than the physical location. I think it’s time the 40-hour work week is revised. The mindset that you need to clock eight hour days is broken; no wonder it takes forever to get anything done in the corporate world. It forces workers to think in terms of hours, rather than tasks; why execute so quickly when I have six hours left? I’m not saying we need shorter work days, on the contrary, working over eight hours is commonplace for a creative.

Many will agree that, creativity comes in waves. Freelancing sets you up to harness those moments. Keeping disciplined though, is no easy task; many prefer the simplicity and structure of the same schedule. You don’t get to clock out early either once you’ve finished what you could do. Leaving 10 minutes early is taboo and unfortunately, there is even pressure to work past 5 pm if you’re salary.

Maybe you don’t succumb to peer pressure. Sadly, the majority submit to the fear that their boss will look down on them for leaving early or even on time, as if you’re not a team player if you value your work-life balance. I think they want you to feel that you can’t make it on your own, like they’re your best option and you should be thankful for the opportunity. Each of these points can be seen in a positive light though and certainly don’t apply to all circumstances in the corporate world, however, for your standard creative worker, it’s just not all that appealing.

What’s not to love about setting your own hours, choosing what projects you want to work on, and how much you charge for your services? You could work from a different location everyday if you wanted to and if you’re missing out on that face time? Hold a meeting somewhere with a pleasant atmosphere where creativity will flourish, unlike stuffing people into conference rooms. As you begin taking on projects of your choosing, being compensated for milestones rather than the number of hours you put in feels like you’re paid more for the work. You’re free to leverage inspiration too and not be held down by corporate templates or guidelines.

Barrier After Barrier

Formats, templates, policies, and processes. A creative’s nightmare if they must constantly follow provided examples and not be allowed to deviate and explore their creativity. From my experience, there isn’t much room for out of the box thinking, though I can agree with, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” I also agree there are positives to these guidelines; they can make business processes more efficient and certainly help with consistency, checks and balances, and make life easier for a new hire.

They can be great tools to guiding and focusing efforts, but a creative will take them to another level if given the freedom. When you do things on your own, you can do just that. You can experiment; you might miss wide left, but you learn from it. It’s not going to make or break you, but it could turn into something wonderful, revolutionary. You won’t know unless you try and regrettably, that mindset is not encouraged in the typical corporate environment.

Most large companies just aren’t structured that way; many of the opportunities are centered around money, one of the largest barriers for any creative. Sadly, money is the determining factor in a vast majority of decisions. Thinking only of the money can contribute to loss of talented workers or even straying from your organization’s core values. The driving factor is how leaders grade performance; if you increased your margins by 15%, your praises will be sung in the halls.

You may have saved your company some money in the short term, but your people are miserable, uninspired, and burnt out. Not to mention the risk of losing customers if the service or product value declines. The fact is, those above you are only looking out for themselves, which everyone should to a point, but the ones putting in the effort end up paying.

When you venture out on your own, these barriers will melt away; clients will demand your creative freedom and expertise. You’ll be responsible for your success and compensation of course, but you set the terms. There’s nothing like the feeling of being able to follow your personal values and do business the way you want to. Although challenges will arise, being on your own forces you to break through the ceiling to overcome. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having that steady routine, a guaranteed deposit in your account every two weeks, but it all comes down to you and how you want to shape your life.

No More Excuses

Never before has it been as easy to journey into freelancing. Technology has greatly improved the capacity to set out alone and contribute to YOUR dream, not someone else’s. No longer do we need to rely on others to create jobs. Though it takes some getting used to, freelancing can be the solution for a corporate creative feeling stuck in their 9–5. Look, many try to make it seem like you must go all in, drop everything and take off on your own. You don’t need to be so extreme, why not try working one side project and see how it goes? Here are a few tips for aspiring freelancers:

· Define your calling — determine exactly the service(s) you can provide to prospective clients. This will help others clearly understand what you’re offering. If you’re a graphic designer, try picking a niche instead of casting a wide net. This will ensure that offers you receive are what you like to work on, saving everyone’s time.

· Start working on a project basis, rather than hourly. When you work on projects, you’re able to demand a percentage up front, solidifying your client’s commitment. It also keeps you from charging strictly based on hours — instead, bill for what you did, not exclusively how long it took you. You may be able to create a terrific website in a few hours, but charging hourly would cause you to underpay yourself; and I say underpay yourself, because you’re in charge of what you get now. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

· Start looking for benefits — one of the main drivers for people keeping their 9–5. There are many options out there and not only will this protect you, but it will help you price your work as well. Factor in a small % of the cost in your work; not factoring expenses so you don’t come out under or break even is a key mistake many new freelancers make.

· Start planting the seeds to generate leads — go through your social media platforms and blast off your message to friends and family. Let everyone know what you’re doing and you might be surprised who comes calling. I’ve found that people are willing to hire someone they know to do a service, rather than work with a random. Don’t forget about the old-fashioned way of networking; you never know who you might meet when you’re out and about, but it can’t hurt to make new connections, some of which may refer you to future business.

· Try a freelance marketplace — I won’t go into detail, but I wrote an article on marketplaces here that may help you when trying to choose.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what works for you. Again, there is no right or wrong path to choose, whether you take the entrepreneurial leap or not. There are pros and cons to both sides and ultimately, you determine what makes you happy. Remember though, you’re not stuck, that’s just a mindset you have the power to change. There are options out there, so grab and take control. I’d love to hear your questions, comments, experiences, and circumstances!