Going It Alone: How Creative Types Do Business

by Kristen Fischer

When Penelope Dullaghan set out to be an illustrator, she had no idea she'd become an accountant, publicist, computer technician, marketing director and intern.

Well, who else was going to get her coffee for her?

Welcome to the world of creative self-employment. There's no boss, and in many cases, no dress code. But there are-contrary to popular belief-issues that you just don't face in any other career.

Regardless of whether one scribbles professionally like Dullaghan, writes books, creates websites or paints canvasses, the people doing this for a living will tell you just the opposite of what you'd think their jobs are like. They are hard.

"Balancing my time and attending to each role isn't something that comes naturally," says Dullaghan, a South Carolina-based artist who has worked on projects for eVite.com, The Indianapolis Star and Resort Condominiums International.

So much for the hobby of "just doodling," right?

Tapping In to a Creative Tap Out

Dullaghan says her days are busy - so busy that the business side of things can overshadow her creative side.

"Sometimes you just want to paint, and don't feel like dealing with, say, press checks or client feedback or self-promotion, but at the same time you don't want to let any of those things slip behind," she says. "Balance to me also means learning how to take downtime. When you're self-employed, you really own your success (and your failure), so it's very easy to work yourself like a dog and forget to refill that creative cup."

That's what many creatives said in Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs. The book, written by copywriter Kristen Fischer, shares insights from more than 65 creative types across the globe. The goal of the book is to make creative types aware of the trials they may face, and help them see by example that they can thrive in business.

"There are so many gifted people that get sidetracked by the trials of this business," Dullaghan says. "They don't think they should feel devastated after a rejection, or they think they should know exactly how to do everything that running a business entails. The result is awesome creatives who abandon their creative dreams, thinking they're not good enough to pursue them, when in fact, that's not true."

Battling the 'Lonelies'

For Andrea Scher, a jewelry-maker from California, the hardest part about making her colorful, chunky beaded jewelry is battling the "lonelies."

"I cried almost every day for the first year or so [of being in business]," says Scher. "I considered quitting. I thought about sensible 9-to-5 jobs and the working the counter at a café. Anything to escape the lonely feelings I had and the accompanying angst. Not to mention the financial stress."

Underneath her loneliness was fear. She loved her business but she was afraid of going broke. She feared she was crazy for thinking people would buy her necklaces and earrings.

Years later, and now a certified life coach helping others battle the creative self-employment demons, a more successful Scher knows that the problems she faced were not the end-all-be-all of her creative career. They were part of the process.

Experiencing Down Cycles

M.J. Ryan, an author and consultant based in California, says many creative people do not understand that there are ebbs and flows to the creative course. When artists and writers go through a down cycle, they feel empty and can think that is the end. Or that they're not good enough. Or that it's time to run back to corporate safety.

But that's not true, says Ryan. She doesn't offer a step-by-step plan for gaining self-trust, but does say the best way to build it up is to play on past successes. If you're starting out as a graphic artist and have not a client in sight, for example, think about the art show you successfully exhibited at during college. Any success, even if not related to your field, can be used to motivate. Once you're motivated, you can put yourself out there a little. Will rejection come? Sure. But as Ryan emphasizes, it is all part of the process.

Confidence and trust in oneself will naturally build as success is tasted, offers Ryan.

And so for those who have already taken the plunge, they're learning that they can use their library or bookstore to find out how to set up an invoicing system instead of panicking over numbers. In Scher's case, building a support system helped her battle loneliness.

"If creatives stick with it, they can succeed in their businesses. They just need to be aware of what kinds of issues they'll face, and seek out that voice that tells them it's OK to get stuck or down. And then find ways to help themselves," says Fischer. "Hopefully my book will do just that."

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter living in New Jersey. Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers Deal with Career Ups and Downs is her first book. For more information, visit www.creativelyselfemployed.com.

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