10 tips to help you build a successful creative career

10 tips to help you build a successful creative career

By Pamela Ledley

You know it’s what you want to do. All the doubters are ready to shoot your ideas down. But you’re creative to the core and ready to do everything that it takes to build a career and work on the thing you love most.

In my work as a career counsellor with high school students, the career dreams that come through loudest and strongest are those of creatives. But can those dreams become reality?

Well, if you ask the parents the answer is ‘No!’ Those dreams are shut down faster than a two-year-old with a smart phone. Parents want their kids to be happy. And by their reckoning you can’t be happy if you’re an underemployed actor, artist, musician, dancer, writer or designer!

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Lots of people give up on their dreams. So how do you develop a career that draws on creativity, talent, skill and passion?

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Where are you heading?

This isn’t about your career destination, but your career direction. Think about where you might be heading. What do you love doing? Be open to learning and to new ideas. And once you’ve worked that out, get good at it! Train. Practice. Learn. Rehearse. Your raw talent and passion need shaping.


You know you’re creative, but what to do – where to start? Whose work do you admire? Who inspires you? Read their blogs, follow them on social media. Get up close and learn from them. Be found at galleries, gigs, performances and festivals. And take every opportunity to talk to people who make a living from their creative talents.


Find out more from industry associations such as the Design Institute of Australia. You’ll find links to professional associations on most of the occupation profiles on myfuture. And check out the myfuture videos and career stories from creatives who started where you are.

What’s in demand?

Look for areas in demand or growing. Identify the trends and then advance them. Put your own spin on it.

You’ve gotta eat!

Yes, your head is filled with ideas but you have to eat, keep a roof over your head and pay the bills. Be prepared to work more than one job. This isn’t a 9–5 existence you’re signing up for. Creative careers often take a while to become self-sustaining. So find something that you’re happy to do to support yourself, while having enough time and mental space to invest in your art.

Internships and volunteering

This is about getting experience. It’s no or low-pay in return for opportunities to learn. Make the most of your internship. Be on time, work hard, be available and be flexible – ready to try new things. This is where you’re earning your reputation in the industry you’ve got your eyes on.

Get some business skills – you’ll need them!

Chances are you’ll be self-employed. Learn the basics of business management so you can actually make some money from what you do.

Hear from people who are working as creatives

‘When we first started, we definitely weren’t business women; we were creatives who wanted to create.’

– Brianna and Anna from sixhands

Unconventional and unafraid

‘I’m a dancing instructor, former circus performer, marketeer and graphic designer. Marketing and business skills are essential. It’s the only way to get by. You need to be savvy and be wired to the best way to sell your skills. Oh and it’s a long term thing. Be prepared to wear many hats.’

– Jessie Zevaka

Be the one

Teen fiction author John Larkin tells of his first day in a creative writing class at university. Thirty hopeful writers gathered, ready to do all it took to succeed as a writer. This is what they were told: ‘Only one of you will succeed because only one of you will not give up’. He decided that day to be that one.

Last words – be real

‘Being yourself in your art is the greatest thing you can give to the world. If you like it, there are strong chances that there will be others that like it too. Authenticity often leads to really real, vulnerable, personal art, which is the best kind. There will be people who love what you do if you do it with authenticity.’

– Anna Stanford

*Pamela Ledley is a career counsellor who loves helping people to explore who they are and where in the world that could take them

*This article first appeared on MyFuture website

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