Making Your Own Creative Opportunities


In my last two articles, I covered crowdsourcing, design contests and project bidding sites as avenues of income for freelancers and the response was, as expected, a bit heated. People are not fond of those practices and frightened about how they will affect the design industry. So what do you do when clients aren’t calling and the bills need to be paid?

 One person commented on the article on crowdsourcing, defending the practice:

“I recently participated in the LG “Design the Future” contest (yeah, I didn’t win)… but rarely do I get the chance to design a cell phone like product… it was a great exercise in creativity and it really let me flex my muscle… and they had some substantial cash prizes. I feel like competitions like that are great for the industry. The rules were pretty relaxed and it really let people go hog wild and show off what they can do. Too often you’re forced to roll with the clients vision. It’s great to have a contest that let’s you be you.”

As I was arguing the pros (and cons) of crowdsourcing in that article, I just had to reply with another angle:

“I understand your point, but let me play devil’s advocate and explore another option. So you submitted something you really enjoyed designing and it stretched your creativity. You loved your final submission. You didn’t win and the client, I assume, owns it anyway. What if you had designed it but not submitted it and then sought out companies that might purchase the rights to the design? You would have taken a cue to create your own initiative and owned the product rights.”

Was the prize worth giving away all rights? Which avenue held a better chance for him? The odds of him winning the contest and giving up the idea anyway without winning, or the odds of him being able to sell the design on the open market, or maybe not, but owning it to try again?

Fear of Failure… or Trying?

During my last job with a large corporation, people started to get laid off. Many fellow creatives came to me, as they had no idea what they would do if they were let go. “You’re creative,” I would tell people. “You can do so many things that are creative. If you get pushed out the door, make your own projects!” Then advise them where to go and spend the rest of the day creating a book, or painting a series for a gallery show, or create postcards, greeting cards, dolls and websites. The dividing line is how badly does one want it?

Self-initiative is not easy for most people. Working for someone else provides a regular paycheck, security, after a fashion, and someone telling you what to do. No self-motivational projects needed. Persistence in selling the idea and protecting it can be daunting.

Your Idea… Your Dream

No one will do it for you. Even if you have to work at something non-creative — use the money to live, but make your dream the priority. Crappy job gets in the way of your dream? Find another crappy job! They’re everywhere and they won’t drain your creativity. Have the idea? Now set your plan. Just like your previous boss who had always made projects go around and around, it’s finally time to make your own plan, knowing it will work better, and make it happen!

One of the easiest avenues to depend on you to find creative outlets that will generate income is a site like CafePress or Zazzle. Create your design, upload it, assign it to re-made products and sit back and let people buy those products. Of course, a little social media and advertising can help bring customers to your products page, so, it does require some extra effort.

The same goes for print-on-demand cards and stationery. Act as a designer and print broker and by using one of the many print-on-demand digital services, you can create entire lines of greeting cards and paper goods without investing in stock, awaiting customer orders.

Really BIG Ideas for Mass Production take Really BIG Effort!

First, research who your customer is. Using Web sources or going to stores are the best way to find out some helpful examples of consumer habits. See what people are buying and talk to them. I used to go to stores that carried products made by the company for which I worked, and watched what people bought or didn’t and asked them why. This is probably why my product designs sold well. Know your consumer base!

Also, figure out costs and how you will cover them. You may need a loan or investors. What website and functionality will you need? Packaging, having stock, shipping, advertising, taxes? Is your dream project for you to start a business or do you want someone else to produce it? If you are producing it yourself, you can get a business loan, but you are about to take many, many risks. Get legal and financial advice next. It’s well worth the money and will give you the final tally of whether or not this will be your dream or nightmare.

If you are creating something to pitch to a company for their purchase or licensing a property (certain photos for calendars and cards, for instance), there are a similar but different set of rules. Start with the idea and marketing, create a style guide and/or presentation. A friend of mine wanted to publish a graphic novel for a pitch for a property she was trying to sell but couldn’t afford upfront fees for an artist and writer and printer, so I told her to use a WordPress blog to post her promotional material that she already had and that would give her a great presentation — the easy way.

Research which company you think would want to take on the project. Again, go online or to a store and look around. Want to really impress potential clients? Ask the store’s permission to set everything up; take videos of shoppers and their answers. What better way to produce proof of a need and then give clients the means to fulfill it? Let your imagination run wild!

Found the perfect prospect? Do your research and find the people you need to reach. There are many business-networking sites. Search the company and find people and their titles. Get addresses and phone numbers. Call the receptionist and ask her/him who is the head of marketing or if they have an R & D contact person. If they don’t know, ask to speak to the secretary of the VP of marketing. Maybe she/he can get you closer. Also, use your network. Do any of your contacts know someone you are trying to reach?

Sounds difficult? It isn’t really; just keep in mind that it takes a lot of persistence, patience, as well as a good sense of humor. Once you’ve lost one of those, you won’t make it.

Use your down time. Partner with friends and split the rewards. Ever hear of a group of social outcasts who got together and created something called “The Onion?” No? I haven’t either, but I do hear good things and that they crawled their way up to be, I believe, the number one humor site in the world. It must have started with an idea and someone’s dream.

Images ©GL Stock Images

About the Author

Speider Schneider

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. Follow him on Twitter @speider

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5 Comments

  1. cre8ivetype October 10, 2012

    Well considered and well put, Speider. Thanks for continuing to stoke the creative fire!

  2. I needed to hear this, and I needed to hear it today. Thanks, Speider. I will say with a friendly smile that Cafepress and Zazzle have been dead-ends for me — I can’t get people to buy, and I think it’s because the base price-point is too high. But I also think Kickstarter.com is going to change EVERYthing: you don’t have to actually produce your brilliant creative product until you have a commitment from a critical mass of people who say, “Yeah, I’ll buy one of those. Go make it.”

  3. Good advice Speider. You hit the nail on the head with your comments about crowdsourcing. I would rather work — as you stated — a “Crappy” job than to give away my talents for free.

    Personal success — again as you mentioned — is achieved through persistence and patience. It’s not easy, but a willingness to keep striving is what separates the dreamers from the achievers.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] News Making Your Own Creative Opportunities Affordable Premium Stock Photos and Vector Images Read the whole article on Graphic Leftovers! October 11th, 2012 | Category: [...]

  2. [...] Start by making a file for your project. Make one for holding papers, notes and scribbles and keep it on your desk. Make one for your computer for digital files. Create a bookmarks folder for sites you need for your project. That’s actually a huge step because they will always be in your face, demanding attention. That demand will remind you to work on your project more and more and while it might take a year to finish, at least you’ll do it. To finish something, you just need to start. [...]

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