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Earning From Your Creativity


Photography: jef_safi

Ask most people to describe their ideal job and it’s likely to contain a giant salary, of course, but also lots of responsibility and perhaps most importantly, plenty of creativity. Having the freedom to think for yourself – and be rewarded for it – is priceless.

And one of the advantages of a world in which iPhone apps can let cubicle workers give up the day job is that earning from creativity is easier than ever before. If once imaginative thinkers were restricted to the creative departments of large advertising companies – where they were free to think up catchy slogans for airline companies and sketch storyboards for TV slots – today’s creative types have a giant range of options.

Join a Creative Profession

For conventional creatives, the number of artistic professions has exploded. Walt Disney might have been known for having teams of animators whose job was to draw the same character in minutely different ways (or as the company’s historians have pointed out, simply copy the movements from previous films), but Pixar’s animation team gets to do much more fun things, moving characters around, animating tiny details (like hair) and creating new characters with ease. And animators aren’t restricted to movie companies and television studios. Their skills and imagination are also needed by video game firms, whose products tend to start with movie-style intros and whose characters have to be created and planned, as well as online publishers, music promoters and marketers.

The world of graphic design has become much more exciting too. Image editors with knowledge of Photoshop can now create the kinds of graphics that artists of the past could only dream of. That’s only increased expectations. Back in the old days, it was enough for a weathergirl to physically move sticky, plastic clouds across a map of the country; today, the designers are expected to recreate the changing weather itself, making even the old jobs more fun.

Create Your Own Creative Job

But perhaps the biggest improvement for creative thinkers is that they no longer need to go to interviews and persuade old-style employers to pay them for their new-fangled skills. They can put their imaginations to work, create their own products and make them available for sale without having to be told what to do by a boss.

Online malls such as Zazzle, Cafepress, and for craft-y types, Etsy, have turned the Internet into a giant bazaar for people with enough imagination to come up with new product ideas and the skills to create them.

But while sticking a funky design on a t-shirt and offering it in a Cafepress store might be simple and available to anyone, in practice, it’s the sellers with the most original ideas and the most unique styles that tend to be the most successful. Few sellers on Zazzle, for example, have reported sales of more than $500 a month. Yet, Vlad Gerasimov a Siberian designer, has managed to carve out a niche for himself with a naïve style that’s instantly recognizable and all his own. It’s allowed him to give up his day job (designing software interfaces) and focus on creating wallpapers and images that his fans pay for on a subscription basis.

When creative selling is open to everyone, it’s the market that picks the sellers with the genuinely valuable ideas.

Even eBay is allowing artists to make money from their creations. Instead of  having to lug a portfolio of paintings to a gallery and persuade an owner that their pictures really will sell, artists today can put their creations in a “Direct from the artist” category and offer them to collectors themselves. With over 50,000 works available at any one time, that must make eBay the world’s largest art gallery – even if it’s not the most successful. Gallery pictures might go for thousands of dollars at a time but when you have 49,999 competitors of varying talent just a click away, many artists will be lucky to win more than a two-figure sum.

Get Creative with the Marketing

Unless they extend their creativity from the product itself to the way that they sell it.
This might not be what most people have in mind when they think of being creative. They’d rather be known for designing the iPod than creating the Mac versus PC ads that promote Apple. But creative marketing can be as much fun, as challenging, and the results as measurable (and as satisfying) as coming up with innovative product ideas and styles.

And like creative production, it’s also something that today can be done as easily from a small office – even a home office – as it is do as part of a large corporation. The success of a viral marketing campaign about a product – now recognized as one of the most effective ways of spreading a sales message – depends on the quality of the idea behind it, not the cost involved in creating it. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken ad, for example, was created not by its advertising firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, but by the Barbarian Group, a smaller agency to which it had outsourced the viral part of the campaign.

Even Vlad Gerasimov, who doesn’t advertise, has built up his following in part by sharing his production tips, making him popular with other designers, and by using a fairly unique subscription model to make sales.

Create a Creative Company

That might offer a clue to what could be the best way to make money out of creativity: create a creative business. That’s going to require a little more than sticking a picture on a t-shirt and uploading the design to Zazzle. It could mean writing a business plan, finding clients, selling your skills, and perhaps at some point, finding other creative types to share the workload. But these days, you can do that creatively too. iJoomla might be a successful software company that creates extensions for Joomla, but it’s also an entirely virtual company with no central office and employees scattered from Los Angeles to Romania and beyond.

When you start to think outside the box, there’s no limit to the way that you can earn.

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