You want better clients. I know you do… but you know the game, this won’t happen magically. You have to earn it and sometimes it’s your earnings that you feel will suffer if you limit your portfolio, your networking, or your business model. Your bank account probably tells you to take any gig you can get, and though you may simply be striving to pay the next bill, know this: desperate acts won’t help you build a better business.

Your future success, as well as your creative legacy, demands so much more from you. Or dare I say… less.

A better business is earned through hard work and being simultaneously focused on your craft and your ideal client’s needs. My guess is that you’re fine with the creative fight but if you’re a generalist you’re likely going to have to go a few more rounds than your ego or career can handle. Your life as a freelancer will become more rewarding as you narrow your vision and become laser focused on the subject matter, aesthetics, style, or types of buyers which you know you can passionately serve and leverage.

Success will not happen if you’re simply a creative person for hire, willing to do anything the buyer wishes simply because you have enough technical know-how to get the job done.

Competence is not valued and skills are just skills.

An emerging creative, or one who is stuck in a rut, tends to chase any and all opportunities instead of zeroing in on the types of clients and projects that they can serve better than most. In the attempt to achieve success a lot of creative entrepreneurs spend an unfortunate amount of time spinning their wheels making themselves available at below-market value, simply building up a repertoire of work they aren’t really proud of.

Developing a niche is important to the long-term success of your career. It is a process that starts and ends with your marketing decisions.

First, all this idealism aside, the best way for a freelancer to put a niche business model into perspective is… categorize your less-than ideal projects and clients as your ‘day job’ and ensure you’re making the most of these experiences. For example, four (4) benefits of creative work that falls outside your prescribed niche are:

  1. Get paid to refine your vision and talent.
  2. Practice your business development and up-selling skills.
  3. Test out new pricing strategies and administrative processes.
  4. Leverage the social opportunities to meet new prospects.

Second, your portfolio and web presence should only reflect the kind of work you want to do, both creatively and for a specific kind of buyer. Obviously you would want to be selective with the kinds of work you’re showing but that’s the easy part. Where a lot of creatives fail is that they don’t go deep enough with the work they share. They don’t expose their audience to the process or to the supporting images which lead up to the hero image. Sharing that one special piece of work, when it’s in the context of a whole bunch of other ’special’ pieces, simply end up looking like a smörgåsbord of creative stuff – leaving the viewer to feel like your body of work is unfocused.

Third, when it comes to marketing your creative work, it’s important to add signal to the noise that your industry is so good at manufacturing. You can’t stand out in a crowd without selling your soul to the devil, so the goal is to draw a small, but valuable crowd. Signal can be interpreted as human engagement, meaningful dialogue, challenging or entertaining remarks or subject matter; your promotional efforts should reflect something of value and purpose. Creatives also tend to fail at elaborating on their work, believing it speaks for itself—this is a huge mistake, as ‘how’ you speak about your work is just as important as ‘what’ you make.

Fourth, being flashy is usually just a form of copying what someone else has done before. I see photographers do this all the time; they produce a snazzy looking mailer because a peer put one out last month. Graphic designers remake their business cards for the third time in a year because they can. Musicians put up posters for every gig but don’t seem to be growing their fan base. Creatives famously enter contests and beat their social networks over the head with desperate pleads for votes or views but see a decline in their business. Or subject matter “experts” pine away online because they truly believe they can blog themselves to a million dollars. Don’t chase marketing tactics that everyone else is using – find a promotional effort that reflects your personality and ideal buyer and create things that people want to use or share.

The best a creative entrepreneur can do is to be creative, productive, and go against the flow. Choose the road less-traveled: focus on solving problems and narrow the vision of your creative eye as well as the scope of your business.

Be original. Be undeniable. Be sharable. Rock on! – Corwin

This article was originally published in Issue 3 of Corwin’s free PDF mini-magazine MEMO 2 FREELANCERS. Get exclusive business and marketing insights, Q&As with creative freelancers and a shot of inspiration by subscribing to this awesome publication (also available at


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