My business has been going through a lot of changes lately. Earlier this year, I left a full-time marketing position to pursue freelance video editing full time.
Pretty quickly, I realized things weren't working. In a matter of weeks, I felt utterly disinterested in the work. It felt like the quality was suffering.
So I started hiring some of the creators I know that do great work. They nailed it, but the profit margins still weren't making me enough even to scrape by. I refuse to deliver shoddy quality work, so I'm not going to outsource to the cheapest bidder.
Scalability with freelance is an issue too. The only way to grow a freelance business is to turn into an agency by hiring more people or raise your rates significantly. It's just not a game that seems like it would play out well.
So I've spent the last few weeks trying to separate my past interests with a plan to take advantage of my strengths. Here are some of the insights I've come across.
difference between interests & STRENGTHS
It's essential to notice and get real about the difference between interests and strengths.
I have a ton of interests. Painting, music, video, writing. That doesn't mean those are right career paths for me.
Some experts might disagree, but it's not a closed debate by any means.
Months ago, I saw a video by Improvement Pill about "The Japanese Formula For Happiness" called Ikigai. The idea struck me pretty hard as the reason following passion alone wasn't working out.
The idea is that true fulfillment can come when you're spending your time doing something that you are good at, society needs, you can be paid well for, and you enjoy doing.
The trouble is figuring out what you're good at, what you can be paid well for, and what society needs. The only way to figure out what you enjoy is to try a bunch of things.
At this point, I already know the kinds of work I enjoy (luckily it's a lot of different things). I keep running into the issue of something I can objectively know I'm good at, get paid well for, and society needs.
Discover Strengths Objectively
Humans aren't exactly good at discovering objective truths about ourselves without outside feedback.
There are three main ways that I went about looking to find what were objective strengths in my work so that I could refocus my work in these areas.
The obvious way is to ask your clients.
I sent out a text to a few of my clients that I know are pretty thoughtful people.
You could do this via a long email explaining your thought process. You could send a survey. In my case, I just sent a text asking, "From working with me so far, what do you think my biggest professional strength is?"
There were a few different responses I received. None of them had anything to do with my creative talents or skill.
More or less, they all summed up to Communication, Strategic Thinking, and Creative Problem Solving.
Cool. Now let's see what the people who do work for and with me think.
Think of collaborators broadly. For me, that was a few co-workers from past jobs that I worked with closely AND some creatives I've worked closely with over the years.
The text was the same, but obviously, you can vary that up to reflect the specific circumstances of your working relationships with these people.
Again, not one responded with anything related to creative talent. One did say "You're incredibly talented" but wasn't able to describe what specific talent to which they were referring.
The takeaways were Decisive Problem Solving, Clear Communication, and Idea Generation.
There was still a feeling that there might be some personal biases at play here. You'll never be able to remove those entirely. This last one was about as objective as I could get.
We're all familiar with personality tests by now, but I'm not talking about something like the Meyers-Briggs here. Those can be useful for containing personality traits and learning how to work with others, but I didn't feel that reflected a work-scenario.
Back when I worked at Priority Communications (which is a great place to work by the way), they had some of us take the CliftonStrengths assessment — formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder.
I'm oversimplifying here, but basically, it's a long assessment that will result in a ranking of 34 potential strengths. The ones we want to focus on are the top 5 of those strengths.
My top five were:
You might notice that these don't sound like the strengths of a creative, do they?
No, they don't. These line up pretty perfectly with the responses I got from clients and collaborators.
Hopefully going through this process can lead you to identify the common strengths as well.
Why this matters?
Except for maybe Ideation, these sound like a different person than the professional creative I was trying to portray through my business. That's a problem.
Why is that a problem?
If someone hires you because you "sell" yourself as a particular thing, they expect you to deliver that person. If you turn out to be something entirely different, they're not going to be happy.
You'll probably stumble on some people that didn't know they needed someone like you. That's happened to me a lot-- luckily.
Still, a lot of this explains this constant sense of Imposter Syndrome, I feel when I'm doing paid creative work.
The only time I don't feel like an imposter is when I'm sitting with a client, addressing their business issues, and helping them develop a clear strategy to move forward.