Back in 2016 I outlined a fundamental strategy for your career as a 21st century creative professional: forget the career ladder, start creating assets.
The argument I made, and that I make week-in-week out in my work as a creative coach, was that there’s no career ladder for people like you and me – no clearly mapped out career progression, via a series of promotions, pay rises, and increasingly fancy perks and job titles.
As an independent creative, or at least an independently-minded creative, if you want to progress in your career by doing more fulfilling work, earning more money and attracting more opportunities over time, you should focus on creating assets.
As I said back then, an asset is something you own and control, that generates value for you over time. Traditional assets include things like a company or an investment portfolio or real estate that you own, that earn you money while you’re busy doing other things.
And if you’re a creative, you can create certain categories of assets out of thin air – for example:
- Your portfolio of creative work – which can earn you money and also attract opportunities
- Intellectual property assets – such as the copyright in your works
- Social and reputational assets – such as your network of professional contacts; your own brand, and your association with other prestigious brands, such as your publisher gallery or record label.
- Online assets – such as your website or blog or youtube channel; your mailing list or your followers on social media
The most successful and the most fulfilled creators are the ones who spend as much time as possible creating new assets.
Life is very different when you have a back catalogue of great work, an audience for your ideas, a great reputation in your field, and a network of great collaborators. You can get more done and earn more money, in less time, with less effort.
Creating assets is not enough
It’s vital that you carve out regular time to create new assets. But to realise their full value, it isn’t enough to just create them. Otherwise that collection of files on your hard drive would magically earn money for you every month.
To make the most of your creative assets, you need to actively manage them.
At the bare minimum your track record should be clearly visible on your website. If no one knows you did all that work, it’s not helping your career. Yet it’s amazing how many creatives I talk to who tell me they’ve been ‘too busy’ to update their website with this.
If you sell, products, they you want to make sure these are available on your website and in all the relevant retail outlets.
For example, if you’re an author, you’ll want to make sure all your books are available in all formats – print, ebook, audiobook. And in all the bookshops where your readers like to buy.
And again, I meet plenty of creatives who haven’t found the time, or who even forgot, to make sure all of their products – which could be earning them money every month – are available to buy.
Licensing is another source of income and opportunity that is often overlooked.
If you’re an author, licensing your books for translation into foreign languages opens up another source of income, without having to write anything more than your signature on a contract.
If you’re a musician, you could license your work for soundtracks. If you’re an artist, there may be surprisingly lucrative opportunities out there to license your images for use in a range of different settings. And so on.
You don’t even need to license your work to someone else to generate extra income from it. You could repurpose your existing work into multiple different formats.
You could turn your album into a live show, or your live show into an album. You could write the screenplay of your novel, or vice versa. You could turn a series of blog posts into a book or a workshop or an elearning course. You could turn your book into an audiobook, or your podcast into a book.
These very words you are reading are available in multiple formats – as well as publishing them in this article, I’ve recorded them for this episode of my podcast, to reach people who would rather listen than read.
The are all kinds of ways you could generate reach a wider audience, extract more value, and attract more opportunities from the work you have already created so far in your career.
I know you’d rather be creating something new
The trouble is, we’re creators, not extractors. We’re so keen to get on with the next exciting new project that we often overlook the potential of our back catalogue. Extracting value from old work looks boring compared to creating something new. Plus we may not know how to do it, and the return on investment isn’t clear.
Now I have to admit, by nature I’m the world’s worst at this – I always have several new projects I want to get going on, so the idea of stopping and going back over old stuff isn’t very appealing. But if I don’t do this, I pay the price.
For example, my main website had the same design theme for over a decade. I knew it needed updating, but the site basically worked OK so I could never get excited about revamping it.
Then I noticed my search rankings had dropped and discovered Google was penalising sites that weren’t mobile-responsive. Even that didn’t get me to take action – my old design theme literally started falling apart, with bits of the site disintegrating before my eyes, before I finally updated it and hired a developer to rebuild it for me.
Now it’s looking much better and my search rankings have bounced back. I can sleep better knowing it’s delivering a better experience for my website visitors and doing a better job for my business.
Another asset that I originally created almost ten years ago is The 21st Century Creative Foundation Course. This is a 26 week creative career course, that teaches you the fundamental creative and professional skills you need to succeed in a creative career. I give it away for free via email. So as well as helping students it helps me grow my mailing list and communicate with my audience.
After 10 years, some lessons were showing a bit of wear and tear, with broken links and advice on some topics that was getting a little outdated.
So once I finished Season 3 of The 21st Century Creative podcast I rolled up my sleeves and went back over the entire course, fixing all the broken links and updating some of the content of the lessons.
I’m still working on some of it, but the course is in a much better place now. Re-reading it for the first time in a while, I was quite pleasantly surprised, I think it’s a great course I’m proud to be sending it out and helping my students every week. (If you haven’t enrolled on the course, you can sign up right now for free here.)
Now, going back and revising my old website content wasn’t the most exciting work I’ve done this year. But I’m really glad I made time to do it.
And let me tell you it felt great to get back to creating something new when I started recording Season 4 of my podcast.
So I’m getting better at this, but I still have plenty to do. On my to-do list for later this year are print editions of two of my books, plus audiobooks of all four of them. I’ll let you know when I get them done.
How to make the most of your creative assets
So what can you do to make the most of the assets you’ve already created in your career so far? Here’s a good way to get started:
1. Go through your website, your hard drives, your studio cupboards, your filing cabinet etc. Make a list of all of your assets in the following categories:
- Your portfolio of creative work
- Intellectual property assets, such as the copyright in your works or the trademark associated with your brand;
- Social assets – your network; your audience
- Reputation assets – your brand; association with prestigious brands (publishers, galleries, record labels etc); prizes and awards
- Online assets – a website; a blog; a podcast; a mailing list; a social media profile
- Systemic assets – a productivity system or specialist creative process; a business model that generates value for your customers and your business.
- Business assets – your product range; your company
2. Write down all the ideas you can think of for extracting more value from these assets. Start with the simple stuff like updating the portfolio on your website, or making sure all your products are available for sale. And don’t forget to think about repurposing your work into different formats.
3. Look for specialists in different areas who can advise you of how to generate more value from your assets. For instance you might talk to an agent or consultant about how to go about licensing or translation deals.
4. Reward yourself with work on something new! A good approach over the longer term is to alternate intensive work on new creative projects with bursts of work on managing your assets, in between projects. This will maintain your creative energy as well as taking good care of your assets.
You can hear an audio version of the article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 4’38”.