How to Define Your Creative Identity: Start with These 7 Questions
If you’re a creative entrepreneur or a freelance creative professional, you’ll know that the only question that matters to the client is: why you? Why should the client choose you over your competitors? Knowing where your strengths lie and what kind of creative work inspires you is key to targeting clients who will appreciate your particular skills and insights.
Alas, not everyone is your customer. You can pander to the masses by producing cookie-cutter work at low prices, or you can hone your personal creative insights to cater to discerning clients whom you can build long-term relationships with.
If you’re struggling to nail down your creative identity, the following 7 questions are a good start:
#1 What’s your personal motto that defines your professional style or approach?
Don’t fret if you don’t have one. The point of this exercise is to get you thinking about what defines you as a creative professional. Start at the beginning. Describe what you do in a single sentence.
Let’s take me for example. I’m a freelance copywriter. Now that’s pretty generic. It doesn’t tell you how I’m different from all the other copywriters in the world.
It took me a couple of years of freelancing before I had clarity of my key strength, which was when it finally dawned on me: ‘simple words, carefully crafted’. That pretty much sums up my approach towards writing. I’ve since refined it to ‘simple words: copy that makes sense’, but the essence remains the same. As a copywriter, I focus on writing copy using simple, everyday language so the message can be easily understood by the target audience.
My biggest pet peeve with business communication is the amount of jargon that gets thrown around. Words that sound fancy but leave the reader confused and bewildered. I have no doubt my motto will continue to evolve over time; our perspectives tend to change with experience and maturity, which is how it should be. But for now, ‘simple words’ define my philosophy as a copywriter.
What about you? Note: it doesn’t have to be a fancy motto or anything spectacularly unique; it just needs to be authentic and true to who you are.
#2 What drives you as a creative professional? Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always loved the English language since I was a kid. I spent most of my childhood with my nose buried in Enid Blyton books, Nancy Drew mysteries, and pretty much any English storybooks I could get my hands on.
I don’t particularly see myself as a creative writer, rather, I’m a communicator first and foremost. This, plus the fact that my previous bosses always praised my writing skills, made me decide to try freelancing as a copywriter. And the rest, as they say, is history. I gave it a chance and it stuck. I’m now entering my fifth year as a full-time freelance copywriter, and the learning process never stops.
Besides my love of the English language, the satisfaction I get from helping clients communicate better with their audience is a huge motivator for me to keep doing what I do. Being able to add value to society is a wonderful reward in itself.
How did you get into your particular creative profession, and more importantly, why?
#3 Name 3-5 principles that guide your work process
As a seasoned freelance copywriter, the following principles are the guiding pillars in my daily workflow. They are:
1. Working with Google Docs
I’m a firm believer of working smart over working hard. Google Docs is the one tool that makes life infinitely easier for all parties involved in writing projects and collaborations. I’ve worked with clients who are less technologically-inclined, which makes things a little challenging, but I make it a point of educating them as much as possible.
2. Using email as my primary work communication medium
One of my biggest pet peeves with work communication is the usage of WhatsApp to discuss the finer details of a project: it’s a pain in the butt to track the communication history; it’s chaotic, and in my humble opinion, one of the most disorganised mediums for work communication.
3. A non-negotiable 50% deposit payment (except for a handful of trusted clients)
Experience has taught me to insist on a 50% deposit payment on all projects I take on, with the exception of a handful of trusted regular clients.
4. Listening to my gut
I’ve had multiple experiences when I’ve encountered clients or projects that don’t feel right, with my gut telling me to pass on the job. It’s hard to resist the work when finances are tight, but I’ve learned over time that my instincts are usually pretty accurate. The client who seems totally disorganised and indecisive will usually be a nightmare to work with. That project involving a bogus-sounding weight loss supplement will mean compromising my personal values. You win some, you lose some.
What are your deal-breaker principles? Having a clear sense of how you work best doesn’t mean you’re inflexible; it means you have professional integrity.
#4 What kind of clients or businesses do you enjoy working with most?
It might not always be possible to work with ideal clients and projects, but being selective of who we work with and the kind of work we take on will allow us to deliver our best work and learn from like-minded collaborators and clients. It also helps you build a portfolio that reflects your preferred clients and projects, which in turn reinforces your creative identity.
#5 Under what circumstances would you turn down a project?
I’ll say this again: not everyone is your customer. It’s perfectly fine to turn down a project if you know you won’t be able to give it your all, or if you personally object to it on ethical grounds. You will have more professional credibility by being upfront and transparent than taking on everything that comes your way and ending up delivering half-hearted results.
#6 How do you feel your work adds value to your clients?
Going back to my example, I genuinely believe that writing is easy but communicating isn’t. Rather than merely providing a copywriting service, I also provide insights and recommendations based on the client’s overall business communication needs, their target audience, and ways to improve the clarity and focus of their messages. In other words, I do my best to help their business rather than just provide an ad-hoc copywriting service.
Why you? How you add value to the client forms a crucial part of your answer to this question.
#7 What is your definition of success?
Last but not least, how you define ‘success’ will play a fundamental role in shaping your creative journey and consequently, your identity as a creative professional. For me, as long as I’m able to continue doing meaningful work that helps the client and their audience, that, from my humble point of view, is success.
The creative autonomy and freedom that comes with being a freelancer are my primary goals, while getting to work on meaningful projects that contribute to society and the environment come a close second. Any other perks are an added bonus.
Over to you. What does ‘success’ mean to you as a creative professional?
Defining your creative identity is the first step towards shaping your professional brand. To find out more about our branding services for freelancers and creative businesses, drop us a line for a free evaluation.
About the author:
As a freelance copywriter, Lindy Siu has been a part of the kulturspace co-operative since its inception in 2014. Lindy specialises in copywriting using simple, everyday language, and also provides a CV writing service for creatives under the kulturspace group.