Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

How To Jumpstart Your Creative Career in a Bad Economy

Times are tough all over. Maybe you were laid off by a company you devoted years of your life to. Maybe your best clients are canceling projects because you no longer fit in their budget. Maybe you graduated with a pile of student loans and no one willing to pay you to do the work you want to do.
No one ever said being a creative was for the faint of heart, right? Even in times of un(der)employment, we must resist the temptation to languish on the sofa burning through our Netflix queues, and keep putting ourselves and our work out there.To jumpstart you, we’ve rounded up a shortlist of events and resources to help you start making connections and drive your career forward:

1. Attend free events, share ideas, and make like-minded friends.

Handing out business cards is all well and good, but building a community of like-minded allies will help your career out more in the long run. The good news for cash-poor networkers is there are tons of free event series targeted at creative professionals. Here are few of our faves:

  • Creative Mornings: Created by Swiss Miss, CMs include a 20-minute talk by a leading creative followed by casual conversation over coffee. Past presentations have come from Milton Glaser, Steven Heller, Liz Danzico, and Andrew Zuckerman.
  • PechaKucha: A global “open-mic” night for creatives of all stripes to network and share their work. The presentation format of 20 images, 20 seconds each, means it’s never a snooze.
  • Behance Network Meetups: To connect the creative professionals on our own offline, we organize casual gatherings and creative feedback sessions for Behance members around the globe.
  • Etsy: The popular crafts website also hosts regular workshops and meet-n-greets — anything from a holiday gift-wrapping session to a Valentine letterpress workshop.
  • likemind: Started by Piers Fawkes and Noah Brier, this free-form monthly coffee gathering brings together “likeminded” strangers all over the world.
  • Meetup: Less curated than some of the other series mentioned, Meetup is a grab bag of self-organized events on any topic you can imagine, from startups to crafting.
  • Jelly: A rogue co-working event where freelancers, off-site employees, and entrepreneurs colonize a coffee shop to swap tips and ideas while they work.
We must resist the temptation to languish on the sofa burning through our Netflix queues, and keep putting ourselves and our work out there.

2. Share your knowledge and skills.

We’re not endorsing under-selling your expertise, but sometimes — particularly when you’re in a holding pattern — just getting your work out there is as important as getting paid for it. Volunteering your services can create opportunities for expanding your portfolio, not to mention keeping you creatively engaged. Here are a few ways to give back:

  • The Taproot Foundation and Catchafire: Two great platforms that connect skilled creative professionals in design, technology, marketing, and more with non-profits for pro-bono work.
  • Idealist: A Craigslist for volunteer work, Idealist hosts thousands of searchable listings for volunteer opps in focus areas ranging from education to social enterprise to crime & safety.
  • 826National: This whimsical-storefront-plus-tutoring-center chain founded by Dave Eggers & the McSweeney’s crew provides fun and meaningful volunteering opportunities with kids.
  • Skillshare: Teaching is another great way to stay active in your field when work is slow. And sharing your expertise (and earning money doing it) is easier than ever with new education-focused platforms like Skillshare, where anyone can post a class.

3. Get the cash you need to start executing your project right now.

Then again, maybe you’re not interested in a new job. Maybe right now is the perfect time to get your pet project off the ground. If you’ve already got an idea and an execution plan, here are a few fundraising opps:

  • Quirky: A $10 submission fee gives you access to a pool of designers, developers, and other inventors who will take your idea through Quirky’s rapid iteration process and bring it to market if it’s voted to the top by the community.
  • NYFA Source: Don’t be misled by its New York moniker, the NYFA database boasts a comprehensive, searchable list of grants and opportunities across the US for all types of artists.

What’s Your Approach?

What are some ways you’ve bounced back from un(der)employment? How do you stay motivated and stay in touch?

Todd Anderson

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Todd Anderson is an editorial assistant for 99U. He is also an NYC-based performance poet and the producer of the Poetry Observed video series.
load comments (16)
  • Swati

    Thanks for this some useful stuff that all creatives can use…I came across another crowd-funding platform called Awesome Foundation(… and this website called creative choices(… ) providing tips and advice on creative careers you might wanna add these to the list.

  • 99designs vs Crowdspring

    Brilliant article, its a great opportunity for me that i have come through this useful article and read it. I am very thankful to you for bringing such a good advisable suggestions.

  • write my essay

    Thanks i like your blog very much , i come back most days to find new posts like this. 

  • Cannes or Bust

    Excellent ideas. After trade fairs, I try and report what I have seen to people and agencies to see if it’s possible to kick-start some new projects. It keeps the creative juices on their toes (if I can mix metaphors) and keeps you positioned as being forward-thinking.

  • bassamtarazi

    Great stuff guys. Thanks for the share. It always amazes me how many different opportunities and methods there are to unite and ignite

  • Emi

    Thankies, I love 99% articles :)

  • Pete

    or, go on 

    the point: go make work happen…

    Andy Andrews recently said in his podcast (In The Loop with Andy Andrews) that we live in an ebay culture. There is SOMEONE… SOMEWHERE… who finds something you do, have or make VALUABLE.

    Go find them.

  • Pollen Brands

    These are all great ideas but one important thing that is taken for granted in articles like this is that you need to be damn good at what you do! Work on improving your current skills, try specializing in an area of strength, or try gaining new skills. The point is that sometimes it comes down to survival of the fittest and if you’re not exceptional you won’t be noticed, let alone hired.

  • SocialNetworkSoftware

    Oh i LOVE this article. thank youuuuuuu!

  • Todd Anderson

    Thanks so much!

  • Josh Johnson

    During times of un(der)employment in our business, we typically try to focus on building “passive” projects. Designs to sell on envato marketplaces or personal projects that we want to market later.

    That, and we bug some of our favorite previous clients to see if they need any more work or know anybody who does. Referrals rock.Both of these options seem like a good way to build up a steady income during down time. I’m loving some of your suggestions, though. I’ll have to look into some of the grants and start attending some of these free online events.Thanks for the great stuff. :)

  • Bandana Singh

    God I love you guys – I was seriously having these thoughts running through my mind for the past few days and I thought – maybe The99% blog has something to keep my mind occupied that is useful.  Great article! Thanks!

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  • Paul Hunt

    Go for a walk ..gets the thought process going and inspiration from being outdoors; especially useful when with networking with people who share same passion

  • Alex B.


  • Karina

     I have been thinking more and more about these options lately. When I first read the book on ‘Making Ideas Happen,’ I had started an accountability group with a few of my old college friends. It worked well for several months until our schedules and our living situations diverged way too much.

    The experience, however, has taught me that it’s incredible to have that group of people,  from all walks of life and creative disciplines, to support your creative endeavors along the way. Great ideas and motivation emerged from this group and once I get another chance to start/join one, I wouldn’t think twice.

    Great list and great article! I’ll be looking at joining one of these once I move closer to the city.

  • B&H Event Space

    Another great place to attend free events is the B&H Event Space:

  • campaign yard sign

    This is a very significant blog.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Keep up the good job in posting very good topics. 

  • dissertation

    thanks a lot for the post! very interesting!

  • andy

    CAR, Chicago Artists Resource, is like a smaller version of NYFA. Mostly Midwest, but some national stuff.


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  • Casual jobs

    Your article is really wonderful i am totally satisfied with your ideas.It is a very tough period of one’s life but don’t give up try work on your skills be social.Enlarge your friend circle keep in touch with everyone on social networking sites.

  • Marcin Retecki

    You’ve made me realize that besides making presentations on events like Pecha Kucha Night, I can also write about them. People from that circle really like to read about it. Recently I wrote an article:  20 Reasons Why Pecha Kucha is Great for You.
    Thanks for inspiration.

  • Casual jobs

    A very nice blog ya the days are not same always your blog is very nice.Thanks for sharing with us we should not give up in adverse circumstances.

  • Dennis Sweatt

    This is a good list. But none of them will help you without the drive you bring to the game. Only 1 out of 1000 artists find livable work and it is less in this economy. An artist wins the race, in most cases, by attrition… http://sweattshop-graphic-arti

  • Erkan

    Nice article. But i don’t agree with sharing knowledge and skills part

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