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 Behance.net 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.
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