Diversifying your talents

By novelist, trainer, and journalist, Sue Walker

‘But I’ve spent all these years training and slogging to get where I am. I don’t want to do anything else. I can’t do anything else.’

Many of us will empathise with this sort of comment. It’s just so frustrating when we’ve worked tirelessly to develop a career in our chosen field only to find that, however brilliant we are at what we do, there may be long spells where work dries up.

Maintaining work consistency and making a decent living can certainly be a challenge in the creative industries - especially in a recession. However, this doesn’t need to be a reason to give up on what we love.

The reason why many freelances achieve long term success is that they develop additional skills that serve to support their ‘core’ business when times are lean.

Diversify or dwindle

To understand how to diversify our talents, we need to look at ourselves closely and honestly - a ‘self-audit’ if you like - that covers two main aspects:

  • Our professional skills and experience and offshoots from this
  • Our non-professional lives – what else we do, what we are good at and that we have a passion for.

Of course these two categories will be interconnected in many ways but, all too often, it is very easy for us to build a mental brick wall between what we do for money and everything else.

The professional audit

To do this you need to look at your ‘core’ business and think what ripples of related work can come out of this.

A common model for ‘other work’ is often the casual, non-creative job to pay the bills, e.g., bar work or temping. The good thing about these sorts of jobs is that they are relatively easy to fit in with your ‘real’ work and can be taken up in short bursts of time if necessary. However, unless you are researching a role or writing a novel or screenplay based on these sorts of situations, they are probably going to be less creative.

It might be a good idea to look for other work that you can do that stays as close to your chosen career path as possible so that you can use at least some of your core talents, keep in touch with your industry and stay motivated.

For example, as a writer, it seemed to me like a natural progression to start teaching others how to write. What’s more, I find that, as well as giving me an income boost between writing commissions, teaching others is very satisfying. Not only this, talking to peole in the same field, helps me stay creative and inspires new ideas.

Ask what other people are doing? Copy them, if it suits you. Be keen to look beyond your specific field. None of us can afford to be precious about our work. If you want to earn, you need to be flexible but the closer you stay to your first professional love, and the more you use your creative self.

So, if you write for a living, come up with the list of the numerous ways in which written communication is needed in the wider world. Even if you have worked in a narrow field for a long time, the experience and skills you have gained will be enormous. You will be able to sell them elsewhere.

If you are an actor who’s finding it especially difficult to get the roles you want right now, think beyond that. Where else are trained actors needed beyond the core business of acting? Also, why not make the most out of your skills even if you’re doing well? For example, comedian John Cleese made a successful business out of producing training videos for co-operate organisations and creatives.

Those who can......can also teach

Given that our professions are highly desirable, there will always be a market for us to pass on our knowledge and experience – for money. Teaching, in its widest definition, covers so many areas of learning.

The notion of ‘lifelong learning’ is well embedded now in the UK and there are countless opportunities to pass on your knowledge without having to go through years of teacher training! You can set up your own workshops; offer courses to a whole host of organisations and colleges; offer one-off masterclasses; get together with other freelances and offer any and all of these. And, once you get this off the ground, it can be a lucrative and on-going sideline.

If you want to do this, here are two tips:

  • There is a qualification called Preparation to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS). This is a basic but important qualification to have and many institutions and organisations will demand it and/or look favourably on you if you have it. It is a short course and relatively low cost. Look for it at a local college.
  • Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks. Even if you plan on working with adults, you may well be expected to have a CRB check – this covers working with ‘vulnerable adults’ (as well as children). Again, you may have to fund this yourself or a college or institution may pay for it.

The personal audit

This is about thinking what else you do in your life. What are you good at? What do you love doing? Are you particularly expert at a particular activity? Don’t be modest – think about this. It could make you money.

In my experience as a trainer, I have come across many previous ‘experts’ who have discarded their pastime as a potential money-maker. One that has arisen a few times is scuba diving! Not as bizarre as it seems. I’ve known creatives who have done this as a pastime to a high level, turn it to gold by teaching it; writing about it; even working in TV/film due to it! So, think about all of you – a 360 degree review may give you a whole new circle of developmental ideas.

Want to learn more?

FEU Training is running a number of free workshops around the country this autumn. If you would like to attend, look out for updates for workshops coming to your region or register your interest at info@feutraining.org (if we have sufficient demand, we’ll come to you).


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