Advice for creatives stuck in non-creative roles

Hello BusiChic, me again! There’s a question that I am increasingly being asked. More than the “so what do I wear to work” line of questions, it’s “so how did you go from being a creative stuck in a non-creative role to making the creative thing your job? I thought I’d take the time to answer here…

Advice for creatives stuck in non-creative roles

First of all, remember that you are not  actually stuck. It’s a perspective but you have the ability to change your situation; so do it. Here are some of my tips on how I went about going full-time with my creative life:

Feel financially stuck? Start saving to fund your freedom. This means cutting back on your spending (start preparing for the frugal life!) and saving your hard-earned in a high-interest earning account. These funds might mean (a) funding personal creative projects that you can pursue on the side (i.e. a blog) or (b) funding yourself to quit your day job and transition to another career. You may find that you are able to feel fulfilled with option (a)! Do also consider crowdfunding- I ran my crowdfunding project through Pozible.

limedrop interview with cheryl lin little black dress project

Limedrop the label recently interviewed me on their beautiful blog where I got to talk about my appreciation for crowdfunding. Perfect for anyone with big ideas to test the market!

See how creative you can make your work. I thought that Michaelangelo was quoted as saying something along the lines of “take pride in your work whatever it is so that say if your job is a cleaner that everyone marvels at how great your cleaning is.”* Fulfil your job description then wow the socks off everyone by going above and beyond. Make your spreadsheets really, really colourful. Put your hand up to help manage extracurricular affairs like the company’s social events.

Work out how you would like to earn your money. Don’t know what you want to do but know that your day job isn’t it? Well work out what it is. Look at people you admire, biographies you read, think about what you like doing. Browse online job boards (The Loop and Mumbrella have excellent job boards geared towards creatives) to get an idea of what sorts of jobs are out there. Look at the job descriptions for roles you would love to do and undertake a skills gaps analysis – what skills do you have that will transition well into those roles (a common one is excellent resource management whether that’s people, costs or time) and where do you need to develop? Can you use your current role to develop any skills you’re currently missing or work on them on the side? Are there courses or classes you need to enrol in?

Through doing this I found that there were lots of jobs I would like to do; I couldn’t decide what I wanted to apply for. So now that I’m working for myself, I’ve collated the role requirements for all those jobs I like into one for myself. I want to be a publisher, entrepreneur, editor, presenter, photographer, writer, stylist and social media consultant. See, dream job built! This also means lots of reading and learning in each of these fields – again, be prepared to invest in your own education.

One of the first creative jobs I got as a result of my blog: taking professional headshots. I love getting to hear about what people do and capturing their online faces.

One of the first creative jobs I got as a result of my blog: taking professional headshots. I love getting to hear about what people do and capturing their online faces. Here’s a behind-the-scenes of me doing just that using my brand new Nikon that I invested in to take my work to the next level! Photo via thisdaylastyear

Negotiate to go part-time. I highly recommend having a stable job so that you can comfortably pay your bills and fund your creative project until you can support yourself on your creative salary. So how do you work a stable job AND have time to do creative work? (1) Make the time for it. ProBlogger woke up 15 minutes earlier than his family to write a series on his blog that he turned into a successful eBook.  However as a night owl I know that burning the midnight oil can take its toll so if you need more time again: (2) Be indispensable to your employer such that they will allow you to work part time rather than risk letting you go. Assuming you were previously on a full-time salary,  nine-day fortnight means 10% less pay but one day a fortnight of freedom to spend on your creative work…

Monetise your creative endeavours as soon as possible to see if it is viable. How serious are you about your creative career? I hate to point it out but serious will eventually mean that it needs to pay enough to sustain your lifestyle- so get on it. Get over fears of selling yourself and learn how to hustle like 50 cent. Start with making sure that your creative endeavour can cover your monthly repayments – first the bills, then the rent, then investments back into your business and so forth… You may need to work for free or discounted rates to build your portfolio of work. Do a really good job and ask for testimonials and referrals to new clients. Which reminds me, I need to get about building my online portfolio to showcase my work now that I’ve secured my domain!

The Abbotsford Convent where I get to teach newbies all about blogging for the Australian Writers' Centre. Right up my alley!

The Abbotsford Convent where I get to start newbies on their blogging journey for the Australian Writers’ Centre. I feel so lucky that I get to teach this class!

Look after yourself. Trying to turn your passion into your full-time gig is an energy sucker. Make sure that you’re eating and sleeping well plus keeping up exercise as these healthy habits will help your energy levels and mental health during this busy time. Use your left-brain skills to create a business model and budget so that you can see and track in black and white how you are going to make your dreams come true. Then when you’re living your dream, keep tracking those financials and manage things from turning into a nightmare :0

windy day geometric earrings print shirt asian woman

Out and about as a street style photographer during Melbourne’s crazy gusty weather this week. I’ll be turning this experience into a How to Wind-proof your Work Wear post – stay tuned!

Be your own hero. Seek out like-minded people who are living your dream and invite them out for a coffee to pick their brains to get ideas on how you can do it. Make it worth their time too! I once invited a photographer whose work I loved out for dinner because greedily, I wanted as much time with him as possible to pick his brains but he was so nice and generous with his knowledge – what a dude! But remember that no-one else is going to have all of the answers or make your dream life happen other than yourself. I personally highly recommend getting professional counselling; surprise yourself with how many of the answers you already have in your own head. Trust your gut. You actually already know what it is you want to do; be brave enough to say it aloud. I would recommend the kinesiologist who helped me but he has since quit the profession to pursue a career in music. Ha!

"Be someone who makes you happy." The answers are in your own head. Take the time to meditate, trust your gut and listen to your inner voice.

“Be someone who makes you happy.” Hang out with all of your heroes, all you like,; it’s you who needs to make your dreams come true and a lot of the time, the answers are in your own head. Take the time to meditate, trust your gut and listen to your inner voice.

Ask for help. No man is an island. Failure and success can be lonely. Now that I married the (WONDERFUL) guy, I can say that it helps so much to have the emotional backing of someone (who I respect) who believes in me sometimes a lot more than I believe in myself. Join forums and community groups of like-minded people who will keep you moving and hustling. Through blogging I’ve found like-minded friends and colleagues like personal stylist and photographer, Meagan Harding, with whom I now co-host the Melbourne in Fashion podcast. As a graduate of the Australian Writers’ Centre Feature Writing course, I’ve been able to find support from fellow students via the excellent closed Facebook group; the fellow wannabes and increasingly, the successfully published. Remember that you will want quality advice and help so where possible, share your knowledge and help others. Try to help your community more than ask for help; always Google your question before asking and then maybe share your answer with your community and see if people find it valuable or have something more to add!!

cheryl lin coworking meagan harding

Co-working from Meagan Harding’s studio. Pick the brains of people you admire and you may end up banging heads and making new projects together that go on to inspiring other pieces of your work…

Also after reading this incredibly honest and insightful post on start-up failure by Nikki Durkin I also want to add, know that you might fail, what that means and how you will deal with it. Despite all of our efforts, sometimes things just don’t work out and that’s ok. In fact, I can tell you that I am looking for a regular two-day-a-week gig as we speak because I haven’t made budget this half of the year. I am perfectly fine with the fact that I got distracted planning our wedding (my goodness there’s a lot involved in planning these!), getting married and then going away on honeymoon and settling back down after it all but the reality is that I now have to catch up. Anyone have a wedding they need help planning?! That said I’ve got to say that working for myself has given me a far greater appreciation of the ins and outs of a business than ever before that I am actually looking forward to applying this new-found perspective to new employment.

So there you have it, my tips on getting un-stuck in your career. I hope it helps but then if it doesn’t – tell me how you’d go about it 😉


*I haven’t been able to find this quote on the internets so now I don’t know if Michaelangelo really said it or where I even got it from but the message is still there, people!


  1. Tine @ Beautyholics Anonymous says

    Great advice, Cheryl! I wish I knew all this when I was working in Malaysia as an engineer. After moving here, people are often surprised that I made such a big jump from a digital design engineer to a beauty blogger. Writing, content creation and web design have always been my forte but it wasn’t easy making that jump. At least, I wouldn’t have been able to if I was still living in Malaysia. My parents, especially mum, had a hard time accepting what I do now but at least they’re very slowly getting there. Mum still thinks I wasted my degrees! Funny thing is, even though I’m working so much harder now than I was before, I’m enjoying it. Really enjoying it.

    • Tine, I had no idea about your backstory – you are living this!

      Oh I completely understand the parental situation – mine are much the same. And these days I’m listening to a lot of Kanye West and love the humour of his earlier albums which appreciate but also poke fun at accumulating degrees 😉

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