I’m in a shifting landscape. We all are. I don’t know if anyone realizes the weight or extent the past year’s events, but I know it’s all going to come home. Our news cycle happens so damn fast, that it’s impossible to keep up.
There’s riots in the capital. COVID-19 has killed more than 375,000 Americans. Unemployment has become impossible to gauge, with benefits running out, business closures, chronic underemployment. There’s a looming food crisis, and an eviction meltdown. We can’t possibly follow the insanity breathing down on us day after day.
I personally think that continuing along business as usual is folly for many of us, especially artists, freelancers, and the self employed. We’ve all had to work pretty hard to sustain a steady income. If you haven’t been hit by current events, it’s only a matter of time. I believe it’ll catch up to all of us, and we’ll be in worse shape than most anticipate. Especially those who are pretending everything is okay.
Now this isn’t meant as a doomsday post. It’s not my intention to stress people out or make them worry unnecessarily. My aim is to spark some discussion, and hopefully get you thinking about how you can shift with the landscape and be prepared for anything. Most of us don’t prepare, because as soon as we get into a groove of steady work, we take it for granted that it’ll always be there. But that’s simply not true, no matter what your profession. There’s a few ways to approach it, so let’s discuss.
Be the best
The first and most obvious way to control your income in uncertain times is to simply be the best at what you do. I say simply with a fistful of salt, because it’s far from simple. Being the best is real fuckin hard.
If you’re not already the best in your field, you’ll have your work cut out for you. You’ll need to hone your skills, you’ll need to improve customer service, you’ll need to have competitive pricing. It’s daunting, and let’s face it. You may not have the time or energy to expend to become the best in the face of economic crisis.
The adage is that your only competition is you, and while that’s great for self improvement, it doesn’t do much when trying to snatch market share. When times are good, there’s enough work for everyone. Hell, you may have a glut of work and can’t even handle it all. When that’s the case, you can be yourself and be selective and pick and choose projects that best fit your vision.
But when work is scarce, turning down work because it doesn’t fit your personal vision could be the difference between eating and starving. So the obvious answer is to have a skill set that is flexible, and doesn’t get too niche. Sure, if you can secure that niche work, do it, and always take that work first. But if you have bills to pay, you need to be comfortable expanding into adjacent skills. Be capable in other areas.
Of course we need to continue cultivating our expertise and make it our focus, but versatility is not only necessary to making ends meet, it’s also the best way to gain exposure to a larger audience who can be directed toward the work you’d like to do. I know common sense dictates that going niche will land the clients you want. When things get thin, casting a wider net can get you the clients you need. Versatility is key.
Sure, being the best and remaining versatile are excellent methods to growing and maintaining clients during down periods, and you should work on both of those. But there’s also more to it if you want to stay eating pork chops.
Moving even further outside of your standard work, merchandising is always a way to generate extra income. If you’re an artist, this means using your designs to make shirts, stickers, buttons, tapestries, shower curtains, whatever you’re able to get your hands on. It means designing a beer can for the local brewery. It means moving into other mediums.
Outside of tattooing, illustration, and fine art, which I consider my main focuses, I dabble in a lot of other things. For one, I list on Teepublic, which is a print on demand site. Some others are Society 6, Redbubble, and Design by Humans, and there’s a ton more out there. All I have to do is upload designs, and they’ll print to order shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, phone cases, and all kinds of other stuff. I don’t make a ton of money from it, but I also don’t spend a lot of time promoting or updating. There’s creators making five figures monthly on these sites, you just have to understand the demographic and put some hard work in.
More recently, I’ve branched out even further and begun doing laser engraved wood projects and products. There’s been a learning curve, I have a long ways to go, but it’s satisfying. The money generated isn’t much right now, but again, people generate five figures monthly with these products.
I’ve gone even FURTHER outside the box and I sell vintage decor and collectibles. This is something I’ve been doing as a hobby for years, but recently I’ve started treating it more like a business. The supplemental income has already helped us through some tough times during last year’s shutdowns, and if I can continue growing it, I know it’ll help again when we need it.
Sometimes diversity comes in the form is adjacent skills to your career. Other times it comes as completely separate endeavors. Either way, finding ways to diversify is a huge way to cushion or even completely replace lost income during a recession.
Become a bank robber
No. Don’t do this.
In the end, your survival during changes in the economy and the market depend on you, and your ability and willingness to adapt. Think abstract. Don’t be scared to try something new. They say knowledge is power, and damned if it isn’t true. The more knowledge you have about alternatives to the comfort zone of your work, the more opportunities you have to stay successful and stay paid. Don’t miss the bus because of arrogance or ignorance.