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Setting a direction of travel

Every strong business is guided by 3 principles: Vision, Mission and Values, in this article Dr Steven Sparling talks you through how to find yours.
Student photographing their work in a room with white and grey walls. There are black lights set up and a white pull down backdrop.
© Kingston University

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite things to do is to wander. When I visit a new city, I often put the map away, walk out the door and just start wandering. I get lost, I turn around random corners, and I loop back on myself when I hit dead-ends. But for me, it’s the best way to discover a new city. I’m mapping it out in my head as I wander.

While I believe this is a great strategy on holiday, it makes a poor strategy for a freelance business!

If you are aiming to do this as a hobby, or a way to earn a little extra cash on the side, then it’s absolutely fine to allow your business to be organic and take opportunities as and when they come. But if you are hoping to turn this into a business that can support you, then you are going to have to have a plan. There aren’t enough hours in the day, otherwise.

In time, you are going to want to have some goals (directions of travel) and tactics (the steps you take towards those goals) worked out for yourself. But for now, I want to look at a higher level of direction setting by considering your vision, mission and values. By getting clear on your vision, mission and values you will determine what your internal compass is for your business so that when you are considering goals, jobs, collaborations, you have that internal compass of your vision, mission and values to help orientate you towards what is right for you and your business. They will be a touchstone that you can come back to at any time if you feel you are losing your sense of direction with your business or unclear of what to do next. By grounding yourself in these three markers you will maintain a clear sense of identity and purpose for your creative freelancing. So, let’s consider each one.

Vision

Vision refers to your ‘big picture’ view of what your freelancing business will be in the future.

Allow yourself to imagine a few years from now – what will your ideal creative freelance business look like then? How big or small will you be? What kind of clients will you be working with? Doing what kind of creative work? What kinds of fees will be you be charging? What kind of a workspace are you working out of? What does a typical day/week look like?

Allow yourself to dream big when considering your vision. As Cynthia A. Montgomery, author of The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs writes: “Start with a picture in mind of where you want to end up.”

Mission

While the vision for your creative freelance business is the ‘what’ – describing the physical characteristics of your business in the future, your mission is the ‘why.’ Looking at the mission of your business is to understand why you are doing the work you do and considers the larger impact of your work.

Paul Jarvis, writer, strategist and creator of Creative Class, gives the following tool for crafting a mission statement.

Answer these five questions:

  1. My unique skills are:
  2. My ideal clients are:
  3. I solve the following problems for my ideal clients:
  4. By solving these problems, I provide the following value:
  5. I’m different than other freelancers because:

Once you have answered each of these questions, start by writing a mission statement that has 5 sentences – one addressing each of these questions. Then edit and distil your mission statement from 5 sentences down to one. You will be left with a potent and concise mission statement for your freelance business.

While Paul Jarvis takes a more pragmatic approach, Cynthia A. Montgomery considers the greater potential for impact of a business. It’s worth noting her book is orientated towards large corporations, who have the potential to have greater impact, however I think there is value in considering how we as freelancers can also have impact.

In Montgomery’s view, mission is the role a business will play in its community. Mission is a higher purpose and a relationship with society. Why will a business matter in its competitive space? What value will it add? If it disappeared, what hole would it leave in user’s lives?

I think there is value in asking yourself what impact your freelance work can have in your community, within the space you are working and with your customers. That value might be elevating good design or ridding the world of bad websites! But it could also be that you will donate 5% of your profits towards a charitable cause you believe it. Or that you will use your freelance work to help amplify the voices of marginalized individuals within your community. It’s your business. You could make it have whatever impact you desire it to have in your community and in the lives of your customers.

There is nothing wrong with a freelancer wanting to make money. But this exercise allows you to think beyond that to the greater good your work could potentially do.

Values

What matters to you?

Before you start freelancing, it’s advisable to consider your own personal ethics. Kelly Small, author of The Conscious Creative: Practical Ethics for Purposeful Work defines ethics as: “ethical practice is the act of creating with the intent to be morally good and avoid social and ecological harm. Unethical practice is its mindless or ill-intending counterpart.”

To feel good about your creative freelancing, you want to create with intent. That will help you align your work with your personal values. But first you need to consider what those values are.

Are you highly concerned about global warming? Then you will want to ensure the practices of your business are as ‘green’ as they can be so that your work isn’t compromising your values. It might also mean that you don’t work on design work for companies with a terrible track record of CO2 emissions, for example. If you’re a vegan, you might not want to take on your local dairy board as a client. In this way, considering your values helps to determine the kinds of clients you want to seek out and the kinds of clients you would prefer not to work with.

Of course, you have to balance this against your need to earn a living and this is where we get into the grey area of ethics. As Kelly Small writes: “actionable ethical guidance is crucial if we are to translate our most optimistic ideals into the sort of behaviour that can satisfy our moral selves without compromising our ability to buy lunch.”

We’ll talk more in later lessons about ethics. Also, in some of our interviews with creative freelancers later in this course you’ll hear about their own experiences of navigating their personal ethics, but for now I want you to consider what your personal values are and write them down.

Putting it together

You should now have a vision statement, a mission statement and a list of your key values. These will be very useful to you as you move forward with your creative freelance business.

Revisit them often. Revise them when necessary (they might grow and change as you grow and change). Use them as a compass to help determine the direction of travel for your creative freelancing.

© Kingston University
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Survive & Thrive as a Creative Freelancer: A Beginner's Guide

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