By Georgina Laidlaw

How Do You Tap Your Creativity for Clients?

By Georgina Laidlaw

Most web freelancers are “creatives” — developers, designers, writers, and so on. Over the course of our working lives we develop our own approaches to tapping the creativity necessary to do our jobs. And by the time we’re freelancing, we need to reliably be able to access that creativity if we’re to constantly produce unique work to a high level of quality.

We need, effectively, to have “commoditized” our creativity to some degree — to have boxed it up into a nice little kit, complete with psychological Allen keys so we can assemble it and take it apart again as and when required.

But what happens when some aspect of that creativity goes rogue? When it becomes unpredictable? Is there some way to harness it again?


The creative process

Until recently, my answer to that question would have been “yes.” Creatives tend to develop and rely on their own creative process as a means to get full power from the proverbial “creative muscle.”

I think everyone’s process is necessarily slightly different: some of us rely on models, blue prints and pro formas that have been researched and developed by academics and are taught in courses. Others use alternative forms of inspiration — the work of others, unfettered experimentation, mind-altering substances, you name it — to springboard their minds to a certain creative level.

Many of us use a mixture of these approaches, adapting them to each project, and over time we develop an almost intuitive sense of the creative tools needed to attack the creative problems we encounter. Whether this process is conscious or not, I think it exists for many people who do creative work for a living.

The black box

But with some of the work I’m doing for a client at the moment, my creative process has gone out the window. I’m making good stuff for these guys, but not to my time-worn process. In fact, not to any process that I can see.

How I’m coming up with the product I’m making for them is literally beyond me. It’s like I’m reaching into a black box, and somehow pulling out a creative answer that works. Or has worked, so far. Fingers crossed.

You might say, “Well, that’s all fine. Why worry? As long as it works, don’t question it.” But I’m not so sure.

As freelancers, our livelihoods depend on our creative reliability. Since this thing that’s happening seems to be good, I’d like to be able to understand it and apply it to other projects. What might I miss out on if I don’t get my head around what’s going on here? I might be able to access new creative influence, inspiration or application through this new approach — who knows?

But perhaps less fantastically, as a freelancer, I need to be able to reliably tap into this creativity — at the very least for the client it’s currently working for. In the back of my mind, there’s always the knowledge that while it’s all worked okay for this deliverable, next time, I may not be so lucky. Since I don’t understand what’s going on here, I don’t know if I’ll be able to nail next week’s creative task. All I can do is hold on and hope for the best.

Have you ever had this experience? How do you harness your creativity so that you can use it reliably to help clients? What advice can you share to help others get a handle on evolving aspects of their creativity?

Image by stock.xchng user therysma.

  • Gordon Currie

    Harnessing creativity for my clients has always been about getting to know their business, their competition and researching what new changes are coming. Couple that with looking at unique approaches from other industries seems to help me explore new creative directions. I also look at creative challenges from the perspective of my client’s clients and products and services.

    I read alot of very innovative blogs that give me ideas and creative concepts that I would not have considered for my clients initially. Its cool to look at other industries and track what has failed and why. And then leverage that experience.

    Brainstorming and creative idea generation requires that you really repurpose or reposition the challenge and then launch in directions that others might stay away from. We are starting to see this with creative ads for the Superbowl.

    Lastly, throw different ideas around. Get feedback from people who really are in unrelated industries. Probably the first consideration is to look at the people who buy products and consider if the current creative directions make people laugh, make people want to build a relationship with the client. Do they pass the “I want to invite them over for supper” test?

    One last item – really focus on successful creative people and evaluate their processes. Don’t copy their techniques..but consider HOW they got the ideas that they did. Its the process that generates the truly creative.

    Gordon Currie

  • ClarkCX

    I believe that creativity comes from a combination of knowledge and being in the right state of mind. The knowledge doesn’t necessarily need to be related to your project’s subject matter either. Constant exploration of new subjects will lead to spontaneous mental leaps. You’ll start making connections between the thing you’re working on and that documentary you law last night, or that book you just read. Being in the right state of mind is also be affected by learning new things. Scientific studies have shown that novelty increases dopamine in the brain which in turn makes you feel more motivated.

    So in summary: Learn about new things to keep creativity flowing.

  • Anna Watt

    Great post (forwarded to me by my hubby webdesigner). Sounds like you are accessing amazing pools of creativity, and if you start to try and analyse, pin down and evaluate exactly what you are ‘doing’ to enable this to happen you may well kill it off because you are in your head, not in your creative place – it’s the logic/intuition, left brain/right brain thing. Trust that your creativity is always there – you just have to ask and you can access it.
    Do share the output – would love to see it.

    • Anna Watt

      Meant to say also that you will probably also come to realise how you ‘access’ it, or what helps you get there over time, but sitting and trying to figure it out right now probably won’t help and could hinder.

  • Georgina Laidlaw

    Hey :)
    Thanks for these thoughtful comments.

    Gordon and Clark, I especially like your suggestions about looking beyond your field — I do this too, and I’m usually amazed at the concepts, frameworks or ideas that can be transposed to something I’m doing. I especially like Gordon’s suggestion to assess what’s *not* working in some other field and understand why. Good tip :)

    Anna, I hear you. I’m both curious about this issue, and worried that if I push it, I’ll put too much pressure on and lose whatever that creative impetus is. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope!

  • Daquan Wright

    For Inspiration, I do these:

    1) Information Gathering, I acquire information about the target audience and client’s objective. I take that information and look at similar websites, to see how they are structured.
    2) I take walks, watch videos, look at even more websites, etc. Many things can give me inspiration, just going out to a park or car ride can give you ideas.
    3) I experiment on a canvas in Photoshop with colors and stock images, somethings things just come to my mind.

    As you search, you shall find. ;)

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