Review of ‘Your Creative Career’ by Anna Sabino
“Your Creative Career” by Anna Sabino offers practical advice for creative entrepreneurs. In this book review, I outline four of Sabino’s best tips and discuss where Sabino deviates from her thesis.
The Rise of Freelance Careers
In my review of “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk,” I cited a 2014 Freelancers Union survey that found that 53 million Americans, or 34% of the U.S. workforce, are independent workers. A 2016 Mckinsey Global Institute report aptly titled “Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy” puts that number at 68 million Americans in 2016. In an Entrepreneur article, “Freelancers Make Up 34 Percent of the U.S. Workforce. Here's How to Find, Hire and Manage Them,” Martin Konrad says that half of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers by 2020.  It’s obvious that the gig economy isn’t just growing. It’s making history.
It’s also leaving a lot of freelancers wondering about benefits, taxes, and how to manage volatile income. “Your Creative Career” by Anna Sabino is about how to be a successful, full-time gig worker. Sabino’s book won’t help you find health insurance or do your taxes, but she does provide some insight on how to let your creativity flourish while managing a business.
What You'll Learn in “Your Creative Career”
First, I want to thank NetGalley for providing me with a review copy of “Your Creative Career.” Now on to the good stuff!
“Your Creative Career” is not for every gig worker. It’s for creative entrepreneurs as Sabino calls us. Creative entrepreneurs include web designers, handmade product designers, writers, painters, bloggers, vloggers, etc. “Your Creative Career” by Anna Sabino is part memoir, part self-help book, and part how-to guide written in a stream-of-consciousness style.
If you’ve read other books about using your creativity to make money and have a solid grasp of basic business principles like cash flow, you can skip this one, not a whole lot of new information here. But if you’re new to creative entrepreneurship, you'll want to read “Your Creative Career” because Sabino covers everything you’ll need to know to get started. Although there might not be a whole lot of new how-to information for the rest of us in “Your Creative Career,” Sabino does share some wisdom worth contemplating:
Grow deeper instead of broader.
At one point in her journey, Sabino recalls being inundated with emails and pitches about how to grow her business. Her response: “I didn’t want to hear any of that. I look at growth mindfully. To me, it’s more about growing deeper than broader.” She goes on the say, “instead of focusing on how to make it even more profitable, I recognized the sweet spot of ‘enough’ and refocused my energy on growing in other areas of my life.”
Wow! How refreshing! That’s one of the great things about a creative career, no pressure from investors, shareholders, and board members to continually make more money. With so many hands in the honeypot, it’s no wonder that many large businesses push their employees to work harder and longer and sacrifice quality, safety, and privacy in the name of the almighty dollar. As a creative entrepreneur, you get to choose how much you want to grow your business.
Get rid of the stigma behind money.
Sabino takes a practical stance on money. She points out that competition in creative fields is fierce and that “only those talented creatives who focus on profit will stop starving. Making [money] a priority is the only way to make our business sustainable.”
She is absolutely right. We shouldn't call our fellow artists sellouts simply because they make a living with their art. I’ve read a lot of “internet advice” for creatives along the lines of “If you wouldn’t do it for free you’re in the wrong industry.” Yes, if you want to be a successful artist, you do have to love what you do, but that shouldn’t preclude you from making money or aspiring to make money. By holding onto the stigma that we are somehow sellouts when we make money, we artists are allowing the people and businesses who hire us to take advantage of us.
In Sabino’s words, “It’s time to let go of the stigma and embrace money as a reason to start a business. It’s OK to strive to have a profitable business and make it a priority. This will lead to creating a healthy and sustainable company in line with our values.”
Keep “sending ships.”
Sabino’s term sending ships means “reaching out to the unknown without having any expectation about what comes back to you.” It’s a more karmic way of networking. Sabino sends ships by complimenting journalists on their work. She’ll request interviews, inquire about submission guidelines, and pose questions. Yes, most of this falls under the umbrella of networking and marketing. Sabino’s attitude, however, makes all the difference. When I started “sending ships,” letting go of the expectation of getting anything in return also freed me from my fear of bothering people.
In “Your Creative Career,” Sabino never specifically says to set boundaries, but she explains the ways she limits her social media use and leverages email. With regard to social media, Sabino warns against checking statistics, getting involved in controversial discussions, reacting to criticism, and being reactive.
Sabino also communicates almost exclusively through email. She dislikes phone calls because they are distracting and inefficient. Instead, she makes it clear that the best way to reach her is via email. She even says so in her voicemail message. Although this may not be possible for some creative entrepreneurs. There is something to be learned from her steadfast boundary setting.
Where Sabino Deviates From Her Thesis in “Your Creative Career”
The only point Sabino makes that I’m skeptical of is her point about college. She insists that education is the only path to success. Sabino says that kids drop out of high school or college because they don’t see the point and parents let them because, “after giving it some thought, parents realize that during their careers, they didn’t need to use any math other than multiplication tables or percentage calculation.” She goes on to say, “Unfortunately, often this child becomes a burden to their parents.” She later implies that successful dropouts could have been even more successful had they not dropped out of high school or college.
I find Sabino’s take on education too narrow to be useful. College is cost-prohibitive for many people and reasons for dropping out of high school are usually more complicated than “I won’t need this information as an adult.” If that were true, everyone would drop out of high school. Of course, I would never discourage anyone from getting an education, but dropping out of high school or college does not guarantee failure and graduating from college does not guarantee success.
Finally, this section of the book didn’t belong. Sabino titled it “Implicit Learning” but its only purpose is to convince those of us who didn’t finish high school or college to go back and do it. In her eyes, you are only capable of implicit learning if you graduated from college. It was also strange to read this after she spent pages discussing the courage it takes to live an unconventional life.
Why You Should Read “Your Creative Career”
Despite Sabino’s foray into her opinions about education, she has a lot to offer in “Your Creative Career.” In addition to discussing creativity and efficiency, Sabino explains some basic business principles in a conversational way.
I also appreciate that “Your Creative Career” isn’t focused on writing. As I previously mentioned, “Your Creative Career” is memoir-esque and Sabino is a jewelry designer, so the book focuses on that. I am a writer; consequently, some parts of this book didn’t apply to me. But I’m tired of reading books about writing and reading about bootstrapping a product based-business was interesting to me. It also helped me think about how I could apply similar principles to my writing business.
Finally, Sabino’s “cheerleading” is inspiring instead of cheesy. She provides loads of encouragement while acknowledging and even emphasizing that becoming a creative entrepreneur requires lots of hard work and planning. Anyone else out there pursuing a creative career? Share your story in the comments. Or send me a ship!
Your Creative Career: Turn Your Passion into a Fulfilling and Financially Rewarding Lifestyle
By Anna Sabino
Career Press. 192pp.