Internet advice: When rules kills creativity

Like many of you, I spend a lot of time on the internet.

It’s where I write, work, create, design, communicate, promote, share, network and curate.

Working as a solo freelancer means a fair amount of conversations are digital and the web is kind of your office, and I don’t know about you, but I have noticed the ‘office’ is sure starting to get really, really noisy.  People are getting bossy. Adverts are getting, you know, shoutier.

I want to take a moment, particularly at a time of year when we tend to hibernate at home and push ourselves more, to encourage you to be mindful of what works for YOU, what makes YOU feel good and be aware of what makes you feel overwhelmed.

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I have learnt recently just how easy it is to tumble down what I like to call the ‘this way is best’ rabbit hole, that feels a little like a free-fall through copious amounts of ‘expert’ advice bombarding you from all corners.

Just like Wonderland though, once you start looking around you, there’s a signpost to every which way directing you to another great piece of advice on how to use social media, how to schedule your day, how to hustle, how not to hustle, how to attract clients in your sleep - and you ultimately just end up just like Alice, sobbing on a log, next to a grinning cat, wanting something to make sense. 

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Granted, at times I seek ‘expert advice’ out. I frequently turn to You Tube for a quick tutorial on something I’m unsure of, or read advice forums - but I feel I’m in control of what I consume.

At present however, my social feeds are jam packed with targeted advertisements, phrased in just the right kind of promotional jargon to make you feel that doomed niggle of doubt about what service you offer, what product you sell or how you run your business.

You know the ones I mean, right? It’s a perfectly styled, perfectly smiled image, with direct, powerful language. This is FREE help! You NEED this help. Look at me and what I achieved…….

It’s not a dissimilar feeling to the fashion magazines that encourage you to shed your ‘winter weight’ with their diet plan just one page-turn away from an advertorial selling bikini’s.

We are all human, we are all susceptible to wanting to learn more, get better at what we do and how we do it. Sure, people might know more than us, have more experience than us and maybe even want to help – for the right price of course. People absolutely should be paid for their knowledge and advice, but I’m so bored of the blatant finger wagging I see online. One size doesn’t fit all – especially when it comes to creative women and their businesses.

Because, whilst we run businesses we want to make successful- we are creatives, and too many rules kill creativity.

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One day it will be that free, helpful e-mail newsletter I signed up to (because that nice smiley entrepreneur lady seemed to have it all figured out) but now she’s shouting at me in caps locks from my inbox THAT THERE’S ONLY 24 HOURS LEFT TO BUY HER EXCLUSIVE ONLINE COURSE AT THIS ONE TIME ONLY DISCOUNTED RATE AND WHY HAVEN’T I TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF THIS - DO I NOT WANT ALL THIS EXPERT INFO SO CHEAP AND EASILY…..??!! and it will appear four more times that day with a countdown until I furiously punch the ‘unsubscribe’ button and swear to myself I won’t sign up for any more ‘helpful’ advice.

Another day it will be a general insistence that you must stick to a strict colour theme or filter on Instagram to grow your following. As a brand stylist I wholeheartedly recommend developing a brand style to stay in tune with your imagery and build a relationship with your followers and customers, but it makes me sad sometimes to see the so-called secret formulas of insta-success simultaneously squashing the fun out of what can be an expressive, visual and creative platform.

There are so many things you can do online, whether it’s your website homepage layout or your email marketing, for which there are ‘best practice’ guidance tips out there.

Try to follow blogs and podcasts of people online whose words resonate with you, or work directly with a freelancer in one specific area that is bespoke to YOUR needs. Best of all – try things for yourself, learn as you go, see what works, see what sucks and see what makes you happy.

Most of all, don’t beat yourself up! It can feel like we are meant to know how to be good at everything, but isn’t the greatest part of being self-employed is to not feel like we ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to do things the way someone else insists is the right way?

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Example: I want to like LinkedIn. Infact, I want to love it.

But I approach it like I do food shopping at the supermarket…. quickly go in, poke around, grab what I need and exit swiftly. Why? Because quite honestly, it never fills me with inspiration, admiration or connection. It makes me feel like the whole working world is busy being successful, being right and being better at everything.

It just ‘aint my bag. I’m not great at (nor enjoy) self-promotion, and I dislike the heavy use of corporate business lingo. I always tell my clients if they really don’t enjoy a channel, don’t use it. Why do I want to like, or indeed learn to love LinkedIn? Because a marketing entrepreneur on a podcast once told me it’s gold for networking, and if I wasn’t utilising Linkedin then I was making a huge mistake. Well…. Tough. I call BS on rules and being bossy and shaming people who are finding their own way in this creative wonderland.

Now I simply keep it up to date, but I don’t force myself to use it.

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So, if you too ever find yourself drowning in a sea of ‘should, must and oughts’ online, here’s a few tips I have learnt to swim right on through.

-        It’s okay to unfollow, unsubscribe or mute any content that makes you feel sad, bad or mad

-        If you do subscribe to lots of free advice newsletters, you can copy and paste sentences or pointers that are directly relevant to you and save them in your very own bespoke guide book, whether it’s an app, slide show, or simple office document, it removes all the noise and edits the useful parts just for you.

-        Be really aware of how good you feel about signing up to something, paid or not. Is it out of guilt because you think you should be better, know more or have more?

-        Try saving article links to bookmarks and favourite lists online and read when you have specific time set aside for it, not cramming the information into your brain then and there.

-        If there are parts of your creative business you really don’t enjoy, by identifying why this is you can hopefully find the exact kind of help you need, and the right person to give it to you

Did you enjoy this article? Read more from Nicki in her previous post on creative business

Author: Nicki Grainger

Freelance Brand Styling
www.nysm-styling.com

@nysm_styling