There’s no substitute for hard work. (Now write that 100 times.)

Image sourced from Flickr by BluDawson

Let me be clear from the start—you need natural talent and creative smarts to do well in advertising and design. Those are fundamental to success, but they’ll only get you so far if you don’t pair them with a relentless work ethic. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of young creatives with noteworthy talent who eventually fell by the wayside as their harder working counterparts blew by them.

Am I just talking about putting in longer hours at the office? Heck no. Though you definitely don’t want to be that dude who jets out right at 5:30 every day. I’m talking about working smarter and making the extra effort to go above and beyond expectations. Because let’s face it, creativity doesn’t work a typical 9 to 5 schedule. Big ideas usually pop into your head at the oddest times of the day or night. Often when your mind isn’t even focused on the problem, but your subconscious is still churning away. 

Which means, slot in some time to think about creative challenges out on your patio, early on a Sunday morning. Or in the shower. Or just before dozing off at night. Or while commuting to the office. Those moments are much more conducive to great solutions than trying to force something on Friday afternoon in your cubicle, after an exhausting week, when all you can think about is Happy Hour. 

Hard work also means making or finding creative opportunities, rather than just sitting back and waiting for them to find you. Here’s a perfect example. My buddy Chad, a very talented art director, had a great idea for a series of TV spots for the Tampa Museum of Art. Unfortunately, the client had zero budget to do something like that. So what does Chad do? He has lunch with a director who’s looking for a cool project. Next thing you know, the two of them are spending several weekends together shooting and editing those spots. No compensation for their time or effort. But both end up with three really nice spots that eventually get shared with the Museum client who loves ‘em and finds money to run ‘em. A win-win for everyone. 

Now that’s just one of countless ways to stand out from the pack with hard work. Here are a few others that come to mind:

  • Jump in on new business pitches
  • Take some projects off the shoulders of overloaded co-workers
  • Rather than whining about small, unsexy assignments, find a way to turn them into killer opportunities
  • Volunteer with the local AAF or AIGA chapters to work on their promotional or award show projects
  • Sign up for creative webinars or attend local seminars
  • Come up with a list of “out of scope” ideas to present to current clients

I’ll leave the final word on this subject to the late Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, who wisely observed, “I think the harder you work, the more luck you have.”

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