Finding that creative spark can sometimes be tricky when freelancing by yourself. With nobody to invite to a brainstorm, or bounce ideas off, you can sometimes find yourself bereft of ideas and inspiration.
Just you, your computer screen and a looming deadline! That’s why it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve, to get those cogs whirring when the creative block strikes. We all get stuck in the same way of thinking about clients, topics or issues, and we sometimes need to jolt our brain to think differently.
These simple techniques will give you a cerebral shortcut to new ways of thinking and have the ideas flowing in no time:
- Mind mapping: One of the most basic brainstorming techniques is to create connections and associations between words related to the problem you’re trying to solve. You can do this by drawing a mind map, beginning with the core word in the centre and adding any related words around the outside. Then do the same with those new words, so the mind map gets bigger and bigger. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing connections and solutions that you never would have thought have beforehand.
- Random associations: You can use words or pictures for this, and the idea is to force your brain to think about a problem in a completely new way. All you need to do is pick a random word or image and then force your brain to think of an idea associated with it – however wacky or crazy it might seem! You can find plenty of random word and image generators online, or have a quick search on Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration. But make sure the images or words you choose are random – if you’re too prescriptive then you’ll be limiting your ideas, and creativity.
- A different perspective: This exercise is your opportunity to channel somebody completely different, and ask yourself what they would do in your position. You could pick a famous person – a Richard Branson, or Donald Trump maybe?! Or alternatively, pick a brand, particularly if it’s one that you particularly admire or your client would like to emulate. Then consider how they would tackle your problem – you’ll be amazed at the solutions you’ll come up with!
- Go exploring: Staring at the same four walls for hours on end can be a big downer for your creative juices. Sometimes what you need is to do something completely different, whether that means visiting a gallery or museum, conference or networking event. It will help you look at your problem with a new perspective and chances are you’ll come back bursting with ideas of what you could do differently.
- Substitute an emotion: Another useful technique is to play around with the objectives of your campaign or idea, and turn them on their head. So, if you want to help your target audience, think about ideas of activities that would be unhelpful to them. Or if you want to make them happy, brainstorm ideas that would actually make them sad or angry. It sounds counterintuitive, but again, it will help spark new thoughts and avenues that could lead to the perfect idea.
- Look to other sectors: Whenever you’re thinking about creativity, remember the Mark Twain quote: “There’s no such thing as a new idea.” And while you don’t want to go around plagiarising your competitors, why not look at what’s going on in other sectors for inspiration. Think about a sector that has perhaps faced similar challenges, or has a similar target audience, and do a bit of digging into trade magazines and company news to see what they’ve been up to. You never know what useful nuggets you might unearth.
- Consult some great thinkers: There are loads of resources online where you can find useful research, insights and ideas to give you that spark. Sites such as TrendWatching and Trend Hunter will give you the lowdown on the trends and innovations shaping the world right now, while over at ted.com you can watch thousands of talks for free on any subject you can possibly imagine. Plus, don’t forget sources closer to home, such as industry associations and think tanks, which usually have loads of interesting insights and research you can dive into. Also check out our 5 PR and marketing trends to watch in 2017 for some innovative ideas.
- Take a break: If all else fails, sometimes all it takes is a few hours away from the problem or, even better, a good night’s sleep, and you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and renewed motivation. So, if you feel like your banging your head against a brick wall, then stop and take a break. Sometimes it’s the only way!
Staying creative is just one of the challenges of working alone, but a few tricks of the trade will have those ideas flowing in no time. You can also check out our advice on avoiding lonely freelancer syndrome, how to be a time management ninja and working in freelance teams.