Insights and advice to emerging Portland-based creative professionals


A colleague recently asked me to offer advice or insights for young Portland-based creative professionals looking for internships, entry level jobs related industry experience. I figured I’d offer an amended version of that list here.

  • If you are planning on getting hired as a freelancer, get insured professionally  (at least from a liability perspective). By way of a directive from the State of Maine, Workers Comp policies require that all contractors are themselves insured or at least establish themselves as contractors with the state. As the rule is relatively new, a lot of creative firms don’t yet require this of contractors but they will. I’ll cover this more in depth in a future post.
  • It’s too late for this round, but AIGA Maine offers an annual mentorship program that I’ve participated in for the past two years. They pair young creatives with people who have been in the business for at least a decade and the pairs meet over the course of three months in a loosely structured program. It’s really great for networking and figuring how where to go based on the experiences and mistakes of others.
  • If you are not already a member, join AIGA and attend their monthly meetings to meet other creatives.
  • If I were getting into this realm at 20 or 22, I would read The Business Side of Creativity cover to cover. Best book about doing business in the creative sphere. Read every single page. They are all valuable. If I were going to go into business for myself, or try to make it as a freelancer, or start a business, or whatever, I’d read this book immediately:
  • Put together a reel or portfolio if you don’t have one already. Help us understand what you’ve done and what you’d like to do. If you don’t have one, start shooting or assembling some self-initiated work, or partner with friends. My entire portfolio pre-25 came from “for fun” collaborations with friends, fellow creatives, nonprofit organizations, activist causes, and more.
  • Also, to stand out, do everything possible to articulate to those you’re hoping to work with that you possess vision and character. My company tends to hear from so many folks who reach out who are sort of stilted in their presentation of self, or they’ll send some rigid solicitation that totally does not match our company. I don’t want cockiness, which, when you’re younger (or me now) you sometimes confuse for character. I get cover letters that are like, “You should know about me.” Thanks but no thanks, dude. No I shouldn’t. What’s your point of view? Particularly in the arena of “content”, content that is interesting has a point of view and needs to stand out in some way to find resonance. Have you established what are you propose you will be bringing to that?
  • Many skill-sets are ultimately irrelevant, really, outside of your interest to learn about them and your being to display that you are willing to learn. The former is an advantage but most certainly not everything. Again, a strong point of view and a willingness to learn tends to go much further than the inverse scenario. That’s where we see people stand out in an interesting way when trying to figure out who we’d like to work with.
  • Start having coffee with as many people as you can. Reach out to folks and invite them out. People will make time for you if you make time for them. This is to say don’t send out a bunch of form emails asking for coffee, but reach out to people who you really hope to meet and personalize your ask in a real way. Almost all of my work comes from folks I know through other folks, or from our creative work.

These are specifics to video and related avenues of content production:

  • If you didn’t in school, learn the basics of design. We’ll take an inexperienced producer with design skills over an experienced one with no design skills any day of the week. Illustrate these skills in your reel, your resume, your website, etc. The trick these days isn’t in skill-sets but in design thought. Do you use a design approach to solving problems? Do you use one in figuring out how to communicate? If you can display that, you have an edge.
  • Display an aptitude for After Effects. There are a ton of videos online re: how. You don’t have to make a movie but show people that this is a skill you can on. Again, another edge.
  • Watch, consume and be critical about everything you can. You can only create interesting output if you are consuming interesting input.
What would you add?
Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.