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Shelli Walsh, Content Strategist & Freelance Designer, ShellShock

8 min, 39 sec read
13:30 PM | 6 March 2015
by Adam Oldfield
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Shelli Wash has 19 years creative industry experience. Shelli believes that the things that attributes to creativity above all else is having a curious mind. She considers the many jobs and experiences in her life much more significant than her university education.

Since leaving university she has crossed over many disciplines, from textile design, to greetings card publisher, magazine publishing, graphic design, web design and online marketing.

Shelli builds websites and produces creative content marketing at ShellShock.

What made you want to go into the creative industries?

It was never a choice, more of a calling. I felt compelled. If I could go back now I would train as a computer scientist. My big regret is that I can't code back-end, although I am learning. I was a few years to early coming through education to have to access to find my passion for technology and the internet (it didn't exist then).

What’s the creative scene like in Leeds? Is it a city you recommend young people look to?

I have always thought that Manchester has great style and attitude with an unrivalled creative energy, London has all the big galleries and exhibitions and Leeds has been a bit of a cultural desert.

"If I could go back now I would train as a computer scientist."

But, Leeds is now improving. The opening of The Tetley (outside my window!) seems to have heralded much more creative events taking place and I believe that East Street Arts are organising many things. Duke Studios also have a great space and atmosphere going on so things have improved vastly over the last 18 months. One of my favourite places in the world is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and I am fortunate to have that on the doorstep with access to such a unique art space.

Can you tell us what Code, Content and Communication is all about.

I work online and am passionate about the internet as a vehicle of information distribution. I work in the online marketing niche offering creative and informative products to clients within the guise of content marketing. I also build websites but my emphasis is always on the content. The communications part refers to how important a key messages is within your work. It doesn't matter what creative discipline you are in a piece of work should always communicate a message. 

I believe in getting to the essence of 'why?' a business exists or a does what they do. If you can connect emotively with an audience you will have much stronger engagement than trying to rely on features alone. My why for example is, I distribute information so that I can empower others through knowledge. It makes me feel much more focused and energised to have it defined in that way and I feel a strong sense of purpose and that helps drive me through challenges. My biggest passion is Creativity 101 which I have founded to inspire and motivate other creatives. I also have the intention of creating information resources to help freelance creatives be successful and make a living doing what they love. I wish I had something like that 20 years ago before the internet was a viable option.

On the your website it says you value experience before education, can you explain?

In summary, I think that aptitude is far more important than knowledge. You can learn all the facts in the world but if you don't have the aptitude to convert those facts into something usable then what good is that? If you start with the right aptitude you can learn how to do anything. 

You don't start 'learning' until you get out into the real world. You learn through experience not through cramming facts to pass an exam that you forget a few weeks later.

I feel quite strongly that the structure of the education system is out dated and stifles independent thought and creativity.

"I feel quite strongly that the structure of the education system is out dated and stifles independent thought and creativity."

The system was designed to service an industrial age when academic subjects were considered in high regard. In today's society being able to think creatively, problem solve, be flexible and adaptable will serve you much better and sadly these traits are squashed not encouraged. A list of qualifications tells me nothing about how a person will react under pressure, how they will cope with a difficult client or if they will 'give' themselves to their work. If I was to employ I would be looking for original thinking and someone who had done lots of things.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career to date?

I have adapted, evolved and done many things to sustain. The best trait I have that has taken me thus far is tenacity and being able to keep going even when you feel totally beaten. I have always been determined to 'do my own thing' and have freedom to work as I want. That has probably been the biggest challenge I have faced: combining following my passion whilst also making a living.

I would also say that knowing the difference between when you have to dig deep and drive through or when to walk away from something that isn't working is a valuable lesson I have learnt through challenges.

Could you explain the importance of creativity in digital marketing and content strategy?

Creativity is about thinking skills, ideas, concepts and problem solving - not just having a talent to draw or create visual images (as many people mistakenly think). Online marketing is an exciting and challenging industry because it's constantly changing, therefore, you have to be constantly learning and adapting - this is the attraction for me. Thinking of ways to get your website seen, engage users who see it and get them to act how you want them to is highly creative by its very nature and requires problem solving and fresh ideas constantly. Out of adversity and challenge come the most creative ideas.

Do you have any advice for people who don’t think they’re creative?

Everyone by nature is creative and everyone has the ability to be more creative. Creativity is a skill and can be learnt, practised and improved. My recommendation is to practise idea generation everyday. Write a list of 10 ideas every day. Also read. Lots.

"My recommendation is to practise idea generation everyday. Write a list of 10 ideas every day."

My passions in life are the internet, reading, drawing, learning and swimming. I believe that being such a voracious reader from an early age has shaped my intelligence and creativity and cannot advocate reading enough. You have to feed your mind with quality ingredients to be able to output quality ideas.

Why did you choose to go freelance?

Since leaving university nearly 20 years ago I have only had a six month period where I was technically 'employed' on the payroll; I had a long stint as an in-house but was still self-employed. I have hustled my way and kept adapting; kept moving. I can't be any other way - it's in my nature. I think you either have it or you don't to be freelance. Some people are born to follow, others to tread their own path.

Entering the world of freelance can be tough. Do you have any advice on the subject?

Yes I do! Lots of it, as I have made every mistake possible and learnt by them.  I am always happy to offer advice, or to help to anyone who has the self motivation to ask for it. To live a life outside of paid employment I would recommend that you have the following attributes: focus, motivation, passion, adaptability, grit and an absence of ego. You have to enjoy working and you have to be comfortable making decisions by yourself.

Tell us about Creativity 101. What drove you to produce it?

Creativity 101 is a resource for thinking skills and helping people be more creative. I started out by writing the free ebook What is Creativity? Which you can download here and I created an animated landing page which illustrated the main points. Following this I started the newsletter and then the blog and I contribute to several authority sites such as, Smashing Magazine, Econsultancy and State of Digital. My latent passion for writing was fired up and I felt a calling to write and distribute information (although I wasn't struck by a thunderbolt). All this on top of building my creative consultancy work at ShellShock.

"You have to enjoy working and you have to be comfortable making decisions by yourself."

I have over 19 years creative industry experience and found my way by trial and error making pretty much every mistake you can along the way. It was difficult 20 years ago as we didn't have social media or the internet; trying to establish myself as a freelancer was a lesson in being resourceful and calling people on the phone. After all my time and experience I have a wealth of knowledge that I want to share and help others.

When I defined my 'why' (see above) and realised my passion for distributing information I wanted to create an information resource for creatives. My plan is to expand the site with information products and downloads to help freelancers make a living and to teach thinking skills to enable people to maximise their creativity. Learning to think the 'right' way can dramatically change your life as it impacts not only on your creative work but also positively affects all other areas of your life too. You have the potential to lead a much more fulfilling and rewarding life.

What’s the one thing young people should know before getting a job in digital marketing?

You have to devote a lot of time to reading and keeping up with the ever changing industry so you have to love to learn and be challenged constantly. (and that is what makes it so attractive)

Are there any projects you want to explore in the future?

Creativity 101 is my passion and aside from ShellShock takes every bit of time I have. I wouldn't dare take on anything else right now but in the future I always have so many things I want to do. Too much to achieve, not enough time. I will never stop working.

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