Tips For Running A Creative Business (pt.1)
Today I thought i'd share some of my own experience of setting up and running creative businesses to help you get on the right path from the get go and build a strong foundation from which to thrive and more importantly to evolve.
Lets face it, its rare that an idea or project ever goes exactly as we envision it when we are dreaming and scheming at the start of a new venture. Even with the best laid plans, most sophisticated equipment/software or the latest formula for success.
I am going to share 5 tips that continue to help me 10 years in to being self employed and 6 as a creative business owner, with the hope that they may help you cut out some unnecessary crap to avoid overwhelm early on. Its important not to take on too much or spread yourself too thin.
1. Planning, for the long and short term - When I first graduated I worked with a business mentor linked to my uni. She was exactly what I needed at that time but with hindsight her advice though it provided me with a structure for a while, was far too 'businessy'. The main focus of our work together was to create a business plan that fit within certain guidelines. This proved way too rigid a frame work for me as a creative textiles graduate. Where was the colour, texture, mood boards and abstract thinking?
The advice i'd give to my younger self now is to think about this idea of a plan more loosely with perhaps 1, 3 and 5 year goals for what i'd like my life and creative business to look like at the start, and then work back on small achievable steps along the way. I'd ask myself to think more about the life I want to live and use that vision to create a more 3 dimensional plan for my future... fewer graphs and more inspiring goals. If you can't maintain some level of inspiration to carry with you along your business journey then is there really any point? Once I have a vision I could create quarterly goals and then think about breaking these down into SMART goals to create measurable steps and to hold myself accountable (more on SMART goals to come)
2. Getting organised - Once you have figured out a starting point you really just have to get started. All the research in the world won't necessarily lead to success... if you don't get stuck in and physically DO the thing then you will never know what this business really looks like, how it works and what to do next. At this point its really easy to take on too much and say yes to too many people/projects... try and set yourself some realistic expectations, or you will quickly burn out which will have a negative impact in all areas of your life, not just your new business. I use a combination of sticky notes, a weekly/daily to do list and this PROJECT PLANNER to help me see, plan and manage my projects, social media and down time. For long term projects and goals I have an A2 white board sectioned off into 12 squares in which I plot my year on a quartterly rotation... little and often is my top tip here. Staying organised from the start will allow you to see what is and isn't working and move accordingly. This leads nicely into my next tip...
3. Test and Change - When I set up the first evolution of my creative business (which feels like forever ago) I really had no idea just how much things would change as I grew. In fact for years I didn't even realise I was growing! I was scared to let go of the ideas/plans/things I had decided on at the start. Instead of thinking about this as an opportunity to test, change and improve I just saw FAIL. If i'd only have shifted my mindset a little I would have been way more open to new projects, ideas and possibilities and probably have become more confident in myself and skills sooner. Once I realised that what didn't break me just made me stronger, I was way more willing to put myself out there, approach more exciting projects and opportunities and let go of the things that weren't working and put them in the experience bank. It also allowed me to push myself way further than I knew I could go which with hindsight was pretty amazing. I'd say that you will generally have a good measure of your own abilities just by knowing you... but do not underestimate the power of moving out of your comfort zone to try a new idea or skill. Because it's not until you do that and try that on for size that you can really feel how it will fit you. And practise. Don't try and give up straight away, try again and see if it is easier second time around. For example - It has taken me about 5 years of teaching myself photoshop to feel confident with the basics, and its only through necessity that I got to grips with it. Test, change, test and repeat until you find a fit.
4. Book Keeping aka turning your hobby project into a business - accounting for the numerically challenged ie me. I have never been fond of maths, spread sheets or receipts... so you can imagine that from the start book keeping and keeping my finances organised, as a freelancer and then small business owner, was never a priority and always something that got pushed to one side and caused me stress! Or later when I set up S+S it was one of the things delegated to my dear business partner because she was the 'tech whizz' and me the crafty one. This was great until my business changed and it all became my responsibility! That's when I really freaked out and quiet honestly would work myself up into such a stress about spread sheets and invoicing that book keeping = tears. So now after months of research and trying different methods I have found something that seems to work really well for me! I use a combination of paper envelopes to organise my monthly receipts... keeping a little of that old school charm... and accounting software and an app to stay up to date with monthly accounting. I tried several uk branches of popular programmes but have found Quickbooks by far the easiest to navigate. They not only offer a Self Employed package which costs around £3 for the first few months and then £6 per month after that. They also offer a super smart Invoicing Option to help you keep on top of who owes you what for all your hard work! Obviously i'd advise you trying a few companies but for me this works a treat. I have synchronised my business bank acc up so I can input all my book keeping transactions automatically. Plus there is the option to download my annual tax return into a spread sheet format to hand over to my accountant simply. I am so happy to be excited about book keeping and I don't even care who knows... good bye accounting stress!
5. Community, the importance of having different kinds - By now you will no doubt have got to know that I love to share... and often overshare. I don't see the point in keeping all the good stuff (or bad) to myself. Nothing ever gets solved that way. If I learn something new and helpful, I want to pass it on... its in my nature, I love to help others succeed. Alternatively if something seems like a bad idea or a lack of judgement I also think its important to voice concern (thats by no means to say i'm always in the right!). However I am lucky enough to be part of communities who are around for the good and bad parts of being a creative person and business owner. And have different groups where it is appropriate to share different things. I am me and am pretty comfortable with that these days, but also know when to share certain thoughts/ideas or info depending on the audience... and I think this is key to growing communities and maintaining friendships. There is an ongoing balance of give and take, and we all hold different opinions. So perhaps we should be searching out different communities and groups of people in which to grow. Online, email, private fb groups, in person meet ups, old friends you see once a year, creative peers, local business communities, Etsy teams... the list goes on. And they are all super valuable in their own ways. I think the best way to feel the magic of being part of a community is to identify a few that feel right and regularly maintain a presence within them. They are like house plants that need regular input, care and planning. Too many shoots and you will become overwhelmed, so don't try and jump on board every Twitter chat or hashtag prompt. Find what feels like a happy medium, dip in and out of groups, stay in touch and make time to help others.
I hope you have found this post helpful, please feel free to drop me an email with any thoughts you have or any tips you'd like to share!
nb - The opinions in this post are all my own and I have not been paid to mention other companies or software packages