I wanted to be a creative professional because I like to come up with ideas and to make things. I wanted to be an entrepreneur because I wanted more freedom over my ideamongering (yes, I made that up) and my making. The hard truth of the matter is that, running a creative business is still running a business. As much as I would love to spend all my time developing concepts, drawing and designing, in reality that has often only taken up half, if that, of my work time.
I’m not complaining because my situation does indeed enable me to live life (a little more) on my own terms. With the wisdom of experience, I continuously make adjustments to free up more time and space to create. It’s about finding a balance. A team and a business partner can certainly help with that but in the beginning, that may not be an option.
Before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey, it’s good to know what will be in store – to appreciate the various hats you may have to wear by your lonesome. Here are ones that I can think of:
Registering your company or setting yourself up as a sole trader. If you have employees, you will need contracts. You will also need to think of creating company policies and ensuring that they’re in line with statutory requirements.
Perhaps the most important because, at the end of the day, if you’re a business, you need to make profit. Knowing your numbers is key, i.e. having targets and planning your activities in order to meet them. Getting paid is the main step and this involves invoicing and the thing we all hate – chasing payments. Then there’s making payments to others: suppliers; payroll for employees and; the government (corporate tax, National Insurance/Social Security contributions, VAT etc.). You need to have systems to keep track of all of this.
This involves researching and identifying appropriate suppliers and then liaising/collaborating with them. For some businesses, this will be more involved than for others. If you’re providing a service, as opposed to creating products, this may be less demanding.
For example, when providing graphic design services, the only procurement I really have to do is printing and oftentimes, even this isn’t necessary (e.g. on logo design projects). I did have some one-off procurement to do at the start of my business though – a computer and software – and every now and again, I need to stock up on stationery.
However, if I was, for example, a fashion designer, I would need to think about: where I’m sourcing my material; how my prototypes are getting made; production of orders; packaging for deliveries and/or purchases in-store etc.
Sales is often considered a dirty word yet, we all engage in it on some level. Even as an employee, you had to sell yourself well to secure that position and, it’s likely that you have to continue to sell yourself well to ‘move up’ or, in this day and age, to keep it! I think we need to reimagine the idea of sales. Some people have things that other people want – things that add value to their lives in some way. Sales is simply a way of identifying the people who need what you’re offering and enabling them to get it.
Whether you’re selling your goods yourself or being stocked by others, you will need to approach people, interest them, take orders and fulfil them. This will involve customer service; shipping and handling and; managing your inventory.
New business is a similar concept to sales and arguably, it’s what comes before the sale. It’s about identifying opportunities for your business by engaging and networking with people and, building and nurturing those relationships. In my line of work, it’s very common to have conversations with a prospect and then wait 6 months to a year before they’re ready to actually commission any work. A lot of people don’t have that kind of patience or, get demoralised when it seems like their efforts have been in vain. If I can sum up entrepreneurship at this moment, I may have to go with: ‘faith and persistence'.
I saved this for last because it’s the area I enjoy the most, second to making things. There are some blurred lines between sales, new business and marketing so I’ll define what it means to me in essence: getting the word out about what you’ve got to offer (i.e. doing your work justice!).
You will have some initial collateral to create, for example: website; business cards and other stationery; signage and banners; core promotional materials (flyers, brochures, catalogs etc.).
You will also have to consider some ongoing activity. This could be online: llist-building; email marketing; content marketing; blogging; social media; ad campaigns etc. Not forgetting the power of offline channels such as print materials; live events; advertising in print or on air.
Then there’s PR: creating press releases; media relations; blogger outreach etc.
Ideally, you will create a strategy and plan for all of these things.
Worth the juggle?
Phew! Tired yet? If it’s any consolation, it is possible to do all these things. If the reason why you’re setting out on this journey is big enough, you will develop the time management and focus skills necessary to master this. If you do a valuation of your time, you will also realise the benefit of outsourcing things that are beyond your core skill/competence and that includes non-work-related tasks like cleaning the house.
At the end of the day, you might decide that you just want to create for the sake of it. That you want your craft to be a hobby that’s not influenced by customer demand and the other pressures of trying to make a profit. For many, that’s the choice they have to make to keep their creative passion alive. However, there are many who are running thriving businesses as they push their creative muscles and satisfy their desires to add more beauty, intrigue and examination into the world.
PS We made a tool a few years back – Anza – a checklist for start-ups and entrepreneurs. It outlines all the things you will need to think about when setting up your business. You can download it for free (currently available for Android only).
Illustration by Lulu Kitololo