Today’s interview features screenprinter, Lusungu Chikamata, founder of Creativity and Noise. It’s a great story of persistence and resourcefulness – I think sometimes we think everything has to be perfect before we can begin when actually, just getting started gets you to perfection faster! Find out how Lusungu learned a brand new skill and launched a creative enterprise, all alongside his day job.
I know many of us are counting down to Christmas and the opportunity to take a break; spend quality time with family and friends and; rejuvenate our energy and spirits. For some people, thinking about work is the last thing they want to do as the year rolls to a close. But for a few of us, whose work is fuelled by passion and a desire to realise a dream, there is no ‘off’ button. If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to the down time, so that you can spend it strategising and planning how to take your business to the next level, in 2015.
The term ‘networking’ used to put me off. I’d imagine an awkward room full of strangers, standing around trying to impress others. Others who, had already made up their minds about who they were going to pay attention to or not.
Cynical, I know but, I’d spent countless evenings at networking events, hoping for a different experience, in vain. Instead, I’d come home feeling, if I’m honest, a bit less confident and wondering if there was something wrong with me.
Yup, been there. Over it.
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
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It was World Intellectual Property Day this past Saturday – an opportunity to think about our rights as creatives and why it’s so important to understand them. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in running my creative business is communicating that ideas = money. Ideas are some of the most valuable things we have, especially being that we live in the Information Age.
When people commission Asilia to create something for them: part of the fee covers the fact that we can use computer programmes that they might not be able to; part of the fee covers our design and technology skills; part of the fee covers the collective experience that we have, especially given our different backgrounds and perspectives but; as far as I’m concerned, the true value that we bring is through our creativity – our ideas.
When I embarked on journey of self-employment, almost 5 years ago, I went on a mission to educate myself about success. I got caught up in all the fantastic things I was learning about business, finance, personal effectiveness and ultimately, about myself. So much so that, I can probably count on my 2 hands, the number of fiction books that I’ve read during this period.
Over the past few months, as I establish my second business, I find myself ramping things up and making this reading part of my daily routine – at least 30-45 mins every day. The difference I’m experiencing in my mindset, my behaviour and my results is not a coincidence. When wiser, more seasoned and more successful people talk about swapping some TV time for reading – they’re not trying to rob you of joy! They know how they got where they are. So I’m going to retrace their steps (these days I catch up on TV on Sundays when I’m doing my hair … but, that’s a whole other post).
Below is a working list of books that I’ve found very useful, as a (creative) entrepreneur. We can have both (creative satisfaction and wealth). Here’s to no more starving artists!
Those of you who have subscribed to the Afri-love mailing list will have already witnessed me getting all soppy over my Asilia team. Those intelligent, witty, passionate people who I have the honour of spending the majority of my week with. My business partner, Andrew, and I have learned that finding the right people is possibly the most important thing you can do for your business. People who not only have the skills but also, the right attitude. After all, skills can be learned but, the right attitude is indispensable and makes everything else possible.
So why is a team so important? Here are the top 5 reasons from my experience:
Adele Dejak is one of my favourite entrepreneurs because the woman is constantly innovating. Whether it's perfecting or incorporating new craftsmanship techniques; creating new fashion accessory collections; branching out into clothing and interiors; collaborating with all manner of artists, designers, photographers and; the list goes on and on and on.
Her vision, energy and determination are extremely inspiring.
One of the best decisions I’ve made in my entrepreneurial journey is having a business partner. We’ve laughed and we’ve argued. We’ve been charged with excitement and been on top of the world, and we’ve also had our fair share of set-backs and disappointments. The consistent thing over the past 3 years is our appreciation for the fact that we’ve gone through all these things together. When one has been discouraged, the other has dragged them from the doldrums and kept the vision and motivation alive. As business expert Mike Southon mentioned at a talk he gave at our London office space, one of the most important things an entrepreneur can do is find a foil.
Here are my top 5 reasons why: