The creative’s guide to setting up a business

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Being creative can be a great commercial asset. You can use your eye for colours, branding, and quirky messaging to create a business like no other. On the other hand, the difficulties of running a business shouldn’t be downplayed. There is plenty to take on — from legal and financial obligations, to the pressures of single-handedly driving strategy and innovation. Here are some things that creatives should know about running their own business — including tips on how you can found your own financially sound creative business.

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    Defining your differentiator(s)

    What makes you different is different to what makes your business different.

    Too many people create businesses that don’t actually have anything unique about them (besides the people who run them).  Instead of focusing on your own journey and why you do what you do, try to put more creative energy into perfecting your business idea. It’s the actual elements that you’re bringing to the marketplace that need to be unique, not just the way in which you express yourself (though that’s good too!).

    • What is it about your products or services that will make them truly stand out?
    • How is your business going to be an improvement on previous models?
    • Are you disrupting, innovating, or catering to an underserved demographic?

    Exercises like doing an elevator pitch or defining company values may seem silly when you are not seeking investment or leading a team (yet), but these things can really help you clarify your business direction. Creatives are in a perfect position to create collaborative and innovative businesses, so don’t settle for boring corporate blue.

    Enter the marketplace with a really clear idea of how are different; it will make everything, from marketing to hiring, so much easier!

    Getting your ideas financed

    Financing your business isn’t as scary as it sounds. From grants to bank loans and crowdfunding, it’s possible to find plenty of affordable business funding. Especially creative ideas may even attract local or government grants, so scour the net for any relevant funding opportunities.

    • Some business finance comes with significant strings attached — whether that’s in terms of paperwork, business direction, shareholders, or staffing. Make sure you read the small print and know what you’re getting into, before you start running off and cashing in cheques.
    • Going DIY and bootstrapping is an attractive option in today’s startup-obsessed world, but doing everything yourself can be exhausting.
    • If you are relying on client work and commissions, make sure that you don’t devalue your time and that you’re charging a premium for your expertise. Explain to clients why your prices are high, and break down all the hours that go into a design or prototype. Projecting yourself in a professional and slick manner is essential if you’re moving from freelance to business owner — you need to own your new status (and deal with the accompanying overheads).

    Collaborating with others

    Collaboration is rife in the creative industries, and for good reason. Use the creative community to help you growth hack your business and take it to new heights.

    • Designers, coders, illustrators, and writers all need each other, so go find some likeminded and talented people to form a business venture together. Stick to one person from each skillset, and make sure you all have a shared ethos.
    • Intellectual property is a big word for creatives — you need to protect all your brilliant ideas and creative work. Getting into the habit of writing contracts and having those ‘difficult’ conversations about IP is worth it in the long-run. (More info on creative IP here.
    • Collaboration and strategic outsourcing can help you scale and grow — but don’t let quality or standards drop as you expand. If people buy into your business because of the excellence of your creative work, you have to be careful about farming out briefs to junior staff. Quality control and vetting are essential for growing creative businesses.

    Reaching your goals faster

    Want to get started today? Impatience can be a good thing: it will make you work harder and can help you rapidly problem-solve. The hardest thing with any project is the getting going bit, so try to breeze through that as fast as you can.

    • Goals and SMART targets are essential for any new business owner — they will stop you from getting lost in the business quagmire. It’s worth spending some time getting your creative projects and brain under control and learning how to become a super-user of project management tools like Trello — lifesavers when it comes to managing creative briefs.
    • Get advice and help from your network in the form of recommendations and support — don’t forget to post and engage frequently, even when you’re in full-on startup mode. Part of your content and marketing strategy should be community management — don’t fall for these marketing myths and end up becoming a boring broadcaster.
    • If you want to get started on a business idea before you leave your full-time job, then adopting the side hustle mentality can help you become a successful part-time entrepreneur. Buy up an existing website for rapid results (loads for sale on here), and start ploughing your creativity into it in your spare time.

    Bringing business in

    Business development and sales need to be at the top of your priority list. Don’t fall into the creative trap of focusing on your branding and marketing, forgetting about actually closing deals.

    • If you are not a ‘closer’, get someone in (even if it’s part-time) to help with your sales, or invest in some coaching or training.
    • There are plenty of ways to find new business, so don’t assume you need to be pounding the networking circuit, or getting on the phones. Social media and client referrals are big for creatives, so focus on great client experiences and social media activity.
    • Investing in a CRM or setting up weekly sales/meeting targets is something that all businesses need to do sooner rather than later. Don’t start worrying about sales when you’re suddenly less busy — it might already be too late by then.

    Finding purpose

    Purpose in your business is important, and not just in a vague, wishy-washy way. Purpose means being satisfied with your ideas, having great standards and procedures, and believing in your business 100%.

    Here are some ways to ensure you stay on track:

    • As the leader of a creative business or agency, you need to embrace visionary thinking and creativity. Don’t let your creative ideas stagnate and become a slave to the business instead — go out and rejuvenate.
    • Invest in people — whether that’s associates, freelancers, clients, or staff. People will make or break your business, so you need to invest in them.
    • Don’t be afraid or reluctant to pivot if that’s the right thing to do. As the digital marketplace evolves so fast, it’s important to remain agile and reactive.

    Taking the initiative and setting up your own business is a brave and bold step to take. Embrace the challenges as useful learning experiences, and don’t let the grind grind you down. After all, this is your opportunity to design a business that works around your priorities and fosters the values that mean the most to you. It’s never too early to think about company culture — it all starts with you.