Last year we recruited straight-talking Californian Doug Richard as our brilliant creative business guru. As an entrepreneur, former Dragon and head of the School for Creative Startups, Doug knows all there is to know about starting and running a successful creative business and he’s promised to share that knowledge with you. So if you have a business dilemma, tweet us using the hashtag #whatwoulddougdo or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you might just get a response tailor-made for you. Here is the first question, posed by printmaker James Green and picked by Doug…
“The hardest part about being an artist/craftsperson is trying to divide my time between being creative and working on the business side. Any tips Doug? I’d also like to know if you think it’s realistic to try to sustain a one-person business long-term, or if the only way forward is by expansion, physical premises, employees etc?”
– James Green, James Green Printworks
James, ah, the eternal question! The hardest part of running a creative business is, well, balancing the creative with the business! Don’t let it intimidate you. You’ve been running your business for six years now and you’ve already come up with a system that cleverly combines a steady output with creative licence. Therefore, the best advice I can give on this is to ensure you dedicate enough time to learning the necessary business skills to manage your evolving business. Two things to bear in mind: firstly, don’t overcomplicate things, simple solutions are the best. Secondly, some business areas such as marketing can in fact be a very creative exercise, so don’t be afraid to inject your personality.
Now, back to your questions, which are actually very much connected. Do you want to develop a scalable business or do you want to continue as a lifestyle business? If it’s a lifestyle, then great, you can continue to focus your time and effort in sustaining the business. But even lifestyle businesses are not one-man bands. There will always be others as part of the orchestra, it’s just that you’re the conductor. It may be their time, their product or their services, but other people are an integral part of your business. But I echo my points above: to be six years on, you already know what you’re doing. You have a good range of products and two different streams (unlimited poster prints and original linocut prints), a clear brand and distinctive style. You’ve clearly already cracked the first most difficult years. You now need to make the call.
So moving to growth. It’s wise to target the areas which come at least cost first, and by concentrating online you’re giving yourself the best shot of large reach with relatively low cost and output. What you have to do for any type of expansion is know who you’re targeting and why. You’ll know your customer inside out by now, so find out where they hang out online, their habits, their communities, their interests (ask them, if you don’t have this knowledge already). When I say start with least cost first, I mean you want to get as much as you can for free! Reach out to those bloggers and online influencers who target the same customers as you. Make personal approaches and have your pitch down to the length of a tweet. It’s a matter of PR’ing yourself, and in the digital environment you’re singularly the best placed person to do this. Be confident in yourself and your product, be resilient and persevere.
Once you’re happy this is working, then you can start to investigate paid efforts online. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter now have very accessible and highly targeted advertising, with no minimum spend. When you get to this stage, test and learn. Find out what works when it’s not costing too much and interrogate the response.
There are ways to grow your audience while keeping your product offering the same. The best way to do this is to create more selling channels, be they online or offline through curators, retailers and marketplaces. You have a lot of options with your talent, and there is a growing focus on independent artists like yourself.
Creative collectives can help you build business networks as well as tap into new customers. These can be physical collectives or online marketplaces and communities. Research existing creative communities that reflect or complement your business. They may host local markets, workshops and masterclasses, or even networking meet-ups. Whatever their nature, they can help you gauge response for your products, identify potential collaborators and invaluably, use them for market research.
Last year James worked with The Sheffield Children’s Festival on this commission used to advertise the event
Or you could expand your product offering via licensing, collaborations or introducing a premium offering. Licensing is the celebrity of creative enterprise – it’s popular and absolutely can be the right move, but you need to make sure it’s for the right products and on the right terms (and plan for the option to regain all ownership). I would suggest exploring the other methods first because with licensing you’re handing over a portion of your revenue. You’ve already toyed with the latter two, by collaborating with Paul Smith, and selling copper etchings alongside your lino prints. How did these work out for you? Are these routes you’d be happy to pursue further to drive growth?
One of James Green’s prints that was used by Paul Smith on t-shirts in Japan
In terms of physical scale of a business, ie premises and staff. These are both high-cost outputs, so need to be entered into with a plan. I always suggest to young businesses to stand on shoulders of giants as much as possible. It allows you outreach, specialists and gravitas you can’t be expected to have at this stage. You already have your base online, which is the most accessible way to gain reach at low cost. Invest in driving this, and use others’ expertise to grow your orchestra at a manageable rate and in response to your needs. Question what it is you really need and what’s a nice to have. Do you need a full-time social media manager or is it actually a part-time marketer you need?
Scrutinise yourself and what you’re good at, and then scrutinise your business – specifically, where you want it to go. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t be afraid to go after what you want. I’d rather be a failure on my own than succeed for someone else, and I’m sure you’re the same. The rewards will be utterly profound however you choose to take your enterprise forward.
Good luck – and stay creative.
Doug Richard is the founder of School for Creative Startups which offers interactive, hands-on courses delivering no-nonsense business know-how for creative people. You can follow @creatives4s to receive daily pearls of wisdom for creative entrepreneurs.
Submit your business dilemmas to Doug on Twitter using the hashtag #whatwoulddougdo.