My book Running a Creative Company in the Digital Age will be out on the 24th of February.
I wrote it as a nuts and bolts guide to setting up and running a creative company that can be a one stop shop for aspiring creative entrepreneurs, because it seems to me that such a guide is sorely needed. It's something I could definitely have used when I was starting out, full of ideas and ambition but blissfully unaware of the potential pitfalls!
As the digital age beds in, entirely new ways of working and creating have evolved. Traditional models of ideas generation, collaboration, funding, production, distribution and consumption are disappearing or morphing into something else. These new ways have been built from a truly digital native foundation, rather than with one foot in the old world of analogue and hard copy.
The landscape of work is changing too, with more flexible working cultures and structures emerging, and large corporations hoovering up smaller rivals and promising start ups in a bid to secure their global content kingdom.
I hope this book will help people with ideas and ambition have the confidence to go their own way, find the right collaborators, innovate change and take their place in an industry they love. Because despite the challenges, running a creative company is inspiring, horizon broadening, life affirming and above all, fun!
Here are my Top Ten tips for running a creative company
1. Follow The Passion Not The Money
This might sound quaint in today's profit-orientated landscape, where turnover is so much more important than quality. In the creative arena, in my experience, you are far better at doing the things you care about – and if you get to know the landscape and the basic rules you will eventually be savvy enough to make it lucrative too. That said, you need to be practical too. If your main passion will never bring more than a trickle of funding in, think about what else floats your boat and how you can diversify to bump up your turnover. Even better, find a business partner whose job it is to follow the money for you!
2. Know Your Talents and Know Your Limits
No one is brilliant at everything, so work out what you are great at and what are you not so great at – and identify the people you know and trust that can do the things you can’t and are interested in the things that bore you to tears.
3. Know The Landscape
Find out who is out there already doing what you want to do. Who made the content you have engaged with the most in the last year? Don’t know? Find out and do some research on them. If they seem approachable you could ask them to meet for a coffee – or alternatively stalk them online until you understand exactly how they got to where they are today.
4. Do Not Max Out Your Credit Card
You may believe in your passion project, and that’s great – in fact without that passion and belief, you wouldn’t get very far. But you to take all the variables into consideration. So when you’re starting your company with a project in mind, get some backing, and some opinions first – and don’t use your own cash, unless you can afford to lose it. It all depends how much stress you want in your life! I know some creatives will disagree with me on this, because they have taken a punt with their own cash and it has paid off. If you are starting something that you have a lot of experience in already and you have a couple of business partners that are also fronting up some cash, it may fly - but the truth is, these people are in the minority.
5. Surround Yourself with People Who Know What They’re Doing
It can sometimes be tempting, because it feels more comfortable and less intimidating, to work with mates or people you know are not the best in the world but are fun and easy to get on with. This can be a mistake and it’s a rut you might find yourself in for some time until you branch out and approach people outside of your circle. Make sure you have a business partner who complements your skillet. In other words, someone who knows the stuff you don't know, inside out. More often than not with creative companies, this means getting someone in who is comfortable with the numbers.
6. Be Collaborative
The digital age has heralded a new and in my view very welcome shift in attitude towards collaboration and sharing rather than competition and suspiciously holding your cards to your chest. Cooperatives are popping up everywhere, and the sharing economy means that you can swap skills rather than money when you are cash-strapped, and often use material for free. I believe that collaboration and openness lead to a more interesting, diverse and exciting creative landscape.
7. Don’t Be Too Down to Earth
Although I advise being practical in some instances, you also have to allow yourself time to be the opposite way too. Where I grew up, the biggest compliment you can pay to someone’s character is to say they are “down to earth” meaning they are grounded, realistic, and not too big for their boots. Sometimes this can be a limiting idea, creatively. It's a kind of Tall Poppy Syndrome where people who try to stand out or do something differently feel exposed and ridiculed. Like our education system, it's all about conformity. We all absorb the culture in which we grow up and live. So allow yourself to have absurd flights of fancy, objectively unachievable ambitions and ridiculous ideas from time to time. Have collaborators with whom you can while away afternoons in the pub planning world domination. Dare to Dream.
8. Have Heroes
It’s both helpful and important to have role models and heroes that you aspire to be like. It’s even better if you can make contact with them and ask for their guidance; it’s very flattering to be asked and you may be surprised at how receptive they are.
9. Be Adaptable
Once you get a moderate amount of success and a couple of big clients, it can be tempting to kick back and coast for a while. Unfortunately, this can quickly become a habit. Don’t assume that you are indispensable. Keep abreast of changes in working methods and work flow, technology, industry trends. Keep abreast of staff changes within your clients’ companies and stay in touch constantly.
10. Keep Doing What You Enjoy
Too many of us soldier on in life doing what other people think we should be doing, or what we were doing before, when we have changed as people. If you suddenly realise that you’d rather be a midwife in Peru, so what? It’s your business and your choice. A life well lived can mean different things to different people.