Why you shouldn't quit the day job to start a business - and 16 other top tips for creative start-ups.
Share this article
1. You don’t have to know very much about business to start one and turn it into a success. You don’t need qualifications or social media expertise - I knew NOTHING about business and started a successful and innovative creative business, and so can you.
2. Define what success means to you. Whether it means having lots of money, being able to run your business around your family or to become a household name, your personal vision of success is important and needs to be clear from the start.
Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve got there? Many creatives don’t have a clear enough vision for what kind of success they are aiming for. There is often a conflict between creative success and financial success that needs thinking through.
3. It is best not to start a business straight out of college or uni. Whilst there are exceptions to this, making a success of a business with little experience of full-time working life is extremely rare.
Try to work for a relevant larger company to learn key skills, but ensure it’s not too close to the field in which you want to start. You can easily get stuck in their ways which will make it much harder for you to innovate.
4. If you’re thinking of starting a business, make sure you can run a small version of your business in your spare time as well as working hard in your full time job.
When you start up properly you’ll be working far longer hours than both jobs combined and you have to be able to cope with this amount of work to succeed.
5. Don’t sell at prices that you can’t sustain. When you are selling something as a sideline, you can afford to sell at low prices but when you have to pay bills out of those prices, they will have to go up and customers may not be willing to pay. It’s important to understand pricing even when you’re at the trialling stage.
6. Be creative and don’t mimic another business model– find a real ‘gap’ in what you do, and ideally in how you approach the market too. Today, there are many jewellers offering some kind of bespoke service, but we forged a completely new path and were the first on the high street.
7. For a creative business it’s important to find your ‘big idea’. Think about innovating, specialising or combining ideas that have not previously been combined.
If you just make beautiful things and try to sell them on Etsy in a hugely crowded market, you will have little more than a hobby. To really succeed, you need a way of combining your creativity and medium with something new or with something else that it hasn’t been combined with before.
8. Think about your customer first and then create your business offering around what they want.... not the other way around!
9. Trust your gut instinct- don’t be talked into things for sensible reasons that don’t feel right. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. If it feels right it probably is right, but do some market research to check.
10. If you want to take a step within your creative business but don’t have the skills, don’t expect to be spoon fed those skills. If you need to focus on marketing or book-keeping, do research and ask friends with relevant skills for a little one-to-one session, perhaps in return for making them something.
11. When you can, help other people. This is partly about “giving back” for the sake of the many people who helped you along your way and also partly about making new connections and opening your mind in new ways. I find that it even helps to feed my own creativity.
12. Small steps are still worth taking – they can still get you somewhere – you don’t have to rush. I helped to pioneer Fairtrade gold and improve ethics within the jewellery industry by taking on this huge issue one small step at a time along with others.
There is still a lot of work to do but we are a few big steps closer. You don’t have to rush headlong towards your vision, you can take it in small manageable chunks.
13. Get nominated for business awards because you might just win them. You can get nominated for start-up awards in your very first year of business- impressive PR building stuff.
14. Don’t always trust the ‘expert’ consultants that will approach you offering their business development services, e.g. Marketing or strategy help, for a hefty fee.
You can waste a lot of money and time this way as they don’t know your business like you do. Good advice is not something you need to pay a ‘consultant’ for.
15. Think around the subject and continually inject new ideas into what you do. Whilst our core business is telling people’s stories in the form of bespoke jewellery, we do other supporting things, including open days and children’s jewellery making parties. There are always new things to do to keep customers inspired.
16. It is the little things that can send a busy business person over the edge- for instance if your child suddenly announces they have to bring a cake into school the next day!
Whether its advice on work or home life, ask friends and business contacts for tips on juggling being a creative person with a business and a personal life too.
17. Talk to people – all kinds of people - and really listen and engage with them. Make bridges, make connections and keep smiling. Also, build a big support network together – do favours for each other.
Harriet Kelsall - is author of The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business and winner of the start-up inspiration category of the Business Book of the Year 2019. Entries for The Business Book Awards 2020 open in June.