by Fred Brookes
By the time I leave in February 2018, I will have been working as Creative Leicestershire’s Business Adviser for close on ten years. Over that time I have met almost a thousand creative businesses and practitioners face-to-face. I want to take a moment to reflect on what I have learned, and how things have changed over my time here.
Creative Leicestershire began, and remains, as a partnership of the local authorities in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, with the aim of encouraging and supporting the creative sector of the local economy. Broadly speaking, the programme has been to provide information, support, advice, networks, expertise and advocacy. We have had mentoring and bursary schemes at different times, and have worked closely with partners including the LCB Depot, the Universities, the former EMDA and now the LLEP among others. Our focus has been principally on arts, media and design enterprises, with a good deal of flexibility around that core to include ideas and propositions from hairdressing to baking to auto body-shop to business coaching.
It would be hard to know everything about the wide range of businesses that come in to our orbit, and my job has as often as not been more like counselling than telling people how to do what they do. Getting thoughts in order, prioritising action and signposting to sources of help, information and finance has been mostly what I been able to offer. That, and occasionally asking someone to give it up and do something else more likely to provide a living. More than once, having said that, the client has subsequently come back and told me how well they have done by ignoring my advice and driving ahead regardless, so even bad advice can be a catalyst. This job has led me to meet an extraordinary range of very interesting and talented people, and I have always been dazzled by the range and scope and quality of what goes on in the creative minds around these parts. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with great colleagues, and with partners across the city and county.
This part of the world tends to hide its light under a bushel, and when I started here, the creative present, as well as the creative historical past, were not so well recognised as they should have been. It seems to me that on that front things have got better. More recognition by the authorities of the economic and social value of creativity, continuously growing activity and innovation, more retention of graduates from the area’s excellent creative institutions, more experienced people returning here mid-career and helping fire up new initiatives. I would like to think that Creative Leicestershire has made a contribution to that, and that it will continue to make a difference in the future. There is plenty still to do.
My thanks, then, to the colleagues I have worked with, the powers that have enabled us to continue, the partnerships we have made; but most of all to the myriad creative people I have met, and from whom I have learned much more than I have given.
Do’s and don’t’s (mostly don’ts):
When starting up, don’t obsess about business structure (even though if you are nerdy about such things, as I am, it can be fascinating). Best to see if you actually have a business first, then choose a structure to fit. Sole trader is by far the least regulated business form and suits most things at the beginning.
Don’t under-price. Pricing is the most difficult thing for nearly everybody. Go low to enter a new market, but regard it as a discount and account for it accordingly. Don’t price yourself into an unviable position, even if you just love doing what you do. It’ll make you very miserable in the end.Never throw away a receipt for anything. If necessary get a bigger wallet.Be a bit wary of a niche. If nobody’s doing it, there may be good reasons why.Growing too fast wrecks more businesses than growing too slowly.Creative enterprises tend to be lightly capitalised, fleet-of-foot and flexible, that’s what makes them resilient. Stay that way as far as you can.Look after your intellectual property, it’s often all you’ve got. The IPO is very helpful. Even so, you’ll likely get screwed anyway, but it is a learning experience.‘Social enterprise’ is a much-abused term and some set-ups that adopt it are neither social nor enterprising. If you mean a Community Interest Company or Charitable Incorporated Organisation, then understand what that means and say so.It can be a lonely life. Get out, go to gatherings, meet people, find networks of like-minded practitioners, mutual moaning can be beneficial.Trade shows are generally fairly horrifying but well worth visiting. You see what’s going on, meet people in the business, pick up trends, learn what to avoid. Don’t be an exhibitor before you’ve been a visitor. Take a friend.Passion is a praiseworthy emotion, running a business mostly uses the other side of the brain.You will get turned down and rebuffed a lot, everybody does. It needs a thick skin to succeed, and it doesn’t suit everybody.
It can be a lot of fun, though.
Bye bye, and good luck to you all. Keep it up!