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Building a Business: Your Stories - Part 3

If you’re taking your creative vision beyond your spare room and sharing it with the world, it’s no longer just a vision: it’s a business. Which means not unleashing yourself on the world until you’re ready…

For many people, a creative skill or artistic idea is likely to be side-lined as a hobby. Dreams and visions fall by the wayside as the ‘day job’ gets in the way. But, for some, a successful funding application and clever marketing campaign can be the start of a life-changing journey. If you want to exhibit or sell your work and pursue funding and collaboration opportunities, make sure you have done the groundwork first. And that means being 110% sure your product is the best it can be and that you have a plan for how you are going to build the business.

Bob Christer – who has roles with educational charity Pedestrian, networking forum CEMENT and theatre festival 14:48 – agrees that the most important elements of a new business are “Structure and quality,” adding

“You need to have an idea of how you are going to ensure that whatever you do is quality. If you don’t have the right structures and processes in mind to do that, it’s not worth doing in the first place.”

Often that means researching your market thoroughly. As Tim Sayers, Arts In Health Co-ordinator for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, sums up: “Start small with low budgets and build from there. Make sure that you’ve got an audience first, then plan how you’ll entertain them!”

But be prepared for it to take more time, effort and investment than you at first imagine. As Graphic and Product Designer Anna Lisovskaya,of studio Fox & Co and workshop My Workspace, found out. “Before opening the My Workshop facility I thought I’d done all my due diligence,” she shares. “Business plan, financial forecasts, market research, etc. I’d created a short video and a questionnaire to get feedback and through advertising in local spaces and places where creative people hang out I was able to find out if there was a potential need for a My Workshop facility. 51 complete strangers I’ve never met in my life told me what they needed and how much they were willing to pay. I was ecstatic. I worked through my figures conservatively and thought ‘even if I sign up 10% of the respondents in my first six months, I can make the business work’.

In the first couple of months none of the people who fed back signed up. ZERO! I was crushed. Conclusion? Not everything you will do will guarantee results. Be prepared for huge setbacks and develop an ability to pick yourself up.”

Filmmaker Rhys Davies also recognises the importance of keeping the end goal in sight without sticking rigidly to one path to get there. “I use the technique of visualising the end goal – in my case the premiere of the film – and step back through the process to keep the vision alive,” he explains. But, he warns,

Don’t get hooked upon the need to have some grand master plan which has to succeed. There are so many ways to get into the industry – no one true path. Keep on creating, getting yourself out there and you will succeed.

Permission to use two awful clichés here because they make the point rather well: ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ and ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs’. Skin cats (not literally – that’s not art, it’s psychopathy) and break eggs with abandon – your best learning curves will come out of the process of evolving and adapting to achieve your goals.

Anand Bhatt,of dance company Aakash Odedra, advises that it’s equally important to find your place in your chosen industry. “The industry is a machine you need to learn and weave your way through in order for your art to thrive,” he explains.

“People invest in people. Trust takes a long time to build, as does reputation. You might be the hottest in your industry, but you have to prove your value and worth.

So investment is top heavy: don’t be afraid of it. Time especially.” Many art industries, particularly the more niche ones, can be close knit communities in which you need to find a place: a place that is earned through a reputation for honesty, passion and hard work. As Anand says, people invest in people, not the ideas they proffer on a business plan. 

Someone who couldn’t agree more is director at Leicester Print Workshop Lucy Phillips, who comes into contact with countless artists, particularly as LPW is in the midst of upgrading its facilities to incorporate space for exhibitions and education, workspaces for artists and a fine art printmaking studio. She advises:

“I would say perseverance is essential: keep going, keep learning,

keep looking at other artists’ work, seek out opportunities for collaboration, make the best of every opportunity, get advice and speak to as many people as you can, from fellow artists to organisations such as Creative Leicestershire.” Thanks for the plug Lucy but she’s right: if you start anywhere, start with a trusted organisation which can guide you with impartial advice and create a forum through which you can connect with likeminded folk.

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