Pete is the author of ‘Make Your Creativity Pay’, a book full of practical advice for creative businesses.
So you’re curious about the business of being creative and have decided to do something about it. Pete Mosley, advisor to creative people and businesses, has six pieces of advice.
The business guru Charles Handy said, ‘It seems likely that most people will be ‘portfolio’ people for at least some of their working lives. The earlier they put their toe in the water with a bit of self-employment (on the edges at least) the easier they will find it to survive.’
In what now seems to be a climate of constant change, that statement seems truer than ever. How then, do you put your toe in the water?
It’s a fact that the majority of people who make and do things – artists, makers, writers and performers – earn their living as ‘portfolio people’. In other words they create their income from a number of different streams of activity.
I’d stress that there is nothing whatsoever wrong in approaching self-employment in that way. In fact, making a decision to be flexible from the outset will enhance your chances of survival to a huge degree.
I know well-established artists, exhibiting internationally in public and private collections, who earn their living from a combination of selling their work, lecturing or workshopping, and involvement in project-based work.
1. Get feedback before you start
It’s very easy to get carried away in the creativity, the enjoyment of making your work – whatever that is, and your engagement with it – to the point that any thought of selling it becomes secondary.
Don’t commit to self-employment without bothering to conduct any reality checks.
You will always fall in love with the things you regard as being creatively successful. The trick is not to fall into the trap of thinking that because you love it, everyone else will too.
For goodness sake don’t commit to self-employment without bothering to conduct any reality checks. This may all sound a little harsh but it is a crucial first step that people often ignore.
You must, absolutely, find someone you can trust to give you independent feedback when you need to know if your ideas or creations are going to cut the mustard.
Your family, friends and loved ones are much too close to you to be objective. Find someone who is well-informed to give you constructive, objective criticism on your business ideas and proposed products.
This may be uncomfortable, but it’ll save you a shedload of cash and pain in the long run.
2. Study your geography
If you want to cultivate income from a number of different streams, you need to think really carefully about the logistics of it all. By that I mean coldly calculating whether there are enough customers within your reach – both virtually and geographically – to ensure the level of sales you need to survive.
If you are going to run workshops in schools and colleges for instance, are there a sufficient number of them within a reasonable travelling distance to make it feasible?
If you make things to sell to galleries and shops, will you be able to manage the shipping and delivery in a way that leaves you with enough time and energy to keep making more stuff?
Sometimes nothing beats getting a good old-fashioned regional map and working out which towns and cities are within reach by car or public transport.
This throws up all sort of interesting conundrums: sometimes it’s much less hassle to travel somewhere that’s 70 miles away than somewhere much closer that is beset by clogged roads and poor parking. Try taking a marker pen and delineating what your ‘patch’ might look like – it won’t be a neat circle 70 miles in diameter!
3. Take small steps
Calculate whether there are enough customers within your reach to ensure the level of sales you need to survive.
Often it’s best to make the journey to self-employment in small stages. Starting out this way means you can test ideas, products and working scenarios without too much risk.
I started by running evening and weekend workshops to develop ideas and get feedback, then went from full-time to part-time paid employment for a while so that I could be more available for freelance work but still have a financial backstop.
I only went fully into self-employment when I knew I had gained enough momentum to earn enough to pay the bills and then some. How long this transition takes depends partly on your attitude to risk and partly on what your other commitments are at the time.
4. Build your reputation as early as possible
When you are just getting started, do some stuff for free. Yep – that’s not a misprint.
Find someone who will host a short performance, workshop, talk or demo (whatever best suits your art form). This will give you a platform to try things out, document them, and gather feedback.
By doing this a few times you rapidly build up a fair amount of material – photos, video, feedback and testimonials – that you can use in your marketing.
So by the time you start asking for payment, you have the evidence that says you can really do it to a good standard. What’s more, you will have quotes from happy customers to prove it.
5. Don’t spend fortune on marketing
A nicely-designed blog with great images, good descriptive text, some great quotes and, if possible, a video demo of what you do, will go a long way.
People hate the ‘hard sell’. It is much better to use your story to capture their attention.
Get a bundle of postcards and business cards that you can put into the hands of relevant people. Build a Facebook business page. If you like Twitter, spend a little time building a following. You can do all of the above with very little financial outlay, and initially at least, it’s all you need.
Just remember: it’s the relationships that matter. They are the things that will keep you going through good times and bad.
6. Tell your story – and tell it well
People hate anything that smacks of the ‘hard sell’. It is much better to use your story to capture people’s attention. The task of selling then becomes much easier.
“The most effective way to make friends, build relationships, gather support, find collaborators, win over the doubters, sway opinion and – dare I say it, sell your wares – is to tell your story.
“Don’t be shy. Tell it loud and clear. People will read it, watch it, listen to it. Because as a creative person who is making and creating all the time, you occupy the position of being one of the most interesting, absorbing and fascinating people on the planet.” Make Your Creativity Pay