I’m very excited to announce the launch of a new column on confessions of a design geek, which will provide business tips for creatives. I know that many of you are independent designers and makers – or at least would like to be – so I hope this will be a useful resource.
I am delighted to introduce my first guest contributor, Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, and even more excited to tell you that Patricia has agreed to contribute a fortnightly post. The Design Trust is an organisation I have a lot of respect for, so I am really honoured to have Patricia involved.
Patricia’s first tips are about writing a creative business plan – whether that’s a formal plan to secure investment, or just something to keep you on the straight and narrow.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and the new column generally in the comments below. Right, over to Patricia…
1. Decide what your plan is for.
There are two types of business plans: formal ones that you need if you are looking for finance or funding from a bank or funder; and internal business plans to help you prioritise what to work on, and reach your goals.
A formal plan will include specific chapters such as marketing, operations, people and will have a detailed financial forecast. An informal plan can be a large sheet of paper with your goals and actions written all over it, with arrows and colours to show what you need to do first.
An internal business plan will show you were you are now, and where you want to get to in the next 12 – 18 months.
2. Start with the end in mind.
Imagine yourself five years from now and imagine what you would like to be doing, what kind of business you want to run, who you want your clients to be, in what kind of space you want to work. Don’t be shy – dream big!
Who do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to lead? What do you want to have?
Describe each of these things as specifically as possible in a couple of words. Or maybe a picture might capture your imagination even more. You could even create a collage.
3. Decide on your financial goal.
Yes, you are running a creative business – this is not a hobby, so what’s your financial goal? How much money would you like to earn? How much turnover (total income)? How much profit (income minus costs)? Some people find this really difficult to put onto paper, but have a go! It is for your eyes only so stretch yourself a little.
Get a big piece of paper and put your financial goal at the far right top corner.
4. Work out how you will make it happen.
Okay, so you have set your financial goal. The next step is to work out how you will turn this goal into reality.
What are your income streams, and how much money will each of these generate for your business? Which services or products will you sell to achieve your goal? How many clients or projects do you need per year?
Do you want a business where you sell 1,000 products per year for £50 or do you want to create 50 products for £1,000 each? What size of projects you feel comfortable with?
5. Set SMART goals.
‘SMART’ is marketing speak and means that your goals need to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.
Basically this means that they need to have numbers and a deadline to them e.g. To achieve a turnover in 2012/13 of £55K, which breaks down into five projects of £5K each, and three projects of £10K each.
6. Break it down.
You started with the big goal of what you want to achieve in five years time, then you identified your financial goals, and now you are breaking each of these big goals down into more manageable goals and actions.
If you want to achieve £55K turnover next year with these 8 projects, what will you need to do about marketing, actual project work, working with partners?
On your big piece of paper create rows on the left hand side that cover the various work areas such as finance, marketing, production, development, work space, management. Then put the goal for each of these work areas at the end of the year at the far right hand side.
What will you need to have achieved in 12 months for each of these areas of work? What will you do in nine months time, in six months time, in three months time, next month, next week, tomorrow?
The more you can break down what you need to do to achievable tasks, the better. Put each of these tasks on a yellow sticky note and start putting them on your big sheet of paper.
Start organising them in order. Prioritise them. Move them around.
7. Be aware of what your market dictates.
For many creative businesses there are specific times in the year where you will promote or sell your work at (trade) shows. There will be periods were you will be very busy or extremely quiet.
Most gift and interior shows take place in January and September, so that’s the main selling season, and dictates when you will be spending most of your time creating work and selling it. Your business might be really quiet or very busy in the Summer months or in the run up to Christmas, depending on what your clients want.
Make sure that on your big sheet of paper you check that you have created a business plan that works within this existing time frame. When will you be doing your marketing and selling in your market? When will you be creative? When will you be doing your finances and self-assessment? What is a good time to go on holiday?
Don’t work against the natural flows of your market as you won’t sell as much and might be seen as unprofessional and out of touch. At the same time if your business is very seasonal, what can you do to earn more money or use your time well in the quieter months?
8. Make it fun.
You are a creative person, so make this a creative process – that way you are more likely to engage with it fully.
Use your large sheet of paper with all the sticky notes to identify what you need to do to make your creative business a success. Get your felt tips out – and use colour and arrows to create links between related work areas.
Put your sheet in a visible place on a wall. Share it with others. Brainstorm together. It is a work in progress. Add or delete goals. Move actions around.
9. Create a to do list.
From your large sheet write down your goals per month and identify what needs to be done per quarter, month or week.
If you really want to turn your ideas into actions it is crucial that you review your progress on a regular basis. Have a meeting with yourself, or have a colleague you can work with on this. Monday mornings or Friday afternoons are great for planning and crossing out to do lists.
10. Make time.
Unless you actually make time for your actions in your diary, you will find it hard to get them done – your diary will just fill up with other stuff.
Put all similar activities together to deal with in one block of time to make you more efficient.
That quiet time in August can be a great time for doing your accounts, instead of the mad rush in the last week of January (seriously!). And you might even finally find some time to have a holiday too!