Ten practical tips to ensure your business survival came out of a Creative Business Conference held at Birmingham City University in June 2016. Organised by Creative City Partnership, speakers came from a wide range of business and cultural organisations.
Discussions were intense and focused on survival, collaboration and growth. There was consensus around 10 take-aways, which are in fact relevant to all business sectors, not just creatives. In no particular order the winning tips are…!
1. Stay focused on what you’re good at – Too many creatives spread their activities too widely. Focus on what you’re good at and don’t be tempted to chase little bits of money for short-term cash-flow gain. Focus on your core markets and develop those more fully.
2. Charge properly and build a war-chest of resources – It is so easy for many creatives to not charge enough for their services. Keep a genuine business plan up-to-date and keep an eye on the bottom line. Plan to make money so you can build a war chest of resources that enables you to ride income dips and be able to make bold and risky moves in the future.
3. Keep your public funding dependency under control – For those organisations using grants it is essential to keep their ratio of public to private money under control. It was felt that public funding or grants should be no more than a third of your businesses turnover. Ideally keeping other funding as commercial as possible.
4. Keep your Organisation Nimble – Winning large contracts was identified as a big risk! Don’t say ‘I am a Big Company Now’ and start spending after the win, stay close to reality. Keep your core staffing and overheads under control. Be nimble, so if contracts end abruptly you can scale back with minimum risk. This means cultivating a reliable and trusted group of quality freelancers who can regularly work with you as projects allow.
5.Look Outside your Comfort Zone – One of the keys to securing future sustainability is not being afraid to look outside your comfort zone and in unexpected places for new knowledge and opportunities. Sometimes this means learning boring stuff, like regeneration policy and planning! Sometimes effective collaboration can come from very unexpected places, for example, many creatives have found work through inclusion in healthcare funding bids.
6. Building relationships is the key to survival – People work with people. We can all help connect people and their businesses together. To enter new markets start with the problem or need that you want to address and then figure out how to solve it. That includes making the right people and organisation connections to turn your idea into reality.
7. Build Equal Partnerships – Building ‘equal’ partnerships is important. Never have one partner thinking they are the supplier to the others – all must be equal. Effective collaborations and partnerships need this sort of equal commitment, in terms of time, resources and risk.
8. Collaboration is not always transactional – We tend to think of collaboration as always being transactional. That is a partnership formed for the singular goal of developing and launching something specific, be it a product, service or cultural project. But collaborations can be about evolving new ideas and thinking. These more open collaborations have the potential to lead to something amazing in the future, if they are allowed to be open and flexible now.
9. Leverage whatever support you can get – Don’t underestimate the value of business support in all is forms to help your organisation survive and grow. Be it learning new things, perhaps bringing in a coach or getting some expert consultants. You can often leverage resources from unexpected places to fund your projects too, for example, including a low carbon building component on a bid can give you preferential public funding. (on the right bid!)
10. You don’t have to know everything – You don’t have to know everything to be successful! But it will really help you if you know who to ask to acquire the latest knowledge. This means keeping in touch with peers and constantly building your active network of connections.
Panellists for the conference included: Format Zone, Birmingham Open Media, Blue Hippo Media, Ammba Digital, Civicolive, The Space, Woman and Theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, WAA Advertising Agency, SRS Insurance, Creative England, Creative Industries Federation, Digital Humanities Hub and Greater Birmingham & Solihull Enterprise Partnership,
You can download the full report, ‘New Thinking, Essential Change in the Creative industries – Conference’. (opens in a new tab)