A small caveat
A few weeks back, our MD Mark and CD Sam talk with the latest RGU and Look Again Creative Entrepreneurship cohort. We were asked to share our experiences of working in a creative business - the fun, the problems, the success - the whole ugly mess. It's worth remembering that this is just our experience. There are countless other businesses in our industry who may feel differently and who are guaranteed to have a different view - and that's how it should be.
If you have started your own creative business or are considering doing so, the best thing you can do is reach out and speak to as many people in the industry you can. Building up a network of supporters, challengers and mentors who understand what you are going through - especially in such challenging times - is one of the best tasks you can give yourself.
It's also important to say that we don't always get it right. FortyTwo Studio, like everyone else, fall at times but as long as we get-up again, learn and commit to improvement where ever we can, then we're happy.
Myth #1 - It’s all about the creative
People want an experience. Any creative project a client brings to you, should be the best part of the week for them and not just for the 'creativity' you provide. How they 'feel' when they know you understand their business or challenge or what is important to them - is so much deeper than any experience based on creative ideas alone.
It’s how the relationship feels that is memorable - people remember how you made them feel, long after they remember what you made for them.
“People remember how you made them feel, long after they remember what you made for them.”
Truth #1 - Collaboration is hard
It’s been a common, some say overused word but however you look at it, collaboration - true collaboration is becoming more and more vital in the creative industries. But let's be honest, it is hard. Teamwork is hard. You have to carefully dovetail the right, complementary skill-sets and 'more importantly' the right fit as people. People who share similar values in life, people who you may disagree with at times but who are like-minded and care and believe in what you do.
Without that connection, no amount of creative genius in the world will bind a team together. Nobody wants to be or work with the ‘creative arsehole’.
You must work with both supporters and skeptics - skeptics keep you honest - but avoid the cynics. Find your tribe and make it work... it's worth it the long term.
Myth #2 - If you build it they will come
The best idea doesn’t always win. The best idea that is presented well does. If you want to win commissions and be paid well for it, you have to learn to sell it. Being confident in presenting your ideas and why they solve your clients problems or help them reach a target is a huge factor when growing a business. It really is the difference between a junior and more senior designer - the ability to convince. Design does not sell on its own, clients are buying into you - the more they like and trust you, the more they will be convinced of your approach to the work.
When agencies talk of looking for experience, it’s not just a portfolio of work they are talking about - its confidence and the ability to sell an idea convincingly. The waste bins of the design world are full of brilliant ideas badly presented.
Truth #2 - Limitations are sweet
Design is about working within parameters - budgets, geography, technologies, production techniques, scale.
Too often these factors are thought of as limitations or worse still, compromises. Embrace them. Without them you are in a world of confusion. The worst thing any client can say to you is ‘do whatever you want’ because a) where do you start! and b) it’s usually followed by a ‘yeah, but I didn’t mean that’.
Defining the brief right at the start is the foundation you need. From that you'll see the clear blue space where your ideas can grow and all involved will know the terrain. With the right client relationship, you might even get in on the act of brief writing too - no excuses if that's the case.
Myth #3 - You ‘have’ clients
You don’t own a client. They are not yours to win or lose. You are mere custodians of the work whilst you have it - make the most of it.
Clients are people and people make decisions based on a whole range of conflicting reasons. Of course you hope that your work and the way you work ensures clients are loyal - and most of the time that will be the case. However, people move on, contacts leave and (dare I say it), relationships grow stale - you have to be prepared for when they look elsewhere.
Of course, you should fight to retain the work you want but if the worst comes from the worst and a client moves on, the only thing left to do is learn. It can be tough and feel like a kick in the guts but learning from it is the only way to grow and turn the 'good' into 'great'.
“It can be tough and feel like a kick in the guts but learning from it is the only way to grow and turn the 'good' into 'great'.”
Truth #3 - People always buy from 'you'
As mentioned before, the creative alone will not build a business. People are buying you every single time - they like how you work as well as the actual work. They like the studio, the way you talk about the things, what you believe and how you make them feel.
The culture you have honed aligns perfectly with them. Great. But that means you have to continue to be visible, you can’t share the work and think that’s enough. You may have to go beyond being a creator and also be a voice. FortyTwo find that whilst our work get noticed online, there is always more engagement with content that is about us, our culture or what we are about out with the work itself. Talk to your digital marketing expert, they'll tell you exactly the same thing.
So as much as it may feel alien to you (especially if you are new to the industry and not used to putting your head above the parapet), you have to get out there online and in person. There's an old business owner cliché - Don't work in your business, work on your business - and like most cliches there is a truth at the centre of it. Looking beyond what you create, will show itself as being a vital ingredient when growing and nurturing your brand.
Myth #4 - Our business is different from others
There is often an attitude around the creative industries that our businesses are ‘different’ to others. That somehow being 'creative people' means we don’t follow the same business rules other businesses have to.
Businesses of all kinds are just a collection of people and people are motivated by the same things:
- Fulfilment - Enjoying what you do is of course what we all strive for.
- Money - Even if you are modest in your goals, we all need to make money to live.
- Making a difference - Leaving something behind or really helping others achieve are huge motivations.
Doing great work, being happy in our jobs and making more money than we spend is a tough equation to get right regardless of your scale or specialism. You will spend a considerable amount of time and effort getting this right but we are in the same boat as any accountant, newsagent, brewery or hipster cereal bar. We are a creative business, remember to put the emphasis on 'business'.
Truth #4 - You get the work you do
Once you are known for doing a certain type of work, it can be difficult getting out of that box.
Either clients understand what it is you do and they want that or they don't see the like for like experience they want to see. It's not always easy for people to recognise that the skills you have are easily transferrable to their industry and company, so prepare a number of compelling arguments for those who can't see past your current case studies.
If you want to expand the type of work you do or the sectors you want to work in, it takes effort and a real plan… and sometimes a fortunate opportunity. Get in touch and we'll share how we broke into the Food & Drink sector back in 2016, a sector we love and hope to continue to grow into.
In short, it was a combination of opportunity, risk and full-throated effort. You need a plan, resilience and the ability to be able to demonstrate why you are the best choice despite (or maybe because) of your limited experience in a particular area.
That's about it for now. I know we will have missed loads of important points - get in touch with your own experience or if you want to discuss your own plans for a creative business. I guarantee we will learn more than you will over a 'Zoom' coffee.