Creative business ideas to help you run the business you dream of as a maker, ethical producer or creative course provider. Tried and tested essential ideas and tips for making a good living from your own creative business.
I know myself the all-consuming excitement that comes with launching your own creative business. A business based around the dream to make a living from doing what you love. There really is nothing quite like it, is there? Over the next week or so I’ll be sharing my 10 steps to creative business success. The tried and tested ways I’ve discovered for helping you to live the creative life you dream of. To kick things off, I wanted to share my own creative business story.
Finding and following your passion
Finding and following your genuine passion can be a key ingredient in creative business success – and a route to true fulfilment. But I’ve learned, from personal experience, that it’s really only half the battle. So many wonderful creative businesses, built on genuine passion and great ethics just don’t last the distance.
Over the years I have collaborated with hundreds of wonderful, unique and inspirational people who have set up their own creative businesses. And it makes me really sad to think that so many of them have fallen by the wayside. Not because what they were creating or offering their customers wasn’t great. All too often I have heard the same story – growing stress levels, working all hours of the day and night and still not making enough money to make ends meet. The exact opposite of the dream life that set them off on their journey. The dream therefore dismissed as an unachievable failure.
Above: Sasako of Botanique flower shop and artisan store. Photo: Yeshen Venema
Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to make a living from running your own creative business, but I do know it’s very possible. I am doing it myself and I speak every day to other makers and creatives who are too. Over the years, I have come to see the thread that connects the businesses that stay afloat and do well. And it’s quite a simple one – a willingness to work very hard, backed up with a sound strategy and strong belief. I have absolutely no doubt that with a little help along the way, and a better strategy, many small business owners that gave up on their dream could have actually achieved their goals. I feel qualified to say this because that could easily have been me and I don’t want it to be you!
I’m going to share with you all the things I wish I’d known starting out. These are the things that would have saved me making costly mistakes and as well as many, many hours spent learning everything the hard way.
I have also pulled in great words of advice from a few inspirational people I know. My aim is to help you on your way. To enable you to live the creative life you dream of, by making a living from doing something you love. Do get in touch with your stories – I always love to hear them! X.
My own story
My own story is a lesson in the value of stopping to listen and learn before charging full steam ahead with your idea. I set up my own business in 2005, with a passionate belief that I had a brilliant concept. One that would enable me to use – and share – the skills, experience and contacts I’d gained from a career as a national women’s magazine feature writer and editor. The idea was to set up a beautiful, well-curated online platform where ethical UK makers and producers could be promoted effectively to a highly engaged audience.
My mission: to help cut down on mass-produced waste and over-consumption by supporting local, independent makers and creatives in the UK offering considered alternatives. Easy. I have a genuine passion for the subject, backed up by great contacts in the worlds of photography, press and PR as well as the skills to write and design content. That was all I’d need. Or so I thought.
I cringe now to think back to design agency meetings where we focussed solely on the design and branding for my new concept. Poring over, and perfecting, layouts. Like I’d always done as a print journalist. It was my territory and I was thrilled at how it was all coming together and making my vision a reality. At the eleventh hour we brought in a web developer to build the site we’d designed. He looked at the perfected designs, shifted uneasily in his seat, then took a deep breath and told us that it couldn’t – and shouldn’t – really be done. That it would be mean bespoke coding which would be costly, clunky and less than ideal. That we’d gone about it all back to front.
His advice: to forget the beautiful finished page layouts and start again – with an inexpensive WordPress template. To live with the fact that this wouldn’t be the same as the designs I’d honed and obsessed over. It would, however, mean I’d end up with a user-friendly, dynamic and powerful website, he told me. I appeared to be listening but I absolutely wasn’t. It seemed to me that he was being defeatist and I couldn’t get past the fact that my design was now exactly how I wanted it. Truthfully, it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I didn’t take any notice and refused to listen.
So I pressed on with my original plan. I found a developer who could make the finished designs function within my budget. I worked with wonderful photographers from my magazine days to create a top quality set of images to use on my website and for printed material. Job done.
The launch was at The Country Living fair – and it was a huge success. We were selected as a show highlight by the editor and a feature on BBC TV London news followed, as did great support across the printed press. So I expected continued success to follow.
It was only a matter of weeks after the launch that it finally started to dawn on me that I’d failed to listen to valuable – if unwelcome – advice. That I hadn’t learned enough about the tech side of things. I hadn’t asked about the bits I didn’t know. Instead, I’d forged ahead with what I did know. The bits I loved. And now I was saddled with a website that was hugely limited in terms of functionality, complicated to manage and very weak from an SEO point of view. It was like pushing water uphill.
It was only now that I started to find out more about all the areas I didn’t know enough about… SEO (never going to be great because of how the site was built), social media (not possible to add in links to my site), newsletter integration (not possible with my site), blogging (not possible to incorporate one within my site)…
All of these things would have been easy to solve with a WordPress site built on a template. As I’d been advised to do. To say I was deflated and disappointed is an understatement. I’d spent my entire set-up budget before I’d stopped to think about what I needed to learn, rather than charging ahead with a plan based on what I already knew. I still feel embarrassed to admit how wrong I’d been.
Learning from costly mistakes
I had to do some soul searching and it would have been easy to give up at this stage. To listen to the voice of self doubt telling me I’d failed. But I knew that I still believed in my basic idea as much as ever. More so, probably, as by now I’d worked hard to build up a really supportive community via social media and email. I’d made costly mistakes, but I was determined to find a way forward. Part of the solution, I decided, was hard work. Hours and hours of hard work. Finding out all I needed to know. Getting around the limitations of the site manually (I worked out how to write bits of html coding myself! And only broke the site a couple of times 😬). Often sitting up late after the children had gone to bed, plugging away at building my business and continuing to grow my community. Staying on top of the day-to-day whilst finding time to work on a strategy for the future. I decided that although there were mistakes and imperfections with what I’d created so far, the important thing is to learn from this, keep going and adapt. That’s not to say there weren’t numerous days when the voice of self doubt was making itself very well heard. I would wait for it to quieten down and make myself take at least one step forward each single day, even on the bad days.
It’s now been 12 years since that first launch, and the business has taken many twists and turns along the way. I’ve made plenty more mistakes, including a costly marketplace site built in Magento that was just too big and unwieldy to manage. Especially after the lovely Nicky (who I’d partnered up with in 2014) had to leave the business, following treatment for breast cancer. I had a crisis of confidence after she left that I wouldn’t be able to take over the bits she was so good at… social media, new tech stuff, spreadsheets, numbers, marketing… The voice on my shoulder was telling me I wouldn’t be able to do these bits as well as Nicky did. But giving up was not an option, as I still firmly believed in what I was doing. More long hours working, learning, trying, adapting. Not listening to the voice of self doubt. Listening, instead to experts I hand-picked along the way to help me get right the most important parts of building my business.
The power of belief – and expert help
Four years ago I relaunched with new branding and a fresh website I’m really proud of (built on a WordPress template!). I shed a few tears at the amazing response from my wonderful community of readers and followers. So many inspirational businesses decided to list in my directory and have since chosen to renew each year. Validation and a vote of confidence that really means a lot. All the hard work has been worthwhile. I really am helping small, ethical makers and producers to connect with the wonderful audience they deserve. That was my dream and it’s actually coming true.
I still struggle slightly with the pricing side of things (I would almost rather do it all for free to avoid talking about money!) But I do know, hand on heart, that we deliver great value to the businesses who pay to list in the directory. The content I’ve spent many, many hours creating over the years is now paying huge dividends, with over 2.5 million viewers a month on Pinterest, delivering an extra 70K website page views a month. My newsletter mailing list is growing by more than a hundred each week. More and more wonderful businesses apply to list with me all the time. I still get a thrill to discover someone new and exciting, knowing I can offer valuable support and exposure.
I get to attend creative workshops around the country to write about and share with my creative community. Together we’re moving towards the slow, considered and more creative life we all dream of. I am finally making a good living from doing what I love, and I want to help other people to be able to do the same thing. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share the most valuable bits of information I’ve spent many thousands of hours pulling together, so you can fast track towards the creative business you dream of.
I’m sharing my 10 Steps to Creative Business Success in a series of separate posts, as well as a PDF with all the information in one place for you to download and keep at the end.
The 10 steps I’ll be covering are:
- Creative business idea number 1: website design inspiration using WordPress and Squarespace
- Creative business idea number 2: photography tips for makers
- Creative business idea number 3: don’t underestimate the power of a solid Pinterest marketing strategy
- Creative business idea number 4: the best online tools and apps to help you
- Creative business idea number 5: social media marketing, photography, storytelling and strategy
- Creative business idea number 6: profitability & how to build a sustainable business
- Creative business idea number 7: make a clear marketing strategy plan
- Creative business idea number 8: don’t be afraid to learn from mistakes
- Creative business idea number 9: the power of planning to help you build a sustainable business
- Creative business idea number 10: sometimes forget the plan and seize the moment
And if you would like to list with us and join our supportive community, do get in touch. It would be great to help support your creative UK business too! Details of what we offer are on our Join Us page here. Do drop me a line or fill in the online application form. I’d love to hear from you!
Are you a maker or creative course provider? Like to list with us and benefit from joining our supportive community? We’d love to hear from you. Check out the packages we offer on our Join Us page and get more details from our Information pack here