Alison Hackett, founder of publishing firm Twenty First Century Renaissance, on what it takes to run a successful creative start-up
In a world awash with technology startups, it’s worthwhile to learn that creative startups also pack a punch. In fact, globally the creative economy, of which creative startup businesses are part, are expected to be worth $1 trillion in market size by 2024.
That’s exciting news.
Yet, it’s also worth keeping in mind that there are differences between technology startups and creative ones. There’s space for both in any country’s economy, but entrepreneurs who wish to run creative businesses do need to be aware of the challenges they’ll face to get their startup off the ground.
The following five tips are shared in the spirit of supporting Ireland’s creative entrepreneurs and encouraging them to go for it!
1. Be ready to make a considerable sweat equity investment
While some grants do exist for creative businesses, the truth of the matter is that undertaking to start a creative venture is not easy financially. Be aware of this from the start, and understand that your sweat equity investment will need to compensate to make up for the early days as you bootstrap yourself.
The good news is that your sweat equity is powerful.
While technology startups might grab the headlines, it’s creative businesses that really build communities among people. By investing in your business with your own hard work, you build an incredibly strong R&D foundation for your venture. This will stand you to good stead as your business grows.
2. Think commercially from the start
No matter what you are creating, your business is creating valuable intellectual property. The keyword here is “valuable”.
Your business might be small now, but think long-term.
Educate yourself on how copyright works. Although each decision you make in your business will need to be evaluated on its own merits, be cautious in signing away the rights to your work in exchange for investment.
Your intellectual property gives you a shot at a sustainable business that can last for generations. Don’t make a short-term decision by underestimating the strongest card you hold.
3. Build an agile network
One area where technology startups and creative startups share a benefit is in the ability to hire people on a contract basis.
Increasingly, we are seeing mention in the media of a flex-force. This is an updated version of hiring freelancers (a concept that dates from the time of mediaeval mercenaries who’d fight for whichever army would pay them the most) to help with the requirements of your business.
Keeping yourself lean is a smart business move. Running costs can escalate quickly and derail even established businesses.
Don’t use multiple designers. Find one designer and work with them exclusively. This way you build your brand.
Hiring a contractor or freelancer to address parts of your business that are not your core skill is a way to pull in the expertise you need while containing costs. Taking this further, collaboration with other startups —when you have direct access to the wisdom and skills of the owner — can provide just the right boost of rocket fuel for both your enterprises.
A word of advice here is to be extremely discerning in who you hire and with whom you collaborate. And once you have found a freelancer/business owner who understands your vision for your business, use them repeatedly for the type of work they do. For example, don’t use multiple designers. Find one designer and work with them exclusively. This way you build your brand.
4. Create a business model around evergreen potential
Back to intellectual property.
Creative businesses are uniquely placed to create items, be they tangible or intangible, that have the potential for a long life.
Think about the evergreen potential of what you are making and build a business model around it.
A book, for example, could provide quotes and illustrations for a wonderful set of posters, postcards, tote bags etc.
An additional advantage of this business model is that you expand your market size.
5. Proudly proclaim your provenance
Creative businesses have great credentials for championing fellow local businesses.
And finally the world is catching up on how important this is.
In many ways, creative businesses are way ahead of the trend here compared to technology businesses. The conversations we see technology businesses having now around how to embed sustainability practices into their business model attest to this.
In Ireland, there is a Guaranteed Irish movement which is a symbol of trust in Irish businesses. Furthermore “The official Guaranteed Irish licenced mark is awarded to businesses based in Ireland that support sustainable jobs, contribute to our local communities, and are committed to Irish provenance.”
Irish creative businesses have a proud pedigree of being integral to our communities.
This is meaningful on both a people and commercial level.
Best of all, as an Irish creative entrepreneur you’ll find that there’s an international market for creative products and services created on our beautiful island too!
Alison Hackett is the founder of Twenty First Century Renaissance and author of ‘The Visual Time Traveller’ which was selected for the Global Irish Design Challenge exhibitions of 2016 and 2017, sponsored by the Design and Crafts Council Ireland. Her creative business is now 10 years old, and she encourages more entrepreneurs to start creative businesses.