Part of running a creative business is being asked how I, well, run it. That’s because social media is rammed with images of creatives staring dreamily from well-lit studios and lots of people fancy a bash. Thing is, those images are a myth machine so when I’m asked for creative business advice I’m honest about the hysteria as well as the joys. So are you ready for a dollop of honesty too? Good. Here are my top 8 myths about running my creative business.
What, you think I drape myself across a chaise longue until I get an idea for a slouch bag? Well yes, I do, if the chaise longue is my sewing shed and I’m draped over it for 40 hours a week, every week.
The truth is that my creative business exists because I wait for no wo/man or muse (although I occasionally tap my foot for a fabric delivery). Here’s my drill: from Monday to Friday I hit my sewing shed at 10am (my meds mean it takes time for me to come around), I have an hour for lunch at midday-ish and then work until 7 or 8pm either sewing or doing business admin and social media in the wifi-ed house. You’re more likely to find me collapsed over an order book than you are to find me draped over a chaise longue. If there’s a muse she needs to get her arse into gear not least because my greater motivation is the mortgage.
Myth 2: That no orders means no work
Perhaps it’s because I’m fuelled by fear but for me no orders means lighting a fire under my kraken arse. There’s nothing like the slowing of, say, hoop commissions to make me holler questions about my creative business and what I can do better. Am I making décor customers want? How can I improve my anatomical embroideries? And how many more Jaffa Cakes can I get into my mouth before I choke?
On no-orders days (*touches wood with terror*) I get distance by leaving the sewing shed and working through my business journal. That’s where I keep all of my product ideas, order lists, fabric trends and blog and vlog ideas among other business-plotty things. I work out what will inspire my gorgeous customers, I design new items and find an effective way to show them off. Then I just get back to work again, sewing and showing, sewing and showing until the no order days are no more. Simple maths, as Big Shaq would say.
Myth 3: Once-a-month Facebook updates are enough
You have to be shitting me. This creative business spends approx 30% of the working week on Facebook and Twitter updates, crafting blogs, filming vlogs, chatting to you lovelies and responding to your questions on pages like this one. I adore it because I love the challenge of social media while chatting to the Kraken Kreations community. As a creative business though, I do it because without engaging with you customers I’d be waggling my embroideries at dead air.
So I post at least three times a day on Facebook (and more if I have treats for you) and all day, while in the shed, on Twitter. The myth is that I’m arsing about on the phone while watching Homes Under the Hammer. The reality is that I’m dashing out updates in between car bucket orders because if I don’t the car bucket orders will be no more. I was once told that every creative business should double its already thrice-daily social media activity and then add an extra 20%. The woman who told me that was right. Get Tweeting, people!
Myth 4: A home-based creative business is the easy option
Just because I commute from my house to my sewing shed it doesn’t make working from home easy. I don’t magically have less stress just because I work in trackie bottoms and a knackered bra. In fact it’s because I’m based at home that I work so hard. When you work a total of 11 paving stones from your house there’s no excuse about working just another hour. Then another.
Add to that the bleed of the personal into the professional and all easy option bets are off. A week last Friday I sobbed in my car after doing a pile of business admin during Kraken Junior’s school pick-up and then in a sweltering swimming pool cubicle while she had a lesson. That was at the end of a week of speed sewing. If you think the easy option is breathlessly handmaking orders, working social media, managing the accounts, corresponding with customers, buying in stock, researching new ranges and having complete responsibility for the success (or collapse) of your creative business then, by all means, give it a bash. I adore every second of it but I still have to headbutt my sewing machine with frustration and rage three times a week.
Oh, that old chestnut! Is this 1976 again? The fact is that I sew because I love it, am good at it and can make a living from being creative with it. It pays in a way that murdering misogynist chestnut-peddlars doesn’t. The clue is in the phrase ‘creative business’. Too many people think that I earn money by daintily sewing buttons onto my husband’s shirts rather that running a financially viable venture. Allow me to posit that they are utterly delusional and, come the revolution, will be destroyed.
If I sound stroppy about this it’s because I am. It’s also why I call myself a textile artist. The assumptions made about women who sew are as outdated as Jimmy Tarbuck’s last media interview and my title tries to kick those assumptions in the nuts. It works. Now, when I tell people I’m a textile artist, they look intrigued while I look mysterious. Bingo! My advice for when you start your own creative business? Picture the stereotypes and shoot them like fish in a barrel. By playing to this myth you devalue your expertise so don’t pander to it. Instead pick a cracking job title. Intergalactic Welding Dolphin has a certain ring to it don’t you think?
Myth 6: I want to sell items at your local church fete
Ok, this might be controversial but no, I don’t. I want to sell my items at your church fete in the same way that I want to be locked in a downstairs toilet with Donald Trump. It’s not because I don’t want the custom. I just don’t want to spend hours watching customers, with zero sewing expertise, whispering, “Oooh, I could make that!” or quibbling about paying £5 for a £30 bag. Believe me I know. In the first year of running a creative business I laboured, and drank heavily, through several of them.
My advice is to pick your craft fairs carefully when you’re a creative business, matching them to your price bracket and demographic. I wasn’t so careful when I started Kraken Kreations. The result was me not even making enough money to pay for my table. Running stalls takes up a massive amount of time because you need enough stock in the run-up as well as table displays, branding and a massive portion of your weekends. If said stall is in an area where art lovers have money to burn, go for it. But if it isn’t? Well, Homes Under the Hammer is on in a minute.
Here it is again, that notion of us being so arty that business decisions make us swoon. Well I know piles of creatives who are nothing like this myth and I consider myself one of them. Now, this myth is dangerous because competitors try to take advantage as a result. I’ve had them try to find out where I buy my fabrics and even ask me for the patterns to my products. Worse, they’ve pretended to commission an item just to get some insight into what I charge and make. They all eventually fall foul of my scorched earth policy, as you’d rightly expect from a kraken.
When you run a creative business you need to be on your guard. It doesn’t mean you can’t be arty or, yes, drape yourself over that bloody chaise longue, but it does mean that you need to protect your dream of self-employment. You’re in business in a wildly competitive market and if you give away your secrets you’ll last about a fortnight. Be supportive, offer advice and become an active member of the business community but don’t hand over your dream to the creative carrion crows. If you have to handmake your backbone, do it.
Myth 8: Anyone can run a creative business
This is another controversial myth buster but… no they can’t (I know, I know, I said it out loud). Let’s put it another way. Anyone CAN if they’re great at what they make, fill a gap in the market, are willing to put in the welly, are open to advice and want to work for themselves so much that they’ll prostrate themselves before the altar of the HMRC. Anyone CANNOT if they think it’s a great way to dodge a full working week by uploading to Etsy one new item a season.
Now, no one wants to hear this because we’re continually told that we can turn creativity into business. Magazines like Craftseller rarely talk about stock-based setbacks, website collapses or order bugger-ups but they’re as much a part of a creative business as the fun of developing a new range. Too many unwittingly ill-prepared people start businesses only to feel crushed when they don’t sell because they had no idea of what was required of them. Heed these myths and don’t be one of them.
So if you want to run your own creative business start with these puppies. Arm yourself with information, be honest about what you are willing to do and ignore anything that makes running a business sound like a fortnight in St Barts. Don’t believe the hype, kraken lovers. Believe in yourself and your hard work instead.
So what do you think about these myths? Have you come across them while running a creative business? Or did you think the myths were real until you read this? Let me know in the comment below!