How to Kill Your New Creative Business in 7 Easy Steps

The strategies listed below are all excellent ways to severely diminish your chances of building and sustaining a creative business.


Get into debt

For many new creative business operators there is a temptation to go out and splurge on cutting edge production equipment, office furniture, and trappings of a successful business. The reality is that for a creative business, credibility comes from the quality of your ideas, and your ability to execute them. That little voice in your head telling you that you simply must have the new Apple 30 inch led monitor to operate effectively will go strangely quiet on the day your credit card payment is due.

I remember being told by a colleague that he’d gone out and spent up big on his credit card on all the latest production equipment. He assured me that the motivation to service the debt was going to drive him to succeed in his business. You can guess how this ends, right? Within a year he was selling his equipment at knockdown rates to his competitors. His business closed not long after. The saddest part: His work was actually really good. Now he’s using his great artistic skills as a freelancer to help build someone else’s business instead of his own.

Pretend to be something you’re not

Oscar Wilde put it best when he wrote, “be yourself; everyone else is taken.” There’s a misguided compulsion for many new creative business operators to pretend they’re something that they’re not. Telltale signs: A one person business where the name of the company has ‘group’ or ‘global’ attached to the end of it, the ‘about us’ section of the website refers to a ‘team of staff’, and the photo below is of an airbrushed group of impossibly good looking power-dressing Gen Y’ers shaking hands across an ostentatious mahogany boardroom table. You’ll have a far better chance of connecting with clients if you’re authentic.

Why not transform what you perceive to be a shortcoming into something postive? Surely the shortage of custom designed office furniture points to the fact that your business is delivering value to your client. They’re actually paying for the work, not to keep the furniture maker’s debt collector off your back.The fact that you will personally be managing the project instead of a faceless team of project managers may be a huge bonus for clients when they think about how personally invested you, as the business owner, are in ensuring a successful outcome.

Think that you have to go to University

Don’t get me wrong: I think pursuing a higher education degree is one of the best things you can do for your development as a thinking person. That being said, it’s not the key factor that will determine the success or failure of a creative business. University is a great place to ponder, build frameworks for problem solving, immerse yourself in a learning incubator, and get student discounts. But it’s not going to turn you into a great business operator any more than studying the Williams Sisters will make you a great tennis player. You will receive the training you need in a much faster and more focused way by undertaking short courses run by industry experts with a track record of success in their chosen discipline. Supplement this with online tutorials, forums and blogs.

Have a substandard business card or website

When you first start your creative business you’re not going to have the nicest office, nor the world’s best portfolio. You won’t have an amazing client list to start with. But you actually can have leading edge business cards featuring great design and excellent card stock. You can achieve an impressive website featuring engaging clear content that is jargon free. These things are within your means, and should not blow your budget.

Unless you’re a designer, choosing to create your own website or business cards is like deciding to give yourself a haircut – chances are its not going to look great. But if you’re smart you will absolutely prioritise these tasks, and connect with a designer who gets what you’re all about. This will help you enter your chosen market with confidence, and improve your chances of impressing prospective clients.

Misunderstand the market you want to service

You may be a guru in your creative field, but this does not mean you understand the requirements, culture, and subtleties of your target market. It’s vital that you understand the real world issues and concerns of your clients, and their industry. This is the only way that you’re going to be able to help them solve their challenges.

Live like a Creative and not a business operator

A key error made by new creative business operators is failing to focus sufficiently on building their business knowledge and skills. As a Creative you are probably obsessed with keeping up to date with all of the contemporary trends, techniques and equipment relating to your industry. One of the best things you can do to help build your creative business is place just as much emphasis on the business side, and hungrily pursue the newest ideas relating to marketing, sales, and branding.

Go straight into your own business

Working for others is the single best way to learn real world business skills, the importance of systems, and how to interact with clients. The time that you spend in the early days helping to build someone else’s business will pay for itself many times over when you apply all of the experience you derived from it to your own business.

Any other pitfalls that new creative business operators should beware of? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.


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One Response to “How to Kill Your New Creative Business in 7 Easy Steps”

  1. On 12/09/2010 at 12:24 PM Adrian Elton responded with... #

    I’m guilty of nearly all of these foibles and to that end my business ‘survival’ probably comes down to sheer bloody-mindedness.

    In terms of your second point though, there’s a marked difference between lying or misrepresentation and having a truly, ‘can do’, attitude that means you can shape shift or assemble the right team to meaningfully take on any project that comes your way. Someone with this talent is going to do far better in business than someone who has a rigid definition of what they do. In terms of misrepresentation though, I once read how Donald Trump, in a bid to get investors on board for a major property project, hired workman and cranes to engage in frenetic fake activity on site so when the investors visited they got the impression they were dealing with a project that had massive currency and momentum. I guess that’s the theatre of being a persuasive business practitioner where smoke and mirrors, at least on some occasions, sells the day.

    I’m currently in debt because I invested in equipment for my studio. I think at a certain point though you need to make that leap of faith. I now have photography equipment that means for the first time I am able to confidently take on commercial photography projects. I couldn’t have done that previously. Making that leap was transformative. Sometimes the talent isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the technology prosthesis to reach new heights. That said, cutting edge equipment is never a substitution for talent, craft and depth of thinking. It’s just the agent that let’s you do your thing in the most potent way.

    I completely agree with you though that the worst place to learn the business side of a creative discipline is at uni. Other than really taking note while working in someone else’s business it really comes down to groping your way in the dark for a while. If you’re lucky enough to have mentors or resourceful enough to seek out the information that’s out there, then at least the way can be illuminated some what in the form of these lanterns.

    I’ve been in business for myself for 10 years and I still don’t have a proper website. For a graphic designer this is perverse. When you take into account the incredible variety and quality of work I have produced, even more so. All I can say is, who knows where I might be by now had I had this basic item sorted out years ago. I guess the flip side to this is to acknowledge that my work has really stood on its own two feet as it certainly hasn’t come in the door as a result of any active marketing I’ve done on my own behalf. What do they say? Something about the cobblers children never having shoes.

    Anyways, thanks for the post. Thought provoking and confronting all at the same time.

    Back to work on my website.

    Adrian 🙂

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