Starting a Creative Business

Recently I’ve had the surprising and pleasant experience of providing career consulting to a few aspiring professionals. Both individuals are pursuing creative endeavors – music and photography, respectively. This work has given me the opportunity to observe the creative process at work and inspired me to share a little bit of advice to others who are in a similar situation.

1. Share Examples of Your Work

Before trying to sell your product or service, make sure that you have some examples that you can share for free. For example, a few songs that people can find on SoundCloud, examples of your photography on Instagram, a demo of your indie game on GameJolt, a trailer of your film on YouTube, etc.

2. Garner a Modest Following

Introduce your examples to your direct network. This can be best accomplished using social media. It’s okay if your first few “fans” are friends and family, but you want to reach a bit further.

This is an important step. The number of fans that you can attract is indicative of how marketable your offering is. If the reaction to your product is a collective “Meh”, then you know you have some tweaking, or maybe even pivoting, to do.

I highly suggest reading “1,000 True Fans” (article) by Kevin Kelly for more information on the importance and impact of your first followers.

3. Decide How to Distribute

Once you’ve got several followers, you want to brainstorm how you want to deliver your product or service to would-be customers.

Do you need a supplier? Will you sell out of shops, or online? What are your overhead costs going to be? How much will you charge? How will customers receive your product?

4. Begin Selling

With this information in hand, you are ready to begin asking for, and accepting orders.

This is an important step. If you begin getting a lot of orders then you know that your business idea/product/service is actually marketable.

But what if you don’t get many orders? This is another crucial step at which you may need to make some changes to your idea.

I encourage you to experiment in this step. If you were able to get a lot of fans, but not very many orders, try playing with some of the variables. Offer to accept alternative forms of payment, offer free shipping, change the look or minor function of your product, play with the price a little bit.

Try to find what the barrier to purchasing is, and then tear it down.

It’s always possible that people simply aren’t interested. If you’ve performed several experiments, but just can’t seem to get people to buy, don’t beat yourself. Just come up with a plan to pivot into something else. There’s no shame in abandoning an unmarketable idea. That’s not failure as long as you keep trying, even if your efforts are focused in a new direction. And at this point you’ve already gotten the attention of several potential fans.

5. Create a Website

Assuming you begin getting some sales, I recommend having your own website. Even if you have an external platform for handling sales, or showing off your demos, I highly recommend that you also have your own website – even if it’s just a simple SquareSpace site.

Having this site will add to your credibility, and gives you a chance to let people know a little bit more about yourself and your product.

6. Choose a Business Entity

If you’ve gotten to this point, then I recommend setting up an actual business entity. For an independent, self-owned creative business, I personally recommend opening as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). However, you’ll want to do your research and choose the entity type that is right for you and your situation.

7. Begin Marketing

From here, you’re ready to accelerate. You’ve proven that your product or service is attractive and that people will pay money for it. The next step is to get your product/service in front of more people – much more. You do this through marketing.

There are several different marketing strategies you can adopt. From marketing on social media platforms to renting a billboard, from content marketing to sponsoring networking events, there are almost endless options.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can also look into hiring a marketing firm that may have the experience, skills, and expertise that you lack.

In Conclusion

My final advice is this:

Don’t be afraid of struggle, of uncertainty, or of the unknown. Embrace it. Life’s not easy or fair and in your quest to be successful, you’re going to make mistakes, lose friends, get fired, etc. It’s okay to make mistakes. They hurt. Let yourself feel and express that pain. Pain helps the lesson stick. Pain is an indicator that you are working hard and progressing, and as an artist that pain can help you create more authentic art.

Mistakes hurt, but failure doesn’t. Failure is a state of mind wherein you’ve given up. Embrace mistakes, but never accept failure. As long as you’re pushing yourself, failure will live in the outskirts and try to force its way in from time to time. Again, failure is a state of mind. If you refuse to accept it, it cannot claim you.

Keep going, keep working. When you’ve lost all drive and motivation, focus on the movement and just keep moving. If you don’t feel like writing a new song or writing some new code, force your fingers to make the movements. It doesn’t matter if it sucks, what matters is the movement. If you don’t feel like scheduling a gig or an interview, schedule it anyways. If you suck and get boo’d off stage, it’s still one more gig, one more step, one more movement in the right direction.

Finally, treat others well. People lie, cheat, and steal and worse. We can’t always control how other people treat us (that’s the mark of their character), but we can always control how we treat them – and that is the mark of our character. Remember maintaining and strengthening our character is of the utmost importance. Be loving and be kind. If you have to err, err on the side of kindness. You may need to distance yourself from toxic or unhealthy relationships. Even that can be accomplished with kindness and respect

As you practice taking the higher moral ground, your character and integrity will grow and strengthen. People are attracted to character and integrity. Not only will this benefit your business, but it will benefit your personal life, and it will provide you with confidence and a strong sense of intrinsic worth.

Good luck, and Godspeed!

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