Business success in the creative sector need not be elusive. Three alumni of our Young Creative Entrepreneur programme, which has been recognising and nurturing young creative talent in the UK and abroad for ten years, share their tips.
Kalle B is an organiser of Stella Polaris, a free music festival which takes place in cities across Denmark. Monika Brauntsch created the Polish lighting brand Kafti in 2007. Its aim is to bring affordable, locally produced design to the Polish market, and it is now stocked in over 100 stores globally. Aritz Cirbián is a producer at Compacto (formerly Primitive Films) a film agency, production company and co-operative group, where he is also a crowd-funding expert.
1. Create a global network
Kalle: If you want to have a great life doing what you love for a living, you need to know people. You need a big network all over the world. It’s very important for entrepreneurs and everyone in general. And to build a network, the best thing is to be kind to everyone, from the receptionist in the lobby to the director in the boardroom.
2. Be prepared to compromise
Monika: I always remember a lecturer of mine saying that a business works on a principle of ‘something for something’. This means that you operate on the basis of some values, but you have to compromise on others. I think this is very obvious but very good advice because, as a business, you cannot provide everything. You cannot have the highest quality and the cheapest prices and the quickest delivery time all at once. So it’s good to think about what your priority values are, and which you are willing to compromise on.
3. Be driven by needs
Kalle: I’m inspired by the world and by things I think are missing. I apply this to everything. For instance, here in Copenhagen, the government is selling six churches. I called them up and suggested we turn them into indoor playgrounds for kids because it makes no sense to spend millions of kroner [Danish currency] on outdoor playgrounds when we don’t have any indoor facilities. In Copenhagen, it’s cold and dark for most of the year, and when I pick up my son from school, I think it’s good to do something with him other than play on the iPad. So I just look out the window and think about what the world needs. That is my biggest inspiration.
4. Don’t be afraid of failure
Monika: I think it's important to treat your business experience as a journey. It's important to have some goals but the business world is a changing environment and it can be difficult to foresee everything. You need to value the process you go through. Someone once told me that if you are in Poland and your business fails, you are seen to have failed. But in the USA, if your business fails, then it is seen as a success, because through that failure you have learned something. You have to look at the process, enjoy the process. It's necessary for you as a person, rather than looking only at the goals.
5. Focus on the customer
Aritz: Try to focus on the people who should be enjoying your project, because that’s where you’ll find the answers -- and the money too. It doesn’t matter if you're trying to build the creative part of a project, or if you are trying to build the business part. The main thing is that you have to focus on the people who will be enjoying the project, then you’ll find the answer sooner or later -- usually sooner! I’ve also learned over the course of my work that it is better to be steady but go further. You have to be patient and go step by step to achieve something. You cannot achieve everything immediately.
6. Look for new approaches
Aritz: We use crowd-funding a lot, which means we can have a lot more contact with our final audience or users. It’s not really about the funding though. It's about starting a conversation with your community and audience. When you change your approach and try to build a community around your project then one of the things that community helps with is funding. But the most important thing is starting that conversation.
When you use crowd-funding, you have to think about the final audience and talk directly to those people rather than go through an intermediary. Thanks to crowd-funding, we realised people were not interested in just one kind of experience. They want stories, and they want to see them develop through different media and formats. So we share those stories through all kinds of media.
7. Be prepared for hard work and tough times
Monika: The first two years were very difficult for me. After we set up the business, we got places at exhibitions straight away, but it takes much longer to really get the business running. For the first two years, I was just putting money into it. At some points, I thought ‘OK, it’s not going to work out, it’s not going to happen’, but then the volume of sales went up and things started to change. This is something you have to take into consideration -- that the beginning is tough, and you might need other sources of income to support yourself. You have to have a business plan and know where you’re going so that you can keep some hope!
8. Just go for it.
Kalle: I know that everyone says it, but you just have to believe in yourself. In fact yesterday I spoke to one of the most legendary singers here in Denmark. I had a new track on my album that I wanted him to be on but thought ‘how the hell can I get to this guy’. So I called one of my friends who works in the music industry and after a week the singer agreed to be on the track.
Don’t hesitate. I can’t understand why people say they ‘can’t ask for that’ or ‘can’t ask him’... Just go for it. If you want something, you have to ask for it. The worst response you can get is ‘no’, and then you are no worse off than before you asked, and you can start planning something new instead.
To find out more about how creative entrepreneurs are changing the way we experience culture, visit the Blurring the Lines exhibition, showing until 19 December 2014 at the British Council's headquarters in London.