Dear Design Doctor
I have just graduated and want money to start my own business.
I am in debt and need money to get it off the ground. Can you help or advice who gives money?
The Design Doctor for this real life question is Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust:
There is very little funding available in the form of cash.
There seems to be a bit of a myth that there is funding available to set up your own business or creative projects. Please read another Design Trust blog post Busting the myth of funding that covers that topic.
There is definitely no funding available to cover your debts. I think you might need to look at your money management, start budgeting your income and expenditure more precisely, and potentially get in touch with your local Citizens Advice Bureau to tackle your debts as soon as possible.
If you need money quickly, I strongly suggest that you look at your marketing and developing your business ideas into a real business, then wasting a lot of time to try and get funding (which is often far more longer term).
The reality is that most small business funding that has been available in the last ten years or so has been used to provide free business advice or training. There have been very few opportunities where you would get actual cash that you can use as you wish.
General ‘pots of money’ are not available, but instead it comes in the form of subsidised advice, specific support or studio space. Some great examples of that are:
- The Crafts Council’s Hothouse programme aimed at crafts people in the first 2 years of business (no age limitation!) who want specialist and tailor made business advice with a mentor and in groups.
- Cockpit Arts London’s main designer maker incubation space very regularly offers awards sponsored by organisations or businesses to offer free studio space.
- The Arts Council of England offers Grants for the Arts for projects and the Artists’ International Development Fund for international activities.
- Cultural Enterprise Office (CEO) in Scotland has some great information and resources on their website about funding, including a guide on how to make applications. (Please note that Scotland is funded differently, and there is actually more funding available for creative and cultural projects than in England or Wales).
- UK Trade & Investment offers grants to businesses that want to exhibit at trade shows as part of an organised group.
- If you are looking for discounted rates for trade shows in the UK, then firstly talk to the organisers as many have special rates for first time exhibitors (e.g. Launch pad at Pulse, Top Drawer, 100% Design) You can also participate in joint stands at trade shows in the UK and abroad with design and craft support organisations such as Design Gap, Design-Event, Design Factory, Craft Scotland and our sister organisation Design-Nation (most of these are membership organisations offering various showcasing opportunities to their members).
- The Unlimited Awards for social entrepreneurs, including designers, crafts people or people working in digital or media.
More recently the government has started some new initiatives where you get so called Start Up Loans, which are soft loans. So these are loans that you need to pay back over time with a relatively low interest rate, and they come with additional business support as well. For example:
- Startup Loan Scheme for Young Entrepreneurs between 18 – 24years old
- Arts Council’s Creative Industries Finance Pilot scheme for established creative businesses (currently a pilot only available in London, but will be rolled out across the UK)
- The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme supports unemployed young people aged 18-30 to work out if their business ideas are viable and whether self-employment is right for them.
The reality with most other funding is that it very often is only available to charities or existing organisations. If you are an individual, with a limited track record, you will be very unlikely to be considered for these type of funding.
To find funding opportunities check the following websites (and sign up to their newsletters!) and publications with more up to date information:
- Artquest has got a very good range of creative funding and awards, search under ‘funding’ or ‘grants’
- Artist Newsletter has got one of the best listings for awards and grants (although you need to become a member to access certain information)
- Craft Scotland have a good listing for grants and awards in Scotland, where there are in general more grants available than in England.
- Directory of Social Change is a great website with lots of specialist publications, guides and workshops to help you fundraise.
- grantsforindividuals.org.uk for people in need
- Pete Mosley, a creative business adviser and coach, has written a really practical guide for Designer Maker Westmidlands on how to raise funding
- Business in You has a Finance Finder on their website
- StartupBritain website has got a lot of info about finance, offers and events
- J4B grants
Some additional financial resources:
Although there isn’t ‘a pot of of gold waiting for you’ there are plenty of ways to get discounted or free business services.
You might also look into alternative ways of financing your business such as credit unions if you are looking for relatively small amounts of money.
One of the most interesting ways to raise finance recently has become crowdfunding. It can be great if you are looking for extra funds to attend a trade show or organise an exhibition, to publish your own book (some great examples of illustrators and designers who have done that), and also to create a small batch produced product (ceramicists, product designers and furniture designers have done really well in this area). There are various crowd funding websites, such as Kickstarter. You can read a guest blog by Kate Pickering of Vanilla Ink, who successfully raised over £8,000 with her Kickstarter campaign. See: 10 real life tips to succeed with your Kickstarter campaign.
If you are looking for funding for equipment, then I suggest that you look at other ways of getting the equipment you need, as funding for this is very hard to get. Look at leasing your equipment (e.g. laptop) from the supplier whereby you rent the equipment and pay a monthly payment with interest. You wont own the equipment, but very often any technical issues and updates are included. Alternatively look at buying second hand (although make sure that warranties are valid!), look at renting a studio that includes some of your equipment already (e.g. colleges are very often useful for that too), or check out a sharing site such as Ecomodo.
One of the best business books with a practical chapter on funding, sponsorship etc is by Alison Branagan The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers (Essential Guides)
My top tips to getting funding are:
- Do your research well! There are no general pots of money available, but there are grants or funding available for specific purposes, in specific locations, for specific sectors, for specific ages. Check if you are eligible, when deadlines are, what the application procedure is, what the likelihood is of you getting the funding. Don’t waste your time on applications that you are unlikely to get. You will be surprised how often I have seen people dreaming about and applying for grants that they are not eligible for.
- Write a good business plan to get funding. You will need to be able to convince any banks or funders of your knowledge and ability to run a profitable business or worthwhile project. Our Business Club members can watch here a webinar about how to write a business plan to get money.
- Do you really want this? Grants are often provided for specific projects, so make sure that this actually fits in your big plan, as I have seen people wasting lots of time on activities that don’t really fit in what they are about or want to do.
- Get professional advice! Developing funded projects and writing applications is hard work, so get all the advice and support you need. Talk to grant officers, attend funding workshops, ask people who have been successful before.
- Have you got credibility? You need to give evidence of your experience creatively, but also in managing projects, budgets and people. Keep it small to start with. Have you got the facts on paper? Who is on your team that can provide this additional credibility?
- See funding as ‘icing on the cake’ not as an ends all. Getting funding for a project can be wonderful, but your main purpose as a creative entrepreneur should be on getting clients, not on getting funding. Funding alone in the long term is not sustainable, you need to build a client base.”
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