We invited 10 successful designers, crafts people and advisers to give their own personal tips and insights to creatives just starting out in their careers and businesses: ‘When I started out, I wish I had known …’
“When I started out, I wish I had known … that the core part of what you set out to do, be it designing or writing in my case, benefits from only a small percentage of your dedicated time.
The rest is taken up with finding new work, admin, phone calls, emails, meetings, and the unexpected.
Amid all of this noise, it’s important to make the time for your core skill and learn to delegate the other areas of your business as it grows.”
“When I started out I wish I had known … how my success would depend not on my talent but on my business acumen. We should have worked address books, worked the politics, teamed up with business orientated partners who were excitable about winning.
However back then I had a lethal bit of rebel in me to deal with… and still do at times. So I guess I would have be a very different designer if I had followed the money.
No regrets then, but recessions will shake off the sugar and let you see the bones of your enterprise.
Still practising and inventing survival tactics… One branch of design.”
“I wish I had known … how important it is to know what I was trying to achieve, which direction I wanted to go. There are many people willing to help you but it is so much easier to get help when you have a clear objective.
A common dilemma for example is, ‘am I an Artist or am I a Designer?’
There are people who might be able to help you make that decision but many more who can help you be a successful Artist or a Designer once you have decided.”
“When I started out I wish I had known … to go with my gut.
I think the work that I have done that people have responded the best to, are things I knew I liked but I didn’t see much commercial possibilities for.
I spent too long as a graphic designer doing my best to make things look nice and even when I should have got straight down to drawing accident prone animals.
It was only later I found a home and a possibility for using my drawings to their strengths.’
“When I started out I wish I had known … how to feel comfortable selling at shows.
The whole experience of exhibiting your work to the public is very intimidating. It is quite paradoxical, really, because you’re at a trade show or craft fair to sell your work, but it’s also a situation most creatives I know feel very ambivalent about. Yes – we want to sell, but no – we don’t believe we’re any good at it, yes – it’s why we’re there, but no – we don’t feel comfortable.
There’s a mind shift between being in a designing, making and creating state, and being in a sales situation. They probably live in different parts of the brain – but I’m not going into that.
What I do want to pass on? The most important thing I’ve learned about selling at shows, and being comfortable doing it, is – that it’s not ‘about me’.
Let me explain: When you create you’re in a very focused space, it’s all about you and the piece. You’re constantly evaluating, analysing and solving problems. It’s a very personal process. If you’re still in that mind frame when you’re at your stand – you’re bound to get hurt. Because you are the creator – the pieces almost become like your babies, and it’s very difficult to be objective about your babies.
What you need to do is leave that mind frame and put on a detectives mind frame instead. Imagine that you’re not there exhibiting your babies, but your there to investigate your customers.
So, it’s not about you and your work, it’s about them and your work.
Listen to what they say, observe how they interact with your work and react to your display. Be a real detective – ask them questions about what they think – why they think what they think, about their hesitations and worries regarding your work. What do they like about it and why? Ask them how you could make your work the most amazing experience for them. And don’t be scared – people love talking about themselves – and they love giving advice.
What this different mindset does, is it turns you into someone who is willing to serve them – and shoppers love to be served (so do you), and it gets rid of the artist waiting to be praised or criticised.
I saw an amazing shift in the way I experienced being at a craft show – I suddenly enjoyed it – not because my sales went up, but because I had fun interacting with the customers.”
“I wish I had known … how to do financial planning when I started out.
I also wish I had known how important it is to invest in making your workspace as comfortable and ergonomic as possible.”
Dominic Crinson – Designer
“When I started out I wish I had known that … outsourcing work would free up so much more creative time for myself. From little things such as the cleaning the studio to actually getting the products made for you.
I can imagine that I wasted a year of my life on doing such things that I wasn’t really skilled enough or even too skilled to be doing. I now outsource everything I possibly can, bar the creative work.
The most exciting change we have had to our business was to get involved in cloud computing so now the everyday running of the business such as the accounts, the customer relationship manager, sales and production are all set up in a cloud and now I can work from anywhere in the world.
Greetings from Melbourne (Australia), by the way!”
“As a coach/mentor, I often get asked this and my answers include:
When I started out I wish I had known … that I would work harder than I ever had before, but that ‘work’ was what I defined it to be, so that in between business planning, marketing, etc., I could also include going to exhibitions for inspiration, taking a walk to get head space; no two days would be the same; and that I could work to my own rhythms. (For example, my best thinking time is very early in the morning and my ‘doodling’ time is mid-afternoon.)
… that although I am fully responsible for my own business, I don’t have to do it on my own. There is a wealth of expertise and information online and through events and that people are incredibly generous with sharing their experiences. There are also great opportunities for collaboration.
… that tax is much easier than I thought it was going to be! The HMRC offer great free workshops for newbies and as long as you keep up with your receipts etc., monthly, it can be a breeze.
… that it isn’t all plain sailing but by keeping my overall vision of what I want to achieve keeps me going through the odd frustrating day.
… that those times when it all works get more and more frequent and my feeling of achievement each time I get a result is just the best!”
“When I started out I wish I had known … that there’s not just one price for my time:
Clients will always ask you questions about the rates for your time, whether it’s by the hour or the day. Initially I thought there would be just one answer to this: a fixed daily rate.
The reality however is rather different and the advice I’d give is to have a range of prices, which vary depending on how demanding the work is, whether it requires your best innovative skills or is just rolling out something invented by others, how good or bad your cash flow is (only take on top price work when you’re busy already) and whether the work connects to your overall interests or you’re just doing it for the income.
Based on the data held in our organisation www.mycake.org the fee ranges for young businesses are: recent graduates charging clients some £150-£300 a day depending on how skilled and experienced they are, and up to £800-£1000 a day a few years down the line once people are recognised as leaders in their field and offering specialist or bespoke services for which there is relatively little competition.”
“I wish I had known when I started out that my business would grow with me, and that I would grow with my business.
Your core, strengths and passions will stay with you, get stronger even, but the details will change over time. Your priorities and decisions will change over time, depending what comes on your path.
When I first started freelancing more than a decade ago after having had 2 jobs in arts administration I completely failed, as I lacked ‘the address book’ and confidence to succeed. I also got really worried about money, and craved a regular pay cheque.
Three years ago I became self-employed again, and this time it has been a lot more successful! I had from the beginning some potential clients and projects in the pipeline, I knew much better what I wanted to do and for whom. Being a freelancer and working from a home office is much easier now than it was then, with email, Skype and online learning giving fantastic opportunities to connect and do business with others across the world. I also knew that I couldn’t work 9 – 5 any longer, as I have a family with young children, so I had to just make it work this time round.
Having a family makes me even more focused and determined to succeed.
Create a business that works for you, based on your strengths, your passions, your life style. Work with your ideal clients, who challenge you, give you energy and passion, for whom you will create your best work and add the most value. Listen very carefully what your clients tell you, and be creative.
You might work voluntary, part-time, full-time and freelance, you might take some time out in the years to come, but learn whatever you can. As long as you keep listening, learning and tweaking, you will never fail.”
Wow, some great insights and tips in this post. What did you learn? Do you want to share your own experiences? Feel free to use the comments box below.