Are you a new creative ready to start your own business or freelance career? Maybe you are a design or craft graduate, or maybe you are self-taught or are changing careers? Do you want to improve your business and marketing skills but don’t know where to start? There are loads of business books for new creatives like you out there!

We love recommending books as they are such a great, easy, and often very affordable way to boost your business and marketing skills. Books have really changed my life! I try to read nearly every day and it really has helped me to get a lot more knowledge and skills quicker.

I regularly teach professional development at art schools and creative business support organisations across the UK. Some art universities really prepare their students for the real life transition, but others lack basic business or entrepreneurial skills. I hope this list of my must-read business books for new creatives will help anybody who wants to polish their business knowledge – recent graduate or established creative alike!

Designing Your Life – Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

This is my absolute favourite business and creative career book for any new design or craft graduate. I think this book should be on every recommended list for business books for new creatives and graduates. And their teaching method and exercises to be part of the curriculum of any art college or school!

So, what’s Designing Your Life about then? Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of D-School at Stanford, the Design Program that started the design thinking movement, and Dave is the Adjunct Lecturer at the Product Design Program at Stanford. This book is the result of what they have been developing over the last decade for their students to help them ‘get a job’. What makes this book and approach stand out is that it’s based on their unique and innovative design thinking techniques so you will be brainstorming and prototyping your own career all along.

This book is completely focused on creative planning and visualising. It’s full of thought-provoking and visual/creative exercises, practical insights and real-life stories. It talks about career goals and what you want to do next, your happiness and purpose, success and failure in equal measures. Their methodology works so well because it connects so closely with the design process – with added messiness, ways to find more than one solution and how to get unstuck too!

Bill and Dave have real empathy for their students, and share some fabulous ‘dysfunctional beliefs’ around developing your career that they visualise and help you to ‘reframe’ and see in a different way:

So, they turn “I should already know where I’m going” into “You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are.”

Instead of “I should know where I’m going”, gets turned into “I won’t always know where I’m going – but I can always know whether I’m going in the right direction.”

And “We judge our life by the outcome” becomes “Life is a process, not an outcome”.

One of the key passages for me in this book is:

“We trust that you now understand that prototyping to design your life is a great way to succeed sooner (in the big, important things) by failing more often (at the small, low-exposure learning experiences). Once you’ve done this prototype-iteration cycle a number of times, you will really begin to enjoy the process of learning via the prototype encounters that other people might call failure.”

Enjoy! And fail often.


From 'The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers' by Alison Branagan

The Essential Guide to Business for Artists & Designers – Alison Branagan

This is one of the classic introductory business books for new creatives as it includes all the main start-up business topics that new creatives need to know about – from money and finance to planning, from self-promotion and intellectual property to tax and legal requirements. The first edition was published in 2011 with a newer version published in 2017 with has more up to date resources and social media advice then the older version.

The Essential Guide to Business for Artists & Designers is a really good introduction to improving your overall business skills, and also a good book to dip in and dip out of later if you need to figure out something specifically. Alison is one of the best known creative business advisers and trainers in the UK and is written specifically for a British audience. It’s full of resources, images, quotes and case stories of other creatives, and images by Tim Bradford.

Will it fly? – Pat Flynn

When I was starting out in the world of online business and learning a few years ago it was Pat Flynn who gave me the best ideas and inspiration. He is still a big star in the world of passive income and developing multi-million-dollar businesses. He is also a very nice family man who shares a lot of his own ups and downs.

This short book is perfect for creatives who have a business idea and who want to test those ideas to turn their idea into something better. It’s written especially for more digital-orientated businesses but could work well for other creatives too. He has also included a free online ‘companion’ course with this book to help you turn your idea into a business that flies.

There are some great creative and real-life exercises in Will it Fly? to help you experiment and identify the ‘mistakes’ in your assumptions. Indeed, he is a big fan of failing early and often! Because you can learn so much from the feedback you get when you go out there and see what works with real potential clients.

Although Pat now runs a multi-million-dollar business himself this isn’t a ‘get rich quick’ book. He emphasises the importance of doing your market research, testing your assumptions, focusing on a niche, and building relationships and a community. It’s full of really practical business planning advice too if you are looking for funding.

Growing Gills – Jessica Abel

I have recommended this book by graphic novelist and professor of illustration Jessica Abel before as she shares a true creative and human approach to developing your career. Growing Gills is the foundation for her popular online course Creative Focus and is aimed especially at people who want to turn a hobby into a job.

This isn’t really a book to read, but a book that gets you into action through reflective questions and practical exercises. There is also a workbook that you can download that gets you even deeper into the exercises. She covers topics such as ‘what’s stopping you?’, how to get started and make decisions that move you forward, and how to deal with the ups and downs of being a creative professional.

Screw Work let’s play – John Williams

Book Cover Screw Work Lets Play John Williams

Are you not sure what you want to do? Have you got loads of different ideas? John Williams calls you to join the Play Revolution and start a ’30-day-play-project’ to stop you thinking and start you doing and trying out your idea.

This is a great book if you aren’t sure yet what creative business you want to start or focus on, or if you have got a full-time or part-time job and you want to dip your toe into the startup-business-waters.

Screw Work Let’s Play was hugely popular in 2010 when it first came out, and John created an online community of ‘Scanners’ who can’t settle on only one creative business idea. Do join John’s online community here – with loads of free additional resources. Last year he published an updated version of this book.

Setting Up a Successful Jewellery Business – Angie Boothroyd

This is the number one business book for any wannabe jeweller – without a doubt. Angie Boothroyd covers all the business topics you need to know about as a new jeweller – from finding your niche to pricing your jewellery, to selling and branding and essential time management and money management skills.

Setting Up A Successful Jewellery Business is just over 100 pages long and I would recommend you read through it in one go, but then have it handy to dip in and out again when you need to get an answer for your fledgling jewellery business.

Becoming a Successful Graphic Designer – Neil Leonard

Neil Leonard is a senior graphic design tutor and graphic designer himself who also ran the Design Your Career events. This is a beautifully produced book with loads of great images of projects and many interviews with successful graphic designers and their careers – from the UK and abroad.

Becoming a Successful Graphic Designer really explains the many different careers a graphic design student can get into – from getting a job at an agency, to freelancing and starting your own business. It explains the different career opportunities, different areas and how to transition from education to work. With some practical tips on how to promote yourself, writing your profile and CV, structuring your portfolio and the outlines of a contract and invoice.

Joining the dots – Alex Mathers

Alex is a professional illustrator and coach, and the founder of the popular Red Lemon Club for illustrators. He is an illustrator himself, who travels the world while earning a good living, writing books and supports other illustrators with practical marketing and business advice, as well as coaching.

Joining the Dots is a short eBook (you can read it in just over an hour) and a lovely compilation of practical advice for new illustrators but also useful for other creatives.

From A for audience,

to B for Brand,

via J for Jazz and K for Karaoke,

to R for Remarkable and Z for Zealous.

(and he got a great one for the X too!)

Some of my favourite quotes from this little gem:

  • “I know that people’s definition of success vary. For me success is about doing what makes you come alive.”
  • “Challenges which you overcome, even if you are ‘unsuccessful’ the first or even the tenth time, means you are improving and growing. When you push for your business to grow, you are actively rejecting a comfortable and ultimately vulnerable business.”
  • “I find it funny how much harder people make their lives by creating things that are too similar to everyone else’s. Differentiation makes everything so much easier.”
  • “Seeing success with the best clients requires finding and engaging with many, and getting rejected by many too.”
  • “Weaknesses are often strengths in disguise, waiting to be explored.”
  • “Making money is a creative act. There is no shame in it because it will allow you to thrive. Think of money as a note of thanks for providing someone with value that helped them.”
  • “If your finished work does not make at least a few people smile, cry, do a double-take or say: “wow”, you have to work at it until they do.”
  • “Seek always to provide value, rather than to impress. Trying to impress usually leads to overcomplicating things.”
  • And my personal favourite one: “The best creative work is done for yourself, within the context of what others need.”

This is a perfect read and ‘pick-me-up-book’ with lovely illustrations by Claire Powell. Also check out some of the other e-books that Alex has written for illustrators, such as How To Get Illustration Clients.  

Did you find our must-read business books for new creatives useful? Did you purchase one and learnt something? Have you got additional recommendations? Then we would love to hear from you. Just share in the comments box below.

PLEASE NOTE that we included some affiliate links in this post to Amazon, as many of our readers like the convenience of this big online retailer. But of course we recommend that you purchase your business books from local bookshops instead … as we are a big fan of local and independent shops!

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