So … You Want To Start A Business?

open-roadThis week I am developing a programme for a creative business boot camp style training programme that will help start-up creative sector businesses to understand and be able to deal with the challenges of being your own boss, running a business and producing the work. In the process of thinking about this, I was reminded of the five lessons that were shared with me when I first started:

– if you never say no, what value is your yes?
So simply people (clients) will assume that of course you will do it because you have never said no. Even when it would cost you time, money and impact on your relationships, if you always say yes, your input and ideas will never be appreciated as a scarce resource. Obviously, that’s not to say you should refuse work all the time out of some misguided arrogance but rather that you need to balance your workload and choose the right projects for you. This can be incredibly difficult when you need the work but keep your eye on your vision and take on work that helps you get there.

– plan and then adapt
We can only plan so far. For me, anything beyond 6 months is guessing so we keep our detailed planning to this limit.  If we try and go too much further (in detail), we are potentially wasting time and effort (and therefore money). So plan in overview, in general, for 3 – 5 years but don’t create plans that are then a millstone and drag the business down. You definitely need a vision and a direction of travel but be prepared to adapt to whatever life throws at you! There may be great opportunities; people may change; market conditions certainly will change and will require your business to adapt in order to maintain and build market position.

– get support
Starting up completely on your own is very hard. We all need support and someone to talk to and bounce ideas off. It could simply be a family member or friend, or it could be a more structured relationship with a business mentor, or even your bank manager. Be aware that they will have their own bias and perspective on your business and on your role in it but now is the time to be a magpie and collect people who will, between them, give you a balanced and constructive view of the situation. You may not like what they have to say but those difficult conversations are some of the most supportive and productive development discussions for you and your business.

– what’s the worst that can happen?
Now if you are starting a business that requires a high level of financial investment to get going then this may be a very challenging question. I would argue that we need to allow for the emotional risk of setting up a business as well, particularly those that are based on our personal skills and approach. It can be too easy to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the risks and responsibilities that we have as businesses, whatever our structure, so we need to face up to it and find ways to mitigate the risks involved. If it’s financial, emotional, practical, whatever the risk, by recognising it, we can start to identify how we can deal with it so that the worst doesn’t happen.

– stop every so often
You are not a machine. We are human and every so often we need a break. Even if we love what we do and we are successful, we still need to stop occasionally. If for no other reason than to appreciate how far we have travelled. When you are working in and on your business, it can be all consuming and it can feel like a constant uphill fight to make it work. So we need to stop and look back and appreciate that all of that work has got us somewhere – Hopefully towards achieving the vision that we set out in our plans.

And aside from appreciating the view, our bodies and brains can only cope with so much and they need some down time so indulge in a guilty pleasure occasionally – for me, it’s reading in front of the fire with a cat on my lap in the middle of the afternoon on a work day with a small vat of tea and a slice (or two) of cake….or it’s watching trashy TV with my family….or cooking, making chutney, cakes, bread, stews, soup…..what would yours be?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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Reality Hits

Feet-GoingUpStairs
Earlier this week, I invited three (utterly brilliant) professional contacts – one a client, one a supplier and one an Associate to come into a session with the third year Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University. The module is Professional Practice and I have been running it for the last three years.

The panel discussion was going well with a range of questions asked and areas discussed and I suddenly realised that two of the spheres in which I operate were crossing over. These brilliant professionals were seeing my work in a completely different but mutually supportive context. I have always held that my work as an event manager and MD supports my teaching practice and that the teaching informs and supports my event management and business activity but it is rare that they cross over in this way.  We often have students working with us on placements or internships but it is unusual for a client, Associate and supplier to all come into the education world, even just for an afternoon.

So there I was, seeing myself (and my dual careers) through their eyes and it made me realise that I adapt my communication style and approach significantly across the spectrum from lecturer to event manager to business person. I also realised that this kind of stretch is not an automatic function for many people and so coming into the academic world can seem like a huge challenge or a no-go area.

It can seem daunting to speak to or with students, especially en masse, but we have something that they don’t – experience and knowledge. We might not know all the answers or have published research but we do know our stuff and we are making businesses work and making events happen. So, as vocational professionals, we all have our contribution to make to the academic world, our contribution to make to enabling others to understand the reality of work, of an industry, of life beyond university.

So who’s coming in next?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Digital treat anyone?

So our first Thrive sessions have started in Bath and, as is often the case, we are learning as much as we are leading the training.  So we have come up with the programme following training needs analysis and we come up with the content for the sessions….we then run the sessions and we always try to tailor the sessions to the people who are there so it’s really applicable and relevant.  However, this agile approach is also a recognition that we don’t have all the answers (and neither should we) but we facilitate that sharing of knowledge and experience within the group to find solutions.

So within this context, I ran the Audience Development session with additional input from Jim Brewster at The Audiences Agency. We covered various areas from strategic relevance to practical how to, from application of data analysis to value propositions and then we started talking digital….and at this point, Jim introduced us to the principle of “digital treats”.

I love this idea that social media and user generated content provides such digital treats that might be photographs taken at an event or comments or films or anything really that connects the digital and the live worlds.  The concept of hybrid events is becoming mainstream and even if it’s just having a social media presence, digital is featuring in almost every event the world over.  And from an audience development perspective, this offers a fantastic opportunity to engage people wherever they are and provide a range of reasons for them to want to be involved.

As a sector, we only get better at what we do by collaborating and sharing practice – I am so looking forward to learning more in this Thrive Bath programme.