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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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.

Why Would Anyone Volunteer?

323Don’t believe anyone who says that they can guarantee you volunteers for a project.

Getting volunteers is possibly one of the most difficult tasks that event managers have on our lists. How can we get people to give their time (and sometimes money in travel etc) for no charge to us? The reality is that this is an imaginary saving, oft most suggested by people who haven’t had the pleasure of managing a volunteer workforce.
There is always a cost to getting people involved whether it’s wages, training, travel expenses, coaching or simply time. You can of course have great expectations of people in whatever capacity but they will always need to be managed, supported and trained in order for everyone to get the best possible experience and the best value out of what they are giving (on both sides of the relationship).  In fact, to not train and support people and if you don’t trust your volunteers and give them responsibility, may be to the detriment of that relationship making the volunteer feel that their work isn’t valuable anyway so why should they bother.
We have just recently finished the first round of training for iOrchestra volunteers and staff and this is doubly challenging in that we are training everyone up in the ways of the orchestra as well as introducing them to the project in all it’s forms – MusicLab, RE-RITE and the live concert. Given that the first day of any of this is pretty much immediate, we are all working on plans and discussions rather than reality and experience. What I find most interesting is that every person attending today had a different reason to be involved and different elements of the project appealed to them and from this,I have a yet deeper appreciation of why and how people volunteer.
And this is why I say don’t believe a any guarantee for providing volunteers. Every volunteer is different, each has different motivation and different needs; An individual return on their investment of time and effort. If we think of this whole process as generating a suitable return on investment (in both directions), would our projects present a good investment opportunity? This is not to say that we should develop and manage our projects around the wish and whim of each person who could be a volunteer but rather that we create the opportunity that is perceived as valuable by those who are best suited to being involved with the project.
This process is a bit of a dark art and of course has to adapt to the project and the people involved but be assured that we are all in the same position of trying to attract people to work with us and trying to create a return on their investment. Perhaps if we were to volunteer for something, we would be more able to see it from the volunteer perspective and comprehend (for ourselves at least) what makes a viable investment proposition?
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events