In November, we went to a talk by Simon Horton at the 19 Greek Street gallery, where he taught young creatives about how to negotiate their creative fees. We thought everybody could take a leaf out of his book, so we asked him to pen a piece full of advice on how to build your creative business, as we know that many students and recent graduates can use a boost about being confident and strong about their work and future. Thank you, Simon, for sharing this with us!

Building The Creative Business

Have no illusion, building the creative business is tough.

For ten years now, I’ve been coaching creative businesses, in fashion, in design, in fine art; often from start-up through to million pound turnover and beyond, so I know the issues you face.

Most of them were super-talented, I was in awe of what they could produce, but typically they didn’t know how to sell, they didn’t know how to market, they didn’t know how to strategise or how to work with their business partner.

Interestingly, much of what I do with my clients is boost their confidence and help them bring their own creativity skills to the problems they face. Actually, they do know how to sell, they do know how to market, I just had to bring it out of them.

So, if I were to give advice today to a young creative setting up a new business, what would I tell them? Well, I can sum it up in the following words:

  • Be great
  • Be commercial
  • Be nice
  • Be strong
  • Enjoy the process.

So, let’s find out what these mean.

1. Be Great   

You guys are great. You do things the rest of the world can’t. We are jealous. We love what you do. We need what you do. Know that, know that deeply.

Be in touch with your greatness. Be in touch with your talent and your uniqueness. Know what makes you special and lead with that. Go big on that. And really go big, it is this which will make the impact. You can always tone it down later.

Be your greatness. People buy into you as much as they do your work.  They buy into who you be as much as what you do. No one bought a toilet, they bought the greatness of Duchamp.

Now, you might be thinking ‘but I’m not great’. Don’t worry, just be very good then! And be confident in your very good-ness. I know you’re very good (secretly, I know you’re great too, actually, but we don’t have to argue details).

2. Be Commercial

If your work is good, you will want to get it out there.

There is no shame in earning money. You have to pay your rent, you have to eat food. Modigliani swapped sketches for food, now his works sell at $35million and above. This is a criminal injustice. Your talent deserves payment.

Money and artistic integrity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they contribute to each other in a virtuous circle. Financial security gives the freedom from stresses and the breathing space to do what your own artistic compass tells you to do. And it is following your creative compass that will create work of value.

Look at the most successful artists of today. Are they the best? Probably not. Are they good at promoting themselves? You bet. There is no point in producing great work that nobody ever sees then dying in poverty.

So, get your name out there. Build a brand. Network. Sell. Know your value. Ask high. Stay strong in your negotiation.

3. Be Nice

Nor is being nice antithetical to success. In fact, again, it helps.  Success in any business is dependent on your network, none more so than the creative world.

Foster relationships, it will pay off in the long term. Help people, they will help you back. Make them feel good about themselves, they will want to work with you. Solve their problems, you will never have to sell again, they will be queuing at your door.

Be nice to your clients, they will spread the word. Be nice to your suppliers, they will cut you a deal. Be nice to your business partner, it will make life easier and the day go smoother. Be nice to everyone you meet, you never know when you will meet again.

4. Be Strong

Being nice does not mean being a pushover. You are not a charity (unless, of course, you are a charity).

Know your value and stick to it, negotiate hard. And if there is deadlock – use your creative skills to find a solution. Negotiation is a highly creative process.

Know your boundaries. Be comfortable saying ‘no’, it is one of the most important words in the business dictionary. Being strong with your ‘no’ means your ‘yes’ will be a lot stronger too.

And be resilient. There will be many setbacks. To quote Geoff Mulgan, “We always overestimate what we can do in the short-term but we always underestimate what we can do in the long-term”. Keep building, keep building, keep building.

5. Enjoy The Process

And finally, enjoy the process. Being nice but strong makes the charismatic person, being great but commercial makes the charismatic business; but it all counts for nothing unless you enjoy it.

Whether you build a global empire or work in a sweat-shop selling designs at 50p a go, it actually doesn’t matter. What is most important is that you enjoy what you do. You only have one life, this is not a dry-run, live it and enjoy it.

Best of luck on your journey and I look forward to seeing the amazing things you are going to create.

Words by Simon Horton

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