Eleanor Young is the founder of Fun Makes Good, a business centred around textile design based in Crieff, Perthshire. Her masterclass on how to plan for a creative business was delivered on the 25th July 2018 at the Green Room, Perth. You can follow Fun Makes Good on Instagram or Facebook.
I started up in business after taking part in Starter for Six, a programme run by the Cultural Enterprise Office. I admit that I’ve not written a ‘proper’ business plan for Fun Makes Good since I was on the programme five years ago, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t plan! I realised early on that trying things, making mistakes and making connections were an essential part of the business process. For example, I got very excited to exhibit at Pulse at Earls Court, London in 2011, but I didn’t get a single order as a result. However, I did get excellent press coverage that led to opportunities in other areas. It was through reflection on that event that I was able to see the connection between different areas of my business and begin to plan to exploit these connections.
Currently, my business works in four areas: retail; commissions for private clients; architects and interior designers; trusts and charities. It’s only by being reflective and self-aware that you’ll make the connections across these different areas.
I work by an internal compass. Giving me a direction of travel, a sense of where I want to go. It allows me to work on things that I want to work on, gives me permission to say no to opportunities and helps me identify who I want to work with. That self-awareness, even if not explicitly stated, helps me to plan a business that is aligned with my values.
Networking is a crucial skill on top of being an enjoyable and energising experience. But it can also inform your planning in a practical way. You should have two lists of prospective clients: people who you want to work with and have a good chance of working with; and people who you want to work with as a long-term goal. By identifying your next partners and dream clients, you will be able to plan your self-initiated projects, your commissions and your timelines.
Next, plan how you’re going to meet with and engage these people. Think about timing your networking efforts to coincide with a project you’re excited about, such as a self-initiated project.
So far, I’ve mostly spoken about the philosophical aspects of planning. These are essential to forming coherent plans that are true to your goals. But there are more practical things to consider. For example, the plans of the people and companies you work with.
Projects stall, people pay late, suppliers may deliver late: it’s important to know, broadly, how you fit into other people’s plans. Look for opportunities in delays and stoppages. Can you use the time to say yes to another opportunity, take the time for personal development or take a break to re-engage with what powers your creativity.
In terms of getting paid, help yourself plan for the future by having open and honest conversations about budgets when discussing creative projects with customers. Ask for 50% deposit upfront to both protect yourself and focus the mind of your client. Knowing more about their plans will help you when the difficult discussions start. I tend to talk about money early on, after the initial creative conversations happen, but before I go to a lot of time and effort conceptualising a finished product, costing myself time and money that I may not recoup if the project doesn’t go ahead.
I think it’s important to know how many projects you will need to sustain yourself. Know what that is and use it as a target. I have general, year-long plans with those kinds of goals and weekly plans that direct my work. Put things on a spreadsheet, make lists, whatever works for you to manage what needs done when.
Establish a good invoicing strategy. Thinking again about your customers’ plans, you may find that you will not be paid on time by a big institution simply because of the time it takes for them to raise a purchase order or the rhythm of their payment cycle. People will forget to pay you or delay payment unless you are on top of your invoicing process.
Keep building your portfolio. That’s what will get the work in the door. I unconsciously built quite a portfolio at the start of my career by upcycling furniture I found in skips! It’s your creative output that generates interest in your business, so keep looking for opportunities to collaborate, take on self-initiated projects and make sure you have planned time and space to recharge your creative batteries. So many people who own businesses or work for themselves are afraid to take holidays. It’s ok to take holidays!
In a way, it all boils down to this. If you can do work that is right for you, in terms of your creative whims and aesthetic values, work with people you are proud to work with, understand what their needs and desires are and get paid properly and on time, you’ll have a happy life and a successful business.
You can watch videos of reactions to Eleanor's talk at the Green Room on YouTube.