After a few half-arsed attempts in 2014 and 2015, I decided to go all in and dedicate my career to set up my creative agency Black Bear Creative.
Though still in the very early stages, I'm very proud of the progress my agency has made during the financial year. I am also particularly proud of my growth as a graphic artist, I thought I’d share a little bit of wisdom that I have gained from my own experience launching Black Bear Creative. If you are a creative person thinking about starting your own business adventure, I hope I am able to provide you with some insight Just like you, I am still learning every day and I know how important guidance and advice is in the beginning.
Work with people you like
This is challenging at the beginning as you need to take what you can get to ensure the money keeps flowing in. However those clients that bring you joy and less stress are the real keepers. Clients that select you for your personal style and aesthetic are key to your success and overall happiness while working for. Don’t focus on trying to bring in clients with a cheap rate. You’ll only end being in competition with 10 billion overseas designers that work for $5p/h.
Without you even realising it, an unstable cash flow can lead to very big problems in a matter of weeks. For me, all it took was the one or two clients that were unable to pay on time. Oh and also the time my Mac decided to go to sleep and never wake up. The following are some ways that have helped me manage my cash flow.
- Invoice regularly. Do not leave an invoice until a month later when the job is completed. I use Wave Apps to manage my accounting and invoices, the best thing, it’s also free.
- Keep on top of all overdue invoices.
- Budget your spending and save for emergencies. Have backup savings to cover yourself for a month or so without pay (or more if you can).
- Create payment plan options for your clients. If your client is running into some cash flow dramas give them the option to pay part payments. This helps your client, builds your relationship and ensure a cash flow is regular and consistent.
Creating social media content
Schedule your social media content a month in advance and use a social media publishing tool like Hootsuite to schedule all of your posts across different platforms. Again, there is a free version of this available and I would recommend using as much free stuff as possible. If you have no time to create the content, then outsource it to someone else that can. If you are using paid ads, make sure you are focusing on fine-tuning your audience reach settings. Don’t waste money or time on the wrong people. The best way to build your following is to show off your creativity, your client work and new projects. Don't forget to give a narrative of your business.The people behind the scenes, i.e your team, their interests the everyday life of your business. This will ensure that your audience builds a relationship with you and will be more likely to approach you to do work.
Be willing to fail and learn from your mistakes fast
Learn from your mistakes and cop it on the chin. Then evaluate why whatever it was failed and plan a strategy to ensure that same failure never happens again. If you're not failing then you're playing it too safe and you’re probably not making enough progress. Don’t be afraid to ask trusted people in your industry for advice and always be open to giving advice in return.
Focus on what you're good at
Focus on and spend the most of your time on the things you are good at and really enjoy doing. If you're spending 80% of your time doing the accounting and you're a graphic designer, then you’ve got your priorities wrong. Become a master of your art, or hire people that are the masters of their art to ensure the highest level of work is produced for your clients.
Set your business up to scale
Find out how big you want to grow your business. Once you’ve done that put in systems so that you're ready to take on any client, no matter how big or small they are. Find automated systems for proposals, briefs and any other necessary documentation. Find a good set of freelancers and developers, or build systems for multiple team members to use at once.
Network and meet people
Get out and talk to people Give out those business cards you’ve printed and don’t just rely on social media marketing and digital marketing to bring the clients in. For me, one of the best ways I have met clients is by going to networking events and workshops. Wherever you go, drop into conversation what you do for a living and be confident in your abilities. Clients come from the strangest place, some of my main clients have found me through someone I met at a workshop, who referred them to me through a friend of a friend and so on.
Don’t listen to the haters
Be ready for the haters and non-believers - it can come from friends, family and loved ones. It’s not their fault, they just want what's best for you, or they believe in following the norm and “getting a job and working till’ you're dead”. If you are 100% commitment to your goals and know deep down that you are willing to do everything you can to make your business succeed, then don’t even waste your energy to acknowledging their views, or worse, doubting yourself. Like my man Gary Vaynerchuk says you need to audit yourself, ask yourself are you putting in work every day or just a lazy shit that is making an excuse to pretend you're doing something with your life. If you think it’s the second one, then stop wasting your time and get a job. If it was easy everyone would be doing it, right?
Start high from the beginning
Base your pricing off your skill level as set it as high as you possibly can. Remember to consider how big you want your business to grow, and also ask yourself the following questions: Will you need full-time staff in the future, or will it just be you working by yourself? Are you planning to have staff? If so, you need figure out if your current rate will be enough to pay your team while still producing enough margin. You can’t change a $20 p/h client into a $100+ p/h client. It’s easier to start higher and go lower than it is to start lower and try to increase later in the future.
Focus on developing your own style
When it comes to being creative, what makes you stand out from the rest? Is it your personal style? A particular aesthetic? Are you an urban hipster or a corporate tie wearer? Your own niche can take years to develop (I’m still looking for mine). Generally your stand-out factor comes from years of experience. However, it is this unique that that will allow your speciality to bloom. It will help you create your very own niche market or following that want to work with you, and only you.
I hope these little bits of wisdom help you along your entrepreneurial journey and act as a guide to ensure you avoid the pitfalls I have made so far. But remember, all this doesn’t mean shit if you don’t act put in the work, so good luck and start creating awesome stuff!
If you have any questions just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.