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How to future-proof your business

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by Jes Egan

Anticipating what will happen in the future is difficult, however, it is something you may want to consider doing to protect and grow your creative business. By considering what future possibilities lie ahead, you might be able to minimise the effects. It may seem like an overwhelming thing to tackle when you’re in the throes of running a creative business, but a little thought and planning can go a long way toward keeping your business running and possibly helping it grow.

Plan
Having a business plan is a great place to start, but it isn’t something to “set and forget.” Your plan may need to change as your business grows, markets move, and audience evolve. In your business plan, set goals and don’t forget to track your progress.

Review
Don’t get complacent; always keep an eye on what you are offering. Can it be improved upon? What is the market doing? Where are trends going? What and where are opportunities for improvement? You may be onto a good thing now—and hopefully still will be in the future—but markets, trends, and audiences can change, so make sure what you are offering remains relevant and meets the demands of your customers and the market.

Ask your customers regularly what they think. You may think what you are offering is great, but does your audience still think so? Listen to them and watch their behaviour. Is there anything you can do better? Is there something they’d like that you are not currently offering? Ask them face to face, put a survey on your website, do follow-up calls, and so on, to get this information. You’ll gain great insights and can then apply those learnings to your business.

There may be situations when your customers cannot tell you what they want, especially if you are in the innovation space. Think about the iPhone. We didn’t know we needed a device we could use to make a phone call, take photos, play games, and do our banking, but now we need to do all of these things on our phone. Innovating a product that your customers don’t yet know they need is a great way to grow your business and open new market spaces. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.”

Rethink your acquisition strategy regularly. Ways in which you’ve gained new customers in the past may not work for you in the future. Review this often so you can keep adapting.

Watch
Observe competitors and your marketplace, watching what is happening around you. Do this by following competitors’ social media feeds (both locally and internationally), reading blogs and industry publications, setting up Google alerts, and so on. If you already have your eye on your own competitive space, start looking at other industries, too, as learning from one industry can be adapted to another. Having an understanding of what is happening around you will keep you and your business on its toes.

Depending on what business you are in (but especially for creative industries), following trends can also be important—even more so if you are riding on them. Watch trend forecasts, keep in touch, and, if needed, adapt your offerings to keep riding that wave.

Experience
What can you do when others are offering something similar? How do you stand out from the crowd? Don’t just sell a product or service, make sure to give your audience an experience to remember. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; perhaps it’s the packaging for your product, or how you call the client after delivery to see if everything was okay. Customers are more likely come back if they had a good experience, and repeat business is always good.

Diversify
Don’t depend on one section of your business to account for all of your revenue and growth. Find ways to diversify your product folio. If you manage to diversify your offerings, the additional revenue streams can help support your business.

Consider risks
Identify and manage risks, both for now and in the future. You can’t predict all future problems, but consider potential risks and map a way to manage them if they do happen. Not sure how? Start with a simple “SWOT” analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and go from there.

Your day-to-day creative business may keep you incredibly busy, but take some time to think about the future so you’re equally busy—if not more so—down the track.

Jes Egan is a “practical creative” and very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist and a university lecturer. Follow Jes on Instagram (@paper_chap).

Creative women at work: Rachel Devine, visual storyteller

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 7.19.58 pm by Julie Mazur Tribe

Rachel Devine is an award-winning photoblogger and professional children’s and lifestyle photographer. Her blog, SesameEllis.com, and Instagram feed attract fans from around the world with candid, compelling images of family life. She has authored and co-authored three books on photography, and last year, her project Within the Keep, featuring portraits of tween girls paired with words each girl chose to define herself, won both an Olympus Vision grant and a 2016 Bupa Blog Award. A native of Los Angeles, Rachel moved to Melbourne nine years ago and calls Australia home.

image 2 Can you tell us about your background and how you fell in love with photography?

I started when I was a teenager—self-taught, on film. I couldn’t draw well, so photography was my creative outlet. In 1995, I opened my business in Los Angeles, photographing kid modeling portfolios and headshots. My claim to fame was photographing Miley Cyrus! After moving to Melbourne, I met a woman named Simone Ryan, who represents kids’ clothing brands. That was my entry into the kids’ clothing world in Melbourne.

How would you describe your work and creative inspiration?

I take pride in the fact that you can look back at images I shot twenty years ago, even on film, and it’s hard to date them. With the clean lighting, true colours, and classic style, you would think I shot them yesterday. I love that.

Light inspires me. I am such a fan of light—and dark. When the light comes into my bedroom in the afternoon—especially fall light, the stripes of light through the blinds on the white wall—it’s just so pretty. I can see a photo just by looking at the light. That’s how I’m constantly looking at the world.

Do you have any simple advice about taking better photos, whether for social media or to sell products?

Learn how to photograph in balanced, flat light without it being dull, and also avoid “hot spots,” which are overly bright areas (as opposed to dark areas). You can find flat, filtered light in a doorway, just underneath a porch, or by placing your items next to a window with a sheer white curtain. Or, coat your windows with yogurt! If you use a roller to paint your windows with sugar-free low-fat yogurt (not no-fat, which is too milky), it becomes sort of a frosted window. You get light through it but you can’t see out. It’s amazing. When you don’t want the yogurt on there anymore, spray the window with water and wipe it down.

If you want to show something simply and beautifully on Instagram, there’s that slightly unsaturated look with lots of white—white backgrounds with one simple object in the photo—that works well. Just keep everything simple and have a clean, consistent look, whether it’s slightly unsaturated or neon coloured.

image 4Which social media channel has been the most effective for you, and why?

Instagram. For me, it has been about interacting with people. It’s not just putting my stuff up there and hoping they’ll show up. I find hashtags that I like and then click on them and “like” pictures that appeal to me. I just like what I like and engage as if nobody was looking. If you think of it as a community and not an audience, you build respect by actually interacting as a human being with other people in the community.

Do you have help running your business?

I don’t have physical assistants, but I have upgraded to systems. I pay for a program called Studio Ninja that I highly recommend. It’s a Melbourne-based customer management back-end service that does quotes and invoices, job tracking, all that. It makes my life so much easier. I also use CoSchedule for my blogging stuff.

Like many of us, you are juggling a creative business and a family. What is your favourite tip for “making it work”?

The best decision I made was saying that I work from 10–2, drawing the line at school hours. I’m lucky in that I can do the school run and be here in the evenings. I don’t feel that I’m working all the time when the kids are around.

Have you ever taken a risk or tried a strategy that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

There are tons. Everything has a learning curve. What I try to remember is that every bad thing will pass—and the good stuff will as well. When something goes wrong, I take those moments in just as I do when something’s going awesome; I know it won’t last and I want to get everything I can from it. As painful as some of it might be, I can still learn from it and absorb life lessons.

headshotYou’re American but have lived in Australia for nine years. Has being an ex-pat shaped your art?

Being an ex-pat has had a huge impact on my art. While everyone here speaks English, it’s a different world. It’s similar to home but it’s not home. I’m always looking at things slightly left of center. Also, I have a slight sense of longing all the time, being far from friends. There’s a Japanese word for that bittersweet appreciation of time passing, and I’m constantly aware of that. It seeps into my images.

Probably the biggest issue I struggle with is that I’m not considered an Australian blogger photographer, but I’m not an American one, either. I consider myself more Australian than American—at least politically. I enjoy and celebrate the opportunities people have here.

What are you looking forward to doing in your business this year?

I’d like to take my Within the Keep project to a larger audience. I’m also working on a visual storytelling journal for kids to help them tell their own stories. I love how photography crosses nationalities, language barriers, intellectual barriers—all those things. It’s universal.

Rachel’s Quick Picks:

  • Favorite read: the Brain Pickings e-newsletter and the book A Man Called Ove
  • Favorite podcast: I have yet to find a podcast I can listen to!
  • Favorite Instagram feeds: Recent finds are @EstherHollywood and @Adele_Miranda
  • Designers, creatives, or brands: the kids’ clothing brand Minti; illustrator Bianca Cash; the landscapes of photographer Bill Henson
  • Favorite place to go for inspiration: the beach
  • Most inspiring friend or family member: My father, who passed away in 1999. He was the one who said, “Photograph. I’ll pay for the lab bills”—and look what he’s done. I think about him all the time, every time I pick up a camera.

Photographs by Rachel Devine

For more about Rachel, visit her blog, Facebook feed, or follow her on Instagram at @sesameellis. To join Rachel’s Photographing Happiness group, where she helps members document their daily moments of happiness, visit the group’s Facebook page.

Julie Mazur Tribe is an editor and book publishing consultant who loves working with authors, books, and creative ideas. She can be found at BrooklynBookStudio.com or on Instagram at @brooklynbookstudio.

Art commissions: basic tips

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by Júlia Both

As an artist, in addition to creating work for exhibitions and your own projects, you may often be commissioned by businesses or individuals to make something just for them. Whether it is a piece of fine art, a mural, or a digital illustration, a commission gives you an opportunity to practice your skills, create new work, and reach new audiences.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings can sometimes come up along the way that cost you time and impact your client’s satisfaction. I’ve found that most problems arise from a lack of clarity in communication, and from not being on the same page about the expected result, timeline, or cost of the piece. Many clients will have never commissioned an artist before and may know little about art and the creative process, and it’s essential to keep that in mind.

Here are a few basic things to remember while doing an art commission to avoid most issues.

Always start with a brief
No matter how simple or straightforward the project, always develop a basic brief at the start. Talk to your client about what she wants from the art piece and what role it will fulfil in her home or business.

Assess the client’s expectations
When someone commissions you for the first time, talk to her extensively about what she expects from the art piece. Be skeptical of people who tell you that they have no expectations and that you can do anything you like. Usually, clients have seen a particular style of art that you do and want something similar. Show them pieces of your work and discuss what they like the most.

Get a deposit before you start sketching
A lot of people will ask to see ideas or sketches on the piece before they commit to working with you. However, they should be able to decide whether you are a good fit for their project based on your portfolio and past experience, without asking you to work for free. It can be frustrating if you spend a long time working on a design only to have a potential client cancel the project. Before you do any creative work, get them to pay a small percentage of the quote as a financial commitment.

Show your client a sketch before you start the piece
Once the client has paid a deposit, get approval of a basic design before you start the piece. This can be as simple as a rough sketch or as detailed as a presentation with colour palette, mood boards, and finalised drawings. The important thing is to agree on the main elements of your piece before you spend a lot of effort on it. If the client is unhappy with the final result, you can refer back to this stage to justify your choices.

Don’t rely on words when talking about art
The people commissioning you will rarely be artists, so you need to illustrate what they mean when using creative terms. When they use words such as “abstract” or “modern” to describe their preferences, ask for examples of what they mean. Similarly, when you describe your ideas, don’t trust that they’ll understand your description: show them. This will ensure everyone is on the same page.

Keep them updated on progress
This doesn’t mean you have to regularly send photos of the piece, but make an effort to keep your client posted on how it’s coming along and when you plan to finish. If you are running behind schedule, be honest about it.

Don’t forget to document your work
Get good photos or videos of each piece you create. A solid portfolio is the best way to quickly convey to future clients the type of work you do and what they can expect from you.

Júlia Both is a Brazilian artist based in Melbourne. Her work explores duality and the relationships between the macro and microcosmos, inspired by plants, nebulae, sex, and dreams. For more about Júlia’s work, visit her at artofboth.com or follow her on Instagram (@artofboth).

 

Book review: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

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by Kate Shannon

Described on the cover as “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,” Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is regarded by many as a way of life. The book, which turns twenty-five years old this year, is known as the creative person’s bible, helping us tap into our creative desires and ignite—or reignite—our artistic spark.

The Artist’s Way is presented as a twelve-week course, working through the steps of “creative recovery.” Each chapter outlines an area to address in our artistic unblocking, with exercises such as affirmations, lists, check-ins to challenge core beliefs about being an artist, and ways to override the internal censor that so often sabotages our creative pursuits.

Cameron, a prolific author, poet, playwright, and artist, shares her experiences finding her creative mojo and overcoming barriers in her creative career. She encourages readers to open themselves up to inspiration by being playful, ignoring the quest for perfection, and simply showing up.

Cameron reckons the acts of coming up with ideas, being inspired, and creativity itself, are all the influence of a higher power. References to God’s input into the creative process are peppered throughout the book, but you don’t have to be religious to find it helpful or to complete the program.

Here are a few of the key insights I took from the book:

The morning pages
The practice of writing daily “morning pages” is at the heart of The Artist’s Way, and is one part of this book that I use regularly. Every morning, you write three full pages of whatever comes to mind as a way to clear out negative, superfluous “clutter” and make room for positivity, clarity, and creativity. These pages aren’t designed to be kept or shown to anyone else, let alone published, but the idea is that if you do them daily, creative gems will eventually show up. Cameron says that she’s been doing them every day for years, and thousands of her devotees swear by them.

The artist date
Another of Cameron’s essential tools is the “artist date.” This is the act of spending an hour or two alone each week pursuing something that piques your interest. A date could be a visit to a museum, a walk around an unfamiliar neighborhood, a browse in a bookshop, or simply time collecting and arranging shells at the beach. Artist dates are designed to feed our inspiration; Cameron describes them as “assigned play” and “more mischief than mastery.”

Surround yourself with those who encourage your creative practice
Cameron encourages us to safeguard our artist within by avoiding the people in our lives who are negative influences when it comes to making art; she calls them “crazymakers.” “Do not expect your blocked friends to applaud your recovery,” she writes. “That’s like expecting your best friends from the bar to celebrate your sobriety.”

The importance of noticing
Cameron shares a lot of herself and her experiences in this book. One anecdote about her late grandmother particularly resonated with me. She tells of her grandmother’s ability to pay attention to the details of life, describing the letters her grandmother wrote detailing her surroundings, which she called “flora and fauna reports.” For example: “the roses are holding even in this heat… My Christmas cactus is getting ready…the little Shetland looks like she’ll drop her foal early.” Her grandmother noticed the beautiful details of life, even when life wasn’t so cheery.

Cameron describes her grandmother as “standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention,” and prods us to do the same, as this is where we find inspiration, connection, and sanity.

 The Artist’s Way has a knack of either strongly binding or dividing its readers. My dog-eared copy has been a constant companion on my creative journey, as well as the journeys of many, many others.

 Kate Shannon is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. She spends much of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about flowers, plants, and creative people. Follow her on Instagram at @thehanburys.