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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).

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).

 

Taking a leap: going out on your own

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by Christina Lowry

I always wanted to be an artist. As a teenager, I had romantic notions of living in a studio surrounded by canvases, paint, red wine, and cigarettes while I suffered for my art. I lived this dream for a while when I moved out of home and undertook a Fine Art/Visual Arts degree straight out of high school. I rushed through my early foundation classes in sculpture and silver-smithing, awaiting my longed-for painting instruction. Alas, after undertaking my foundation course in painting I realised that my love of arts and passion for creating weren’t enough. I was surrounded by amazing artists, I was invisible to my lecturer, and my work was far below my expectations. I hadn’t learnt yet that comparison is the death of joy. I didn’t know not to compare my “chapter one” to someone else’s chapter twenty. I just felt a sense of failure and fear. And as a seventeen-year-old living in a world of adults, I assumed the answer was to drop out.

I’m so pleased that a friend and fellow student talked me out of such ideas, so pleased that I stuck it out. I fell in love with and majored in my next foundation area: intermedia (a mixed-media approach to fine art). Here I learnt how to become an artist: how to question, see, experiment. I was given free rein over photography equipment and a darkroom. I learnt early Photoshop and built a website, created sculptures and installations, journaled, and exhibited my work. I still didn’t know what I was going to “do” when I grew up, but I trusted that I would work it out.

To complete my degree, I needed to tick off two final classes. My financial situation had changed by this point, and studying silver-smithing became a viable option. It seemed like an enjoyable way to meet the requirements of the degree. After three years at Uni, these last two classes actually decided my future, for it was here that I found my medium and decided to become a jeweller. I fell in love with the rigidity and flexibility of metal. I was enthralled with the techniques and history of the practice. It was sculpture in miniature, designed to be worn. It was craft, art, and a trade. The day after I graduated I started applying for jewellery apprenticeships. I wanted to be a “real” jeweller, with a secure, guaranteed income as I learnt the craft, and the ability to create work and exhibit in my own time.

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Styling the jewellery

Finding an apprenticeship is no easy task. I spent the next several years working in jewellery stores as a sales assistant, getting whatever time and training I could at the jewellery bench and learning anything else I could in the process—from pearl threading to Diamond grading, gem identification to antique hall marks. I learnt sales strategies, stocktake, and stock and package ordering. I met suppliers and went to industry launches and trade fairs. I took a twelve-month jeweller vocation course at the Goldsmith school. I worked with several jewellers and finally started an apprenticeship, only to lose it when the business ran out of capital. After all this time, effort, and learning, I still wasn’t a real jeweller.

By the time I took maternity leave with my first child, I was so burnt out on the jewellery industry that I settled in to being a stay-at-home mum and didn’t touch the tools in my workshop for more than eighteen months. Eventually, I made a silver pendant as a gift for a friend. Then I made my sister a pair of earrings. Online sales platforms like Etsy and Madeit were taking off and friends suggested I sell my jewellery online. So I did, as a hobby.

With hindsight, I can join the dots, but at the time I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The thought of starting my own business hadn’t occurred to me. I thought I would return to the workforce as a jewellery sales assistant and keep trying to get an apprenticeship, chasing the elusive dream of becoming a “jeweller.” I thought receiving my apprentice certificate would remove the imposture syndrome I felt. But as I kept making and selling my jewellery, I realised that the certificate was only important to me. When people brought my pieces, they didn’t ask if I was a “real” jeweller, self-taught, or a bit of both.

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Christina behind the scenes

Change came rushing in after listening to Clare Bowditch speak at a Big-hearted Business morning tea. I had begun tossing up the possibility of selling my wares at a local craft market in a school hall, still with a hobby mindset. Clare encouraged us to get out pens and paper and write down where we wanted to be in five years’ time. For the first time, it clicked that in five years’ time I could still have a hobby—or I could own my own business. I decided to apply for that craft market! After the event I chatted with creative business owners and shared my revelation. They were pleased, but offered another revelation: don’t aim small. Find the best market around for what you want to sell, and apply for it. That day, a fire was lit inside me that still hasn’t gone out.

My hobby became a business the moment I decided to treat it like a business. I had to embrace fear and question my belief that I wasn’t the sort of person who could own a business. I applied for the Brisbane Finders Keepers market and spent the next couple months making stock and learning everything I could about business. I launched Christina Lowry Designs in November 2013 at Finder Keepers.

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Collaborating with creatives

Now in my fourth year in business, I consider myself not only a “jeweller,” but a designer, mentor, and businesswoman. Everything I have learnt, from my fine arts degree to my sales work, has been incorporated into Christina Lowry Designs. I define my own work life balance. My family is my priority. My passion and drive continues. I believe in lifelong learning. I read, listen to podcasts, collaborate with other creatives, and take courses. And every day, I am so glad I took the leap and went out on my own.

Photos by Trudi Le Brese Photography for Christina Lowry Designs

Christina Lowry is a designer and jeweller who makes fine jewellery for creatives. Her work is featured in several Australian galleries, as well as in her online store. Christina fell in love with jewellery making while studying a Bachelor of Fine Art/Visual Art. Each piece is lovingly made by hand in her Brisbane workshop, incorporating precious metals and gemstones, using traditional metalworking techniques.

My Advice: Growth tips for Instagram

My Advice

By Andrea McArthur

Three prolific Instagrammers share their tried and tested tips for growing your brand on Instagram…


Petrina Turner, Designer. Stylist. Maker. Dreamer. Do-er. Petrina Turner Design
www.petrinaturnerdesign.com.au // Instagram @petrinaturnerdesign // Followers 21.7k

Petrina Turner

I don’t think it’s any secret amongst those who know me that I love Instagram. As a designer, stylist and maker I am definitely a visual person and Instagram is the perfect medium for me to use as a visual diary to capture inspiration and beauty on a daily basis. And if you really look there is beauty everywhere.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone wanting to grow their network on Instagram is to be authentic. I post about the things that speak to me, and share the things I love. I never really set out to build a profile on Instagram, I just wanted to capture the beauty and my following happened quite organically. As a small business owner I found it a place of incredible inspiration, a place where at any time of the day or night I was connecting with like minds and creative souls. And my tribe grew… and grew… and grew.

I don’t really use it as a marketing tool by design. I think that by sharing what I see, and how I see it, it gives people an insight into how I work and my style. I really love my work as a designer so of course I am often sharing my work, or snippets of it. So I guess in that sense my Instagram account is an extension of my portfolio. I think what I’m really doing is taking people on my journey with me, and that resonates.

And I like the interaction with people that Instagram gives me. More than the number of followers what has really been the greatest gift from Instagram are the genuine connections I have made through it. It has led to inspiration, collaboration, PR and most importantly wonderful friendships. I try as much as possible to respond to the comments left on my images. With the amount I sometimes get I don’t always manage to respond to every single one, but I can assure you that I read and appreciate them all.

So find your true voice and share it. People will listen if it comes from your heart.


Jessica Viscarde, Creative Director Eclectic Creative
www.eclecticcreative.com.au // Instagram @jess_eclecticcreative// Followers 17.7k

Jessica Viscarde

Tell your story
I have always treated instagram as a visual diary and a story-telling tool that has documented my own work and a means of engaging with other likeminded individuals. I really believe that there is a market out there for absolutely anything and everything; you just need to find your people. And you find your people by simply just being yourself. Instagram is a powerful platform for reflecting your style, establishing your unique identity and showing off your creative flair. Everyone has a story that needs to be shared as we all have something to offer and can all learn something from it, so make sure you tell your own story through your visuals.

I started my own hashtag #pocketofmyhome long before anyone was really using them as a means of creating communities or connecting with others. I wanted a place where people could go and celebrate their own homes, not just the ones found in glossy magazines. I wanted to celebrate real homes with personality and create a little space for everyone to go and share their home pictures. Without much promotion at all or having to annoy people with too many competition spam, #pocketofmyhome now boasts close to 25K images from users all over the world! I love hearing that people have connected and become friends through the tag – what a fabulous community!

Be consistent
Consistency is the magical, glittery goodness that in my opinion binds everything together and creates a visually stimulating and effective instagram. Consistency can come from using a similar theme/filter or colour way through your imagery, only sharing images from a particular genre (such as travel, interiors, food etc) or working out a mixture of everything but delivered in a consistent way, maybe posting time or your written style.

Consistency gives your followers a feeling of familiarity and builds trust and assures them the style of imagery they will see when they scroll down to your feed. My imagery is all mine, created by myself and our contributors and includes behind the scenes shots, images of my own home and even features my little rescue cat, Peg… as I want to tell my story and part of that is I love cats!

Quality + crediting
Instagram is visual so make sure your images are of excellent quality so people actually want to see them and like them. This means no pixelation or blurred images, no selfies in the bathroom or toilet and if you are using apps to edit or reframe your images, pay the extra couple of bucks to have their ads or text removed! I also prefer to share my own work so my followers can get an authentic sense of the work I can create and deliver and who I see whom I collaborate with… In the rare occasion I regram an image, I make sure I credit where credit is due. Make sure you mention the account, not just tag them in (as so many people don’t see the tags) and ensure the credit/mention is in the first line of your message. And don’t forget to credit the photographers, they always get missed out. Just do the right thing and share the love… correctly!

Engage with your followers
Lastly, engage with your followers, talk to them, and get to know them, let them get to know you. You’d be surprised whom you meet on instagram and can connect with. I have an amazing amount of support and have spoken with so many gorgeous people all just doing their own thing. Many of my collaborations have come from connections made on instagram so talk to people; you never know where it may lead.


Madeleine Dore, Founder and editor of Extraordinary Routines
www.extraordinaryroutines.com // Instagram @extraordinary_routines // Followers 6,953

Madeleine Dore

The nature of my interview project Extraordinary Routines has allowed my Instagram network to grow quite quickly. While a complete bonus, it’s helped to have interviewees with large followings share snippets of the interview and praise the project on their profile.

That said, people are discerning and won’t necessarily follow you on Instagram simply because someone has shared your work. You need to capture their attention when they click through to your profile – make it is as easy as possible for them to identify what you are about, and determine if your aesthetic is for them. From the beginning, I tried to keep the overall look of my feed consistent, quirky, and colourful. My profile description and icon clearly communicate my focus on creative’s routines, a topic that seems to create intrigue. Some Instagrammers who do this well include @oakandink, @chiliphilly and @socalitybarbie.

For me, the offline network I have grown through Instagram has been more fulfilling than seeing the number of followers grow. I was recently out to dinner and I looked at the friendly faces at the table and realised I had met them all through Instagram. I’ve made some beautiful friendships, and it’s as simple as telling people you admire their work, and once you have built some rapport, suggest coffee or brunch. I’ve even nabbed some dates that way! But romance aside, my favourite social media tip is to be social!

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Thank you ladies for providing your tried and tested tips for growing your brand on Instagram. Title image by Eclectic Creative (@jess_eclecticcreative) from Instagram.

Andrea McArthur (www.andyjane.com) has a passion for all things visual and works as an Art Director and Freelance Designer based in Brisbane. Design is her true love and she goes weak at the knees over strategic branding. You’ll find her sharing on Instagram @andyjanemc.