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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).

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.

What is (creative) leadership?

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by Kim Goodwin

Discussions of leadership are all around us. Business titans and sportsmen offer up the secrets of leadership in countless “how-to” books lining the walls of airport bookstores, yet we hear less about creative leadership. We’re more likely to see a leadership book written by the captain of the Australian cricket team than by the director of a blockbuster film. Personally, I don’t think we give creative leaders the respect they deserve.

Have you ever stopped to ask: what actually is leadership?

We are told by employers and business coaches that we all should aspire to be leaders, but there’s actually very little agreement as to what leadership is. In 1994, one researcher wrote that more than seven thousand academic articles had been written on leadership. Even with all these words, no definitive definition has been agreed upon, then or since.

Different perspectives of leadership
For some, leadership relates to hierarchy: those in management and in positions of authority or seniority. In art and culture, we often look toward artistic directors, gallery heads, CEOs, and general managers of our large institutions as examples of community leaders. But leadership is not management. The operational running of an enterprise is an exercise in the coordination of resources and administration; it’s not leadership, which is removed from day-to-day operations.

Theoretically, what constitutes leadership has changed over time. At first, leadership was considered an innate set of qualities identified in a lucky few. This was known as the “great man theory,” for obvious reasons. While the “leaders are born, not made” argument seems easy to dismiss, it has recently returned to popularity, with studies linking leadership to physical characteristics, such as height. Some have even claimed to uncover a “leadership gene.”

In the 1950s, focus shifted to understanding what leaders do. Leadership became a set of behaviours that could be learned and applied. We all could be leaders if we developed the right skills—a view still prevalent in the world of leadership development today. Unfortunately, this approach often neglects the environment in which leaders operate. In response, research began to consider the context, or situation, in which leadership occurs. In all these theories, leadership is embodied within an individual, with a strong focus (particularly since the 1990s) on characteristics such as charisma.

In more recent decades, however, there has been a shift to consider leadership as a more holistic concept. A widely shared TED talk by Derek Sivers, called “How to Start a Movement,” highlights the crucial role of the first follower. Critics of traditional leadership theory tell us that what we call “leadership” neglects the incredibly important role of followers. Leadership is not embodied in one man (or woman), but is a process that occurs between people. Without followers, there is no leadership.

For most of us, particularly anyone working in the creative sector, where, according to the 2011 Australian Census, more than 90 percent of people work in businesses of less than twenty employees, leadership can be something else entirely. Leadership in the creative sector is often what is known as distributed, or relational. It is a fluid process that exists in networked groups, which come together to achieve shared goals through collaborative processes. It doesn’t relate to job titles or pay grades, but emerges within a group to guide the team as needed at a particular moment, and may change from person to person as required.

Is creative leadership different than “regular” leadership?
Discussion of creative leadership has echoed the development of leadership theory in many ways. Leadership in the creative sector has been studied predominantly from the organisational perspective, examining the intersection of the artistic and the administrative in large arts companies or institutions.

In today’s knowledge-driven economy, however, where companies aspire to be the next Apple, creativity and innovation are seen as “silver bullets,” leading many in the business world to examine creative leaders with renewed focus. Orchestra conductors, for example, with their ability to bring seventy musicians together into a single, cohesive musical unit, are seen as leadership role models by many. And theatre directors, who enlist diverse talents to construct and communicate a shared vision, are identified as great un-lockers of creative potential.

Leadership and creativity are similar in that they were both originally thought to be individual qualities. As in the “great man” theory of the past, creativity—or talent—was seen as a “gift” bestowed on a lucky few. We now know that creativity and leadership both emerge as processes between individuals, and can be fostered and shared.

For many, leadership has always been linked to the achievement of defined goals. But for a creative individual or organisation, goals might be harder to quantify than for a bank or retail organisation. Creative leadership is not as simple as breaking even, or delivering a return to shareholders. Leadership in the cultural sphere is, as Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch writes, “…creating space for opposing voices, about imaging a future, exploring the repercussions of our values and promulgating public debate through the work we make and the relationships we create.” (Source: “Take Me to Your Leader: the dilemma of cultural leadership,” issue 40 of Platform Papers).

Creative leadership is about more than meeting performance goals. It is about imagining a future for our communities, and bringing people together to communicate those visions. This is what makes creative leadership such an exciting concept.

What does this mean for you as a creative practitioner? When someone asks if you are a leader, do not measure yourself against an idealised, organisational version of leadership. Consider instead your vision and the ways you are achieving it in partnership with others. This is what makes you a leader.

 Kim Goodwin is an academic researcher and arts manager with a background in leadership, human resources, and career development. Since leaving her corporate career, Kim has focussed on building understanding in how creative leaders are developed while working in a variety of arts organisations and academic environments. She can be found on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter (@KimAroundTown).

Interview with creative women: Renae Handy, Wallflower Floral Design

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by Kate Shannon

Based in the seaside suburb of Sandgate in north Brisbane, Wallflower Floral Design is the brainchild of Renae Handy, florist and all-round creative lady. Wallflower has had a steady rise since it started in 2015, and Renae and her four staff are kept on their toes arranging and delivering flower orders, creating floral bouquets and installations for weddings, and being part of events and photo shoots.

How did you come to being a florist?

My parents own a wholesale nursery and I grew up surrounded by plants. My first job was putting things in pots when I was six years old, working in the nursery. So it’s in my blood, the horticultural thing.

It all really started when I did the flowers for a friend’s wedding. I cut a whole lot of sunflowers from my dad’s neighbour’s farm and just arranged them. People loved it and I really liked doing it. So I started doing flowers for friends’ weddings for free and for fun… using Woolworths flowers!

Then I thought, maybe I could make this into a business. I registered the name and created an Instagram page. I did a cert II and cert III at a flower school after I opened the business. I didn’t write a business plan; I’ve just been following the tumbleweed!

I was that person who was always chopping and changing jobs. I went to see a career counsellor and said, “Look, I don’t know what to do with my life. I want to start a café, be a real estate agent, or be a florist.”

And she said, “If you want to start a café, you need money and a business degree. You’re too nice to be a real estate agent; that whole industry will destroy you. And florists, they don’t make money so don’t be a florist.”

For so many years I tried many different things, which has meant that this business has a really solid grounding.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I go to the market on Mondays and Thursdays and pick up whatever we need for our week’s orders and for the shop. On market days, I get up at four am—so if someone wants to be a florist and she’s not a morning person, it’s not the job for her!Bunch colourful

While I’m at the market, I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions about what is going to work. If I’m buying for a wedding, I try to imagine the bride, which colours she looks good in, and what her vision is. When I’m buying for the shop, I have to think about what’s going to look good, what’s going to sell, and what’s going to last.

If you don’t make quick decisions, the florist behind you will probably snatch up the flowers. It’s a bit of a scramble in the mornings! It can be stressful, but also fun.

At around seven am., I bring back the boxes of flowers. Then the girls and I spend time preparing them. We use tools to take the foliage off the stems, then cut the stems and put them in water. That takes a long time. We do a lot of work to ensure the flowers last as long as possible. We then do all the orders, talk to customers, and make up arrangements. We get a lot of walk-in enquiries. I also do bride consultations, so I’ll talk with brides and do up quotes. We often get stylists and photographers coming in, too.

Then we might do some deliveries and close up around four or five pm. It’s a pretty busy day.

Describe your floral philosophy. What does a Wallflower arrangement look like?

Our arrangements are whimsical, textural, eclectic, and natural. We pride ourselves on not being predictable.

Traditionally, florists are trained to have a hero flower, like a big rose or lily, then a complementary flower, a filler flower, and some greenery. That’s the basic recipe; florists have used it for so long, over and over again. I think that’s one reason I was so passionate about starting this shop—because of that recipe and tradition. Flowers are so beautiful, but because they were being presented in such a bland structure, people lost appreciation for their natural beauty. I’m passionate about showcasing flowers in their natural form.

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What are the challenges of being a creative and an owner of a small business?

Some people think being a florist is a fairytale job, which sometimes it is because we do get to play with flowers. But sometimes it can be high pressure; it’s stressful to come up with something creative when you don’t have enough time.

Renae and flowers.cropIt’s hard to be a creative and a businessperson at the same time. I’m split down the middle. There’s the voice saying, “You’ve got to protect your brand. You’ve got to make money.” But then there’s the other side saying, “Stick to your true self, do what you love.” As an artist, you’re emotionally attached, and you take time to make something beautiful, but as a businessperson, time is money… It’s such a battle.

Another challenge is to ensure my staff are happy. I want to encourage them personally and to help them find their place in Wallflowe. If my staff isn’t happy, nothing works.

In my family, my dad’s the businessman and my mum’s the creative. My dad is my business mentor. Every Thursday, we have a family dinner and I talk to him about my business challenges. He gives me great advice.

What does the future hold for you and Wallflower?

It’s important to keep learning, so I’ve got my eye on some courses I’d like to do to challenge myself.

For Wallflower, I’d like to increase the scale of the work we do, and do more installations, events, and weddings. More connections and collaborations. I want us to stretch ourselves and what we can do. It’s an exciting time.

Renae’s floral creations can be viewed on the Wallflower Floral Design websiteFacebook page, and on Instagram (@wallflower.floral.design).

Kate Shannon is a freelance writer based in Brisbane after many years living in Darwin. She spends a lot of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about creative people, flowers, and plants.    

Photos by Renae Handy (top, middle) and Kate Shannon (bottom).