Here’s One I Made Earlier…Top tips for growing a new creative business

At a recent hub away day the focus was on business growth. Not something that small enterprises necessarily think of when they’re very focused on getting their idea or business off the ground, but how a business develops once its launched will determine its success or failure.

We’re currently supporting four new digital/music projects through their start up phase through our Joining the Dots programme and we wanted to get them thinking about viability and what success might look like in the longer term.

Now there’s no one blueprint of good growth but to help the team think through these issues we invited three heads of small companies who’ve ‘been there and done that’ to tell us the stories of their companies and share their insights into how they’ve grown.

Nadav Poraz’s company WhoSampled is the world’s largest web database of sample-based music. Now six years old the company offers a special take on music discovery, mapping out the DNA of music and artists and the site attracted a whopping 7.5 million unique visitors in 2013.

Miranda West is founder of  The Do Book Co, the publishing arm of The Do Lectures, and publishes inspirational pocket guides by world-leading doers and gamechangers.

Jon Slade runs artists booking agency Elastic Artists. Started in his bedroom in 2004 the company now employs around 30 staff and focuses on emerging electronic artists. Recently he has founded a new company Elasticity to develop a new bespoke CRM package for the agency industry.

Three really engaging speakers from different backgrounds and with different stories but who shared some key top tips with us that I’ve tried to summarise here!

  1. Know the industry you’re getting into
    Sounds obvious, but an in-depth knowledge of your sector will help you develop your business and understand your audience or market. Miranda came from a background in publishing and had worked across a range of small and large companies and across various departments and Jon had started out as the Ents Manager in a student union. You’ll be hands on with all aspects of your company at the start – from book keeping to legal to marketing so experience at various levels of a business is also invaluable.
  2. Be true to your heart
    Do something you’re passionate about because it will become your life for years. Don’t forget, as you’ll be working all hours for little or no money at the start it may also take a long time before you feel comfortable referring to it as your job!
  3. Get as much advice as you can!
    Speak to experts, get insights and get them to introduce you to other people. Be nice!
  4. Quality is everything when you’re a small business
    Your content or product will be your primary driver of growth so it has to be credible, unique and desirable, whether that is your roster of djs or your web content.
  5. Access to money can make or break you.
    A lack of investment can impede growth but it is also an extremely time consuming process to attract external finance. It’s an important consideration though because it’s a very long and hard process to start up as a bootstrap. Crucially, as a niche business, are you an attractive proposition to an investor?
    Both Elastic and Who Sampled are bootstrap businesses and never raised any funding from external sources. By running two businesses Jon has been able to invest Elastic’s profits into the development of his new software company without additional investment. During the start up of Whosampled Nadav realised he would need to devote six months to attracting finance and made the decision to invest his time in developing the site infrastructure instead. Miranda used some family savings and a 10k business loan to start The Do Book Company.
    Operating on low margins is pretty much the most stressful aspect of the business but par for the course.
  6. Work with the best people you can afford.
    Just ask – they can only say no!   And…
    Don’t enter any negotiations with companies interested in buying your business without an expert negotiator on your side!
  7. Think big, start small!
    Have a vision of where your business can go, but small incremental steps create long lasting organic growth. Make sure you get the infrasture in place to build on. And test and retest your pricing strategy!
  8. Protect yourself as much as possible!
    Give serious thought to your intellectual property rights and staff contracts. If you’re running a people business and investing in the training and development staff be sure to revisit and revise employment contracts as the business grows.
  9. Make sure you stand out as a small fish in a big pond.
    Your brand identity is vital and will help reinforce your quality. And what about your partners/distributers – what do those associations say about your company? Miranda invested in design from the start and working with an independent distributer was able to get her books in to cool stockists such as Paul Smith as a result.
  10. Social media is your friend
    None of our guest experts had spent huge amounts on marketing and pr but they placed great value on social media influencers and endorsements.
  11. A positive organisational culture is a great retention strategy
    Investment in team building and training, away days etc is not as expensive as you would think and can have really positive effects on employees in terms of productivity and morale.
  12. Get your pricing right…
    Spend time on researching and number crunching or you may live to regret it

Finally, for any new business these are busy times so get your head down and have courage!