Survival and growth

Creative start-ups require plenty of hard work, determination and a very clear head to survive. It’s time consuming, dominates your thinking and can have a lethal effect on your personal relationships. Sometimes it takes a bit of luck too – but luck is often no more than being well prepared and open to opportunities. However, if you can combine talent with good business practice, manage your cashflow, seek out the best clients and deliver good work on time and on budget you stand a very fair chance.

If you survive the difficult first years, build a portfolio and generate enough business to feel confident about the future, you might start to think about growing. Sometimes growth is forced upon you by taking on a large job which requires more resources, more creative input and more personnel – all of which demand bigger premises. Sometimes growth is the deliberate step of managers seeking economies of scale by sharing resources, and the greater marketing opportunities and increased profile afforded by expansion. And sometimes growth can be a more gentle, organic process, born out of meeting other people who share your vision and enthusiasms.

It all depends on the kind of business you are running. Owning one restaurant is usually very hard work for low returns, but owning twenty restaurants might require only slightly more work for the owner, generating a huge amount of cash and creating a brand identity that could be sold for a fortune. A band of four musicians, on the other hand, can’t take on four more people and do twice as many shows per night.

“Sometimes, growth isn’t about getting bigger”

As a creative, growing isn’t always about doing more work or taking on more people, sometimes it’s about doing fewer, but bigger jobs. It may be directing just one film in ten years, rather than 12 TV episodes in six months; it might be writing one book rather than 100 articles, or designing and building one civic centre rather than 50 loft extensions and kitchen refurbishments. Growth can be an attitude shift, not a figure on a balance sheet.

Growth can also be the straightjacket that restricts creative freedom. If it involves increased overheads and spending more time managing people than being creative, it’s a decision to take with great care. Large jobs don’t necessarily require an increase in staff payroll; premises can be rented short term – even if it’s more expensive, and managers don’t always have to focus on increasing short term profits. However, some creative businesses are destined to become big enterprises, and that’s when upper management have to strive hardest to maintain a creative atmosphere and allow risk taking. It’s not an easy thing to maintain, especially when the initial, often visionary leaders give way to managers who see their role as ensuring continuing success by avoiding mistakes and focusing on profits for their shareholders.

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