Photo of post-it notes on a blackboard for Mapping Your Business Growth workshop
Mapping Your Business Growth designed and facilitated by Dr Michael Johnson, Glasgow School of Art
Posted by:

Rachael Burton Producer

on Fri 13 Oct 2017

Our approach to business support for creatives

Many of the people we work with have developed their ideas into successful and sustainable businesses. However, the leap from creative idea to sustainable business is a really big one. We are exploring how we can support artists and small creative businesses through this challenging journey of business development. We are at the start of the journey, and want to share our current thinking.

The Pervasive Media Studio is ten years old. Ten years of being a home for brilliant people making extraordinary work at the intersection of art, culture and technology. Over those years, Watershed has supported and challenged creatives through the process of developing their ideas. We have always focused on people; people make things happen.

Many of the people we work with have developed their ideas into successful and sustainable businesses. However, the leap from creative idea to sustainable business is a really big one. Learning to set up and run your own business requires a raft of new skills, language and knowledge. You also need a bucket-load of bravery and confidence. You have to understand your core values, grow your network, find some money from somewhere and work out who your market is and how to reach them (they probably don’t fit into a neat box with established distribution routes).

Traditional business models, investment routes and market strategies are often incompatible with creative businesses (trying to fit a square peg into a round hole is a useful simile here). We are working with people who are developing new future-facing businesses, which means there isn't a linear well-trodden path to success for them to follow. They are developing unique business models, working twice as hard to persuade investors to take a risk on them, and carving out completely new audiences for their work. This takes time, money and a lot of resilience.

We at Watershed are exploring how we can support artists and small creative businesses through this challenging journey of business development. We are at the start of the journey, and want to share our current thinking.

Measuring success

Success for start-ups is usually measured in growth of employees, customer base and profit. Growth is expected to be rapid and consistent. These metrics tell a very limited story, and actively exclude many creative, ambitious businesses who operate with an intrinsically different value structure. In his Independent Review of the Creative Industries, Peter Bazalgette states that the average team size of creative businesses fell 15% from 2007 to 2014, when it averaged 3.3 people. Despite this, the Creative Industries contributed £87.4bn Growth Value Added to the UK economy in 2015, and grew by 34% between 2010 and 2015, faster than any other industry. We need to establish the right environment to have meaningful conversations about the relationship between enterprise and creativity.

We are keen to explore what measures of success can better represent the creative landscape we are operating within. We are starting with economic sustainability. Our aim is to support people to earn a sustainable living from their creative ideas.

Free space

We are interested in people’s talents and ideas. To practise and develop a talent or idea to the point where it becomes a viable business proposition often requires physical space. This can be prohibitively expensive, especially in city centres close to the contacts, resources and inspiration that creative businesses need. Lots of artists work from home because they can’t afford to rent an office or studio – this works for some, but can be very isolating for others.

The Pervasive Media Studio offers free space for residents to meet clients or collaborators, think, play, experiment, send emails, research, prototype, share ideas and chat. In return for free space, we ask people to be generous and interruptible. These rules foster a collaborative environment, essential to the creative process. We hope that access to this kind of space (without having to worry about paying rent) will enable people to take the risks necessary to developing a new business.

Bespoke support

There shouldn’t be a one size fits all attitude to business support for artists and creative companies. Offering a range of support for people to tailor their own development journey allows for variance in learning styles, selective length of engagement, and support for people at different stages of growth. In partnership with The Guild, KWMC: The Factory, Spike Island and UWE Bristol we are providing bespoke business support for creatives based in the West of England called Network for Creative Enterprise.

Monthly workshops across the network are facilitated by external experts and curated in response to the skills and knowledge our businesses are telling us they need. So far we have delivered workshops on: business models, branding, writing design briefs, fundraising and public speaking. Experienced business mentors are available for 1-2-1 sessions on an on-going basis. Watershed has also been developing more intensive business courses for both early stage businesses and those who have begun to build a team; you can read more about Artful Innovation here. We encourage our residents to engage with the support most useful to them.

Creative producers

Everyone needs a personal cheerleader. They come in different guises; friends, board members, colleagues, lovers, mentors and parents. When you’re setting out as a new creative venture, you need someone who really cares about you and your business. They are an advocate of your work, they can empathise when things are tough, they stretch and challenge you, they can make useful introductions to enable you to grow your networks, they will listen to you, and they are someone you can rely on and trust. We believe this is the role of a producer. The Pervasive Media Studio has a team of producers, with different expertise and backgrounds, able to provide one-to-one support.

Watershed’s producers, and those across network, play a key role in supporting the businesses through their development. They are the main point of contact, offering one-to-one sessions and support with action planning. They build a rigorous understanding of the idea and the core business, meaning they are able to recognise what support is most needed and make recommendations.

Long term

It’s pretty easy to look at other people and think success comes overnight, or at least relatively quickly. One Direction’s first single reached number one in the charts and sold 131,000 copies worldwide in its first week after the boyband had only formed 6 months earlier. Sadly, AND thankfully we are not operating in the pop world, so different rules apply here.

Artists and creative businesses need support over a sustained period of time. Some projects go from proof of concept to delivery in just a few months, some over years, but the stability of the business will usually take a long time to develop. Therefore, building long-term trusting relationships with our residents is a fundamental part of the way we work. We always keep our door open.

Allocation of funding is usually time restricted and budgeted well in advance. With business support activity, we are keen to use resources in a more responsive way, enabling us to match their momentum, leverage opportunities and sustain development over time. We think a small amount of timely money can go further than a larger amount on the wrong timescale with additional restrictions and expectations.

Networked

Collaboration is absolutely essential to the way we operate day-to-day. Being open, generous and interruptible are the living rules of the Pervasive Media Studio. It’s important for us to remember to live by these values in our approach to business support.

We work with people who don’t fit into sector tick boxes, who move between and across them. This is really exciting, and means we are always discovering new things. It also means that adopting a networked approach across sectors is vital for all of us.

Network for Creative Enterprise brings together five partners from across the West of England, all with different and complimentary expertise. We are connected to different communities geographically and artistically. The programme enables us to provide business support across these communities, and to reach out further. We are able to use our wider networks to share learning and knowledge of best practice, make targeted introductions and share resources. With a better-connected sector, we will be able to vastly improve the support we offer to artists and creative businesses.

If you have a creative idea and you are keen to explore its business potential, you can find out more about joining Network for Creative Enterprise here.

You can read Network Producer Rachael Burton's article about the key challenges to creative business sustainability and growth here.

Network for Creative Enterprise is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

European Regional Development Fund logo