Simon launched into a passionate list of frank business advice with a promise: that this very thing is probably going to make us all very, very uncomfortable.
And its true that for many pursuing a life in the creative realm the dollars and cents side of life can ring a little vulgar. After all, you choose this life to pursue creativity, beauty, art and passion; all things that can spread themselves out for all eternity. The harsh reality that you have bills to pay can feel like a mechanism to place constraints on your creativity, rather than set it free. The truth is that the pursuit of full time art/design/illustration/design thinking/photography is inherently tied together with that of financial security, and Simon insists that acknowledging this from the get go will allow us to create better work.
Simon would know. Along with his background in media and journalism, a foot in the world of startup at Vend and a great mind for marketing and brand - Simon Pound helps to create the artful, curated and distinct vision of Ingrid Starnes.
1) Decide if what you have (or want) is a business or a hobby
Right from the get go you need to establish if your creative passion is a business (something you intend to make money from) or a hobby (a passion project with no financial constraints associated with it). It may sound harsh to make such cut and dry decisions, but the truth is it is much harder to transition a passion project into something that will bring home the bacon later on. By thinking about your creative pursuits as a business, you work mindful of your finances, your business makeup and your end goals.
So what are some of these business realities? Simon lists many, from making sure you take on staff only when you absolutely need to (and can afford to), to making sure the investment you put into the business is reaping the rewards that you need. This not only means dollars and cents, but also in terms of time and overall effort.
That doesn't mean that the highly artisanal, expensive & laborious projects you love need to be abandoned. If this is a part of the business you love, but its not necessarily giving you the entire income that you desire, Simon suggests finding aspects of your creative practice, offer or business that are easier to scale. For Ingrid Starnes, this meant diversifying into an area easier to scale (by comparison) than cut and sew fashion garments - high quality beauty products.
And what if what you want isn't a business? That is totally fine too, you can keep your creative practice flowing, supported by another job or project. The most important thing is to establish what success means to you, and move towards that. For you that might not be a business at all.
2) Keep your operation lean
There are plenty of reasons to keep a focus on minimising your bottom line, most of which can be found firmly in the round of good business practice. The other perspective is that nothing dampens creativity more than knowing you have a bill due or even worse - knowing that you can’t pay it. Running a tight ship financially means you can feel secure, safe and at ease in your business - at least enough to pursue projects with the passion and attention they deserve.
3) Stop the comparisons
Simon talked about the way he used to wonder how a brand could be doing something they had wanted to do, but still not make work financially. Watching and questioning - 'How are they making it work - what are they doing that we cant do?’ only to see them go under because of it. This taught him not only how important it is to know your business model well, but actually just how pointless it is to compare what's going on in someone elses business to your own.
4) Failure is not something to be scared of
When Simon is not at Ingrid Starnes, he is at Vend - a high growth tech startup based right here in Auckland. Startups have a way of looking at business that differs a bit from the rest of the world. One of the biggest defining characteristics is that in the land of the startup, failure is celebrated.
For startups failure is a chance to learn, a blip on the radar, a way to find out what not to do, and a sure fire way to keep you humble. This idea is so prevalent that it even has a fun name, flearning: the act of learning through failure. In fact failure is so celebrated that I once attended a startup talk where the speaker charmingly said 'You have to fail 50 times before you find that final succesful point', whilst everyone smiled and nodded. So why are we all beating ourselves up for it in the land of paint/photography and illustration?
Simon presented this startup way of thinking as something creatives should take on board, encouraging you and I to have that same feeling of freedom and fearlessness around the decisions we are making.
Anya is a part time illustrator, designer, writer and communications wrangler - follow her on twitter