From Pipe Dream to Profit: Tips for Creative Startups and Business Owners

Whether it’s taking photographs or decorating cakes, you’re good at something.  More importantly you love doing it. And every now and then you stop and think, “Hey, I could do this for a living. I could start a business.”

People think about starting their own businesses all the time, and some people actually do. Some take the plunge and wind up tremendously successful, but other people—the majority, in fact—fail. You’ve heard the statistics and are afraid. Very, very afraid. But you’re not going to let it stop you from turning your dream into a reality. Whether you’ve actually started up or haven’t yet, check out these tips to help you beat the odds and become a major success story.

Start with a solid business model.

You’ve probably talked about starting a business in countless casual conversations with people. One day, you decide you’ve had enough of talking and want to start doing. Where do you begin? Starting a business is easier said than done, and you know that. If it was a cake walk, then you would’ve started up much earlier than you did. Deciding to start your own business is only the first step. After that, you’ve got planning, planning, planning and more planning to do.

Lisa Canning of believes that every creative startup needs “a minimum of 3 years of financial projections that include not just your perceived costs of your creative start-up but also how you will support yourself.” Although I’m not sure it should take that long to plan how to finance your business, I do believe that creative people don’t pay nearly enough attention to financing their business as they should.

You’ve also got to make sure you have a solid business model. While your initial idea may be a good one, it needs to be tested for viability before you can say with certainty that you want to commit your time, money and energy to it. At the very least, you should do a SWOT Analysis. You could also use this 8-Point Test from Investopedia (a Forbes brand) to test the viability of your business model.

Know who you are and what you want.

You want to start your own business to:

  • Satisfy your own ego
  • Make money
  • Quit your day job
  • Solve a problem/fill a need
  • Share a great idea
  • Change the world
  • Because your mom thinks it’s a great idea

Figuring out the source of your motivation will help you figure out whether going in business is right for you or not. It will also give you an idea of how invested you are, both financially and emotionally, in your business. You need to have an endless supply of motivation to keep you going, even when it gets tough, and you also need traits of a successful small business owner to steer you towards success.

Check your ego (the one you’re pretending not to have).

People with business backgrounds and technology backgrounds aren’t the only ones in love with their own ideas. People in creative careers—the people who tend to have the so-called “Type B” personalities—are often just as narcissistic as anyone else. You’d like to believe you’ve stumbled on the next great idea, or that you do something better than anyone else does, but chances are there are intelligent people out there doing the same thing as you.

To be truly successful, you’ve got to get more than just your family and friends on board.  Don’t make the mistake of surrounding yourself with Yes Men. It often pays to get advice from people in your industry that you hardly know or don’t know at all. These people are more likely to give you constructive criticism and help you foster a better, stronger business plan.

Don’t get married to anything.

As I said, don’t fall in love with your own ideas, and definitely don’t get married to them.  Like a good writer, you should accept that your idea is going to have to pass through revision after revision until you get something truly great.  The industry you’re in might require you to change your strategy, modify your product or even force you to change the way you’ve always done things, which can be hard for people who’ve already experienced success using the same strategy they’ve always used.  Stay open to new ideas and to learning from people outside your industry.

Quit your day job. Or don’t quit. But decide now!

Listen up, creative peeps. This is important: Decide if, when and how you will quit your day job, and do it right now. Sure, a lot of businesses start as hobbies that creative people do for fun or to make money on the side. But, the biggest mistake you could make is to avoid thinking about quitting your day job. If you don’t make the decision now, you’ll be forever stuck in a rut. You won’t know how much time to devote to your side business, and you won’t be able to prioritize effectively.

A lot of creative people I’ve known have told themselves, “I’ll just see if this works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll always have my day job.” Granted, it’s smart to have a Plan B, but don’t use it as an excuse not to push yourself. By that same token, don’t go into business with anyone who refuses to push themselves or ask themselves the hard questions. Your business partner needs to be equally invested as you are, and they should make up for what you lack. Ask your business partner(s) if they’re ready and willing to quit their day job. If they’re the least bit hesitant, you should probably find a new business partner.

Check out these stories of people who have quit their day jobs for their creative businesses on Quit Your Day Job.

Get people to pay you what you’re worth.

Because a lot of creative businesses start as hobbies, many creative business owners start by selling to friends and family members. Sooner or later, a friend will ask you if you can do his friend a favor by giving him something for free or offering a discount based on your relationship with your friend. You know what this is; it’s called the hook-up. In the beginning you oblige because, hey, someone likes your art (or your cupcakes or your music or your writing or your tiny ceramic elephant figurines)! And you’ll take what you can get.  But, it’s best not to set a precedent that you’ll later regret. Get people to pay you what you’re worth in the beginning, and it’ll make all the difference.

Don’t cave to everyone’s requests for your time and resources. Be firm. Act like the business person you want to be. If you let people know that you’re serious about starting your business, they’ll be more willing to support you. Check out 5 Steps for Getting People to Pay What They Owe You.

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