Starting a Creative Business From Nothing
Beginnings are scary, no matter the context. Building a creative business from scratch is no exception: it’s risky, there’s uncertainty around the outcomes, and it requires quite a bit of work. And that’s just to get started.
Because it’s so intimidating, many people opt out of the task completely. It’s not surprising - in the face of a miles long to-do list or a mountain of self-doubt, it’s a whole lot easier to just say, “Ahhhh, just forget it.”
But for those who forge ahead, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing the work. There’s also the potential for success, name recognition, praise, and, oh yeah, often times there’s some money involved, too.
The question is: How do you get started when you’re beginning from square one?
Well, read on, because it’s your lucky day! Here are some basic steps you can take to get a creative business up and running with no previous experience.
It starts with a plan
Rome wasn’t built in a day (or without blueprints).
The secret to getting a creative business started is to map out what needs to happen and in what order. From there, you can start ticking items off your to-do list and inch closer to launch day. Making visible progress, even by completing the little tasks, will give you a sense of momentum that’ll help keep you working toward your end goal.
Look for overlap between your skills and interests
But in order to develop that blueprint, the very first step is to figure out where your skills and interests intersect. By aligning your strengths with what’s meaningful to you, you can be sure that you’re focusing on a creative project that you’ll be more likely to commit to and enjoy.
Try starting with a two-column list of the skills you already have on one side and your general interests on the other. Ask yourself questions like:
- What am I good at?
- What expertise do I have? (Or: What is something I know a lot about?)
- What do I enjoy doing or learning about?
- What are the things I already invest my time and energy into?
As you look at the two columns you’ve created, think about if there is a way to logically link an item from each of the two sides together.
If you list drawing the ‘existing skills’ column, and on the ‘interest’ side you write fashion, a logical connection between the two might be something like creating fashion sketches.
Map out your initial product or service offerings
From your brainstorming session, create a list of potential business ideas. As you study your list of product or service ideas, think about which ones are the most interesting to you and the most realistic.
If you’re considering a creative business that sells custom-made pet paintings, but your schedule is extremely limited, it might not be feasible to accept a high volume of custom orders. Instead, it might make more sense to offer ready-made prints of a variety of different pet types that you don’t have to create from scratch each time an order is placed.
Being realistic about what you can manage within your business (especially in the early days as you figure things out) will help keep you from overextending. But it’s also important to be honest with yourself about what you’ll enjoy work-wise in this new project.
If you love the feeling of finishing a graphic design project but hate the process of dealing with revisions, you’re probably not going to come to love it when you’ve got a miles long list of custom orders to finish (even if there’s money attached!). Being honest about your bandwidth and energy will save you from committing to a business you ultimately come to resent.
Once you have a short list of realistic potential business ideas, it’s time to figure out which one makes the most sense to lean into.
Look for gaps in the market you can fill
Feasibility is a good place to start as you weigh your creative business options.
Start by looking at what current offerings exist that are similar to the business idea you have, and then ask yourself what unique element your business would bring to the market. Business folks call this a SWOT analysis, which is a breakdown wherein you look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats around your business idea.
In general, you’ll want to look for current gaps in the market that you can fill through a product or service that’s differentiated from everything already “out there.”
If you’re following the idea of fashion sketches, you’d want to ask yourself: “How can I make my sketches different and unique from everyone else already offering that type of service?”
You might differentiate yourself through things like:
- Extras (like animated gifs of your sketches for social sharing) that increase value or create a unique experience for customers
- A YouTube channel or a blog where you show your process and teach others how to create fashion sketches
- Picking a niche to specialize in that would make you the go-to sketch artist for a specific type of fashion
Think about what you can do that would make your creative business stand out from the noise of the competition as well as how you’d convince a customer to buy from you rather than anybody else who has the same skill or talent.
Conduct some research
From there, it’s time to get specific. Doing your homework and conducting research will help you nail down the details of your business and better understand what you need to do in order to succeed.
Keep a document and record your findings as you look into things like:
- Direct competitors: Who are they and how do they market themselves?
- Existing products or services: What’s already out there?
- Pricing: What are the different price points for what you’ll be selling?
- Customer landscape: Who’s buying from your competition, and what do they look for in the business or service?
And if you ever get stuck during your research phase, reaching out to individuals will help you gain insight into what’s important to them and what makes them buy. Most people are happy to share this info, especially when they’re not particularly thrilled with what they currently use.
These findings will help you better understand the competitive landscape and how you’ll position your offering as something new and different.
Imagine your ideal customer
Next, zoom in and focus on the customer landscape element. You have some initial data to pull from, so now it’s time to think about the ideal people who might buy from you. This is how you’ll create a target customer persona.
Ideal customers are the people you’ll be marketing your business to, as it’s nearly impossible to reach everyone. Instead, you’ll want to target a specific subset of people who are most likely to be interested in your offering (and most likely to buy from you).
Imagine your ideal customers and write down the answers to a few questions:
- What do they look like?
- How old are they?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- What are their jobs?
- What’s their income range?
By nailing down some specifics about the target demographic you’ll be working to reach, you’ll be better able to position your creative business so that your messaging and strategy resonates with that specific group.
Create a prioritized to-do list
With the strategic thinking started and some initial research under your belt, you can next start to formulate a to-do list with action items that will bring your creative business to life.
Prioritize your list based on the most logical order of operations and give yourself hard deadlines for accomplishing each task.
This list might include things like:
- Come up with a business name and branding.
- Put together an online store.
- Create product listings.
- Plan your marketing strategy.
As you knock out these important to-do list items, you’ll get closer and closer to launch day when you can introduce your new creative business to the world.
Once launch day does finally arrive, it’s important to keep revising your list of action items so that your business is always growing and moving forward. The hard work doesn’t stop after you introduce your creative business - it keeps on going.
Use the tactics you’ve learned here about piecing out important tasks, setting deadlines, and leaning on research to inform your decisions to help your new business thrive. If you keep taking things step by step, prioritize your work, and make notes on what’s left to be done, you’ll never fall behind or grow stagnant in your ideas.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce and software. She also writes for publications like Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost.