Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can is a quote from a guy called Arthur Ashe
Ash was the first black man to win the Wimbledon singles in 1975. The first time I heard his quote was probably 15 years ago now. And it certainly wasn’t in the context of tennis!
For one reason or another I found myself on a business development course. It was a pretty basic course. If the things you learn at business school could fill a book. The stuff you could learn on this course could fill a post-it note. I doubt the course produced any Elon Musks. But, they did teach me how to make a good business plan and that’s something I needed help with. They also gave me £500 for completing the course!
START WHERE YOU ARE
The guy running the course was an older gentleman. He’d been very successful in business and I thought he was a fascinating chap so we got on really well. After his lecture we’d often spend an hour or so talking. During our chats he’d impart really useful bits of advice to me about running a business. In one of our chats he asked me about the business plan for my tattoo studio.
I’d taken a rough draft of my business plan for him to look at. It had renderings of how the building and the ID would look. It was a very ambitious (and expensive) idea that I was planning to get up and running in the next few years. Even though I’s stated in my plan that the perfect time to start was right then. He picked up on this glaring problem in my pitch immediately and asked – very simply.
“If the time is now, why are you waiting?” “Because I don’t have the money” I replied.
I think he used this quote to illustrate the idea that sometimes waiting for everything to be perfect before you start will result in you never starting at all. He also added if I started today, in three years time I could find myself in that building anyway. But, I would have been running a business for three years by that point, I’d have made a bunch of mistakes but they’d be far less costly if I just started smaller with a business I could cope with.
With that phrase ringing in my ears I left saying “okay I’ll see you next week. I’ll have a think about it”
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that what he was proposing made a lot more sense than my idea. That got me thinking about all the other times in my life where I hadn’t waited for the perfect moment.
When I became a guitarist I didn’t wait for the perfect moment to start learning. For my hands to be bigger or the perfect guitar to be within my price-range. At eight or nine years old I walked past a music shop window saw a guitar and begged my grandmother to buy it for me.
In exactly the same way I didn’t wait for the perfect moment to join a band. It didn’t hone my skills and write hundreds of songs waiting for the moment I’d written ‘a hit’. I just got together with a bunch of friends in a garage and starting banging stuff together. A few years later I had a record deal and was a professional musician.
Becoming a record producer happened in exactly the same way. I walked into a recording studio, told them I was an engineer simply omitted the fact that – of all the sessions I told them I worked – I’d never actually engineered them I just made the tea. If I’d waited for the perfect moment I probably still be making tea.
Getting into graphic design was probably the blag of the century! I didn’t even know what a graphic designer was! But neither did my employer so it didn’t really matter. I just enough education to perform and I figured it all out as I went along.
I’ve spent the couple of years lecturing at a Birmingham Music Uni and that job happened in exactly the same way. I got a call out of the blue asking if I could cover at the last minute, said yes, got offered the job and then decided if I wanted to do it once I was already doing it.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
And after a few days of thinking about it the penny dropped and I realised that in a business context what that phrase means. What I was basically doing was waiting for all of the things to be perfect and for all of the stars to magically align. For the perfect moment. Actually a lot of the time in business and in life only one of the elements is perfect. Everything else is usually a compromise
DO WHAT YOU CAN
Opening the studio when I did was the perfect time to do it I just didn’t have enough money to fund my big idea. What my teacher was trying to illustrate to me was I was going to let the money get in the way and maybe I should start with a smaller idea. “Just rent something near where you live, that you can afford on the money you earn now and start today. Of course that’s exactly what I did and today we are in a different building a slightly bigger and slightly fancier but it’s still in the little village that I live in.
Plus starting a business with no money teaches you very quickly is how to run a really lightweight business. Fast forward to 2020 and the ‘Rona’ situation and that very humble start has actually kept the business in good stead. Because we have very low running costs it’s going to survive.
Even though a lot of good in my life has come from ‘jumping in at the deep end’ there is a downside to this idea. Jumping in feet first means that you will almost certainly make mistakes in the early days. But, if you start out small those mistakes will (usually) be less costly and easier to recover from. For instance; because I just started playing the guitar without looking into it I now play the guitar right-handed. Even though I’m left-handed. I never even knew about left handed instruments until many years later! I also worked far too cheap as both a sound engineer and a graphic designer in the early days . Thankfully I was able to correct that problem but I still play the guitar right-handed…
FEET FIRST INTO MARKETING
By now it should come as no surprise to you that that’s exactly of what’s happened with this series. I sort of jumped into it feet first. I didn’t really think about what I was going to do until I was doing it. Watching back over the last 5 episodes I’ve realised that there’s a lot of information I can share with you that you will find really helpful running your business. I’m going to take the business and marketing advice that I’ve learnt and been given over the years and translate it into something that creative people can use.
I figure most small creative business owners will be having a hard time about now. We’ve been in lockdown over six months and you might be starting to think about how you survive if it goes on much longer. You might also be thinking about way to remind people about your business and get clients to come back once you can reopen again. You may even have discovered that this is called ‘marketing’ and now you’re wondering ‘what the hell is that?’
A quick search of the term online will return a dizzying array of results and terminologies. It’s akin to a black hole of information and it’s really easy to get lost in it and learn nothing. This is primarily because a lot of the information isn’t aimed for creative people it’s aimed at business people. It’s full of alien concepts and unusual terms.
MARKETING FOR CREATIVES
Most of my friends are not business people they’re creative people who run businesses. Because they know I worked in both print and radio advertising along with marketing they ask me for help – often. I end up having a lot of conversations about this subject with friends in hotel bars after conventions. Quite often I’ll start out talking to a couple of friends but by the end of the conversation there are seven other tattooists sitting there asking questions about their businesses too!
During my time lecturing I also realised that the way some things are taught just doesn’t work. Learning one small piece of information with no other context is a bit like learning one word of French at a time. I studied French for three years one word at a time and it’s completely pointless. So I’m going to tackle the marketing one concept at a time whilst explaining where each concept fits into the whole marketing idea.
DO WHAT YOU CAN
I know loads of creatives struggle with the whole marketing thing. You can make the thing that you make no problem. But when it comes to telling people about it and getting your stuff out there everybody seems to get a little bit lost in the terminology. I’ve seen loads of stuff from online ‘gurus’ teaching what they consider to ‘marketing’ to creatives when actually what they’re talking about logo design or networking.
I think that I can answer your questions that aren’t being answered anywhere in a way that you can understand the concepts and implement them in your businesses today.
Believe me it’s not difficult, they’re not hard concepts to get your head round. It doesn’t really matter what kind of business you run. This will work for any small creative business. But, you’ll have to understand that some of the stuff that I will be talking is going to be very different. And at odds with what you’ve been told. Yes, it’ll get conceptual at times and you’ll just have to stick with me for a little while. It might be a little bit difficult to get your head round to start with but I promise you as we go along it will start fitting together and making sense.