4 steps for new entrepreneurs

 3 January 2013

After starting up several ecommerce websites, Alex Barton founded Student Designers, which helps design students develop their business skills. He gave 4 pieces of advice for young creatives with an entrepreneurial idea.

Alex Barton founded Student Designers to help design students build their business skills.
Alex Barton founded Student Designers to help design students build their business skills.

1. Get advice from the creative industry

"If I've had an idea, whether it's to start a company or get a job, the best plan is to find the people who I respect the most in that industry, and ask them about it.

"I often find that the people who are the most successful in their industry have absolutely no qualms about telling you how successful they are.

"For example, with Student Designers, I went and found the people I felt were the most influential, and also the people I felt would be the most negative.

"Find the keyholders in your industry. Don't tell them your whole idea, but see what they think of your general idea."

"If the people you respect the most think, 'That's a good idea, I can see some merit in that', then you're onto something.

Or, on the negative side, if they say, 'These are my concerns, I can see what you're trying to do there' but it's not too negative, you're also onto something.

"The reason why I feel that's really important is that someday you're going to come up against these people or these views in the industry. It's better to know about them now rather than after you've put time and effort in.

"There's a popular phrase: 'Make mistakes quickly and cheaply'. Find the people who are the keyholders in your industry. Don't tell them your whole idea, but see what they think of your general idea."

2. Use the resources available to you

"While you're at university, you should realise that it's very rare to be in one place where there's such a diverse range of knowledge.

"You could walk into a completely different department and say, 'I'm over here, I've got this idea, can you help me?'

"Normally I find that lecturers are so excited that you're interested in something else, they're more than happy to help you. So take advantage of all the people there, and make diverse networks of people from around the world."

3. Be creative with your career choices

"One of the big questions at the moment is, 'I do product design and graphic design, but what other jobs could I do?'.

Because it's a very oversubscribed industry, it's not just 'I'm a graphic designer, I work at an ad agency', it's 'I'm a graphic designer, and I could use my skills at an engineering company or a shipping company or NASA'.

"Many designers approach business like a new subject. It's really about problem solving, which designers do well."

"That's the wonderful thing. These skills are so transferable if you have the mindset: 'I've got a great set of skills, now I can apply them in an innovative, enterprising way'.

"Sharon Bamford, who started the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, has this great saying: 'In your lifetime you'll have seven careers. Not seven jobs but seven careers, five of which haven't even been invented yet'.

"I'm sure you've heard variations of that. The more prepared you are for change, the better."

4. Think like a designer

"Many designers approach business like a new subject. They feel they have to learn a new language, a new set of rules and processes.

"However, business is really about problem solving. You solve problems for customers, you solve the problem about getting their attention, and you solve the problems of pricing, branding, sales and distribution.

"Problem solving is something designers do well. Design your business, and you will be successful.

"By quickly testing ideas as if you are testing out a material or technique, you will quickly find the most effective way to solve your problem.

"Be a designer, not a businessperson."


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