Business support for creatives

 5 July 2012

You've set up your creative business, but how can you make it turn a profit? Creative Industry Finance, run by Arts Council England, is a new programme designed to help creative businesses to grow.

What is your ‘route to market?’ Are you using online channels, face-to-face or selling at trade fairs? (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)
What is your ‘route to market?’ Are you using online channels, face-to-face or selling at trade fairs? (photo credit: Kevin Clifford)

Making a living from your passion is one of the biggest challenges for any creative. If you’ve got to this point, and you’re moving forwards with your business, you’re probably asking that burning question, ‘Can I really make this profitable?’

What does your business look like?

Increasingly, creative entrepreneurs are working across two or more disciplines, so there is no single answer when it comes to what a creative business really ‘does.’

For example, you might be a sole-trader or an individual artist making and selling one-off works to private customers. Maybe you’re part of a theatre collective working on community outreach. You could be a social enterprise helping young people get into fashion, or an architecture buff with a nose for software innovation.

Maybe you’re a craft practitioner creating intricate pieces, a music producer that really knows her stuff, or a crash hot web designer with skills for sale. You might be someone combining all of the above. As such, there really is no one-size-fits-all-definition.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

  • You know what you do, and you do it well, but how are you getting it out there?
  • Are you acting as an agency, providing consultancy services to a sector you know well, or developing and innovating a brand new physical product?
  • What is your ‘route to market?’ Are you using online channels, face-to-face or selling at trade fairs?
  • What are your networks like? Who do you know and how much do they know about you?
  • Oh, and what are your competitors doing?!

Understanding different kinds of investment

All these considerations can make it difficult to know how to build your business the smart way, let alone what to do when it comes to accessing finance.

If you’re looking for outside investment, it’s important to step back and consider the basics. How much do you have coming in and out every month, and what do you spend the most on? Be realistic and honest.

Consider anything that you already get for free. This might be some workspace on the cheap, or a friend who helped build your website for free. This stuff is called ‘in-kind support’ and it has a price tag!

Consider the basics: how much do you have coming in and out every month, and what do you spend the most on?

Don’t forget them when you write your business plan. This is important proof that your business already has investors that are equally important – they’re just putting in time, trust and energy rather than cash.

If you’re thinking about a loan, how much are the interest and repayments every month? If you’re considering an equity-based investment (where you don’t pay any interest, but agree to give an investor a percentage of whatever you make in the future, 'Dragon’s Den'-style) do they share your values and are you really happy to work with them long-term?

Getting financial help and support

Getting the honest answers to all these questions is where Creative Industry Finance may be able to help. Run by Arts Council England, Creative Industry Finance is a new programme designed to help creative businesses grow.

The programme offers applicants support and advice from specialist creative advisors at East London Small Business Centre, as well as loans of between £5000 and £25000, repayable over 1, 2 or 3 years.

How the programme works

You’ll need to have made a start already, with at least six months trading under your belt (although you don’t have to have made any sales yet!) and proof that you’ve been managing your finances so far.

  1. Check your eligibility and apply online at www.creativeindustryfinance.org.uk
  2. Your work will be assessed by Arts Council England with feedback provided within five working days. If you’re not successful, they’ll signpost you to other funding and advice sources.
  3. If you’re successful, they’ll introduce East London Small Business Centre, who have been supporting cultural entrepreneurs for over thirty years. They’ll team you up with a specialist in your field for an initial one hour assessment meeting.
  4. The programme offers up to twelve hours of this one-to-one support with a specialist advisor to help you move forward with all the practical details, including help with a bank loan application.
    When you’re ready, they’ll help you make that all-important case for accessing finance to an independent investment panel that includes Arts Council staff.

How to apply

Initially, the programme is open to businesses located in one of London’s 33 boroughs. A second pilot area will be announced soon, so don’t despair if you’re working outside of the capital.

If you would like to find out more, email your questions to cifinance@artscouncil.org.uk or call 0207 973 5546

Use the quick eligibility checker and apply online at www.creativeindustryfinance.org.uk


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