Finding Success in the Arts Business

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ARTS BUSINESSES: Finding Success in the Arts Business

Where creative and business minds meet
Often, creative businesses are run by creative people. Although sometimes this may work, it typically creates an imbalance between business and creativity, so finding the right business-focused leader is essential to ensure balanced decisions are made well. Take your pick – there are plenty of business-minded individuals out there crying out to be involved in a more interesting and creative sector than the one they’re currently in. You will, however, need to find someone who has an understanding of how creative businesses work, and who will allow the creative team to focus on the creative process.

Financial management and financial decision-making will be fundamental in an arts business’ ability to prosper in difficult economic times. Having a freelance bookkeeper come in a couple of days a month is simply not going to work – having the right financial manager, a financial system covering cash flow, forecasting, and debtor/creditor management is essential. At the studio, we went from having a bookkeeper one day a week to now having a full-time nance manager who helps us make key financial decisions. You may feel you can’t afford this, but we’ve found we can’t afford to.

Making commercial sense
Creative businesses often think about the quality of the opportunity and not always whether the project makes commercial sense – free pitches, scope creep, charitable favor, friends of friends wanting a quick design or simply tiny budgets are very common. So, more often than not, although we’d love to do the project, economically it’s just not viable.

Clearly there are times when we see a broad marketing potential in a piece of work or the chance to research or innovate something that’s never been done before, and so we agree to carry out design work. But keeping these to a minimum will allow you to focus your time on the projects that count, ensuring they’re delivered to the highest possible standard. Remember, good work tends to lead to more good work.

Talent, talent, and talent
Focus on developing the team, bringing in new faces and ensuring you have the dream team the business craves. Our model works on offering design solutions that involve architecture, lighting, interaction, electronics, programming, visualizations, and careful project management. But as a small business, we only have a limited amount of these resources in house, so every team member has to be at the very top of their game.

To attract the best you need the right environment – one that is supportive of the creative talent, a space that encourages great ideas while also establishing some guidelines and rules that set the tone of the culture of the organization. We also harvest the best talent from graduating students by offering internship programs over the summer months. This enables us to try out potential future employees, generating a relationship before our competition. Creating an inclusive culture is also important; all of the good ideas can never come from just one or two individuals. Encouraging everyone to get involved in the creative process, listening to ideas and learning from each other are essential.

Expanding your horizons
If you feel that you have the right product or service that works globally, ensure you identify the key territories and go hard at them. Trying to market your business to the whole world simply won’t work unless you have unlimited resources, which is unlikely. We’ve been extremely successful in identifying North America and China as key markets for our own services. Canada has survived the economic downturn significantly better than most and we currently have three large projects there with more in the pipeline – this has led to us establishing a new business partnership with an agent in Toronto. In the US we have limited competition so we opened a small studio there and China appears to have a significant demand for creative services. We have just been commissioned to design and build a large project in Beijing, so there is an opportunity out there.