TURNING A CREATIVE PASSION INTO A BUSINESS
Harriet Kelsall is one of the most respected bespoke jewellery designers in the UK and a creative business mentor. Here she explains how to balance financial and creative success if you want to turn your passion for making things into an income.
If your creativity is much more to you than a pastime and you are producing beautiful things of a professional quality, perhaps you have wondered what it would take to turn their production into your career. Might you be able to branch into a whole new direction? Could you give up your less interesting day job and start a business? Perhaps you get a lot of compliments about your work and are already seeing a demand. Perhaps you have been selling some of your pieces online or at exhibitions. Have friends begun to ask you to make products for them?
We are surrounded by many platforms and tools to help and support creative entrepreneurs, such as Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Not On The High Street and even Etsy and eBay. Creative people are naturally brilliant at thinking of different ways to approach their market. There has never been a better time to turn your creative passion into your career.
“What does success look like to you?” is a question that I ask all of the businesses that I mentor fairly early on. We all need to know where we are going in order to stand any chance of getting there.
Yes, you can just go with the flow and that works for some, but this is more by luck than anything else. If you don’t really know what you are searching for in your business, you won’t really feel successful when you achieve it. This is why it’s important to form and balance your own vision of both creative and financial success and also identify your values.
Identifying your vision
What is your version of success? Do you just want to find a way to make money that fits around your family commitments but without taking on any more responsibility than you have to? Would you like to remain working on your own with nobody to bother you? Do you imagine a buzzing studio with a few people working with or for you? Do you hope to see your products on sale in Harrods? Be honest with yourself about what you would like your creative business to bring you and only when you can visualise it can you begin to work out how to make it into a reality.
Summarising your vision
On a single A3 piece of paper, draw a picture or make a collage of images from the internet or magazines of what your ideal business would look like. What would it look like inside and out; what kind of people would work there? Consider what kind of premises you would run and whether you’d be on your own or with others. Be completely honest with yourself about what you really want out of your business. Where would your business be and what kind of reputation would you have? What would it look like? How financially lucrative would you like it to be?
This is an image representation of your business vision. Take a good look at it and summarise what you see in one or two sentences to describe your vision in words.
Balancing financial and creative success
Sometimes creative and financial success can feel rather different from each other, which can be confusing. In order to pay your bills you need to find a degree of commercial success. However, to love what you do you also need to seek creative fulfilment. Most creative people never feel (and never want to feel) that what they produce is 100% perfect, and it is this journey that inspires them to keep creating. You often need to find an overlap between creative and commercial success. The way this balance works for you is very personal and may be different from what works for others.
Some creatives weight up each project before they accept it, balancing the commercial and the creative aspects on a case by case basis. For example, some projects may be creatively fulfilling and great for your profile, even though they don’t bring you much income. Others may be creatively bland but lucrative. I have always worked like this, especially early on in my business journey. There were projects that I took which I knew would only just pay for their own materials but which would get talked about, get press and give me a good story for my website.
Frustration with bland
If the balance between creative and financial success tips too far towards commercial and away from creative fulfilment, it can feel very frustrating. Nobody wants to be churning out work that feels unfulfilling or boring. This is particularly true for those of us who create things with our hands because we put so much of ourselves into our work, so it can feel soul-destroying to be making pieces which do not feel exciting or challenging, just to pay the bills. However every creative I have spoken to has, at some point, put up with some less exciting works to make some money and enable them to work on more appealing projects afterwards.
Many creatives aspire to doing large, exciting or ambitious projects but these don’t come along very often, especially when you are starting up. Sometimes finding the balance between financial and creative success needs some introspective soul searching to come up with a different way of looking at or enjoying smaller projects.
Instead of feeling frustrated about not being able to make and sell something huge, it may be better to reconsider what stretches you as an artist and see if you can find a new way of feeling fulfilled and successful within the commercial projects that are coming to you. Can you use your creativity differently but in an equally fulfilling way?
Many years ago, I remember the moment I realised that it was much harder to design and make the perfect low-budget bespoke engagement ring than to work with larger funds. So I consciously decided to see this low-budget challenge as an exciting creative problem to solve. Once I switched into this new way of thinking, I loved it and the customer loved what I came up with. After that, our brand really took off.
Have confidence in your vision
Your vision will be highly personal to you. It is important not to let others influence you too much with this. You might be quite happy with small premises and one or two people helping you and, if so, don’t get swept away because your partner wants you to have several shops and a TV series. Conversely don’t let the limitations and expectations of others hold
you back. The truth is that you can achieve anything you want if you stay clear about what you are striving for.
Abridged extract from The Creative’s Guide To Starting A Business by Harriet Kelsall www.hkjewellery.co.uk. Main image: stock shot. Bottom left: Harriet Kelsall. Bottom right: ruby and diamond fair-trade gold engagement ring by Harriet Kelsall.
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