The creative leaders I speak with are often at the point where they want to change something about their business. This point may come along five years or 15 years into the life of their company. I wondered what they might say to their younger, more carefree selves – mentoring by time travel if you like – so I asked Tina Keeble at Valiant Design, and this is what she came up with:
1. Make sure you work on the business not in it. This is the hardest thing to do when you are a small consultancy; when you are passionate about what you do and you are still learning to delegate. The only ways to do this are to make sure you employ great people and then allow them to relieve the day-to-day pressure. Taking time out to remember why you did this, what you believe in, why you are passionate about design and to see things objectively is vital. A lot of design businesses are borne out of love of design, not business expertise, so time out allows them to remove the emotional slant on decisions (hopefully without becoming some hideous tough automaton) and look at the bigger picture objectively. You can then be more efficient when you are back in the business again.
2. Have a vision or purpose bigger than your craft. You start a business to enable you to drive towards doing the work you want to do, and to prove that great design can make a difference to a client’s business. But how ambitious are you and how far do you really want to take it and why? What is your own understanding of success? Be honest and don’t strive to be a global agency if that’s really not what you want, but most of all don’t be scared to change and adapt. As business develops you learn from mistakes and successes, and understand better what you want to achieve – and what you don’t. Then you are in the best possible place to start working towards achieving it.
3. Get a mentor or mentors. Having someone who has been where you have yet to tread can help you identify what might lie over the horizon. A different skillset to draw from can really enable you to understand the business process and learn how to make crucial decisions. If you are a designer and know your craft then maybe a successful business person would be the best mentor. Learn to love learning early.
4. Get a good accountant. Make sure they balance your tendencies. If you are a risk taker then make sure they are conservative – accountants usually are. However, don’t let them encourage you to not take any risks, just make sure you weigh up the impact of the risks first. Find someone who really gets to understand your business and clients so that they offer more of a financial director role. Ultimately you need someone who can offer advice, let you know if there’s trouble ahead, and ask the right questions when you’re making decisions.
5. Make money. If you’re not making money you’re doing something wrong. Address it honestly. You cannot survive just because you love what you do. Poor business management and time management leads to resentment – none of the reasons you started on this path.
6. Collaborate. Don’t be afraid of the people you see as competitors. There is enough work to support all of our businesses and we should stick together to learn from one another and call on each others’ skillsets when required. Providing you run your business with integrity, why not collaborate more? It is always good to surround yourself with as many great people as possible whether they are the people you have employed, clients, competitors or mentors.
7. Finally… Never forget that everything has to start with a great idea…and ideally a pencil and paper.