Creative Entrepreneurs: make a job, don’t take a job
Earlier this year, the Arts Council released shocking figures showing the hard hitting cuts local arts organisations would take due to funding deficits emanating from Northern Ireland’s reduced budget. But the funding shortage doesn’t just affect large groups. As another batch of creative students prepare to graduate in 2015, the opportunities available for them to pursue their skills are even more limited than in recent times.
Some young entrepreneurs have decided that the best way to tackle the challenge is to go it alone, branching out quickly and without financial support, to build a business from their art.
Sandra L O’Hara, a Belfast-based designer, is on that journey, designing and handcrafting luxury bridal headpieces to be sold within her own trading business Blue Meadow Bridal. After graduating with a First Class Honours degree in Fine Art, Sandra was faced with the decision of how to turn it in to a career.
The creative sector has traditionally always had a higher percentage of freelance workers – around 40% of the total, compared with 12% in the UK economy as a whole. As with most business startups, the idea for Blue Meadow Bridal came about because of a supply and demand issue, as Sandra struggled to source a product for her own 2012 wedding in the South of France.
Sandra said: “Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult aspects of starting up has been financing the enterprise. Funding opportunities in the creative industries are notoriously limited, so I have raised the majority of capital myself. Blue Meadow Bridal is a luxury retailer, so it required quite a lot of money to source the finest materials – silks, soft English tulle, Austrian rhinestones, and freshwater pearls, to name but a few. Equally, sourcing the right materials was a process of trial and error, which demanded a lot of perseverance.”
Despite set-backs and the many challenges, Sandra’s advice to this year’s graduates is to take the leap of faith and follow the path of their passion for the arts: “Opportunities for creative people are limited, perhaps more so than in any other industry. It can be tempting to take a job that has nothing to do with your creative skills for the sake of security; it takes real bravery to carve out your own career and become a creative entrepreneur.”
Here are Sandra’s top tips to make it happen:
Financing your creative enterprise
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a creative entrepreneur is financing the enterprise. Funding opportunities in the creative industries are notoriously limited, so I had to raise the majority of capital myself. If you want to become a creative entrepreneur, you may need to be willing to work whatever job it takes to raise the capital. After working so hard to achieve a First Class honours in my Fine Art degree, I knew that someone with my skills deserved better than the opportunities the job market was offering. Despite a CV which included 5 years work experience in the arts, there were no creative jobs suited to recent graduates. Faced with the prospect of perennial unskilled and poorly paid work, it soon became apparent that I would need to carve out my own career if I wanted to use the skills I developed through my studies. I was prepared to engage in temporary employment – at times juggling multiple roles – in order to raise the capital to finance my enterprise.
Find your niche
Before I began my studies in art and design, I managed a concession for Agent Provocateur – a luxury lingerie brand. Working for this retailer really taught me the importance of finding your niche and how to cater for the premium market. This luxury retailing experience, coupled with the expertise I have developed through my studies, set me apart from other bridal accessory designers. Each piece I craft is labour intensive and made using the finest materials, something that is reflected in the price point. I cater for the style conscious bride that chooses luxury products over the mass-produced, who pays attention to detail and prefers quality over quantity. As an artist and designer, there is a great deal of integrity in my designs – something I have honoured in handcrafting each piece using the finest silks, Austrian rhinestones, freshwater pearls and soft English tulle, to name but a few materials.
Time scales and deadlines
It is important to be realistic about how long it will take you to build and launch your business. I spent almost a year researching, formulating a business plan, designing and refining the collection, sourcing the finest materials, and handcrafting the pieces, before coordinating the photo shoot, building the website and ultimately launching the business. Deadlines came and went more times than I can remember and it is important not to feel disheartened when you don’t meet them. Many of my setbacks were due to factors beyond my control. For instance, when ordering samples I was at the mercy of suppliers – at times waiting over a month only for them to arrive and not be quite right. I try to see an opportunity in what initially seems like a setback. For instance, a forced interlude while waiting for materials to arrive affords the space to continue researching and refining your craft. This year has taught me that deadlines are a way of keeping you focused and working toward something, rather than something to obsess over.
Marketing and advertising
You will need to budget for marketing and advertising. There is no point working hard to create your own enterprise if the right people don’t see it. The amount of money that this will cost may come as bit of a shock, so it is important to ascertain, as much as you can, what your advertising budget will be. Overestimate to err on the side of caution. In this smartphone-generation, it’s important to make use of all free advertising opportunities, across the various social media platforms – these are essential for getting your name out there and letting people see what it is you do. I’ve found Instagram particularly useful for making connections with people in the wedding industry. It has allowed me to connect and collaborate with other creative entrepreneurs I admire from around the world.
Finally, be proud! Opportunities for creative people are limited, perhaps more so than in any other industry. It can be tempting to take a job that has nothing to do with your creative skills for the sake of security; it takes real bravery to carve out your own career and become a creative entrepreneur.