Approaching your job as a writer, designer or photographer with a little business acumen can give you more time to ply your craft, more brain power to fuel your creativity and more money in your bank account. The following tips can help build your business expertise.
Hit the Books
Don’t just sharpen your creative skills; feed your brain with knowledge applicable to all industries. James Nolen, lecturer at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests taking at least one basic business course from a community college or continuing-education program. “Learn about business models and business jargon,” Nolen says. Then you can speak the same language as the people you support.
Understand the Market and the Brand
Do your homework. “Nearly all design work is done to either sell a product or service, yet too many creative types don’t know much about business,” says Los Angeles photographer Mark Robert Halper. Ask questions and coordinate a strategy that will enhance the brand -- and business. If you’re a contractor, research the company.
Aim for the Bottom Line
The goal may be to increase sales in a certain area or deflect attention from, say, negative news coverage. But before putting together a strategic plan, read the business plan, says Samuella Becker, founder of public relations firm TigressPR in New York City. Ask clients about expectations. Understand the project’s goals. “Sometimes the answer isn’t obvious,” she says.
Building your network can help build your net worth. So concentrate your energy on getting to know people, says Jack Perez, founder of the marketing firm Summit Strategy Partners in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “The most effective way to network is to think about how you can help the person sitting across from you,” Perez says. The payoffs start with helping others win and can last a lifetime.
Dress for Success
Nolen advocates leaving your creative wardrobe at home. “Brand image is important to companies, and their employees are extensions of that image with suppliers, customers and other stakeholders,” he says. So ditch the jeans and create a wardrobe that’s sure to impress.
Be a proactive listener. “Many creative professionals don’t really hear much past the surface of what their clients say they need,” Halper notes. By listening, understanding and asking questions you can fine-tune a project to better fit the company’s needs.
If you work contract in the creative field, here are some additional tips:
Separate Business and Personal Accounts
“One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with creative people is that the lines between business and personal are blurry at best,” says Lisa Drake, CPA, accounting professor at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Solution: Get a checking account and credit card solely for business expenses.
Know Your Numbers
Good financial management practices will give you credibility and better cash flow. “Keep a list of your open receivables or keep the unpaid ones in a file that you have handy access to,” Drake explains. “If a customer hasn’t paid within the time frame, a friendly call or an ‘I’m sure you’ve just overlooked it’ email can do wonders for your cash flow.” Not good at record- and bookkeeping? Hire someone who is.
Seek Professional Help
Creative types are better at some things than they are at others. Realize your limitations and befriend those who can pick up your slack. For instance, Drake suggests getting to know a CPA so you can “ask for their advice when needed instead of winging it, which never looks professional and can get you in trouble.” Same for your legal matters. Unsure of your contracts? A low-cost attorney can safeguard your rights without breaking the bank.
Understand your market value and price your projects accordingly, says Julie Lenzer Kirk, an author and consultant who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Negotiating your pricing from an established base makes for a solid professional foundation.
These business skills can mean the difference between making a decent living and having a successful career. Even if you start small with just one or two of these tips, the results will be worth the effort.