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Ten tips for running a successful creative business

Must-do tips from the people who’ve been there and done that...  

Can business be creative and successful? Absolutely. In fact, it’s something we are rather good at here in the UK. But in our globalised, always connected world, there’s no easy roadmap to glory.

Here at Nesta, we’ve been running our Creative Business Mentor Network for five years, linking some of the industry’s most exceptional leaders with some of the most exciting creative companies in the UK.

So when we brought them together at one of our recent Creative Business Mentor Network events, we asked them a simple question:

“What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone running a creative business today?”

No matter how good your business plan, and how well defined your proposition, there’s no silver bullet that guarantees financial success and creative stardom. How you get there is down to you – the people you gather around you, and the insight and experience you pick up along the way.

When it comes to our mentors’ tips for success, here’s their Top Ten:

  1. Be an expert in one thing

Know the score, know your patch, know what you’re good at – and focus on it. Don’t try to conquer the world all at once.

  1. Create a plan... change the plan... get a new plan...

Develop a clear vision for your business and articulate a sense of where you’re heading, even if you might need a couple of diversions en route.

  1. Roll the dice

If playing it safe is what everyone else does, then do the things others wouldn’t do and be a risk taker. Break the cycle. Change the conversation. Get noticed.

  1. The bottom-line: your bottom line

You’re running a real business and employing real people. And profit definitely isn’t a dirty word. So remember to keep an eye on the numbers and always watch your cashflow.

  1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

Engage the brains around you and build a culture of collaboration and partnership in your business (and with clients and suppliers too) to help stimulate and evolve new ideas.

  1. Great ideas are worth protecting

Ideas – and your expression of them – are everything. They’re the value you’ll be building up over the years to come, so protect them... and be prepared to defend them.

  1. Start digital, stay digital

Connect. Engage. Like. Post. LinkIn. And don’t just think and act like a business from East Anglia. Or even the UK. By putting digital at the heart of your thinking, your market can be the whole world.

  1. Be tenacious

If at first you don’t succeed, curse under your breath and keep at it. Business success is as much about perspiration as it is inspiration. Don’t give up.

  1. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Failed pitches, bad client meetings, prototypes gone awry, IT foul-ups... they’re the stuff of every business, not just yours. The trick is to find out why things went pear-shaped and move on...

  1. Find the fun

You’re running a creative business, remember? So don’t forget, if it doesn’t feel like fun, find the fun in what you’re doing.

Our mentee companies have the chance to learn from the unparalleled experience of our mentors – they all have tales to tell of the ups and downs of building a creative company. Tim Bevan at Working Title, Justin Cooke at Possible, Debbie Manners at Keo Films and Andy Payne at Mastertronic share their stories.

At Nesta we feel very fortunate to be working with such an amazing line-up of mentors supporting some of the UK’s most interesting talent. Their commitment and generosity isn’t just greatly appreciated – it’s hugely important to the whole creative industry.

Find out more about our Creative Business Mentor Network.




Tim Plyming

Tim Plyming

Tim Plyming

Director, Digital Arts & Media

Tim was a Director in the Innovation Lab where he oversaw Nesta’s portfolio of work supporting digital arts and media.

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