CPD: Start-Up Your Creative Business – ICE, Coventry University

Timing. Sometimes the world has perfect timing, other times it is completely off sync. It seems that this year, everything is already starting to fall into place, creating its own timing, its own timeline for 2015. After meeting with my professional mentor Alison Branagan in the previous week (read the blog post here), I attended a two-day small business course, ‘Start-Up Your Creative Business’, at the Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE), Coventry University – another opportunity provided by the Creative Enterprise scheme that has been so far, invaluable, and is helping me develop the next chapter of wordgirl into post-PhD land. The course was run by Percy Emmett, who has extensive experience in supporting small creative businesses. Topics on the course included:

  • Marketing and Branding;
  • Cash Flow, Budgeting and Pricing your Goods/Services;
  • Intellectual Property;
  • Creative Values and how they relate to your Business Model;
  • Networking;
  • What type of business you will be running e.g. a LTD Company, Social Enterprise, Sole Trader etc.

Day 1 – Monday 12 January 2015

The first day began with a roundtable discussion, focussing on why we were there and the business ideas we all had…“Aspirational value” – pricing so that someone really wants it. What you do? How it feeds you? It has to be your passion. It has to meet the needs of the customer. Who are they? What are they looking for? Always work with the client in your focus…meeting the audiences’ need of a certain sector for that community. Creating something that has the potential for that money. He stated the national average of only 47% of start-ups continue. Feel confident at what you are good, and not good, at – play to your strengths. Bring in other people to do the work and jobs that you can’t do.

Percy Emmett ICE 1

I asked how he framed and marketed himself as an “entity” when he does so much. He said that he doesn’t. He tailored his skills and work for the client…he is clear with the clients…then building a brand around that. What is it that I am really good at? Building a team of people around you to help you…making yourself part of that team. They must sit within your set of values and philosophy. Have they got the thing that I am looking for? Do I like them? Talk to others who are using the people and facilities you need.

Percy spoke of the challenges he’d faced within business…he found he didn’t like running businesses, he likes to start businesses. The biggest challenge he’d experienced was in this current career, in training, where he had no work for five months (about 5 years ago)…you have to believe in yourself enough to know that you can turn it around. Also, it is important to market yourself through non-traditional veins…from different areas and different philosophies. You are in control of that environment. Your market might not just be the UK…it might be Europe, Asia, America. The creative sector is the easiest area to diversify and manoeuvre globally. It is about diversification. You can move really quickly when many companies don’t have this creative skill. Anything is possible. It is our personal limits, our imagination that stops us. You can find your own way into the market place. The “making a living” is only there if the audience is there…meeting the audiences needs. Why aren’t they buying? Price? Environment? Not received through the right channels? Is it the right product? Think of yourselves as customers. If you can’t find what you want you won’t buy it.

It is fine if you build your business on a bespoke service. You have to remember that they will meet a wide audience…you have to design the work and product for the experience of who they work for, their audience. You have to have an element of what and who your audience are. Clear fixed point as to what your intentions are about this.

The course group consisted of photographers to transnational filmmakers, web techs to art auctioneers, fashion to textile designers, e-book makers to watercolour painters…

  1. What is it that I do?

Clearly define what you do helps the customer, the client, the consumer…otherwise how would you know what it is that you do? Where am I profitable?

  • Network – “Connect the dots that people can’t see”;
  • Teach (Lecturing, workshops);
  • Write (Critic, publish, edit, peer review);
  • Research (Exhibitions, projects, The Temporary);
  • Arts Consultant (Art finder, gallery finder, fund manager, art buying);
  1. Why should anyone care?

Identifying the benefits allows them to make up their mind quickly as to what they want to buy. How does this change their life? Does it make an impact? Can’t live without it? Why do people interact with what you create? Think about quality, functionality, Interactiveness…

  • Profile-raising – through your social media and marketing strategy, recognition for them and you;
  • Raising awareness – of the client/company/industry;
  • Professional – (helps people) take you more seriously;
  • Knowledge and skills (for me – curating and cultural production, self-publishing, publishing, bookbinding, bookmaking, papercutting);
  • Bridge and connect people and cultures;
  • Insight – to find out more about Chinese contemporary art and culture (specialist knowledge);
  • Creating a history, building the discourse for Chinese contemporary art and culture;
  • Innovation;
  • Investment;
  • Expand networks, meeting people you didn’t already know.

Percy Emmett ICE 2

Percy then asked the group to think about how and who helps make your business happen from the Generators, Realisers, Distributors and Customers:



  • Me, myself and I…and those who I partner with to create a project.
  • Brand…(?)



  • Copy-editors, editors;
  • Mentors;
  • Web developers;
  • Designers and printers;
  • Technicians/PAT tester;
  • Photographers;
  • Framers;
  • Branding company;
  • Funders, sponsors;
  • Finance (banks, accountants, funders);
  • Art advisors;
  • Art lawyers;
  • Insurers;
  • Hire companies;
  • Gallery Directors;
  • Publishers – in print, online web developer to designer;
  • Research;
  • Libraries;
  • Universities and academics;
  • Transportation;
  • Accommodation;
  • Sustenance providers (food – Bean Encounter!);
  • Libraries;
  • Freelancers;
  • Artists/creative;
  • Google and Apple, CPU;
  • Family, Momma Sooz;
  • ManaXi.



  • Networking events;
  • Print and digital print;
  • Journals;
  • University (events venue);
  • Galleries and museums;
  • BLOGS and social media, #wordgirl;
  • Art Fairs;
  • ‘The Temporary’;
  • Mentors;
  • Artists and creatives;
  • Conferences, symposia, summits;
  • Awards;
  • Funders and sponsors.

Finally, thinking of your Customers, which we were continuously discussing. The last task of the day was being set homework, where we were asked to answer two questions in a total of 150 words – What it is I do? What are the benefits? 150 words is almost an impossibility for me, for wordgirl…so it was a very helpful exercise to get me to think succinctly about what it is I do and why.

Day 2 – Tuesday 13 January 2015

The second day began by talking through what the process of writing our homework was like…answering the questions in 150 words – What it is I do? What are the benefits? Points raised included:

  • Being really clear about what they need to know;
  • Punctuation;
  • It is easy to repeat yourself by saying the same thing again in different ways;
  • Written as bullet points. Key elements. Have that list of bullet points in your mind, helps you remember and recall it to people. The quality can change and how you recall it…but the quality must always be there;
  • Looking at other people who are doing similar work, adopting their model of explanation or representation…researching subjects and finding words that you wouldn’t usually use. Those new words take us down a completely different road;
  • Difficult to distinguish this text from an artist’s/curatorial statement. Move away from the conceptual sense of the work more towards a service/services. It is ok to have a voice for both;
  • You have to get them to make the creative leap;
  • The process comes across as being quite arrogant when you just need to be enthusiastic. It is a fine line between the two where you need to be enthusiastic. Being arrogant allows no in road for the customer…they need to have an in to make a contribution. Trying to get them as excited as you;
  • As a buyer you go to a website for a different reason…to capture the broad imagination, the “package”;
  • It is the skill you are promoting and you…it is your personality that sells you.

I’m not going to share with you exactly what I outlined and said as it will give away my new business! So watch this space. Discussion then moved onto discussing “values”.


  • Ethics – a conscience;
  • Morals – the beliefs (family, society, our experiences – ones handed to us, one made up by ourselves – rights and wrongs);
  • Values – how we want people to see us, how we work and what we stand by…finding those that have similar values to have a harmonious relationship. They can change for family, war, life reasons. They change over time where influences over time change our values. The more we experience and we are exposed to change what we do Experience is value. The things you use right now.

Percy Emmett ICE 3

In a brief exercise, we were asked to answer two questions relating to a product or service we use. I decided to focus on my Freitag bags:

  1. What do you like about that product or service?
  • Design, usability and functionality for different purposes – messenger bag, wallet, handbag… made from truck tarpaulins and seatbelts;
  • They re-imagine a pre-existing material by changing it’s functionality for a different audience;
  • Contemporary yet timeless;
  • Distinct and niche, as sometimes limited edition and therefore a little bit more expensive so not everyone has it;
  • Made from absurd recycled materials, sustainable, and lasts for a long time, not just fashionable.
  1. What do you admire about that product or service?
  • The nature of the company and personal connection to it as each bag comes with a tag as to who it was made by, where the truck came from, it’s history;
  • The company keeps track of you as a buyer to see how you and your products are, and there are ideas you can suggest;
  • The company keeps thinking of new products and innovation through the use of the same one material.

We were then asked to think of our own business idea and answer the same questions:

  1. What do I like about that business idea?
  • Clear whom you are working with and what is available to you;
  • Distinct set of knowledge and skills available, they know the areas that they are confident in;
  • Contemporary and current, keeping up with here and now;
  • Dynamic and frenetic;
  • International;
  • Flexibility;
  • Travel;
  • Educating others, passing on knowledge and skills, cultivating creativity, art and culture;
  • Personal – blogging, words, writing;
  • Control;
  • Communication…creating networks and new connections – encouraging new engagement and dialogue between people and cultures;
  • Creating new projects, cultivating creativity, art and culture;
  • Diversity in what they do, doing more than one thing at the same time;
  • Contributing to an international contemporary arts discourse.
  1. What do I admire about that business idea?
  • That it has the potential to give people an insight and an understanding of diverse cultures…making people look at (and change your view) of international contemporary art, and different cultures, in a unique way;
  • Vision and creativity in finding different ways to share the diverse range of knowledge and skills through different creative avenues.

From this exercise, we were then asked to choose six key words from the answers to the questions that best represent our business values, where I chose:

  • International
  • Personal
  • Dedicated
  • Connections
  • Cultivating creativity
  • Visionary

 Other suggested words from others included:

  • Networks
  • Invested
  • Open
  • Determined
  • Moral and ethical
  • Activist
  • Self-reflective
  • Passionate
  • Creative
  • Gives a voice
  • Explore
  • Collaborate
  • Change perspective
  • Flexible
  • Distinct
  • Bespoke
  • Unique
  • Educating
  • Here-and-now
  • Pride
  • Service
  • Community
  • Dialogue

It is important to think about the language you use to communicate to the audiences you are trying to reach, however the way in which you explain your business and brand cannot change. Must adopt and adapt words…learning their languages. So your website will say one thing…but an article for The Art Newspaper will say it in a different way. Get as many people as you can to understand you. Ways in which you present this information can be in:

  • About/Profile;
  • Mission Statement;
  • Elevator pitches;
  • Exit strategies.

The rest of the day was dedicated to financial aspects of running a small business such as Personal Survival Planning, which immediately highlighted what are called Residue Costs (basically the things you don’t really need costs) and how it relates to your turnover. The importance of being responsible to your spending to make your business work. It is definitely time to get spending and money savvy for the rest of my career! It’s books and print ephemera that are my additional addictions. I need to curb that spending. We also spoke about Cashflow Forecasting, drawings – the amount you need to live/personal survival plan – then onto what type of business you want to run for what reason including TAX, VAT, National Insurance…finishing on a presentation about Crowd Funding. There are the things in a business sense I can’t get my head around. I’ve been self-employed for many years, but business(?!), that’s next level for wordgirl. Courtesy of Alison, I have an accountant called Dean to call to chat it out with (and in the future potentially work with).

I am incredibly grateful, as always, for these opportunities…from the free courses to free mentorship. More hours with Alison to come at the end of the month and another business course, this time the Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative Enterprise (DBACE) 2015 Business Plan workshop in Birmingham…time to think and re-think wordgirl as I’ve said before and have a serious talk with myself about making this happen…watch this space.

Crowd Funding examples ICE

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